Southern cross, p.23
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       Southern Cross, p.23
 

           Patricia Cornwell

  'Okay,' Miss Sink whimpered.

  She pressed her face against the steering wheel. She squeezed her eyes shut and tightly covered them with her hands. She didn't move. She barely breathed. Annie Lennox was stepping on broken glass on the radio as Smoke dug through the glove box and the kid screamed. Smoke emptied the purse on the floor mat and helped himself to a pack of spearmint Freedent gum, fingernail clippers and a prescription bottle of Atavan.

  'Thanks, Miss Sink,' he said. 'Grow up to be a good girl, Loraine. Y'all don't forget me, promise?' He laughed.

  He popped a stick of Freedent into his mouth and scanned the area. No one was around.

  'You know what I look like, bitch?' he said. 'I mean, you gonna recognize me on the street?'

  'No. No. I didn't see you! Please,' Miss Sink begged.

  'What 'bout that ugly little motherfucker of yours in her little seat back there. She know what I look like?' 'No! She's just a baby! You don't want to hurt us!' Miss Sink was shaking as if she was having a seizure. 'Let me think about this. What's a guy to do?' Smoke smacked his gum. He pulled back the slide of his Glock and it snapped forward with a loud clack. He felt the power. Smoke was high and hard with it as he pumped three Winchester hollowpoints into the back of Miss Sink's head.

  chapter twenty-six

  Brazil stood with his hands in his pockets, impatiently staring out at sloped, loamy land sutured by railroad tracks and tangled with brambles and trees. Steam billowed from the Fort James Paper Company, and the river was soft music played with fingers of wind and bright notes of sun.

  The portable radio on Brazil's belt was a staccato of dispatchers and cops cutting in and out in spurts and codes. Nothing was going on. A handicap van was abandoned on a roadside, traffic was tied up because a light wouldn't flash, a driver had been stopped at a Kmart.

  Unit numbers and military time peppered the air, but Passman and Rhoad were strangely silent. Passman dispatched no calls. Rhoad answered no one. Brazil was furious. He was certain the cops were messing with him.

  'Eleven,' Brazil tried again.

  'Go ahead, 11,' answered a communications officer whose name Brazil did not know.

  'Radio, I'm still at the cemetery,' Brazil said, trying to keep the anger out of his voice. 'Need someone to 10-25 me right away.'

  'That's Hollywood.'

  'Ten-4.'

  'Any unit in the area of Hollywood Cemetery, need someone to 10-25 unit 11 there.'

  'Unit 199-'

  'Go ahead, 199.'

  'Just two blocks away, I'll swing by the cemetery, 10-25 11.'

  Ten-5, 199, 0812 hours.'

  Brazil turned away from the river as he heard a rustle. He caught a flash of red on the other side of the cemetery fence where Spring and South Cherry streets intersected. The chain link was dense with ivy. Through it Brazil could just make out the back of the large metal sign advertising Victory Rug Cleaning, an arrow pointing to the business a block away. He turned off his radio and didn't move.

  The fence began to shake as someone gripped the edge of the sign and hoisted himself up. Brazil was hidden by the thick shadows of holly trees as he watched Weed reach for a tree branch and pull himself up with ease, swing over the fence and drop branch by branch to the ground. Brazil took cover behind a monument.

  'Come on, it's easy,' Weed said to someone on the other side.

  The fence shook harder. Brazil was baffled when a scraggly, bearded face was followed by a filthy, raggedly dressed body missing part of a hand and an entire foot. The street person grabbed a branch, got snagged a couple times, but somehow made it over.

  'Can't believe I did that,' the street person said. 'Haven't done anything that agile in years.'

  He looked around at the mute stony tongues of the dead speaking from the grass, as if searching for something.

  'Shit,' he said. 'It ain't all too promising so far unless I plan on a steady diet of flowers.'

  Weed nervously wiped sweat off his face with the tail of his extra-extra-large Bulls jersey and rubbed his hands on his relaxed-leg jeans.

  'Go on," the street person said to Weed. 'I'll scrounge around and catch you later.'

  Weed trotted off in untied Nikes as if he knew exactly where he was going. Brazil ducked behind more monuments, boxwoods and trees as he tailed Weed and kept an eye on the street person Weed had brought with him.

  Weed jogged past the Presidents Circle and the graves of Jeb Stuart and John Tyler, on to Jeter Avenue and Bellvue, directly to Davis Circle where the vandalized statue of the first and last president of the Confederacy was still dressed for the game, lumpy basketball in hand. Weed stood in front of it and stared in reverence. Every now and then he cast about, his furtive gaze sweeping over the marble sarcophagus where Brazil this moment was hiding.

  A swarm of histamines rushed forth to combat the dust mites storming into Bubba's sinuses and lungs as he probed with a flashlight on the floor of his Jeep. He began to sneeze. His throat and eyes itched and his nose started to run.

  'Goddamn!' he said.

  The Anaconda's Holo sight was hung on the position spring wire running from one seat to the other. The exposed CB antenna wires Bubba had installed himself and covered with a mat and his work rag were snagged on the trigger.

  Smudge's voice came over the CB because Bubba had not been able to stand the silence and had turned radios and the phone back on. Smudge must be feeling better, Bubba thought snidely. Bubba had nothing to say.

  'Shit!' Bubba cried when he bumped his funny bone on the door handle and numbness shot up his arm.

  He sneezed three more times as he carefully groped under the seat, the engine running.

  'Smudge to Bubba. You stealthing on me, good buddy? Called Queen Bee, says you're no show.'

  Bubba's eyes were on fire and streaming. He couldn't breathe out of his nose. The stick shift kept grabbing his shirt. Smudge wouldn't shut up and Bubba's portable phone rang. He answered no one. He laid his head against old carpet, straining to see what was required to free his Colt revolver with its eight-inch barrel. He sneezed so hard his nose began to bleed.

  Something hard tapped loudly and with authority on his driver's window, startling Bubba. He jumped and yelled and his shoulder banged the gear shift and knocked the Jeep into reverse. Bubba jammed down the brake with his right hand. He shoved the Jeep back into park and crawled up into his seat, in pain and gasping for breath. He was dazed when Officer Budget jerked open the door.

  'You almost ran me over, you son of a bitch!' Budget's eyes were wild, his pistol pulled. 'Get out with your hands up. Now!'

  'What did I do?' Bubba cried, mopping his face with his sleeve and sneezing.

  'Get out!'

  Bubba did. He was dazzled by sunlight. He was bloody and congested and filthy.

  'Legs spread, hands against the car!' Budget meant it.

  He frisked Bubba, finding nothing useful.

  'What were you doing hiding on the floor?' Budget demanded as he bolstered his pistol.

  'Nothing,' Bubba lied.

  'Bullshit!'

  'Queen Bee's gonna sting your butt,' Smudge was back. 'Buzz is you ain't touched down since we faced last. Where you truckin', buddy?'

  'You mind if I tell him I can't talk right now?' Bubba asked Budget.

  'Don't you move!'

  Budget peered through the window at a mat bunched on the floor. Bubba could tell by his reaction that he saw the revolver protruding from under the seat. Bubba froze, despair and terror rocking him like an earthquake while he watched, as if in slow motion, Budget snatch handcuffs off the back of his belt and snap them hard on Bubba's wrists and tensely radio for a backup unit and a detective.

  Weed wiped his eyes on the sleeve on the back of his hand and was glad no one was around to see him cry. He never got weak like that, not even when his daddy smacked him or when Smoke was mean.

  Weed didn't feel anything when people forgot his birthday or other kids ignored him and didn't invite him to parties o
r when basketball started up and he didn't get to go anymore. The last time Weed Gardener remembered crying hard out of sadness was in August when Twister was jogging and got hit by a car that kept on going.

  So why Weed was crying that way now made no sense to him, unless it was being alone in a graveyard and reminded of Twister, who was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery on the north side of the city. It was Twister who had always encouraged Weed's art, laughing and making a big fuss over Weed's wild designs and cartoons, because Brazil didn't hear the call because his radio was still turned off, and Weed was staring at the statue, as if in a trance. Brazil's legs were cramping. His expandable tactical baton and Mag-Lite were digging into his ribs. He was sweltering in his Progressive Technologies body armor, and his knees had seen too many years of hard tennis to take squatting or kneeling for very long.

  He was about to make his move when Weed touched the statue. He traced the number on the uniform. He hung his head, his narrow shoulders shaking as he sobbed quietly.

  Twister was famous and made good grades, but he couldn't draw. He couldn't match colors when he fixed up his dorm room or got dressed.

  He used to tell Weed all the time that Weed was a fucking genius. Those were his exact words. Weed wanted Twister to admire what Weed had done to the statue. He wanted Twister to be flattered. He wanted Twister to beat up Smoke or maybe even kill him so Weed wouldn't have to hide anymore, so he could go back to art class and practice with the band.

  Tears streamed down Weed's face and he swallowed hard as he remembered TV people and the newspapers calling Twister a tornado on the basketball court. Twister was tall like a tree, good-looking, and girls taped posters of him up in their bedrooms. He could have been a model or a movie star if he wanted.

  He and Twister had no one but each other, and Twister used to take Weed swimming in the quarry, and to Regency Mall, and to Bullets for burgers and of course to the games, where he sat right behind Twister, who now and then turned around to wink at him in front of all those thousands of people. Weed missed Twister so much, he refused to believe Twister was gone for good.

  'You lookin'?' Weed sobbed as he talked to his dead big brother. 'See what I done? I worked real hard all alone in the dark. How come you ain't here, Twister?'

  A loud voice suddenly sounded behind him, and Weed almost came out of his shoes and screamed, his eyes huge.

  'Don't move!' Officer Brazil exclaimed.

  Brazil was standing so close he could tackle Weed.

  'What, what, what?' Weed stammered.

  'What are you doing here?' Brazil demanded in that tone cops use to remind people that the law rules.

  'Looking,' Weed said. 'Nothing wrong with looking,' he added, hoping it was true.

  'Looking at what?'

  'The paint job. I heard about it,' Weed said. 'So I came to look.'

  'Who were you talking to?'

  'I wasn't talking.'

  'I heard you,' Brazil said.

  Weed had to revise. It took him a minute.

  'I was praying to Jesus,' he said.

  'About what?'

  Brazil was trying to be mean, but Weed didn't think he really was.

  'About all these dead people,' Weed said.

  'How did you get here. You walk?'

  Weed nodded.

  'Nobody gave you a ride? You're by yourself?'

  Weed shook his head.

  'No to which?'

  'Being here by myself,' Weed answered.

  'Meaning you are here by yourself or you're not?'

  'Yeah.'

  'Yeah?' Brazil had to get it straight. 'You're here by yourself?'

  Weed nodded.

  'And you got in by climbing over the fence.'

  'Huh?'

  'I saw you. You grabbed the Victory Rug Cleaning sign and climbed over.'

  'Why you think they advertise on a cement-tary fence? Who they think gonna get their rugs done? Dead people?' Weed tried to divert the conversation.

  'Why did you climb over the fence?' Brazil asked him.

  'It was quicker.' Weed was trying to act cool but his heart was attacking him.

  'Why aren't you in school?'

  'It's a holiday.'

  'Oh really?' Brazil asked. 'Which one?'

  'Can't remember.'

  'I'm pretty sure today isn't a holiday,' Brazil said.

  'Then how come there's no school?' Weed said.

  Brazil didn't find Weed threatening in the least, but Brazil looked him over to make sure he wasn't carrying anything Brazil ought to know about.

  'Then what are you doing way over here?' Brazil asked.

  Brazil stepped closer to the statue to get a better look at Magic Jeff. He couldn't help but smile.

  'I think it was one of those teacher work days,' Weed offered lamely. 'All I know is it was something, you know, something they was doing and we didn't have to go. And my mama had to go to work. So I'm just hanging, you know?'

  'It would only take me a minute to find out whether you're telling me the truth,' said Brazil, who was distracted and upset that West had left him and hadn't shown up yet. 'What I ought to do is haul your tiny butt back to Godwin and let them deal with you. But guess what? All they'd do is suspend you and that would only keep you out of school longer, right? So that'd just give you what you want, right?'

  'I don't want to be out of school!' Weed fired back. 'I'd be there now if. . .'

  'I thought you said it was a holiday,' Brazil said.

  Weed was horrified that he'd just tripped over his lie and landed flat on his ass. There was no going back. His eyes danced around, looking for some place to run.

  'All right, Weed,' Brazil said. 'Let's get down to business.'

  'What kind of business?'

  'It's time for the truth,' Brazil said as Pigeon suddenly appeared, heading toward them, his gait listing and awkward.

  'For one thing, your last name isn't Jones, now is it?" said Brazil, who could not see Pigeon at his back.

  'No,' Weed said.

  'It's Gardener, and your brother was Twister.'

  Weed was speechless.

  'Weed, tell me what the five's for?'

  'Huh?'

  'The five tattooed on your finger. Let's try that story again and see if it comes out better this time.'

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

  'I told you before it don't mean nothing,' Weed said.

  'I know it does,' Brazil persisted. 'The Pikes. The gang taking credit for painting the statue, right?'

  Weed was beginning to shake, Pigeon right behind them. Brazil probably smelled him and suddenly spun around, hand on his gun.

  'Don't go shooting me, I ain't worth it,' Pigeon said calmly as he eyed the statue. 'Now that's special.'

  'Who are you?' Brazil asked Pigeon, relaxing his shooting hand a little.

  'Pigeon. I've seen you before,' Pigeon said. 'Usually with some hot-looking lady cop. Can't be on the street as much as I am and not see everybody eventually.'

  Pigeon studied the statue again. Weed wasn't sure, but he thought he saw admiration shining in Pigeon's eyes. For an instant, Weed felt joy.

  'So,' Brazil said, 'either one of you got any idea who painted this statue to look like Weed's brother?'

  Weed tensed.

  Pigeon waited.

  'Well,' Weed said in a tight voice, 'they was both eighteen. Maybe that's why somebody did it.'

  Pigeon squinted at the inscription on the statue's base.

  'What?' Brazil frowned.

  'It says right there.' Weed pointed. 'The man in the statue was eighteen just like Twister was.'

  'You need to recheck your math,' Pigeon said to Weed. 'Jeff Davis was eighty-one when he died.'

  'What'd he do anyway?' Weed asked.

  'Went to jail for a while,' Pigeon said. 'About two years, leg irons and the whole bit, as I recollect.'

  Weed stared at the statue and got a frightened expression on his face. He wondered if leg irons were like b
ig handcuffs and if he'd have to wear them, too. He didn't want to go to jail for two years. He tried to console himself by hoping Mr. Davis had done something worse than paint a statue.

  'What you do to him if you catch him?' Weed said.

  'Catch who?' Brazil asked.

  'The one who did the paint job.'

  'Can't say for sure. I'd have to talk to him first and find out why he did it,' Brazil replied thoughtfully. 'Whoever it is, your brother must be very special to him.'

  'Lock him up right this minute,' Pigeon was quick to volunteer. 'That's what I'd do with him.'

  'Naw,' Brazil replied. 'If all he did was paint this statue, what good would it do to lock him up? Better to get him to do something helpful to the community.'

  'Like what?' Weed asked.

  'Like cleaning up what he's done.'

  'You mean getting rid of it? Even if it's good?' Weed said.

  It didn't matter that his artwork wouldn't survive the first rain or spray of a hose. Weed couldn't stand the thought of cleaning it up himself. It would just kill him to wash Twister away.

  'Doesn't matter if it's good,' Brazil was saying.

  But it did to Weed, and he couldn't resist asking, 'You think it is?'

  'I sure as hell think so,' Pigeon said. 'I think the artist ought to open a gallery in goddamn New York.'

  'That's not the issue,' Brazil said to Pigeon. 'There's someone running around out there who's unusually gifted, I'll admit that. But this isn't the way to show it.'

  'What does gifted mean?' Weed said.

  'Special. Really good at something. You sure you don't know who might be doing this?' Brazil asked.

  Brazil knew. Weed could tell.

  'Come on, Weed, fess up,' Pigeon ratted on him. 'Remember what we talked about, huh? Remember the devil out there?'

  Weed ran like hell, his knapsack flapping on his back. Two paintbrushes flew out and landed on Varina Davis's grave.

  chapter twenty-seven

  At the Commonwealth Club, Hammer was losing her polish and becoming argumentative. She had not eaten breakfast and unwisely had washed down a Multi-Max 1 sustained release multivitamin, two Advils, two BuSpars and three tropical-fruit-flavored Turns calcium supplements with black coffee. Her stomach burned.

 
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