Southern cross, p.26
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Southern Cross, p.26

           Patricia Cornwell

  'I've heard she's tough.'

  'I'm interested in your vanity plate,' Hammer said to Bubba.

  Officer Horace Cutchins wasn't interested in anything except his pocket Game Boy Tetris Plus as he drove the detention wagon at a good clip along Leigh Street.

  He'd been on duty only three hours and had already transported two subjects to lockup, both of them gypsies caught burglarizing a Tudor-style home in Windsor Farms. Cutchins didn't understand why people didn't learn.

  Gypsies passed through the city twice a year on their migrations north and south. Everyone knew it. The press ran frequent stories and columns. Sergeant Rink of Crime Stoppers offered impassioned warnings and prevention and self-defense tips on all local television networks and radio stations. 'Gypsies Are Back' signs were prominently posted as usual.

  Yet wealthy Windsor Farmers, as Cutchins jealously called them, still went out to get the newspaper or worked in their gardens and yards or sat by their pools or chatted with neighbors or frapped around the house with alarm systems off and doors unlocked. So what did they expect?

  Cutchins was just turning into Engine Company #5's back parking lot, where he was looking forward to resuming his puzzle game, when the radio raised him.

  'Ten-25 unit 112 on Tenth Street to 10-31 a prisoner,' the communications officer told him.

  'Ten-4,' he answered. 'Fuck,' he said to himself.

  He'd heard the mayday earlier and knew that Rhoad Hog was involved in an altercation with a disorderly female. But when it appeared that an arrest had been made, Cutchins just assumed the subject would be transported in a screen unit.

  After all, it wasn't likely that a female could kick out the Plexiglas, and even if the partition didn't fit right because the numb nuts with General Services had taken one from a Caprice, for example, and retrofitted it for a Crown Vic, it didn't matter in this case. A female prisoner was not equipped to pee on the officer through gaps and spaces caused by improper installment.

  Cutchins made a U turn. He shot back out on Leigh Street, stepping on it, wanting to get the call over with so he could take a break. He swung over to 10th and rolled up on the problem as Detective Gloria De Souza climbed out of her unmarked car.

  Rhoad Hog and three other uniformed guys were waiting for Cutchins, their prisoner an ugly fat woman who looked vaguely familiar. She was sitting on the curb, wrists cuffed behind her back, hair wild. She was breathing hard and looked like she might do something unexpected any minute.

  'Okay, Miss Passman, I'm going to have to search you,' said Detective De Souza. 'I need you to stand up.'

  Miss Passman didn't budge.

  'Cooperate, Patty,' one of the officers urged her.

  She wouldn't.

  'Ma'am, you're going to need to stand up. Now don't make this harder than it has to be.'

  Passman wasn't trying to make things harder. She simply could not rise to the occasion on her own, not with her hands shackled behind her.

  'Get up,' De Souza said sternly.

  'I can't,' Passman replied.

  'Then we'll have to help you, ma'am.'

  'Go ahead,' Passman said.

  De Souza and another officer got Passman under each arm and hoisted her up while Rhoad hung back at a safe distance. Cutchins hopped out of his white Dodge van and went around to the back to open the tailgate. De Souza bent over and briskly slid her hands up Passman's stout legs, over sagging pantyhose with runs, feeling her way up into areas where no woman, other than Passman's gynecologist, had ever gone before. Passman tried to kick De Souza and almost fell.

  'Get the flex cuffs!' De Souza demanded as she held Passman's legs still. 'You do that again, ma'am, and I'm gonna hogtie you!'

  De Souza held on as an officer looped the plastic flex cuff around Passman's ankles, jerking it tight as if she were a tall kitchen bag.


  'Hold still!'

  'That hurts!' Passman screamed.

  'Good!' Rhoad cheered.

  Detective De Souza resumed her search, running experienced hands over Passman's topography, into its crevices, through its canyons, between its foothills and under and over them while Passman cursed and yelled and called her a diesel dyke and cops helped Passman to her feet.

  'Get your fucking hands off me, you queer!' Passman shouted. 'That's right! You sleep with the coach of your fucking queer softball team the Clit Hits and everybody in the entire police department and radio room knows it!'

  Cutchins momentarily forgot his puzzle game. He'd always thought it a waste that a good-looking woman like De Souza was into same, not that he minded lesbians, and in fact watched them whenever he had access to pay TV.

  He simply objected to discrimination. De Souza did not share herself with men, and Cutchins didn't think that was fair.

  'Nothing on her but an attitude,' De Souza said.

  Unfortunately, Cutchins had parked on the other side of 10th and it was shift change at the Medical College of Virginia hospital. Instantly, traffic was heavy, sidewalks and streets congested with nurses, dietitians, orderlies, custodians, security guards, administrators, resident doctors and chaplains, all of them worn out, underpaid and cranky. Cars stopped to let the tied-up lady and the cops cross to the awaiting wagon. Pedestrians slowed their impatient get-out-of-my-way steps as Passman hopped ahead awkwardly.

  'Fuckheads! What are you staring at!' she yelled to all.

  'Go jump!' a secretary yelled back.

  'Jumpin' Jack Flash! Jumpin' Jack Flash! Jumpin' Jack Flash!' chanted a group of sleep-deprived residents.


  'Motherfuckers!' screamed Passman, whose blood sugar was as low as it had ever been while she was conscious.

  'Jumpin' bean!' cried a records clerk.

  Passman struggled, writhing like a python, hissing and baring her teeth at her detractors. Officers did their best to move her along while bystanders and drivers got more worked up and Rhoad tagged along out of range.

  Pigeon had gotten bored with the cemetery and was rooting through a trash can, where so far he had salvaged part of a 7-Eleven breakfast burrito and a twenty-two-ounce cup of coffee that was half full.

  He watched the heartless parade pass by, some woman hopping along as if she were in a sack race. He suddenly felt self-conscious of his stump and was angered by the crowd.

  'Don't pay any attention to them,' he counseled the fat lady as she hopped past and he took a bite of the burrito. 'People are so rude these days.'

  'Shut up, you crippled garbage-picker!' the woman yelled at him.

  Pigeon was sorrowed by yet another rotten example of human nature. He continued his treasure hunting, always drawn by crowds that might throw things away.

  De Souza gripped Passman's arm like a vise. 'He started it!' Passman twisted around to glare at Rhoad. 'Why don't you lock his ass up!'

  Cops shoved her inside the wagon and slammed the tailgate shut.

  It was Chief Hammer's NIJ mission to implement the New York City Crime Control Model in the Richmond Police Department, as she had in Charlotte and would do in other cities should health, energy and grant money allow. Understandably, this created a bit of a dilemma for her.

  She was losing stamina and professionalism as she stood close to Bubba and listened to him talk. She wanted out but simply could not and would never pass the buck, look the other way, walk off and make this a problem for someone else. Hammer was here, and that was that. When a cop asks a suspect a question, the cop must listen to the answer, no matter how long and drawn-out it is.

  Bubba was telling her about his vanity plate, recalling his trip to the DMV on Johnston Willis Drive, between Whitten Brothers Jeep and Dick Straus Ford, where he had waited in line at customer service for fifty-seven minutes only to learn that BUBBA was taken, as were BUBA, BUBBBA, BUUBBBA, BUBEH, BUBBEH, BUBBBEH, BG-BUBA, BHUBBA and BHUBA. Bubba had been crushed and exhausted. He could think of nothing else that didn't exceed seven letters. Despondent and emotionally drained, he had accepted
that the vanity plate was not meant to be.

  'Then,' he seemed momentarily energized by the tireless account, 'the lady at the counter said Bubah would work, and I asked if I could hyphenate it and she didn't care because a hyphen doesn't count as a letter and that was good because I thought it would be easier to pronounce Bubah with a hyphen.'

  Hammer believed that Bubba had an accomplice named Smudge, and a graphic and believable scenario was materializing in her mind even as Bubba droned on and reporters continued to keep their distance. Bubba and Smudge somehow knew that Ruby Sink and Loraine were headed to the First Union money stop near the Kmart.

  Possibly the men had been lying in wait for the wealthy

  Miss Sink, headlights and engines off, and when she left her residence, Smudge and Bubba tailed her, weaving in and out of traffic, keeping tabs on each other over cell phones and CBs.

  It was at this point that Hammer's re-creation of the crime became less well defined. Frankly, she couldn't figure out what might have happened next and was not the sort to make things up. Yet she simply could not, would not walk away with no accountability and tell her troops the murder was their problem.

  Somehow, Hammer had to get Bubba to answer the question of Smudge without Bubba thinking she had asked.

  chapter thirty

  governor Mike Feuer had been on the car phone for the past fifteen minutes, and this was fortunate for Jed, who had made five wrong turns and sped through an alleyway, losing both unmarked Caprices, before finding Cherry Street and driving past Hollywood Cemetery and ending up at Oregon Hill Park, where he had turned around and gone the wrong way on Spring Street, ending up on Pine Street at Mamma'Zu, reputed to be the best Italian restaurant this side of Washington, D.C.

  'Jed?' The governor's voice sounded over the intercom. 'Isn't that Mamma'Zu?'

  'I believe so, sir.'

  'I thought you said it closed down.'

  'No, sir. I think I said it was closed when you wanted to take your wife there for her birthday,' Jed fibbed, for it was his modus operandi to say a business had closed or moved or gone under if the governor wanted to go there and Jed did not know how to find it.

  'Well, make a note of it,' the governor's voice came back. 'Ginny will be thrilled.'

  'Will do, sir.'

  Ginny was the first lady, and Jed was scared of her. She knew Richmond streets far better than Jed was comfortable with, and he feared her reaction if she learned that Mamma'Zu had not closed or moved or changed its name. Ginny Feuer was a Yale graduate. She was fluent in eight languages, although Jed wasn't certain if that included English or was in addition to English.

  The first lady had quizzed Jed repeatedly about his creative, time-killing routes. She was on to him and could get him reassigned, demoted, kicked off the EPU or even fired from the state police with a gesture, a word, a question in pretty much any language.

  'Jed, shouldn't we be there by now?' the governor's voice sounded again.

  Jed eyed his boss in the rearview mirror. Governor Feuer was looking out the windows. He was looking at his watch.

  'In about two minutes, sir,' Jed replied as his chest got tight.

  He picked up speed, following Pine the wrong way. He took a hard right on Oregon Hill Parkway which ran him into Cherry Street where the ivy-draped cemetery fence on the left embraced and welcomed him like the Statue of Liberty.

  Jed followed the fence, passing the hole in it and the Victory Rug Cleaning sign. He drove through the cemetery's massive wrought-iron front gates that Lelia Ehrhart had made sure would be unlocked for them. He passed the caretaker's house and business office, following Hollywood Avenue. Jed would have rolled up on the statue in a matter of moments had he not turned onto Confederate Avenue instead of Eastvale.

  It was clear to Brazil why the media, the unimaginative, the insensitive, the resentful, and those citizens not indigenous to Richmond often trivialized Hollywood Cemetery by referring to it as the City of the Dead.

  As Brazil and Weed walked deeper into having-no-idea-where-they-were, Brazil's respect for history and its dead was greatly diluted by fatigue and frustration. The famous cemetery became nothing more than a heartless, unhelpful metropolis of ancient carriage paths, now paved and named, that had been laid out by first families who already knew where they were going.

  It wasn't possible to find sections or lot owners or the way out unless one had a map or an a priori knowledge or was lucky as hell. Brazil, sad to say, was heading west instead of east.

  'Is it hurting?' Brazil asked his prisoner.

  Weed had cut his chin when Brazil tackled him. Weed was bleeding and Brazil's day had just gotten worse, if that was possible. The sheriff's department would not accept a juvenile who was visibly injured. Weed would have to get a medical release, meaning Brazil would have no choice but to take Weed to an emergency room where the two of them would probably sit all day.

  'I don't feel nothing.' Weed shrugged, holding one of Brazil's socks against his chin for lack of any other bandage.

  'Well, I'm really sorry,' Brazil apologized again.

  They were walking along Waterview to New Avenue where Weed stopped to gawk at tobacco mogul Lewis Ginter's granite and marble tomb. He couldn't believe the heavy bronze doors, Corinthian columns and Tiffany windows.

  'It's like a church,' Weed marveled. 'I wish Twister could have something like that.'

  They walked in silence for a moment. Brazil remembered to turn his radio back on.

  'You ever had anybody die on you?' Weed asked.

  'My father.'

  'Wish mine was dead.'

  'You don't really mean that,' Brazil said.

  'What happened to yours?' Weed looked up at him.

  'He was a cop. Got killed on duty.'

  Brazil thought of his father's small, plain grave in the college town of Davidson. The memories of that spring Sunday morning when he was ten and the phone rang in his simple frame house on Main Street were still vivid. He could still hear his mother screaming and kicking cabinets, wailing and throwing things while he hid in his room, knowing without being told.

  Again and again the television showed his father's bloody sheet-covered body being loaded into an ambulance. An endless motorcade of police cars and motorcycles with headlights on rumbled through Brazil's head, and he envisioned dress uniforms and badges striped with black tape.

  'You ain't listening to me,' Weed insisted.

  Brazil came to, shaken and unnerved. The cemetery began closing in, suffocating him with its pungent smells and restless sounds. The radio reminded him that he should call again for a 10-25, but he wasn't going to do it. Brazil was not going to let the entire police department, including West, know he was lost inside Hollywood Cemetery with a fourteen-year-old graffiti artist.

  They headed out again on New Avenue. It eventually curved around the western edge of the cemetery and turned into Midvale, where in the distance they could see what appeared to be a long black hearse traveling toward them at a high rate of speed.

  Cemetery monuments and markers and holly trees streamed past Governor Feuer's tinted windows as he ended another phone call, having by now lost all patience and willingness to give second chances.

  Jed was driving too fast. It was taking longer to find Jefferson Davis's statue than it had probably taken to paint it. The unmarked Caprices and their EPU drivers were nowhere to be seen.

  'Jed.' This time Governor Feuer hummed down the glass partition first. 'What happened to our backups?'

  'They went on, sir.'

  'Went on where?'

  'Back to the mansion, I believe, sir. I'm not sure, but I think Mrs. Feuer needed to run an errand or something.'

  'Mrs. Feuer is on her way to the Homestead.'

  'I hear that's quite a resort, up there in the mountains with spas, unbelievable food and skiing and everything. I'm glad she's going to relax a little,' Jed prattled on nervously.

  'Where the hell are we, Jed?' Governor Feuer restrained himself f
rom raising his voice.

  'There's a lot of detours, sir,' Jed replied. 'From funerals, I guess.'

  'I don't see any funerals or any sign of them.'

  'Not on this street, no sir.'

  'In fact, I haven't seen another car,' the governor said testily.

  'This is for through traffic, sir.'

  'Through traffic? Through to where? There is no through. There's only one way in and out of the cemetery. If you went through, you'd end up in the James River.'

  'What I meant, sir, was that this isn't a funeral route,' Jed explained, slowing down a bit.

  'For God's sake, Jed.' The governor lost his cool. There's no such thing as a funeral route in a cemetery. The cars go where the person's being buried. You don't bury people along routes. We're lost.'

  'Not at all, sir.'

  'Turn around. Let's go back,' Governor Feuer said as a cop and a little kid suddenly flowed past his right window.

  Governor Feuer turned around in his seat, staring out the back window at a uniformed officer and a boy dressed like the Bulls. They were walking slowly and unsteadily, as if their legs would go out from under them any minute.

  'Stop the car!' Governor Feuer ordered.

  Jed slammed on the brakes, sending newspapers sliding across the carpeted floor.

  The scene behind Kmart was slowing down and thinning out. The medical examiner's van was en route to the morgue where Ruby Sink would be autopsied later this day, and uniformed officers had begun to scatter, returning to the streets.

  Detectives sought out witnesses and Miss Sink's next of kin while the media tried to get there first. The fire department was long gone, leaving West and two crime-scene technicians to finish up.

  So far, dozens of latent prints in addition to the three nine-millimeter cartridge cases had been recovered from inside the car, which soon would be carried off in a flatbed truck for further processing by forensic scientists in the shelter of a bay. Eventually, firing pin impressions would be scanned into ATF's computer system to determine if they matched those recovered from other crimes.

  Prints would be run through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System known as AFIS. Hairs, blood and fibers would go to DNA and the trace evidence labs.

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up