Southern cross, p.17
Southern Cross, p.17Patricia Cornwell
It had been no great matter for Lelia Ehrhart to call Spiders head coach Bo Raval and find out exactly where she might get her hands on Bobby Feeley. Probably the gym, she had been told. She turned off Three Chopt Road onto Boatwright and followed it to the U of R campus. She turned into the private lot, where members of the Spiders Club parked during the games. She tucked her Mercedes at an angle, taking two spaces, far away from those less expensive cars that might hit her doors. She walked with purpose up the Robins Center's front steps.
The lobby was empty and echoed with the memory of many games won and lost that Ehrhart had not enjoyed. Eventually, she had refused to attend them with her husband, nor would she subject herself to football. She simply would not watch sports on TV anymore. Bull could get his own beer and make his own microwave popcorn. He could point the remote as often as he wanted, playing God, controlling, master designing, making things happen, and she didn't care.
A basketball bouncing beyond shut doors sounded lonely and determined. Ehrhart entered Milhouser Gym, where Bobby Feeley was shooting foul shots. He was tall, as expected, with long sculpted muscles and a shaved head and a gold loop earring, like all basketball players. His skin glistened with sweat, gray tee shirt soaked in back and front, shorts baggy down to his knees and swirling as he moved. Feeley paid no attention to Ehrhart as he tried again and hit the rim.
'Shit,' he said.
She said nothing as he dribbled and faked, rushed, elbows flying, turning, faking again, fast breaking, leaping and slam-dunking, hitting the rim again.
'Fuck,' he said.
'Excuse me,' Ehrhart announced herself.
Feeley slowly dribbled the ball, looking at her.
'Are you Bobby Feeley?'
She stepped onto the gym floor in high-heeled shoes with brass butterflies.
'That's not a good idea,' he said.
'Who's not right with them?'
'They aren't tennis shoes.'
'Yours aren't wearing tennis shoes,' she said.
He dribbled some more, frowning.
'What do you call these?' he asked.
'Basketballs shoes,' she said.
'Ah. A purist. Okay,' said Feeley, an honors English student. 'But you still can't walk on the floor in those shoes. So you can take them off or go somewhere else, I guess.'
Ehrhart slipped out of her shoes and drew closer to him in knee-high hose.
'So, what can I do for you?' Feeley asked as he pulled the ball away, elbows out and dangerous, eluding an imaginary adversary.
'You're number twelve,' Ehrhart said.
'Not that again,' Feeley exclaimed as he dribbled. 'What is this anyway? You people think I have nothing better to do? That I would do something as sophomoric as painting graffiti in a cemetery?'
He dribbled between his legs and missed a jump shot.
This is not just graffiti as you watch on subway trains. It's not 'The Screech' and schmucks you watch on buildings.'
Feeley stopped dribbling and wiped sweat off his brow, trying to interpret.
'I think you mean scream,' he tried to help her out. 'As in Edvard Munch's 'The Scream'. And maybe you mean schmoeP Schmuck's not a nice word, although those unfamiliar with Yiddish usually don't get it.'
'Spray-painting Mountain Rushmore, how about then?' she said indignantly.
'Who did?' Feeley asked.
'So you can go paint your basketball uniform, number twelve included, on my ancestor!'
'You're related to Jeff Davis?'
Feeley ran and dunked. The ball bounced off the backboard.
'I'm related to Vinny,' Ehrhart stated.
'As in Pooh?'
'I thought that was a place or maybe something else we shouldn't allude to.'
'You are vulgarly rude, Mr. Feeler.'
'It disdains me that people from your generation respect not a thing that's gone before in the past. And the point is, it isn't gone even if it started before you in. I'm standing here, as evident.'
Feeley frowned. 'How 'bout ringing me up again. I think we have a bad connection.'
'I wouldn't,' she said flatly.
He cradled the ball under his arm. 'What did I do?'
'We know both what you did.'
He dribbled into a hook shot that swished below the net.
'Sorry,' Feeley said, 'but I didn't do a job on Mr. Davis's statue, although I must say that it was about time somebody put him in his place.'
'How dare can you!'
Feeley flashed his big smile. He dribbled back and forth from one hand to the other and hit his foot.
'Indicted for treason but never tried. First and last president of the Confederacy. Ha!' He missed another foul shot. 'Got to feel sorry for him, when you think about it. Inferior railroad, no navy, no powder mills or shipyard and forget arms and equipment.' A jump shot sailed over the backboard. 'Congress fighting like cats and dogs.' Feeley walked and hit his toe again. 'Lee surrenders without asking Davis if it's all right.' He trotted after the ball. 'Jeff Davis finds himself in leg irons and ends up an insurance salesman in Memphis.'
'Not truth.' Ehrhart was incensed.
'Sure as hell is, ma'am.'
'Where were you last night?' she demanded to know.
'Right here, practicing.' A last-second shot from half court hit the stands. 'I didn't go to the cemetery and have never been inside that cemetery.'
He trotted after the ball again and started spinning it on his middle finger.
Ehrhart misinterpreted. 'Are you giving to me an obscenity gesture?'
The ball wobbled off. Feeley tried again. He tossed it around his back and missed.
'Rats,' he said.
'I fine you most lacking in respect,' Ehrhart said loudly and with emotion. 'And you can alibi from then on and in the end, what comes and goes around!'
'Look, ma'am.' Feeley tucked the ball under his arm. 'I had nothing to do with the statue. But I sure do intend to go take a peek.'
Many people in the Richmond area had decided the same thing. Clay Kitchen had never seen such a solid line of cars without headlights on. He had never in his twenty-seven years of faithful service observed such unbecoming behavior.
People were cheerful. They had rolled windows down and were enjoying the premature spring weather. They were playing rock & roll, jazz and rap.
Kitchen and West zipped along in the truck, avoiding the flow of traffic by entering the crime scene from Lee Avenue. West looked out the window, rather amazed by the interest. When the statue came in view she almost lost her proper police decorum. She almost said fucking unbelievable.
'Stop right here,' she said to Kitchen. 'I don't want people seeing me getting out of your truck.'
Kitchen completely understood. West was here in plain clothes and would not tell him why, but he was quite a reader. He knew what was going on. Criminals often returned to the scene of the crime, especially if they were pyromaniacs or wanted to apologize or had forgotten to take a souvenir. Kitchen had talked to police when they patrolled the cemetery on slow days. Kitchen had heard the stories.
He remembered the man who stabbed his wife almost a thousand times and slept with her body for days, bringing her breakfast in bed, watching TV with her, talking about the good times. Of course, that really wasn't the same thing as returning to the scene since he'd never left it, Kitchen supposed. He did know for a fact that up north a few years back, a woman ground up her husband in a wood chipper and came back several days later to burn up his pieces in the backyard. A neighbor apparently got suspicious.
The crowd was pressing too close to the statue and threatened any moment to duck under or even break the crime-scene tape. West got on her radio and requested backups. There was a near riot situation at the cemetery, hundreds of people. Many of them had been drinking and probably still were.
'Three,' Communications Officer Patty Passman came back. 'Is
West checked her annoyance. People pushed against her. Passman was always questioning West's calls, and now she had the nerve to ask if the situation was urgent. No, why don't you get around to it when you can, West felt like saying. After I've been stampeded.
'Three, 10-10. At the moment.'
Three, what's your exact 10-20?'
'I'm exactly at the statue,' West answered tersely.
'Hey! Who's the chick with the radio?' some man yelled.
'We got undercover cops here!'
'You want my fingerprints, baby?'
The smell of alcohol was strong as bodies pressed closer and jeering people got in West's face. Her body space wasn't there. People were jostling her, touching her, laughing. She got back on the radio and suddenly noticed the small blue fish painted on the statue's base, just below Jefferson Davis's left Nike. A kid came up behind her and pretended to go for her gun. She lifted him off the ground by his belt and tossed him like a small bag of garbage. He laughed, running off.
'Three, 10-18!' West exclaimed over the air as she stared at the fish, her thoughts crashing into each other.
'Any unit in the area of Hollywood Cemetery, an officer needs assistance,' Passman broadcast calmly.
'Step back!' West shouted to the crowd. 'Step back now!'
She was against the crime-scene tape, the crowd getting frenzied and moving in.
West whipped out her red pepper spray and pointed it. People paused to reflect.
'What the hell's gotten into you?' West yelled. 'Step back now!'
The crowd inched back a little, faces twitching with indecision, fists balled, sweat rolling, the air throbbing with the heat of violence about to erupt.
'Someone want to tell me what this is all about!' West yelled again.
A youth wearing a Tommy Hilfiger shirt and stocking cap, one relaxed-pants leg rolled up, one down, spoke for the group.
'Nobody wants us in here,' he explained. 'Maybe it gets to you, you know? And then one day something happens and you snap.'
'Well, there'll be no snapping here,' West told all sternly. 'What's your name?'
'Seems like these people listen to you, Jerome.'
'I don't know any of them, but I guess so.'
'I want you to help me keep them calm,' West said.
Jerome turned around and faced the mob.
'CHILL!' he shouted. 'EVERYBODY FUCKING BACK OFF AND GIVE THIS LADY SOME FUCKING SPACE!'
'Now listen up.' Jerome stepped into his new role and had no problem with it. 'The deal is you people don't know what it's like,' he told West.
'Tell it!' a woman yelled.
'You think anybody wants us in here?' he whipped up the crowd.
'Fuck no!' they screamed.
'You think anybody wants us dropping by?'
'Fuck no!' the crowd chanted.
'You-think-you-go-Hollywood-who's-gonna-let-you-they're-gonna-get-you-throw-your-ass-in-the-grass-cemetery-in-the-hood? "Jerome started rapping.
'The-mon-u-ment-like-the-mom-u-meant-is-cold-rm-told-how-many-times-I-gotta-tell-it.' Jerome was strutting before the crowd. 'What's-it-take-to-taste-and-smell-it-when-you-got-no-chance-to-sell-it-'cause-everything's-for-sale-except-for-me-and-you-no-matter-what-we-do-we're-the-boys-in-the-hood-ain't-no-fuck-in-Holly-wood.'
'Boys-and-girls-in-the-hood-ain't-no-fuck-in-Holly-wood,' Jerome politically corrected himself.
'AIN'T-NO-FUCK-IN-HOLLY-WOOD!' the crowd rapped back.
'Thanks, Jerome,' West said.
'AIN'T-NO-FUCK-IN-HOLLY-WOOD!' The crowd was out of control.
'Jerome, that's enough!'
'Say it again, brothers!' Jerome was spinning and kick-boxing. 'AIN'T-NO-FUCK-IN-HOLLY-WOOD!'
Sirens sounded in the distance.
The Robins Center, where the Spiders played basketball before great crowds, was between the private lot where Ehrhart had tucked her Mercedes, and the X lot where commoners parked, no more than two rows of parking spaces or approximately fifty yards from the track, where this moment Brazil was running hard for the second time this day.
It was late afternoon. He had spent hours working on the COMSTAT computer crisis while the media continued to kick around mean-spirited stories about Fishsteria and the vandalism of Jefferson Davis's statue. Comments of low intelligence and terribly poor taste streaked through e-mail and were passed word-of-mouth through offices, restaurants, bars and health clubs before at last finding their way to the ears of the police.
Cops finally catch something, no longer let crooks off the hook.
Knock knock. Who's there? Police. Police who? Police get rid of the fish.
Jeff Davis coloredized.
What's black and white and red all over? (Jeff Davis.)
Brazil had been desperate for a break. He needed to clear his head and work off stress. What he did not need was to see Lelia Ehrhart walking out of the Robins Center, heading toward her black Mercedes parked in the Spiders Club lot. He knew instantly what she was up to and was furious.
Brazil sprinted off the track and through the gate. He got to her as she was backing up. He tapped on her window as the car continued to move. She braked, made sure her doors were locked and the window down an inch.
'I'm Officer Brazil,' he said, wiping his face with the hem of his tank top.
'I didn't recognize you,' Ehrhart said, appraising him as if thinking about a purchase.
'I don't mean to be rude,' Brazil said, 'but what were you doing in the gym?'
'Did you talk to Bobby Feeley?'
'I wish you hadn't done that, Mrs. Ehrhart,' Brazil said.
'Someone had to, and I have a personal interested in this that has to do with me. Aren't you visiting outsiders from Charlotte always telling us to community police? Well, here I am. How old are you?"
'Community policing does not include interfering with an investigation,' Brazil told her.
She stared at his legs.
'You are quite the athletic,' she flirted. 'I have a trainer. If ever you want to work in together, the both of us, wouldn't that be nice?'
'It's generous of you to offer.' Brazil was courteous, professional and respectful.
'Which gym do you work in out of?' She rolled the window down the rest of the way, caressing every part of him with eyes that had huge purchasing power.
'I've gotta go,' Brazil said as she stared at his crotch.
'How often do you hang yourself out here?' she inquired, continuing her physical examination of him. 'You are very sweating. It's running all down you in little rivets and you look very hots. You should take your shirts off and drinks some Gatorades.' She patted the passenger's seat. 'Come sits, Andy. Out of the heats. I have a swimmer pool at my house. We could go and jump on it. Think how good that would feeling when you are so hots.'
'Thank you, Mrs. Ehrhart.' Brazil couldn't get away fast enough. 'But I've got to head out.'
He ran off. Her window hummed up. Her tires sounded angry when she sped away.
Brazil took two steps at a time and ran inside the Robins Center, dashing into the gym, where Bobby Feeley was working on defense and fouling imaginary Cavaliers.
'Mr. Feeley?' Brazil said from the sidelines.
Feeley dribbled the ball over to him. He started laughing.
'What is this? The inquisition? Or are you just looking for the track, man?'
'I'm with the Richmond Police Department, investigating the vandalism that occurred in Hollywood Cemetery last night,' Brazil explained.
'You always go to work dressed like that?' Feeley tried another jump shot and the ball didn't even come close.
'I just happened to be
'Now that's a piece of work.' Feeley retrieved the ball. 'How long's she been on this planet?'
'Look, Mr. Feeley
'Bobby, do you have any idea why someone would paint a statue to look like you?' Brazil said. 'Assuming you didn't do it.'
'I didn't do it.' Feeley faked passes. 'And although it's very flattering to think there's a statue of me in a historic white cemetery, I don't think so.' He missed a layup. 'I'm a pretty sorry basketball player and not likely to be anybody's hero.'
'How'd you get on the team?' Brazil had to ask as he watched Feeley miss another layup.
'I used to be better than this,' Feeley said. 'I pretty much ripped up the court in high school, got recruited a million places and decided on Richmond. So I get here and something goes haywire. I'm telling you, man, I started worrying that maybe I had lupus, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's.'
Feeley sat on the basketball, resting his chin in his hand, depressed.
'Doesn't help that I'm wearing Twister Gardener's jersey,' Feeley said despondently. 'I've wondered if that's part of it. Getting psyched out, you know, because everybody looks at my number twelve and remembers him.'
'I'm not from here.' Brazil sat beside him. 'More into tennis than basketball.'
'Well, let me tell you,' Feeley said, 'Twister was the best player this school's ever seen. I got no doubt he'd be playing for the Bulls right now if he hadn't got killed."
'What happened?' Brazil asked as something started stirring deep in his mind.
'Car wreck. Some fucking drunk driver on the fucking wrong side of the road. Last August, right before his sophomore year.'
The story pained Brazil. It enraged him that an extraordinary talent could be completely annihilated in a second by someone who had decided to throw back a few more beers at the bar.
'I'm just glad I got to see him play. I guess you could say he was my hero.' Feeley got up and stretched his limber seven-foot frame.
Southern Cross by Patricia Cornwell / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes