Southern cross, p.25
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       Southern Cross, p.25
 

           Patricia Cornwell

  She was energized by her conversation with Governor Fuhrer. How many people could ask to speak to the governor of Virginia and have him on the phone twenty-two minutes later? Not many, she told herself as she strained. Not many at all, and this time it had nothing to do with her husband's power and contributions.

  'All of us have our complexions,' she said to Lonnie as she struggled for breath. 'Our insecure hidden secret places that others can't see. Even I do. I've lost counting.' She huffed.

  'Sixteen.'

  'Seventeen, eighteen. Goodness, you're wearing me in!'

  'What complexes could you possibly have? How many women your age work out like you do and have their own gym? Not to mention a house like this.'

  The comment seared Ehrhart's ego and self-worth. She wanted him to say that no other woman on earth looked like her, that age and a wealthy husband had nothing to do with it. She wanted to hear him say she was divine, her face so beautiful it turned all mortals to stone, her body fatal to those who dared look at it. She wanted Lonnie to taste blood when his eyes wandered over her. She wanted him possessive, obsessive, jealous. She wanted him to feel a raging lust that kept him up all night.

  'I supposedly my most big complexion is worrying I don't have enough times for my husband,' she lied. Tilling his endlessly needs, which are unsatisfying. I suppose I worry anxiously my rule in state government carries with it such huge responsibles I often neglected family and many, many friends and don't have times for them. I worry anxiously about getting over muscled. I didn't want to be over developing.'

  Lonnie looked her up and down.

  'Oh, you shouldn't worry about that,' he reassured her. 'You don't have the kind of body that will get overbuilt, Mrs. Ehrhart.'

  'I suppose I'm much the soft, female typed,' she decided.

  'Next time we'll measure your body fat again.'

  'And then the children,' she went on with her complexes, which were multiplying the more Lonnie talked. 'Last night I was too busy and spend much too little times with thems individually, either one, because of my commission meeting I had to call to order and make it earlier. And I barely had times for that. And why?' She gave him a coquettish smile. 'To be here with you an hour earlier than before the usual.'

  'I admire your dedication,' Lonnie said, glancing at his watch and setting the clipboard on a weight bench. 'That's what it takes. No pain, no gain.'

  'Don't crowns your teeths!' she told him with feeling. 'And don't you dare tell Bull I lost away his business.' She winked at Lonnie. 'When next?'

  'Abs,' Lonnie said. 'And then we're almost done.'

  'I can't tell if I see any progression.' She placed her hands on her abdomen and looked in the mirror. 'All that misery for a thing more. I hate abs so much more intensively than others.'

  He studied her rectus abdominus and lliopsoas, sweat staining his gray MetRex tank top and buffing his skin.

  'Why bother it?' she went on.

  'You forget where you were when you started,' he said. 'You don't see how much you've improved because you look at yourself every day. Your abs are definitely better, Mrs. Ehrhart."

  'I am very doubting. You look.'

  She took his reluctant hands and placed them on her abdomen.

  'Well?'

  He had no response.

  'Maybe when you get to be my older age at this stage of life, it's hopeless and can't be changed. Nature is just won't collaborating and do what you want it to do.'

  Lonnie didn't move. She slid his hands up a little.

  'You're in great shape,' he exaggerated.

  'Bull's out crowning every tooths in North of America,' Ehrhart answered, sliding his hands up more. 'You know why he nicked his name Bull? It's not because of the general he thinks he's relations with, Lonnie.'

  'I thought maybe it had to do with the stock market.'

  'The reason is because of . .

  'I've really got to go, Mrs. Ehrhart.'

  She pressed his large, strong hands against her, finally cupping them over her very small breasts.

  'What's the oldest older woman you once ever had before?' she whispered.

  'I guess my eighth-grade teacher,' he said.

  'What was that have been?'

  'When I was in the eighth grade.'

  'My, you must have been bigger for your age then.'

  'Mrs. Ehrhart, I've gotta go so I'm not late for my appointment. Your husband's really hard to schedule. Well, I guess I wouldn't get in at all if it wasn't for you.'

  Lelia Ehrhart removed his hands. She angrily grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her neck.

  'So what's the next place where we go from here?' she demanded as all her phobias and insecurities roared at her.

  'You haven't done squats,' he said.

  chapter twenty-nine

  Governor Feuer neatly folded the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today and the Richmond paper. He stacked them on the black carpet and stared out the tinted window at pedestrians staring at him.

  Everyone knew that a black stretch limousine with 1 on the license plate was not Jimmy Dean or Ralph Sampson. It was not kids going to the prom.

  'Sir?' Jed said over the intercom. 'I'll just shoot over on Tenth, cut across Broad to avoid all that traffic, then wind around the courthouse onto Leigh and get on Belvidere. From there it's pretty much a straight shot into the cemetery.'

  'Ummmm.'

  'If that suits, sir,' added Jed, who was obsessive-compulsive and needy.

  'That's fine,' said the governor, who had worked his way up from attorney general to lieutenant governor to governor, and therefore had not navigated Richmond's streets alone for more than eight years, but rather had watched his travels throughout his beloved Commonwealth from a back seat through tinted glass, police escorts leading the way and protecting his rear.

  'I've got the package,' Jed said loudly in his two-way, secure radio. 'Going to be turning on Tenth.'

  'Gotcha covered,' the lead car came back.

  The altercation between Patty Passman and Officer Rhoad had gone beyond a squabble or fit of pique that might have been reasonably resolved, forgiven or perhaps forgotten.

  Cars were double-parked and parked on an angle and within fifteen feet of a fire hydrant and on the wrong side of the street and on the sidewalk along 10th. Drivers and pedestrians had gathered around a fight in progress as police cruisers with sirens screaming and lights flashing raced in from all directions.

  Passman had Rhoad on hold. He was running around in circles, screaming 'MAYDAY' into his portable radio while she twisted and squeezed.

  'God! God!' Rhoad shrieked as she doggedly followed his every move, on his heels, killing him. 'Let go! Please! Please! Ahhhhhhhhh! AHHHHHHHH!'

  The crowd was frenzied.

  'Go, girlfriend!'

  'Yank it hard!'

  'Get him!'

  'In the nuts! Hooo-a hooo-a hooo-a!'

  'Hey! Punch her! Man, fucking poke her eyes out!'

  'Yeah! Knock her nose to the back of her head so she can smell her ass!'

  'Pull that banana off the tree, girlfriend!'

  'Shift him into neutral, baby!'

  'Let go, fatso!'

  'Untie his balloon!'

  'Go, girl!'

  The crowd cheered on as a gleaming black stretch limousine and two unmarked black Caprices with multiple antennas floated across Broad Street. The convoy pulled off to the side of 10th Street, making way for two cruisers with flashing lights and screaming sirens. Other police cars were screeching in from Marshall and Leigh. A fire truck wailed and rumbled along Clay.

  Jed was desperate to jump out of the limousine and get involved. The cops must be after a fugitive, someone on the FBI's ten most wanted list, maybe a serial killer. Clearly, the fat lady was a psycho of some sort, and it was obvious that the uniformed officers could not restrain her.

  'What's going on?' Governor Feuer inquired over the intercom.

  'Some wacko woman, proba
bly high on PCP or crack. Wow, look at her go, like a damn pit bull! She's got half a dozen cops playing Ring Around the Rosie and falling on their butts!'

  The governor made his way to the other side of the black leather horseshoe-shaped seat that could comfortably accommodate six. He strained to see over the back of Jed's big head.

  Governor Feuer was startled by the obese woman flying after a tall, rather elderly skinny cop. A pair of handcuffs dangled off one of her wrists and her free hand was shoved up the poor fellow's crotch. She was twisting and crushing, cursing, kicking. She was whirling and swinging the loose handcuff like a numchaku, scattering arriving troops.

  'Wow!' Jed exclaimed.

  'How awful,' said the governor. 'How perfectly awful.'

  'We need to do something, sir!'

  Governor Feuer agreed, his anger rising. There was nothing funny about this. There was nothing entertaining about violence. He jerked open his car door. Before Jed or EPU police could stop him, the governor popped the trunk and snatched out a fire extinguisher.

  He ran into the melee and to the astonishment of all blasted Patty Passman with Halon 1301. Shocked, she released Rhoad. Cops tackled her to the ground. Four EPU police officers quickly escorted Governor Feuer back to his limousine.

  'Way to go, sir!' Jed was very proud of his commander-in-chief.

  The governor checked his black cashmere pinstripe suit for a Halon residue, but the miracle extinguisher left not a trace. He watched the cuffed, crazed woman as she was stuffed into the back of a patrol car. The poor officer was on his knees in the middle of the street, clutching himself and crying. The media was rolling in, advancing with television cameras and microphones like drawn swords. 'On to Hollywood,' Governor Feuer ordered. 'There's really not time, sir,' Jed suggested. 'There's never time,' the governor said, waving him on.

  Weed decided he had stayed long enough in the big hole with broken clay pipes in the bottom of it. Water was leaking from somewhere. A Bob Cat was parked nearby and lots of shovels and hoes were scattered on the ground.

  He had begun to worry that the hole was really a grave, even though it wasn't at all shaped like one. Maybe everybody was on an early lunch break or something. Maybe all of a sudden dirt would start falling in and Weed would be buried alive.

  He peeked out and didn't see a sign of Brazil or anyone else. He listened hard. Only birds were talking. He climbed out of the hole and made a dash for the cemetery fence. He climbed to the top of it as the Lemans slowly cruised into view. Dog, Beeper and Sick were looking for him so Smoke could shoot Weed and dump him in the river. Weed dropped back inside the cemetery and ran with no particular destination in mind, zigzagging around graves and leaping over monuments.

  Brazil too was running fast and could have continued his seven-minute-mile pace for hours, although boots would not have been his footwear of choice and his shins were beginning to hurt. The more frustrated he got, the faster he ran.

  He cut over to Riverview, flying past memorials, monuments, plaques, sculptures, vases and tablets. Tiny Confederate flags waved him on. A groundskeeper with extra spools of nylon twine tied on his belt trimmed around stones, the weed-eater popping and buzzing as he maneuvered it with the skill of a surgeon.

  'You seen a kid in Chicago Bulls stuff?' Brazil called out as he got close.

  'Like the statue?'

  'Only smaller,' Brazil said, running past.

  'Nope,' the groundskeeper said as he trimmed.

  Brazil wove between a marble lamb and a mausoleum, jumped over an English boxwood and to his amazement landed almost on top of Weed. Brazil grabbed him by the back of his jersey, kicked his feet out from under him and sat on him. He pinned Weed's arms to the ground.

  'I changed my mind,' Weed yelled. 'You can lock me up.'

  Bubba had lost control and it was obvious to all. He was humiliated and sick to his stomach when Officer Budget opened the back of the patrol car and exclaimed, 'Shit, man.' Bubba felt sure one more hideous nickname had just been added to the list.

  'I'm sorry,' Bubba said. 'But I told you . . .' 'Man, oh man!' Budget cried.

  He was beside himself, almost gagging as he unlocked Bubba's handcuffs while Chief Hammer and West looked on.

  'And just who's going to clean this up! Man, oh man! I can't believe it!'

  Bubba's shame could not have been deeper. He had been so certain it was his destiny for his path to cross with Hammer's. But not like this. Not half naked, dirty, fat and soiled. He could not look at her.

  'Officer Budget,' Hammer said flatly, 'if you'll just leave me alone with him for a few minutes, please. Major West? I'll meet you behind the Kmart?'

  'We'll let you know what the medical examiner says,' Budget told Hammer, 'in case you don't get there before he leaves.'

  'She,' West corrected him.

  Hammer turned her attention to Bubba. He was stunned that she did not seem to notice his unspeakable predicament.

  'Chief Hammer?' he stammered. 'I, uh . . .' He swallowed hard. 'I didn't mean . . .'

  She held up a hand to silence him.

  'Don't worry about it,' she told him.

  'How can I not!' he cried. 'And all I wanted to do was help!'

  'Help who?'

  She seemed interested and sincere. Bubba hadn't realized she was so attractive, not in a pretty way, but strong and striking in her pinstripe pants suit. He wondered if she had a gun. Maybe she carried one in her black handbag. His thoughts moiled crazily as the wind shifted to Hammer's disadvantage. She moved several feet to her right.

  'Who is it you're trying to help?' she asked. 'The woman who just got murdered? Did you see something, Mr. Fluck?'

  'Oh my God!' Bubba was shocked. 'A lady was just murdered, right here! When?'

  'While you were parked here, Mr. Fluck.'

  Bubba's bowels were irritably gathering again, like dark clouds about to release another lashing, violent storm. He thought of his sweaty tee shirt, covered with blood and on its way to the police labs.

  'You sure you didn't see anything?' The chief continued to press.

  'My Anaconda was hung,' he answered.

  She just stared at him.

  'I couldn't get it off,' he said.

  Still, she said nothing.

  'So I got down and started tugging on it, you know, manipulating it as best I could. See, I was afraid it might go off. Then I got a nosebleed.'

  'This was when?' Hammer asked.

  'I guess when the lady got killed. I swear. I was on the floor ever since Officer Budget left me. That's all I was doing until he was knocking on my window. I couldn't have seen anything, because I was on the floor, is what I'm saying, ma'am.'

  He couldn't tell if she believed him. There was nothing cruel or disrespectful about her demeanor, but she was shrewd and very smart. Bubba was in awe of her. For a moment he forgot his plight until Channel 8's cameraman trotted toward them, heading straight for the chief, then getting a disgusted look on his face. He stared at Bubba's camouflage pants and changed course.

  'It appears the victim was robbed right here at the money stop,' Hammer spoke to Bubba. 'I'm not telling you anything confidential. I'm sure you'll be hearing all about it on the news. You were parked less than fifty feet from the money stop, Mr. Fluck. Are you absolutely certain you didn't hear anything? Maybe voices, arguing, a car or cars?'

  Bubba thought hard. Channel 6 headed toward them and quickly went the other way. Bubba would have done anything to help this brave woman, and it broke his heart that the one time he had a chance, he could do nothing but stink.

  'Shit,' muttered a WRVA reporter as he stopped and backed up. 'Wouldn't go over there if I was you,' he said to a crew from Channel 12.

  'What's going on?' Style Magazine called out to Richmond Magazine. 'A sewer line break?'

  'Hell if I know. Shit, man.'

  Bubba went on red alert.

  '"Shit man" is right.' A Times-Dispatch reporter waved his hand in front of his face.

  Bub
ba's blood heated up. He didn't hear a word Chief Hammer was saying to him. Bubba was completely focused on the knot of reporters, cameramen, photographers and technicians gathered by his Jeep. They were restless and angry, talking and bitching loudly amongst themselves and calling him Shit Man.

  'Anybody seen what's going on back there behind the building?'

  'They won't let anybody close.'

  'You can forget it. The minute you get to the garden center, the cops push you back.'

  'Yeah, one asshole put his hand over my lens.'

  'Shit, man.'

  Bubba's mind whited out the way it always did when he heard the voices and the laughter shrieking from dangerous, painful convolutions in his brain. He saw a legion of little faces distorted by taunts and cruel grins.

  'My editor's gonna kill me. Shit, man!'

  'Stop It!' Bubba screamed at the press.

  His eyes suddenly focused. Hammer was staring at him, rather startled. The media wasn't interested.

  'Maybe the body's decomposing,' one of them was saying.

  'It's back behind the store.'

  'Could've been here first. Maybe they moved it for some reason.'

  'That wouldn't make sense.'

  'Well, they wouldn't want to leave it here right in front of the bank.'

  'No way it could have been here long enough to decompose without someone spotting it before this morning.'

  'Oh, so now you're a medical examiner.'

  'Maybe it was dumped. You know, the victim's been dead for a while, is getting ripe and the killer dumps her.'

  'It's a her?"

  'Maybe.'

  'Dumps her here?'

  'I'm just throwing things out.'

  'Yeah, asshole, 'cause you want the rest of us to write them down and make fools out of ourselves.'

  Then what stinks so bad?'

  'Chief Hammer?' A reporter raised his voice without getting any closer. 'Can I get a statement?'

  'Don't talk to them!' Bubba said to her in a panic. 'Don't let them do this to me! Please!"

  'Truth is, I think our source is him,' a reporter broke the news. 'Look at his pants. Not all of that's camouflage.'

  'Shit, man.'

  'See!' Bubba hissed.

  'How can she stand there like that? It's bad enough way back here.'

 
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