| Along Came A Spider |
By James Patterson
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The Charles Lindbergh farmhouse glowed with bright, orangish lights. It looked like a fiery castle, especially in that gloomy, fir wooded region of Jersey. Shreds of misty fog touched the boy as he moved closer and closer to his first moment of real glory, his first kill.
It was pitch-dark and the grounds were soggy and muddy and thick with puddles. He had anticipated as much. He'd planned for everything, including the weather.
He wore a size nine man's work boot. The toe and heel of the boots were stuffed with torn cloth and strips of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
He wanted to leave footprints, plenty of footprints. A man's footprints. Not the prints of a twelve-year-old boy. They would lead from the county highway called the Stoutsburg-Wertsville Road, up to, then back from, the farmhouse.
He began to shiver as he reached a stand of pines, not thirty yards from the sprawling house. The mansion was just as grand as he'd imagined: seven bedrooms and four baths on the second floor alone. Lucky Lindy and Anne Morrow's place in the country.
Cool beans, he thought.
The boy inched closer and closer toward the dining-room window. He was fascinated by this condition known as fame. He thought a lot about it. Almost all the time. What was fame really like? How did it smell? How did it taste? What did fame look like close up?
"The most popular and glamorous man in the world" was right there, sitting at the table. Charles Lindbergh was tall, elegant, and fabulously golden haired, with a fair complexion. "Lucky Lindy" truly seemed above everyone else.
So did his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Anne had short hair. It was curly and black, and it made her skin look chalky white. The light from the candles on the table appeared to be dancing around her.
Both of them sat very straight in their chairs. Yes, they certainly looked superior, as if they were God's special gifts to the world. They kept their heads high, delicately eating their food. He strained to see what was on the table. It looked like lamb chops on their perfect china.
"I'll be more famous than either of you pitiful stiffs," the boy finally whispered. He promised that to himself. Every detail had been thought through a thousand times, at least that often. He very methodically went to work.
The boy retrieved a wooden ladder left near the garage by workingmen. Holding the ladder tightly against his side, he moved toward a spot just beyond the library window. He climbed silently up to the nursery. His pulse was racing, and his heart was pounding so loud he could hear it.
Light cast from a hallway lamp illuminated the baby's room. He could see the crib and the snoozing little prince in it. Charles Jr., "the most famous child on earth."
On one side, to keep away drafts, was a colorful screen with illustrations of barnyard animals.
He felt sly and cunning. "Here comes Mr. Fox," the boy whispered as he quietly slid open the window.
Then he took another step up the ladder and was inside the nursery at last.
Standing over the crib, he stared at the princeling. Curls of golden hair like his father's, but fat. Charles Jr. was gone to fat at only twenty months.
The boy could no longer control himself Hot tears streamed from his eyes. His whole body began to shake, from frustration and rage--only mixed with the most incredible joy of his life.
"Well, daddy's little man. It's our time now," he muttered to himself.
He took a tiny rubber ball with an attached elastic band from his pocket. He quickly slipped the odd-looking looped device over Charles Jr.'s head, just as the small blue eyes opened.
As the baby started to cry, the boy plopped the rubber ball right into the little drooly mouth. He reached down into the crib and took Baby Lindbergh into his arms and went swiftly back down the ladder. All according to plan.
The boy ran back across the muddy fields with the precious, struggling bundle in his arms and disappeared into the darkness.
Less than two miles from the farmhouse, he buried the spoiled-rotten Lindbergh baby--buried him alive.
That was only the start of things to come. After all, he was only a boy himself.
He, not Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was the Lindbergh baby kidnapper. He had done it all by himself.
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 something 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. "S--t. F--k 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 a thrill 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 living-room 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. We also say good-bye, just in case we never see each other again. 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.
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-f--king males, were hanging around. Older women with winter coats thrown over their pajamas and nightgowns, 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.
"F--k 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 S.I.T. 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."
"F--k 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? F--k 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 hitters. 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. S.I.T. 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, baby-faced, 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 face up, 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 had 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."
Excerpted from Along Came A Spider , by James Patterson . Copyright (c) by James Patterson . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top