Southern cross, p.27
Southern Cross, p.27Patricia Cornwell
'We need to get this out of the sun, or the blood and any other biological evidence are going to start decomposing really fast,' West said to crime-scene technician Alice Bates, who was taking photographs of the inside of the Chevy Celebrity.
'We've got it covered,' Bates said.
A second technician named Bonita Wills was focusing on the scattered contents of the victim's pocketbook that were strewn on the floor of the passenger's side. West leaned inside the open driver's door to look, her suit jacket brushing against the frame.
'Oh great,' she muttered as she tried to brush black fingerprint powder off her jacket.
West studied blood spatter on the rearview mirror, on the roof near it, the drips on the steering wheel and the pool of coagulating blood on the passenger's seat. When she had first arrived at the scene, Miss Sink had been slumped over on her right side, her head on the passenger's seat. There were blood spatters on her forearms and elbows and the roof above the driver's seat, and all this gave West a depressing picture.
It appeared that Ruby Sink had been sitting behind the wheel, elbows raised, hands under something, perhaps her face, when she had been shot execution style. Then the killer had climbed out of the car, and Miss Sink's body had slumped over on the passenger's seat where she had bled very briefly before dying.
'The bastard,' West said. 'Doing that in front of a baby. For two hundred fucking bucks. Goddamn son of a bitch.'
'Don't touch anything,' Wills warned her, as if West had sat behind a desk all her life.
West checked her temper. She was tired of being treated like an interloper, like an idiot, when it hadn't been so long ago that she was regarded with respect and even friendliness by a department a lot bigger and better than this one.
She stepped back from the car, looking around, hot and impatient in her smudged suit. The perimeter behind Kmart was secured by yellow crime-scene tape and West had no intention of letting anyone in anytime soon, and this included drivers making deliveries to the department store.
'Where's the truck?' West was all business. 'I don't like this. Everybody's flown the coop and other than the body, the car is the most important piece of evidence.'
'I wouldn't sweat it too much,' Wills said. 'This thing's a pigpen of prints. They could be anybody's, depending on how many people have been inside it, outside it, whatever. Most will probably be hers.'
'Some will be his,' West said. 'This guy doesn't wear gloves. He doesn't care if he leaves spit, hairs, blood, seminal fluid because he's probably some fucking piece of shit who's just got out of some juvenile training school and all his records have been destroyed to protect his precious confidentiality.'
'Hey, Bates,' Wills called to her partner, 'make sure you get the trunk good around the lock. In case he went in there.'
'I'm way ahead of ya.'
West got on her radio and requested an officer to guard the crime scene. She got back in her car and drove around to the front of Kmart. The parking lot was full of shoppers looking for a deal. A few of them were standing in front of the store, staring at First Union Bank and speculating in hushed, excited voices. Most were inside, probably pushing carts up and down aisles, oblivious.
West pulled up to the bank and was surprised to see that Hammer was still talking to Bubba, both of them standing in the bright sun. West got out and walked toward them. She slowed her pace when the stench reached her. She stared at Bubba's camouflage.
'Certainly I think it's a good idea for citizens to get involved,' Hammer was saying to Bubba. 'But within limits. I don't want our volunteer police carrying guns, Mr. Fluck.'
'Then a lot of us won't do it,' he let her know.
'There are other ways to help.'
'What about pepper spray or tactical batons? Could they carry those?'
'No,' Hammer replied.
West knew exactly what her boss was doing. Chief Hammer was an expert at playing people, dribbling the conversation in many directions, faking and passing until she saw an opening to score. West went along with it.
'Well, Chesterfield's auxiliary police carry guns,' Bubba pointed out, swatting at flies. 'I know a bunch of the guys. They work hard and really like it.'
Hammer noticed West's suit. She stared at the black fingerprint powder on the jacket.
'How'd you get smudge on ...' Hammer said without finishing, laying the trap.
'I didn't,' Bubba replied. 'Actually he's been trying to get me on, but I'd have to move to Chesterfield.'
Hammer gave him a feigned puzzled look. 'Excuse me?'
'My buddy Smudge.' Then Bubba looked puzzled, too.
'How'd you know about him?'
'Sorry for your inconvenience, Mr. Fluck,' Hammer said. 'Why don't you go on home and freshen up. Deputy Chief West? A word with you.'
The two women walked away from Bubba.
'That was pretty clever,' West marveled. 'I guess you were referring to my jacket but made it sound like you knew about Smudge.'
'I was lucky,' Hammer said as a car pulled into the parking lot and sped toward them. 'And I want him under surveillance. Now.'
Roop jumped out in such a hurry he didn't bother turning off the engine or shutting the door.
'Chief Hammer!' he said excitedly. 'I got another phone call. Same guy."
'You sure?' Hammer asked.
'Yes!' Roop exclaimed. 'The Pikes are claiming responsibility for the ATM homicide!'
Brazil had never met Governor Feuer and it did not register that this indeed was the man walking briskly toward him and Weed on Midvale Avenue.
The man was tall and distinguished in a dark pinstripe suit. He was in a hurry and seemed very anxious about something. Brazil wiped sweat out of his eyes, his mouth so parched he could barely speak.
'Is everything all right?' Brazil asked.
'I was about to ask you that, son,' the man said.
Brazil paused as he processed the familiar voice and fit it with the face.
'Oh,' was all Brazil said.
'I seen your picture all over the place!' exclaimed Weed.
'Looks like you two have been through it,' the governor said. 'What did you do to your chin?' he asked Weed.
'Cut myself shaving.'
The governor seemed to accept this.
'How on earth did you end up out here? Are you hurt? No backup? Doesn't your radio work?' Governor Feuer asked Brazil.
'It works, sir.'
Brazil's words were sticky, as if he had communion wafers in his mouth. His tongue got caught on every syllable. He sounded a little drunk and wondered if he was delirious. Maybe none of this was happening.
'Let's get both of you some water and out of the sun,' the governor was saying.
Brazil was too exhausted and dehydrated to have much of an emotional reaction.
'You should know I've got a prisoner,' Brazil mumbled to the governor.
'I'm not worried unless you are,' Governor Feuer said. 'My driver's state police.'
Jed smiled as he stood attentively by the limousine. He opened a back door and the governor got in. Jed nodded at Brazil and Weed to do the same.
Jed, you've got water, don't you?' Governor Feuer said.
'Oh yes sir. Chilled or unchilled?'
'Doesn't matter,' Brazil said.
'Chilled would be good,' Weed answered.
Brazil was overwhelmed by air conditioning and an expanse of clean, soft gray leather. He sat on the carpeted floor and nodded for Weed to do the same. The governor gave them an odd look.
'What are you doing?' he asked Brazil.
'We're pretty sweaty,' Brazil apologized. 'Wouldn't want to mess up your upholstery.'
'Nonsense. Have a seat.'
Air conditioning blasted their drenched clothes. Jed slid open the glass partition and handed back a six-pack of chilled Evian. Brazil drained two bottles, barely breathing between swallows. A stabbing sensation ran up his sinuses to the top of his head. He bent over in agony and rubbed his
'What is it?' the governor asked, alarmed.
'Ice cream headache. I'll be fine.'
'Those are miserable. Nothing worse.'
'I get 'em when I drink Pepsi too fast,' Weed commiserated.
Jed's voice came over the intercom. 'Where to, sir?'
'Where can we take you?' the governor asked Brazil. 'Home? Back to headquarters? The jail?'
Brazil rubbed his forehead. He poured water on a napkin and gently cleaned Weed's cut and wiped dried blood off his neck.
'What will it be?' the governor asked.
'Honestly, Governor, you don't have to do that. I can't let you go to the trouble,' Brazil said.
Governor Feuer smiled. 'What's your name, son?'
'As in the NIJ fellow who wrote the op-ed on juvenile crime?'
'Yes, that's me.'
The governor was favorably impressed.
'And you?' he asked Weed.
'That's your real name, son?'
'How come everybody always asks me that?' Weed was tired of it.
'I guess headquarters would be good, sir,' Brazil said.
'Swing by headquarters,' the governor told Jed. 'I guess you'd better call my scheduler and tell him I won't make it to whatever.'
Time had stopped for Patty Passman as she sat in the urine-sticky dark on the cold metal floor of the wagon, arms wrenched behind her, ankles immobilized. Her hands and feet were numb. She was chilled to the core. She envisioned gangrene and amputations and lawsuits.
The scales of her unfortunate chemistry were back in balance. Although weak and somewhat banged up, she was thinking with clarity and premeditation. She knew exactly what Rhoad was doing. The wagon could not carry her to lockup for processing until he filled out at least one arrest sheet. The son of a bitch was trumping up every charge imaginable, filling out the paperwork on every single one because the longer he took, the longer she sat, trussed up like a turkey inside an icebox.
Passman wriggled backward across unforgiving metal, finally finding a side of the van to lean against. She shifted positions every few seconds to relieve the bite of the handcuffs and the ache in her shoulders.
'Oh please hurry,' she begged in the dark as the tears came. 'I'm so cold. Oh God, I hurt! Please! You're so mean to me!' She burst into sobs that no one heard or would have been moved by were she standing in the middle of a packed coliseum.
No one cared. No one ever had.
Patty Passman's first mistake in life was being born a girl to parents who already had six girls and were devastated when they had yet one more on their last try. Passman spent her childhood trying to make it up to them.
She pounded on her sisters and told them they were ugly, stupid and flat-chested. She broke toys, dismembered dolls, drew obscene pictures, passed gas, belched, spat, didn't flush the toilet, was insensitive, hoarded candy, kept quarters meant for the Sunday school offering, lost her temper, teased the dog, played Army, played doctor with other girls in the neighborhood and refused to play the piano. She did all she could to act like a boy.
She toned it down as years passed, only to find she had been gender contraire for so long she had fallen too far behind in the female race to ever catch up or even come in last. She was disqualified and defaulted by all except Moses Pharaoh, who nominated her for the wrestling homecoming court because, he told her as he escorted her across the spotlit basketball court that illustrious night, he was turned on by fat women with small teeth.
Afterward the two of them ate lasagne, garlic bread, salad and cheesecake at Joe's Inn. On the way home in his '69 high-performance Chevelle, with its 425 horsepower and 475 pounds of torque, Moses drove her up to the observation point at the end of East Grace Street.
What Passman knew about kissing she had learned from movies. She was not prepared for the huge garlic-tasting thick tongue thrust down her throat. She was shocked when Moses shoved his hands down her chiffon neckline, groping for the Promised Land. He parted her, crossed her, broke all ten commandments, or seemed to, on that awful night when her long pink satin dress was pushed up and crushed, all because she had not been born a boy.
She was shivering and feeling crazed again when the wagon rumbled awake. It pulled ahead. With each turn it took she rolled on her side like a log in the tide. Minutes seemed forever. The van finally halted.
'Sally Port One, put the gate up,' a male voice announced.
Passman heard what sounded like a grate lurch and begin slowly rolling up. The van drove ahead and stopped again. The grate screeched back down. The van's tailgate swung open, a cop standing there, chewing gum.
He was disheveled, his waist drooping over his duty belt like excess pizza dough hanging off the pan. One eye was hazel, the other brown, his graying hair slicked back, ears and nostrils bristly like stiff paintbrushes. Wagon drivers were the flatworms of law enforcement, a throwback to a spineless, lazy, lower order of life Passman had grown to despise.
'O-kie do-kie,' he said to her. 'Let's head 'em up and move 'em out.'
Passman squinted at him from her supine position on the floor.
'I can't,' she said.
He clicked her a giddy-up out of the side of his mouth.
'I'm not going anywhere until you at least undo my ankles.' She meant it.
Her dress was pushed up to her padded hips and she could do nothing about it. He was staring. She knew if she lost her temper again, it would only ensure further bondage.
'Please undo my ankles so I can get out,' she said again.
'Pretty please with sugar on top?'
She thought she recognized his voice, then was certain.
'You're unit 452,' she said.
'Guess I'm famous. Now I'm gonna cut off these flex cuffs, but you so much as twitch and I'm gonna keep you busy.'
She did not know his name, but one thing Passman did know was voices. She had total recall when it came to words uttered on the air by hundreds of units she never saw. Unit 452 cut off the flex cuffs with a pocketknife and the feeling rushed back to her feet in swarms of tiny pins. She worked her way to the open rear of the van, her skirt hiking higher, far above the brown tops of her panty hose, up to the waistband. He stared, chomping gum. She inch-wormed her way to the ground.
Unit 452 pushed a button on the wall to open the door to lockup, and on his way in used a key from his snap holder to secure his pistol inside the gun safe. He got out another key, this one tiny, and unlocked her handcuffs.
'Unit 452,' Passman mimicked him. 'Go ahead, 452, I'm 10-1 2600 block of Park. Ten-4, 452. That'd be the Robin Inn, for a meal. Uh, 10-4 . . .'
'You!' Unit 452 was shocked and deeply offended. 'You're the one! That bitch in the radio room!'
'You're that dumb shit who's always hiding out at Engine Company Number Nine playing your fucking nutless puzzle games. Tetris Plus, Q*Bert, Pac Man, Boggle!' Passman accused.
'What, what?' Unit 452 stammered.
Passman had him.
'Everyone knows,' she went on as Deputy Sheriff Reflogle took the arrest sheets from unit 452 and began to search Passman.
'Looks like you're getting the book thrown at you, girl,' Reflogle said. 'Must've been a bad time at home to act out like this.'
Passman wasn't listening.
'You're a joke in the radio room!' she railed on to Unit 452. 'B is boy, not bravo, and H is Henry, not hotel, you shit dick! What do you think you are, an airplane pilot?'
'Now you quiet down,' Deputy Reflogle said to her as he fished eight quarters out of her skirt pockets.
He rolled Passman's fingers on an ink pad and transferred her loops and whirls to a ten-print card. He took mug shots. He asked her about aliases. He asked about a.k.a's in case she didn't know what aliases were. He locked her inside a holding cell. It was not much bigger than a locker, a hard bench to sit on, a small square screen to see through. She ate cherry Jell-O, cottage cheese and fish sticks for lunch.
The magistrate's office for the city of Richmond was on the first floor of the police department, past the information desk and in close proximity to lockup and Sally Port 1.
It was not quite four o'clock in the afternoon. Vince Tittle wasn't feeling good about his job or life. It wasn't hard to look back and see where he had cracked the glass, chipped the china, scorched the sweet milk in the pot. He had succumbed to a favor. He had sold his soul for an office that looked very much like a tollbooth.
Tittle had not always thought the worst about himself. Until four years ago he had enjoyed a fulfilling career as a photographer at the morgue. He had been proud of taking pictures perfectly to scale. He had been a magician with lighting and shutter speeds. His art went to court. It was viewed by prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and juries.
The chief medical examiner adored him. Her deputy chiefs and the forensic scientists did, too. Defendants hated him. Tittle's lust for justice was what got him into trouble. His road to hell began when Tittle joined the Gentleman's Bartering Club, which included hundreds of people with training, skills and talents that Tittle couldn't always afford. He took family portraits, and photos for Christmas cards, calendars, graduations and debutante balls, swapping his skills for virtual cash minus a ten percent commission that went to the club.
Tittle rarely shopped in reality after that. He could take wedding pictures, for example, and earn a thousand virtual dollars, which in turn he might virtually spend on roof repair. Tittle was addicted to his camera. Soon he became virtually wealthy, which is how he met Circuit
Court Judge Nicholas Endo, who was at war with his wife and losing.
Judge Endo believed Mrs. Endo was having an affair with her dentist, Bull Ehrhart, and wanted to catch her in the act. Tittle would never forget what Judge Endo said to him one night when they were drinking bourbon in the clubhouse.
'Vince, you've got virtually everything a man could want,' said the judge as he paid five virtual dollars for a drink that was real. 'But there's got to be one thing in this club you can't buy, and I bet I damn well know what it is.'
'What?' Tittle said.
Southern Cross by Patricia Cornwell / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes