Along Came A Spider
Along Came A Spider
Along Came A Spider
Along Came A Spider
EARLY ON THE MORNING of December 21, 1992, I was the picture of contentment on the sun porch of our house on 5th Street in Washington, D.C. The small, narrow room was cluttered with mildewing winter coats, work boots, and wounded children's toys. I couldn't have cared less. This was home.
I was playing Gershwin on our slightly out-of-tune, formerly grand piano. It was just past 5 A.M., and cold as a meat locker on the porch. I was prepared to sacrifice a little for “An American in Paris.”
The phone jangled in the kitchen. Maybe I'd won the D.C., or Virginia, or Maryland lottery and they'd forgotten to call the night before. I play all three games of misfortune regularly.
' Nana? Can you get that?" I called from the porch.
'It's for you. You might as well get it yourself,“ my testy grandmother called back. ”No sense me gettin' up, too. No sense means nonsense in my dictionary."
That's not exactly what was said, but it went some thing like that. It always does.
I hobbled into the kitchen, sidestepping more toys on morning-stiff legs. I was thirty-eight at the time. As the saying goes, if I'd known I was going to live that long, I would have taken better care of myself. The call turned out to be from my partner in crime, John Sampson. Sampson knew I'd be up. Sampson knows me better than my own kids.
“Mornin', brown sugar. You up, aren't you?” he said. No other I.D. was necessary. Sampson and I have been best friends since we were nine years old and took up shoplifting at Park's Corner Variety store near the projects. At the time, we had no idea that old Park would have shot us dead over a pilfered pack of Chesterfields. Nana Mama would have done even worse to us if she'd known about our crime spree.
“If I wasn't up, I am now, ” I said into the phone receiver. “Tell me something good.”
“There's been another murder. Looks like our boy again,” Sampson said. "They're waitin' on us. Half the free world's there already.
“It's too early in the morning to see the meat wagon,” I muttered. I could feel my stomach rolling. This wasn't the way I wanted the day to start. "Shit. Fuck me.
Nana Mama looked up from her steaming tea and runny eggs. She shot me one of her sanctimonious, lady-of-the-house looks. She was already dressed for school, where she still does volunteer work at seventy-nine. Sampson continued to give me gory details about the day's first homicides.
“Watch your language, Alex,” Nana said. “Please watch your language so long as you're planning to live in this house.”
“I'll be there in about ten minutes,” I told Sampson. “I own this house,” I said to Nana. She groaned as if she were hearing that terrible news for the first time.
“There's been another bad murder over in Langley Terrace. It looks like that killer. I'm afraid that it is,” I told her.
“That's too bad,” Nana Mama said to me. Her soft brown eyes grabbed mine and held. Her white hair looked like one of the doilies she puts on all our livingroom chairs. “That's such a bad part of what the politicians have let become a deplorable city. Sometimes I think we ought to move out of Washington, Alex.”
“Sometimes I think the same thing,” I said, “but we'll probably tough it out.”
“Yes, black people always do. We -persevere. We always suffer in silence.”
“Not always in silence,” I said to her.
I had already decided to wear my old Harris Tweed jacket. It was a murder day, and that meant I'd be seeing white people. Over the sport coat, I put on my Georgetown warm-up jacket. It goes better with the neighborhood.
On the bureau, by the bed, was a picture of Maria Cross. Three years before, my wife had been murdered in a drive-by shooting. That murder, like the majority of murders in Southeast, had never been solved.
I kissed my grandmother on the way out the kitchen door. We've done that since I was eight years old. so say good-bye, just in case we never see each other n. It's been like that for almost thirty years, ever since Nana Mama first took me in and decided she could make something of me.
She made a homicide detective, with a doctorate in psychology, who works and lives in the ghettos of Washington, D.C.
Along Came A Spider
I AM OFFICIALLY a Deputy Chief of Detectives, Which, in the words of Shakespeare and Mr. Faulkner, is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nada. The title should make me the number-six or -seven person in the Washington Police Department. It doesn't. People wait for my appearance at crime scenes in D.C., though.
A trio of D.C. Metro blue-and-whites were parked helter-skelter in front of 41-15 Benning Road. A crime lab van with blackened windows had arrived. So had an EMS ambulance. MORTUARY was cheerfully stenciled on the door.
There were a couple of fire engines at the murder house. The neighborhood's ambulance-chasers, mostly eye-fucking males, were hanging around. Older women with winter coats thrown over their pajamas and night gowns, and pink and blue curlers in their hair, were up on their porches shivering in the cold.
The row house was dilapidated clapboard, painted a gaudy Caribbean blue. An old Chevette with a broken, taped-up side window looked as if it had been abandoned in the driveway.
“Fuck this. Let's go back to bed,” Sampson said. “I just remembered what this is going to be like. I hate this job lately.”
“I love my work, love Homicide,” I said with a sneer. “See that? There's the M. E. already in his plastic suit. And there are the crime-lab boys. And who's this coming our way now?” A white sergeant in a puffy blue-black parka with a fur collar came waddling up to Sampson and me as we approached the house. Both his hands were jammed in his pockets for warmth.
“Sampson? Uh, Detective Cross?” The sergeant cracked his lower jaw the way some people do when they're trying to clear their ears in airplanes. He knew exactly who we were. He knew we were cops. He was busting our chops.
“Wuz up, man?” Sampson doesn't like his,chops being busted very much.
“Senior Detective Sampson,” I answered the sergeant. “I'm Deputy Chief Cross.”
The sergeant was a jelly-roll-belly Irish type, probably left over from the Civil War. His face looked like a wedding cake left out in the rain. He didn't seem to be buying my tweed jacket ensemble.
“ Everybody's freezin' their toches off,” he wheezed. “That's wuz up.”
“You could probably lose a little of them toches,” Sampson advised him. "Might give Jenny Craig a call.
“Fuck you,” said the sergeant. It was nice to meet the white Eddie Murphy. “Master of the riposte.” Sampson grinned at me. “You hear what he said? Fuck you?”
Sampson and I are both physical. We work out at the gym attached to St. Anthony's-St. A's. Together, we weigh about five hundred pounds. We can intimidate, if we want to. Sometimes it's necessary in our line of work.
I'm only six three. John is six nine and growing. He always wears Wayfarer sunglasses. Sometimes he wears a raggy Kangol hat, or a yellow bandanna. Some people call him “John-John” because he's so big he could be two Johns.
We walked past the sergeant toward the murder house. Our elite task force team is supposed to be above this kind of confrontation. Sometimes we are.
A couple of uniforms had already been inside the house. A nervous neighbor had called the precinct around four-thirty. She thought she'd spotted a prowler. The, woman had been up with the night-jitters. It comes with the neighborhood.
The two uniformed patrolmen found three bodies inside. When they called it in, they were instructed to wait for the Special Investigator Team. It's made up of eight black officers supposedly slated for better things in the department.
The outside door to the kitchen was ajar. I pushed it all the way open. The doors of every house have a unique sound when they open and close. This one whined like an old man.
It was pitch-black in the house. Eerie. The wind was sucked through the open door, and I could hear something rattling inside.
“We didn't turn on the lights, Sir,” one of the uniforms said from behind me. “You're Dr. Cross, right?”
I nodded. “Was the kitchen door open when you came?” I turned to the patrolman. He was white, babyfaced, growing a little mustache to compensate for it. He was probably twenty-three or twenty-four, real frightened that morning. I couldn't blame him.
"Uh. No. No sign of forced entry. It was unlocked, sir.
The patrolman was very nervous. “It's a real bad mess in there, sir. It's a family.” One of the patrolmen switched on a powerful milled- aluminum flashlight and we all peered inside the kitchen.
There was a cheap Formica breakfast table with matching lime green vinyl chairs. A black Bart Simpson clock was on one wall. It was the kind you see in the front windows of all the People's drugstores. The smells of Lysol and burnt grease melded into something strange to the nose, though not entirely unpleasant. There were a lot worse smells in homicide cases.
Sampson and I hesitated, taking it all in the way the murderer might have just a few hours earlier.
“He was right here,” I said. “He came in through the kitchen. He was here, where we're standing. ”
“Don't talk like that, Alex,” Sampson said. “Sound like Jeane Dixon. Creep me out.”
No matter how many times you do this kind of thing, it never gets easier. You don't want to have to go inside.
You don't want to see any more horrible nightmares in your lifetime.
“They're upstairs,” the cop with the mustache said. He filled us in on who the victims were. A family named Sanders. Two women and a small boy.
His partner, a short, well-built black man, hadn't said a word yet. His name was Butchie Dykes. He was a sensitive young cop I'd seen around the station.
The four of us entered the death house together. We each took a deep breath. Sampson patted my shoulder. He knew that child homicide had me shook.
The three bodies were upstairs in the front bedroom, just off the top of the stairs.
There was the mother, Jean “Poo” Sanders, thirty-two. Even in death, her face was haunting. She had big brown eyes, high cheekbones, full lips that had already turned purplish. Her mouth was stretched open in a scream.
Poo's daughter, Suzette Sanders, fourteen years on this earth. She was just a young girl but had been prettier than her mother. She wore a mauve ribbon in her braided hair and a tiny nose earring to prove she was older than her years. Suzette was gagged with dark blue panty hose.
A baby son, Mustaf Sanders, three years old, was lying faceup, and his little cheeks seemed stained with tears. He was wearing a “pajama bag” like my own kids wear. Just as Nana Mama had said, it was a bad part of what somebody had let become a bad city. In this big bad country of ours. The mother and the daughter were bound to an imitation brass bedpost. Satin underwear, black and red mesh stockings, and flowery bed sheets ad been used to tie them up.
I took out the pocket recorder I carry and began to put down my first observations. "Homicide cases H234 914 through 916. A mother, teenage daughter, little boy. The women have been slashed with something extremely sharp. A straight razor, possibly.
“Their breasts have been cut off. The breasts are nowhere to be found. The pubic hair of the women has been shaved. There are multiple stab wounds, what the pathologists call 'patterns of rage.' There is a great deal Of blood, fecal matter. I believe the two women, both the mother and daughter, were prostitutes. I've seen them around.”
My voice was a low drone. I wondered if I'd be able to understand all the words later.
“The little boy's body seems to have been casually tossed aside. Mustaf Sanders has on hand-me-down pajamas that are covered with Care Bears. He is a tiny, incidental pile in the room. ” I couldn't help grieving as I looked down at the little boy, his sad, lifeless eyes staring up at me. Everything was very noisy inside my head. My heart ached. Poor little Mustaf, whoever you were.
“I don't believe he wanted to kill the boy,” I said to Sampson. “He or she.”
“Or it. ” Sampson shook his head. "I vote for it. It's a Thing, Alex. The same Thing that did Condon Terrace earlier this week.
Along Came A Spider
SINCE SHE HAD BEEN THREE OR FOUR years old, Maggie Rose Dunne was always watched by people. At nine, she was used to special attention, to people gawking at her as if she was Maggie Scissorhands, or Girl Frankenstein.
That morning she was being watched, but she didn't know it. This one time, Maggie Rose would have cared. This one time, it mattered very much.
Maggie Rose was at Washington Day School in Georgetown, where she was trying to blend in with the other hundred and thirty students. At that moment, they were all singing enthusiastically at assembly. Blending in wasn't easy for Maggie Rose, even though she desperately wanted to. She was the nine-year-old daughter of Katherine Rose, after all. Maggie couldn't walk past a mall video store without seeing a picture of her mother. Her mother's movies seemed to be on the tube about every other night. Her mom got nominated for Oscars more often than most actresses mentioned in People magazine.
Because of all that stuff, Maggie Rose tried to disappear into the woodwork a lot. That morning she had on a beat-up Fido Dido sweatshirt with strategic holes front and rear. She'd picked out grungy, wrinkled Guess jeans. She wore old pink Reebok sneakers-her “trusty dusties”-and Fido socklets picked out from the bottom of her closet. She purposely hadn't washed her long blond hair before school.
Her mom's eyes had bugged when she'd spotted the getup. She said, “Quadruple yuk,” but she let Maggie go to school that way anyway. Her morn was cool. She really understood the tough deal Maggie had to live with.
The kids in the crowded assembly, first- through sixth-grade classes, were singing “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. Before she played the folk/rock song on the auditorium's gleaming black Steinway, Ms. Kaminsky had tried to explain the message of it for everybody.
“This moving song, by a young black woman from Massachusetts, is about being dirt poor in the richest country in the world. It's about being black in the nineteen nineties.”
The petite, rail-thin music and visual arts teacher was always so intense. She felt it was a good teacher's duty not only to inform, but to persuade, to mold the important young minds at the prestigious Day School.
The kids liked Ms. Kaminsky, so they tried to imagine the plight of the poor and disadvantaged. Since the tuition at Washington Day was twelve thousand dollars, it took some imagination on their part.
“You got a fast car,” they sang along with Ms. K. and her piano.
“And I got a plan to get us out of here.”
As Maggie sang “Fast Car,” she really tried to imagine what it would be like to be poor like that. She'd seen enough poor people sleeping in the cold on Washington streets. If she concentrated, she could visualize terrible scenes around Georgetown and Dupont Circle. Especially the men with dirty rags who washed your windshield at every stoplight. Her mother always gave them a dollar, sometimes more. Some of the beggars recognized her and went apparently crazy. They smiled like their day had been made, and Katherine Rose always had something nice to say to them.
“You got a fast car,” Maggie Rose sang out. She felt like letting her voice really get up there.
"But is it fast enough so we can fly away
"We gotta make a decision
“We leave tonight or live and die this way.” The song finished to loud applause and cheers from all the kids at assembly. Ms. Kaminsky took a queer little bow at her piano.
“Heavy duty,” Michael Goldberg muttered. Michael was standing right next to Maggie. He was her best friend in Washington, where she'd moved less than a year ago, coming from L.A. with her parents. Michael was being ironic, of course. As always. That was his East Coast way of dealing with people who weren't as smart as he was-which meant just about everybody in the free world.
Michael Goldberg was a genuine brainiac, Maggie knew. He was a reader of everything and anything; a gonzo collector; a doer; always funny if he liked you. He'd been a “blue baby,” though, and he still wasn't big or very strong. That had gotten him the nickname “Shrimpie,” which kind of brought Michael down off his brainiac pedestal.
Maggie and Michael rode to school together most mornings. That morning they'd come in a real Secret Service town car. Michael's father was the secretary of the treasury. As in the secretary of the treasury. Nobody was really just “normal” at Washington Day. Everybody was trying to blend in, one way or another. As the students filed out of morning assembly, each of them was asked who was picking them up after school. Security was tremendously important at Washington Day.
“Mr. Devine-,” Maggie started to tell the teacher/monitor posted at the door from the auditorium. His name was Mr. Guestier and he taught languages, which included French, Russian, and Chinese, at the school. He was nicknamed “Le Pric.”
“And Jolly Chollie Chakely,” Michael Goldberg finished for her. "Secret Service Detail Nineteen. Lincoln town car. License number SC-59. North exit, Pelham Hall. They're assigned to me because the Colombian cartel has made death threats against my father. Aurevoir, mon professeur.
It was noted in the school log for December 2 1. M. Goldberg and M.R. Dunne-Secret Service pickup. North exit, Pelham, at three.
“C'mon, Dweebo Dido.” Michael Goldberg poked Maggie Rose sharply in her rib cage. "I got a fast car. Uh huh, uh huh. And I got a plan to get us out of here.
No wonder she liked him, Maggie thought. Who else would call her a dweebo? Who else but Shrimpie Gold berg?
As they walked out of the assembly hall, the two friends were being watched. Neither of them noticed anything wrong, anything out of the ordinary. They weren't supposed to. That was the whole idea. It was the master plan.
Along Came A Spider
At NINE O'CLOCK that morning, Ms. Vivian Kim decided to re-create Watergate in her Washington ADay School classroom. She would never forget it.
Vivian Kim was smart, pretty, and a stimulating American history teacher. Her class was one of the students' favorites. Twice a week Ms. Kim acted out a history skit. Sometimes she let the children prepare one. They got to be really good at it, and she could honestly say her class was never boring.
On this particular morning, Vivian Kim had chosen Watergate. In her third-grade class were Maggie Rose Dunne and Michael Goldberg. The classroom was being watched.
Vivian Kim alternately played General Haig, H. R. Haldeman, Henry Kissinger, G. Gordon Liddy, President Nixon, John and Martha Mitchell, and John and Maureen Dean. She was a good mimic and did an excellent job on Liddy, Nixon, General Haig, and especially the Mitchells and Mo Dean.
“During his annual State of the Union message, President Nixon spoke to the entire nation on television,” Ms. Kim told the children. “Many people feel that he lied to us. When a high government official lies, he commits a horrible crime. We've put our trust in that person, based on his solemn word, his integrity.”
“Hiss.” “Boo!” A couple of kids in class participated in the lesson. Within reason, Vivian Kim encouraged this kind of involvement.
“Boo is absolutely right,” she said. “Hiss, too. Anyway, at this moment in our history, Mr. Nixon stood before the nation, before people like you and me.” Vivian Kim arranged herself as if she were at a speaking podium. She began to do her version of Richard Nixon for the class.
Ms. Kim made her face dark and gloomy. She shook her head from side to side. “I want you to know... that I have no intention whatever of ever walking away from the job that the American people elected me to do for the people of the United States. ” Vivian Kim paused on the actual words from Nixon's infamous speech. It was like a held note in a bad but powerful opera. The classroom of twenty-four children was silent. For the moment, she had completely won their attention. It was a teacher's nirvana, however short-lived. Nice, Vivian Kim thought to herself.
There was a brittle tap, tap, tap on the glass pane of the classroom door. The magical mood was broken.
“Boo! Hiss,” Vivian Kim muttered. “Yes? Who's there? Hello? Who is it?” she called.
The glass and polished mahogany door slowly opened. One of the kids hummed from the score of on Elm Street. Mr. Soneji, hesitantly, almost shyly, stepped inside. Nearly every child's face in the classroom brightened instantly. “Anybody home?” Mr. Soneji piped in a thin squeaky voice. The children erupted with laughter. “Ohhh! Look. Everybody's home,” he said.
Gary Soneji taught mathematics, and also computer science-which was even more popular than Vivian Kim's class. He was balding, with a droopy mustache, and English schoolboy glasses. He didn't look like a matinee idol, but he was one at the school. In addition to being an inspired teacher, Mr. Soneji was the grand master of Nintendo video games.
His popularity, and the fact that he was a computer wizard, had earned him the nickname “Mr. Chips.”
Mr. Soneji greeted a couple of the students by name as he quickly made his way to Ms. Kim's desk.
The two teachers then spoke privately at the front desk. Ms. Kim had her back to the class. She was nodding a lot, not saying much. She seemed tiny standing next to Mr. Soneji, who was over six feet tall. Finally, Ms. Kim turned to the children. “Maggie Rose and Michael Goldberg? Could the two of you please come up front? Bring your things if you would. ”
Maggie Rose and Michael exchanged puzzled glances. What was this all about? They gathered their belongings, and then headed to the front to find out. The other kids had begun whispering, even talking out loud in the classroom.
“Okay. Put a lock on it. This isn't recess,” Ms. Kim quieted them. “This is still class. Please have some respect for the rules we've all agreed to live by here.”
When they got to the front of the classroom, Mr. Soneji crouched down to talk privately to Maggie and Michael. Shrimpie Goldberg was at least four inches shorter than Maggie Rose.
“There's a little problem, but it's nothing to worry about.” Mr. Soneji was calm and very gentle with the children. “Everything is basically fine. There's just a little glitch, that's all. Everything is okay, though.”
“I don't think so,” Michael Goldberg said, shaking his head. “What's this little so-called glitch all about?”
Maggie Rose didn't say anything yet. She was feeling afraid for some reason. Something had happened. Something was definitely wrong. She could feel it in the pit of her stomach. Her morn always told her she had too active an imagination, so she tried to look cool, act cool, be cool.
“We just received a phone call from the Secret Service,” said Ms. Kim. “They've gotten a threat. It concerns both you and Maggie. It's probably a crank call. But we're going to hustle you both home as a precaution. Just a safety precaution. You guys know the drill.”
“I'm sure you'll both be back before lunch,” Mr. Soneji added in support, though he didn't sound too convincing.
“What kind of threat?” Maggie Rose asked Mr. Soneji. “Against Michael's father? Or does it have to do with my morn?”
Mr. Soneji patted Maggie's arm. Time and again, the teachers at the private school were amazed at how grown-up most of these kids were.
"Oh, the usual kind we get now and then. Big talk, no action. Just some jerk looking for attention, I'm sure.
Some creep. " Mr. Soneji made an exaggerated face. He showed just the right amount of concern, but he made the kids feel secure.
“Then why do we have to go all the way home to Potomac, for crying out loud?” Michael Goldberg grimaced and gesticulated like a miniature courtroom lawyer. In many ways he was a cartoon version of his famous father, the secretary.
“Just to be on the safe side. Okay? Enough said. I'm not going to have a debate with you, Michael. Are we ready to travel?” Mr. Soneji was nice, but firm.
“Not really.” Michael continued to frown and shake his head. “No way, Josd Canseco. Seriously, Mr. Soneji. This isn't fair. It isn't right. Why can't the Secret Service come here and stay till school's over?”
“That's not the way they want to do it,” Mr. Soneji said. “I don't make up the rules.”
“I guess we're ready,” said Maggie. “C'mon, Michael. Stop arguing. This is a done deal.”
“ It's a done deal.” Ms. Kim offered a helpful smile. “I'll send over your homework assignments.” Both Maggie Rose and Michael started to laugh. “Thank you, Ms. Kim!” they said in unison. Leave it to Ms. Kim to have a good joke to fit the situation.
The halls outside the classroom were nearly empty, and very quiet. A porter, a black man named Emmett Everett, was the only person who saw the trio as they left the school building.
Leaning on his broom, Mr. Everett watched Mr. Soneji and the two children walk the length of the long hallway. He was the last person to see them all together.
Once outside, they hurried across the school's cobble stoned parking lot, which was framed by elegant birch trees and shrubbery. Michael's shoes made clicking noises against the stones.
“Dork shoes.” Maggie Rose leaned into him and made a joke. “Look like dork shoes, act like dork shoes, sound like dork shoes.”
Michael had no argument. What could he say? His mother and father still bought his clothes at freaking Brooks Brothers. “What am I supposed to be wearing, Miss Gloria Vanderbilt? Pink sneakers?” he offered lamely.
“Sure, pink sneakers.” Maggie beamed. "Or lime green Air-outs. But not shoes for a funeral, Shrimpster. Mr. Soneji led the children to a late-model blue van parked under elm and oak trees that went the length of the administration building and school gym. Nonsynchronous bouncing baskethalls echoed from inside the gym.
“The two of you can jump right in back here. Upsydaisy. There we go,” he said. The teacher helped boost them up and into the back of the van. His eyeglasses kept slipping down his nose. Finally, he just took them off.
“You're driving us home?” Michael asked.
“I know it's no Mercedes stretch, but it'll have to do, Sir Michael. I'm just following the instructions we got on the phone. I spoke to a Mr. Chakely. ”
“Jolly Chollie. ” Michael used his nickname for the Secret Service agent.
Mr. Soneji climbed inside the blue van himself. He pulled the sliding door shut with a bang.
"Just be a sec. Make a little room for you guys here.
He rummaged through cardboard boxes stacked toward the front of the van. The van was a mess. It was the antithesis of the orderly, almost compartmentalized, math teacher's style in school. “Sit anywhere, kids.” He kept talking while he looked for something When he turned again, Gary Soneji was wearing a scary, rubbery-looking black mask. He held some kind of metal implement in front of his chest. It looked like a miniature fire extinguisher, only it was more sci-fi than that.
“Mr. Soneji?” Maggie Rose asked, her voice rising in pitch. “Mr. Soneji! ” She threw her hands in front of her face. “You're frightening us. Stop kidding around! ”
Soneji was pointing the small metal nozzle right at Maggie Rose and Michael. He took a fast step toward them. He planted both of his rubber-soled black brogans firmly.
“What's that thing?” Michael said, not even sure why he said it.
“Hey, I give up. Take a whiff, boy genius. You tell me. ”
Soneji hit them with a blast of chloroform spray. He kept his finger on the trigger for a full ten seconds. Both children were covered with mist as they collapsed into the back seat of the van. “Out, out, bright lights,” Mr. Soneji said in the quietest, gentlest voice. “Now no one will ever know. ” That was the beauty of it. No one would ever know the truth.
Soneji climbed into the front and fired up the blue van. As he drove from the parking area, he sang “Magic Bus” by The Who. He was in an awfully good mood today. He was planning to be America's first serial kidnapper, among other things.
Along Came A Spider
GOT an “emergency” call at the Sanders house at about quarter to eleven. I didn't want to talk to anybody with more emergencies.
I had just spent ten minutes with the news folks. At the time of the project murders, some of the newsies were my buddies. I was a press pet. I'd even been featured in the Washington Post's Sunday magazine section. I talked about the murder rate among black people in D.C. once again. This past year there@@ had been nearly five hundred killings in our capital. Only eighteen victims were white. A couple of reporters actually made a note of that. Progress.
I took the phone from a young, smart S. I. T. detective, Rakeem Powell. I was absently palming a biddy baskethall that must have belonged to Mustaf. The ball gave me a funny feeling. Why murder a beautiful little boy like that? I couldn't come up with an answer. Not so far, anyway.
It's The Jefe, the chief.“ Rakeem frowned. ” He's concerned. "
“This is Cross,” I said into the Sanders telephone. My head was still spinning. I wanted to get this conversation over with real fast.
The mouthpiece smelled of cheap musk perfume. Poo's or Suzette's fragrance, maybe both of theirs. On a table near the phone were photos of Mustaf in a heart-shaped frame. Made me think of my own two kids.
“This is Chief of Detectives Pittman. What's the situation over there?”
“I think we have a serial killer. Mother, daughter, a little boy. Second family in less than a week. Electricity was shut off in the house. He likes to work in the dark. ” I ticked off a few gory details for Pittman. That was usually enough for him. The chief would leave me alone with this one. Homicides in Southeast don't count for much in the greater scheme.
A beat or two of uneasy silence followed. I could see the Sanders family Christmas tree in the TV room. It had been decorated with obvious care: tinsel, shiny dime-store decorations, strings of cranberries and popcorn. There was a homemade tinfoil angel on top.
“I heard it was a dealer got hit. Dealer and two prostitutes,” The Jefe said.
“No, that's not true,” I said to Pittman. “They've got a nice Christmas tree up.”
“Sure it is. Don't bullshit me, Alex. Not today. Not right now.”
If he was trying to get a rise out of me, he got one.
“One victim is a three-year-old little boy in his pajamas. He may have been dealing. I'll check into it.”
I shouldn't have said that. I shouldn't say a lot of things. Lately, I'd been feeling I was on the edge of exploding. Lately means for about three years or so.
“You and John Sampson hustle over to Washington Day,” Pittman said. “All hell has broken loose here. I'm serious. ”
“I'm serious, too,” I said to the chief of detectives. I tried to keep my voice down. “I'm sure this is a signature killer. It's bad here. People are crying in the streets. It's almost Christmas.”
Chief Pittman ordered us to come to the school in Georgetown, anyway. All hell had broken loose, he kept repeating.
Before I left for Washington Day, I phoned the serialkiller unit inside our own department; then the “super unit” at the FBI's Quantico base. The FBI has computer files of all known cases of serial killings, complete with psychiatric profiles matching M.O.'s up with a lot of unpublished serial-killing details. I was looking for a match on age, sex, type of disfigurement.
One of the techies handed me a report to sign as I left the Sanders house. I signed my usual way-with a Cross.
Tough guy from the tough part of town, right.
Along Came A Spider
HE PRIVATE-SCHOOL SURROUNDINGS were a little intimidating for Sampson and me. This was a long, long way from the schools and people of South east.
We were two of only a few blacks inside the Washington Day School lobby. I'd heard there were supposed to be African kids, the children of diplomats, at the private school, but I didn't see any. Just clusters of shocked teachers, children, parents, police. People were crying openly on the front lawns and inside the school's lobby. Two little kids, two little babies had been kidnapped from one of Washington's most prestigious private schools. I understood that it was a sad, tragic day for everybody involved. Leave it at that, I told myself. Just do your job.
We went about our police business. We tried to suppress the fury we were feeling, but it wasn't easy. I kept seeing the sad eyes of little Mustaf Sanders. A uniform told us we were wanted in the headmaster's office. Chief of Detectives Pittman was there waiting for us.
“Be cool,” Sampson advised. "Live to fight another day.
George Pittman usually wears a gray or blue business suit on the job. He favors pin-striped dress shirts and striped silver-and-blue neckties. He's a Johnson & Murphy shoe and belt man. His gray hair is always slicked back so it fits his bullet head like a tight helmet. He is known as The Jefe, the Boss of Bosses, 11 Duce, Thee Pits, Georgie Porgie...
I think I know when my trouble with Chief of Detectives Pittman began. It was after the Washington Post ran that story on me in the Sunday magazine section. The piece detailed how I was a psychologist, but working Homicide and Major Crimes -in D.C. I had told the reporter why I continued to live in Southeast. “It makes me feel good to live where I live. Nobody's going to drive me out of my own house.”
Actually, I think it was the title chosen for the article that pushed Chief Pittman (and some others in the department) over the edge. The young journalist had interviewed my grandmother while researching the piece. Nana had been an English teacher, and the impressionable writer ate that up. Nana had proceeded to fill his head with her notion that because black people are basically traditionalists, they would logically be the very last people in the South to give up religion, morals, and even formal manners. She said that I was a true Southern man, having been born in North Carolina. She also questioned why it was that we idolize near-psychotic detectives in films, TV, books, and newspaper articles.
The title of the piece, which ran over my brooding photograph, was “The Last Southern Gentleman. ” The story caused big problems inside our very uptight department. Chief Pittman especially took offense. I couldn't prove it, but I believed the story had been placed by someone in the mayor's office.
I gave a one-two-three rap on the door of the headmaster's office and Sampson and I walked in. Before I could say a word, Pittman held up his right hand. “Cross, you just listen to what I have to say,” he said as he came over to us. “There's been a kidnapping at this school. It's a major kidnapping-”
“That's a real bad thing,” I butted in immediately. “Unfortunately, a killer has also struck the Condon Terrace and Langley neighborhoods. The killer's hit two times already. Six people are dead so far. Sampson and I are the senior people on that case. Basically, we're it. ”
“I'm apprised of the situation in the Condon and Langley projects. I've already made contingencies. It's taken care of,” Pittman said.
“Two black women had their breasts sliced off this morning. Their pubic hair was shaved while they were tied up in bed. Were you apprised of that?” I asked him. “A three-year-old boy was murdered, in his pajamas. ” I was shouting again. I glanced at Sampson and saw him shaking his head.
A group of teachers in the office looked our way.
“Two young black women had their breasts sliced off, I repeated for their benefit. ”Someone's wandering around D.C. this morning with breasts in his pocket."
Chief Pittman gestured toward the headmaster's inner office. He wanted the two of us inside the room. I shook my head. I wanted to have witnesses when I was around him.
“I know what you're thinking, Cross.” He lowered his voice and spoke very close to my face. The odor of stale cigarettes billowed out at me. “You think I'm out to get you, but I'm not. I know you're a good cop. I know your heart's usually in the right place.”
“No, you don't know what I'm thinking. Here's what I'm thinking! Six black people are dead already. A crazed, homicidal killer is out there. He's in heat. He's sharpening his eyeteeth. Now two white kids have been kidnapped, and that's a horrible thing. Horrible! But I'm already on a fucking case!” Pittman suddenly jabbed his index finger at me. His face was very red. “I decide what cases you're on! I decide! You're experienced as a hostage negotiator. You're a psychologist. We have other people to send into Langley and Condon. Besides, Mayor Monroe has specifically asked for you.”
So that was it. Now I understood everything. Our mayor had intervened. It was all about me.
“What about Sampson? At least leave him on the project murders,” I said to the chief of detectives.
“You got any complaints, take them up with the mayor. You're both working on this kidnapping. That's all I have to say to you at this time.”
Pittman turned his back on us and walked away. We were on the Dunne-Goldberg kidnapping case, like it or not. We didn't like it.
“Maybe we should just go back to the Sanders house,” I said to Sampson.
“Nobody miss us here,” he agreed.
Along Came A Spider
LEAMING, black BMW motorcycle squeezed en the low fieldstone gates of the Washing ton Day School. The driver was I.D.'d, then the bike sped down a long narrow road toward a gray cluster of school buildings. It was eleven o'clock.
The BMW streaked to sixty in the few seconds it took to get to the administration building. The motorcycle then braked easily and smoothly, barely throwing gravel. The rider slid it in behind a pearl-gray Mercedes stretch limousine with diplomat's plates DPIOI.
Still seated on the bike, Jezzie Flanagan pulled off a black helmet to reveal longish blond hair. She looked to be in her late twenties. Actually, she'd turned thirty-two that summer. Life was threatening to pass her right by. She was a relic now, ancient history, she believed. She had come straight to the school from her lake cottage, not to mention her first vacation in twenty-nine months.
That latter fact helped to explain her style of dress
40 that morning: the leather bike jacket, the faded black jeans with leg warmers, thick leather belt, the red-and black checkered lumberman's shirt, and the worn engineering boots.
Two D.C. policemen rushed up on either side of her. “It's okay, officers,” she said, “here's my I.D. ” After eyeing the identification, they backed away quickly and became solicitous. “You can go right in,” one of them said. “There's a side door just around those high hedges, Ms. Flanagan.”
Jezzie Flanagan managed a friendly smile for the two harried-looking policemen. “I don't exactly look the part today, I know. I was on my vacation. I race the bike. I raced it here.”
Jezzie Flanagan took the shortcut across a pristine lawn that was lightly coated with frost. She disappeared inside the school's administration building.
Neither of the D.C. policemen took his eyes off her until she was gone. Her blond hair blew like streamers in the stiff winter wind. She was definitely stunning to look at, even in dirty jeans and work boots. And she had a very powerful job. They both knew that from her I.D. She was a player.
As she made her way through the front lobby, someone grabbed at her. Someone caught a piece of Jezzie Flanagan, which was typical of her life in D.C.
Victor Schmidt had hooked onto her arm. Once upon a time, and this was difficult for Jezzie to imagine now, Victor had been her partner. Her first, in fact. Now he was assigned to one of the students at the Day School.
Victor was short and balding. A stylish GQ sort of dresser. Confident for no particularly good reason. He'd r always struck her as misplaced in the Secret Service, maybe better suited for lower rungs of the diplomatic corps.
“Jezzie, how's it going?” he half whispered, half spoke. He never seemed to go all the way on anything, she remembered. That had always bugged her.
Jezzie Flanagan blew up. Later, she realized she had really been on edge when Schmidt stopped her. Not that she needed an excuse for the flare-up. Not that morning.
Not under the circumstances.
“Vic, do you know that two children have been taken from this school, maybe kidnapped?” she snapped.
"One is the secretary of the treasury's son? The other is Katherine Rose's little girl? The actress Katherine
Rose Dunne. How do you think I'm doing? I'm a little sick to my stomach. I'm angry. I'm also petrified."
“I just meant hello. Hello, Jezzie? I know what the hell has happened here. ”
But Jezzie Flanagan had already walked away, at least partly to keep from saying anything else to Victor.
She did feel nervous. And ill. And mostly, wired as hell. She wasn't so much looking for familiar faces in the crowded school lobby, as the right faces. There were two of them now!
Charlie Chakely and Mike Devine. Her agents. The two men she had assigned to young Michael Goldberg, and also Maggie Rose Dunne, since they traveled back and forth to school together. “How could this happen?” Her voice was loud. She didn't care that the talk nearby had stopped and people were staring. A black hole was cut into the noise and chaos of the school lobby. Then she lowered her voice whisper as she questioned the agents about what happened so far. She listened quietly as she let them explain. Apparently, she didn't like what they had to say.
“Get the hell out of here,” she exploded a second time. “Get out right now. Out of my sight!”
“There was nothing we could have done,” Charlie Chakely tried to protest. “What could we have done? Jesus Christ!” Then he and Devine skulked away.
Those who knew Jezzie Flanagan might have understood her emotional reaction. Two children were missing. It had happened on her watch. She was an immediate supervisor of the Secret Service agents who guarded just about everyone other than the president: key cabinet members and their families, about a half-dozen senators, including Ted Kennedy. She reported to the secretary of the treasury himself.
She had worked unbelievably hard to get all that trust and responsibility, and she was responsible. Hundred hour weeks; no vacation year after year; no life to speak of.
She could hear the upcoming scuttlebutt before it happened. Two of her agents had royally screwed up. There would be an investigation-an old-fashioned witch-hunt. Jezzie Flanagan was on the hot seat. Since she was the first woman ever to hold her job, the fall, if it came, would be steep and painful, and very public.
She finally spotted the one person she'd been looking for in the crowd-and hoping not to find. Secretary of the Treasury Jerrold Goldberg had already arrived at his son's school. Standing with the secretary were Mayor Carl Monroe, an FBI special agent she knew named Roger Graham, and two black men she didn't recognize right off. Both of the blacks were tall; one of them extremely so, huge.
Jezzie Flanagan took a deep breath and walked quickly over to Secretary Goldberg and the others.
“I'm very sorry, Jerrold,” she said in a whisper as she arrived. “I'm sure the children will be found.”
“A teacher” was all Jerrold Goldberg could manage. He shook his head of close-cropped white curls. His eyes were wet and shiny. “A teacher of children, little babies. How could this happen?”
He was clearly hearthroken. The secretary looked ten years older than his actual age, which was forty-nine.
His face was as white as the school's stucco walls.
Before coming to Washington, Jerrold Goldberg had been at Salomon Brothers on Wall Street. He'd made twenty or thirty million in the prosperous, thoroughly crazy 1980s. He was bright, worldwise, and tested on his wisdom. He was as pragmatic as they came.
On this day, though, he was just the father of a kidnapped little boy, and he looked extremely fragile.
Along Came A Spider
WAS TALKING to Roger Graham from the FBI when the Secret Service supervisor, Jezzie Flanagan, -joined our group. She said what she could to comfort Secretary Goldberg. Then the talk quickly turned back to the apparent kidnapping, and the next steps to be taken.
“Are we a hundred percent sure it was this math teacher who took the children?” Graham asked the group. He and I had worked closely together before. Graham was extremely smart, and had been a star in the Bureau for years. He'd co-written a book about busting up organized crime in New Jersey. It had been made into a hit movie. We respected and liked each other, which is rare between the Bureau and local police. When my wife had been killed in Washington, Roger had gone out of his way to involve the Bureau in the investigation He'd given me more help than my own department.
I decided to try to answer Roger Graham's question,
I'd calmed down enough to talk by then, and I told them what Sampson and I had picked up so far.
“They definitely left the school grounds together,” I said. “A porter saw them. The math teacher, a Mr. Soneji, went to Ms. Kim's class. He lied to her. Said there was a telephone threat and that he was supposed to take the kids to the headmaster's office to be driven home. Said the Secret Service hadn't specified whether the threat involved the boy or girl. He just kept on going with them - The kids trusted him enough to go along.”
“How could a potential kidnapper possibly get on the teaching staff of this kind of school?” the special agent asked. A pair of sunglasses peeked from the breast pocket of his suit. Winter shades. Harrison Ford had played him in the movie made from his book. It wasn't bad casting, really. Sampson called Graham "Big Screen.
“That, we don't know yet,” I told Graham. "We will soon.
Sampson and I were finally introduced to Secretary Goldberg by Mayor Monroe. Monroe did a little bit on how we were one of D. C.'s most decorated detective teams and so on and so forth. Then the mayor ushered the secretary inside the headmaster's office. Special Agent Graham trailed along. He rolled his eyes at Sampson and me. He wanted us to know it wasn't his show.
Jezzie Flanagan stayed behind. “I've heard about you, Detective Cross, now that I think of it. You're the psychologist. There was an article in the Washington Post.” She smiled nicely, a demi-smile.
I didn't smile back. “You know newspaper articles,”
I told her. “Usually a pack of half-truths. In that case, definitely some tall tales.”
“I'm not so sure about that,” she said. “Nice to meet you, anyway.” Then she walked into the office behind Secretary Goldberg, the mayor, and the star FBI agent. Nobody invited me-the psychologist-detective of magazine fame. Nobody invited Sampson.
Monroe did poke his head out. "Stick around, you two. Don't make any waves. Don't get pissy, either. We need you here. I need to talk with you, Alex. Stay put. Don't get pissy Sampson and I tried to be good cops. We stood around outside the headmaster's office for another ten minutes. Finally, we left our posts. We were feeling pissy. I kept seeing the face of little Mustaf Sanders. Who was going to go and find his killer? No one. Mustaf had already been forgotten - I knew that would never happen with the two private-school children.
A little later that morning, Sampson and I were lying across the natural pine floor of the Day School “playroom” with a few of the children. We were there with Luisa, Jonathan, Stuart, MaryBen-y, and her “big” sister Brigid. No one had been able to pick these kids up yet, and they were frightened. Some of the children at the school had wet their pants, and there was one case of severe vomiting. There was the possibility of crisis trauma, a condition I had some experience treating.
Also down on the polished wood floor with us was the teacher, Vivian Kim. We'd wanted to talk to her about Soneji's visit to her class, and Soneji, in general. “We're new kids in your school,” Sampson joked with the children. He had actually taken his sunglasses off, though I wasn't sure if he had to. Kids usually take to Sampson. He fits into their “friendly monster” grouping.
“No you're not!” said Mary-Berry. Sampson had gotten her to smile already. A good sign.
“That's right, we're really policemen,” I told the kids. “We're here to make sure everybody's okay now. I mean, phew, what-a-morning!”
Ms. Kim smiled at me from across the floor. She knew I was trying to give the kids some reassurance. The police were there and it was safe again. No one could hurt them now; order had been restored.
“Are you a good policeman?” Jonathan asked me. He seemed very serious and earnest for such a small boy. “Yes, I am. So is my partner here, Detective Sampson. ”
“ You're big. You're awfully big,” said Luisa. “Big, big, BIG as my house!”
“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-it ”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 an( 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 morn 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 ded and smiled as he took in the unusual playroom e. 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. t I
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 Tefface?” 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 deaths?”
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 Road 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
Janwo Patterson children, but their kidnapping won't go wanting for tion 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. lbe-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 many 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 I
“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 its fancy trimmings. Monroe slid out of his seat. He looked down at me from outside the car. “This case is going to be enormously important, Alex. It's yours.” “No, thanks,” I said. But Monroe was already gone.
Along Came A Spider
TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES PAST TEN, well within 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
55 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 I 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 dirt 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 kilogram of body weight. He checked the breathing 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 God forsaken Maryland farm country. Just like little 9 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.
Along Came A Spider
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 inside. He felt the different textures of darkness as they ted 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 in 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., fight 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. Cool beans.
Along Came A Spider
BI SPECIAL AGENT ROGER 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?
Along Came A Spider
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 m@ e, 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 plow horse.
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
67 managed to invent. Maybe she knew the foothall 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 mum bled. 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 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 Schweitzer. “You look through his library?”
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 goddainn 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,
11 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.
72 / Jamei; Patterson
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 Deon 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 Sonejl 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 of disguise at the school. Maybe he put on makeup 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!
Along Came A Spider
AGGIE 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, @. 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! Monimy! 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 morn. 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.
Along Came A Spider
HE DUNNE HOUSE was what local real-estate ma vens 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 conu-non among the rich. There were a lot of expensive “things. ” Art Deco plaques, and oriental screens, a French sundial, a Turkestan rug, what looked like a Chinese or Japanese altar table. I remembered something Picasso had once said: “Give me a museum, and I'll fill it.”
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 goodsized, grown-up men to be. It wasn't your average toilet,
77 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.
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 one 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.”
Along Came A Spider
HE 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
82 there had seen Soneji. They weren't even aware of the book thefts from their stacks.
Soneii 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 had 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.
1 met with Katherine and Thomas Dunne in the back T84 / Jarnes Pattergon yard 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 eans 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 oP 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 you 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.
Along Came A Spider
AGGIE ROSE Still believed she was in her own
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 drifung 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 morn 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! Someone 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. “Stop yer crying!” 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!”
Along Came A Spider
HE 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
92 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 ed. 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?
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
Brothers. " It suggested that Soneji might be a niac 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 the Goldbergs' 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 the 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 buildings 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 Not a promising beginning. sign.
“Please don't let this be those kids,” Jezzie Flanagan muttered as we reached flatter ground.
Two Bureau agents, Reilly and Gerry Scorse, were
T the riverside. Snow flurries drifted down. A bracing d 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.
Along Came A Spider
ZZIE FLANAGAN didn't get home until early Christmas morning. Her head was spinning, bursting with 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, cramped 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
98 been a real standout in that department. But in the end, she wouldn't let him beat her down.
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 years. The end game came for Terry Flanagan, on his beloved ob-a heart attack in crowded Union Station-with hundreds of complete strangers watching him die, nobody really caring. Anyway, that was the
I way Jezzie always told the story I Jezzie decided, again, for the thousandth time, that she had to move out of her mother's place. No matter I what. No more larne 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 ' 4 6 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.
Along Came A Spider
N 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
103 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 roorn'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.
Along Came A Spider
HE 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 Fountain bleu 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
106 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.
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 yannulke 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 lay the
Miami Heat. p
“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 that 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 N@l 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 Christcold 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.
Along Came A Spider
I now, Gary boy. the fat woman out of the 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 I 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. Soneii 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
T 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 look 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 in side 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.
Along Came A Spider
T WAS DEFINITELY SHOWTIME! A Federal Express courier had arrived at the FBI offices just before tenthirty 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, II 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 theferry, 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 Ltnavergh. ” 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 uttered, "The Lord, He sure does work in mysterious
A half-dozen cars were waiting for us in the sunbaked parking lot behind the Bureau building. Bill Thompson, Jezzie Flanagan, Klepner, myself, and Sampson traveled in one of the FBI sedans. The securities and money went with us. Detective Alex Cross will deliver the ransom.
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 OpaLocka 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 3 1 0 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-e “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 pipe d 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.”
I could just imagine the scene at the FBI crisis room on 10th Street. As many as a couple of dozen VIPs would be crowded in there. Each of them would have his own desk and a closed-circuit TV monitor. The aerial photography of Walt Disney World would be laying on all the monitors at once. The room's Big p Board would be filled with facts... exactly how many agents and other personnel were converging on the park at that moment. The number of exits. Every roadway in or out. Weather conditions. Size of the day's crowd. Number of Disney security people. But probably nothing about Gary Soneji or Maggie Rose, or we would heard about it.
“I'm going to Disney World!” One of the agents on board the plane cracked a joke. The pretty typical cop talk got some nervous laughter. Breaking the tension was good, and hard to achieve under the difficult circumstances.
The whole notion of meeting up with a madman and a kidnapped little girl wasn't a nice one. Neither was the cold reality of the holiday crowds waiting for us at Disney World. We were told that more than seventy thousand people were already inside the theme park and its parking areas. Still, this would be our best chance to get Soneji, This might be our only chance.
We rode to the Magic Kingdom in a special caravan, a police escort with flashing lights and sirens. We took the breakdown lane on 1-4, passing all the regular traffic coming in from the airport.
People packed into station wagons and minivans jeered or cheered our speedy progress. None of them had any idea who we were, or why we were rushing to Disney World. Just VIPs going to see Mickey and Minnie.
We got off at exit 26-A, then proceeded along World Drive to the auto plaza. We arrived inside the parking area at a little past 12:15 P. m. That was cutting it extremely close, but Soneji hadn't given us time to organize.
Why Disney World? I kept trying to understand. Because Gary Soneji had always wanted to go there as a kid, and had never been allowed? Because he appreciated the almost neurotic efficiency of the well-run amusement park?
It would have been relatively easy for Gary Soneji to get into Disney World. But how was he going to get out? That was the most intriguing question of all.
Along Came A Spider
ENIOR DISNEY attendants parked our cars in the Pluto section, row 24. A fiberglass tram was waiting there to pick us up and take us to the ferry. “Why do you think Soneji asked for you?” Bill Thompson said as we were getting out of the car. “Any idea at all, Alex?”
“Maybe he heard about me in the news stories back in Washington,” I said. “Maybe he knows I'm a psychologist and that caught his attention. I'll be sure to ask him about that. When I see him.”
“Just take it easy with him,” Thompson offered some advice. “All we want is the girl back.”
“That's all I want,” I told him. We were both exaggerating. We wanted Maggie Rose safe, but we also wanted to capture Soneji. We wanted to burn him here at Disney World.
Thompson put his arm around my shoulder as we stood in the parking area. There was some nice camaraderie for a change. Sampson, and also Jezzie Flanagan,
124 wished me good luck. The FBI agents were being supportive, for the time being at least.
“How're you feeling?” Sampson pulled me aside for a moment. “You all right with all this shit? He asked for you, but you don't have to go.”
“I'm fine. He's not going to hurt me. I'm used to psychos, remember?”
“You are a psycho, my man.”
1 took the single suitcase with the ransom inside. I climbed onto the bright orange tram alone. Holding tightly to an overhead metal stirrup, I headed toward the Magic Kingdom, where I was to make the exchange for Maggie Rose Dunne.
It was 12:44 p.m. I was six minutes early.
No one paid much attention to me as I moved with the congealed flow of people toward rows of ticket booths and turnstiles at the Magic Kingdom Ticket Center. Why should they?
That had to be Soneji's idea for choosing the crowded location. I clutched the suitcase tighter. I felt that as long as I had the ransom, I had a safety line to Maggie Rose.
Had he dared to bring the little girl with him? Was he here himself Or was all this a test for us? Anything was possible now.
The mood of the Disney World crowd was lighthearted and relaxed. These were mostly family vacationers, having fun under the bright cornflower-blue skies. A pleasant announcer's voice was chanting: “Take small children by the hand, do not forget your personal belongings, and enjoy your stay at the Magic Kingdom.”
No matter how jaded you might be, the fantasyland was captivating. Everything was incredibly clean and safe. You couldn't help feeling completely protected, which was so goddamned weird for me.
Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Snow White greeted everybody at the front gates. The park was immaculate. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” played from loudspeakers cleverly hidden somewhere in the manicured shrubbery. I could feel my heart pounding under a loose-fitting sport shirt. I was out of touch with all my backup for the moment. It would be that way until I was physically in the Magic Kingdom.
The palms of my hands were clammy, and I wiped them against my trousers. Mickey Mouse was shaking hands right in front of me. This was nuts.
I had just entered an area of deep shadows cast from the Transportation and Ticket Center. The ferry was visible, a miniature Mississippi riverboat, without the paddle wheel.
A man wearing a sport jacket and brimmed hat slid alongside me. I didn't know if it was Soneji. The sense of Disney World's safety and protection was broken immediately.
“Change of plans, Alex. I'll take you to see Maggie Rose now. Keep looking straight ahead, please. You're doing super so far. Just keep it up and we're home safe. ”
A six-foot-tall Cinderella walked past us, heading in the opposite direction. Children and adults oohed and aahed at her.
“Just turn around now, Alex. We're going to walk back the same way you came in. This can be a day at the beach. It's up to you, my friend.”
He was perfectly calm and in control, the way Soneji had been throughout the kidnapping. There was an aura of invincibility around everything so far. He had called me Alex. We began to walk back against the flow of the crowd.
Cinderelia's coiffed head of blond curls bobbed along ahead of us. Children laughed with delight as they saw the movie and cartoon heroine come to life.
“I have to see Maggie Rose first” was the only thing I said to the man in the brimmed hat. Could he be Soneji in disguise? I couldn't tell. I needed to get a better look at him.
“That's fine. But if anyone stops us, I'll tell you right now, the girl is dead.” Brimmed Hat said it offhandedly, as if he was giving a stranger the time of day.
“No one's going to stop us,” I assured him. “Our only concern is the girl's safety.”
I hoped that was true for all the parties involved. I'd seen Katherine and Tom Dunne briefly that morning. I knew that all they cared about was getting their little girl back tonight.
Perspiration had begun to stream down my entire body. I had no control over that. The temperature was only in the mid-eighties, but the humidity was high.
I had started to worry about an inadvertent screw-up. Anything could go wrong here. It wasn't as if we'd practiced this maneuver, right in the heart of Disney World and its unpredictable crowds.
“Listen. If the FBI sees me coming outside, somebody might approach us,” I decided to tell the man.
“I hope not,” he said and made a taking sound. He his head back and forth. “That would be a serious h of etiquette.”
Whoever he was, he was unnaturally cool under fire. Had he done this before? I wondered. It seemed to me that we were headed back in the direction of the rows of orange trams. One of the trams would take us back out to the parking area again. Was that the plan?
The man was too heavyset to be Soneii, I thought.. Unless he had on some kind of brilliant disguise and lots of padding. The actor angle came to mind again. I hoped to God he wasn't an impostor. Someone who'd found out what was going on in Florida, then contacted us to go for the ransom. It wouldn't be the first time that had happened in a kidnapping case.
“Federal Bureau! Hands high!” I heard suddenly. It all happened gunshot-quick. My heart went up into my throat. What the hell were they doing? What were they thinking?
Half-a-dozen agents had us surrounded in the parking lot. They had their revolvers out. At least one rifle was aimed at the contact man, and therefore at me.
Agent Bill Thompson was there with the others. We only want to get the girl back, he'd said to me just moments ago “Back away! Back off!” I lost it and yelled at them. “Get the hell away from us! Get out of here!”
I looked directly at Brimmed Hat now. It couldn't be Gary Soneji. I was almost certain of that. Whoever it was didn't care if he was recognized or even photographed in Orlando.
Why was that? How could this guy be so cool?
“If you take me, the girl's dead,” he said to the FBI agents surrounding us. He was stone-cold. His eyes looked dead. "There's nothing that'll stop it from happening. I can't do a thing. Neither can you. She's dead meat. I t
“Is she alive now?” Thompson took a step toward the man. He looked as if he might hit him, which was what we all wanted to do.
“She's alive. I saw her about two hours ago. She was home free unless you fucked this up. Which you're doing big time. Now back off, just like the detective said. Back the fuck off, man.”
“How do we know you're partners with Soneji?” Thompson asked. “One. Ten million. Two. Disney World, Orlando- The Magic Kingdom. Three. Park at Pluto 24.” He reeled off the exact wording from the ransom message. Thompson stood his ground. “We'll negotiate for the girl's release. Negotiate. You do it our way.”
“What? And kill the girl?” Jezzie Flanagan had come up directly behind Thompson and the rest of the FBI posse.
“Put your guns down,” she said firmly. “Let Detective Cross- make the exchange. If you do it your way and the girl dies, I'll tell every reporter in the country. I swear I will, Thompson. I swear to God I will.”
“So will I,” I said to the FBI special agent. “You have my word on it.” “This isn't him. It isn't Soneji,” Thompson finally said. He looked at Agent Scorse and shook his head in disgust. “Let them go,” he ordered. “Cross and the ransom go to Soneji. That's the decision.”
The icy contact man and I started to walk again-I was shaking. People were staring at us as we continued our trip toward the orange motor-trams. I felt completely unreal. Moments later we were inside one of the trams. We both sat down.
“Assholes,” the contact man muttered. It was his first sign of any emotion. “They almost blew everything. ”
We stopped at a new Nissan Z in Section Donald, row 6. The car was dark blue, with tinted gray glass. No one was inside the sports car.
Brimmed Hat started the car, and we made our way out toward 1-4 again. Traffic leaving the park at noon was almost nonexistent. A day at the beach, he'd said.
We headed back in the direction of Orlando International. Due east. I tried to get him to talk, but he had nothing to say to me.
Maybe he wasn't so cool and collected. Maybe he'd been scared shitless back there, too. The Bureau had almost blown everything; it wouldn't be the first time. Actually, the move at the park was probably no more than a bluff. As I thought about it, I realized it was their last chance to negotiate for the release of Maggie Rose Dunne.
A little more than half an hour had passed before we entered a private-plane annex a few miles beyond Orlando's main terminal. It was past one-thirty now. The exchange wasn't going to be in Disney World.
“The note promised this would be over by one-fifteen,” I said as we climbed out of the Nissan. A wann tropical breeze blew at us across the airfield. The smells of diesel fuel and baking macadam were thick.
“The note lied,” he said. He was as cold as ice again “That's our plane. It's just you and me now. Try to be smarter than the FBI, Alex. It shouldn't be too hard.”
Along Came A Spider
C) IT BACK, relax, enjoy the ride,“ he said once we were on board. ”Seems like I'm your friendly @pilot, too. Well, maybe not so friendly."
He handcuffed me to an armrest of one of the plane's four passenger seats. Another hostage taken, I thought. Maybe I could jerk the armrest out. It was metal and plastic. Flimsy enough.
The contact man was definitely the plane's pilot. He got clearance, and then the Cessna bumped on down the runway, gathering speed slowly. Finally it lifted off and was airborne, banking to the southeast, drifung out over the eastern section of Orlando and St. Petersburg. I was sure we were under surveillance thus far. From here on though, everything depended on the contact man. And on Soneji's master plan.
The two of us were silent for the first minutes of flight. I settled back and watched him work, trying to remember every detail of the flight so far. He was effi
132 cient and relaxed at the controls. There were still no signs of stress. A professional all the way.
A strange possible connection entered my mind. We were in Florida now, heading farther south. A Colombian drug cartel had originally threatened Secretary Goldberg's family. Was that a coincidence? I didn't believe in coincidences anymore.
A rule of police work, especially police work in my experience, was passing back and forth through my mind. An important rule. Fully ninety-five percent of crimes were solved because somebody made a mistake. Soneji hadn't made any mistakes so far. He hadn't left us any openings. Now was the time for mistakes. The exchange would be the dangerous time for him.
“This has all been planned with a lot of precision,” I said to Brimmed Hat. The plane was gliding farther and farther out over the Atlantic now. Toward what destination? To make the final exchange for Maggie
“You're so right. Everything's tight-assed as can beYou wouldn't believe how buttoned-up things are.”
“Is the little girl really all right?” I asked him again.
“I told you, I saw her this morning. She hasn't been banned, ” he said. “Not a hair on her chinny-chin-chin. ”
That's real hard for me to believe," I said. I remembered the way we'd found Michael Goldberg.
The pilot shrugged his broad shoulders. “Believe what the hell you want.” He didn't really care what I thought.
“Michael Goldberg was sexually abused. Why should we believe the girl's unharmed?” I said.
He looked at me. I had a gut feeling he hadn't known ut the Goldberg boy's condition. It seemed to me that he wasn't a partner of Soneji's, that Gary Soneji wouldn't have any real partners. The pilot had to be hired help, which meant we had a chance of getting Maggie Rose.
“Michael Goldberg was beaten after he was dead,” I told him. “He was sodomized. Just so you know what you're involved in. Who your partner is.”
For some reason, that caused the contact man to grin. “Okay. No more helpful hints or annoying questions. Much as I appreciate your concern. Enjoy the ride. The girl hasn't been beaten, or sexually abused. You have my word as a gentleman.”
“Is that what you are? Anyway, you can't know that,” I said. “You haven't seen her since this morning. You don't know what Soneji's been up to, off by himself. Whatever his real name is.”
“ Yeah, well, we all have to trust our partners. You just sit back now and button up. Trust me. Due to a shortage of crew, there will be no complimentary beverage or snack on this flight.”
Why was he so goddamn calm? He was too sure of himself.
Could there have been other kidnappings before this one? Maybe there had been a trial run somewhere? At least it was something to check. If I was going to be able to check anything after this was over.
I leaned back for a moment and let my eyes wander down below. We were way out over the ocean. I looked at my watch-a little more than thirty minutes from Orlando so far. The sea looked choppy, even with the bright, sunny weather. An occasional cloud cast its shadow down on the stony-looking water surface. The wavering outline of the plane appeared and disappeared. The Bureau had to be tracking us on radar, but the pilot would know that, too. He didn't seem concerned. It was a terrifying game of cat and mouse. How would the contact man react? Where were Soneji and Maggie Rose? Where were we going to make the exchange?
“Where'd you learn to fly?” I asked. “In Vietnam?” I'd been wondering about that. He seemed the right age, mid-to late-forties, though badly gone to seed. I'd treated some Viet vets who would be cynical enough to get involved in a kidnapping.
He wasn't bothered by the question, but he didn't answer me, either.
It was peculiar. He still didn't seem nervous or concerned. One of the kidnapped children was already dead. Why was he so smug and relaxed? What did he know that I didn't? Who was Gary Soneji? Who was he? What was their connection?
About half an hour later, the Cessna started to descend toward a small island that was ringed by white sand beaches. I had no idea where we were. Somewhere in the Bahamas, maybe? Was the FBI still with us? Tracking us from the sky? Or had he lost them somehow?
"What's the name of the island down there? Where are we? Nothing I can do about it at t is po nt.
“This is Little Abaco,” he finally answered. “Is anyone tracking us? The Fibbers? Electronic tracking? Bug on you somewhere?”
“No,” I said. “No bugs. Nothing up my sleeve.”
“Something they put on the money, maybe?” He seemed to know all the possibilities. “Fluorescent dust?”
“Not that I know of,” I said - That much was true. I couldn't be certain, though. The FBI might not have told me everything.
“I sure hope not. Hard to really trust you people after what went on at Disney World. Place was crawling with cops and FBI. After we told you not to. Can't trust anybody nowadays.”
He was trying to be humorous. He didn't care whether I reacted or not. He seemed like a man who'd been desperately down and out, but had been given a last chance at some money. The dirtiest money in the world.
There was a narrow landing strip on the beach. The hard-packed sand ran on for several hundred yards. The plane was set down easily and expertly. The pilot made a quick U-tum, then taxied straight for a stand of palm trees. It seemed like part of a plan. Every detail in its place. Perfect so far.
There was no quaint island shack here. No small reception area that I could make out. The hills beyond the beach were lush and thick with tropical vegetation.
There was no sign of anybody, anywhere. No Maggie Rose Dunne. No Soneji.
“Is the girl here?” I asked him,
“Good question,” he answered. “ Let's wait and see. I'll take first lookout.”
He shut off the engine, and we waited in silence and suffocating heat. No more answers to my questions, anyway. I wanted to rip out the armrest and beat him with it. I'd been gritting my teeth so hard that I had a headache.
He kept his eyes pinned on the cloudless sky over the landing strip. He watched through the windshield for several minutes. I was having trouble breathing in the heat.
Is the little girl here? Is Maggie Rose alive? Damn you!
Bugs landed continually on the tinted glass. A pelican swooped by a couple of times. It was a lonely-looking place. Nothing else was happening.
It got hotter, unbearably so. Hot the way a car gets when it's left in the sun. The pilot didn't seem to feel it. He was evidently used to this kind of weather. The minutes stretched on to an hour. Then two hours. I was drenched with sweat and dying of thirst. I tried not to think about the heat, but that wasn't possible. I kept thinking that the FBI must be watching us from the air. Mexican standoff. What was going to break it?
“Is Maggie Rose Dunne here?” I asked him a few more times. The longer this went on, the more I was afraid for her. No answer. No indication that he had even heard me. He never checked his watch. He didn't move around, didn't fidget. Was he in some kind of trance? What was with this guy?
I stared for long stretches at the armrest he'd cuffed me to. I thought it was as close to a mistake as they'd made yet. It was old, and rattled when I tested it. I ight be able to rip it out of its socket. If it came to , I knew I was in trouble. But I had to try. It was the only solution.
Then, as abruptly and unexpectedly as we had landed, the Cessna rolled back out toward the beach runway. We took off again.
We were flying low, under a thousand feet. Cool air came into the plane. The roar of the propeller was growing hypnotic for me.
It was getting dark. I watched the sun do its nightly disappearing act, slipping completely off the horizon that lay before us. The view was beautiful, and eerie, under the circumstances. I knew what he'd been waiting for now. Nightfall. He wanted to work by night. Soneji liked the night.
About half an hour after dark, the plane began to descend again. There were twinkling specks and spots of light below us-what looked like a small town from the air. This was it. This was showdown time. The exchange for Maggie Rose was about to happen.
“Don't ask. Because I'm not telling you,” he said without turning from the controls.
“Now why doesn't that surprise me?” I said. Trying to make it look like I was shifting positions in the seat, I gave the armrest a yank and felt something give. I was afraid to do more damage. The landing strip and airfield were small, but at least there was one. I could see two other small planes near an unpainted shack. The pilot never attempted radio contact with anyone on the ground. My heart was racing.
An old-fashioned Flying A sign balanced precariously on the building's roof. No sign of anyone as we bumped to a stop. No Gary Soneji. No Maggie Rose. Not yet, anyway.
Someone left a light out, I thought to myself. Now, where the hell are they?
“Is this where we're making the exchange for Maggie Rose?” I went at the armrest again. Another yank with most of my strength behind it.
The contact man got up from his seat. He squeezed past me. He started to climb out of the plane. He was holding the suitcase with the ten million.
“Good-bye, Detective Cross,” he turned and said. “Sorry, but I have to run. Don't bother searching the area later. The girl isn't here. Not even close to here. We're back in the States, by the way. You're in South Carolina now.”
“Where is the girl?” I yelled after him, straining at the handcuffs attached to the armrest. Where was the FBI? How far behind us were they?
I had to do something. I had to act now. I stood up to get some leverage, then pulled with all my weight and strength at the small plane's armrest. I yanked the armrest again and again. The plastic and metal piece ripped halfway out of the seat. I kept at it. The other half of the armrest broke off with a ripping noise like a deep and painful tooth extraction.
Two running strides and I was at the plane's open doorway. The contact man was already down on the ground, getting away with the suitcase. I dived at him. I needed to slow him until the Bureau got there. I also wanted to flatten the bastard, show him who was doing the controlling now.
I hit the contact man like a hawk striking a field rat. both struck the tarinac hard, woofing out air. The armrest still dangled from my handcuffs. Metal raked across his face and drew blood. I belted him once with my free arm.
“Where is Maggie Rose? Where is she?” I shouted at the top of my lungs To my left, over the shiny darkness of the sea, I could see lights floating toward us, approaching fast. It had to be the Bureau. Their surveillance planes were coming to the rescue. They had managed to follow us.
Just then I was hit on the back of my neck. It felt like a lead pipe. I didn't go out immediately. Soneji? a voice inside me screamed. A second hard blow cracked the back of my skull, the tender part. This time, I went down for the count. I never saw who was doing the swinging, or what he had used.
When I came to, the small airfield in South Carolina was a raft of dazzling lights and activity. The FBI was there in full force. So were the local Carolina police. EMS ambulances and fire engines were everywhere.
The contact man was gone, though, So was the tenmillion-dollar ransom. He'd made a clean getaway. Perfect planning on Soneji's part. Another perfect move.
“The little girl? Maggie Rose?” I asked a balding emergency doctor tending the wounds on my head. “No sir,” he said in a slow drawl. "The little girl is still missing. Maggie Rose Dunne was never seen around here.
Along Came A Spider
IUSFIELD, MARYLAND, lay under gloomy, elephant gray skies. It had been raining on and off for most of the day. A lone police car raced along rainslicked country roads with its siren screaming. Inside the car were Artie Marshall and Chester Dils. Dils was twenty-six, which made him exactly twenty years younger than Marshall. Like many young, rural policemen, he had dreams of getting out of the areathe same kind of hopes and dreams he'd had while attending Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.
But here he was, still in Crisfield. Twin Peaks II, he liked to call the town of under three thousand.
Dils almost physically ached to become a Maryland state trooper. It was tricky sledding because of the demanding trooper exams, especially the math. But becoming a trooper would get him the hell out of Somerset County. Maybe as far away as Salisbury or Chestertown. Neither Dils nor especially mild-mannered Artie Mar
I was ready for the exposure and the quicksilver tations they were about to get. Just like that on the afternoon of the thirtieth of December. A telephone call had come into their station house on Old Hurley Road. A couple of hunters had spotted something that looked suspicious over in West Crisfield, on the way to the camping ground on Tangier Island. The hunters had found an abandoned vehicle. A blue Chevy minivan.
For the past several days, anything and everything vaguely suspicious immediately got associated with the big Washington kidnapping. That pattern had gotten old real fast. Dils and Marshall were ordered to check it out, anyway. A blue minivan had been used to take the kids from the school.
The afternoon was dying when they arrived at the farm out on Route 413. It was even a little spooky heading down the badly rutted dirt road onto the property.
“Old farm or something back here?” Dils asked his partner. Dils was behind the wheel. Doing about fifteen on the muddy, rutted road. Artie Marshall prefeffed to ride shotgun, sans the shotgun.
“Yeah. Nobody lives here now, though. I doubt this'll amount to anything monumental, Chesty. ”
“That's the beauty of The Job,” Chester Dils said. “You never know. Monumental is always out there somewhere.” He had a short-standing habit of making everything. a little more glamorous than it actually was. He had his dream and all his big ideas, but Artie Marshall thought of them more as the immaturity of a younger man. They arrived at the dilapidated barn that the hunters had mentioned iR their call to the station. “ Let's go for a look-see,” Marshall said, trying to match the younger officer's enthusiasm.
Chester Dils hopped out of the squad car. Artie Marshall followed, though not at the same sprightly pace. They approached a badly faded red barn, a low building that looked as if it had sunk a couple of feet into the ground since its heyday. The hunters had stopped at the barn to get out of the rainstorm earlier that afternoon. Then they had called the police.
The barn was fairly dark and gloomy inside. The windows had been covered over with cheesecloth. Artie Marshall turned on his flashlight.
“Let's have a little light on the subject,” he muttered. Then, he bellowed, “Bingo fucking Jesus!”
There it was, all right. A big sinkhole in the middle of the dirt floor. A dark blue van parked next to the hole. “Son-of-a-B, Artie!”
Chester Dils pulled out his service revolver. Suddenly, he was having trouble getting his breath. He was having trouble just standing there. In all honesty, he did not want to go up to the big hole in the ground. He did not want to be inside the old barn anymore. Maybe he wasn't ready for the troopers after all.
“Who's here?” Artie Marshall called out in a loud, clear voice. “Come out, right now. We're the police! This is the Crisfield police.”
Christ, Artie was doing better than he was, Dils thought. The man was rising to the occasion. That got Chester Dils's feet and legs moving, anyway. He was heading farther inside the bam-to see if this was what he prayed to Almighty God it wasn't.
“Point that lamp right down in there,” he said to his partner in cfime-solving. They had come up fight alongside the hole in the ground. He could barely breathe now. His chest felt as if it were constricted by a tourniquet. His knees were knocking against each other. “You okay, Artie?” he asked his partner.
Marshall beamed the flashlight down into the dark, deep hole. They saw what the hunters had already seen.
There was a small box... almost a casket., in the sinkhole. The wooden case, or casket, was wide open. And it was empty. “What the hell is that thing?” Dils heard himself asking.
Artie Marshall bent down closer. He aimed the flashlight beam directly into the hole. Instinctively, he looked around. He checked his back. Then his attention went to the black hole again.
Something was down at the bottom of the hole. Something that looked bright pink, or red.
Marshall's mind was raeing. It's a shoe... Christ, it must be the little girl's. This must be where they kept Maggie Rose Dunne.
“This is where they kept those two kids,” he finally spoke to his partner. "We found it, Chesty.
And they had.
Along with one of Maggie Rose's pretty-in-pink sneakers. The old trusty-dusty Reebok sneakers that were supposed to help her blend in with the other kids at Washington Day School. The really weird part was that the sneaker looked as if it had been left there to be found.
The Son of L'indbergh
Along Came A Spider
UPSET, he retreated into his, s and powerful fantasies.. His master plan seemed to be racing out of control. He didn't even want to think about it.
Speaking in a whisper, he repeated the magical words from memory: “The Lindbergh farmhouse glowed with bright orangish lights. It looked like a fiery castle.... But now, the taking of Maggie Rose is the Crime of the Century. It simply is!”
He'd had a fantasy about committing the Lindbergh kidnapping as a boy. Gary. had even committed it to memory.
That was the beginning of everything: a story he had made up when he was twelve years old. A story he told himself over and over to keep from going insane. A daydream about a crime committed twenty-five years before he was born.
It was pitch-black in the basement of his house now.
He had gotten used to the dark. It was livable. It could even be great.
It was 6:15 P.m., a Wednesday, January 6, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Gary was letting his mind wander now, letting his mind fly. He was able to visualize every intimate detail of Lucky Lindy and Anne Moffow Lindbergh's farmhouse in Hopewell. He'd been obsessed with the worldfamous kidnapping for so long. Ever since his stepmother had arrived with her two spoiled bastard kids. Ever since he was first sent down to the cellar. “Where bad boys go to think about what they did wrong.”
He knew more than anyone alive about the thirties kidnapping. Baby Lindbergh had eventually been dredged up from a shallow grave only four miles from the New Jersey estate. Ah, but was it really Baby Lindbergh? The corpse they'd found had been too tallthirty-three inches, to only twenty-nine for Charles Jr.
No one understood the sensational, unsolved kidnapping. To this day. And that was the way it would be with Maggie Rose Dunne and Michael Goldberg.
No one was ever going to figure it out. That was a definite promise.
No one had figured out any of the other murders he'd done, had they? They got John Wayne Gacy, Jr., after over thirty murders in Chitown. Jeffrey Dahmer went down after seventeen in Milwaukee. Gary had murdered more than both of them put together. But no one knew who he was, or where he was, or what he planned to do next. it was dark down in his cellar, but Gary was used to it. “The cellar is an acquired taste,” he'd once told his stepmother to make her angry. The cellar was like your mind would be after you died. It could be exquisite, if you had a really great mind. Which he certainly did.
Gary was thinking about his plan of action, and the thought was simple: they hadn't really seen anything yet.
They better not blink.
Upstairs in the house, Missy Murphy was trying her best not to be too angry at Gary. She was making cookies for their daughter, Roni, and the other neighborhood kids, Missy was really trying to be understanding and supportive. One more time. She had been trying not to think of Gary. Usually Gary when she baked, it worked. This time it didn't. was incorrigible. He was also lovable, sweet, and bright as a thousand-watt bulb. That was why she had been attracted to him in the first place. She'd met him at a University of Delaware mixer. Gary had been slumming at Delaware. He'd come down there from Princeton. She'd never talked to anyone so smart in her life; not even her professors at school were as smart as Gary.
The really endearing part of him was why she had mrried him in 1982. Against the advice of everybody. Her best friend, Michelle Lowe, believed in tarot cards, reincarnation, all that stuff. She'd done their horoscopes, Gary's and hers. “Call it off, Missy,” she'd said. Don't you ever look in his eyes?" But Missy had gone ahead with the wedding, gone against everybody's advice. Maybe that was why she'd stuck with him through thin, and thinner. Thinner than anyone had a right to expect her to put up with. Sometimes, it was as if there were a couple of Garys to put up with. Gary and his unbelievable mind games.
Something real bad was coming now, she was thinking as she spilled in a full bag of morsels. Any day now he was going to tell her he'd been fired from his job. The old, awful pattern had started up again.
Gary had already told her he was “smarter than anybody” at work. (Undoubtedly, this was true.) He'd told her he was “zooming ahead” of everybody. He'd told her his bosses loved him. (This had probably been true in the beginning.) He'd told her they were going to make him a district sales manager soon. (This was definitely one of Gary's “stories.”) Then, trouble. Gary said his boss was starting to get jealous of him. The hours were impossible. (That was true enough. He was away all week and some weekends.) The danger pattern was in full gear. The sad part was that if he couldn't make it at this job, with this boss, how could he possibly make it anywhere?
Missy Murphy was certain that Gary would come home any day now and tell her he'd been asked to leave again. His days as a traveling sales rep for the Atlantic Heating Company were definitely numbered. Where would he find work after that? Who could possibly be more sympathetic than his current boss-her own brother, Marty.
Why did it have to be so hard all the time? Why was she such an all-day sucker for the Gary Murphys of this world?
Missy Murphy wondered if tonight was the night. Had Gary already been fired again? Would he tell her that when he got home from work tonight? How could such a smart man be such an unbelievable loser? she ndered. The first tear fell into the cookie mix, then wo Missy let the rest of Niagara Falls come. Her whole body began to tremble and heave.
Along Came A Spider
D NEVER HAD MUCH TROUBLE laughing at my frustrations as a cop or a psychologist. This time it was lot tougher to take in stride. Soneji had beaten us down South, in Florida and Carolina. We hadn't gotten Maggie Rose back. We didn't know if she was alive or dead.
After I was debriefed for five hours by the Federal Bureau, I was flown up to Washington where I got to answer all the same questions from my own department. One of the last inquisitors was Chief of Detectives Pittman. The Jefe appeared at midnight. He was all showered and shaved for the occasion of our special meeting.
“You look like absolute hell,” he said to me. Those were the first words out of his mouth.
“I've been up since yesterday morning, ” I explained. "I know how I look. Tell me something I don't already know.
I knew that was a mistake before the words got out.
I don't usually lead with my chin, but I was groggy and tired and generally fucked up by that time.
The Jefe leaned forward on one of the little metal chairs in his conference room. I could see his gold fillings as he spoke to me. “Sure thing, Cross. I have to blow you off the kidnapping case. Right or wrong, the press is pinning a lot of what went haywire on you, and us. The FBI isn't taking any of the heat. Thomas Dunne's making a lot of noise, too. Seems fair to me. The ransom's gone; we don't have his daughter.”
“Most of that is pure bullshit,” I told Chief Pittman. “Soneji asked for me to be the contact. Nobody knows why yet. Maybe I shouldn't have gone, but I did. The FBI blew the surveillance, not me.”
“Now tell me something I don't already know,” Pittman came back. “Anyway, you and Sampson can go back on the Sanders and Turner murders. Just the way you wanted it in the first place. I don't mind if you stay in the background on the kidnapping. That's all there is to talk about. ” The Jefe said his piece, and then he left. Over and out. No discussion of the matter.
Sampson and I had been put back in our place: Washington Southeast. Everybody had their priorities straight now. The murders of six black people mattered again.
Along Came A Spider
WO DAYS after I returned from South Carolina, I woke to the noise of a crowd gathered outside our house in Southeast.
From a seemingly safe place, the hollow of my pillow, I heard a buzz of voices. A line was sounding in my head: “Oh no, it's tomorrow again.”
I finally opened my eyes. I saw other eyes. Damon and Janelle were staring down at me. They seemed amused that I could be sleeping at a time like this.
“Is that the TV, kids? All that awful racket I hear?”
“No, Daddy,” said Damon. “TV's not on.”
“No, Daddy,” repeated Janelle. “It's better than TV. ”
I propped my head up on an elbow. “Well, are you two having a loud party with your friends outside? That it? Is that what I hear out my bedroom window?” Serious headshaking came from the two of them. Damon finally smiled, but my little girl remained serious and a little afraid.
“No, Daddy. We aren't havin' a party,” Damon said.
“Hmmm. Don't tell me the newspeople and the TV reporters are here again. They were here just a few hours ago. Just last night.”
Damon stood there with his hands on top of his head. He does that when he's excited or nervous.
“Yes, Daddy, it's the 'porters again.”
“Piss me off,” I muttered to myself.
“Piss me off, too,” Damon said with a scowl. He partially understood what was going on.
A very public lynching! Mine.
The damn reporters again, the newsies. I rolled over and looked up at the ceiling. I needed to paint again, I saw. It never stops when you own.
It was now a media “fact” that I had blown the exchange for Maggie Rose Dunne. Someone, maybe the Federal Bureau, maybe George Pittman, had hung me out to dry. Somebody had also leaked the false insider information that my psychological evaluations of Soneji had dictated actions in Miami.
A national magazine ran the headline D.C. Cop Lost Maggie Rose! Thomas Dunne had said in a TV interview that he held me personally responsible for failing to carry out the release of his daughter in Florida.
Since then, I'd been the subject of several stories and editorials. Not one of them was particularly positiveor close to being factual.
If I had screwed up the ransom exchange in any way, I would have taken the criticism. I can take heat okay. But I hadn't screwed up. I'd put my life on the line in Florida.
More than ever, I needed to know why Gary Soneji had picked me for the exchange in Florida. Why had I been a part of his plans? Why had I been chosen? Until I found that out, there was no way I was coming off the kidnapping. It didn't matter what The Jefe said, thought, or did to me.
“Damon, you march right outside to the front porch,” I told my little boy. “Tell the reporters to beat it. Tell them to take a hike. Tell them to hit the road, Jack. Okay?”
“Yeah. Take a hike, Ike!” Damon said.
I grinned at Damon, who understood I was making the best of the situation. He smiled back. Janelle finally grinned, and she took Damon's hand. I was getting up. They sensed that ACTION was coming. It sure was.
I moseyed outside to the front porch. I was going to ,,peak to the newspeople.
I didn't bother to put on my shoes. Or shirt. I thought of the immortal words of Tarzan-Aaeeyaayaayaa!
“How are you folks this fine winter morning?” I asked, standing there in some baggy chinos. “Anybody need more coffee or sweet rolls?”
“Detective Cross, Katherine Rose and Thomas Dunne are blaming you for the mistakes made in Florida. Mr. Dunne released another statement last night.” Someone gave me the morning news-free of charge, too. Yes, I was still the scapegoat of the week.
“I can understand the Dunnes' disappointment at the results in Florida,” I said in an even tone. “Just drop your coffee containers anywhere on the lawn, like you've been doing. I'll pick up later.”
“Then you agree you made a mistake,” someone said. “Handing over the ransom money without seeing Maggie Rose first?”
“No. I don't agree at all. I had no choice down in Florida and South Carolina. The only choice I had was not to gq.with the contact man at all. See, when you're handcuffed, and the other guy has the gun, you're at a serious disadvantage. When your backup gets there late, that's another problem - ”
It was as if they didn't hear a word I'd said. “Detective, our sources say it was your decision to pay the ransom in the first place,” someone suggested.
“Why do you come here and camp out on my lawn?” I said to that bullshit. “Why do you come here and scare my family? Disrupt this neighborhood? I don't care what you print about me, but I will tell you this: you don't have a clue as to what the hell is going on. You could be endangering the Dunne girl.”
“Is Maggie Rose Dunne alive?” someone shouted.
I turned away and went back inside the house. That would teach them, right. Now they understood all about respecting people's privacy.
“Hey, Peanut Butter Man. Wuz up?”
A crowd of a different sort recognized me a little later that morning. Men and women were lined up three deep on 12th Street in front of St. Anthony's Church. They were hungry and cold, and none of them had Nikons or Leicas hung around their necks.
“Hey, Peanut Butter Man, I seen you on the TV. You a movie star now?” I heard someone call out. “Hell, yeah. Can't you tell?”
For the past few years, Sampson and I have been ing the soup kitchen at St. A's. We do it two or days a week. I started there because of Maria, who had done some of her casework through the parish. I kept on after her death for the most selfish of reasons: the work made me feel good. Sampson welcomes folks for lunch at the front door. He takes the numbered ticket they're given when they get on line. He's also a deterrent to people acting up.
I'm the physical deterrent inside the dinner hall. I'm called the Peanut Butter Man. Jimmy Moore, who runs the kitchen, believes in the nutritional power of peanut butter. Along with a full meal that usually consists of rolls, two vegetables, a meat or fish stew, and dessert, anyone who wants it gets a cup of peanut butter. Every day.
“Hey, Peanut Butter Man. You got some good peanut butter for us today? You got Skippy or that Peter Pan shit?”
I grinned at familiar, hangdog faces in the crowd. My nose filled with the familiar smells of body odor, bad breath, stale liquor. “Don't know exactly what's on the menu today.”
The regulars know Sampson and me. Most of them also know we're police. Some of them know I'm a shrink, since I do counseling outside ' the kitchen, in a prefab trailer that says, “The Lord helps them what helps themselves. Come on the hell in.”
Jimmy Moore runs an efficient, beautiful,place. He claims it's the largest soup kitchen in the East, and we'll do an average of over eleven hundred meals a day. The kitchen starts serving at ten-fifteen, and lunch is over by twelve-thirty. That means if you get there at exactly one minute past twelve-thirty, you go hungry that day. Discipline, be it ever so humble, is a big part of St. A's program.
No one is admitted drunk or too obviously high. You're expected to behave during your meal. You get about ten minutes to eat-other people are cold and hungry waiting on the long line outside. Everyone is treated with dignity and respect. No questions are asked of any of the guests. If you wait on line, you get fed. You're addressed as either Sir or Ms., and the mostly volunteer staff is trained to be upbeat. “Smile checks” are actually done on the new volunteers working the serving line or the dining room.
Around noon there was a major disturbance outside. I could hear Sampson shouting. Something was going down.
People on the soup line were shouting and cursing loudly. Then I heard Sampson call for help. “Alex! Come on out here!”
I ran outside and immediately saw what was going down. My fists were clenched into tight, hard anvils. The press had found us again. They had found me.
A couple of squin-elly news cameramen were filming folks on the soup-kitchen line, and that's very unpopular-understandably. These people were trying to keep the last of their self-respect, and they didn't want to be seen on TV standing on a soup line for a handout,
Jimmy Moore is a tough, rude Irishman who used to work on the D.C. police force with us. He was already outside, and it was Jimmy, actually, who was making most of the noise. “You cocksucking, motherfucking sons-of-bitches! uddenly found myself yelling. ”You're not invited ! You're not fucking welcome! Leave these people alone. Let us serve our lunch in peace."
The photographers stopped shooting their pictures. They stared at me. So did Sampson. And Jimmy Moore. And most everybody on the soup line. The press didn't leave, but they backed away. Most of them crossed 12th Street, and I knew they would wait for me to come out.
We were serving people their lunch, I thought to myself as I watched the reporters and photographers waiting for me in a park across the street. Who the hell did the press serve these days other than the wealthy business conglomerates and families they all worked for?
Angry rumblings were starting up around us. "People are hungry and cold. Let's eat. People got a right to someone yelled from the line. eat, I went back inside to my post. We started to serve lunch. I was the Peanut Butter Man.
Along Came A Spider
N THE CITY OF WILMINGTON, DELAWARE, Gary Murphy was shoveling away four inches of snow. It was Wednesday afternoon, the sixth of January. He was thinking about the kidnapping. He was trying to keep under control. He was thinking about the little rich bitch Maggie Rose Dunne, when a shiny blue Cadillac pulled up alongside his small Colonial-style house on Central Avenue. Gary cursed under the breath streaming from his mouth.
Six-year-old Roni, Gary's daughter, was making snowhalls, setting them out on the icy crust that topped the snow. She squealed when she saw her uncle Marty climbing out of his car.
“Who's that boot-i-ful little girl?” Uncle Marty called across the yard to Roni. “Is that a movie star? It is! I think so. Is that Ron-eee? I think it is!”
"Uncle Marty! Uncle Marty! @' Roni screamed as she ran toward the car.
Every time Gary saw Marty Kasajian, he thought of
161 the really putrid movie Uncle Buck. In Uncle Buck, John Candy was an unlikable, unwelcome, unlikely relative who kept showing up to torture a whitebread midwestern family. It was an obnoxious flick. Uncle Marty Kasajian was rich and successful; and louder than John Candy; and he was here. Gary despised Missy's big brother for all of those reasons, but most of all because Marty was his boss.
Missy must have heard Marty's commotion. How could anyone on Central Avenue or nearby North Street miss it? She came out of the back door with a dish towel still wrapped around one hand.
“Look who's here!” Missy squealed. She and Roni sounded like identical piglets to Gary.
Quelfucking surprise, Gary felt like yelling. He held it all in-the way he held in all of his true feelings at home. He imagined beating Marty to death with his snow shovel, actually murdering Kasajian in front of Missy and Roni. Show them who the man of the house really was.
“The Divine Miss M! ” Marty Kasajian continued to motorrnouth a mile a minute. He finally acknowledged Gary. “Hiya doin', Gar, old buddy. How 'bout those Eagles? Randall the C's on fire. Got your Super Bowl tickets lined up?”
"Sure thing, Marty. Two tickets on the fifty-yard line.
Gary Murphy tossed his aluminum shovel into a low bank of snow. He trudged over to where Missy and Roni were standing with Uncle Marty.
Then they all went inside the house together. Miss y brought out expensive eggnog, and pieces of fresh apple-raisin pie with hunks of cheddar on the side. Marty's piece was bigger than all the others. He was The Man, right?
Marty handed an envelope to Missy. It was Missy's 4'allowance" from her big brother, which he wanted Gary to see. Really rub salt in the wounds that way.
“Mommy, Uncle Marty, and Daddy have to talk for a coupla minutes, sweetheart,” Marty Kasajian said to Roni as soon as he finished his piece of pie. “I think I forgot something for you out in my car. I dunno. Could be on the backseat. You better go look.”
“Put your coat on first, honey,” Missy said to her daughter. “Don't catch cold.”
Roni laughed-squeaked as she hugged her uncle. Then she hurried away.
“Now what did you get her?” Missy whispered conspiratorially to her brother. “You're too much.”
Marty shrugged as if he couldn't remember. With everybody else, Missy was okay. She reminded Gary of his real morn. She even looked like his real morn. It was only with her brother, Gary had noticed, that she changed for the worse. She even started picking up Marty's obnoxious habits and speech cadences.
“Listen, kids.” Marty hunched in closer to the two of them. “We have a little problema. Treatable, because we're catching it early, but something we have to deal with. Pretend like we're all adults, y'know.”
Missy was instantly on guard. “What is it, Marty? What's the problem?”
Marty Kasajian looked genuinely concerned and uncomfortable now. Gary had seen him use this hangdog look a thousand times with his customers. Especially when he had to confront somebody on an overdue bill, or fire somebody in the office. “Gar?” He looked at Gary for help with this. “You want to say something here?”
Gary shrugged. As if he didn't have clue one, right. Fuck you, asshole, he was thinking to himself. You're on your own this time.
Gary could feel a smile spreading, coming all the way up from his stomach. He didn't want it to show, but it finally broke across his lips. This was kind of a delectable moment. Getting caught had its own subtle rewards. Might be a lesson here; something to go to school on.
“Sorry. I don't think this is funny.” Marty Kasajian shook his head and said, “I really don't, Gary.”
“Well, I don't either,” Gary said in a funny voice. It was high-pitched and boyish. Not really his voice.
Missy gave him a strange look. “What is going on?” she demanded. "Will you two please let me in on this )I Gary looked at his wife. He was really angry at her, too. She was part of the trap and she knew it.
“My sales record with Atlantic really stinks this quarter,” Gary finally said, and shrugged. “Is that it, Marty?”
Marty frowned and looked down at his new Timberland boots. “Oh, it's more than that, Gar. Your sales record is almost nonexistent. What's worse, what's a lot worse, is that you have over thirty-three hundred dollars in advances outstanding. You're in the red, Gary. You're minus. I don't want to say much more, or I know I'll regret it. I honestly don't know how to address this situation. This is very difficult for me. Embarrassing. I'm so sorry, Missy. I hate this.”
Missy covered her face with both hands, and she began to cry. She cried quietly at first, not wanting to cry. Then the sobs became louder. Tears came into her brother's eyes.
“That's what I didn't want. I'm sorry, Sis.” Marty was the one to reach out and comfort her.
“I'm all right. ” Missy pulled away from her brother. She stared across the breakfast table at Gary. Her eyes seemed small and darker.
“Where have you been all of these months on the road, Gary? What have you been doing? Oh, Gary, Gary, sometimes I feet like I don't even know you. Say soi-nething to make this a little better. Please say something, Gary.”
Gary thought about it carefully before he said a word. Then he said, 111 love you so much, Missy. I love you and Roni more than I love my life itself."
Gary lied, and he knew it was a pretty good one. Extremely well told, well acted.
What he wanted to do was to laugh in their goddamn faces. What he wanted to do most Was to kill all of them. That was the ticket to punch. Boom. Boom. Boom. Multiple-homicide time in Wilmington. Get his master plan rolling again.
Just then, Roni came running back inside the house. A new movie cassette was clutched in her hands, and she was smiling like a Balloonhead.
“Look what Uncle Marty brought me.”
Gary held his head in both hands. He couldn't stop the screaming inside his brain. I want to be Somebody
Along Came A Spider
IFE AND DEATH went on in Southeast. Sampson and I were back on the Sanders and Turner murder cases. Not surprisingly, little progress had been made in solving the six homicides. Not surprisingly, nobody cared.
On Sunday, January 10, I knew it was time for a day of rest, my first day off-duty since the kidnapping had occurred. I started off the morning feeling a touch sony for myself, hanging in bed until around ten and nursing a bad head, the result of carousing with Sampson the night before. Most everything running through my head was nonproductive.
I was missing Maria like the plague for one thing remembering how fine it had been when the two of us slept in late on a Sunday morning. I was still angry about how I'd been made a scapegoat down South. More important, I felt like shit that none of us had been able to help Maggie Rose Dunne. Early in the case, I'd drawn
166 a parallel between the Dunne girl and my own kids. Every time I thought of her, probably dead now, my stomach involuntarily clenched up-which is not a good thing, especially on the morning after a night on the town.
I was mulling over staying in the sack until about six. Lose a whole day. I deserved it. I didn't want to see Nana and hear her guff about where I was the night before. I didn't even want to see my kids that particular morning.
I kept going back to Maria. Once upon a time, in another lifetime, she and 1, and usually the kids, used to spend all of our Sundays together. Sometimes, we'd hang out in bed until noon, then we'd get dressed up and maybe go splurge for brunch. There wasn't much that Maria and I didn't do together. Every night I came home from work as early as I could manage. Maria did the same. There was nothing either one of us wanted to do more. She had gotten me over my wounds after I I wasn't widely accepted in private practice as a psychologist. She had nursed me back to some kind of balance after a couple of years of too much cutting up and catting around with Sampson and a few other single friends, including the fast crowd that played baskethall with the Washington Bullets.
Maria pulled me back to some kind of sanity, and I treasured her for it. Maybe it would have gone on like that forever. Or maybe we would have split up by now. Who knows for certain? We never got the chance to find out.
One night she was late coming home from her socialwork job. I finally got the call, and rushed to Misericor dia Hospital. Maria had been shot. She was in very bad shape'was all they would tell me over the phone,
I arrived there a little past eight. A friend, a patrolman I knew, sat me down and told me that Maria was dead by the time they got her to the hospital. It had been a ride-by shooting outside the projects. No one knew why, or who could have done the shooting. We never got to say good-bye. There was no preparation, no warning at all, no explanation.
The pain inside was like a steel column that extended from the center of my chest all the way up into my forehead. I thought about Maria constantly, day and night. After three years, I was finally beginning to forget. I was learning how.
I was lying in bed, in a peaceful and resigned state, when Damon came in to the room as if his hair were on fire.
“Hey, Daddy. Hey, Daddy, you awake?” “What's wrong?” I asked, absolutely hating the sound of those words lately. “You look like you just saw Vanilla Ice on our front porch.”
“Somebody to see you, Daddy,” Damon announced with breathless excitement. “Somebody's here!”
“ 'The Count' from Sesame Street?” I asked. “Who's here? Be a touch more specific. Not another news reporter? If it's a news reporter-”
“She says her name Jezme. It's a la-dy, Daddy.” I believe I sat up in bed, but I didn't like the view from there too much, and lay down quickly again. "Tell her I'll be right down. Do not volunteer that I'm in bed. Tell her I'll be down directly. II Damon left the bedroom, and I wondered how I was going to deliver on the promise I'd just made.
Janelle and Damon and Jezzie Flanagan, were still standing in the foyer of our house when I made it downstairs. Janelle looked a little uncomfortable, but she was getting better at her job of answering our front door. Janelle used to be painfully shy with all strangers. To help her with this, Nana and I have gently encouraged her and Damon to answer the front door during the daytime hours.
It had to be something important to have Jezzie Flanagan come to the house. I knew that half the FBI was searchin for the pilot who'd collected the ransom. So 9 far, there had been nothing on any front. Whatever had been solved about the case, I had solved myself iezzie Flanagan was dressed in loose black trousers, wit. h a simple white blouse, and scuffed tennis sneakers. I remembered her casual look from Miami. It almost made me forget what a big deal she was over at the Secret Service.
Something's happened," I said, wincing. Pain shot across my skull, then down across my face. The sound of my own voice was too much to bear.
“No, Alex. We haven't heard any more about Maggie Rose,” she said. “A few more sightings. That's all. ”
“Sightings” were what the Federal Bureau called eyewitness accounts from people “claiming” to have seen Maggie Rose or Gary Soneji. So far, the sightings ranged from an empty lot a few streets from Washington Day School, to California, to the children's unit at Belle
Hospital in New York City, to South Africa, not to ntion a space-probe landing near Sedona, Arizona. No day went by without more sightings being reported somewhere. Big country, lot of kooks on the loose.
“I didn't mean to intrude on you guys,” she finally said and smiled. “It's just that I've been feeling bad about what's happened, Alex. The stories about you are crap. They're also untrue. I wanted to tell you how I felt. So here I am.” “Well, thanks for saying it,” I said to Jezzie. It was one of the only nice things that had happened to me in the past week. It touched me in an odd way.
“You did everything you could in Horida. I'm not just saying that to make you. feel better.”
I tried to focus my eyes. Things were still a bit blurry. “I wouldn't call it one of my better work experiences. On the other hand, I didn't think I deserved front-page coverage for my performance.”
“You didn't. Somebody nailed you. Somebody set you up with the press. It's a lot of bull.”
“It's bullshit,” Damon blurted. “Right, Big Daddy?”
“This is Jezzie,” I said to the kids. “We work together sometimes.” The kids were getting used to Jezzie, but they were still a little shy. Jannie was trying to hide behind her brother. Damon had both hands stuffed in his back pockets, just like his dad.
Jezzie went down on her haunches; she got down to their size. She shook hands with Damon, then with Janelle. It was a good instinctive move on her part.
“Your daddy is the best policeman I ever saw,” she told Damon.
“I know that. ” He accepted the compliment graciously.
“I'm Janelle. ” Janelle surprised me by offering her name to Jezzie.
I could tell she wanted a hug. Janelle loves hugs more than anyone ever put on this earth. That's where she got one of her many nicknames, “ Velcro. ”
Jezzie sensed it, too. She reached out and hugged Jannie. It was a neat little scene to watch. Damon immediately decided to join in. It was the thing to do. It was as if their long-lost best friend had suddenly returned from the wars.
After a minute or so, Jezzie stood up again. At that moment it struck me that she was a real nice person, and that I hadn't met too many of those during the investigation. Her house visit was thoughtful, but also a little brave. Southeast is not a great neighborhood for white women to travel in, even one who was probably carrying a gun. I 'Well, I just stopped by for a few hugs. “ She winked to me. ”Actually, I have a case not too far from here. Now I'm off to be a workaholic again."
“How about some hot coffee?” I asked her. I thought I could manage the coffee. Nana probably had some in the kitchen that was only five or six hours old.
S. he squinted a look at me and she started to smile again.
“Two nice kids, nice Sunday morning at home with them. You're not such a tough guy after all.”
“No, I'm a tough guy, too,” I said. "I just happen to be a tough guy who finds his way home by Sunday morning.
'Okay, Alex.“ She kept her smile turned on. ”Just 't let this newspaper nonsense get you down. Nobody believes the funny pages, anyway. I've got to go. I'll take a rain check on the coffee." Jezzie Flanagan opened the front door and started to leave. She waved to the kids as the door was closing behind her.
“So long, Big Daddy,” she said to me and grinned.
Along Came A Spider
FRER JEZZIE FLANAGAN had finished her business in Southeast, she drove out to the farm where Gary Soneji had buried the two children. She had been there twice before, but a lot of things still bothered her about the farm in Maryland. She was obsessive as hell, anyway. She figured that nobody wanted to catch Soneji any more than she did.
Jezzie ignored the crime scene signage and sped down the rutted dirt road to a cluster of buildings in disrepair. She distinctly remembered everything about the place. There was the main farmhouse, a garage for machinery, and the barn where the kids had been kept.
Why this place? she asked herself. Why here, Soneji? What should it tell her about who he really is?
Jezzie Flanagan had been a whiz-kid investigator since the day she'd first entered the Secret Service. She'd come there with an honors law degree from the University of Virginia, and Treasury had tried to steer her toward the FBI, where nearly half the agents had
173 law degrees. But Jezzie had surveyed the situation and chosen the Service, anyway, where the law degree would make her stand out more. She'd worked eightyand hundred-hour weeks from the beginning, right up to the present. She'd been a shooting star for one reason: she was smarter and tougher than any of the men she worked with, or the ones she worked for. She was more driven. But Jezzie had known from the beginning that, if she ever made a big mistake., her starship would crash. She'd known it. There was only one solution. She had to find Gary Soneji, somehow. She had to be the one.
She walked the farmhouse grounds until darkness fell. Then she walked them again with a flashlight. Jezzie scribbled down notes, trying to find some missing connection. Maybe it did have something to do with the old Lindbergh case, the so-called crime of the century from the 1930s.
Son of Lindbergh?
The Lindbergh place in Hopewell, New Jersey, had been a farmhouse, too.
Baby Lindbergh had been buried not far from the kidnap site.
Bruno Hauptmann, the Lindbergh kidnapper, had beenfrom New York City. Could the kidnapper in Washington be some kind of distant relative? Could he be from somewhere near Hopewell? Maybe Princeton? How could nothing have turned up on Soneji so far:'
Before she left the farm, Jezzie sat in her town car. She turned on the engine, the heat, and just sat there. Obsessing. Lost in her thoughts.
Where was Gary Soneji? How had he disappeared?
Nobody can just disappear nowadays. No one is that smart.
Then she thought about Maggie Rose Dunne and “Shrimpie” Goldberg, and tears began to roll down her cheeks. She couldn't stop sobbing. That was the real reason she'd come out to the farmhouse, she knew. Jezzie Flanagan had to let herself cry.
Along Came A Spider
MAGGIE ROSE was in complete darkness.
She didn't know how long she had been there.
A long, long time, though. She couldn't remember when she'd eaten last. Or when she'd seen or talked to anybody, except the voices inside her head.
She wished somebody would come right now. She held that thought in her head-for hours. She even wished the old woman would come back and scream at her. She'd begun to wonder why she was being punished; what she'd done that was so wrong. Had she been bad, and deserved all this to happen to her? She was starting to think that she must have been a bad person for all these terrible things to be happening.
She couldn't cry again. Not even if she wanted to. She couldn't cry anymore.
A lot of the time, she thought she must be dead. Maggie Rose almost didn't feel things now. Then she would pinch herself really hard. Even bite herself. One time she bit her finger until it bled. She tasted her own
176 warm blood and it was weirdly wonderful. Her time in the dark seemed to go on forever. The darkness was a tiny room like a closet. She Suddenly, Maggie Rose heard voices outside. She couldn't hear well enough to understand what was being said, but there were definitely voices. The old woman? Must be. Maggie Rose wanted to call out, but she was frightened of the old woman. Her awful screaming, her threats, her scratchy voice that was worse than horror movies her mother didn't even like her to watch. Worse than Freddy Krueger by miles. The voices stopped. She couldn't hear anything, not even when she pressed her ear against the closet door. They had gone away. They were leaving her in there forever.
She tried to cry, but no tears would come. Then Maggie Rose started to scream. The door suddenly burst open and she was blinded by the most beautiful light.
Along Came A Spider
N THE NIGHT OF JANUARY I 1, Gary Murphy was cozy and safe in his basement. Nobody knew that he was down there, but if snoopy Missy happened to open the basement door, he'd just flick on the lamp at his workbench. He was thinking everything through. One more time for good measure.
He was becoming nicely obsessed with murdering Missy and Roni, but he thought that he wouldn't do it just yet. Still, the fantasy was rich. To murder your own family had a certain homespun style to it It wasn't very imaginative, but the effect would be neat: the icy chill racing through the serene, dippity-doo suburban community. All the other families doing the most ironic thing-locking their doors, locking themselves in together.
Around midnight he realized that his little family had gone to bed without him. No one had even bothered to call down to him. They didn't care. A hollow roar was
178 starting inside his head. He needed about a half-dozen Nuprins to stop the white noise for a while.
Maybe he would torch the perfect little house on Central Avenue. Torching houses was good for the soul. He'd done it before; he'd do it again. God, his whole skull ached as if somebody'd been hitting it with a ball peen hammer. Was something physically the matter with him? Was it possible he was going mad this time?
He tried to think about the Lone Eagle@arles Lindbergh. That didn't work, either. In his mind, he revisited the farmhouse in Hopewell Junction. No good. That mind-trip was getting old, too.
He was world famous himself, for Chrissakes. He was famous now. Everybody in the world knew about him. He was a media star all over Planet Dearth.
. He finally left the cellar, and then the house in Wilmington. It was just past five-thirty in the morning. As he walked outside to the car, he felt like an animal, suddenly on the loose.
He drove back to D.C. There was more work to do there. He didn't want his public to be disappointed, did he?
He thought he had a treat for everyone now. Don't get comfortable with me!
Around eleven that morning, Tuesday, Gary Murphy lightly tapped the front doorbell of a well-kept brick townhouse on the edge of Capitol Hill. Bing-bong went a polite door chime inside.
The sheer danger of the situation, of his being in Washington again, gave him a nice chill. This was a lot better than being in hiding. He felt alive again, he could breathe, he had his own space.
Vivian Kim kept the lock chain on, but she opened the door about a foot. She'd seen the familiar uniform of Washington's PEPCO public utilities service through the peephole.
Pretty lady, Gary remembered from the Washington Day School. Long black braids. Cute little upturned nose. She clearly didn't recognize him as a blond. No mustache. Little flesh off the cheeks and chin.
“Yes? What is it? Can I help you?” she asked the man standing on her porch. Inside the house, jazzy music was playing. Thelonious.
“I hope it's the other way around.” He smiled pleasantly. "Somebody called about an overcharge on the electric.
Vivian Kim frowned and shook her head. She had a tiny map of Korea hanging from rawhide around her neck. “I didn't call anybody. I know I didn't call PEPCO.” “Well, somebody called us, miss.”
“Come back some other time,” Vivian Kim told him. "Maybe my boyfriend called. You'll have to come back. I'm sony.
Gary shrugged his shoulders. This was so delicious. He didn't want it to end. “I guess. You can call us again if you like,” he said. “Get on the schedule again. It's an overcharge, though. You paid too much.”
“Okay. I hear you. I understand.”
Vivian Kim slowly stripped away the chain and opened the door. Gary stepped into the apartment. He pulled a long hunting knife from under his work jacket.
He pointed it at the teacher's face. “Don't scream. Do not scream, Vivian.”
“How do you know my name?” she asked. “Who are you?”
“Don't raise your voice, Vivian. There's no reason to be afraid.... I've done this before. I'm just your garden-variety robber. ”
“What do you want?” The teacher had begun to tremble.
Gary thought for a second before he answered her scared-rabbit question. “I want to send out another message over the TV, I guess. I want the fame I so richly deserve,” he finally said. “I want to be the scariest man in America. That's why I work in the capital. I'm Gary. Don't you remember me, Viv?”
Along Came A Spider
AMPSON AND I raced down C Street in the heart of
Capitol Hill. I could hear the breath inside my nose as I ran. My arms and legs felt disjointed.
Squad cars from the department and EMS ambulances had the street completely blocked off. We'd had to park on F Street and sprint the last couple of blocks. WJLATV was already there. So was CNN. Sirens screamed everywhere.
I spotted a clique of reporters up ahead. They saw Sampson and me coming. We're about as hard to miss as the Harlem Globetrotters in Tokyo.
“Detective Cross? Dr. Cross?” the reporters called out, trying to slow us down.
“No comment,” I waved them off. “From either of us - Get the fuck out of the way.”
Inside Vivian Kim's apartment, Sampson and I passed all the familiar faces-techies, forensics, the DOA gang in their ghoulish element.
“I don't want to do this anymore,” Sampson said.
“Whole world's flowing down the piss-tubes. It's too much, even for me.”
“We burn out,” I mumbled to him, “we burn out together. ”
Sampson grabbed my hand and held it. That told me he was as fucked up about this as he got. We went inside the first bedroom on the right side of the hallway. I tried to be still inside. I couldn't do it.
Vivian Kim's bedroom was beautifully laid out. Lots of exquisite, black-and-white family photographs and art posters covered most of the wall space. An antique violin was hung on one wall. I didn't want to look at the reason I was there. Finally, I had to.
Vivian Kim was pinned to the bed with a long hunting knife. It was driven through her stomach. Both her breasts had been removed. Her pubic hair had been shaved. Her eyes had rolled back in her head, as if she had seen something unfathomable during her last moments.
I let my eyes wander around the bedroom. I couldn't look at Vivian Kim's mutilated body. I stared at a splash of bright color on the floor. I caught my breath. Nobody had said anything about it on the way up. Nobody had noticed the most important clue. Fortunately, nobody had moved the evidence. “Look at this here.” I showed Sampson.
Maggie Rose Dunne's second sneaker was lying on Vivian Kim's bedroom floor. The killer was leaving what the pathologists call “artistic touches.” He'd left an overt message this time-the signature of signatures. I was shaking as I bent down over the little girl's sneaker. Here was the most sadistic humor at work. The pink sneaker, in shocking contrast to the bloody crime scene.
Gary Soneji had been in the bedroom. Soneji was the project killer, too. He was The Thing. And he was back in town.
Along Came A Spider
ARY SONEJI was still in Washington, indeed. He as sending out special-delivery messages to his fans. There was a difference now. He was baiting us, too. Sampson and I got a dispensation from The
Jefe: we could work on the kidnapping as long as it was linked to the other murder investigations. It definitely was.
“This is our day off, so we must be having fun,”
Sampson said to me as we walked the streets of South east. It was the thirteenth of January. Bitter cold. Folks had fires blazing in the garbage cans on almost every street corner. One of the brothers had FUC U 2 razor cut on the back of his head. My sentiments exactly.
“Mayor Monroe doesn't call anymore. Doesn't write,” I said to Sampson. I watched my breath launch clouds in the freezing air.
“See, there is a silver lining,” he said into the wind.
“He'll come around when we catch The Thing. He'll be there to take all the bows for us.”
We walked along, goofing on the situation and on each other. Sampson rapped lyrics from pop songs, something he does a lot. That morning, it was “Now That We've Found Love. ” Heavy D &The Boyz. “Rev me up, rev me up, you're my little buttercup, ” Sampson kept saying, as if the lyrics made sense out of everything.
We were canvassing Vivian Kim's neighborhood, which was on the edge of Southeast. Canvassing a neighborhood is mind-numbing work, even for the young and uninitiated. “Did you see anyone or anything unusual yesterday?” we asked anybody dumb enough to open their doors for us. “Did you notice any strangers, strange cars, anything that sticks out in your mind? Let us decide whether it's important.”
As usual, nobody had seen a thing. Nada de nada. Nobody was happy to see us, either, especially as we moved into Southeast on our canvass.
To top it off, the temperature was about three degrees with the windchill. It was sleeting. The streets and sidewalks were covered with icy slush. A couple of times we joined the street people warming themselves over their garbage-can fires.
“You motherfuckin' cops always cold, even in the, summer,” one of the young fucks said to us. Both Sampson and I laughed. We finally trudged back toward our car around six. We were beaten up. We'd blown a long day. Nothing good had come of it. Gary Soneji had disappeared into thin air again. I felt as if I were in a horror movie.
“Want to go out a few extra blocks?” I asked Sampson. I was feeling desperate enough to try the slot ma chines in Atlantic City. Soneji was playing with us. Maybe he was watching us. Maybe the fucker was invis ible.
Sampson shook his head. “No mas, sugar. I want to drink at least a case of brew. Then I just might do some serious drinking.”
He wiped slush off his sunglasses, then put them on again. It's weird how well I know his every move. He's been dusting his glasses like that since he was twelve. Through rain or sleet or snow.
“Let's do the extra blocks,” I said. “For Ms. Vivian. Least we can do - ”
"I knew you were going to say. that.
We filed into the apartment of a Mrs. Quillie McBride at around six-twenty that night. Quillie and her friend Mrs. Scott were seated at the kitchen table. Mrs. Scott had something to tell us that she thought might help. We were there to listen to anything she had to say. If you ever go through D.C.'s Southeast, or the north section of Philadelphia, or Harlem in New York, on a Sunday morning, you'll still see ladies like Mrs. McBride and her friend Willie Mae Randall Scott. These ladies wear blousy shirts and faded gabardine skirts. Their usual accoutrements include feathered hats and thick-heeled, lace-up shoes that bunch their feet like sausage links. They are coming or going from various churches. In the case of Willie Mae, who is a Jehovah's Witness, they distribute the Watchtower magazine.
“I believe I can he'p y'all, ” Mrs. Scott said to us in a soft, sincere voice. She was probably eighty years old, but very focused and clear in her delivery.
“We'd appreciate that, ” I said. The four of us sat around the kitchen table. A plate of oatmeal cookies had been set out for the occasion of anyone's visit. A triptych with photos of the two murdered Kennedys and Martin Luther King was prominent on a kitchen wall.
“I heard about the murder of the teacher,” Mrs. Scott said for Sampson's and my benefit, “and, well, I saw a man driving around the neighborhood a month or so before the Turner murders. He was a white man. I am fortunate to still have a very good memory. I try to keep it that way by concentrating on whatever passes before these eyes. Ten years from today, I will be able to recall this interview on a moment-to-moment basis, detectives. ”
Her friend Mrs. McBride had pulled her chair beside Mrs. Scott. She didn't speak at first, though she did take Mrs. Scott's bulging arm in her hand.
“It's true. She will,” Quillie McBride said.
“One week before the Turner murders, the same white man came through the neighborhood again,” Mrs. Scott continued. “This second time, he was going door to door. He was a salesman.”
Sampson and I looked at each other. “What kind of salesman?” Sampson asked her..
Mrs. Scott allowed her eyes to drift over Sampson's face before she answered the question. I figured she was concentrating, making sure she remembered everything about him. “He was selling heating systems for the winter. I went over by his car and looked inside. A sales book of some sort was on the front seat. His company is called Atlantic Heating, out of Wilmington, Delaware. ”
Mrs. Scott looked from face to face, either to make sure that she was being clear, or that we were getting all of what she had just said.
“Yesterday, I saw the same car drive through the neighborhood. I saw the car the morning the woman on C Street was killed. I said to my friend here, 'This can't all be a coincidence, can it?' Now, I don't know if he's the one you're looking for, but I think you should talk to him.”
Sampson looked at me. Then the two of us did a rare thing of late. We broke into smiles. Even the ladies decided to join in. We had something. We had a break, finally, the first of the case.
“We're going to talk to the traveling salesman,” I said to Mrs. Scott and Quillie McBride. “We're going to Wilmington, Delaware.”
Along Came A Spider
GARY MURPHY got home at a little past five on the following afternoon, January 14. He'd gone into the office, just outside Wilmington. Only a few people had been there, and he'd planned to get some useless paperwork done. He had to make things look good for a little while longer. He'd ended up thinking about larger subjects. The master plan. Gary just couldn't get serious about the paper blizzard of bills and invoices littering his desk. He kept picking up crumpled customer bills, glancing at names, amounts, addresses.
Who in their right fucking mind could care about all the invoices? he was thinking to himself. It was all so brutally small-time, so dumb and petty. Which was why the job, and Delaware, were such a good hiding spot for him.
So he accomplished absolutely nothing at the office, except blowing off a few hours. At least he'd picked up a present for Roni on the way home. He bought Roni a
190 pink bike with training wheels and streamers. He added a Barbie Dream House. Her birthday party was set for six o'clock.
Missy met him at the front door with a hug and a kiss. Positive reinforcement was her strong suit. The party gave her something to think about. She'd been off his back for days.
“Great day, honey. I kid you not. Three home visits set up for next week. Count them, three,” Gary told her. What the hell. He could be charming when he wanted to be. Mr. Chips goes to Delaware.
He followed Missy into the dining room, where she was setting out brightly colored plastic and paper for the party of parties. Missy had already hung a painted sheet on one wall-the kind they held up for foothall games at U.D., University Dumb. This one said: GO RONI-SEVEN OR BUST!
“This is pure genius, hon. You can make something out of nothing. This all looks fantastic,” Gary said. “Things are sure looking up now.”
Actually, he was starting to get a little depressed. He felt out of it and wanted to take a nap. The idea of Roni's birthday party seemed exhausting suddenly. There sure hadn't been any parties when he was a kid.
The neighbors started to arrive right at six o'clock. That was good, he thought. It meant the kids really wanted to come. They liked Roni. He could see it on all of their little Balloonhead faces.
Several of the parents stayed for the party. They were friends of his and Missy's. He dutifully played bartender while Missy started the kids on an assortment of games: Duck-Duck-Goose, Musical Chairs, Pin the Tail. rybody was having a good time. He looked at i, and she was like a spinning top.
Gary had a recurring fantasy-he murdered everyone attending a child's birthday party. A birthday partyor maybe a children's Easter egg hunt. That made him feel a little better.
Along Came A Spider
HE HOUSE was two-story, white-painted brick, on a wooded half-lot. It was already surrounded by cars: station wagons, Jeeps, the family vehicles of suburbia. “This can't be his house,” Sampson said as we parked on a side street. “The Thing doesn't live here. Jimmy Stewart does.”
We had found Gary Soneji-but it didn't feel fight. The monster's house was a perfect suburban beauty, a gingerbread house on a well-maintained street in Wilmington, Delaware. It was a little less than twenty-four hours since we'd spoken to Mrs. Scott in D.C. In that time, we had tracked down Atlantic Heating in Wilmington. We had gathered the original Hostage Rescue Team together.
Lights were shining through most of the house windows. A Domino's delivery truck arrived at almost the same time that we did. A lanky blond kid ran to the door with four big pizza boxes in his outstretched arms.
The delivery kid got paid, then the truck was gone as quickly as it had come.
The fact that it was a nice house in a nice neighborhood made me nervous, even more leery about the next few minutes. Soneji had always been two steps ahead of us-somehow.
“Let's move,” I said to Special Agent Scorse. “This is it, folks. The front gates of hell.”
Nine of us rushed the house-Scorse, Reilly, Craig, and two others from the Bureau, Sampson, myself, Jeb Klepner, Jezzie Flanagan. We were heavily armed and wore bulletproof vests. We wanted to end this. Right here. Right now.
I entered through the kitchen. Scorse and I came in together. Sampson was a step behind. He didn't look like a neighborhood dad arriving late for the party, either.
“Who are you men? What's going on?” a woman at the kitchen counter screamed as we burst inside.
“Where is Gary Murphy?” I asked in a loud voice. I flashed my I.D. at the same time. “I'm Alex Cross. Police. We're here in connection with the Maggie Rose Dunne kidnapping.”
“Gary's in the dining room,” a second woman, standing over a blender, said in a trembling voice. “Through here.” She pointed.
We ran down the connecting hallway. Family pictures were up on the walls. A pile of unopened presents lay on the floor. We had our revolvers drawn.
It was a terrifying moment. The children we saw were afraid. So were their mothers and fathers. There were so many innocent people here-just like Disney World, I was thinking. like the Washington Day School.
Gary Soneji wasn't anywhere in the dining room. Just more police, kids in birthday hats, pets, mothers and dads with their mouths open in disbelief.
“I think Gary went upstairs,” one of the fathers finally said. “What's going on here? What the hell is going on?”
Craig and Reilly were already crashing back down the stairs into the front hallway.
“Not up there,” Reilly yelled. One of the kids said, “I think Mr. Murphy went down to the cellar. What'd he do?”
We ran back to the kitchen and down to the cellarScorse, Reilly, and myself. Sampson went back upstairs to double-check.
No one was anywhere in the two small cellar rooms. There was a storm door to the outside. It was closed and locked from the outside.
Sampson came down a moment later, two stairs at a clip. “I checked over the whole upstairs. He's not there! ”
Gary Soneji had disappeared again.
Along Came A Spider
KA Y, let's dial it up a notch! Let's do some serious rock and roll. Let's play for keeps now, Gary thought as he ran for it.
He'd had escape plans in mind since he'd been fifteen or sixteen years old. He'd known the so-called authorities would come for him someday, somehow, somewhere. He'd seen it all in his mind, in his elaborate daydreams. The only question was when. And maybe, for what? For which of his crimes?
Then they were there on Central Avenue in Wilmington! The end of the celebrated manhunt. Or was it the beginning?
Gary was like a programmed machine from the moment he spotted the police. He almost couldn't believe that what he'd fantasized so many times was actually happening. They were there, though. Special dreams do come true. If you're young at heart.
He had calmly paid the pizza delivery boy. Then he went down the stairs and out through the cellar. He used
196 a special half-hidden door and went into the garage. He relocked the door from the outside. Another side door led to a tiny alley into the Dwyers' yard. He relocked that door, also. Jimmy Dwyer's snow boots were sitting on the porch steps. Snow was on the ground. He took his neighbor's boots.
He paused between his house and the Dwyers'. He thought about letting them catch him then and theregetting caught-just like Bruno Hauptmann in the Lindbergh case. He loved that idea. But not yet. Not here.
Then he was running away, down a tight row of alleys. between the houses. Nobody but kids used the little alleyway, which was overgrown with high weeds and littered with soda cans.
He felt as if he had tunnel vision. Must have something to do with the fear he felt in every inch of his body. Gary was afraid. He had to admit that he was. Face the adrenaline facts, pal.
He ran through backyard after backyard, down good old Central Avenue. Then into the deep woods of Downing Park. He didn't see a soul on the way.
Only when he glanced back once could he see them moving toward his house. Saw the big black Kaffirs Cross and Sampson. The vastly overrated Manhunt. The Federal Bureau in all its glory.
He was sprinting now, full out toward the Metro train station, which was four blocks from the house. This was his link to Philly, Washington, New York, the outside world He must have mtide it in ten flat-something like that. He kept himself in good shape. Powerful legs and arms, a washboard-flat stomach.
An old VW was parked at the station. It was always parked there-the trusty Bug from his unholy youth. The “scene of past cfimes,” to put it mildly. Driven just enough to keep the battery alive. It was time for more fun, more games. The Son of Lindbergh was on the move again.
Along Came A Spider
AMPSON AND I were still at the Murphy house at well past eleven o'clock. The press was gathered behind bright yellow ropes outside. So were a cou ple of hundred close friends and neighbors from around the community of Wilmington. The town had never had a bigger night Another massive manhunt had already been set in motion along the Eastern Seaboard, but also west into
Pennsylvania and Ohio. It seemed impossible that Gary
Soneji/Murphy could get away a second time. We didn't believe he could have planned this escape the way he'd planned the one out of Washington.
One of the kids at the party had spotted a local police cruiser doing a fide-by minutes before we arrived in the neighborhood. The boy had innocently mentioned the police car to Mr. Murphy. He had escaped through sheer luck! We'd missed catching him by a few minutes at most.
Sampson and I questioned Missy Murphy for more than a hour. We were finally going to learn something ut the real Soneji/Murphy.
Missy Murphy would have fit in with the mothers of the childreo at Washington Day School. She wore her blond hair in a no-frills flip. She had on a navy skirt, white blouse, boaters. She was a few pounds overweight, but pretty.
“None of you seem to believe this, but I know Gary. I know who he is,” she told us. “He is not a kidnapper.”
She chain-smoked Marlboro Lights as she spoke. That was the only gesture thaf betrayed anxiety and pain. We talked with Mrs. Murphy in the kitchen. It was orderly and neat, even on party day. I noted Betty Crocker cookbooks stacked beside Silver Palate cookbooks and a copy of Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much. A snapshot of Gary Soneji/Murphy in a bathing suit was stuck up on the fridge. He looked like the all-American father.
“Gary is not a violent person. He can't even bear to discipline Roni,” Missy Murphy was saying to us.
That interested me. It fit a pattern of bell curves I had been studying for years: reports on sociopaths and their children. Sociopaths often had difficulty disciplining their children.
“Has he told you why he has difficulty disciplining your daughter?” I asked her.
“Gary didn't have a happy childhood himself. He wants only the best for Roni. He knows that he's compensating. He's a very bright man. He could easily have his Ph.D. in math.”
“Did Gary grow up right here in Wilmington?”
Sampson asked, Iviissy. He was soft spoken and down to earth with the woman.
“No, he grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. Gary lived there until he was nineteen.”
Sampson jotted a note, then he glanced my way. Princeton was near Hopewell, where the Lindbergh kidnapping had taken place in the 1930s. The Son of Lindbergh, Soneji had signed the ransom notes. We still didn't know why. “His family is still in Princeton?” I asked Mrs. Murphy. “Can we contact them there?”
“There's no family left now. There was a fire while Gary was at school. Gary's stepmom and d@d, his stepbrother and stepsister all died in the tragedy.”
I wanted to probe deeply into everything Missy Murphy was saying. I resisted for the moment. A fire in the house of a disturbed young man, though? Another family dead; another family destroyed. Was that Gary Soneji/Murphy's real target? Families? If so, what about Vivian Kim? Did he kill her just to show ofP “Did you know any of the family?” I asked Missy. "No. 'Mey died before Gary and I got together. The two of us met our senior year in college. I was at Delaware. I I
“What did your husband tell you about his years around Princeton?”
“Not very much. He keeps a lot inside. The Murphys lived several miles from town, I know. Tleir closest neighbor was two or three miles. Gary didn't have friends until he went to school. Even then he was often the odd man out. He can be very shy.”
“What about the brother and sister you mentioned?” son asked.
“Actually, they were his stepbrother and stepsister. That was part of Gary's problem. He wasn't close to them. ”
“Did he ever mention the Lindbergh kidnapping? Does he have any books on Lindbergh?” Sampson continued. His technique is to go for the jugular in Q & A.
Missy Murphy shook her head back and forth. “No. Not that I know of. There's a room filled with his books down in the cellar. You can look.”
“Oh, we will,” Sampson said to her.
This was rich material, and I was relieved to hear it. Before this, there had been nothing, or very little, for us to go on.
“Is his real mother alive?” I asked her.
“I don't know. Gary just won't talk about her. He won't discuss her at all.” “What about the stepmother?”
“Gary didn't like his stepmother. Apparently she was very -attached to her own children. He called her 'The Whore of Babylon.' I believe she was originally from West Babylon in New York. I think it's out on Long Island somewhere. ”
After months without any information, I couldn't get the questions out fast enough. Everything I'd heard so far was tracking. An important question loomed: Had Gary Soneji/Murphy been telling the truth to his wife? Was he capable of telling the truth to another person?
“Mrs. Murphy, do you have any idea where he might have gone?” I asked now. “Something really frightened Gary,” she said. “I think maybe it relates to his job somehow. And to my brother, who's his employer. I can't imagine that he went home to New Jersey, but maybe he did. Maybe Gary went back home. He is impulsive.”
One of the FBI agents, Marcus Connor, peeked into the kitchen where we were talking. “Can I see both of you for a minute?... I'm sony, this will just be one minute,” he said to Mrs. Murphy. Connor escorted us down into the basement of the house. Gerry Scorse, Reilly, and Kyle Craig from the FBI were already down there, waiting.
Scorse held up a pair of Fido Dido socklets. I recognized them from descriptions of what Maggie Rose Dunne had been wearing the day of the kidnapping. Also from visits to the little girl's room, where I'd seen her collection of clothes and trinkets. “So, what do you think, Alex?” Scorse asked me. I had noticed that whenever things got really weird, he asked for my opinion.
“Exactly what I said about the sneaker in Washington. He left it for us. He's playing a game now. He wants us to play with him.”
Along Came A Spider
HE OLD DU PONT HOTEL in downtown Wilmington was a convenient place to get some sleep. It had a nice quiet bar, and Sampson and I planned on doing some quiet drinking there. We didn't think we'd have company, but we were surprised when Jezzie Flanagan, Klepner, and some of the FBI agents joined us for nightcaps We were tired and frustrated after the near-miss with Gary Soneji/Murphy. We drank a lot of hard liquor in a short time. Actually, we got along well. “The team. ” We got loud, played liar's poker, raised some hell in the tony Delaware Room that night. Sampson talked to Jezzie Flanagan for a while. He thought she was a good cop, too.
The drinking finally tailed down, and we wandered off to find our rooms, which were scattered throughout the spacious Du Pont.
Jeb Klepner, Jezzie, and I climbed the thickly carpeted stairs to our rooms on two and three. The Du Pont
204 was a mausoleum at quarter to three in the morning. There wasn't any traffic outside on the main drag through Wilmington.
Klepner's room was on the second floor. “I'm going to go watch some soft-core pornography,” he said as he split off from us. "That usually helps me get right to sleep.
“Sweet dreams,” Jezzie said. “Lobby at seven.”
Klepner groaned as he trudged down the hallway to his room. Jezzie and I climbed the winding flight to the next floor. It was so quiet you could hear the stoplight outside, making clicking noises as it changed from green to yellow to red.
“I'm still wound tight,” I said to her. “I can _see Soneji/Murphy. Two faces. They're both very distinct in my head.” i 6I'm wired, too. It's my nature. What would you do if you were home instead of here?" Jezzie asked.
“I'd probably go play the piano out on our porch. Wake the neighborhood with a little blues.”
Jezzie laughed out loud. “We could go back down to the Delaware Room. There was an old upright in there. Probably belonged to one of the Du Ponts. You play, I'll have one more drink. ”
“That bartender left about ten seconds after we did. He's home in his bed already.” We'd reached the Du Pont's third floor. There was a gentle bend in the hallway. Omate signs on the wall listed room numbers and their direction. A few guests had their shoes out to be shined overnight.
“I'm three eleven.” Jezzie pulled a white card-key from the pocket of her jacket.
“I'm in three thirty-four. Time to call it a night. Start fresh in the morning.”
Jezzie smiled and she looked into my eyes. For the first time that I could remember, neither of us had anything to say.
I took her into my arms, and held her gently. We kissed in the hallway. I hadn't kissed anyone like that in a while. I wasn't sure who had started the kiss, actually.
“You're very beautiful,” I whispered as our lips drew apart. The words just came out. Not my best effort, but the truth. Jezzie smiled and shook her head. “My lips are too puffy and big. I look like I was dropped face-first as a kid. You're the good-looking one. You look like Muhammad Ali.”
,, Sure I do. After he took too many punches."
“A few punches, maybe. To add character. Just the nght number of hard knocks. Your smile's nice, too. Smile for me, Alex.”
I kissed those puffy lips again. They were perfect as far as I could tell.
There's a lot of myth about black men desiring: white women; about some white women wanting to experi' ment with black men. Jezzie Flanagan was a smart, extremely desirable woman. She was somebody I could talk to, somebody I wanted to be around.
And there we were, snuggled in each other's arms at around three in the morning. We'd both had a little too much to drink, but not a lot too much. No myths involved. Just two people alone, in a strange town, on a very strange night in both of our lives.
I wanted to )e ie Jezzie did, too. The look in her eyes was sweet and comfortable. But there was also a brittleness that night. There was a network of tiny red veins in the comers of her eyes. Maybe she could still see Soneji/Murphy, too. We'd been so close to getting him. Only a half step behind this time.
I studied Jezzie's face in a way I couldn't have before, and never thought that I would. I ran a finger lightly over her cheeks. Her skin was soft and smooth. Her blond hair was like silk between my fingers. Her perfume was subtle, like wildflowers. A phrase drifted through my head. Don't start anything you can'tfinish.
“Well, Alex?” Jezzie said, and she raised an eyebrow. “This is a knotty problem, isn't it?”
“Not for two smart cops like us,” I said to her. We took the soft left turn down the hotel hallwayand headed toward room 31 1.
“Maybe we should think twice about this,” I said as we walked.
“Maybe I already have,” Jezzie whispered back. some)ody nght tien. I think
Along Came A Spider
T ONE-THIRTY in the morning, Gary Soneji/Murphy walked out of a Motel 6 in Reston, Virginia. AHe caught his reflection in a glass door.
The new Gary-the Gary du jour-looked back at him. Black pompadour and a grungy beard; dusty shitkicker's clothes. He knew he could play this part. Put on an Old Dixie drawl. For as long as he needed to, anyway. Not too long. Don't anybody blink.
Gary got into the battered VW and started to drive. He was completely wired. He loved this part of the plan more than he loved his life. He couldn't separate the two anymore. This was the most daring part of the entire adventure. Real high-wire stuff.
Why was he so revved? he wondered as his mind drifted. Just because half the police and FBI bastards in the continental U.S.A. were out looking for him?
Because he'd kidnapped two rich brats and one had died? And the other-Maggie Rose? He didn't even want to think about that-what had really happened to her.
Darkness slowly changed to a soft gray velvet. He fought the urge to step on the gas and keep it floored. An orangish tinge of morning finally arrived as he drove through Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
He stopped at a 7-Eleven in Johnstown. He got out and stretched his legs. Checked how he looked in the VW Bug's dangling sideview mirror.
A scraggly country laborer looked back at him from the mirror. Another Gary, completely. He had all the country-hick mannerisms down cold; modified cowboy walk as if he'd been kicked by a horse; hands in pockets, or thumbs in belt loops. Finger-comb your hair all the time. Spit whenever you- get the chance.
He took a jolt of high-octane coffee in the convenience store, which was a questionable move. Hard poppy-seed roll with extra butter. No morning newspapers were out yet.
A dumb-shit, stuck-up female clerk in the store waited on him. He wanted to punch her lights out. He spent five minutes fantasizing about taking her out right in the middle of the podunk 7-Eleven.
Take off the little schoolgirl white blouse, honey. Roll it down to your waist. Okay, now I'm probably going to have to kill you. But maybe not. Talk to me nice and beg me not to. What are you-twenty-one, twenty? Use that as your emotional argument. You're too young to die, unfulfilled, in a 7-Eleven.
Gary finally decided to let her live. The amazing thing was that she had no idea how close she'd come to being killed.
“You have a nice day. Come back soon,” she said.
“You pray I don't.”
As Soneji/Murphy drove along Route 22, he let himself get angrier than he had been in a long time. Enough of this sentimentality crap. No one was paying attention to him-not the attention he deserved.
Did the major fools and incompetents out there think they had any chance of stopping him? Of capturing him on their own? Of trying him on national TV? It was time to teach them a lesson; it was time for true greatness. Zig when the world expects you to zag.
Gary Soneji/Murphy pulled into a McDonald's in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. Children of all ages loved McDonald's, right? Food, folks, and fun. He was still pretty much on schedule. The “Bad Boy” was dependable in that regard-you could set your watch by him.
There was the usual meandering lunchtime crowd of dopes and mopes moving in and out of Mickey D's. All of them were stuck in their daily ruts and daily rutting. Shoveling down those Quarter Pounders and greasy string fries.
What was that old Hooters song-about all the zombies out there in Amerika? All you zombies? Walk like a zombie? Something about the millions of zombies out there. Gross understatement.
Was he the only one living near his potential? Soneji/ Murphy wondered. It sure as hell seemed that way. Nobody else was special the way he was. At least he hadn't met any of the special ones.
He turned into the McDonald's dining room. A hundred trillion McBurgers served, and still counting. Women were there in droves. Women and all of their precious children. The nest-builders; the trivializers; the silly gooses with their silly, floppy breasties.
Ronald McDonald was there, too, in the form of a sixfoot cutout shilling stale cookies to the kiddies. What a day! Ronald McDonald meets Mr. Chips.
Gary paid for two black coffees and turned to walk back through the crowd. He thought the top of his head was going to blow off. His face and neck were flushed. He was hyperventilating. His throat was dry, and he was perspiring too much.
“You all right, Sir?” the girl behind the register asked.
He didn't even consider answering her. You talkin' to me? Robert De Niro, right? He was another De Niro-no doubt about that-only he was an even better actor. More range. De Niro never took chances the way he did. De Niro, Hoffman, Pacino-none of them took chances and really stretched themselves. Not in his opinion.
So many thoughts and perceptions were crashing on him, deflecting off his brain. He had the impression that he was floating through a sea of light particles, photons, and neutrons. If these people could spend only ten seconds inside his brain, they wouldn't believe it.
He purposely bumped into people as he walked away from the McDonald's counter.
“Well, ex-cuse me,” he said after a jarring hipcheck.
“Hey! Watch it! C'mon, mister,” somebody said to him.
“Watch it yourself, you jerkoff.” Soneji/Murphy stopped and addressed the balding shitkicker he'd bumped. “What do I have to do to get a little respect? Shoot you in the right eyeball?”
He downed both hot coffees as he continued on through the restaurant. Through the restaurant, Through any people in his way. Through the cheesy Formica tables. Through the walls, if he really wanted to.
Gary Soneji/Murphy pulled a snub-nosed revolver from under his Windbreaker. This was it: the beginning of America's wake-up call. A special performance for all the kiddies and mommies.
They were all watching him now. Guns, they understood.
“Wake the fuck up!” he shouted inside the McDonald's dining room. “Hot coffee! Comin' through, you all! Wake up, and smell it!”
“That man has a gun!” said one of the rocket scientists eating a dripping Big Mac. Amazing that he could see through the greasy fog rising from his food.
Gary faced the room with the revolver drawn. “No one leaves this room!” he bellowed.
“You awake now? Are you people awake?” Gary Soneji/Murphy called out. "I think so. I think you're all with the program now.
“I'm in charge! So everybody stop. Look. And listen. ”
Gary fired a round into the face of a burger-chomping patron. The man clutched his forehead and wheeled heavily off his chair onto the floor. Now that got every-' body's attention. Real gun, real bullets, real life.
A black woman screamed, and she tried to run by Soneji. He leveled her with a gun butt to the head. It was a really cool move, he thought. Good Steven Seagal shit.
“I am Gary Soneji! I am Himself. Is that a mind p blower or what? You're in the presence of the world famous kidnapper. This is like a free -for-nothing dem onstration. So watch closely. You might learn some thing. Gary Soneji has been places, he's seen things you'll never see in your life. Trust me on that one.”
He sipped the last of his McCoffee, and over the rim of his cup watched the fast-food fans quiver.
“This” he finally said in a thoughtful manner, "is what they call a dangerous hostage situation. Ronald McDonald's been kidnapped, folks. You're now offi cially part of history.'
Along Came A Spider
TATE TROOPERS Mick Fescoe and Bobby Hatfield were about to enter the McDonald's when gunshots sounded from the dining room. Gunshots? At lunchtime in McDonald's? What the hell was going on I
Fescoe was tall, a hulk, forty-four years old. Hatfield was nearly twenty years younger. He'd been a state trooper for only about a year. The two troopers shared a similar sense of black humor, in spite of their age
I difference. They had already become tight friends. I “Holy shit,” Hatfield whispered when the fireworks I started inside McDonald's. He went into a firing crouch he hadn't learned that long ago, and had never used off
I the target range.
“Listen to me, Bobby,” Fescoe said to him.
“Don't worry, I'm listening.”
“You head toward that exit over there. ” Fescoe pointed to an exit up near the cash registers. "I'll go around the left side. You wait for me to make a move.
“Do nothing until I go at him. Then, if you have a clear shot, go for it. Don't think about it. Just pull the trigger, Bobby. ”
Bobby Hatfield nodded. “I got you.” Then the two split up.
Officer Mick Fescoe couldn't get his breath as he ran around the far side of the McDonald's. He stayed close to the brick wall, brushing his back against it. He'd been telling himself for months to get his ass back in shape. He was puffing already. He felt a little dizzy. That he didn't need. Dizziness, and playing High Noon with a creep, was a real bad combination.
Mick Fescoe got up close to the door. He could hear the nut case shouting inside.
There was something funny, though, as if the creep were operating by remote. His movements were very staccato. His voice was high-pitched, like a young boy's.
“I'm Gary Soneji. You all got that? I'm The Man himself. You folks have found me, so to speak. You're all big heroes.”
Was it possible? Fescoe wondered as he listened near the door. The kidnapper Soneji, here in Wilkinsburg? Whoever it was, he definitely had a gun. One person had been shot. A man was spread-eagled on the floor. He wasn't moving.
Fescoe heard another shot. Piercing screams of terror echoed from inside the packed McDonald's restaurant.
“You have to do something!” a man in a light green Dolphins parka yelled at the state trooper.
You're telling me, Officer Mick Fescoe muttered to himself. People were always real brave with cops, lives. You first, officer. You're the one getting twenty-five hundred a month for this.
Mick Fescoe tried to control his breathing. When he succeeded, he moved up to the glass doorway. He said a silent prayer and spun through the glass door.
He saw the gunman immediately. A white guy, already turned toward hirfi. As if he'd been expecting him. As if he'd planned on this.
“Boom!” Gary Soneji yelled. At the same time, he pulled the trigger.
Along Came A Spider
NE OF us had more than a couple of hours of slee@, some less than that. We were groggy and out of it as we cruised down U.S. Highway 22.
Gary Soneji/Murphy had been “sighted” several times in the area south of us. He had become the bogey man for half the people in America. I knew that he relished the role. iezzie Flanagan, Jeb Klepner, Sampson, and I traveled in a blue Lincoln sedan. Sampson tried to sleep. I was the designated driver for the first shift. We were passing through Murrysville, Pennsylvania, when an emergency call came over the radio at ten past noon. “All units, we have a multiple shooting!” the dispatcher said with a flurry of radio static. "A man claiming to be Gary Soneji has shot at least two people inside a McDonald's in Wilkinsburg. He has at least sixty hostages trapped inside the restaurant at this time.
Less than thirty minutes later we arrived at the scene
Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. Sampson shook his head disgust and amazement. “Does this asshole know how to throw a party or what?” “Is he trying to kill himself? Is this suicide time?” Jezzie Flanagan wanted to know.
“I'm not surprised by anything he does, but McDonaid's fits. Look at all the children. It's like the school, like Disney World,” I said to them. Across the street from the restaurant, on the roof of a Kmart, I could see police or army snipers. They had high-powered rifles aimed in the direction of the golden arches on the front window.
“It seems just like the McDonald's massacre a few years back. The one in southern California,” I said to Sampson and Jezzie.
“Don't say that,” Jezzie whispered, “not even as a joke. ”
“I'm saying it, and it isn't any joke.”
We started to hurry toward the McDonald's. After all this, we didn't want Soneji shot dead.
We were being filmed. Television vans were doubleparked everywhere, affiliates from all three networks. They were shooting film of everything that moved or talked. The whole mess was as bad a deal as I'd seen. It certainly reminded me of the McDonald's shootings in California; a man named James Huberty had killed twenty-one people there. Was that what Soneji/Murphy wanted us to think?
An FBI section chief came running up to us. It was Kyle Craig, who'd been at the Murphy house in Wilmington.
“We don't know if it's him for sure,” he said. “This guy's dressed like a farrner. Dark hair, beard. Claims to be Soneji. But it could be some other nut.”
“Let me get a look,” I said to Craig. “He asked for me down in Florida. He knows I'm a psychologist. Maybe I can talk to him now.”
Before Craig could answer, I had moved past him toward the restaurant. I inched my way up beside a trooper and a couple of local cops crouched near the side entrance. I flashed my badge case at them. Said I was from Washington. No sound was coming from inside the McDonald's. I had to talk him back to earth. No suicide. No big flame-out at Mickey D's.
“Is he making any sense?” I asked the trooper. “Is he coherent?”
The trooper was young and his eyes were glazed. “He shot my partner. I think my partner's dead,” the trooper said. “Dear God in this world.”
“We'll get in there and help your partner,” I told the trooper. “Is the man with the gun making sense when he talks? Is he coherent?”
“He's talking about being the kidnapper from D.C. You can follow what he says. He's bragging about it. Says he wants to be somebody important.”
The gunman had control of the sixty or more people inside the McDonald's. It was silent in there. Was it Soneji/Murphy? It sure fit. The kids and their mothers. The hostage situation. I remembered all the pictures on his bathroom wall. He wanted to be the picture other lonely boys hung up.
“Soneji!” I called out. “Are you Gary Soneji?”
“Who the hell are you?” a shout came right back from inside. “Who wants to know?”
“I'm Detective Alex Cross. From Washington. I a feeling you know all about the latest hostage-. rescue decision. We won't negotiate with you. So you know what happens from here on.”
“I know all the rules, Detective Cross. It's all public information, isn't it. The rules don't always apply,” Gary Soneji shouted back. “Not to me, they don't. Never have.”
“They do here,” I said firmly. “You can bet your life on it.” “Are you willing to bet all these lives, Detective? I know another rule. Women and children go first! You follow me? Women and children have a special place with me.”
I didn't like the sound of his voice. I didn't like what he was saying.
I needed Soneji to understand that under no circumstances was he getting away. There would be no negotiations. If he started shooting again, we would take him down. I remembered other siege situations like this that I'd been involved in. Soneji was more complicated, smarter. He sounded as if he had nothing to lose.
“I don't want anyone else hurt! I don't want you hurt,” I told him in a clear, strong voice. I was beginning to sweat. I could feel it inside my jacket, all over my body.
“That's very touching. I am moved by what you just said. My heart just skipped a beat. Really,” he said. Our talk had sure become conversational in a hurry “You know what I mean, Gary.” I softened my voice. I spoke as if he were a frightened, anxious patient.
“Certainly I do, Alex.”
“There are a lot of people out here with guns. No one can control them if this escalates. I can't. Even you can't. There could be an accident. That, we don't want. ”
It was silent inside again. The thought pounding in my head was that if Soneji was suicidal, he'd end it here. He'd have his final shoot-out right now, his final blaze of celebrity. We'd never know what had set him off. We would never know what had happened to Maggie Rose Dunne.
“Hello, Detective Cross.”
Suddenly, he was in the doorway, about five feet away from me. He was right there. A gunshot rang from one of the rooftops. Soneji spun and grabbed his shoulder. He'd been hit by one of the snipers.
I leaped forward and grabbed Soneji in both arms. My right shoulder crunched into his chest. Lawrence Taylor never made a surer tackle.
We fell hard to the concrete. I didn't want anyone shooting him dead now. I had to talk to him. We had to find out about Maggie Rose.
As I held. him on the ground, he twisted around and stared into my face. Blood from his shoulder was smeared over both of us.
“Thank you for saving my life,” he said. “Someday, I'll kill you for it, Detective Cross.”
The Last Southern Gentleman
Along Came A Spider
Y NAME IS BOBBI," she had been taught to say.
Always her new name. Never the old one.
Never, ever, Maggie Rose.
She was locked inside a dark van, or a covered truck. She wasn't sure which. She had no idea where she was now. How far or how close to her home. She didn't know how long it had been since she'd been taken away from her school.
Her thinking was clearer now. Almost back to normal. Someone had brought her clothes, which had to mean she wasn't going to be hurt right away. Otherwise, why would they bother with the clothes?
The van or truck was filthy dirty. It had no rug or covering on the floor. It smelled like onions. Food must have been kept there. Where did they grow onions? Maggie Rose tried to remember. New Jersey and upstate York. She thought there was also the smell of potatoes. Maybe turnips or sweet potatoes. When she put it all together, when she focused her
225 mind, Maggie Rose thought she was probably beilir, held somewhere down South. What else did she know? What else could she figure out?
She wasn't being drugged anymore, not since the beginning. She didn't think Mr. Soneji had been around for a few days. The scary old lady hadn't been there, either.
They seldom talked to her. When she was spoken to, they called her Bobbi. Why Bobbi?
She was being so good about everything, but sometimes she needed to cry, Like now. She was choking on her own sobs. Not wanting anybody to hear her.
There was only one thing that gave her strength. It was so simple, but it was powerful.
She was alive.
She wanted to stay alive more than anything.
Maggie Rose hadn't noticed that the truck was slowing down. It was bumpy going for a while. Then the vehicle came to a full stop.
She heard someone getting out of the cab up front. Muffled words were spoken. She'd been told not to talk in the truck, or she'd be gagged again.
Someone pushed open the sliding door. Sunlight burst in on her. She couldn't see anything at first.
When she finak could make something out, Maggie Rose couldn't believe her eyes. “Hello,” she said in the softest whisper, allll%JOL “O if she had no voice. ”My name is Robbi."
Along Came A Spider
T TURNED OUT to be another very long day in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. We interviewed each person who had been kept hostage inside the McDonald's. The FBI, meanwhile, had taken custody of Soneji/Murphy I stayed over that night. So did Jezzie Flanagan. We were together for a second night in a row. Nothing I wanted more.
As soon as we got inside a room at the Cheshire Inn, in nearby Millvale, Jezzie said, “Will you just hold me for a minute or two, Alex. I probably look a little more stable than I really feel.” I liked holding her, and being held back. I liked the way she smelled. I liked the way she fit into my arms. Everything still felt electric between us.
I was excited by the thought of being with her again. There have been only a couple of people I can open up to. No woman since Maria. I had a feeling Jezzie could be one of those people, and I needed to be connected
22T with someone again. It had taken me a while to figure that one out.
“Isn't this weird?” she whispered. “Two cops in hot pursuit. ” Her body was trembling as I held her. Her hand softly stroked my arm.
I had never been a committed one-night-stand type, and I thought that I probably wouldn't start now. That raised some problems and theoretical questions that I wasn't ready to deal with yet.
Jezzie closed her eyes. “Hold me for one more minute,” she whispered. “You know what's really nice? Being with someone who understands what you've been through. My husband never understood The Job.”
“Me neither. In fact, I understand it less every day,” I joked. But I was partly telling the truth.
I held Jezzie for a lot longer than a couple of minutes. She had a startling, ageless beauty. I liked looking at her.
“This is so strange, Alex. Nice strange, but strange, she said. ”Is this whole thing a dream?"
"Can't be a dream. My middle name is Isaiah. You didn't know that.
Jezzie shook her head. “I knew your middle name was Isaiah. I saw it on a report from the Bureau. Alexander Isaiah Cross. ”
“I see how you got to the top,” I said to her. “What else do you know about me?”
“All in good time,” Jezzie said. She touched a finger to my lips.
The Cheshire was a picturesque country inn about ten miles north of Wilkinsburg. Jezzie had run in to get us a room. So far, no one had seen us together at the inn, which was fine by both of us.
Our room was in a whitewashed carriage house that was detached from the main building. It was filled with authentic-looking antiques, including a hand loom and several quilts.
There was a woodbuming fireplace, and we started a fire. Jezzie ordered champagne from room service.
“Let's celebrate. Let's do up the town,” she said as she put down the phone receiver. “We deserve something special. We got the bad guy.” The inn, the corner room, everything was just about pe rfect. A bay window looked down over a snowcovered lawn, to a lake slicked with ice. A steep mountain range loomed behind the lake.
We sipped champagne in front of the blazing fire. I'd been worried about the aftereffects of our night in Wilmington, but there were none. We talked easily, and when it got quiet, that was all right, too.
We ordered a late dinner.
The room-service guy was clearly uncomfortable as he set up our dinner trays in front of the fire. He couldn't get the warming oven open; and he nearly dropped an entire tray of food. Guess he'd never seen a living, breathing taboo before.
“It's okay,” Jezzie said to the man. “We're both cops and this is perfectly legal. Trust me on it.” We talked for the next hour and a half. It reminded me of being a kid, having a friend over for the night. We both let our hair down a little, then a lot. There wasn't much self-consciousness between us. She got me talking about Damon and Jannie and wouldn't let me stop.
Supper was roast beef with something masqueradin
9 as Yorkshire pudding. It didn't matter. When Jezzie finished the last bite, she started to laugh. We were both doing that a lot.
“Why did I finish all that food? I don't even like good Yorkshire pudding. God, we're having fun for a change!”
“What do we do now?” I asked her. “in the spirit of fun and celebration.”
"I don't know. What are you up for? I'll bet they have really neat board games back at the main building. I'm one of a hundred living people who knows how to play Parcheesi.
Jezzie craned her neck so she could see out the window. “Or, we could hike down by the lake. Sing 'Winter Wonderland.' ”
“Yeah. We could do some ice-skating. I ice-skate. I'm a wizard on skates. Was that in my FBI report?”
Jezzie grinned and slapped her knees. "That I'd like to see. I'd pay real good money to see you skate.
“Forgot my skates, though.”
“Oh, well. What else? I mean, I like you too much, I respect you too much, to let you think I might be interested in your body.”
“To be absolutely truthful and frank, I'm a little interested in your body,” I said. The two of us kissed, and it still felt pretty good to me. The fire crackled. The champagne was ice-cold. Fire and ice. Yin and yang. All kinds of opposites attracting. Wildfire in the wilds.
We didn't get to sleep until seven the following morn
7 ing. We even walked down to the lake, where we skated on our shoes in the moonlight.
Jezzie leaned in and she kissed me in the middle of the lake. Very serious kiss. Big-girl kiss.
“Oh, Alex,” she whispered against my cheek, “I think this is going to be real trouble.”
Along Came A Spider
ARY SONEJI/MURPHY was remanded to Lorton Fedal Prison in the northern part of Virginia. We @bregan hearing rumors that something had happened to him there, but no one from the Washington Police Department was allowed to see him. Justice and the FBI had him, and they weren't letting go of their prize.
From the moment it was revealed that he was being kept at Lorton, the prison was picketed. The same thing had occurred when Ted Bundy was imprisoned in Florida. Men, women, and schoolchildren assembled outside the prison parking area. They chanted emotional slogans throughout the day and night. They marched and carried lighted candies and placards. Where Is Maggie Rose? Maggie Rose Lives! The Beast of the East Must Die! Give the Beast the Chair or L ife! A week and a half after the capture, I went in to see Soneji/Murphy. I had to call in every chip I had in
Washington, but I got in to see him. Dr. Marion Campbell, the warden at Lorton, met me at a row of gunmetal elevators on the prison's sixth floor, the hospital floor. Campbell was in his sixties. He was well preserved, with a flowing mane of black hair. He looked very Reaganesque. “You're Detective Cross?” He extended his hand and smiled politely.
“Yes. I'm also a forensic psychologist,” I explained.
Dr. Campbell seemed genuinely surprised by that information. Evidently, no one had told him. “Well, you certainly have some pull to get in to talk with him. It's gotten rather complicated. Visiting rights with him are a precious commodity.”
“I've been involved with this since he took the two kids in Washington. I was there when he was caught.”
“Well, I'm not sure if we're talking about the same man now,” Dr. Campbell said. He didn't explain. “Is it Dr. Cross?” he asked.
“Doctor Cross, Detective Cross, Alex. You pick.”
“Please come with me, Doctor. You're going to find this most interesting.”
Because of the gunshot wound Soneji got at McDonald's, he was being kept in a private room in the prison hospital. Dr. Campbell led me down a wide corridor inside the hospital. Prisoners occupied every available room. Lorton's a very popular place, long lines at the door. Most of the men were black. They ranged in age from as young as nineteen to their mid-fifues. They all tried to look defiant and tough, but that is a pose that doesn't work well in a federal prison.
“I'm afraid I've become a little protective of him,” bell said as we walked. “You'll see why in a ment. Everybody wants to, needs to, see him. I've received calls from all over the world. An author from Japan had to see him. A doctor from Frankfurt. Another from London. That sort of thing.”
“I get the feeling there's something you're not telling me about him, Doctor,” I finally said to Campbell. “What is it?”
“I want you to draw your own conclusions, Dr. Cross. He's right here in this section near the main ward. I would very much like your opinion.”
We stopped at a bolted steel door in the hospital corridor. A guard let us through. Beyond the door were a few more hospital rooms, but rooms for maximum security.
A light burned brightly inside the first room. It wasn't Soneji's. He was in a darker room on the left. The regular prison visiting area had been ruled out because it offered too much exposure. Two guards with shotguns sat outside the room.
“Has there been any violence?” I asked.
“No, not at all. I'll leave you two to talk. I don't think you have to be concerned about any violence. You'll see for yourself.”
Gary Soneji/Murphy watched us from his cot. His arm was in a sling. Otherwise, he looked the same as the last time I'd seen him. I stood inside the hospital room. When Dr. Campbell walked away, Soneji studied me. There was no sign of recognition from this man who'd threatened to kill me when we'd last met.
My first professional impression was that he seemed afraid to be left alone with me. His body language was tentative, very different from the man I'd wrestled to the ground at the McDonald's in Wilkinsburg. ant with me?" he
“Who are you? What do you w finally said. His voice quivered slightly. ”I'm Alex Cross. We've met."
He looked confused. The expression on his face was very believable, too. He shook his head and closed his eyes. It was an incredibly baffling and disconcerting moment for me. “I'm sorry, I don't remember you,” he said then. It seemed an apology. "There have been so many people in this nightmare. I forget some of you. Hello, Detective Cross. Please, pull up a chair. As you can see, I've had plenty of visitors.
“You asked for me during the negotiations in Florida. I'm with the Washington police.”
As soon as I said that, he started to smile. He looked off to the side, and shook his head. I wasn't in on the joke yet. I told him I wasn't.
“I've never been to Florida in my life,” he said. “Not once.”
Gary Soneji/Murphy stood up from his cot. He was wearing loose-fitting hospital whites. His arm seemed to be giving him some pain.
He looked lonely, and vulnerable. Something was very wrong here. What in hell was going on? Why hadn't I been told before I came? Evidently, Dr. Campbell wanted me to draw my own conclusions.
Soneji/Murphy sat down in the other chair. He stared at me with a baleful look.
He didn't look like a killer. He didn't look like a kidnapper. A teacher? A Mr. Chips? A lost little boy? All of those seemed closer to the mark.
“I've never spoken to you in my life,” he said to me. “I've never heard of Alex Cross. I didn't kidnap any children. Do you know Kafka?” he asked.
“Some. What's your point?”
“I feel like Gregor Samsa in Metamorphosis. I'm trapped in a nightmare. None of this makes any sense to me. I didn't kidnap anyone's children. Someone has to believe me. Someone has to. I'm Gary Murphy, and I never harmed anyone in my entire life.”
If I followed him, what he was telling me was that he was a multiple personality... truly Gary Sonejit Murphy.
“But do you believe him, Alex? Jesus Christ, man. That's the sixty-four-dollar question.”
Scorse, Craig, and Reilly from the Bureau, Klepner and Jezzie Flanagan from the Secret Service, and Sampson and I were in a cramped conference room at FBI headquarters downtown. It was old home week for the Hostage Rescue Team.
The question had come from Gerry Scorse. Not surprisingly, he didn't believe Soneji/Murphy. He didn't buy the multiple-personality bit. “What does he really gain from telling a lot of outrageous lies?” I asked everyone to consider. “He says he didn't kidnap the children. He says he didn't shoot anyone at the McDonald's.” I looked from face to face around the conference table. "He claims to be this pleas ant enough nobody from Delaware named Gary Murphy.
“Temp insanity plea.” Reilly offered the obvious. “He goes to some cushy asylum in Maryland or Virginia. Out in seven to ten years, maybe. You can bet he knows that, Alex. Is he clever enough, a good enough actor, to pull it ofr”
“So far, I've spoken to him only once. Less than an hour with him. I'll say this: he's very convincing as Gary Murphy. I think he's legitimately VFC.”
“What the hell is VFC?” Scorse asked. “I don't know VFC. You've lost me.”
“It's a common enough psych term,” I told him. “All of us shrinks talk about VFC when we get together. Very @cking crazy, Gerry.”
Everybody around the table laughed except Scorse. Sampson had nicknamed him the Funeral DirectorDigger Scorse. He was dedicated and professional, but usually not a lot of laughs.
“Very fucking funny, Alex,” Scorse finally said. “That's VFF.”
“Can you get in to see him again?” Jezzie asked me. She was as professional as Scorse, but a lot nicer to be around.
“Yeah, I can. fie wants to see me. Maybe I'll even find out why in hell he asked for me down in Florida. Why I'm the chosen one in his nightmare.”
Along Came A Spider
WO DAYS LATER, I wangled, another hour with Gary Soneji/Murphy. I'd been up the previous two nights rereading multiple-personality cases. My dining room looked like a carrel at a psych library. There are tomes written about multiples, but few of us really agree on the material. There is even serious disagreement about whether there are any real multiplepersonality cases at all.
Gary was sitting on his hospital cot, staring into space, when I arrived. His shoulder sling was gone. It was hard to come and talk to this kidnapper, child-killer, serial killer. I remembered something the philosopher Spinoza once wrote: “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them. ” So far, I didn't understand.
“Hello Gary,” I said softly, not wanting to startle him. “Are you ready to talk?”
He turned around and seemed glad to see me. He pulled a chair over for me by his cot.
“I was afraid they wouldn't let you come,” he said. “I'm glad they did.” “What made you think they wouldn't let me come?” I wanted to know.
“Oh, I don't know. It's just... I felt you were someone I might be able to talk to. The way my luck's been going, I thought they would shut you right off.”
There was a n;divet6 about him that was troubling to me. He was almost charming. He was the man his neighbors in Wilmington had described.
“What were you just thinking about? A minute ago?” I asked. “Before I interrupted.”
He smiled and shook his head. “I don't even know. What was I thinking about? Oh, I know what it was. I was remembering it's my birthday this month. I keep thinking that I'm suddenly going to wake up out of this. That's one recurring thought, a leitmotif through all my thinking. ”
“Go back a little for me. Tell me how you were arrested again,” I said, changing the subject. “I woke up, I came to in a police car outside a McDonald's. ” He was consistent on that point. He'd told me the same thing two days before. “My arms were handcuffed behind my back. Later on, they used leg-irons, too.”
“You don't know how you got into the police car?” I asked. Boy, was he good at this. Soft-spoken, very nice, believable.
"No, and I don't know how I got to a McDonald's in Wilkinsburg, either. That is the most freakish thing that's ever happened to me.
“I can see how it would be.”
A theory had occurred to me on the ride down from ashington. It was a long shot, but it might explain a few things that didn't make any sense so far.
“Has anything like this ever happened to you before?” I asked. “Anything vaguely like it, Gary?”
“No. I've never been in any trouble. Never been arrested. You can check that, can't you? Of course you can.”
“I mean have you ever woken up in a strange place before? No idea how you got there?”
Gary gave me a strange look, his head cocked sli htly. “Why would you ask that?”
9 “Did you, Gary?”
“Tell me about it. Tell me about those times when you woke up in a strange place.”
He had a habit of pulling on his shirt, between the second and third buttons. He would pull the fabric away from his chest. I wondered if he had a fear of not being able to breathe, and where it might have come from if he did.
Maybe he'd been sick as a child. Or trapped with a limited air supply. Or locked up somewhere-the way Maggie Rose and Michael Goldberg had been locked away.
“For the past year or so, maybe more than that, I've suffered from insomnia. I told that to one of the doctors who came to see n-w,” he said.
There was nothing about insomnia in any of the prison workups. I wondered if he'd told any of the doctors, or simply imagined that he had. There was stuff about an uneven Wechsler profile, indicative of impulsivity. There was a verbal I.Q. and a performance I.Q., both through the roof. There was a Rorschach profile that reflected severe emotional stress. There was a positive response to T. A.T. card # 14, the so-called suicide card. But not a word about insomnia.
“Tell me about it, please. It could help me to understand. ” We'd already talked about the fact that I was a psychologist, besides being A really crackerjack detective. He was comfortable with my credentials. So far, anyway. Did that have anything to do with his asking for me down in Florida? He looked into my eyes. “Will you really try to help me? Not trap me, Doctor, help me?”
I told him that I'd try. I'd listen to what he had to say. I'd keep an open mind. He said that was all he could ask for.
“I haven't been able to sleep for a while. This goes back for as long as I can remember,” he went on. “It was becoming a jumble. Being awake, dreams. I had trouble sorting one out from the other. I woke up in that police car in Pennsylvania. I have no idea how I got there. That's really how it happened. Do you believe me? Somebody has to believe me.”
“I'm listening to you, Gary. When you've finished, I'll tell you what I think. I promise. For the moment, I have to hear everything you remember.”
That seemed to satisfy him.
"You asked if it's happened to me before. It has. A few times. Waking in strange places. Sometimes in my car, pulled over along some road. Sometimes a road
I've never seen, or even heard of before. A couple of times it's happened in motels. Or wandering the streets. Philadelphia, New York, Atlantic City one time. I had casino chips and a complimentary parking ticket in my pocket. No idea how they got there."
“Did it ever happen to you in Washington?” I asked.
“No. Not in, Washington. I haven't been in Washington since I was a kid, actually. Lately, I've found I can ficome to' in a conscious state. Completely conscious. I might be eating a meal, for example. But I have no idea how I got in the restaurant.”
“Did you see anybody about this? Did you try to get help? A doctor?”
He shut his eyes, which were clear chestnut brownhis most striking feature. A smile came across his face as he opened his eyes again.
"We don't have money to spend on psychiatrists. We're barely scraping by. That's why I've been so depressed. We're in the hole over thirty grand. My family is thirty thousand in debt, and I'm here in prison.
He stopped talking, and looked at me again. He wasn't embarrassed about staring, trying to read my face. I was finding him cooperative, stable, and genet ally lucid. I also knew that anybody who worked with him might be the victim of manipulation by an extremely clever and gifted sociopath. He'd fooled a lot of people before me; he was obviously good at it.
“So far, I believe you,” I finally said to him. “What you 9re saying makes sense to me, Gary. I'd like to help you if I can.”
Tears suddenly welled in his eyes, and rolled down his cheeks. He put his hands out to me.
I reached out, and I held Gary Soneji/Murphy's hands. They were very cold. He seemed to be aft-aid.
“I'm innocent,” he said to me. “I know it sounds crazy, but I'm innocent.”
I didn't get home until late that night. A motorcycle eased up alongside the car as I was about to pull into my driveway. What the hell was this?
“Please follow me, sir,” said the person atop the bike. The line was delivered in nearly perfect highwayatrol style. “Just fall in behind.” p
It was Jezzie. She started to laugh and so did 1. I knew she was trying to lure me back to the land of the living again. She'd told me I was working too hard on the case. She reminded me that it was solved. I continued into the driveway and got out of the old Porsche. I went around to where she had curbed her motorcycle.
“Quitting time, Alex,” Jezzie said. “Can you do it? Is it okay for you to quit work at eleven o'clock?”
I went inside to check on the kids. They were sleeping, so I had no reason to resist Jezzie's offer. I came back out and climbed on the bike.
“This is either the worst or the best thing I've done in recent memory,” I told her.
“Don't worry, it's the best. You're in good hands. Nothing to fear except instant death.”
Within seconds, 9th Street was being eaten up under the glare of the single motorcycle headiamp. The bike sped down Independence, then onto the Parkway, which be ridiculously curvy in spots. Jezzie leaned into every curve, buzzing by passenger cars as if they were standing still.
She definitely knew how to drive the bike. She wasn't a dilettante. As the landscape slashed past us, the electric wires overhead, and the roadway's dotted line just to the left of the bike's front wheel, I thought that she was doing at least a hundred, but I felt extraordinarily calm on the bike.
I didn't know where we were going, and I didn't care. The kids were asleep. Nana was there. This was all part of the night's therapy. I could feel the cold air forcing itself back through every socket and aperture in my body. It cleared my head nicely, and my head sure needed clearing.
N Street was empty of traffic. It was a long, naffo w straightaway with hundred-year-old town houses on either side. It was pretty, especially in winter. Gabled roofs crusted with snow. Winking porch lights. Jezzie opened the bike up again on the deserted street. Seventy, ninety, a hundred. I couldn't tell how fast for sure, only that we were really flying. The trees and houses were a blur. The pavement below was a blur. It was kind of nice, actually. If we lived to tell about it.
Jezzie braked the BMW smoothly. She wasn't showing off, just knew how it's done.
“We're home. I just got the place. I'm getting my home act together,” she said as she dismounted. “You were pretty good. You only yelped that one time on the George Washington.”
“I keep my yelps to myself.”
Exhilarated by the ride, we went inside. The apart ment wasn't at all what I had expected. Jezzie said she hadn't found time to fix the place up, but it was beautiful and tasteful. The overall style was sleek and modern, but not at all stark. There were lots of striking art photographs, mostly black and white. Jezzie said she'd taken them all. Fresh flowers were in the living room and kitchen. Books with bookmarks sticking out-The Prince of Tides, Burn Marks, Women in Power, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A wine rackBeringer, Rutherford. A hook on the wall for her cycle helmet. “So you're a homebody after all.”
“I am like hell. Take it back, Alex. I'm a tough-asthey-come Secret Service woman.”
I took Jezzie in my arms and we kissed very gently in her living room. I was finding tenderness where I hadn't expected it; I was discovering sensuality that surprised me. It was the whole package I'd been searching for, only with one little catch.
“I'm glad you brought me to your house,” I said. “I mean that, Jezzie. I really am touched.”
“Even if I practically had to kidnap you to get you over here?”
“Fast motorcycle rides in the night. Beautiful, homey apartment. Annie Leibovitz-quality photographs. What other secrets do you have?”
Jezzie moved a finger gently down and around my jawline, exploring my face. “I don't want to have any secrets. That's what I'd like. Okay?” I said yes. That was exactly the way I wanted it, too. It was time to open up to someone again. It was way past time, probably for both of us. Maybe we hadn't it to the outside world, but we'd been lonely and ner-driven for too long. That was the simple truth we were helping each other to get in touch with.
Early the next morning, we rode the bike back to my house in Washington. The wind was cold and rough on our faces. I held on to her chest as we floated through the dim, gray light of early dawn. The few people who were up, driving or walking to work, stared at us. I probably would have stared, too. What a damn fine and handsome couple we were.
Jezzie dropped me exactly where she'd picked me up. I leaned close against her and the warm, vibrating bike. I kissed her again. Her cheeks, her throat, finally her lips. I thought I could stay there all morning. Just like that, on the mean streets of Southeast. I had the passing thought that it should always be like this. Why not?
“I have to get inside,” I finally said.
“ Yep. I know you do. Go home, Alex,” Jezzie said. “Give your babies a kiss for me.” She looked a little sad as I turned away and headed in, though.
Don't start something you can'tfinish, I remembered.
Along Came A Spider
HE REST OF THAT DAY, I burned the candle at the other end. It felt a little irresponsible, but that was good for me. It's all fight to put the weight of the world on your shoulders sometimes, if you know how to take it off.
As I drove out to Lorton Prison, the temperature was below freezing, but the sun was out. The sky was bright, almost blinding blue. Beautiful and hopeful. The pathetic fallacy lives in the nineties.
I thought about Maggie Rose Dunne that morning on my drive. I had to conclude that she was dead by now. Her father was raising all kinds of hell through the media. I couldn't blame him very much. I'd spoken to Kathefine Rose a couple of times on the phone. She hadn't given up hope. She told me she could “feel” that her little girl was still alive. It was the saddest thing to hear.
I tried to prepare myself for Soneji/Murphy, but I was distracted. Images from the night before kept flashing
T by my eyes. I had to remind myself that I was drivin I
I 9 a car in midday Metro D.C. traffic, and I was working. That was when a bright idea hit me: a testable theory about Gary Soneji/Murphy that seemed to make some i sense in psych terms. Having an interesting theory du jour helped my concentration at the prison. I was taken up to the sixth floor to see Soneji. He was waiting for me. He looked as if he hadn't slept all night, either. It was my turn to make i something happen. I went at him for a full hour that afternoon, maybe even a little longer. I pushed hard. Probably harder than with any of my patients. “Gary, have you ever found receipts in your pockets-hotels, restaurants, store purchases-but you have no memory of spending-the money?” “How did you know that?” His eyes lit up at m y question. Something like relief washed over his face. I told them I wanted you to be my doctor. I don't want to see Dr. Walsh anymore. All he's good for is scrip for chloral hydrate.“ ”I'm not sure that's a good idea. I'm a psychologist, not a psychiatrist like- Dr. Walsh. I'm also part of the team that helped arrest you.“ He shook his head. ”I know all that. You're also the only one who's listened before making final judgments. I know you hate me-the idea that I took those two children, the other things I'm supposed to have done. But you listen, at least. Walsh only pretends to listen. “ ”You need to continue seeing Dr. Walsh," I told him.
"That's fine. I guess I understand the politics here by now. Just please, don't leave me in this hellhole by myself.
“I won't. I'm with you all the way from here on. We'll continue to talk just like this.”
I asked Soneji/Murphy to tell me about his childhood.
“I don't remember a whole lot about growing up. Is that very strange?” He wanted to talk. It was in my hands, my judgment, to determine whether I was hearing the truth, or a set of elaborately constructed lies.
“That's normal for some people. Not remembering. Sometimes, things come back when you talk about them, when you verbalize.”
"I know the facts and statistics. Okay. Birthdate, February twenty-fourth, nineteen fifty-seven. Birthplace, Princeton, New Jersey. Things like that. Sometimes I feel like I learned all that while I was growing though. I've had experiences where I can't separate UP, dreams from reality. I'm not sure which is which. I'm really not sure.
“Try to give me your first impressions,” I told him.
“Not a lot of fun and laughs,” he said. "I've always had insomnia. I could never sleep more than an hour or two at a time. I can't remember not being tired. And, depressed-like I've been trying to dig myself out of a hole my entire life. Not to try to do your job, but I don't think very highly of myself.
Everything we knew about Gary Soneji depicted the opposite persona: high energy, positive attitude, an extremely high opinion of himself.
Gary went on to sketch a terrifying childhood, which included physical abuse from his stepmother as a small child; sexual abuse from his father as he got older.
Over and over, he described how he was forced to split himself off from the anxiety and conflict that surrounded him. His stepmother had come with her two children in 1961. Gary was four years old, and already moody. It got worse from that point on. How much worse, he wasn't willing to tell me yet.
As part of his workup under Dr. Walsh, Soneji/Murphy had taken Wechsler Adult, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and Rorschach tests. Where he sailed completely off the scales was in the area of creativity. This was measured by single-sentence completion. He scored equally high in both verbal and written responses.
“What else, Gary? Try to go as far back as you can. I can only help if I understand you better.”
“There were always these 'lost hours.' Time I couldn't account for,” he said. His face had been drawing tighter and tighter as he spoke. The veins in his neck protruded. Light sweat rolled over his face.
"They punished me because I couldn't remember
. , " he said.
“Who did? Who punished you?”
“My stepmother mostly.”
That probably meant most of the damage had happened when he was very young, while his stepmother did the disciplining. “A dark room,” he said.
“What happened in the dark room? What kind of room was it?”
“She put me there, down in the basement. It was our cellar, and she put me down there almost every day.”
He was beginning to hyperventilate. This was extremely difficult for him, a condition I'd seen many times with child-abuse victims. He shut his eyes. Remembering. Seeing a past he never really wanted to encounter again.
“What would happen down in the basement?” “Nothing... nothing happened. I was just punished all the time. Left by myself.”
“How long were you kept down there?”
“I don't know... I can't remember everything!” His eyes opened halfway. He watched me through narrow slits.
I wasn't sure how much more he could take. I had to be careful. I needed to ease him into the tougher parts of his history, with the feeling that I cared, that he could trust me, that I was listening.
“Was it for a whole day sometimes? Overnight?”
“Oh, no. No. It was for a long, long time. So I wouldn't forget anymore. So I'd be a good boy. Not the Bad Boy.” He looked at me, but said nothing more. I sensed that he was waiting to hear something from me.
I tried praise, which seemed the appropriate response. “That was good, Gary, a good start. I know how hard this is for you.” As I looked at the grown man, I imagined a small boy kept in a darkened cellar. Every day. For weeks that must have seemed even longer than that. Then I thought about Maggie Rose Dunne. Was it possible that he was keeping her somewhere and that she was still alive? I needed to get the darkest secrets out of his head, and needed to do it faster than it's ever done in therapy Katherine Rose and Thomas Dunne deserved to know what had happened to their little girl.
What happened to Maggie Rose, Gary? Remember Maggie Rose?
This was a very risky time in our session.
He could.become frightened and refuse to see me again if he sensed that I was no longer a “friend.” He might withdraw. There was even a chance of a complete psychotic break. He could become catatonic. Then everything 'Would be lost.
I needed to keep praising Gary for his efforts. It was important that he look forward to my visits. “What you've told me so far should be extremely helpful,” I said to him. “You really did a great job. I'm impressed by how much you've forced yourself to remember.' ”Alex,“ he said as I started to leave ”honest to God, I didn't do anything horrible or bad. Please help me.,
A polygraph test had been scheduled for him that afternoon. Just the thought of the lie detector made Gary nervous, but he swore he was glad to take it.
He told me I could stay and wait for the results if I wanted to. I wanted to very much.
The polygraph operator was a particularly good one who had been brought from D.C. for the testing. Eighteen questions were to be asked. Fifteen of those were 6 4controls." The other three were to be used for scoring the lie detector test.
Dr. Campbell met with me about forty minutes after Soneji/Murphy had been taken down for his polygraph.
Campbell was flushed with excitement. He looked as if he might have jogged from wherever they had staged the test. Something big had happened.
“He got the highest score possible,” Campbell told me. “He passed with flying colors. Plus tens. Gary Murphy could be telling the truth!”
Along Came A Spider
@RY muRPHY could be telling the truth!
I held a command performance in the board(;room inside Lorton Prison the following afte noon. The important audience included Dr. Campbell rfrom the prison, federal District Attorney James Dowd, a representative from the governor of Maryland's offi ce, two more attorneys from the attorney general's office in Washington, and Dr. James Walsh, from the state's health board, as well as the prison's advisory staff.
It had been an ordeal to get them together. Now that I had succeeded, I couldn't lose them. I wouldn't get another chance to ask for what I needed.
I felt as if I were back taking my orals at Johns Hopkins. I was dancing fast on the high wire. I believed the entire Soneji/Murphy investigation was at stake, nght hem in this room.
“I want to try regressive hypnosis on him. 'nere's no risk, but there's a chance for high reward,” I announced to the group. "I'm certain Soneji/Murphy will
254 be a good subject, that we'll find out something we can use. Maybe we'll learn what happened to the missing girl. Certainly something about Gary Murphy."
Several complex jurisdictional questions had already been raised,by the case. One lawyer had told me the issues would make for an excellent bar-exam question. Since state lines had been crossed, the kidnapping and murder of Michael Goldberg had fallen under federal jurisdiction and would be tried in federal court. The killings in McDonald's would be tried in a Westmoreland court. Soneji/Murphy could also be tried in Washington for one or more of the killings he had apparently committed in Southeast.
“What would you ultimately hope to accomplish?” Dr. Campbell wanted to know. He'd been supportive, and was continuing to be so. Like me, he read skepticism on several faces, especially Walsh's. I could see why Gary didn't care for Walsh. He seemed meanspirited, petty, and proud of it.
"A lot of what he's told us so far suggests a severe dissociative reaction. He appears to have suffered a pretty horrible childhood. There was physical abuse, maybe sexual abuse as well. He may have begun to split off his psyche to avoid pain and fear back then. I'm not saying that he's a multiple, but it's a possibility. He had the kind of childhood that could produce such a rare psychosis.
Dr. Campbell picked up. “Dr. Cross and I have talked about the possibility that Soneji/Murphy undergoes 'fugue states.' Psychotic episodes that relate to both amnesia and hysteria. He talks about 'lost days,' 'lost weekends,' even 'lost weeks.' In such a fugue state, a patient can wake in a strange place and have no idea how he got there, or what he had been doing for a prolonged period. In some cases, the patients have two separate personalities, often antithetical personalities. This can also happen in temporal lobe epilepsy.”
“What are you guys, a tag team?” Walsh grumped from his seat. “Lobe epilepsy. Give me a break, Marion. The more youfool around like this, the better his chance of getting off in a courtroom,” Walsh warned.
“I'm not fooling around,” I said to Walsh. “Not my style. ”
The D.A. spoke up, intervening between Walsh and me. James Dowd was a serious man in his late thirties or early forties. If Dowd got to try the case of Soneji/ Murphy, he would soon be an extremely famous attorney.
“Isn't there a possibility that he's created this apparently psychotic condition for our benefit?” Dowd asked. “That he's a psychopath, and nothing more than that?”
I glanced around the table before answering his questions. Dowd clearly wanted to hear our answers; he wanted to learn the truth. The representative from the governor's office seemed skeptical and unconvinced, but open-minded. The attorney general's group was neutral so far. Dr. Walsh had already heard enough from me and Campbell.
“That's a definite possibility,” I said. “It's one of the reasons I'd like to try the regressive hypnosis. For one thing, we can see if his stories remain consistent.”
“If he's susceptible to hypnosis,” Walsh interjected.
“And if you can tell whether or not he'd been hypnotized. ”
“I suspect that he is susceptible, ” I answered quickly.
.,And I have my doubts that he is. Frankly, I have MY doubts about you, Cross. I don.'t care that he likes to talk to you. Ps chiatry isn't about liking your doctor."
“What he likes is that I listen.” I glared across the table at Walsh. It took a lot of self-control not to jump on the officious bastard.
“What are the other reasons for hypnotizing the prisoner?” the govemor's representative spoke up.
“Frankly, we don't know enough about what he's done during these fugue states,” Dr. Campbell said.
Neither does he. Neither do his wife and family, whom I've interviewed several times now."
I added, “We're also not sure how many personalities might be operating.... The other reason for hypnosis”-l paused to let what I was about to say sink in“-is that I do want to ask him about Maggie Rose Dunne. I want to try and find out what he did with Maggie Rose.”
“Well, we've heard your arguments, Dr. Cross. Thank you for your time and efforts here, ” James Dowd said at the end of the presentation. “We'll have to let you know.”
I decided to take things into my own hands that evening.
I called a reporter I knew and trusted at the Post. I asked him to meet me at Pappy's Diner on the edge of Southeast. Pappy's was one place where we would ver be spotted, and I didn't want anyone to know
'd met. For both our sakes.
Lee Kovel was a graying yuppie, and kind of an asshole, but I liked him. Lee wore his emotions on his sleeve: his petty jealousies, his bitterness about the sad state of journalism, his bleeding-heart tendencies, his occasional arch-conservative traits. It was all out there for the world to see and react to.
Lee plopped down next to me at the counter. He was wearing a gray suit and light blue running shoes. Pappy's draws a real nice cross-section: black, Hispanic, Korean, working-class whites who service Southeast in some way or other. But no one anything like Lee.
“I stick out like a sore thumb in here,” he complained. “I'm way too cool for this place.” “Now who's going to see you here? Bob Woodward? Evans and Novak?”
“Very funny, Alex. What's on your mind? Why didn't you call me when this story was hot? Before this sucker got caught?”
“Would you give this man some hot, very black coffee,” I said to the counterman. “I need to wake him up. I turned back to Lee. ” I'm going to hypnotize Soneji inside the prison. I'm going looking for Maggie Rose Dunne in his subconscious. You can have the exclusive. But you owe me one," I told Lee.
Lee Kovel almost spit out his reaction. "Bullshit! Let's hear it all, Alex. I think you left out some parts.
“Right. I'm working to get permission to hypnotize Soneji. There are a lot of petty politics involved. If you leak the story in the Post, I think it will happen. The theory of self-fulfilling prophecies. I'll get permission. Then you get an exclusive.”
The coffee came in a beautiful old diner cup. Light brown with a thin blue line under the rim. Lee slurped the java, thoughtful as hell. He seemed amused that I was trying to manipulate the established order in D.C. It appealed to his bleeding heart. “And if you do hear something from Gary Soneji, I'll be the second to know. After yourself, Alex.”
“You drive a hard bargain, but yeah. That'll be our deal. Think about it, Lee. It's for a worthy cause. Finding out about Maggie Rose, not to mention your ca reer. ”
I left Kovel to finish his Pappy's coffee and begin to shape his story. Apparently, that's what he did. It appeared in the morning edition of the Post.
Nana Mama is the first one up at our house every day. Probably, she's the fitst one up in the entire universe. That's what Sampson and I used to believe when we were ten or eleven, and she was the assistant principal of the Garfield North Junior High School.
Whether I wake up at seven, or six, or five, I always come down to the kitchen to find a kght blazing and Nana already eating breakfast, or firing it up over her stove. Most mornings, it is the very same breakfast. A single poached egg; one corn muffin, buttered; weak tea with cream and double sugar.
She will also have begun to make breakfast for the rest of us, and she recognizes the variety of our palates. The house menu might include pancakes and either pork sausage or bacon; melon in season; grits, or oatmeal, or farina, with a thick pat of butter and a generous mound of sugar on top; eggs in every shape and form.
Occasionally a grape jelly omelet appears, the only dish of hers that I don't care for. Nana does the omelet too brown on the outside, and, as I've told her, eggs and jelly make about as much sense to me as pancakes and ketchup. Nana disagrees, though she never eats the jelly omelets herself. The kids love them.
Nana sat at the kitchen table on that morning in March. She was reading the Washington Post, which happens to be delivered by a man named Washington. Mr. Washington eats breakfast with Nana every Monday morning. This was a Wednesday, and an important day for the investigation.
Everything about the breakfast scene was so familiar, and yet I was startled as I entered the kitchen. One more time, I was made aware of how much the kidnapping had entered into our private lives, the lives of my family members.
The headline of the Washington Post read:
TO BE HYPNOTIZED
Attached to the story I could see photographs of both Soneji/Murphy and me. I'd heard the news late the night before. I had called Lee Kovel to give him his exclusive because of our deal.
I read Lee's story while eating two morning prunes. It said that certain unnamed “sources,were skeptical about the opinions of psychologists assigned to the kidnapper”; that “medical findings may have an effect on the trial”; that “if proven insane, Soneji/Murphy could get a sentence as lenient as three years in an institution. ” Obviously, Lee had spoken to other sources after he talked to me.
“Why don't they just come out and say what they mean,” Nana mumbled over her toast and cup of tea. I guess she didn't care for Lee's writing style.
“Why don't they say what?” I asked.
“The obvious thing here. Somebody doesn't want you messing with his neat little case. They want Tideclean justice. Not necessarily the truth. Nobody seems to want the truth here, anyway. They just want to feel better right away. They want the pain to be over. People have a low tolerance for pain, especially lately. Ever since Dr. Spock began rearing our children for us.”
“Is that what you've been plotting down here over your breakfast? Sounds a little like Murder, She Wrote - ”
I poured myself some of her tea. No sugar or cream. I took a muffin and put a couple of link sausages between the halves.
“No plots. Reality as plain as the nose on your face, Alex. ”
I nodded at Nana. She might be right, but it was too deflating to deal with before six in the morning. “Nothing like prunes this early in the morning,” I said. “ Mmm, mmm good.”
“Hmmm.” Nana Mama frowned. “I might go easy on those prunes for a while if I were you. I suspect you're going to need an extra supply of bull from here on, Alex. If I may be so blunt with you.”
"Thank you, Nana. Your directness is appreciated.
“You're very welcome. For your breakfast, and this splendid advice: Don't trust white people.” “Very good breakfast,” I said to her.
“How is your new girlfriend?” asked my grandmother. She never misses a trick.
Along Came A Spider
HERE WAS A HIGH-PITCHED HUMMING in the air as
I climbed out of my car at the prison. The noise was a physical thing. Reporters from newspapers and TV stations were loitering everywhere outside Lor ton. They were waiting for me. So was Soneji/Murphy.
He had been moved to a regular cell in the prison.
As I walked from the parking lot in a light drizzle,
TV cameras and microphones jabbed at me from a dozen different angles. I was there to hypnotize Gary Soneji/
Murphy, and the press knew it. I was today's big bite of news. “Thomas Dunne says you're trying to get Soneji hos pitalized, that you'll have him set free in a couple of years. Any comment, Detective Cross?”
“I have nothing to say right now.” I couldn't talk to any of the reporters, which didn't make me real popular.
I'd made a deal with the attorney general's office before they finally agreed to the sessions.
Hypnosis is commonly used in psychiatry these days. Is often administered by the treating psychiatrist, or a psychologist. What I hoped to discover over several interviews was what had happened to Gary Soneji/Murphy during his “lost days,” his escapes from the real world. I didn't know whether this would happen quickly or, indeed, happen at all.
Once I was inside Gary's prison cell, the process was simple and straightforward. I suggested that he relax and close his eyes. Next, I asked Gary to breathe in, then out, very evenly and slowly. I told him to try to clear his mind of every thought. Finally, to count down slowly from one hundred.
He appeared to be a good subject for hypnosis. He didn't resist, and he slipped deeply into a suggestible state. As far as I could tell, he was under. I proceeded as if he were, anyway. I watched him for signs to the contrary, but I saw none.
His breathing had slowed noticeably. In the beginning of the session, he was more relaxed than I had seen him before. We chatted about casual, nonthreatening subjects for the first few moments. Since he had actually “come to” or become “himse@” in the parking lot of the McDonald's, I asked Gary about that once he was fully relaxed.
“Do you remember being arrested at a McDonald's in Wilkinsburg?”
There was a brief pause-then he said, “Oh, yes, of course I do.”
“I'm glad you remember, because I have a couple of questions about the circumstances at McDonald's. I'm a little unclear about the sequence of events. Do you remember anything you might have eaten inside the restaurant?”
I could see his eyes rolling behind the closed lids. He was thinking about it before answering. Gary had on thongs and his left foot was tapping rapidly.
“No... no... can't say that I do. Did I actually eat there? I don't remember. I'm not sure if I ate or not. ”
At least he didn't deny he'd been inside the McDonaid's. “Did you notice any people at the McDonald's?” I asked. “Do you remember any customers? A counter girl you might have spoken to?”
“Mmmm... It was crowded. No one in particular comes to mind. I recall thinking that some people dress so badly it's comical. You see it in any mall. All the time at places like HoJo's and McDonald's.”
In his mind, he was still inside the McDonald's. He'd come that far with me. Stay with me, Gary.
“Did you use the rest room?” I already knew that he had gone to the bathroom. Most of his actions were covered in the reports of the arrest.
“Yes, I used the rest room,” he answered.
“How about a beverage? Something to drink? Bring me along with you. Put yourself right there as much as you can.”
He smiled. “Please. Don't condescend.” He had cocked his head a little oddly. Then, Gary started to laugh. A peculiar laugh, deeper than usual. Strange, though not completely alarming. His voice pittems were becoming more rapid, and very clipped. His foot was tapping faster and faster.
“You're not smart enough to do this,” he said.
I was a little surprised by the change in his tone of voice. “To do what? Tell me what you're saying, Gary, I don't follow you.”
“To try and trick him. That's what I'm saying. You're bright, but not that bright.”
“Who am I trying to trick?”
4 'Soneji, of course. He's right there in the McDonald's. He's pretending to get coffee, but he's really pissed off. He's about to go nuclear. He needs attention now.
I sat forward in my chair. I hadn't expected this. “Why is he angry? Do you know why?” I asked.
“He's pissed because they got lucky. That's why.”
“Who got lucky?”
I “ne police. He's pissed because stupid people could luck out and ruin everything, screw up the master plan. ”
“I'd like to talk to him about it,” I said. I was trying to stay as matter-of-fact as he was. If Soneji were here now, maybe we could talk.
“No! No. You'ro not on a level with him. You wouldn't understand anything he has to say. You don't have a clue about Soneji. ”
“Is he still angry? Is he angry how? Being here in prison? What does Soneji think about being in this cell?”
“He says-fuck you. FUCK YOU!”
He lunged at me. He grabbed my shirt and tie, the front of my sport jacket.
He was physically strong, but go am 1. I let him hold, and I held on to him. We were in a powerful bear hug. Our heads came together and cracked. I could have broken free, but I didn't try. He wasn't really hurting me. it was more as if he were issuing a threat, drawing a line between us.
Campbell and his guards came rushing down the corridor. Soneji/Murphy let go of me and began throwing himself at the cell door. Spit ran from the side of his mouth. He began screaming. Cursing at the top of his voice.
The guards wrestled him onto the floor. They restrained him with difficulty. Soneji was much more powerful than his slender body would have suggested. I already knew that from experience.
The R.N. followed them in, and gave him a shot of Ativan. Within minutes, he was asleep on the floor of the cell.
The guards lifted him onto his cot and wrapped him in a restraining jacket. I waited until they locked him in the cell. Who was in the cell?
Gary Murphy? Or both of them?
Along Came A Spider
HAT NIGHT, Chief Pittman called me at home. I didn't think he wanted to congratulate me on my work with Soneji/Murphy. I was right. The Jefe did ask me to stop by his office the next morning.
“What's up?” I asked him.
He wouldn't tell me over the phone. I guess he didn't want to spoil the surprise.
In,the morning, I made sure I was clean-shaven, and
I I put on my leather car coat for the occasion. layed a little Lady Day on the porch before I left the houseThink darkness and light. Be darkness and light. I played “The Man I Love,” “For All We Know”, “That's Life, I Guess.” Then off to see The Jefe.
When I arrived at Pittman's office, there was too much activity for quarter to eight in the morning. Even The Jefe's assistant seemed fully employed for a.change.
Old Fred Cook is a failed vice detective, now posing as an administrative assistant. He looks like one of the
268 artifacts they trot out for old-timer baseball games. Fred is mean-spirited, petty, and supremely political. Dealing through him is like giving messages to a wax-museum doll.
“Chief s ready for you.” He served up one of his thin-lipped smiles. Fred Cook relishes knowing things before the rest of us. Even when he doesn't know, he acts as if he does.
“What's going on this morning, Fred?” I asked him straight out. “You can tell me.”
I saw that all-knowing glint in his eyes. “Why don't you just go in there and see. I'm sure the chief will explain his intentions.”
I'm proud of you, Fred. You sure can be trusted with a secret. You know, you should be on the National Security Council."
I went inside expecting the worst. But I underestimated the chief of detectives a little.
Mayor Carl Monroe was in the office with Pittman. So was our police captain, Christopher Clouser, and, of all people, John Sampson. It appeared that one of Washington's ever-so-popular morning events, a workIng breakfast, had been set up in the chief's inner sancturn.
“ It's not all bad,” Sampson said in a low voice. In sharp contrast to his words, Sampson looked like a large animal caught in one of those double-clawed springtraps hunters use. I got the feeling he would happily have chewed his foot off to escape from the room.
“It's not bad at all.” Carl Monroe smiled jovially when he saw the chiseled look on my face. "We have some good news for you both. Very good news. Shall
I? Yeah, I think so.... You and Sampson are be ng promoted today. Right here. Congratulations to our newest senior detective and our newest divisional chief.
They clapped approvingly. Sam pson and I exchanged quizzical looks. What the hell was going on?
If I'd known, I would have brought Nana and the kids along. It was like those affairs where the president gives medals and thanks to war widows. Only this time, the dead had been invited to the ceremony. Sampson and I were dead in the eyes of Chief Pittman.
“Maybe you'd like to tell Sampson and me what's going on here,?” I smiled conspiratorially at Monroe. “You know, the subtext.”
Carl Monroe had his magnificent smile blazing away. It was so warm, and personal, and “genuine.” “I was asked to come here,” he said, “because you and Detective Sampson were being promoted. That's about it. I was very happy to come, Alex”-he made a comic face-“at quarter to eight this morning.”
Actually, it's hard not to like Carl sometimes. He's totally aware of who and what he's become as a politician. He reminds me of the prostitutes on 14th Street who will tell you a raunchy joke or two when you have to pull them in for soliciting.
“There are a couple of other things to discuss,” Pittman said, but then waved off the idea of any real substance entering the ceremonial conversation. “They'can wait until after. There's coffee and sweetcakes first.”
“I think we ought to discuss everything now,” I said. I shifted my eyes to Monroe. “Put it out on the table with the sweetcakes.”
Monroe shook his head. "Why don't you go slow for a change.
“I'm not going to be able to run for public office, am 1?91 I said to the mayor. ”Not much of a politician."
Monroe shru gged, but he continued to smile. “I don't know about that, Alex. Sometimes a man changes to a more effective style as he gains experience. Sees what works, what doesn't. It's definitely more satisfying to be confrontational. Doesn't always serve the greater good, though. ”
I is that what this is about? The greater good? That's the topic for this morning's breakfast?" Sampson asked the group.
“I think so. Yes, I believe it is.” Monroe nodded and bit into one of the sweetcakes.
Chief Pittman poured coffee into an expensive china cup that was too small and delicate for his hand. It made me think of little watercress sandwiches. Rich people's unc S. I “We're bumping into the FBI, Justice, the Secret Service, on this kidnapping case. It's no good for anybody. We've decided to pull back completely. To take you off the case again,” Pittman finally said.
Bingo. The other shoe had dropped. The truth was out at our little working breakfast All of a sudden, everybody in the office was talking at once. At least two of us were shouting. Neat party.
“This is total bullshit,” Sampson told the mayor to his face. “And you know it. You do know it, don't '?” you.
' I've begun sessions with Soneji/Murphy,“ I said to Pittman and Monroe and Captain Clouser. ”I hypno tized him yesterday. Jesus fucking Christ, no. Don't do this. Not now."
“We're aware of your progress with Gary Soneji. We had to make a decision, and we've made it.”
“You want the truth, Alex?” Carl Monroe's voice suddenly rang out in the room. “You want to hear the truth about this?”
I looked at him. “Always.” Monroe stared right into my eyes. "A great dealof pressure has been used by the attorney general on a lot of people in Washington. A huge trial will begin, I believe, within six weeks at the most. The Orient Express has already left the station, Alex. You're not on it. I'm not on it. It's gotten much bigger than either of us. Soneji/Murphy is on it....
“The prosecutor, the Justice Department, has decided to stop your sessions with Soneii/Murphy. A team of psychiatrists has been formally assigned to him. That's the way it will work from here on. That's the way it's going to be. This case has moved into a new phase, and our involvement won't be needed.” Sampson and I walked out on our own party. Our involvement was no longer needed.
Along Came A Spider
OR THE NEXT WEEK, I got home from work at a sane hour, usually between six and six-thirty. No more eighty-and hundred-hour work weeks. DaMon and Janelle couldn't have been happier if I'd been fired from the job outright.
We rented Wait Disney and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles videos, listened to the three-disc set Billie Holiday: The Legacy 1933-1958, fell asleep on the couch together. All 'sorts of amazing good stuff. one afternoon, the kids and I visited Maria's grave ther Jannie nor Damon had completely gotten site. Nei over losing their morn. On the way out of the cemetery, I stopped at another grave, Mustaf Sanders's final place. I could still see his sad little eyes staring at me. The eyes were asking me, Why? No answer yet, Mustaf. But I wasn't ready to give UP.
On a Saturday toward the end of summer, Sampson and I made the long drive to Princeton, New Jersey. Maggie Rose Dunne still hadn't been found. Neither
273 had the ten-million-dollar ransom. We were rechecking everything on our own time.
We talked to several neighbors of the Murphys'. The Murphy family had all perished in a fire, but no one had suspected Gary. Gary Murphy had been a model student as far as everyone around Princeton knew. He'd graduated fourth in his class at the local high school, though he never seemed to study or compete. Nor did he get into any kind of trouble, at least none that his neighbors in Princeton knew about. The young man they described was similar to the Gary Murphy I'd interviewed at Lorton Prison.
Everyone agreed-except for a single boyhood friend whom we located with some difficulty. The friend, Simon Conklin, now worked at one of the local produce markets as a greengrocer. He lived alone, about fifteen miles outside Princeton Village. The reason we went looking for him was that Missy Murphy had mentioned Conklin to me. The FBI had interviewed him, and gotten little for their efforts.
At first Simon Conklin refused to talk to us, to any more cops. When we threatened to haul him down to Washington, he finally opened up a little.
“Gary always had everybody fooled,” Conklin told us in the disheveled living room of his small house. He was a tall unkempt man. He seemed frazzled and his clothes were hopelessly mismatched. He was very smart, though. He'd been a National Merit student, just like his friend Gary Murphy. “Gary said the great ones always fooled everybody. Great Ones in caps, you understand. Thus spake Gary!”
“What did he mean, the 'great ones'?” I asked Con klin. I thought I could keep him talking, as long as I played to his ego. I could get what I needed out of Conklin.
“He called them the Ninety-ninth Percentile,” Conklin confided to me. “The creme de la cr@me. The best of the best. The World-beaters, man.”
“The best of what?” Sampson wanted to know. I could tell he wasn't too fond of Simon Conklin. His shades were steaming up. But he was playing along, being the good listener so far.
“The best of%the real psychos,” Conklin said, and he smiled smugly. “The ones who have always been out there, and will never ever get caught. The ones who're too smart to get caught. They look down on everybody else. They show no pity, no mercy. They completely rule their own destinies.”
“Gary Murphy was one of them?” I asked. I knew that he wanted to talk now. About Gary, but also about himself. I sensed that Conklin considered himself in the Ninety-ninth Percentile.
“No. Not according to Gary.” He shook his head and kept the disturbing half smile. “According to Gary, he was a lot smarter than the Ninety-ninth Percentile. He always believed he was an original. 'ne original. Called himself a 'freak of nature.' ”
Simon Conklin told us how he and Gary had lived on the same country road about six miles outside of town. 'Mey'd taken the school bus together. They'd been friends since they were nine or ten. The road was the same one that led to the Lindbergh farmhouse in Hope@ well.
Simon Conklin told us that Gary Murphy had defi nitely paid his family back with the fire. He knew all about Gary's child-abuse sufferings. He could never prove it, but he knew Gary had set the blaze.
"I'll tell you exactly how I know his plan. He told me-when we were twelve years old. Gary said he was going to get them for his twenty-first birthday. He said he'd do it so it looked like he was away at school. That he'd never be a suspect. And that's what the boy did, didn't he? He waited for nine long years. He had a nine-year plan for that one.
We talked to Simon Conklin for three hours one day, then five more hours the following day. He told a series of sad and gruesome stories. Gary locked away in the Murphy basement for days and weeks at a time. Gary's obsessive plans: ten-year plans, fifteen-year plans, life plans. Gary's secret war against small animals, especially pretty birds that flew into his stepmother's garden. How he would pluck off a robin's leg, then a wing, then a second leg, for as long as the bird had the will to live. Gary's vision to see himself way up in the Ninety-ninth Percentile, right at the top. Finally, Gary's ability to mimic, to act, to play parts.
I would have liked to have known about it while I was still meeting with Gary Murphy at Lorton Prison. I would have wanted to spend several sessions with Gary, prowling around his old Princeton haunts. Talking to Gary about his friend Simon Conklin.
Unfortunately, I had been taken off that part of the case now. The kidnapping case had moved way beyond me and Sampson, and Simon Conklin.
I gave our leads in Princeton over to the FBI. I wrote a twelve-page report on Simon Conklin. The Bureau never followed up on it. I wrote a second report and sent copies to everyone on the original search team. In my report was something Simon Conklin had said about his boyhood friend, Gary Murphy: “Gary always said he was going to do important things.”
Not a thing happened. Simon Conklin wasn't interviewed again by the FBI. They didn't want to open up new leads. They wanted the kidnapping case of Maggie Rose Dunne closed.
Along Came A Spider
N LATE SEPTEMBER, Jezzie Flanagan and I went away to the islands. We escaped for a long weekend. Just the two of us. It was Jezzie's idea. I thought it was a good one. R & R. We were curious. Apprehensive. Excited about four uninterrupted days together. Maybe we wouldn't be able to stand each other for that long. That's what we needed to find out.
On Front Street on Virgin Gorda, hardly a head turned to look at us. That was nice for a change, different from D.C., where people usually stared.
We took scuba and snorkeling lessons from a seventeen-year-old black woman. We rode horses along a beach that ran uninterrupted for over three miles. We drove a Range Rover up into the jungle and got lost for a half day. The most unforgettable experience was a visit to. an unlikely place that we named Jezzie and Alex's Private Island in Paradise. It was a spot the hotel found for us. They dropped us off in a boat, and left us all alone.
“This is the most awe-inspiring place that I've ever been in my life,” Jezzie said. “Look at all this water and sand. Overhanging cliffs, the reef out there.” “It's not Fifth Street. But it's okay.” I smiled and looked around. I did a few three-sixties at the edge of the water.
Our private island was mostly a long shelf of white.sand that felt like su ar under our feet. Beyond the @g beach was the lushest green jungle we bad ever seen. It was dotted with white roses and bougainvillea. The blue-green sea there was as clear as spnng water. The kitchen at the inn had packed a lunch-fine wines, exotic cheeses, lobster, crabmeat, and various salads. Not another person was anywhere in sight. We did the natural thing. We took off our clothes. No shame. No taboos. We were alone in paradise right?
I started to laughout loud as I lay on the beach with Jezzie. That was something else I was doing more than I had in a long, long time-smiling, feeling at peace with the surroundings. Feeling, period. I was incredibly thankful to be feeling. Three and a half years was too long a time for mourning.
“Do you have any idea how beautiful you really are?” I said to her as we lay together.
“I don't know if you've noticed, but I carry a compact in my purse. Little mirror. ” She looked into my eyes. She was studying something in them I would never see. “Actually, I've tried to avoid the issue of being attractive since I joined the Service. That's how screwed up things are in macho-man Washington.”
Jezzie gave me a wink. “You can be so serious, Alex. But you're also full of fun. I'll bet only your kids get to see this side of you. Damon and Jannie know you. Booga, booga. ” She tickled me. “Don't switch subjects on me. We were talking about you. ”
“ You were. Occasionally, I want to be pretty, but most times I just want to be Plain Jane. Wear big pink curlers to bed and watch old movies.”
“ You've been beautiful all weekend. No pink curlers. Ribbons and fresh flowers in your hair. Strapless bathing suits. Occasionally, no bathing suits.”
“I want to be pretty right now. In Washington, it's different. It's one more problem to solve. Imagine going to see your boss. Important report you've been working on for months. The first thing he says is, 'You look terrific in a dress, babe.' You just want to say, 'Fuck you, asshole.' ”
I reached out and we held hands. “Thank you, for the way you look,” I said. “You look so beautiful.”
“I did it just for you.” Jezzie smiled. “And I'd like to do something else for you. I'd like you to do something for me, too.”
And so we did one another.
So far, Jezzie and I weren't getting tired of each other. Quite the opposite was happening down here in paradise.
That night, we sat at an outdoor raw bar in town. We watched the carefree island world go by, and wondered why we didn't just drop out and become part of it. We ate shrimp and oysters and talked for a couple of hours straight. We let our hair down, especially Jezzie.
“I've been a really driven person, Alex,” Jezzie said to me. “I don't mean just on the kidnapping case, butting my way into every briefing, every wild goose chase. I've been that way ever since I can remember. Once I start on an idea, I can't, turn it off.”
I didn't say anything. I wanted to listen to her. I wanted to know all there was to know.
She raised her mug. “I'm sitting here with a beer in my hand, right. Well, both my parents were alcoholics. They were dysfunctional before it was fashionable. Nobody outside our house knew how bad it was. They would have screaming fights constantly. My dad usually passed out. Slept in 'his chair.' My mother would stay awake half the night at the dining-room table. She loved her Jameson's. She'd say, 'Get me another of my Jameson's, Little Jezzie.' I was their little cocktail waitress. That's how I earned my allowance until I was eleven.”
Jezzie stopped talking and looked into my eyes. I hadn't seen her so vulnerable and unsure of herself. She projected such confidence most of the time. That was her reputation in the Secret Service. “Do you want to leave now? Want me to lighten up?”
I shook my head. “No, Jezzie. I want to listen to whatever you have to say. I want to know all about you. ”
“Are we still on vacation?”
“Yes, and I really want to hear about this. Just talk to me. Trust me. If I get bored, I'll just get up and leave you with the bar tab.”
She smiled and went on. “I loved both my parents in a strange-way. I believe that they loved me. Their 'Little Jezzie.' I told you once how I didn't want to be a smart failure like my parents.”
“Maybe you understated things just a little. ” I smiled.
“Yeah. Well, anyway, I worked long nights and weekends when I got into the Service. I set impossible goals for myself-supervisor at twenly-eight-and I beat every goal. That's part of what happened with my Ifusband. I put my job ahead of our marriage. Want to know why I started riding the motorcycle?”
“Yep. Also why you make me ride your motorcycle. ”
“Well, see,” Jezzie said, “I could never make work stop. Couldn't turn it off when I went home at night. Not until I got the bike. When you're doing a hundred and twenty, you have to concentrate on the road. Eve rything else goes away. The Job finally goes away.”
“That's partly why I play the piano,” I said to her. “I'm sorry about your parents, Jezzie.”
“I'm glad I finally told you about them,” Jezzie said. “I've never told anyone before you. Not one other person knows the whole true story.”
Jezzie and I held each other at the little island raw bar. I'd never felt so close to her. Sweet little Jezzie. Of all the times we were together, it was one I'd never forget. Our visit to paradise.
Suddenly, and way too quickly, our busman's holiday was over. We found ourselves trapped on board an American Airlines flight back to Washington, back to dreary, rainy weather, according to reports. Back to The Job.
We were a little distant from each other during the flight. We started sentences at the same time, then had to play “you go first” games. For the first time during the entire trip, we talked shop, the dreaded shoptalk.
“Do you really think he has a multiple personality, Alex? Does he know what happened to Maggie Rose? Soneji knows. Does Murphy know?”
“On some level, he knows. He was scary that one time he talked about Soneji. Whether Soneji is a separate personality or his real persona, he's frightening. Soneji knows what happened to Maggie Rose.”
“Too bad we never will now. It seems that way, anyhow. ”
“Yeah. Because I think I could get it out of him. It just takes some time.”
National Airport in D.C. was a natural disaster that several thousand of us got to experience together. Traffic just barely crept along. The line for cabs curled back into the terminal. Everybody looked soaked to the skin. Neither Jezzie nor I had raincoats and we were getting soaked through. Life was suddenly depressing, and all too real again. The stalled investigation was here in D.C. The trial was coming. I probably had a message from Chief Pittman on my desk.
“Let's go back. Let's turn around.” Jezzie took my hand, and she pulled me close in front of the glass doorway to the Delta Shuttle
The warmth and familiar smells of her body were still nice. The last scents of cocoa butter and aloe still lingered.
People turned to stare at us as they passed. They looked. They judged. Almost every person who passed uslooked. “Let's get out of here,” I said.
Along Came A Spider
At 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon (I got back to
Washington at eleven o'clock), I got a call from
Sampson. He wanted to meet me at the Sanders house. He thought we'd made a new connection be tween the kidnapping and the project murders. He was pumped as hell with his news. Hard work was paying
,off on one of our early leads.
I hadn't been back to the Sanders crime scene in several months, but it was all sadly familiar. The windows were dark from the outside. I wondered if the house would ever be sold, or even rented again.
I sat in my car in the Sanders driveway, and read through the original detectives' report. There was nothing in the reports I didn't already know and hadn't gone over a dozen times. I kept staring at the house. The yellowing shades were drawn, so I couldn't see inside. Where was Sampson, and what did he want with me here?
He pulled up behind me at three o'clock sharp. He
284 climbed out of his battered Nissan and joined me in the front seat of the Porsche.
“Oh, you are brown sugar now. You look sweet enough to eat.”
“You're still big and ugly. Nothing changes. What do you have here?”
“Police work at its very best,” Sampson said. He lit up a Corona. “By the way, you were right to keep after this thing.”
Outside the car, the wind was bowling and heavy with rain. There had been tornadoes down through Kentucky and Ohio. The weather had been bi