Southern cross, p.14
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Southern Cross, p.14
 

           Patricia Cornwell

  But it was the dead rich people who bothered Weed most, all of them inside little marble houses with all kinds of carvings and names chiseled above huge heavy metal doors. There were windows, too, and the thought of looking through them raised every hair on Weed's body. Images jumped in his mind and started messing with him bad. A moldy face with sunken eyes and green rotting hands held a white Bible and any minute was going to turn to a page with a curse on it saying Weed was going to hell. A grinning skeleton in a long satin dress, bony hands folded around a dried-up rose, was about to sit up and fly after him, rattling and rustling.

  Weed's legs almost collapsed. He dropped his knapsack and the straps grabbed his feet. He stumbled and got more entangled and crashed through a sculpted boxwood and almost regained his balance before tripping over an urn and landing flat on his face, his head just missing an Indiana limestone marker shaped like a tree. Weed didn't know who Lt. Col. Peachy Boswell was, but Weed had just stepped all over his grave.

  Smoke and Divinity were laughing their asses off, hands over their mouths, trying not to make any noise, choking, bent over and hopping around like the ground was hot. Weed took his time getting up, taking an inventory of his parts to make sure nothing was missing or damaged, but his elbow stung a little and he realized blood was running down his arm. He knelt in the grass and replaced clods he had kicked up. He collected his knapsack and bag of paints. He shrugged as if it didn't bother him in the least that he had just desecrated a grave, for which there was usually a curse like the one he'd imagined in the white Bible.

  Divinity dug inside her denim bag and pulled out a pint of Wild Turkey. She and Smoke started swigging. Smoke handed Weed the bottle. Weed refused. Smoke shoved it at him. Weed wouldn't budge.

  'It'll mess me up,' Weed whispered. 'You want me to paint, don't you?'

  'Sure fucking do.' Smoke started to laugh. 'The statue's right over there, retard. And guess what? You're on your own. We ain't hanging around.'

  Weed tried to keep cool.

  'Okay,' he said. 'But how do I get home?'

  'Any way you can!' Smoke grabbed Divinity's hand and they ran away, laughing and drinking and not caring where they stepped.

  Weed looked around, trying to figure out where he was. It was a part of the cemetery that was very close to the river and populated with a lot of rich people, many of them so important they had their own squares of grass big enough for the entire family. Weed saw the silhouette of the statue two streets and one circle away, and his heart swelled with awe. It was tall and erect against the night, a man standing proud, his profile handsome and sharp.

  As Weed got closer, he could see there were six walkways leading to the statue, meaning the man must have been some kind of hero, maybe the most famous person alive when he was. He wore a long coat and knee-high boots, hat in one hand, the other on his hip. He stood on a marble base surrounded by azaleas and ivy. Two redneck flags were planted at his feet.

  Weed did not recognize the name Jefferson Davis. Weed knew nothing about the man whose statue he was about to paint, except that Davis was 'an American soldier and defender of the constitution' who had been born in 1808 and died in 1889- The math took Weed a few minutes to figure out. He opened his knapsack and began pulling out paints and brushes and bottles of water.

  Eighty-nine minus oh-eight, he moved his lips as he calculated. He drew a blank and tried again. Nine minus eight was one. And eight minus zero was still eight. So Jefferson

  Davis was only eighteen when he died. Weed was overwhelmed by sadness.

  He looked around at the marble sculpture of a mournful woman holding an open Bible. An angel with big wings was sitting nearby. They seemed to be watching him and waiting. Weed suddenly knew why he had been brought here. It had nothing to do with Smoke, not in the big scheme of things. There was no curse but an unexpected gift. Joy filled his heart. Weed knew what he was supposed to do. He didn't feel lonely and he wasn't afraid.

  chapter sixteen

  Sleep was a stranger that would have no part of Brazil's life at the moment. He kicked the sheets off again, got up for water, walked around in the dark for a few minutes, sat down in front of the computer screen and stared at the map and its blue fish. He drank more water and imagined that West was tormented, too.

  He hoped she was fitful and full of bad dreams, her heart aching as she thought of him. Then his fantasy was shattered by a face he did not know, someone named Jim. Brazil thought hard of every cop he knew West was acquainted with, and he could think of no one named Jim she would be remotely interested in. West liked tall, well-built men who were intelligent, funny and sensitive, men she could watch movies and go drinking and shooting with. She was tired of being hit on. She required patience and a gentle touch. Indifference sometimes worked, too.

  Brazil stalked back into his bedroom. It was almost five. West had made it clear she didn't intend to run with him this morning because she hated running and needed a day off. Brazil put on sweats and went out by himself.

  He ran fast through the Fan, picking up speed as he obsessed about Jim. All Brazil knew about him was that he drank Heineken, or at least had brought a six-pack to West's house, so it was also possible that he simply thought she liked Heineken. Jim might not drink beer at all. He might be into Scotch or fine wine, although Brazil had noticed neither in West's kitchen. Of course, he hadn't looked in her cabinets.

  He hadn't looked in her bedroom as he had walked past because he knew he couldn't bear seeing men's clothing in a pile on the floor, the bed a mess. Brazil clipped off five miles. He worked with free weights and did ab crunches until his upper body was on fire. He took a long, hot shower, miserable and furious.

  Brazil shaved and brushed his teeth in the shower and decided he couldn't let West get away with this any longer. Damn her. He played and rewound and played again and again the last time they had touched, on Christmas Eve, when he'd gone to her house to deliver her Christmas present. He'd saved money for months to buy her a gold and platinum bracelet that she had stopped wearing days after they moved to Richmond.

  Brazil felt used. He felt lied to and trivialized. If she really loved him as much as she used to say she did, then how could she suddenly get involved with someone named Jim and how long had it been going on? Maybe she'd been cheating on Brazil from the start, was seeing some other Jim back in Charlotte, had Jims all over the world. Brazil was going to call her and demand an explanation. He toweled his hair dry as he rehearsed what he would say. He put on his uniform, taking his time as he debated.

  Hollywood Cemetery usually came alive around dawn. Clay Kitchen worked maintenance and took his job very seriously. He also liked overtime and found that if he showed up around seven each morning, he could add a good ten hours, or two hundred eighty-five dollars and eighty cents, to his twice-monthly paycheck.

  Kitchen drove his blue Ford Ranger slowly through the Confederate soldiers section where eighteen thousand brave men and General Pickett's wife were buried, their simple marble markers closely spaced in perfect rows that were hard to mow around. Kitchen parked by the ninety-foot-high Confederate Monument pyramid, built of granite quarried from the James River in 1868 when the only machinery was strong bodies and fearlessness and a derrick.

  Kitchen had heard the stories. There had been accidents. The workers had gotten very nervous. The project's timetable had stretched into a year and everyone was getting tired. When all that was left was to climb to the top and guide the capstone into place, the crew balked. Forget it. You got to be kidding. No one would do it, so an inmate at the nearby state penitentiary allegedly volunteered and performed the perilous task without incident, on November 6, 1869, while a happy crowd cheered.

  The grass was getting a little high about the pyramid's base and in need of string trimming. But that would have to wait until Kitchen finished his inspection of the one hundred and thirty-five acres that kept him so busy. He moved on, cruising along Confederate Avenue, then Eastvale and onto Riverside, which took hi
m to Hillside and on the Presidents Circle, to Jeter and Ginter, eventually approaching Davis Circle where he saw the problem immediately and from a distance.

  Jefferson Davis was wearing a red-and-white basketball uniform. The hat he held in his left hand had been turned into a basketball, although an oddly shaped one. His skin had been painted black. The marble base he stood on had been turned into a gym floor.

  Kitchen sped ahead, shocked, crazed, almost out of control. He slammed on the brakes to get a closer look. The number on the jersey was 12. Kitchen was a sports fan and knew without a doubt the University of Richmond Spiders uniform. The number 12 on the jersey was that of Bobby Feeley, who was one of the most pathetic recruits Kitchen had ever seen. Kitchen yanked the portable radio off his belt and raised his supervisor on the air.

  'Someone's turned Jeff Davis into a colored basketball player!' Kitchen declared.

  chapter seventeen

  Niles would not leave West alone. The cat had never been easy, but there was one sin he wasn't allowed to commit. No cat or anyone else kept West awake unless she chose to be awake, and she had chosen no such thing.

  'What the hell's wrong with you?' West complained, turning over and punching the pillow under her head.

  Niles wasn't asleep, but he wasn't moving, either. He'd been in the same position since midnight when his owner had finally decided to toss aside that silly Chicken Soup for the Soul book that promised a hundred and one happy heartwarming stories that meant nothing to Niles.

  'Shut up!' his owner said, kicking the sheets.

  Niles's ribs silently rose and fell as he breathed. He wondered when his owner would figure out that she always got cranky whenever Piano Man had been sighted in the area.

  'I can't take this anymore,' his owner announced.

  She sat up. She picked up Niles and dropped him on the floor. He had put up with quite a lot in the past few hours, but enough was enough. He jumped back up on the bed and batted her chin with his paw, keeping his claws tucked in.

  'You little shit!' She popped Niles's head.

  Niles jumped on her abdomen as hard as he could, knowing how much she hated that in the morning when she had to pee. His owner threw him off the bed again, and he jumped back and hissed and nipped her little finger and leaped back off the bed and ran like hell. She jumped out of bed in pursuit.

  'Come back here, you little fuckhead!' she yelled.

  Niles ran faster, taking the corner into his owner's office and springing on the top shelf of her bookcase, where he waited with swishing tail, crossed eyes staring. His owner made the turn not quite as gracefully, hitting her hip on the door frame and swearing some more. She pointed her finger at Niles. Niles wasn't intimidated. He wasn't even tired. She came closer and reached up, trying to grab him.

  Niles sprang over her head, landing on her desk. He hit InLog on her Personal Information Center phone until he found the number he wanted. Then he hit Speaker and Dial. He waited until his owner almost had her hand on the back of his neck. He bopped her nose and was gone again as a phone loudly rang and rang over the speaker.

  'Hello?' Piano Man answered.

  West froze. 'Hello?' Brazil asked again.

  She snatched up the phone.

  'How'd I call you when I didn't?' she demanded to know as she read Brazil's number on the video screen.

  'Who is this?' Brazil asked.

  'Niles did it, not me,' West said.

  'Virginia?'

  'I didn't do it,' she said, glaring at Niles, who was stretching one leg after another from a safe distance.

  'It's not like it's a crime if you called me,' Brazil said.

  'That's not the point.'

  'You want to have breakfast or are you tied up?' Brazil said haltingly, as if he was just being nice and had no interest whatsoever in seeing her.

  'God, I don't know,' she replied as she ran through a list of other fabricated options. 'What time is it? Niles kept me up all night.'

  'It's almost seven.'

  'I'm not running with you if that's what you're really asking,' West shot back as her heart forgot its rhythm.

  'I've already done that,' Brazil said. 'River City Diner? You been there?'

  'I can't remember the names of everything around here.'

  'It's really good. You mind picking me up since you get to take home a car and I don't?'

  'So I guess you know all the places around here,' West said.

  Popeye would not give Hammer a moment's peace this morning, either. She jumped all over Hammer.

  She brazenly ran into Hammer's office and jumped into the desk chair and stared at the computer screen and the fish on it. She would not let Hammer sit and drink a first cup of coffee or glance at the paper. Popeye was stubborn on her walk. Treats were of no interest. She wouldn't sit, lie down, come or stay.

  'What good does it do for me to read all those books and consult with an animal behaviorist?' Hammer asked in exasperation. 'I don't need this, Popeye. I have tried reasoning with you. I've talked with you at great length about how important it is to cooperate and be a pleasure to have around. I've asked you many times if something traumatic might have happened to you before I got you from the SPCA, something that has caused you to start nipping at people and jumping in their faces.

  'But whatever it is, you won't let me know, and it's not fair, Popeye. You know how much I care. You know my life is hard and I need no more stress. You know I will be sued if you bite someone and they fake emotional distress, disfigurement and sexual dysfunction because they know I have money and don't need bad publicity. Now sit, and I mean it.'

  Hammer squatted, holding a treat in her fist.

  Popeye assumed her defiant stance and just stared at her.

  'Sit.'

  Popeye wouldn't.

  'Lie down.'

  Popeye didn't.

  'What's gotten into you?' Hammer asked.

  The Shockwaves traveled quickly and with alarming /repercussions. Hollywood Cemetery's maintenance supervisor immediately alerted the cemetery association president, Lelia Ehrhart, who instantly called every member of the board, including Ruby Sink, the association secretary and the most likely person to spread the news.

  Miss Sink decided to go out and get her newspaper at the precise moment Chief Hammer was walking by with Popeye. Hammer quickly moved past the two-story brick town house with its Doric front porch and original cornices and windows. Miss Sink picked up speed, shuffling down steps and over cobblestones.

  'Come back here,' Miss Sink called out.

  Hammer did not appreciate being ordered about.

  'Good morning, Miss Sink,' she said politely without slowing down.

  'I need to speak to you.'

  Hammer stopped while Popeye did her best to continue on course.

  'It's just a darn good thing you showed up,' Miss Sink answered.

  'Be good, Popeye.' Hammer pulled the leash.

  Popeye pulled back.

  'Popeye,' Hammer warned.

  'What an awful name for a dog,' said Miss Sink. 'What's wrong with her eyes?'

  'It's normal for the breed.'

  'Did you have her tail chopped off?'

  'No,' Hammer replied.

  Miss Sink leaned over to get a better look at the stumpy, cock-eyed tail that covered nothing important. Popeye began to lick herself in a naughty place and suddenly sprang straight up into the air, her tongue darting into Miss Sink's mouth. Miss Sink jumped back and screamed. She rubbed her lips and looked sick as she thought about where that tongue had just been. Popeye grabbed the hem of Miss Sink's pink robe and almost pulled the frail old woman off her feet.

  'Now Popeye, you behave. Sit,' Hammer said emphatically.

  Popeye sat. Hammer fed her a Lung Chop. Miss Sink was mortified and momentarily speechless. She rubbed her mouth and checked the hem of her robe, looking for damage.

  'What was it you wanted to talk to me about?' Hammer asked.

  'You mean you don't know?' Miss Sink raised
her voice. She glared hatefully at Popeye as she bent over to pick up the paper.

  'Know what?' Hammer asked, irked that there might be something Miss Sink might know before Hammer did.

  'Someone vandalized Hollywood Cemetery!' Miss Sink's fury gathered. 'Graffiti all over the statue of Jefferson Davis!'

  'When did you find this out?' asked Hammer as Confederate troops rose up and began marching through her mind.

  'I want to know what the police are doing,' Miss Sink demanded.

  'Have we been called?' Hammer asked.

  Miss Sink thought for a moment.

  'This is the first I've heard of it,' Hammer went on as Popeye got interested in Miss Sink's ankles.

  'I don't know if anyone called,' Miss Sink said. 'That's not my responsibility. I just assumed whoever happened upon the crime would have called the police. Of course, I just got the call myself a few minutes ago. They think some U of R basketball player did it.'

  'Who's they?'

  'You can ask Lelia Ehrhart that. She's the one who called me.'

  Hammer's resentment blossomed and flourished.

  'And how did Lelia find out?' Hammer asked.

  'She's the president of Hollywood,' Miss Sink replied as if there was only one Hollywood. 'The city's being ruined. And if we had more police out doing their jobs, this sort of thing wouldn't happen. Not to mention the continuing deterioration of this neighborhood. Here of all places.'

  Hammer feared that one of these days she was going to tell the nagging, horse-faced woman to go to hell.

  'The people coming in here,' Miss Sink railed on. 'As if this is some sort of subdivision with McDonald's and aluminum siding!'

  Miss Sink used to feel perfectly safe and sequestered on her famous tree-lined street, where in 1775 Patrick Henry had stood inside St. John's Episcopal

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment