Southern cross, p.31
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       Southern Cross, p.31

           Patricia Cornwell

  'You sure?' Weed asked.

  'Sure as I'm sitting here.'

  'Not guilty,' he said, 'even if I am.'

  Judge Davis looked at Mrs. Gardener. 'Do you have an attorney?'

  'No, ma'am,' Mrs. Gardener replied.

  'Can you afford to hire one?'

  'How much would it cost?'

  'It could be expensive,' said the judge.

  'I don't want an attorney,' Weed piped up.

  'I'm not talking to you,' the judge warned.

  'Don't hire one, Mama!' he said.

  'Weed!' the judge said sternly.

  'I'm gonna defend myself.' Weed wouldn't stop.

  'No, you're not,' Judge Davis replied.

  She appointed Sue Cheddar to defend Weed, and Cheddar moved to Weed's side and smiled at him. She wore a lot of makeup, her mascara so thick it reminded Weed of asphalt right after they put it down. Little gold stars had been painted on red nails so long her fingers never touched anything first. Weed wasn't impressed.

  'I don't want her,' he said. 'I don't need nobody to talk for me.'

  'I've decided you do,' said the judge. 'Mr. Michael, please present evidence to the state for continued custody,' she said to the commonwealth's attorney, who looked over at Brazil and passed the baton.

  'Your Honor, I think the arresting officer is better able to do that at this time,' Michael said. 'I haven't really looked at anything yet.'

  Weed didn't like the way Sue Cheddar was handling things. Every time he tried to say what was what, Cheddar told him to hush. He didn't understand how the truth ever got out if people weren't allowed to tell it because they might get in trouble when they ought to be in trouble anyway.

  After a while, when Brazil was leading up to the crime, Weed got tired of Cheddar basically telling him to shut up. He was insulted and indignant. She didn't seem to object to anything except Weed, and she was supposed to be on his side. So he took over. He decided that if Officer Brazil was going to tell Weed's story, Weed would object for himself all he wanted, even if he agreed with Brazil.

  'About two o'clock Tuesday morning, Weed climbed over the Hollywood Cemetery fence, trespassing on private property.' Brazil was standing before the judge and summarizing.

  'We didn't even get there until after three,' Weed corrected him again.

  'That's immaterial,' Judge Davis said as she had numerous times before.

  'Shhhhh . . .' Cheddar hissed.

  'Apparently he was with a gang and was coerced . . .' Brazil went on.

  'No, I wasn't,' Weed objected. 'I was just with Smoke and Divinity. Dog, Sick and Beeper wasn't there.'

  'Immaterial,' said the judge.

  'Point is,' Brazil went on, 'Weed carried paints into the cemetery with the intention of defacing Jefferson Davis's statue.'

  'I didn't know who it was,' Weed cut in. 'And I didn't de-face him. He still has a face. You go look.'

  'Your Honor.' Public Defender Cheddar's voice was tight and high. 'I don't think my client understands the bit about self-incrimination.'

  'He said he did,' Judge Davis replied.

  'Yeah,' Weed told Cheddar.

  'Please continue, Officer Brazil,' said the judge.

  'Weed painted a Spiders basketball uniform on the statue and at or around five A.M. left the cemetery by climbing over the fence again.'

  'It wasn't that early,' Weed protested. 'I know, 'cause the sun was starting to show up and that always happens after six 'cause that's when I get up, too, because I gotta make my own toast and jelly before I go to school 'cause my mama works too late to get outta bed that early.'

  Mrs. Gardener bent her head. She hid her face, wiping tears.

  'Immaterial,' said Judge Davis.

  'And besides,' Weed declared, 'it's just poster paint. You go look. A hose will get it off, but they been so busy studying what to do about it they never even wet their finger and touched it to see if it would stick. First rain's gonna ruin it,' he concluded with a trace of disappointment.

  No one spoke for a moment.

  Papers shuffled.

  The C.A. was staring off, not present.

  Brazil was amazed.

  It took several synapses before Cheddar got it.

  Then it's not really defaced,' Cheddar announced as if her voice was a gavel.

  'How do you know?' Weed objected to his attorney. 'Anybody looked at it today?'

  Nobody had.

  'Then don't be telling . . .'he started to say before Cheddar clamped her hand over his mouth.

  'How many times I gotta tell you to keep your mouth shut so I can do my job!' Cheddar exclaimed.

  Weed bit her.

  'Lord in heaven!' Cheddar exclaimed. 'He bit me!'

  'Not hard,' Weed said. 'But she started it. What if she cut me with those nails? You seen them things up close?' He rubbed his mouth with his sleeve.

  'Order!' Judge Davis declared.

  'What if I clean up the statue?' Weed said. 'If you want me to, I will.' It was a big sacrifice for Weed to make, but he knew Twister's monument couldn't last forever. 'All I want is to be locked up except for Saturday when the Azalea Parade is.'

  'We're not there yet, Weed,' Judge Davis told him firmly. 'I can't decide anything until I've heard the evidence. And please refrain from biting your counsel again.'

  'What if I promise to fix the police computer? Would you let me play my cymbals in the parade?' Weed went on.

  'He's referring to what the press has been calling "Fishsteria,"' Brazil told her.

  Cheddar was visibly alarmed. 'He has that?' she asked, her face stricken.

  'He caused it,' Brazil said.

  'Your Honor, may I approach the bench?' Cheddar panicked.

  She lunged forward and grabbed the edge of the bench, standing on her tiptoes, leaning as close to the judge as she could.

  'Your Honor,' she whispered excitedly, but everyone could hear. 'If what's being said here is my client's the one spreading that fish sickness, then I need to know if others are in danger of catching it!'

  Cheddar shot Weed a menacing look.

  'Others meaning me,' Cheddar went on. 'He bit my hand, Your Honor.'

  'I don't think we're talking about that sort of disease,' Judge Davis told her with a glint of irritation.


  'Your Honor,' Cheddar said in a more demanding tone, her nails flashing as she gestured. 'How do I know for an absolute true fact that he doesn't have some sort of bug of some type that all of us should be concerned about! Especially me because his teeth made contact with my skin!'

  She held up her hand like the Statue of Liberty.

  'Doesn't look like he broke the skin,' the judge observed.

  Then you're saying you're not going to send him to mental health or someplace where they can do tests?' Cheddar's voice rose to a shriek.

  'That's what I'm saying,' Judge Davis said.

  'Then I quit!' Cheddar threw her hands up, red and gold flashing.

  'No you don't 'cause I fired you first!' Weed called out as Cheddar grabbed her falling-apart briefcase, papers spilling, and rushed out of the courtroom.

  'Your Honor,' Brazil spoke up. 'The truth is, we really need our COMSTAT telecommunications system up and running again.' He was out of line, but didn't care. 'The network's down all over the world because of the fish thing.'

  'Officer Brazil, that is irrelevant to this case.'

  'Of course,' Brazil mumbled a deliberate challenge to Weed, 'he probably couldn't fix it anyway.'

  'Can too,' Weed said.

  'Oh yeah?' Brazil taunted. 'Then how?'

  'Just take out the program I did when I punted and messed up the HTML interpreter in AOL.'

  Judge Davis couldn't help herself because like all else in the world, she used AOL and lived in fear of color bombs, IM bombs, HTML Freeze/Lag, HTMO errors, a combination of the above, or possibly the less innocuous but more annoying Blank IM bombs.

  'What's punting?' she asked Weed.

  'The bug's in
autowrap in the text handler,' he informed her as if his explanation was as obvious as colors. 'See, if you use VBMSG subclassing, you know? To hold the window open and do some other things I told it to do, you know? 'Cause, see, like I said, there's this bug. So I told it to put my map on there and hold it. And the Anti-Punt program won't work, either, because I made my program hit Reply on the IM.'

  Amazement stilled the room. Brazil was writing everything down. The C.A.'s mouth was open in disbelief.

  'But I never meant for my fish screen to go everywhere,' Weed added. 'Someone must've stuck all these addresses together, and it ain't me who did.'

  'Does anybody understand what he just said?' the judge asked.

  'I sort of do,' Brazil said. 'And he's right about the addresses.'

  'It won't take me but a minute to show him how to fix it, then you can lock me up," Weed said. 'And I can do the parade and get locked up again.'

  He looked up at her, fear shining in his eyes. He could tell Judge Davis understood something bad would happen if she let him go home. He turned around and looked at his mother.

  'It's okay, Mama,' he said. 'It ain't got nothing to do with you.'

  Tears filled her eyes, and his got a little swimmy, too.

  The C.A., whose job it was to punish to the fullest extent of the law, finally argued the case.

  The release of him is an unreasonable danger to the property of others.' He quoted the code. 'I think there is clear and convincing evidence not to release him.'

  The judge leaned forward and looked at Weed. She had made up her mind. Weed's heart jumped.

  'I find there is probable cause for the state,' the judge let everybody know, 'and an adjudicatory hearing will be held twenty-one days from today. The state may summon witnesses, and the juvenile will remain in detention. But I order that the juvenile be released into the custody of Officer Brazil this Saturday.' She looked at Weed. 'What time is the parade?'

  'Ten-thirty,' Weed said. 'But I gotta be there earlier than that.'

  'When does it end?'

  'Eleven-thirty,' Weed said. 'But I gotta stay longer than that.'

  'Nine A.M. to one P.M.,' the judge said to Brazil. 'Then back in detention pending the court date.'

  chapter thirty-five

  The morning of the Azalea Parade Weed's soul was as light as light itself. He wished he could paint the way he felt and the way the morning looked as Officer Brazil drove him to George Wythe High School, where the Godwin marching band was waiting and warming up.

  Weed was proud and sweating in his polyester and wool blend red-and-white uniform with its many silver buttons and its stripes down the legs. His rolled-heel black shoes looked like new, the Sabian cymbals polished and safely in their black case in the back seat.

  Too bad you haven't had more time to practice,' Brazil said.

  Weed knew that out of the 152 members of the band, he was probably the only one who had missed a week of practice. He hadn't had a chance to look at his drill charts or work on forward march, pull mark time, pull halt, high mark, backward march, his favorite freeze-spin and especially the crab step, which was unique to the percussion section of Godwin's finely tuned precision marching band.

  'I'll be all right,' Weed said, staring out the window, his heart thrilled.

  Already crowds were gathering. It was predicted this might be the biggest turnout in the history of the parade. The weather was perfect, in the seventies, a light breeze, not a cloud. People were spreading out blankets, setting up lawn chairs, parking strollers and wheelchairs, and those who lived along the parade route had decided it was a good day for a yard sale. Cops were everywhere in reflective vests and Weed had never seen so many traffic cones.

  Brazil was worried. Thousands of people were gathering and those participating in the parade filled the George Wythe High School parking lot. If Smoke had a plan, Brazil didn't see how it was possible to pluck one teenager out of such congestion, especially if no one, except Weed, seemed to know what Smoke really looked like.

  'Weed, I want you to make a promise, okay?' Brazil said as Weed collected his cymbal case from the car. 'You'd recognize Smoke or any of his gang.'


  Weed was in a hurry, anxiously staring off at his marching band, which from this vantage was a patch of bright red and white somewhat lost in a swarm of colorful uniforms and flashing instruments and swords and twinkling batons and twirling flags. Floats hovered restlessly in an endless line. Masons were dressed like clowns. Mounted police were letting kids pet the horses. Antique cars rattled.

  'We're better than that,' Weed said, watching the Navy

  League Cadet Corps practice marching. 'Look at that bus! That band came all the way from Chicago! And there's one from New York!'

  'Weed, did you hear what I said?' Brazil asked out his open window.

  Sergeant Santa worked the crowd. One of the Florettes lost track of her baton and it bounced several times on the road. People dressed for the Old West were showing off miniature horses that had azalea blossoms in their manes. The Independence Wheelchair Athletic Association was ready to go. Weed was dazzled.

  'Weed!' Brazil was about to get out of the car.

  'Don't you worry, Officer Brazil,' Weed said. 'I'll let you know.'

  'How?' Brazil wasn't going to take any bullshit.

  'I'll do a real long crash and flash my cymbals good when I'm not supposed to,' Weed said.

  'No way, Weed. How am I going to notice that with everything else going on?' Brazil countered.

  Weed thought. His face got tense, his shoulders slumped and he looked heart-broken when he said, Then I'll cut one loose. You can't miss that. Course you'll have to explain later why I did or I won't be playing cymbals in the band no more.'

  'Cut one loose?' Brazil was lost.

  'Let go of the strap. You ever seen an eighteen-inch cymbal roll down the road?'

  'No,' Brazil confessed.

  'Well, you see one,' Weed told him, 'then you know I'm telling you trouble's about to start.'

  Lelia Ehrhart was already having trouble. She was closely inspecting the Blue Ribbon Crime Commission's red Cadillac convertible, with its streamers of blue ribbons that would float and flutter beautifully once the car was rolling along the parade route. She realized with horror that there wasn't a single azalea blossom, not even one.

  'We must carry on to the theme and message of the parade,' she told Commissioner Ed Blackstone.

  'I thought the blue ribbons did that,' replied Blackstone, who was eighty-two but maintained that age didn't matter. 'I thought it was called the Azalea Parade because of azaleas, which are everywhere, and it wasn't expected that we fill the car with them, especially since we don't have many seats anyway.'

  Ehrhart could not be persuaded, and she directed that the white leather front passenger's side and most of the back were to be lush and dense with pink and white azalea bushes. This reduced the number of waving and smiling commissioners from three to one.

  'I guess I'll have to ride alone by myself,' Ehrhart said. 'Well, I'm going to tell you something, Lelia,' said Blackstone as he leaned against his walker, straining to see through the huge glasses he'd been wearing since his last cataract surgery. 'You're going to have bees. That many blossoms, and bees will show up, mark my words. And don't say I didn't warn you about making those streamers so long. Twenty feet.' Blackstone was severe on this point. 'Anybody gets close to your rear with all those streamers of blue ribbons endlessly flying, something's going to get tangled up.'

  'Where's Jed?' Ehrhart frowned.

  'Over there.' Blackstone pointed at a tree.

  Ehrhart searched the masses and spotted Jed hanging around an antique fire truck, talking to Muskrat, who had fixed her car a time or two. She didn't like to be reminded that Governor Feuer had declined to participate in the parade, even after Ehrhart had offered to ride with him. At least he had volunteered Jed to drive the commission's car, which was on loan from one of Bull Ehrhart's patients.

/>   Tell to him it's times to come now,' Lelia Ehrhart ordered Blackstone.

  Blackstone motioned at the tree to hurry along.

  Neither Brazil nor West liked crowds, but Chief Hammer refused to bask in the limelight alone, especially since she hated parades and other public celebrations more than West and Brazil did.

  'I can't believe you're doing this,' West complained from the back seat of the dark blue Sebring. 'You got this psycho kid out there waiting to make himself a legend by doing something really, really bad, and what do you decide?' She slid into the driver's seat and began adjusting mirrors. 'You decide to ride in an open convertible.'

  'I don't like it, either,' said Brazil as he climbed in back, next to Hammer. 'You sure you don't want me to drive?' he asked West.

  'Forget it,' she replied.

  Brazil got out paperwork.

  'We need to find the Mustang Club,' he said, 'because we're in front of them. And' -- he traced his finger down a list -- 'right behind Miss Richmond.' 'Yuck,' West said.

  Pigeon and a fat man were within two feet of each other at Westover Hills and Bassett, across from Brentwood South.

  The fat man seemed ready for action as he clandestinely searched the crowd through a pair of Leica binoculars. Pigeon was rooting for half a hot dog with mustard and relish that a little kid had just tossed into a trash can, as if hot dogs grew on trees.

  Pigeon never missed the Azalea Parade. People were so wasteful. Not one kid this day and age knew the value of a dollar, not even those folks on food stamps. He fished out an almost entire bag of potato chips that some little brat couldn't toss without violently squeezing, crushing and pulverizing first.

  'What we need is another good war,' he said to the fat man, although they were not acquainted.

  'I've been saying that for years.' The fat man couldn't have agreed more. 'No one understands what it's like.'

  'How could they?' Pigeon said, peering inside the bag, unable to find a chip bigger than a dime.

  'My name's Bubba,' Bubba said as he continued his sweep with the binoculars.

  'I'm Pigeon.'

  'Nice to meet you.'

  Pigeon homed in on another kid who dropped his bubble gum on the sidewalk after three chews, when there was still plenty of flavor left. A woman in jogging clothes stepped on it.

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