Southern cross, p.18
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       Southern Cross, p.18
 

           Patricia Cornwell

  'Pretty tough to wear your hero's jersey,' Brazil commented as he got up, too.

  Feeley shrugged. 'It's part of running with the big dogs.'

  'Maybe you should get your number changed,' Brazil suggested.

  Feeley was startled. His face got hard, eyes flashing.

  'What did you say?' he asked.

  'Maybe you should retire the number, let someone else have it,' Brazil explained.

  Feeley's eyes snapped. His jaw muscles bunched.

  'Fuck no.'

  'Just a suggestion,' Brazil said. 'But I don't understand why you'd want to keep it if you get psyched. Give it up, Bobby.'

  'No fucking way!'

  'Just do it.'

  'Fuck you!'

  'It really makes sense,' Brazil went on reasonably.

  'Motherfucking never!'

  'Why not?'

  'Because nobody would fucking care about it as much as I do!'

  'How do you know?'

  Feeley threw the basketball as hard as he could and it swished in without touching the rim.

  'Because nobody would respect Twister, treat him right, spread the word about him like I would!'

  Feeley ran full speed for the ball, dribbled with his right hand and left and slam-dunked.

  'And I'll tell you what, too, you'll never see that jersey dirty or tossed in a corner somewhere!' He dunked the ball over the back of his head, the rim vibrating. 'Some little spoiled piece of shit coming in here and wearing Twister's number!'

  He hooked it in, rebounded, slam-dunked, snapped it up, thundered to the top of the key and banked it in, wrestled it away from grabbing hands and jumped a good two feet off the floor, sinking it.

  'Does Twister have family around here?' Brazil asked.

  'I remember going to the home games and seeing him with some little kid. Twister would sit the little guy right behind the bench,' Feeley said, hitting free throws and talking at the same time. 'I got the impression it might be his little brother.'

  At James River Monuments, Ruby Sink was doing a little investigating on her own. The noise of air hammers and pneumatic tools was awful, and someone was bouncing a four-point bumper on Southern Georgia granite. The sandblaster was going and an overhead crane was lifting a thirteen-hundred-pound monument that was chipped and stained green along the top from moss.

  White Vermont marble was very difficult and not used anymore and Floyd Rumble had a chore on his hands. He was a bit overwhelmed, anyway. It had been one of those days. His back hurt and his son was stuck at the desk inside the office because the secretary was on vacation.

  Then Colonel Bailey, who had Alzheimer's, had come in for the fourth time in a week to say that he was to be buried in uniform and wanted something very patriotic engraved on his Saint Cloud Gray marble monument. Each time, Rumble made out a new order because the last thing he'd ever do was humiliate anyone.

  Rumble picked up a knife and resumed cutting a leaf on Nero Black marble, thinking how bad he'd felt when stockbroker Ben Neaton had suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack and the wife had to come in here, too distraught to think, much less pick out something.

  So Rumble had suggested the elegant black stone because Mr. Neaton had always driven shiny black Lincolns and worn dark suits. The inscription, Not Gone,

  Just Reinvested, had been stenciled into a sheet of rubber which was placed over the face of the stone. The sandblaster had etched the letters in a matter of minutes, but Rumble always cut the detail work, such as ivy or flowers, by hand.

  It was common for bereft, shocked people to ask Rumble to make all decisions and unfold the story of their lost loved one's life, and what the person had last said or eaten or worn, or had intended to do the next day. Always there was that one little thing that gave the person a bad feeling.

  Rumble would hear endless renditions of how the husband didn't go out and get the paper like he always did while his wife was fixing breakfast and school lunches and getting the kids up and ready for school and making sure they didn't miss the bus before she fixed his eggs the way he liked them and asked what he might like for supper and what time he'd be home.

  Ruby Sink had worn out Rumble's patience. She had been planning her monument ever since her sister died eleven years ago, and it wasn't uncommon for Miss Sink to wander in once a month just to see what sorts of things Rumble was working on. First she wanted an angel, then a tree, then a plain African granite headstone with raised lilies, then she got into marbles and went through them like a woman rifling through her closet trying to figure out what color dress to wear. She had to have Lake Superior Green, then Rainbow, then Wausau, then Carnelian, then Mountain Red, and so on.

  Rumble's business had been in the family for three generations. He had dealt with all sorts and was smart enough to quit placing orders for Miss Sink after the third time she had changed her mind.

  'Good afternoon, Floyd,' Miss Sink walked right in talking loudly above the chop chop chop and rat-a-tats of machines and blasting of carbon sand and whirring of the exhaust fan and roaring of compressors.

  'I guess so,' he said.

  'I don't know how you stand all the dust in here.' She always said that.

  'It's good for you,' he always replied. 'Same thing they use in toothpaste. All day long your teeth get cleaned. You ever see a Rumble with bad teeth?'

  In part, he went down this path to distract Miss Sink. Sometimes it worked. Today it didn't.

  'I guess you heard.' She moved close to confide in him.

  The thirteen-hundred-pound monument hung perilously midair and Rumble thought about what a chore restoring it was going to be. All duplications of old work like that had to be chiseled by hand, and there was no way he was going to start on it while Miss Sink was within a mile of his shop. She'd decide she had finally found what she wanted. She'd know without a spark of doubt that she had to have soft white Vermont marble chiseled by hand.

  He started looking through trays of stencil types, preparing to etch a Hebrew inscription on Sierra White marble while his crew lowered the damaged monument into a cart.

  'You heard what they did to Jefferson Davis,' Miss Sink told him.

  'I heard something about it.'

  Rumble started laying out stencil types. They had to be plastic so one could see through them, but they broke all the time.

  'As you know, Floyd, I'm on the board.'

  'Yes, ma'am.'

  The overwhelming matter that must be taken care of is how badly is the statue damaged, how do we go about restoring it and how much will it cost.'

  Rumble hadn't gone into the cemetery to look yet. Nor would he bother at all unless he was offered the job.

  'He paint any of the marble base or just the bronze?' Rumble inquired.

  'Mostly the bronze.' Just the thought of it made her sick. 'But he did paint the top of the base to look like a basketball floor. So yes, some of the marble was involved.'

  'I see. So he's standing on a basketball floor. What else?'

  'Well, the worst part. He painted a basketball uniform on him, tennis shoes and the whole bit, and changed his race.'

  'Sounds like we got two problems here,' Rumble said as he tossed out another broken letter and the diamond saw in a corner started cutting through stone. 'To fix the marble, I'm going to have to chisel it down and put on a new surface. As for the bronze, if we're talking about oil-based paints ..."

  'Oh we are,' she said. 'I could tell. Nothing spray-painted here. This was all done in thick coats with a brush.'

  'We'll have to strip that down, maybe with turpentine, then refinish with a polyurethane coating so we don't get oxidation.'

  'We'll study this, then,' Miss Sink announced.

  'We should,' Rumble said. 'Eventually we'll have to get Jeff Davis in my shop. I can't be doing all this work on him in the middle of a public cemetery with people all over the place. Means we'll have to hoist him up with a crane and a sling, lower him in a truck.'

  'I 'spect we should close the c
emetery while you're doing all this,' Miss Sink said.

  'During the removal, for sure. But I'd do it now anyway in case other people get ideas about other monuments. And I suggest you get security patrolling around there.'

  'I'll get Lelia to take care of it.'

  'In the meantime, I don't want anyone touching that statue. Now that's saying you're asking me to fix it.'

  'Of course you're the one, Floyd.'

  'It will take me a day or so to get it out of the cemetery, and then I don't know how long after that.'

  'I guess all this is going to cost a pretty penny,' the parsimonious Miss Sink said.

  'I'll' be as fair as I can be,' Rumble said.

  Bubba had no intention of being fair. There had been too much trauma and disruption for him to even think about sleep, and as soon as the detective had left with lifted prints and other evidence, Bubba had returned to his shop. He had cleaned up fast and hard, anger giving him boundless energy while Half Shell bawled and bawled and ran around in circles and jumped up and down from the overturned barrel.

  Bubba's karma had not been favorably inclined so far this day. He had bought a bag of large white marbles and a bottle of iridescent yellow paint. His attempts at drilling holes through the marbles were disastrous. They kept slipping out of the vise, and when he tightened the vise more, the marbles cracked. The drill bit kept sliding off, then broke. This went on and got no better until he came up with a clever idea.

  At several minutes past three P.M., Honey poked her head inside the shop, a concerned expression on her face.

  'Sweetie, you haven't eaten a thing all day,' she worried.

  'Don't have time.'

  'Sweetie, you always have time.'

  'Not now.'

  She spotted what was left of her favorite large pearl necklace on the workbench.

  'Sweetie, what are you doing?'

  She dared to venture several inches inside his shop. The pearls were loose and Bubba was widening the holes through them with a 5/64th-inch drill bit.

  'Bubba? What are you doing to my pearls? My father gave me those pearls.'

  'They're fake, Honey.'

  Bubba threaded black string through one of the pearls and tied a tight knot. He did the same thing with another pearl and took the two lengths of string and tied them together maybe four inches below the pearls. He slowly whirled this above his head like a lasso. He liked the way it felt, and proceeded to make several more.

  'Honey, you go on back inside the house,' Bubba said. 'This is something you don't need to see or tell anybody about.'

  She wavered in the doorway, her eyes uneasy.

  'You're not doing something sneaky, are you?' she dared to ask.

  Bubba didn't reply.

  'Precious, I've never known you to do anything sneaky. You've always been the most honest man I've ever met, so honest everybody's always taking advantage of you.'

  'I'm meeting Smudge at his house around six and we're heading out to Suffolk.'

  She knew what that meant. 'Dismal Swamp? Please don't tell me you're going there, Bubba.'

  'May or may not.'

  'Think of all the snakes.' She shivered.

  'There's snakes everywhere, Honey,' said Bubba, who was acutely phobic of snakes and believed no one knew it. 'A man can't spend his life worrying about snakes.'

  Smudge had his own workshop, which was much better organized than Bubba's and equipped with only the essentials. He had the expected table, power miter, radial-arm and band saws, a thickness planer, wood lathe, workbench and shop vacuum. Smudge wasn't fond of snakes, either, but he used common sense.

  The weather had been unseasonably warm. Water moccasins might be stirring in the Dismal Swamp, meaning Smudge had no intention of hunting coons down there. Southampton County would be better, although probably not for Bubba. Smudge was at his workbench Super-Gluing a real rattlesnake rattle to the tail of a long rubber snake. He snagged the snake with a simple eagle-claw hook threaded with twenty feet of monofilament.

  chapter twenty-one

  Smudge loaded the portable dog pen on the back of his coon-hunting fully loaded VI0 Dodge Ram.

  'Get in, Tree Buster,' Smudge commanded.

  The open-spotted male coon hound jumped eagerly into the truck and got inside his pen. Tree Buster was born to tree coons and that's all he lived to do, that and eat. Tree Buster was a Grand Show Champ. He had a horn bawl with a lot of volume, which was the best voice a coon dog could have, unless one was hunting in the mountains, and then a higher pitch would carry better.

  Smudge was proud of Tree Buster and fed him Sexton dry food ordered out of Kentucky. Tree Buster had tight cat feet, strong legs and good muscles, his ears reached the end of his nose, his bite was good and he could carry his tail up like a saber. This was not quite the quality of hound Smudge had encouraged Bubba to order from an ad in American Cooner.

  Bubba was certain he'd gotten a great deal. The dog was already broken in and was sired by Thunder Clap, who had placed high in a number of world hunts. Bubba had bought the dog for three thousand dollars sight unseen, not knowing she'd been raised tracking coyotes, deer, bear, bobcats. She was especially good at sniffing out armadillo, or possum on the half shell as the good ole boys called them, thus explaining the dog's name.

  Bubba parked his Cherokee in Smudge's driveway. Bubba slid his portable dog pen out the back and loaded it into Smudge's truck. Half Shell stopped bawling. Her tail was wagging furiously.

  'Kennel up,' Bubba told his dog.

  Bubba tossed in his knee-high waders, headlamp, flashlight, gloves and oilcloth Barbour coat, a portable phone, a compass, a Bucktool and a lock-blade Spyderco knife. He set his knapsack on the floor in front of his seat. It was packed with many things, including Cheez Whiz sandwiches, Kool-Aid, his Colt Anaconda and tricks.

  'Looks like you packed for a snowstorm,' Smudge commented as he backed out of the driveway.

  'Never know what the weather might do this time of year,' Bubba replied.

  'It's pretty warm, Bubba. I don't know about the Dismal Swamp. Snakes might be squirming.'

  Bubba acted as if he didn't care while the hair stood up all over his body.

  'We can talk about it at Loraine's,' Bubba said.

  They drove through peanut country, mulch plants and bleak stretches of newly plowed farmland. Nothing much had changed in Wakefield over the years, except for the new National Weather Service WSR-88-D Doppler radar installation. It looked like a huge high-tech water tower and had stirred up superstitions among neighbors who didn't particularly want the thing even close to their yards.

  Bubba, for one, always got an eerie feeling when the radar dome appeared over the tops of trees. Sure, he had no doubt that it was used to track towering storm clouds, wind direction and provide county-level coverage of tornado threats. But he also believed there was more to it than that. Aliens were involved. Perhaps they used the radar installations to communicate to the mother ship, in whatever wrinkle of time or plane of reality that might be. After all, the aliens had been sent here by someone. They needed a way to call home.

  There had been a time when Bubba might have confided such a theory with Smudge, but no more. He glanced at his good buddy and felt resentment. When they passed the Shrine of the Infant Jesus in Prague church, Bubba did not feel like turning the other cheek. When they cruised by Purviance Funeral Home, Bubba experienced dark feelings about Smudge's longevity. When they entered Southampton County, where buzzards on the road were looking for snacks, Bubba thought about how Smudge had picked Bubba's bones clean ever since they'd been friends in church.

  Just beyond wetlands, Loraine's Restaurant offered Fast, Friendly Service, a neon sign out front advertising FR ED SHR P OYST & CRA LE S $13.25 with a blinking arrow pointing to the small cream building with red trim. The parking lot was an old truck stop with piles of gravel, and islands where there used to be gas and diesel pumps. A Norfolk-Southern train rumbled behind the building as Bubba and Smudge parked
and walked past front windows hung with Smithfield hams.

  Loraine's was a favorite hangout for coon hunters, although not as busy in chasing season as it was in killing season, which was fine with Myrtle, the cashier. She supposed she could understand killing coons years back when pelts were going for twenty dollars apiece. But no one bothered once the price dropped to eight dollars. Whatever the boys shot usually stayed in the woods.

  Myrtle was always happy to see Smudge and Bubba. They hunted for the joy of putting their dogs through their paces, it seemed. They only killed coons when it was important to rev up the dogs again, make them believe if they treed a coon, maybe they'd get to kill it. Myrtle couldn't count all the times coon hunters came into the restaurant dressed in Delta Wings camouflage covered with blood. The guys smoked and chewed. They ordered lots of hot coffee and All-U-Can-Eat fried oysters and shrimp, Captain's Platters and meat loaf.

  Tables were plastic-covered and designated with bingo numbers. Bubba and Smudge chose B4, with its cheery message, 'Come Back Real Soon.' Bubba started digging in the little wicker basket of A-l, Worcestershire, sugar, Tabasco, and packets of jellies to see if there were any captain's wafers hiding in there. A ceiling fan turned slowly. Smudge and Bubba looked at the specials on the board, next to a sign that read 'We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.'

  'Let's put it all out on the table, Bubba,' Smudge said, taking off his Ducks Unlimited cap. 'How much?'

  'How much you want?' Bubba tried to sound macho and confident, but inside he was Jell-O.

  'Five hundred,' Smudge said, studying Bubba carefully to see his reaction.

  'I'll raise it to a thousand,' Bubba said as his gut turned to ice.

  'You on the map, good buddy? Or just mud flapping.'

  'I got it in my pocket,' Bubba said.

  Smudge shook his head. 'That old hound of yours has treed a chicken on top of a chicken pen and a goat on top of a stump. Closest it got to a coon was treeing one on top of a telephone pole. She won't go across water, just barks at it when she's not hanging around your feet. Half Shell ain't worth the lead to shoot her, Bubba.'

 
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