Southern cross, p.29
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       Southern Cross, p.29

           Patricia Cornwell
 

  'So which is it?' Yates wanted to know.

  'Misdemeanor, class one,' Brazil said. 'We don't know how much cleaning up the statue's going to cost. If it's more than a thousand dollars, we'll deal with it at the trial.'

  Weed was staring wide-eyed at Brazil. It was obvious Weed did not understand. He was terrified.

  'Hearing's set for Friday,' Yates went on. 'He got someone . . . ?'

  'I want the hearing in the morning,' Brazil interrupted. 'It's really important, Charlie.'

  'Hey, no big deal.' It made no difference to Yates.

  It did to Brazil. He knew from this month's court calendar that Judge Maggie Davis was on the bench. She had a policy that her courtroom was not open to the public unless the juvenile had committed a felony, and the last thing Brazil wanted was Weed's hearing open to the public. He didn't want some reporter making the rounds and walking in. He didn't want anyone except the attorneys and judge to hear what he and Weed might have to say.

  'He got someone to pick him up tonight and take him home?' Yates was asking.

  'We haven't been able to locate his mother.'

  She was in the operating room and could not be disturbed, not that Brazil had tried very hard. Weed didn't want to go home and Brazil didn't want him to, either.

  There's no beds in detention. I just checked,' Yates said.

  'Never are,' Brazil replied.

  'So if he can't go home, he's going to end up in a holding cell until the morning.'

  That's fine,' Brazil said, not taking his eyes off Weed. 'As soon as you can get here, I'll sign the petition and take him on over. And try to make it fast, Charlie. There's a lot going on.'

  Weed had an intake room without much of a view, a cell no bigger than a closet, everything stainless steel, including the bed. He could not sleep. He stared out a small grate and watched other kids brought in who reminded him of Sick, Beeper, Divinity and Dog. No one reminded him of Smoke. Smoke didn't look like what he was.

  It was dark when Officer Brazil had transported Weed to this place. They called it the Juvenile Detention Home, but it wasn't like any home Weed had ever been in. He couldn't see what the outside of it was like but he knew it was in a bad part of town, because right before he'd gotten here they'd driven past the jail. It was all lit up, rolls of razor wire shining like knife blades waiting to cut someone. Weed's stomach got hollow and he had a cold feeling in his heart.

  Weed was still mad they had made him take off all his clothes and go into the shower. When he came out they had a uniform for him to wear. It was nothing to make Weed proud. He was reminded of what his daddy wore cleaning out gutters and clipping hedges when he wasn't gambling away what he earned.

  'Hey!' Weed banged on the door.

  Someone was cussing and a deputy was telling a cocky badass boy everything he had done wrong and why he was going to pay for it.

  'Hey!' Weed pounded the metal door with his fist, standing on his tiptoes to see through the grate.

  Suddenly a deputy was in his face, nothing but a crisscross of metal between them. Weed could smell cigarettes and onions on his breath.

  'You got a problem?' the deputy asked.

  'I wanna see my police officer,' Weed told him.

  'Yo!' the deputy called out. 'He wants to see his po-lice officer!'

  Laughter and bad-mouthing followed.

  'What, you got your own personal po-lice officer?' the deputy smarted off to Weed. 'Now ain't that something.'

  'He's the one who brought me in,' Weed said. 'Tell him I got to talk to him.'

  'You can tell him in court.'

  'When's that?'

  'Nine in the morning.'

  'I need to find out if he called my mama!' Weed exclaimed.

  'Maybe you should've thought about your mama before you broke the law,' the deputy said.

  chapter thirty-three

  At shortly after three A.M. a SWAT team raided the Pikes' clubhouse at the Southside Motel and found the room abandoned. Police recovered no guns or ammunition. They found nothing but liquor and trash and filthy mattresses.

  Brazil was on one phone, West on another, each of them in a cubicle inside the detective division. Brazil had called Godwin's principal, Mrs. Lilly, at home, and when she realized what it was about, she met the registrar at the high school and they started going through records.

  Eventually they figured out that Smoke's real name was Alex Bailey, but the address listed in his school records didn't exist, the phone number didn't work, and there was no photograph of him on file. Although the yearbook wasn't out yet, a check of those who had gotten their pictures taken for it did not include him. All anyone really knew was the classes he had been in and that last summer he had moved here from Durham, North Carolina, where the obscure private high school he supposedly had transferred from didn't exist.

  Brazil called every Bailey in the city directory, waking people up. No one seemed to have a family member named Alex who went to Godwin High School.

  'How the hell did he get away with it?' Brazil said to West. 'He uses a bogus address, phone number, name of his former high school and who knows what else.'

  West was smoking a Carlton. She'd sort of quit months ago, but at times like this she needed a friend.

  'Who's going to check?' she said. 'You ever had your high school call you at home or come see you?'

  'I don't remember.'

  'Well, I sure as hell didn't. Most people don't unless they get in trouble. And it sounds like he was just your average kind of keep-to-yourself nobody until a couple weeks ago. Then he cuts classes or doesn't show up at all. Maybe the school starts calling. But guess what? By then it's too late.'

  'I wonder what his parents know.' Brazil reached for his Styrofoam cup of what once was drinkable coffee.

  'Denial. Maybe protecting him. Don't want to face it and never have. No question in my mind this kid's not new to the system. No pictures of him anywhere, including the yearbook, just like all these other little felons, so we don't know what they look like. I bet you anything he's got a record in North Carolina, probably transferred from Dillon High School.' She sarcastically referred to the juvenile training school in Butner, North Carolina. 'His fucking family probably moved him here when he turned sixteen and all his records were expunged. So the asshole gets to start all over again, clean as a Boy Scout.'

  Brazil swirled the coffee in his cup. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

  'So. You going to bother going to bed tonight?' West said.

  'There's no night left,' Brazil said.

  'You want to come over, maybe scramble up a few eggs or something?'

  Sadness walked through Brazil's eyes.

  'As long as we stop at my house first,' he said. There's something I've got to get.'

  The Azalea Motel on Northside's Chamberlayne Avenue was not where the police would have expected to find Smoke. He also liked the irony of the name, since the Azalea Parade was the day after tomorrow. Smoke had big plans.

  He sat on his single bed in his single room and thought where he was staying wasn't much better than the clubhouse. The Azalea Motel was the sort of place where people did drugs and got murdered and nobody cared. Smoke got room 7 for twenty-eight dollars a night. He stared blankly at the TV and drank vodka from a plastic cup. Smoke had been monitoring the news. At five after six A.M., his phone rang.

  'What,' he answered.

  It was Divinity.

  'Baby, they raided our place just like you said they would,' she told him in an excited voice.

  Smoke smiled as he stared at the trash bags full of guns and ammunition in the corner.

  'Sick and me parked the car at the dirty bookstore and we was in the woods watching, you know, baby. It was all we could do not to laugh. Them busting in there with all their stuff on and big guns and all. You sure was right about getting out when we did, sugar. But I wanna know when I'm gonna see you, huh?'

  'Not now,' Smoke told her without much interest as he spun ar
ound the cylinder of a Colt .357.

  'I sure could do with a little more / miss you enthusiasm.' Divinity's voice was hurt on the way to being mad.

  Smoke wasn't listening. His mind wandered back to the old woman and her fear. Smoke had never scared anybody that much. He was awed by his power and as drunk from it as he was from vodka. He loved the way it felt to squeeze the trigger. He had been so high he barely heard the explosions when he blew apart her head. He threw back another swallow of vodka.

  'What'cha gonna tell the others?' Divinity was asking.

  Smoke came to.

  'About what?' he said.

  'You ain't even listening.' Her voice was getting sharp.

  One thing Smoke avoided was fighting with Divinity. She could make a scene, and that was what he didn't need right now.

  'I'm just so tired,' he said, sighing. 'And I miss you and it makes me crazy I can't see you until Saturday night. That's when we'll be free and clear.'

  'How?'

  'You'll see.'

  'What about Dog and the rest of them?'

  'I don't want them anywhere near me,' Smoke said. 'None of you come anywhere near the Azalea Parade.'

  'I don't understand this big shit about some little parade named after a bush.' Divinity hadn't softened much.

  'Baby, I'm gonna be the king of it,' Smoke said.

  'What'cha gonna do, ride on a float?'

  He couldn't stand it when she got sarcastic. He slammed down the vodka bottle and snapped the revolver's empty cylinder in place. He dry-fired at the TV.

  'Shut up!' he said in his voice from hell, that tone he got when the change came over him. 'You just do what I say, bitch.'

  'I always do.' Divinity backed down.

  'Don't you call anymore. Don't you come around, and the others don't know where I am, right?'

  'I ain't told 'em nothing. So you dumping me?'

  'For two days.'

  'Then we're good?'

  'As good as it gets,' he said.

  Brazil ran into his house for only a moment and when he returned to West's car, he was carrying a grocery bag with something in it. He had a strange look on his face.

  'What's that?' West asked.

  'You'll see,' he said. 'I don't want to talk about it right now.'

  'You got a body part in there or something?'

  'In a way,' Brazil said morbidly.

  West knew about Ruby Sink. The word had traveled like electricity. Everyone in the police department found out Miss Sink was Brazil's landlady, and when West heard the truth, she felt sick with guilt. She felt stupid and ignorant. Brazil's so-called girlfriend had been a seventy-one-year-old woman who rented a row house to him. West felt absolutely terrible and for hours had been trying to think of what to say.

  She drove through the Fan. Nothing was open, not even the Robin Inn. She parked in front of her town house and turned off the engine but didn't get out. She looked at Brazil in the dark. Her heart stirred as she stared at his face, sharply defined by shadows from the streetlight.

  'I know,' she said.

  He was quiet.

  'I know about Ruby Sink. That she was your landlady. The landlady I heard you were seeing.'

  Brazil turned to her, baffled.

  'Seeing?' he said. 'Where the hell did you hear something like that?'

  'The talk was all around the department from day one,' West replied. 'People told me you had a thing going with your landlady. Then I heard you on the phone with her and . . . well, it sounded like it was true, in a way.'

  'Why? Because I was nice to her when she paged me?' Brazil said with emotion. 'Because she was lonely and always bringing me cookies, cakes and things?' His voice wavered. 'Leaving them on my doorstep because I was never fucking home and never gave her the rucking time of day!'

  'I'm sorry, Andy,' West said gently.

  'It's like my mother.' He dissolved. 'I don't call her. She's so fucking drunk all the time and I can't stand it and won't listen to the awful things she says. I don't know. I don't know.'

  West moved over and put her arms around him. She held him close to calm him. Her blood got hot and her chemistry woke up.

  'It's all right, Andy,' she said. 'It's going to be all right.'

  She wanted to hold him forever, but suddenly the awkwardness of it overtook the magic. She thought of her age. She thought of his talent, of everything that made him so unusual and special. He was probably hugging her back because he was terribly upset, no other reason. His heart probably wasn't pounding like hers. He probably wasn't as aware of their bodies touching as she was. She abruptly pulled away.

  'I guess we should go in,' she said.

  Niles heard them long before they gave a thought to him. He was waiting by the front door when his owner and Piano Man walked in.

  Piano Man took a moment to pet Niles, while Niles's owner couldn't be bothered. Niles stayed where he was, tail switching. He watched with crossed eyes and plotted as they went into the kitchen.

  When they were out of view, Niles jumped up on the table in the foyer. He hooked a claw into the florist's card. He jumped down, landing silently on three legs.

  West did not think she could eat the sweet potato pie. She stared at the slice Brazil set before her. The idea that Ruby Sink had made it before her cold-blooded murder was too much for West to process.

  'I can't throw it away.' Brazil sat across from West at the kitchen table. 'It would be heartless to throw it away. I just can't. You couldn't either, Virginia. She would want us to eat it.'

  'This is kind of sick,' West said, blinking, focusing, looking at him. 'I don't think I can.'

  Brazil picked up his fork. He flinched as he cut off the point of his slice. He raised it. He took a deep breath and put it in his mouth. West watched him chew once or twice and swallow. It surprised her that he looked enormously relieved. Tension left his face. His eyes brightened and got that fierce blue flame in them that she had learned to recognize and take very seriously.

  'It's okay,' he told her in a strong voice. 'Trust me.' He nodded for her to eat.

  West had never backed down from a challenge, especially in front of him. It was one of the hardest things she'd ever done when she took a bite of that pie. It surprised her that it didn't taste weird or dead or who knows what. She had no idea what she had expected.

  'Brown sugar, coconut milk, cinnamon,' said Brazil, who spent more time in the kitchen than West did.

  He took another bite, this time without hesitation. West matched him.

  'Raisins, vanilla extract.' Brazil concentrated on his tongue as if he were tasting fine wine. 'Ah. Ginger. A hint of it. And a breath of nutmeg.'

  'Breath of nutmeg?' West said. 'Where the hell does that shit come from?'

  Brazil took another bite. So did she. She might just eat another slice to spite him.

  Neither of them heard Niles, not that they ever did. He walked in holding up a paw, a white square of paper caught on one of his claws.

  'Baby?' West said in alarm, certain he was injured. 'Oh sweetie, what did you do to yourself?'

  She didn't realize what was on his claw until Niles was in Brazil's lap and the florist's card from the hallway table was in plain view. Brazil got a confused expression on his face.

  'Schwan's Flowers and Gifts? Charlotte?' he read aloud what was on the envelope as he pulled out the card. '"Thinking of you, Andy,"' his voice trailed off.

  West tried to act nonchalant and failed. She hated Niles and would pay him back for this.

  'How did this end up on your hallway table?' Brazil wanted to know.

  'How do you know it was on the table?' she said coolly as she imagined leaving Niles out in a hailstorm.

  'I saw it there when we were here working on the computer!'

  'Why were you looking at anything on any table?' Old anger and hurt jumped off the shelf where she had been storing them for months.

  'Because you put it there so I would see it,' he exclaimed.

  'How arrogant
of you!'

  'Then why?' he said. 'And don't tell me Niles did it.'

  West pushed away her plate and stared past him. She tried to think how to say it. Confessing feelings was as dangerous as counting money when you walked down a dark street in a bad part of town.

  'Because you didn't care about me anymore.' She was out with it.

  'That's because you didn't care about me first,' he argued.

  'And that's because I thought you dumped me the minute we got to town and started seeing someone else without even having the courtesy to tell me.'

  'Virginia, I haven't seen anybody,' Brazil said in a softer tone.

  He reached out and took her hand. She had a hard time swallowing.

  'And I didn't dump you,' he said.

  He moved his chair next to hers and kissed her. In the bedroom he discovered the wineglasses of Mountain Dew.

  Hammer wanted to dump the entire NIJ project. Her mind was a riotous crowd of dissenting, unhappy people who would not let her sleep. She thought about Bubba and how badly she had maligned him. She obsessed over how badly she had handled Leila Ehrhart and those like her.

  Part of Hammer's mission was to enlighten people. She saw no evidence that she had. Part of her plan was to modernize the police department. And what happened? The entire COMSTAT telecommunications network crashed. The ATM robberies escalated to murder. There were gangs. There was Smoke.

  Hammer didn't think she could ever again endure seeing Ruby Sink's house or even the block Miss Sink had lived on. Miss Sink, in her pink robe and slippers, had shuffled through Hammer's mind all night. Hammer could not get away from their last conversation on Miss Sink's sidewalk. Hammer could see the old woman in such detail it hurt her heart and pierced her with guilt.

  'I'm a failure,' Hammer said to Popeye.

  Popeye was under the covers, between Hammer's feet.

  'I've caused harm. I should never have come here. I bet you wish you still lived in Charlotte where you had a yard, don't you?'

  Her eyes filled with tears. Popeye burrowed up to her and licked her face. Hammer couldn't remember the last time she had cried. She had been so stoical when Seth had died because she believed she had to be. She had been rational about the reasons her sons did not seem to want to see her. Hammer had been courageous, innovative, community-minded. All of it so she would be too busy to be lonely, and it hadn't worked. She got up and dressed.

 
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