Southern cross, p.3
'Always is,' Hanger grumbled. 'But I know that's how they do things in New York.'
He nodded at Officer Wally Fling, Hammer's administrative assistant, who was new at working the computer-mapping software that everyone hated. Fling hit several keys and a pie chart filled the screen.
'I don't want the pie chart yet, Fling,' Hanger said.
Fling hit several more keys and another pie chart popped up, this one for fourth precinct.
'Sorry,' Fling said as he nervously tried again. 'I guess you want first precinct.'
'That would be nice. And I don't want pies.'
Hanger got one anyway, this time for second precinct. Flustered, Fling hit more keys and the department's shield flashed on screen, with its motto, Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect, or CPR, which Hammer also had borrowed from NYPD.
Several people groaned and booed. Brazil gave Hammer an I've tried to warn you look.
'Why can't we have our own logo?' asked Captain Cloud, who was a commander for the day and felt he had a right to speak.
'Yeah,' other disgruntled voices joined in.
'It makes us look like second string."
'Maybe we can get their hand-me-down uniforms, too."
'That's one of the things that's griping us, Chief.'
Two more pie charts flashed by on the screen.
'Officer Fling,' Hammer said. 'Put it back on the logo, please. Let's talk about this.'
A pin map of handgun seizures filled the screen, little yellow revolvers pointed at the problem areas of the city.
'Check out COMSTAT for Dummies.'
'Shit,' Fling said when he somehow ended up back at the main menu.
'Go back to your day job, Fling.'
He banged the enter key four times and an error message told him to stop it.
'All right, all right,' Hammer quieted the room. 'Captain Cloud? I want to hear what you have to say.'
'Well,' Cloud picked up where he'd left off, 'it's like the city seal, George Washington on his horse. I gotta ask you, what's George Washington got to do with Richmond? I guess we what? Borrowed that from D.C., from another big city, in other words?'
'I agree totally.''I bet he never even slept here.'
'It's an embarrassment.'
'D.C., and now we're swiping ideas from New York. How bad does that make us look?' Cloud said.
'Okay,' Hammer raised her voice. 'I'm afraid there's not a thing we can do about the city seal at this time. So let's get back to our motto. Captain Cloud, remember that part of accountability is to suggest a solution when you point out a problem. Do you have a new motto in mind?'
'Well, I played around with one a little bit last night.'
Cloud had high blood pressure. His white uniform shirt was too tight around the neck, and his face was almost purple. He was center stage and sweating.
'I was thinking about what would be simple but direct, and, now don't get your hopes up that this is real creative or poetic or anything, but if you ask the question, what are we all about? I think the answer can be summed up in three words. Tough On Crime,' Cloud looked around the table. TOC, in other words, which is real easy to remember and doesn't take up any more room than CPR if we're gonna paint it on things or add it to our patches.'
'Doesn't do anything for me.'
'Okay, okay,' Cloud rushed forward. 'I had a backup just in case. How about Tough In Court and Tough On Crime? TIC TOC.'
'I don't like it.'
'Wait a minute,' Cloud went on with conviction.
'Everybody's always complaining how slow we are getting to scenes, to their house after their alarm's gone off, right? And how many times do we hear the public bitch about how long it takes to solve a case? I think TIC TOC sends a positive message about a new attitude, about us trying harder.'
'It also makes it sound like we're watching the clock. Like we can't wait for shift change.'
'Or something bad's about to happen.'
'Besides, it would be TOC TIC because being tough on crime is gonna come before you get to court.'
'It doesn't work, Cloud.'
Cloud was crushed. 'Never mind,' he said.
Hammer had been silent through all this because she wanted to give her troops a chance to be heard. But she could take no more.
'It's something for all of us to think about,' she said abruptly. 'I'm always open for something new. Thank you, Captain Cloud.'
'Actually, I had a thought on the subject,' Andy Brazil said.
No one spoke. Cops started shuffling through notes and shifting in chairs. They got up for more coffee. Cloud opened a little bag of Fisherman's Friend throat lozenges, paper tearing loudly. Fling rebooted the computer and it beeped and honked as it tried to come back.
Hammer felt sorry for Brazil. She was indignant that he was discriminated against for reasons beyond his control. It wasn't his fault that women and gay men of all ages could not take their eyes off him. He couldn't help that he was only twenty-five and talented and sensitive. Nor was there a thing he had done or intimated that gave credence to the vicious rumor that she had brought him with her to Richmond for sexual pleasure and then he had run off with his landlady.
'Go ahead, Officer Brazil.' Hammer tended to be brusque with him. 'But we need to move along.'
'I really think we'd be better off without a motto,' Brazil said.
'CPR makes it sound like we need to be resuscitated,' he added.
No one would look at him. Papers shuffled. Duty belts creaked.
'That we're in extremis,' he said.
Then Cloud spoke up, 'I've always thought that. It's about time somebody said it before it got painted on all the cars.'
'It's just one more thing for people to make fun of,' Brazil pointed out. 'Especially since the core of COMSTAT is accountability. And what happens if somewhere down the road someone decides to add accountability to our motto?'
More silence as everyone puzzled. Some wrote words and letters on paper, rearranging acronyms, like Jumble. Hammer knew instantly where Brazil was going with this.
'CARP,' Fling read from his notepad.
'PARC?' Captain Cloud volunteered.
'You get CRAP,' Brazil told them.
'Interesting,' Hammer said loudly, restoring order. 'All of you have made me see this in a different light. Maybe we shouldn't have a motto. Those in favor, raise your hand.'
All did except Cloud. He sipped his coffee, eyes cast down at his half-eaten glazed doughnut, a sour expression on his face.
'So I guess I can delete the motto from the computer,' Fling said, tapping keys again.
'I don't want you deleting anything,' Hammer told him.
Puff Daddy & the Family were rapping on the CD player and air was blowing through a stuck back window of Smoke's Escort. He had changed clothes in the car and Divinity was gone, the scent of her cloying perfume lingering as Smoke and fourteen-year-old Weed Gardener headed west to Mills E. Godwin High School.
Smoke had money in his pocket. Tucked under the seat was the Glock nine-millimeter pistol he had traded twenty rocks of crack cocaine for on the street. He was high as he replayed the robbery again and again, a favorite scene in the movie that was his life. He was getting better. He was getting bolder.
He thought how cool it would be to walk into the band room and take out twelve, thirteen, maybe fifteen students and their fucking band director, Mr. Curry, who thought he knew so much and wouldn't let Smoke play in the marching band because Smoke was tone deaf and couldn't keep rhythm on the snare drum. But Weed got to play the cymbals when he didn't know them from garbage can lids, and why? Because Weed was good in art and never got into trouble. Well, all that was about to change.
'. . . Who you know do it better . . .' Smoke rapped along, o
Weed joined in on percussion, playing his hands on his thighs and the dashboard and jumping in his seat as if he had a synthesizer for a central nervous system and a drumbeat for a pulse. Smoke hated it. He hated that Weed saw rainbow colors and pictures to draw everywhere he went. He was tired of Weed's art being put on display in the library. At least Weed was stupid. He was so stupid he had no clue that the only reason Smoke had befriended him and started giving him rides to school was that Smoke intended to use Weed up.
'Ri-dicu-u-lous . . . you're in the danger zone you shouldn't be alone . . .' Smoke's monotone got louder.
Smoke turned up the volume on the CD player and pumped up the bass as far as it would go. He kept working the switch for the left back window and swearing when the glass remained stuck open halfway. Air slapped and the music throbbed as Weed played on.
'Hey, retard, cut it out,' Smoke said, grabbing one of Weed's hands to make him stop his solo.
Weed went still. Smoke imagined he could smell Weed's fear.
'Listen to me, retard,' Smoke went on. 'Maybe I'm coming around, to giving you what you been dreaming about, the biggest offer in your puny nothing life.'
'Oh.' Weed dreaded what Smoke was about to say.
'You want to be cool, right? You want to be just like me, right?'
'I guess so.'
'You guess so?' Smoke blurted.
He flicked Weed's nose so hard it started bleeding. Tears jumped into Weed's eyes.
'Now, what was that you said, retard?' Smoke's voice was flat with hate.
Blood trickled down Weed's face and dripped onto his Route 66 sand-blasted, relaxed-leg jeans.
'You get blood in my car, and I'm gonna throw your ass out. How'd you like to be a skid mark on the road?' Smoke told him.
'I wouldn't,' Weed said quietly.
'I know how much you want to be a Pike and been waiting for my answer,' Smoke said. 'And after a lot of consideration, I've decided to let you have a shot at it, even though you don't measure up to the standards.'
Weed didn't want to be a Pike. He didn't want to "be part of Smoke's gang. They beat people up, stole things, broke into cars, cut holes in restaurant roofs and carried off cases of liquor. They did all kinds of things that Weed didn't even want to know about.
'So, what do you say?' Smoke had his hand up, fingers poised to flick Weed again.
'First you say thank you, retard. You say, I'm so honored I'm about to shit in my pants.'
'It would be fucking cool, man.' Weed dressed his fear in cocky words that started strutting off his tongue. 'Think of the shit we could do, man. And I get to wear the colors?'
'Chicago Bulls, like you're fucking Michael Jordan. Maybe it will make you taller. Maybe it will pump up that flat inner tube between your legs and you can start juicing girls.'
'Who says I don't juice 'em now?' Weed talked big.
'You ain't juiced anything in your puny little mother-fucking life. Not even fruit.'
'You don't know that.'
Smoke laughed in his cruel, mocking way.
'You ain't got no idea,' Weed went on, acting like a hardass, knowing what would happen if he didn't because weakness made Smoke meaner.
'You wouldn't know what to do with pussy if it rubbed up against your leg and purred.' Smoke guffawed. 'I've seen your tool. I've seen you whiz.'
'Whizzing and juicing ain't the same thing,' Weed let him know.
Smoke turned into the parking lot of Mills E. Godwin High School, named after a former governor of Virginia and home of the Eagles. Smoke stopped and waited for Weed to get out.
'Ain't you coming?' Weed asked.
'I'm busy right now,' Smoke said.
'But you'll be tardy.'
'Oh, I'm scaaaarrrred.' Smoke laughed. 'Get out, re-tardy. '
Weed did. He opened the back door and gathered his cheap knapsack of books, papers and the bologna-and-mustard sandwich he had fixed before Smoke picked him up.
'After school, you get your ass right back here,' Smoke said. 'Right in this exact spot. I'm gonna take you over to the clubhouse so you can get initiated and make your dream come true.'
Weed knew about the clubhouse. Smoke had told him all about it.
'I got band practice,' Weed said as his spirit trembled inside him.
'No you don't.'
'Yeah I do. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we got marching practice, Smoke.' Weed's blood lost its heat and his stomach made itself smaller.
'Today you're busy, re-tardy. Your ass better be right here at three.'
Tears welled in Weed's eyes again as Smoke sped off. Weed loved band. He loved going outside on the practice baseball field and marching with his Sabian eighteen-inch bronze cymbals and dreaming of the red-and-white toy-soldier uniform with its black hat and plume that he'd get to wear in the Azalea Parade on Saturday. Mr. Curry said Sabians were the best made, and Weed was responsible for keeping them bright and shiny, the leather straps tied nice and tight in their special flat, braided knots.
Flags were waving in front of the tidy blond-brick school, where nineteen hundred boisterous upper-middle-class students were jostling and shuffling into classrooms. Weed's mood lifted. At least his father lived in the right school district. Weed kept clothes and other belongings in his father's house, pretending he lived there, too. If Weed couldn't go to Godwin, there would be no art or musk in his life.
The 8:35 tardy bell was ringing as Weed slammed shut the door to his bright orange locker and ran through empty corridors of different colored walls, the classrooms he passed filled with chatter and laughter and the thud and flutter of books opening on desktops. Weed had a phobia of being late that preceded this moment by many years.
His mother worked all the time and was rarely home or awake to get Weed up for school. Sometimes he overslept, sending him flying down to the corner bus stop in a panic, without books or lunch, barely dressed. In his mind, missing the bus meant missing life and being left alone in an empty house that echoed with past fights between parents who had split and the loud, full-of-himself sounds of Weed's big brother, Twister, who was dead.
Weed galloped around a corner to the science department just as Mr. Pretty began hall duty from the table outside Mrs. Fan's biology class, where this second Weed was supposed to be getting ready to take a quiz.
'Whoa,' Mr. Pretty called out as Weed ran past and the tardy bell stopped and doors up and down the halls shut.
'I'm going to Mrs. Fan's class,' Weed gasped.
'Do you know where it is?'
'Yes, sir, Mr. Pretty. Right there.' Weed pointed at the red door less than twenty steps away, and wondered what kind of stupid question was that.
'You're late,' Mr. Pretty told him.
'The bell just quit,' Weed said. 'You can almost still hear it.'
'Late is late, Weed.'
'I didn't mean to be.'
'And I don't guess you have a pass,' said Mr. Pretty, who taught ninth-grade Western Civilization.
'I don't got a pass,' Weed said as indignation gathered, 'cause I wasn't planning on being late. But my ride just got here and there wasn't nothing I could do about it and I ran all the way so I wouldn't be late. And now you're making me later, Mr. Pretty.'
Mr. Pretty's compulsion was to pull kids but not ticket them. He was young and nice-looking and had an insatiable need for captive audiences. He was notorious for holding kids in the hall as long as possible while they fidgeted and stared at the rooms where they were supposed to be as classes and quizzes went on without them.
'Don't blame me or your ride for being tardy,' said Mr. Pretty from behind his small table in the empty intersection of shiny, empty hallways.
'I'm not blaming. I'm just saying the way it is.'
'If I were you, I'd watch my mouth, Weed.'
'What you want me to do, walk around with a mirror?'
Mr. Pretty might have let Weed go on to class, but Mr. Pretty was pissed and decided to draw things out.
'Let's see, I believe you're in my third period,' he said. 'You remember what we talked about on Friday?'
Weed didn't remember anything about Friday except that he wasn't looking forward to spending the weekend with his father.
'Ah. Maybe this will jog your memory,' Mr. Pretty said curtly. 'What happened in 1556?'
Weed's nerves were tangling and popping. He could hear Mrs. Fan's voice through her shut door. She was passing out the quiz and going over instructions.
'Come on, I know you know it.' Mr. Pretty picked on Weed some more. 'What happened?'
'A war.' Weed threw out the first thing that came to mind.
'A fairly safe guess since there were so many of them. But you're wrong. Fifteen fifty-six was when Akbar became emperor of India.'
'Is it okay if I go in Mrs. Fan's class now?'
'And then what?' Mr. Pretty demanded. 'What happened next?'
'I asked you first.'
'About what?' Weed was getting furious.
'About what happened next?' Mr. Pretty asked.
'Depends on what you mean by next,' Weed smarted off.
'Next as in what's next in the chronology of events that I handed out to every person in my class,' Mr. Pretty answered with an edge. 'Of course, you probably never looked at it.'
'I did too. And it says right on it we don't have to memorize nothing unless it's in bold, and the India thing and what happened next ain't in bold.'
'Oh really?' Mr. Pretty got haughty. 'And how can you remember whether something was in bold or not if you don't remember anything in the first place?'
'I remember when something's in bold!' Weed raised his voice, as if he were suddenly talking in bold.
'No you don't!'
'Yes I do!'
Mr. Pretty angrily grabbed a ballpoint pen out of his shirt pocket. He began scribbling words on the Hall Duty passes and no passes sheet.
'All right, smarty pants,' said Mr. Pretty as self-control slipped further out of reach. 'I've written down ten words, some in bold, some not. You get one minute to look them over.'
Southern Cross by Patricia Cornwell / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes