Southern cross, p.2
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       Southern Cross, p.2

           Patricia Cornwell
 

  In fact, it was Smudge who Bubba had been talking to on the portable phone moments earlier when two other voices broke in. Bubba hadn't been able to make out what the two women were saying, but the name 'Chief

  Hammer' had been unmistakable. He knew it meant something.

  Bubba had been raised in a Presbyterian atmosphere of predestination, God's will, inclusive language, exegesis and colorful stoles. He had rebelled. In college he had studied Far Eastern religions to spite his father, but none of Bubba's acting out had eradicated the essence of his early indoctrination. Bubba believed there was purpose. Despite all setbacks and personal flaws, he had faith that if he accumulated enough good karma, or perhaps if yin and yang ever got along, he would discover the reason for his existence.

  So when he heard Chief Hammer's name over the cell phone, he experienced a sudden release of gloominess and menacing persecution, a buoyant happiness and surge of power. He was transformed into the warrior on a mission he had always been destined to become as he followed Midlothian Turnpike to Muskrat's Auto Rescue, this time for another windshield leak. Bubba snapped up the mike of his two-way Kenwood radio and switched over to the security channel.

  'Unit 1 to Unit 2.' He tried to raise Honey, his wife, as he followed the four-lane artery of Southside out of Chesterfield County and into the city limits.

  No answer. Bubba's eyes scanned his mirrors. A Richmond police cruiser pulled in behind him. Bubba slowed down.

  'Unit 1 to Unit 2,' Bubba tried again.

  No answer. Some shithead kid in a white Ford Explorer was trying to cut in front of Bubba. Bubba sped up.

  'Unit 1 to Unit 2!' Bubba hated it when his wife didn't respond to him immediately.

  The cop remained on Bubba's tail, dark Oakleys staring straight into Bubba's rearview mirror. Bubba slowed again. The punk in the Explorer tried to ease in front of Bubba, right turn signal flashing. Bubba sped up. He deliberated over what form of communication to use next, and picked up his portable phone. He changed his mind. He thought about trying his wife again on the two-way and decided not to bother. She should have gotten back to him the first and second times. The hell with her. He snapped up the mike to his CB, eyeing the cop in his mirrors and keeping a check on the Explorer.

  'Yo, Smudge,' Bubba hailed his buddy over the CB. 'You on track come back to yack.'

  'Unit 2,' his wife's out-of-breath voice came over the two-way.

  Bubba's portable phone rang.

  'Sorry ... oh my ..." Honey said sweetly as she gasped. 'I was ... oh dear ... let me catch my breath . . . whew . . . was chasing Half Shell. . . she wouldn't come . . . That dog.'

  Bubba ignored her. He answered the phone.

  'Bubba?' said Gig Dan, Bubba's supervisor at Philip Morris.

  Trackin' and yackin', buddy,' Smudge came back over the CB.

  'Unit 2 to Unit 1?' Honey persisted anxiously over the two-way.

  'Yo, Gig,' Bubba said into the portable phone. 'What's goin' on?'

  'Need ya to come in and work the second half of second shift,' Gig told him. 'Tiller called in sick.'

  Shit, Bubba thought. Today of all days when there was so much to do and so little time. It depressed the hell out of him to think about showing up at eight o'clock tonight and working twelve straight hours.

  'Ten-4,' Bubba replied to Gig.

  'When you wanna shine on yellow eyes?' Smudge hadn't given up.

  Bubba didn't really like coon hunting all that much. His coon dog Half Shell had her problems, and Bubba worried about snakes. Besides, Smudge always got a higher score. It seemed all Bubba did was lose money to him.

  'Before slithers wake up, I guess.' Bubba tried to sound sure of himself. 'So go ahead and shake out a plan.'

  'Ten-fo, good buddy,' Smudge came back. 'Gotcha covered like a blanket.'

  chapter two

  Smoke was a special needs child. This had become apparent in the second grade when he had stolen his teacher's wallet, punched a female classmate, carried a revolver to school, set several cats on fire and smashed up the principal's station wagon with a pipe.

  Since those early misguided days in his hometown of Durham, North Carolina, Smoke had been written up fifty-two times for assault, cheating, plagiarism, extortion, harassment, gambling, truancy, dishonesty, larceny, disruptive dress, indecent literature and bus misconduct.

  He had been arrested six times for crimes ranging from sexual assault to murder, and had been on probation, on supervised probation with special conditions, in an Alternative to Detention Program, in detention, in a wilderness camp therapeutic program, in a community guidance clinic where he received psychological evaluation and in an anger-coping group.

  Unlike most juveniles who are delinquent, Smoke had parents who showed up for all of his court appearances. They visited him in detention. They paid for attorneys and dismissed one right after the other when Smoke complained and found fault. Smoke's parents enrolled him in four different private schools and blamed each one when it didn't work out.

  It was clear to Smoke's father, a hardworking banker, that his son was unusually bright and misunderstood. Smoke's mother was devoted to Smoke and always took his side. She never believed he was guilty. Both parents believed their son had been set up because the police were corrupt, didn't like Smoke and needed to clear cases. Both parents wrote scathing letters to the district attorney, the mayor, the attorney general, the governor and a U.S. senator when Smoke was finally locked up in C. A. Dillon Training School in Butner.

  Of course, Smoke didn't stay there long because when he turned sixteen, he was no longer a minor according to North Carolina law and was released. His juvenile record was expunged. His fingerprints and mug shots were destroyed. He had no past. His parents thought it wise to relocate to a city where the police, whose memories were not expunged, would not know Smoke or harass him any more. So it was that Smoke moved to Richmond, Virginia, where this morning he was feeling especially mean-spirited and in a mood to cause trouble.

  'We got twenty minutes,' he said to Divinity.

  She was leaning against him as he drove the Ford Escort his father had bought him when Smoke had gotten his Virginia driver's license. Divinity started kissing Smoke's jaw and rubbing her hand between his legs to see if anybody was home.

  'We got all the time you want, baby,' she breathed in his ear. Tuck school. Fuck that little kid you pick up.'

  'We got a plan, remember?' Smoke said.

  He was in running shoes, loose-fitting sweats, a bandanna around his head, tinted glasses on. He wound his way through streets within a block of the Crestar Bank on Patterson Avenue, in the city's West End, and spotted a small brick house on Kensington where there was no car or newspaper -- no one home, it seemed. He pulled into the driveway.

  'Anybody answers, we're trying to find Community High School,' Smoke reminded her.

  'Lost in space, baby,' Divinity said, getting out.

  She rang the doorbell twice and was met with silence. Smoke got into the passenger's seat and Divinity drove him back to Crestar Bank. The sky was pale and clear, and traffic was picking up as people began a new work week and realized they needed cash for parking and lunch. The bank's ATM wasn't doing any business at the moment, and that was good. Smoke climbed out of the car.

  'You know what to do,' he said to Divinity.

  He walked toward the bank as she drove off. He went around to the drive-thru where he could not be seen. It wasn't long before a young man in a Honda Civic hatchback parked in front of the ATM. Smoke came out from behind the bank, taking his time. The young man was busy making his transaction and didn't notice Smoke's angled approach out of range of the camera.

  Smoke was so swift his victims were always too shocked to move. He slapped duct tape over the camera lens and the man's eyes. Smoke jabbed the barrel of his Glock pistol into the small of the man's back.

  'Don't move,' Smoke said quietly.

  The man didn't.

  'Hand the money behind you real slow.'


  The man did. Smoke looked around. Another car was pulling off Patterson, heading to the ATM. Smoke snatched the duct tape off the camera lens and ran behind the bank. He started jogging, turning on Libbie Avenue, then Kensington. He slowed to a walk in the driveway of the small brick house where Divinity was waiting in the Escort.

  'How much you get, baby?' she asked as Smoke casually climbed in.

  'Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, a hundred,' he counted. 'Let's get the fuck outta here.'

  Judy Hammer couldn't believe it. This had to be one of the most bizarre things that had ever happened to her. Two white supremacists named Bubba and Smudge were going to murder a black woman named Loraine. She lived near some sort of old pumps where the killers would park and wait with engines and headlights off. Money was involved, perhaps several hundred dollars. Hammer paced, Popeye anxiously at her heels. The phone rang. 'Chief Hammer?' It was West.

  'Virginia. What the hell was that?' Hammer asked. 'Any way we can trace it?'

  'No,' West's voice returned. 'I don't see how.'

  'I'm assuming we both heard the same thing.'

  I'm still on a cell phone,' West warned. 'Don't think I should go into it. But it sounds like something we'd better take very seriously.'

  'I completely agree. We'll talk about it after the presentation. Thanks, Virginia.' Hammer was about to hang up.

  'Chief? What were you calling me about when I was on the track?' West quickly reminded her.

  'Oh. That's right.'

  Hammer searched her thoughts, trying to bring up what she was calling West about when the rednecks broke into their conversation. She paced, Popeye with her every step.

  'Oh, I remember. We're already getting responses to our new website,' Hammer said, pleased. 'Since Andy's op-ed piece.'

  'That worries me,' West replied. 'I think we should have done a little troubleshooting, Chief.'

  'It will all be fine.'

  'What are they saying?'

  'Complaining,' Hammer replied.

  'I'm shocked.'

  'Don't be cynical, Virginia.'

  'Any reaction to what he said about escalating juvenile crime? And Richmond's gang mentality about not having gangs, or however he put it? About the country's desperate need for radical juvenile justice reform?'

  It was not lost on Hammer that whenever West talked about Brazil, West's attitude was sharp to bump up against. Hammer knew when West was hurt. Hammer recognized a sadness in Brazil as well, a light not quite so bright in his eyes, a sluggishness in the creative energy that so profoundly singled him out. Hammer wished the two of them would get along again.

  'The phones started ringing off the hook about that the minute the newspapers hit the driveways,' Hammer replied. 'We're shaking people up. And that's exactly what we're here to do.'

  Hammer got off the phone. She retrieved Brazil's op-ed piece from the coffee table and glanced through it again.

  . . . This past week our city's children committed at least seventeen cold-blooded felonies, including rape, armed robbery and malicious wounding. In eleven of these violent, seemingly random acts, the child hadn't even turned fifteen yet. Where do children learn to hate and harm? Not just from the movies and video games, but from each other. We do have a gang problem, and let's face it, kids who commit adult crimes aren't kids anymore . . .

  'I expect my popularity just took another dip,' Hammer said to Popeye. 'You need a bath. A little of that good cream rinse?'

  Popeye's black-and-white coat was handsomely reminiscent of a tuxedo, but her fur was very short, her freckled, pink skin very sensitive and prone to get dry and irritated.

  Popeye loved it when every few weeks her owner would put her in a sink of warm water and lather her up with Nusalt antiseborrheic therapeutic shampoo, followed by the Relief antipruritic oatmeal and pramoxine cream rinse that her owner kneaded into Popeye's fur for exactly seven minutes, as the directions prescribed. Popeye loved her owner. Popeye stood on her hind legs and nuzzled her owner's knee.

  'But a bath will have to wait, I guess, or I'll be late.' Her owner sighed and got down to Popeye's level. 'I shouldn't even have brought it up, should I?'

  Popeye licked her owner's face and felt pity. Popeye knew, her owner was denying the grief and the guilt she felt about her late husband's sudden death. Not that Popeye had known Seth, but she had overheard conversations about him and had seen photographs. Popeye could not imagine her owner being married to a lazy, independently wealthy, fat, whiny slob who did nothing but eat, work in his garden and watch television.

  Popeye was glad Seth wasn't around. Popeye adored her owner. Popeye wished there was more she could do to comfort this heroic, kind lady who had saved Popeye from being an orphan or being adopted by some unhappy family with cruel children.

  'All right.' Her owner got up. 'I've got to get going.'

  Hammer showered quickly. She threw a robe around her and stood inside her cedar-lined closet, deliberating over what to wear. Hammer understood the subliminal power of clothing, cars, office decor, jewelry and what she ate at business lunches and dinners. Some days required pearls and skirts, other days called for unfriendly suits. Colors, styles, fabrics, collars or no collars, patterns or plain, pockets or pleats, watches, earrings and perfumes and fish or chicken all mattered.

  She shoved hangers here and there, deliberating, envisioning, intuiting and finally settling on a navy blue suit with trousers that had pockets and cuffs. She selected low-heel lace-up black leather shoes and matching belt, and a blue and white striped cotton shirt with French cuffs. She dug through her jewelry box for simple gold post earrings and her stainless steel Breitling watch.

  She picked out a pair of gold and lapis cufflinks that had belonged to Seth. She fumbled with them as she put them on and remembered those times when Seth followed her around the house like Popeye, unable to manage buttons, lapels, matching socks or combinations, on those rare occasions when Seth dressed up.

  It would have made sense to divide her late husband's jewelry, leather briefcases, wallets and other things male between their sons, but Hammer held on. When she wore something of Seth's, she had the eerie feeling that he wanted her to be the man he never was. He wanted her to be strong. Maybe he wanted to help her because now he could. Seth had always had a good heart. But he had spent his life at war with his compulsions and privileged past, spreading misery like the flu. He had left Hammer wealthy, relieved, pained, pissed off and as burdened with anxieties as he had been with his weight.

  'Popeye, come here,' Hammer called out.

  Popeye was lazy in a bar of sunlight on the kitchen floor. She had no intention of changing venues.

  'Let's get in our crate, Popeye.'

  Popeye regarded her owner through slitted eyes. She yawned and thought it silly that her owner always used the we word, as if Popeye wasn't smart enough to see through it. Popeye knew her owner had no intention of climbing inside that little plastic crate with Popeye any more than her owner was going to eat a heartworm pill or get a shot at the vet when the we word was used about those, either.

  'Popeye.' Her owner's tone firmed up. 'I'm in a hurry. Come on. In the crate. Here's your squirrel.'

  She tossed Popeye's favorite stuffed squirrel inside the crate. Popeye couldn't care less.

  'All right. Here's your fuzzle.'

  She tossed in the filthy lambs' wool chick that Popeye had chewed the eyes off and routinely flung into the toilet. Popeye was indifferent. Her owner walked with purpose across the kitchen and picked up Popeye. Popeye went into her Salvador Dali limply-drape-over-everything-and-play-possum manifestation. Her owner tucked Popeye into the crate and fastened shut the wire grate door.

  'We need to behave better than this,' her owner said, feeding Popeye several little pieces of lung treats. 'I'll be back real soon.'

  Hammer set the burglar alarm and went out to her unmarked midnight-blue Crown Victoria. She drove down East Grace, passing the back of St. John's Church and turning on 25th w
here Tobacco Row was now upscale apartments and Pohlig Bros still manufactured 'paper boxes of every design.' A graffiti artist had spray-painted 'Meat is Murder' and 'Eat corn' and 'Anita Hill started it' on an abandoned tobacco warehouse, and rusting fire escapes and dead vines held on to old brick shells. One could get a bargain on used tires at Cowboy Tire, and Strickland Foundry and Machine Company had refused to quit.

  On the other side of Broad Street, past the coliseum, was the police department where Hammer now spent her days in an ugly precast building with a blue mosaic trim missing many of its tiles. The Richmond Police Department was dim and too small, with windowless corridors, asbestos and the stale smell of dirty people and dirty deeds.

  She said good morning to cops she passed, and out of fear they returned her greeting. Hammer understood the trauma of change. She understood a distrust of any influence that came from the outside, especially if its sanction was federal. Resentment and hostility were nothing new, but never had she experienced it quite like this.

  At precisely seven o'clock, she walked into the conference room. It was crowded with some thirty unenthusiastic commanders, captains, detectives and officers who followed her with stares. Computer mapping of the city projected onto a large screen showed statistics for murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft, or the big seven, during the most recent twenty-eight-day COMSTAT period and also year-to-date. Charts showed time frames and probability and days of the week when crimes occurred, and in what precincts and during what shifts.

  Hammer took her seat at the head of the table between West and Brazil.

  'Another ATM,' West said in a low voice in Hammer's ear.

  Hammer looked sharply at her.

  'We just got the call, are still at the scene.'

  'Damn,' Hammer said as anger stirred. 'I want the details ASAP.'

  West got up and left the room. Hammer looked around the table.

  'Nice to see all of you here,' she began. 'We've got a lot to discuss this morning.' She didn't waste time as she looked around and smiled. 'We'll start with first precinct. Major Hanger? I know it's early.'

 
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