Southern cross, p.12
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       Southern Cross, p.12
 

           Patricia Cornwell

  'Oh no,' Divinity told him. 'Uh uh, baby. Stop right here 'cause I'm getting out.'

  At West Gary Street, the alarm sounding inside Brazil's head seemed as audible as a fire truck moving traffic out of the way. Three teenage boys and a girl who looked like a. hooker were fondling Brazil's car as if they wanted to gang-rape it.

  The boys were laughing, making their cool moves in wide-legged jeans half falling off, one leg rolled up, one down, big hightops, Chicago Bulls jerseys and stocking caps. The girl was dressed in a short tight black skirt and low-cut black tee shirt. They stared defiantly at Brazil and he stared back.

  Brazil walked directly to his car, keys in hand, a Colt Mustang strapped around his right ankle under the leg of his worn-out jeans. His mood had been bad before he got here. Now it was dangerous.

  'This your car, baby?' the girl asked.

  'Yup,' Brazil replied.

  'Where you get it?'

  'Crown BMW on West Broad,' Brazil said with a smart-ass smile. 'They got a good selection.'

  'Oh yeah?' the girl said. 'Well, Pretty Boy, that don't matter 'cause I just picked this one.'

  Divinity decided she was the spokesperson for the gang. For one thing, she wasn't as drunk as the others. For another, the car man was as fine-looking as hell and she might just enjoy herself a little.

  'Listen, baby.' Divinity stepped closer to him. 'Why don't you take little Divinity here on a little ride in that bad car of yours?"

  She stepped closer. Pretty Boy moved back. The other three closed in. Pretty Boy was standing by the driver's door, street punks all around him.

  'What's the matter, sugar?' Divinity brushed her fingers over Pretty Boy's chest. 'Euuuuu. What a man! Ummm-ummm.'

  She pressed both of her hands against his muscular chest and liked what she was feeling.

  'Don't touch me,' Pretty Boy said.

  Beeper got in Pretty Boy's face.

  'What'd you say to her, motherfucker?'

  'I told her not to touch me. And get out of my face, asshole,' Pretty Boy said without raising his voice.

  'Get outta my way,' Divinity told Beeper. 'He's mine.'

  Beeper stepped aside. Divinity wanted to touch Pretty Boy again. She was getting interested in him touching her back. She leaned her breast against Brazil's arm.

  'How's that feel, baby?' she cooed. 'It sure do feel good to me.'

  'What the fuck you doing?' Dog exclaimed, grabbing her elbow and pulling her away.

  'Man!' Sick started walking in cocky circles. 'Smoke see you, he kill all our asses!' he almost screamed.

  Only Beeper kept his thoughts to himself. He seemed tired of Divinity showing off her parts as if she was some kind of V10 Viper that everybody wanted to drive.

  'Let go of the white-meat boy,' Beeper suggested to her.

  'Let's just take his car and get the fuck outta here,' Dog said nervously, looking around and wetting his lips.

  'I'm not giving you the car,' Pretty Boy told them. 'It's not paid for.'

  Divinity laughed and got close to him again.

  'It's not paid for!' she hollered. 'It's not paid for! Oh baby, well it's good to know that 'cause we sure wouldn't want to steal no car that wasn't paid for!'

  Sick, Dog and Beeper got into it. They started laughing and sneering, strutting around like badass chickens in a barnyard, pants hanging lower, boxer shorts riding higher.

  Divinity put her hands on Brazil again, and she smelled like incense and her breath was bad. Her fingers trailed over his chest, and when she pressed up against him, grinding her pelvis into his, he shoved her away.

  'You don't touch me unless I give permission,' Brazil told her in a tone that was four-star general.

  'Motherfucker,' she hissed. 'Nobody pushes away Divinity.'

  She reached under her short skirt and slipped out a thin switchblade. It zipped open, the long steel blade glinting in the uneven light of the street.

  'Man, it's time to go,' the little mean kid with the buzz cut said.

  'Put the fucking knife away,' the dumb one told Divinity.

  'Get outta my face!' Divinity spat. 'You fuckheads leave, now. I got business to do and a nice new car to ride.'

  'We leave you, Smoke will kill us,' the dumb one matter-of-factly stated.

  'You don't and I'll kill you,' Divinity promised.

  The three guys ran off. They disappeared around the corner toward Robinson Street. Divinity pointed the knife at Brazil's throat, moving in.

  'I thought you wanted to be alone with me,' Brazil said as if nothing had ever scared him or ever could. 'What kind of way is that to start?'

  'Don't fuck with me,' Divinity said in a soft, menacing voice.

  'I thought that's what you wanted me to do. Fuck with you.'

  'When I'm finished with you, baby, you won't be fucking nothing no more.'

  Brazil pointed the remote key at the BMW's door and the lock clicked free.

  'You ever been in one of these?' he asked her as the knife caught light.

  He knew he could grab her faster than she could stab, but he would get cut, probably badly. He had something else in mind. He opened the car door.

  'What do you think?' he said.

  Divinity couldn't keep her eyes from wandering inside, taking in the dark, soft leather upholstery and thick carpet.

  'Climb in,' Brazil said.

  She looked uncertain.

  'What's the matter? You afraid to be seen with me?' Brazil asked. 'You afraid your boyfriend will do something?'

  'I'm not afraid of nothing,' she snapped.

  'Maybe I just need to look the part, huh?' Brazil said. 'Maybe I'm not dressed right, huh?'

  He sat sidesaddle in the driver's seat. He pulled his Polo shirt over his head and tossed it in back. Divinity stared at his bare chest. Sweat was rolling down it. He picked a Braves baseball cap off the dashboard and put it on backward.

  Divinity grinned. She lowered the knife.

  'I got Nikes on already.' Brazil held up his right foot. 'So all I gotta do is roll up the pants leg and then you climb in with me, baby. And we'll drive the night away.'

  Divinity started giggling. She started laughing harder when Brazil reached down and started rolling up his right pants leg. She gasped when Brazil was suddenly pointing the Colt Mustang between her eyes. The switchblade clattered to the pavement. Divinity started running. An old shark-gray Lemans roared around the corner and slammed on the brakes. The back door flew open and Divinity dove in. Brazil stood in the middle of West Gary Street, the gun by his side, his heart pounding.

  He thought about chasing them, but his better judgment told him to leave well enough alone. The Lemans was gone so fast, Brazil got only a glimpse of a Virginia plate. He got back in his BMW and drove along West Cary toward home.

  The first time the Lemans rolled by slowly, its muffler was dragging the pavement and making a terrible noise, sparks flying as if the car were a match trying to light the street.

  The bass was up so high the night throbbed worse than

  Weed's head, and he had scraped both palms when he dove into a ditch just in time. He had peeked through weeds and made out four people jumping around to the rap inside the car. One of them turned to look back as she drank out of a bottle. Weed had realized with horror that Divinity, Beeper, Sick and Dog were in that car and probably looking for him.

  It was past ten the second time Weed heard the awful rumble of the souped-up engine and the clanging of the muffler and the boom-boom of the bass coming from a distance. He vaulted over a wall and crouched behind a spruce on the property of some rich person who lived in a brick mansion with big white pillars.

  The Pikes disappeared down the road. Weed waited a good five minutes before he came out of hiding. He climbed back over the wall at the precise moment a small sports car purred around the bend, its high beams on and pinning Weed against the night like a moth against a window.

  chapter thirteen

  Bubba was too busy to take so much as
one sip of Tang, which had been room temperature when Honey had spitefully filled his thermos, and therefore would still be room temperature if he ever had time to drink it. There wasn't the slightest chance Bubba would make it to the break room to microwave his Taco Bell Lunchable, which Honey had not ruined because she couldn't.

  Bubba had not a moment to think about the Icehouse or Molson Golden or Foster's Lager filling the refrigerator in the mud room, waiting for him when he finally rolled in, exhausted, around half-past seven every morning except Tuesday and Wednesday, his days off. Bubba did not eat, drink or smoke anything that wasn't Philip Morris. He would have bought nothing but Philip Morris stock if he didn't spend so much on its products and his Jeep and tools.

  Bubba Fluck's feelings were lacerated to the point of rage. He was being treated like shit as he tried like hell to speed things along in Bay 8. Sure, there had been a lot of rejects flying into the bins on the floor, destined for the ripper room, where they would be fed into a machine, the precious tobacco separated from the paper and reclaimed. Bubba refused to accept defeat. He figured if three shifts could crank out thirty million packs of cigarettes every twenty-four hours, then he, by God, could whip out an extra half a million cigarettes or twenty-five thousand packs before shift change.

  Bubba worked like one possessed, dashing back and forth between the computer and the maker. When the resistance to draw got a little too close to the red line, Bubba was right there making the adjustment. He intuitively knew when he was going to run out of glue and made sure the attendant pulled up the cart early. When the tipping paper broke again, Bubba spooled it back through the air channel, up into the feed rollers, threaded it into the garnisher and hit reset in a record thirty-one seconds.

  When the paper broke another time, he realized he had dull knives in the cutting head and summoned a fixer to take care of the problem. Bubba sweated through more lost minutes and worked even faster to make up the time. He ran three hours without another mishap, without stopping, and by four A.M., the production report on the computer screen showed Bubba was only 21,350 dual-rods, or less than two minutes, behind Bay 5.

  Production supervisor Betty Council monitored quality and oversaw fixers and electricians, and coordinated shifts. She had been keeping her eye on Bubba for weeks because he seemed to have more technical problems than any of the other operators. Gig Dan had told her he was getting fed up with him.

  'How are we doing?' she called out to Bubba as the vacuum in the maker sucked blended tobacco down, and rods formed almost faster than the eye could follow.

  Bubba was too busy to answer.

  'You don't have to kill yourself,' said Council, who was on her way to being promoted again because she was smart, hardworking, and several months ago had increased production three percent by encouraging competition among the bays.

  'I'm fine,' Bubba said as rods were glued, cut, plucked into the transfer drum, carried to another knife and flipper, then to another drum. Plugs from the plug hopper were cut and married to the rods.

  'I'm absolutely amazed,' she yelled above the roar and strike of machines. 'You and Smudge are almost neck and neck.'

  Brazil stepped on the gas in pursuit of the kid half-falling and zigzagging on the side of the road. It was commonly accepted in policing that if a subject was running, usually there was a reason. Brazil rolled down his window.

  'What's going on?' he called out as he drove and the kid continued to dash about.

  'Nothing,' the kid gasped, the whites of his eyes showing all the way around as fear propelled his Nikes.

  'Something is, or you wouldn't be running,' Brazil called back. 'Stop so I can talk to you!'

  'Can't.'

  'Yes, you can.'

  'Uh-uh.'

  Brazil pulled off the road ahead of him and jumped out. The kid was exhausted and intoxicated. He was wearing a Bulls jersey and looked vaguely familiar, even in the dark.

  'Leave me alone!' he screamed as Brazil grabbed him by the back of his jersey. 'I didn't do nothing!'

  'Whoa,' Brazil said. 'Calm down. Wait a minute. I've met you before. You're that kid at Godwin, the artist. A different sort of name. What was it . . . ? Week? Wheeze?'

  'I'm not telling you nothing!' The kid was heaving, sweat shining on his face and dripping off his chin.

  Brazil looked around, wondering, listening. He didn't see anyone else. There was no burglar alarm hammering anywhere, the road dark, the night silent.

  'Weed,' he suddenly remembered. 'Yeah, that's it.'

  'No it ain't,' Weed said.

  'Yeah, it is. I'm sure of it. I'm Andy Brazil.'

  'You're that cop who came to school,' Weed accused him.

  'Something wrong with that?' Brazil asked.

  'So how come you're out here in a BMW?' Weed demanded to know.

  'A better question is how come you're drunk and running like a maniac?'

  Weed looked up to where the moon would be, were it not covered in clouds.

  'I'm taking you home,' Brazil said.

  'You can't make me,' Weed defied him, his words slurring and knocking one another down.

  'Sure I can.' Brazil laughed. 'You're drunk in public. You're a juvenile. You can either come downtown or I'm taking you to your house, and if I were you, I'd choose the latter and take some aspirin and go to bed.'

  Weed was thinking. A U-Haul truck rumbled past, then a station wagon. Weed was still thinking, wiping his face on his sleeve. A VW Rabbit buzzed by, then a Jeep that reminded Brazil of CABBAGES. Brazil shrugged and walked over to his car. He opened his door.

  'Ill call a unit to come take you downtown,' he said. 'I'm not hauling prisoners in my personal car.'

  'You said you'd drive me home in it,' Weed countered. 'Now you saying you ain't.'

  'I said I'm not hauling your butt downtown.'

  Brazil shut his door.

  Weed yanked open the passenger's door and slid onto the leather seat. He fastened his shoulder harness and didn't say a word. Brazil pulled back onto West Gary.

  'What's your real name?' Brazil asked him.

  'Weed.'

  'How'd you end up with a name like that, huh?'

  'I dunno.' Weed stared down at his untied hightops.

  'Sure you do.'

  'My daddy works for the city.'

  'And?' Brazil encouraged him.

  'Cuttin' grass and stuff. Pullin' weeds. Called me Weed 'cause he said I'd grow like one.'

  Instantly he was humiliated and alarmed. It was obvious he had never grown like a weed, and he had told the cop way too much. He watched the cop write down

  Weed on a little notepad. Shit! If the cop figured out Weed was a Pike, Weed would die. Smoke would see to that.

  'What's your last name?' Brazil then asked.

  'Jones,' Weed lied.

  Brazil wrote this down, too.

  'What's the five for?'

  'Huh?'

  'The five tattooed on your finger.'

  Fear turned to panic. Weed's mind went blank.

  'I don't got no tattoo,' he said stupidly.

  'Yeah? Then what am I looking at?'

  Weed examined one hand, then the other as if he had never taken a good look at himself before this moment. He stared at the 5 and rubbed it with his thumb.

  'It don't mean nothing,' he said. 'I just did it, you know?'

  'But why the number five?' Brazil persisted. 'You picked it for a reason.'

  Weed was beginning to shake. If the cop figured out that 5 was Weed's slave number, one thing might lead to another.

  'It's my lucky number,' Weed said as sweat trickled from his armpits, down his sides, beneath his Bulls colors.

  Brazil fiddled with the CD player, jumping around from Mike & The Mechanics to Elton John before deciding on Enya.

  'Man, how you listen to that?' Weed said finally.

  'What about it?'

  'It ain't got nothing to it. No good drums or cymbals or words that mean something.'

  'Maybe the wor
ds mean something to me,' Brazil answered him. 'Maybe I don't care about drums or cymbals.'

  'Oh yeah?' Weed got mad. 'You're just saying that because I play cymbals and pretty soon gonna learn drums.'

  'You mind telling me where we're going?' Brazil said. 'Or is it a secret?'

  'I bet you don't know nothing about cymbals.' Weed's logic was fading in and out, the dark smooth ride sedating him further. 'We're in the Azalea Parade, too.'

  'I know you have to live somewhere near Godwin or you couldn't go to school there.' Brazil was getting increasingly frustrated.

  Weed was falling asleep. He smelled bad and Brazil still didn't know why the kid had been out on the street drunk and running as if Jack the Ripper were after him. Brazil reached over and gently shook him. Weed practically jumped through the roof.

  'No!' he screamed.

  Brazil turned on the light above the visor and took a long hard look at Weed. Brazil noticed that the number 5 on his right index finger was crude and puffy.

  'Tell me where you live,' Brazil said firmly. 'Wake up, Weed, and tell me.'

  'Henrico Doctor.'

  'The hospital?'

  'Uh huh.'

  'You live near Henrico Doctors' Hospital?'

  'Uh huh. My head hurts so bad.'

  'That's not in Godwin's district.'

  'My daddy live in the district. My mama don't.'

  'Well, who are you going home to, Weed? Your mother or your dad?'

  'I don't hardly ever go near him. Just now and then, maybe a weekend every two months so he can go out and leave me alone, which is all right by me.'

  'What street does your mother live on?'

  'Forest and Skipwith. I can show you." Weed's tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth.

  Brazil plucked Weed's right hand out of his lap.

  'What'd you go and get a tattoo for?' he said again. 'Somebody talk you into that?'

  'A lotta people get 'em.' Weed pulled his hand away.

  'Looks to me like you just got it,' Brazil said. 'Maybe even today.'

  chapter fourteen

  Apparently Governor Feuer and his party had gone on to other courses and conversations. They had yet to emerge from La Petite France, and Roop was tired of waiting. He decided he might as well gather a little intelligence on the fish problem and dialed Hammer's home number, thanks to Fling, who had stupidly given it to Roop.

 
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