A/N: Hello, readers! Many of you are probably new, since this isn't normally the category I write for. However, it is one of the series I read constantly! James Patterson is an amazing author and, as much as I would like to, this story and any future Alex Cross stories I write will never live up to his standards. I do hope to mimic his style (albeit the following is written in third person, therefore not mirroring his novels) so let me know how I did! Enjoy the story! As always, sit back, relax, and read!
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Alex Cross series, including characters and settings.
His hands danced across the ivory keys, producing vibrant notes that filled every crevice of the room. Alex lost his soul in that music, closing his eyes and letting it take over his body. He breathed in deeply; breathed in the soft sounds of his labor.
A small squeak echoed from afar. Alex froze, the absence of noise imminent. His detective eyes scanned the room, searching for the foreign sound. Hesitantly, he rose from his position on the piano bench and made his way towards the door.
Standing behind it was his little girl, Janelle. She was holding a furry teddy bear, matching the ones that were scattered across her pajamas. Her eyes were half closed and a yawn escaped from her mouth.
"Hi, Daddy," she mumbled. A small hand traveled to her eye and rubbed it lightly. Another yawn escaped.
"Hi, Baby. I'm sorry I woke you up," Alex apologized. "Let's go back to bed."
He reached down and picked up his daughter. As her head hit his shoulder, she instantly fell into a deep sleep. Alex smiled and continued to carry Jannie to her bedroom. Placing her on the bed, he gently kissed her forehead and pulled the covers up to her chin.
While in the room, he decided to check up on his older son. Damon's blue and green striped bed sheets completely covered the boy's body, moving rhythmically up and down as he breathed. Not wanting to disrupt his peaceful sleep, Alex moved away from his bedside and towards the door.
From the doorway, Alex peered back into the bedroom where his two beautiful children slept. Just then, he could feel a bony hand on his shoulder. Alex turned around to face his grandmother. Her brow was wrinkled in concern.
"I know it's tough, Alex," she whispered as her hand reached towards the fresh tears that were sliding down his face.
"I miss her so much, Nana," Alex whispered back.
Nana led her grandson away from the door. "She was a great mother. And you're a great father. The kids love you so much, Alex." They stopped at another doorway further down the hall. "Now go to bed, son. They'll both be here in the morning, waiting for you."
Alex leaned down and kissed his grandmother on the cheek. "Thanks, Nana."
It was every child's dream. Hundreds of arcade games lined the walls, drawing the children nearer with their bright flashing lights. Two large indoor jungle gyms could be found in the back of the building, enticing children to climb its exterior. Greasy pizza and fries sloshed inside the stomachs of the running toddlers and made the nutrition-conscious mothers wrinkle their noses in disgust.
Darren sat in a nearby chair, his eyes fully focused on the kids who played happily in the ball pit. They bounced up and down, jumping freely into the vat of colored plastic balls. Laughter met Darren's ears, yet his own face showed no emotion. Mothers of the young toddlers glanced at him with distrust, but Darren was unaware.
His beady eyes rested on a blonde boy about the age of three. The small child sat on the edge of the ball pit, scared of the unknown that was below him. Another toddler called out to the small boy, egging him on. Darren watched as the blonde child contemplated his fate if he were to surrender his safe place atop the ledge. Finally, he closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and jumped.
Darren's own body lurched forward as the boy disappeared from view. His mouth opened slightly, but the words caught in his throat. Darren frantically looked around the room, desperate to find help. Seeing no employees nearby, he shuffled towards the ball pit. His eyes traveled far and wide, searching for the blonde-haired boy.
"Oh please…please, God, no," Darren whispered to himself. "Please come back."
Just then, a blonde lock of hair peeked out from underneath a pile of colored spheres. Darren held his breath, desperately waiting for an alive and smiling face to accompany that head of hair. The boy's laughter broke the silence and Darren breathed out a sigh of relief. He motioned for the child to come over where he was standing.
The small boy smiled and swam towards Darren, pushing the plastic balls out of his path as he moved. He looked up at the older man, a questioning look on his plump face.
Darren held out a hand to the boy. "Time to come home, son."
"Bye, Daddy," Jannie called out to her father as she slammed the door of the family Toyota shut. Damon stood behind her, waving.
Alex smiled as they walked towards the main entrance of the Sojourner Truth School.
"Bye, kids! Have a good day at school!"
As he pulled away from the building, he heard a buzzing sound in the pocket of his jeans. Frantically, Alex tried to retrieve his cell phone. Horns blared from passing cars, as his search proved hazardous for his driving. Finally, he pulled the annoyance out of his pocket and glanced at the screen, which read 'John Sampson'.
"Talk to me, Sampson," he said into the phone as he avoided colliding with the angry drivers.
"You're not going to like this, Alex," Sampson spoke through the phone. "A toddler was abducted from Happy Harold's. Mark Raymond. The police are already there, questioning witnesses."
"Oh my…" Alex trailed off.
"The boy's parents asked for your help," Sampson continued.
"Why me?" Alex spun the wheel of the Toyota hard as he headed towards Happy Harold's.
"I'm assuming they heard about your success in the Soneji case a few years back."
Gary Soneji's face flashed before his eyes. He blinked hard, trying to wipe the man from his memory. "It's only a success if all the victims are saved," Alex said softly. The line grew silent. Alex sighed, breaking the tension. "I'm on my way now."
Police cruisers filled the parking lot, their flashing lights blinding towards the passing cars. The sign above the building read Happy Harold's; A Place of Fun and Games, yet the surrounding company didn't seem to be having much fun at all. Alex breathed in deeply; the scene was just all too familiar to him.
Alex entered the building and observed the area. A large gathering of what he assumed to be witnesses waited anxiously near the dining tables. Officers with notepads paced the line of people, questioning the disgruntled customers. Another group of officers stood by the ball pit of one of the jungle gyms. Alex's sight locked on a couple wrapped deep in each other's arms. Having a strong gut feeling, he slowly approached them.
"Are you Mr. and Mrs. Raymond?" he asked.
The woman lifted her head from her husband's shoulder. She sniffled. "Yes. Are you Alex Cross?"
"Yes. I'm going to help you in any way that I can," Alex replied sympathetically. "What can you tell me about your little boy?"
Mrs. Raymond opened her mouth, but instead of a voice, a squeak escaped. She ducked her head into her husband's shoulders once more, bursting into tears. Mr. Raymond ran his hand through her hair, attempting to soothe her. He took a deep breath. "Forgive us, Mr. Cross. It's been a tough day."
Alex nodded at the couple. "I'll give you both some time."
As he walked away, he heard a faint voice call out to him. Turning towards the sound, he saw a figure standing in the distance. Alex squinted his eyes, trying to get a better view of the man. A low, guttural laugh met Alex's ears, making him jump in surprise. "Gary?" he whispered. But still, the laughter continued.
"Alex?" Sampson put a hand on Alex's shoulder, snapping him out of his reverie. He looked at his best friend. "Are you okay, man?"
Alex looked back at where the figure once stood, a wall of solid brick now. "Yeah," he answered. "I just thought I saw—never mind."
The pair walked over to a group of mumbling officers. "What have we got, boys?" started Sampson.
An officer with a badge reading 'Dexter Palmer' turned to his notepad. "Mark Raymond, three years old. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Last seen wearing a pale yellow shirt and red overalls."
"We talked to Jonathan Peterson, a five year old boy who we think was the last person to see Mark in the building," chimed in another officer. "He said he was in the ball pit and saw Mark jump in with him."
Palmer continued. "Based on the hundreds of abduction cases we've seen in DC in the past few years, I'm not surprised that one happened at a place like this."
"Why would you say that?" Alex asked.
"Well, places such as Arcade-O-Rama and Pappy's Pizza Place have had child abductions as well. And it seems like the suspects all had the same motive – these childhood play places are areas of vulnerability, where the children can be carefree and alone, sometimes without the supervision of an adult."
"And most kidnappers hate the element of supervision," Alex commented. "A suspect cannot smoothly take their victim with witnesses nearby."
"So we're looking for a suspect, most likely a male, who doesn't stand out in the crowd and can blend in well with his surroundings." Officer Palmer scribbled what Sampson had to say.
"Or," Alex continued, "we're looking for a person whom Mark trusted. Somebody Mark knew from a previous encounter."
The group of men grew silent. They watched as Alex's face became distant. Alex turned again towards the area that once held the dark shadow. "Gary Soneji was trusted. Maggie and Michael only knew him as their teacher, but they trusted him." Alex paused, an eerie silence filling the air. "And he fucking got them!" His voice boomed throughout the building. Witnesses spun their heads towards the outburst and officers instinctively reached for the guns on their belts.
Sampson extended his hand towards his friend. "Hey, Alex. Calm down, okay?"
Alex closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," he said to the surrounding group.
Palmer moved in closer. "Why don't you go on home, Alex? Take some time to clear your mind. We'll be fine down here, we promise." Alex nodded in agreement.
Sampson led Alex to the entrance of the building. "Don't let it get to you, man." He held the door open. "Soneji can't hurt anyone anymore."
Alex stopped in the middle of the doorway and turned back to his friend. "I know Soneji, John. And he can do whatever he damn well pleases."
Darren stumbled up the porch steps, the toddler in his arms. Tears flooded down Mark's young face as he strained against Darren's tight grip. "Shhh," Darren cooed. "You're home now. It'll all be okay."
Once inside the house, Darren placed Mark on the linoleum floor of the kitchen. The boy burst into sobs and hobbled towards the door where they entered. Darren quickly reached out and took the boy in his arms again. "No, no, no. I'm not letting you leave me like you did last time." He intertwined the blonde locks between his fingers and rested the boy's forehead against his own. "You don't want to give Daddy another panic attack, do you?"
Darren and Mark made their way down the main hallway of the house and approached a closed bedroom door. Colorful wooden letters were nailed to the front, spelling out the name Ryan. Darren used his free hand to push open the door, revealing dark wooden furniture accented by light blue walls.
Darren smiled at the boy in his arms and whispered, "Welcome home, bud. I've missed you so much."
The DC police department was filled with loud conversations and endlessly ringing phones. Alex made his way through the crowds and into a small viewing room, where Officer Palmer and Sampson waited for him.
"Glad you could make it, Alex." Palmer smiled thoughtfully. "The security at Happy Harold's gave us their tapes to look at. One of our tech guys found this." He gestured towards the television screen in front of him and clicked the play button. All three men watched the screen intently.
The black and white images flickered on the monitor every three seconds. Alex could see the front of the store, exactly where he had left in disarray earlier that morning. Couples with their children exited and entered the establishment with smiles on their faces.
Sampson interrupted. "What exactly are we loo—." Alex cut him off by pointing to the image on the screen.
"There!" he yelled.
Palmer pressed the pause button with force. In front of them stood an older man and a toddler with blonde hair, their backs facing the security camera. Alex squinted at the image.
"The man doesn't seem to be struggling to take the boy," Alex commented.
"Hmm. Yeah, if he were truly kidnapping the boy, we would be able to see some sort of struggle," said Sampson.
"Maybe the guy thought it was his child?" asked Palmer, hopeful.
Sampson scoffed. "Right, like a parent would really mistake another child for their own."
Alex froze and turned towards the screen once more. "Unless he's mentally unstable and truly does believe it's his child."
Sampson and Palmer looked at him questioningly. "What do you mean?" Palmer asked.
Alex grabbed the remote from Palmer's grip and replayed the segment from the video. His eyes focused on the back of the kidnapper's head, deep in thought. "What if," he thought out loud, "the kidnapper couldn't help but believe that Mark was his child? What if…" He blinked. "Palmer, I need your analysis team, pronto."
Palmer pulled out his radio. "Turner, we may have a lead. We need you in here, stat!"
"What are you thinking, Cross?" Sampson asked him.
"I'm thinking we just found our suspect," Alex answered with a smile.
Darren cracked open the door to the toddler's bedroom. "You can come out now, Ryan. I think I've punished you enough."
Mark sat in the corner, sobbing and quivering in fear. He held on tightly to the buckles of his overall jeans, making his knuckles turn white. Darren noticed the boy's panicked movements. "Don't be afraid, little buddy," he said calmly as he approached. "I only locked you in here because you scared Daddy a lot today."
Mark's blue eyes shimmered with fresh tears. Darren extended his arms to pick up the toddler. "Did you learn a lesson?" He squished his nose up against the boy's. "Never scare Daddy like that again, okay?"
A knock echoed throughout the house. Darren whipped his head towards the noise. He squeezed Mark in a solid hug and placed him on the floor. "Daddy will be right back. Don't move."
Darren made his way to the front door, where he could see two dark figures through the frosted glass. His brow wrinkled in confusion as he turned the knob.
"Can I help you?" he asked the uniformed men.
"Mr. Benson? We have a warrant to search your house," the heavy built officer replied, forcing his way inside the house.
The other officer interrupted him. "Mr. Benson, could you please step outside?"
Darren looked at the officer, perplexed. Obliging, he cautiously made his way down the porch steps. Once outside, he saw the dozens of cop cars that lined the front curb of his yard, lights flashing. "What is this all about?"
"We've got him! He's in here!" yelled the officer from inside Darren's house. He emerged with the toddler in his arms, still crying and shaking. A few more officers ran up to him, assisting him in bringing the boy to the squad car that awaited.
Darren's eyes grew wide. "What are you doing?" he cried. "Where are you going with my little boy?"
"Darren Benson, you're under arrest for the kidnapping of Mark Raymond. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you."
Two officers struggled to handcuff the suspect as his arms and legs flailed violently. "No!" he screamed. His face turned a deep red. "That's my boy! You can't take my boy!" Tears began pouring from Darren's eyes and running down his face. "Give Ryan back! Please! I can't lose him again!"
Sampson pressed his foot on the brake as they approached a red traffic light. He turned to Alex. "So, Cross outwits everybody at the station again. Tell me, how'd you do it this time?"
Alex chuckled. "Well, once Turner did the research I asked him to do, it was easy."
He shook his head. "But I still don't get it. What did recent deaths at Happy Harold's have to do with Mark's kidnapping?"
"Benson lost his son a few weeks ago. He suffocated in the ball pit," Alex explained.
"So Darren, clearly mentally insane, went there today with the mindset that his baby boy was still alive," Sampson said in realization.
"And that Mark Raymond was his son, yes."
"So he must have been in denial about his son's death, right?" Sampson sped forward as the red light flashed green.
"He probably still will be. For a while, at least."
The car came to a halt in front of the Cross household. Sampson smiled lightly at his partner and slapped a hand on his shoulder. "You did good, Brown Sugar. I'm proud of you."
Alex laughed at the pet name. "Thanks, John. You did well, too."
"Daddy! You're home!" Jannie yelled as her father stepped through the front door. Alex smiled as he enveloped her in a tight hug, never wanting to let her go.
"Hey, Baby. I've missed you." He kissed Jannie's forehead.
"You're late!" Damon called out from the basement. "We were about to start our boxing lessons without you!"
Alex grabbed Jannie's hand and led her downstairs, where he saw Damon punching the air fiercely. "Not to fear, Daddy is here!" he laughed.
"Me first, me first!" screeched Jannie. Alex bent down and held out his hands, one over the other, preparing to block his daughter's punches. Jannie squeezed her small fists tightly together and scrunched her nose in concentration. Jab, jab, jab.
"Did you catch any criminals today?" Damon asked while he waited for his turn.
Alex smirked. "Yep. And we put him right where he belongs – in jail."
Jannie paused. "Did you get to punch him? I would have punched him like this!" She swung her arm and threw a mean left hook.
"Wow, good one!" He laughed. "I didn't get to punch him, but I don't think I could punch as hard as you did if I tried."
"That's because I'm the best boxer there is, Daddy. Not even Damon can beat me!" Jannie stuck her tongue out at her brother. Damon glared and mimicked her.
After both children had a chance to practice their boxing skills, Alex ushered them upstairs to bed. Jannie and Damon snuggled under their bed covers, happy they were able to spend the night with their father. Alex gently kissed Jannie's forehead, then Damon's.
"I love you, Daddy," Jannie whispered.
"I love you too, Dad," Damon repeated.
Alex smiled as tears met his eyes. As he watched them drift off to sleep, he whispered to himself, "I love you too, kids."
A/N: What a perfect way to end the story – happily. :) I enjoyed writing this story and I hope you enjoyed reading it too. I don't have any future Alex Cross plots mapped out yet, but perhaps I'll look into writing more if this story receives some positive reviews. Thanks for reading, everyone! Reviews are welcomed and appreciated.