Southern cross, p.30
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       Southern Cross, p.30

           Patricia Cornwell

  There was no answer at Brazil's house when Hammer called from her car phone. She tried West next and was relieved that he and West were there.

  'I've got something important to say to both of you,' Hammer said over the line.

  Parking in the Fan wasn't as much of a problem at this early hour, and she managed to squeeze into a space on the curb right across the street from West's town house. Hammer was numb. She did not feel present, nor did she want to be when Brazil opened the front door.

  Thank you for seeing me,' Hammer said to Brazil as they walked into the living room.

  'Thank you,' he replied. 'It's kind of messy.'

  Hammer didn't care. She didn't even notice her surroundings, messy or not. She sat in a straight-back chair while West and Brazil sat across from her on the couch.

  'Virginia, Andy,' she began, 'I'm going to resign.'

  'Oh God,' West said, shocked.

  'You can't,' Brazil said, sick.

  'Basically,' Hammer went on, 'I've pretty much screwed up everything here. I used to be a good police officer, a good chief. Everybody hates us.'

  'Not everybody,' Brazil said.

  'Most of them,' said West. 'I mean, let's be honest about it.'

  'Well, I guess the Charlotte connection doesn't help,' Brazil supposed.

  'Or our locking up the COMSTAT network pretty much around the globe,' Hammer said.

  'Or our failure to crack the ATM cases before they progressed to a horrible murder. Or a communications officer getting in a fight with a traffic cop, both of whom had just received commendations several days before.' West helped her out with the list.

  Hammer folded her hands in her lap and kept them still. She did not interrupt. She did not get up and pace.

  'Judy,' West said. 'Where are you going to go? Back to Charlotte?'

  Hammer shook her head.

  'Nowhere,' she answered. 'If I can't handle Richmond, I'm not going to be able to handle someplace else. When the horse dies, get off. I'm retiring from police work. I don't know where I'll live. It doesn't matter.'

  'That reminds me,' West said. 'We need to talk about the Azalea Parade.'

  'How did what she just said remind you of that?' Brazil asked.

  'The horse comment. We've got mounted cops in the parade,' West said. 'And' - she looked at Hammer -'Andy and I are supposed to ride in your convertible.'

  'What kind of convertible is it?' Hammer looked distracted.

  'Dark blue Sebring,' Brazil said. 'Modest, not showy, although one of the big guys at Philip Morris wanted to drive you in his red Mercedes VI2 convertible.'

  'Not a good idea,' Hammer muttered.

  'I don't think you should be in the parade at all,' West said with conviction. 'The parade could be a possible target for Smoke. And I hate for you to be riding slow in a convertible anyway. There're a lot of kooks out there.'

  Hammer got up. She really didn't care what happened to her.

  'It's important,' she said dully. 'Every little thing we do to reach the community is helpful. I won't back out of a promise."

  'Well, we're going to have fifty off-duty cops there in addition to the regular shifts,' West told her. 'To the public, it will appear we're there mainly for traffic control. And we're mobilizing about twenty plainclothes guys to mingle, just in case Smoke shows up or someone else decides to cause a problem.'

  Bubba was thinking the same thing. He believed Chief Hammer should not be riding in an open car in the Azalea Parade, and worse, it had been in the newspaper so everybody knew it. It was possible this was where all roads met. Bubba had been called to save her from a terrible danger. Bubba also figured the Pikes somehow factored in.

  At eight o'clock this morning, he was already parking in front of Green Top Sporting Goods on U.S. Route 1, some twenty minutes outside of Richmond. There was no place Bubba would rather be. The minute he walked through the door and was greeted by thousands of fishing rods and all that went with them, his pulse quickened. When he turned to the right and saw hundreds of rifles, shotguns, pistols and revolvers, he got flushed. He felt lust in a way he had never experienced with Honey.

  'Hey, what'cha know.' He was enthusiastically greeted by Fig Winnick, the assistant manager.

  By Virginia law, a citizen could buy one handgun every thirty days and no more. This had given rise to the tongue-in-cheek Gun-of-the-Month Club. It was a small but clever group of one hundred and eighty-nine men and sixty-two women who sent each other reminders when their thirty days, loosely interpreted as a month, were up. It was April 2.

  'If only I'd come in two days ago, I could have bought a gun then and another one today,' Bubba misinterpreted, as usual.

  'Wishful thinking,' Winnick told him again. 'Doesn't work that way, Bubba. And it sure as hell is too damn bad.'

  'So you're saying it's not once a month,' Bubba challenged what he refused to believe.

  'Not literally. But sort of. If you start with the first day of each month.'

  'You know, someone stole all my guns.' Bubba browsed.

  'The guys were talking about it,' Winnick sympathized.

  'So all I got left's the Anaconda and I need something I can pack easier,' Bubba spoke the language.

  'I got just the thing.'

  Winnick lovingly opened a showcase and gently pulled out a Browning 40 S&W Hi-Power Mark III pistol. He handed the beauty to Bubba.

  'Oh God,' Bubba muttered as he fondled the silver chrome pistol. 'Oh, oh, oh.'

  'Molded polyamide grips with thumb rest,' Winnick said. 'Weighs thirty-five ounces, four and three-quarters barrel. Feels great to the hand, huh?'

  'Boy. No kidding.'

  Bubba pulled back the slide and snapped it forward. There was just no better sound than that.

  'Low profile front sight blade, drift-adjustable rear sight,' Winnick went on. 'Ambidextrous safety, ten-round magazine.'

  'Imported from Belgium.' Bubba wasn't going to be fooled. 'The genuine thing.'

  'Nothing but.'

  'What about a matte blue finish?' Bubba inquired. 'It doesn't show up as much.'

  'Sorry,' Winnick apologized. 'Damn. If only you had come in yesterday. We had about eleven left.'

  'Well, I guess this one will have to do,' Bubba said.

  Patty Passman also was thinking ahead. She hadn't missed an Azalea Parade in twelve years and she didn't intend to miss this one. Although Rhoad had unfairly charged her with many things, it was only assault on a police officer that had stuck. She wished bail bondsman

  Willy 'Lucky' Loving would show up to get her the hell out of here.

  Lockup was just a holding area and inmates wore their own clothes, giving up only their belts to make it trickier to commit suicide. Passman was sticky, her panty hose so torn up she'd had no choice but to take them off right in front of her cellmate, Tinky Meaney, a truck driver for Dixie Motorfreight, who had gotten picked up for getting into a scuffle in the parking lot of the Power Clean Grill on Hull Street. Passman didn't know the details, but of one thing she was certain, Tinky Meaney wasn't on the list of those Passman might have invited to a slumber party.

  'I sure wish he'd hurry up,' Passman said from her narrow steel pull-down bed.

  She said this often to make certain Meaney didn't think that Passman enjoyed Meaney's company and was in no hurry to leave it. Meaney was a big woman. She was the sort who always said they weren't fat, just big-boned and solid. This was nonsense.

  Meaney's thighs were thicker than the biggest Smithfield hams Passman had ever seen, and every time Meaney stalked about the tiny cell, her jeans swished as her upper legs rubbed together. Her hands were thick with stubby fingers and big knuckles that were scraped and bruised from the fistfight that had landed her here. She had no neck. As she sat on the edge of her bed staring at Passman, Meaney's breasts sagged over her empty belt loops. Unshaved pale legs showed between the hem of her jeans and the top of her hand-tooled black and red cowboy boots.

  'What the hell are you staring at?' Meane
y caught Passman looking.

  'Nothing,' Passman lied.

  Meaney stretched out on her side and propped up on an elbow, chin in hand. She stared without blinking, a look in her tiny dark eyes that Passman recognized instantly. At the same time Passman realized in amazement that Meaney's breasts were even bigger than Passman had thought. One was hanging over the side of the bed, almost touching the floor, and brought to mind a sandbag. Passman realized Meaney wasn't wearing a bra under her Motor Mile Towing & Flatbed Service sweatshirt.

  Passman was painfully reminded of yet one more lousy card she'd been dealt in life. No matter how much weight she had put on over the years, her breasts were elusive. Their fat cells dodged any opportunity for growth and development and always had. She suspected that when, as a young girl, she had tried to be a boy, that part of the programming never got deleted when she later returned to her proper gender.

  It was unbearably humiliating in eighth-grade health class to watch the films on menstruation, the female outline on the screen developing right before Passman's eyes, the breasts rounding, the pear-shaped muscular uterus discharging its menses in little hatch-marks flowing through the mature female outline, then out of it, on the screen.

  All the other girls could relate. Passman could not. She could have gotten by in life without a bra, had she been honest about it. Her periods were more like commas, brief pauses each month that exacerbated her hypoglycemia and made her very cranky.

  Passman was still staring, lost in tortured memories of puberty. Meaney smiled like a jack-o'-lantern and stretched provocatively. Passman carne to. She quickly averted her gaze.

  'I sure wish he'd hurry up,' Passman said again, this time with more emphasis.

  'It ain't so bad in here,' Meaney said in her twangy drawl. 'I recognize your voice. Hear you all the time when I'm in the vincinity, riding through. Channels one, two and three, know 'em by heart. Four-sixty point one hundred megs, 460.200, 460.325. I always thought you had a nice voice.'

  'Thank you,' Passman said. 'So, what'd you do?'

  Passman thought it wise to send out a warning. 'Beat the shit out of some guy,' she answered. 'I lost control and should've held back a little more than I did. Huge son of a bitch. Had it coming.'

  Meaney nodded. 'Mine had it coming, too, fucking son of a bitch. I'm sitting in the bar minding my own business, you know, after a long day on the road, I mean long. He comes over to my table, this big ole trashy fucker in a cowboy hat. I recognized him.' She nodded. 'And he recognized me.' She nodded again. 'He was in his personal car this night. Nineteen ninety-two Chevy Dually, lowered, loaded, four-fifty-four, aluminum wheels, tinted windows, air ride, all the hitches.

  'It was in the lot and he asked if I liked it. I said I did.

  He asked what I drove. I told him a Mack. He asked if I'd ever drove a Peterbilt. I said I'd driven all there was. He asked if I'd ever had a blowout in a Peterbilt. I said I hadn't. He asked if I wanted to. I said, Why would I? And he yanked down his zipper, so I threw him up against his Chevy Dually.

  'Then I musta really gone at him because he looked like hamburger, a bunch of broke bones, teeth everywhere but in his mouth, most of his hair yanked out, ear tore off. What I hate about someone pissing me off like that is later on I can't remember a thing. I guess I must have a spell of some sort, like an epilepick.'

  'I'm the same way,' Passman said.

  'So, you live around here?'

  'We're over near Regency Mall.'

  'Who's we?' Meaney's eyes got smaller and darker.

  'Me and my boyfriend.' Passman lied out of self-defense.

  'I had one once,' Meaney reminisced. Then I was in lockup one day. I forget what for. And there was another girl in there with me.' Meaney nodded and laid on her back, hands behind her head, body spilling everywhere.

  Passman was beginning to panic. She was going to kill the bondsman Lucky Loving if he didn't hurry up. She didn't want to encourage Meaney, not in the least, but she had to know the rest of the story. She needed to get as much information as she could. Forewarned is forearmed, her mother always used to say.

  'What happened?' Passman asked after a long, intense silence.

  'The things we did. Ha!' Meaney grinned, enjoying the memory. 'Let me tell you something, honey. There ain't a thing a man's got that you can't find under your own hood, if you know what I mean.'

  chapter thirty-four

  The Oliver Hill Courts Building was modern and full of light and Ayokunle Odeleye mahogany carvings. Brazil had never seen a court building that looked less like one, and it made him feel a little more optimistic when he walked in, Weed's case file under his arm. It was five minutes before nine, and unlike other juvenile systems, this one had an exact time schedule docket.

  If the arraignment was at nine, it would begin at nine, and that's exactly what time it was when the intercom announced, 'Weed Gardener, report to courtroom number two, please.'

  Judge Maggie Davis was already on the bench, formidable and distinguished in her black robe. She was young to be a judge, and when the General Assembly had appointed her, she had charged in and made changes. Although she protected the confidentiality of juveniles who committed lesser crimes, she did not coddle or shield violent offenders.

  'Good morning, Officer Brazil,' Judge Davis said as Brazil seated himself on the first row and the clerk handed the judge Weed's file.

  'Good morning, Your Honor,' said Brazil.

  A deputy escorted Weed in from the back and positioned him in front of the judge, where he seemed even smaller in his ill-fitting blue jumpsuit and detention-issue black Spalding hightops. But Weed held his head up. He didn't seem dejected or ashamed and in fact seemed to be looking forward to the arraignment, unlike Commonwealth's Attorney Jay Michael or Sue Cheddar, the public defender on his heels, or Mrs. Gardener, who was at the door explaining to a deputy who she was.

  '. . . yes, yes, my son,' Brazil heard Mrs. Gardener say.

  'Mrs. Gardener?' Judge Davis inquired.

  'Yes,' Mrs. Gardener whispered.

  Weed's mother had put on a crisp blue dress and matching shoes, but her face belied her neat facade. Her eyes were puffy and exhausted, as if she had been crying all night. Her hands shook. She had burst into tears and called herself a failure as a mother when Brazil had finally gotten her on the phone to tell her about Weed. She had told Brazil that she'd quit feeling or facing anything after Twister died.

  You can come up here,' the judge said kindly to Mrs. Gardener.

  Mrs Gardener came to the front of the courtroom and sat quietly in a corner of the first row, as far from Brazil as she could get. Weed did not turn around.

  'Are you expecting any other family?' the judge asked Mrs. Gardener.

  'No ma'am,' she barely said.

  'All right,' Judge Davis said to Weed, 'I'm going to tell you your rights.'

  'Okay,' he said.

  'You have the right to counsel, to a public hearing, to the privilege against self-incrimination, to confront and cross-examine witnesses, to present evidence, and the right to appeal a final decision of the court.'

  'Thank you,' Weed said.

  'Do you understand them?'


  'What this means, Weed, is you have a right to an attorney and you don't have to say anything this morning that might incriminate you. Those other rights don't apply unless you go to trial. Does that make sense, do you understand?'

  'What does incriminalate mean?'

  'For example, saying something that will be used against you.'

  'How do I know what that is?' Weed asked.

  'I'll stop you if you start doing it, how's that?'

  'What if you don't stop me quick enough?'

  'I will, don't worry.'

  'You promise?'

  'Yes,' Judge Davis answered. 'Now.' She looked at Weed. 'The purpose of this arraignment is to determine whether I should keep you locked up in detention before your trial date or let you go.'

  'I wanna s
tay locked up,' Weed said.

  'We'll talk about that as we proceed,' said the judge.

  She looked at the petition Brazil had signed.

  'Weed, you've been charged with 18.2-125 of the Virginia code, Trespass at night upon any cemetery, and 18.2-127, Injuries to churches, church property, cemeteries, burial grounds, etc., and 182.2-138.1, Willful and malicious damage to or defacement of public or private facilities.' She leaned forward. 'Do you understand the seriousness of these charges?'

  'I only know what I did or didn't do,' Weed said.

  'Do you believe you're guilty or not guilty?'

  'Depends on what happens if I say one or another,' Weed said.

  'Weed, it doesn't work that way."

  'I just wanna have my say.'

  'Then plead not guilty and you can have your say at the trial,' she told him.

  'When's that?'

  'We'd have to set a date.'

  'Could we do it tomorrow?'

  'Twenty-one days from now.'

  Weed looked crushed.

  'But the Azalea Parade's Saturday,' he explained. 'Can't I have my say now so I can march in it and play the cymbals?'

  Judge Davis seemed to find this juvenile a little more interesting than most. Commonwealth's Attorney Michael was befuddled. Public Defender Cheddar had a blank expression on her face.

  'If you want to have your say, Weed, then plead not guilty.' The judge tried to make him get the drift.

  'Not unless I get to be in the parade,' he told her stubbornly.

  'If you don't plead not guilty, the alternative is guilty. Do you understand what a guilty plea means?' Judge Davis asked with surprising patience.

  'Means I done it."

  'It means I have to sentence you, Weed. Maybe I'll put you on probation, maybe I won't. You may lose your freedom, go back to detention, in other words, and if that's the case, there's absolutely no chance of your being in any parade anytime soon.'

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