Southern cross, p.28
'You love court. You love the law,' said the judge. 'Taking photographs of stiffs is getting boring. Has to be. Should always have been, Vince.'
Tittle slowly swirled ice in his Maker's Mark. The truth pained him deeply.
'Come on. Come on.' The judge leaned across the table and said in the tone that reminded Tittle of come here, kitty, kitty, kitty, 'I mean, Vince, how goddamn challenging can it be to shoot a liver on a scale, a brain on a cutting board, stomach contents, little cups of urine and bile, bite marks, axes in the back of people's heads?'
'You're right,' Tittle muttered, motioning for Seunghoon the cocktail waitress. 'This round's on me.'
'What will it be, sugar?' Seunghoon asked.
'Another round. You got Booker's?'
'Shoot. I don't think so, cutie. But you know what? I believe Mr. Mack carries it in his restaurant. He has quite a bar.'
'We ought to get that in.' Judge Endo rendered his verdict. 'Best damn bourbon known to man. Hundred twenty proof, knock you back to China. Maybe next time a movie comes to town, Vince, you could take a couple shots of Mack with a celebrity or two? He can hang them in his restaurant. Charge him two hundred virtual dollars, turn around and buy the Booker's with it.'
'Okay,' Tittle agreed.
Their conversation went on for quite a while before the judge got into the substance of his case.
'I think you'd make a damn good magistrate, Vince,' he said, puffing on an illegal Cuban cigar. 'I've always thought so.' He blew a smoke ring.
'It would be an honor,' Tittle said. 'I would like a chance to punish bad people. I've always wanted that.'
'How 'bout we make a trade?'
'I'm always doing it,' Tittle said.
Judge Endo went on to say that he wanted explicit photographs of Mrs. Endo's adultery. He didn't care if they were doctored. He didn't care how Tittle did it. Judge Endo just wanted to keep his house, his car and his dog, and have his grown children take his side.
'It won't be easy,' the judge said, jaw muscles clenching. 'I know, I've tried everything I can think of. But you pull it off, I'll take care of you.'
The next day, Tittle went to work. He discovered soon enough that Mrs. Endo's MO was so simple it was complicated. Bull Ehrhart had forty-three strip mall offices throughout the greater Richmond area, and twenty-two additional ones as far away as Norfolk, Petersburg,
Charlottesville, Fredericksburg and Bristol, Tennessee.
Twice a week, Mrs. Endo used a different alias to make a late-day appointment at a different office. When she'd done the circuit, she'd start again. She'd change her accent, hair color and style, experimenting with makeup, glasses and designer clothes.
For weeks, Tittle failed. The adulterous couple was too careful and clever. Just when Tittle was about to give up, he found a crow that had flown into his kitchen window because it didn't see the glass and died of a head injury, Tittle could only suppose. Tittle got an idea. He put the dead crow in the freezer. He painted a camera and tripod yellow.
Late that afternoon he followed Mrs. Endo to dental office number 17 on Staples Mill Road, near Ukrops, and set up his faux surveyor's equipment in the parking lot. It was five-thirty P.M. The only office lit up was a corner one, the windows covered by shut Venetian blinds. Tittle gave Mrs. Endo and Dr. Ehrhart fifteen minutes to get into it as Tittle pointed the twelve-hundred-millimeter telephoto lens and attached the cable release.
He pulled the frozen crow out of a pocket of his coat and hurled it at the window, where it hit with a sickening thud, shaking the glass. The blinds suddenly flashed open. The naked dentist looked out and around and down at the ground, discovering the poor bird that had flown into the glass. The naked Mrs. Endo put a hand over her mouth, shaking her head in pity.
They paid no attention to the surveyor walking off the job with his bright yellow equipment. The divorce turned out favorably for Judge Endo. In return, he gave Tittle the appointment, as promised in their bartering agreement.
Magistrate Tittle's guilt grew with the years. He became increasingly depressed and intimidated when Judge Endo called from time to time to remind him of the favor and the necessity of going to the grave, in this case Hollywood Cemetery, with the secret swap that had brought about Tittle's dream-come-true. Magistrate Tittle never told a soul.
He confessed his sin to God and swore to make restitution. Tittle took photographs no more. He resigned from the barter club. He reported its members to the IRS. He turned in the neighbor who illegally hooked up cable. Tittle exposed the lady in the grocery store who was trying to pass expired manufacturers' coupons. He admitted when something was his fault. He was humble and hardworking.
Magistrate Tittle became known for his zero tolerance of felons, fools, rotten kids and stupid cops. He was admired for his fairness and truth if one was unjustly accused. This was both good and bad for Officer Rhoad, who had not made an arrest in over twenty years. When Rhoad had flipped through the Virginia code, looking for charges to bring against Patty Passman, he had been certain Magistrate Tittle would empathize and go with life imprisonment with no TV or chances for appeals and lawsuits.
Tittle was reaching back to the coffeemaker to pour another cup, his grim gray suit jacket draped over a chair, when Officer Rhoad appeared at his window.
'I need to get some warrants,' Rhoad said.
'What makes you think I can see you right this minute?' said Tittle.
'Because you don't look busy, I guess.'
'Well, I am,' he said through the small opening in the bulletproof glass. 'I should make you sit over there for an hour or two, but I'm about to go home. So let's get this over with.'
Tittle shoved out a metal drawer. Rhoad placed his thick stack of arrest sheets in it. Tittle pulled them in and started looking through them. Tittle was silent for a long time while Rhoad watched through the glass.
'Officer?' Tittle finally spoke. 'You ever heard of piling on charges?'
'Certainly,' said Rhoad, who was used to quotas and assumed the magistrate was paying him a compliment.
'Use of police radio during commission of a crime,' Tittle started going through the charges.
'Obstructing justice. Subject did knowingly attempt to impede this officer from engaging in his duties.'
Tittle went to the next one. 'Using abusive language.'
'You should have heard her,' Rhoad said indignantly.
'Disorderly conduct in public places. Resisting or obstructing execution of legal process." Tittle peered up over his reading glasses. 'Crimes against nature?'
'She grabbed me.' Rhoad's face got hot.
'She carnally knew you by anus?'
'What about by mouth?'
'Just the things she said.'
'This isn't about things said, officer. What about bestiality?'
'Yes! She was a beast! She was awful!'
'Officer Rhoad,' Tittle said in a hard tone. 'Bestiality means screwing animals. No probable cause.' He tossed the arrest sheet in a to-be-shredded basket. 'Let's see.' He continued. 'Keeping, residing in or frequenting a body place.'
'She wouldn't let go,' Rhoad said, the memory clearly smarting.
'B-A-W-D-Y, not B-O-D-Y,' Tittle said slowly and deliberately as he tossed the report in the basket. 'Entering property of another for purpose of damaging it.'
'Same thing. She touched my property, sir.'
'What property, Officer Rhoad?'
'Well, my privates. She tried to damage my privates.'
That report went into the basket with the others.
Trespass after having been forbidden to do so,' Tittle read.
'I told her to stop.'
'Aggravated sexual assault. How did you arrive upon that one?'
'Because it was my privates she went after,' Rhoad reminded him.
'I suppose attempted rape is for the same reason.'
'What if it were you?'
'Sexual battery, rape. No probable cause,' Tittle said, strained. '
'She said, "I'm going to find the governor or his wife or children or relatives. And then you'll be sorry!'"
Rhoad averted his eyes. He wasn't really sure of this one. So much was a blur now. Tittle balled up the arrest sheet and tossed it on the floor.
'Oral threats. Bodily injuries caused by prisoners. Assault and battery. Malicious bodily injury. Aggravated malicious wounding.'
Tittle balled up each sheet, pummeling them at the trash basket.
'Shooting, stabbing with intent to maim, kill. Failure to obey order of conservator of the peace. Treason. Treason?'
'Subject did resist the execution of the laws under color of its authority,' Rhoad cited. 'She levied war against the Commonwealth when she attacked me.'
'You need a therapist.'
'I'm a citizen of the Commonwealth, aren't I?' Rhoad argued.
'Why did this woman grab your genitals, Officer Rhoad?' Tittle had never met such an idiot in his life. 'Did she swoop in out of nowhere? Was she provoked? A spurned lover?'
'She tried to stop me from putting a parking ticket on her car,' Rhoad explained.
'I don't buy it.'
'Well,' Rhoad said, 'I'd done it a few times before.'
Brazil was wise enough to ask Governor Feuer to drop off his guest passengers a block from the police department, thus avoiding a scene that would be difficult, if not impossible, to explain.
'I'm going to take you to MCV,' Brazil said to Weed as they walked along the sidewalk. 'Then let's get your mother to come for you. You don't want to be locked up all night.'
'Yes I do,' Weed told him.
Brazil noticed Weed was very agitated, looking all around as if afraid someone was following them.
'You're not making any sense to me,' Brazil went on. 'And you know why?' He opened double glass doors on the lower lot of headquarters. 'Because you're not telling me everything, Weed. You're holding back.'
Weed had nothing to say. Brazil checked out a car and let the radio room know where he was going. He and Weed sat in MCV's emergency room, where Weed could not be treated without one of his parents being present. Weed's mother didn't answer the phone and she wasn't at work. Weed's father was out cutting grass somewhere and didn't return Brazil's call. Brazil's radio would not transmit from inside the hospital. He felt cut off from the world, angry, helpless and miserable.
Brazil finally had to get a judge to grant permission for treatment, which would have resolved the matter had there not been a school-bus accident midafternoon. The E.R. could not get to Weed until almost eleven P.M., when a nurse cleaned Weed's cut and put a butterfly bandage over it.
'I don't get it,' Brazil was saying to Weed as they drove back to headquarters. 'Are you sure you have a mother?'
The remark hurt Weed. Brazil could tell.
'She don't answer the phone very much, especially when she's sleeping, and she sleeps a lot in the day.'
'Why wouldn't she answer the phone otherwise?'
"Cause Daddy's always calling. He says real mean things to her. I don't know why, and he has to have the number 'cause I stay with him sometimes.'
They parked in the back lot and Brazil escorted Weed inside the police department. They walked past the information desk and Weed didn't seem to care where he was being taken. His mood continued to sink.
'You know something,' Brazil told him. 'You know something big. Something so big you're scared, real scared.'
'I ain't scared of nothing,' Weed told him.
'We're all scared of something,' Brazil replied.
Handcuffed prisoners drifted in and out, heading to lockup, muttering, staggering and swaggering, some wearing sunglasses and cool clothes, many of them high or drunk. The air smelled of body odor, alcohol and marijuana. Brazil turned right, passing through another set of double doors. He opened one leading into a small drab room with desks built into the walls, and plastic chairs, and ugly green upholstered benches stained with unpleasant, recalcitrant life.
Brazil went to a phone and dialed the pager number of the intake officer on call. There was an old radio on a table and Brazil tuned it in to 98.1. He sat on top of a desk and looked at Weed.
'Talk to me,' Brazil said.
'Got nothing to say.' Weed sat on a bench.
'Why did you decide to paint the statue?'
'Felt like it.'
'Did someone tell you to do it? One of the Pikes?'
'I don't know nothing about Pikes.'
'Bullshit,' Brazil said. 'Where'd you get that number tattooed on your finger?'
A radio announcer was going on and on about the ATM homicide, and at first the news and the name of the victim did not penetrate Brazil's fatigue and frustration. Then he caught it.
'. . . confirmed her identity as a seventy-one-year-old Church Hill woman named Ruby Sink . . .'
'Wait a minute!' Brazil turned up the volume.
'. . . made a withdrawal at the ATM, was abducted and shot to death in her own car. A gang known as the Pikes has claimed responsibility. This is the same gang that claimed responsibility for the vandalism of Jefferson Davis's statue in Hollywood Cemetery . . .'
Brazil was beside himself. He paced furiously, his fists clenched. He was confused and disbelieving as he envisioned Ruby Sink and remembered when she had called him last.
'No!' he exclaimed. 'No/'
Brazil pounded the wall and kicked the trash can. It clanged across the floor, paper, fried chicken boxes and fast food wrappers spilling.
'How could someone do that to a helpless old woman!'
His last conversation with her sounded in his mind. He could hear her voice. He had used her to make West jealous. Brazil clenched his fists so hard his nails dug into his palms. He grabbed Weed by the shoulders.
'You know them, I know you do!' he said in fury. 'They just murdered someone, Weed! Someone I knew! Someone who never did anything to anybody! A human being with a name and a family and now people who loved her have to deal with what happened just like you do with Twister!'
Weed stared at him in shock.
'You're going to protect monsters like that?'
Brazil let go of Weed and walked across the room. Brazil tried to control himself. He was trembling, his heart pounding so hard he could feel it in his neck.
'I tried to tell you on the computer,' Weed said sadly.
Tell me? Tell me what?'
The fish map.'
Brazil's mind had an electrical outage.
'On AOL. A map with pikes on it,' Weed explained.
'Pikes as in fish?' Brazil came back.
'Uh huh. I did a papier-mache pike in Mrs. Grannis's class. Trying to tell somebody where they are.'
'Wait a minute.' Brazil pulled up a chair and sat down. The fish on the map. That's where the Pikes have their clubhouse?'
Weed nodded. 'In the back of Southside Motel. Behind a big piece of wood.'
'You've been there?'
'I didn't wanna be. I swear. But Smoke made me go and he hit me, too.' Weed wouldn't look up.
'Who is Smoke?' Brazil said.
'He broke in the garage and took all them guns. He made me go along and I held pillowcases for him. So I guess I get locked up for that and everything and I don't care 'cause if I go out, Officer Brazil, Smoke gonna kill me. I know it. He's looking for me now. That's why I told you to lock me up.'
'Do you know Smoke's real name?'
'He's just Smoke. Never heard no other name.'
'He go to school with you?'
'And you don't know his real name?'
'He's a senior and I don't know no seniors except the ones in art class, and Smoke never been in one of my art classes. Not the band, either.'
'He get in a lot of trouble in school?' Brazil asked.
'I never even noticed him until he come looking for me and found me after school in the band room. He asked if I wanted a ride to school in the morning and
'Did he tell you what these special things were?'
'All he kept saying was everybody was going to know him. He'd be more famous than Twister ever was, 'cause there's still pictures of Twister and trophies in the glass cases so I guess that's how Smoke heard about him.'
'Think hard, Weed.' Brazil put his hands on Weed's shoulders. 'Was Smoke planning something that might make him famous? Maybe something bad?'
'I think he wants to shoot people,' Weed said.
Brazil tried to figure out what to do. If Smoke was planning to show up at school with semiautomatics and take out as many people as he could, Brazil had to do something fast. He grabbed the phone and called West, waking her up.
'Get down here right away,' Brazil said. 'Don't ask why, just come.'
"Where's here?' she asked groggily.
'HQ. We need to get as many cops as we can at Godwin tomorrow to make sure Smoke doesn't show up, and we need to get that going now.'
West tried to wake up. Brazil could hear her moving around.
'I'll meet you in the detective division in maybe two hours,' Brazil said.
'Yeah,' she said.
Weed was getting increasingly frightened. He picked at his jersey and kept sighing as if he was having a hard time breathing.
'He made me do things. He put a gun to my head and said he'd shoot me if I didn't. Then a couple weeks ago he stopped showing up at school.'
'So he didn't give you rides anymore.' Brazil was taking copious notes.
'He'd drop me off and leave. Then he started making me late, started dragging me around, making me miss band practice. And I was supposed to play in the Azalea Parade on Saturday.' The light went out of his eyes. 'I been practicing all year. And now I guess I can't.'
The phone rang, startling both of them. Brazil answered it. He was wired and somewhat impatient as he explained Weed's transgressions to Intake Officer Charlie Yates.
Brazil charged Weed with violating Code 18.2-125, Trespass at night upon any cemetery, a class 4 misdemeanor, and 18.2-127, Injuries to churches, church property, cemeteries, burial grounds, etc., class 1 misdemeanor, and 182.2-138.1, Willful and malicious damage to or defacement of public or private facilities, a class 1 misdemeanor or a felony, depending on how much damage was done.
Southern Cross by Patricia Cornwell / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes