Southern cross, p.33
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       Southern Cross, p.33

           Patricia Cornwell

  'Andy, Virginia, both of you are absolutely right.' Hammer stopped pacing long enough to light several candles. 'We need to get him out tonight.'

  This required an unusual, unorthodox plan, and Hammer had one. At quarter past eight, she called Judge Maggie Davis at home.

  'I'm glad you're there,' Hammer said quickly.

  'Wouldn't want to be anywhere else on a night like this,' said the judge. 'I'm sorry I missed the parade. Good God. Way to go, Judy. Wish I'd been there to see you take out the little shit.'

  'I didn't do much.' Hammer dismissed the compliment. 'We've got to get Weed Gardener out of detention as soon as possible.'

  'I thought he wanted to be in detention.'

  'That was then,' Hammer said. 'Now you've got Smoke and his gang in there. That's not good, Maggie. Not good at all.'

  The judge deliberated for a moment.

  'What do you propose?' she finally asked the chief.

  Hammer was well aware that what she was about to suggest could not happen. But most of what she had accomplished in life could not happen, according to those who stood around and watched.

  'Can you get hold of the commonwealth's attorney and the public defender?' Hammer asked.

  'Of course,' Judge Davis replied.

  'I'll make sure the gates are unlocked.'

  'What gates?' Judge Davis asked.

  At nine o'clock, the six of them pulled up in four cars at the front iron gates of Hollywood Cemetery. Rain lashed ancient boxwoods and trees, and headstones and monuments were wet and eerie as headlights swept over them.

  The chief, Brazil and West were in the lead car. Behind them was Judge Davis in her Volvo and Commonwealth's Attorney Michael in his Honda Accord. Trailing from a bit of a distance was an old Mercury Cougar carrying Sue Cheddar, who had quit and then been fired by Weed and was now ordered by Judge Davis to stay on the case.

  'I sure as hell hope he was telling the truth,' West said to Hammer and Brazil.

  Wipers beat and the rain beat back. Hammer was driving very slowly, leaning over the steering wheel and squinting to read street signs.

  'He was,' Hammer said as if she knew Weed very well.

  They splashed along Waterview Avenue, tree branches whipping and violently grabbing at them. Silhouettes of angels watched them pass. Dark tombs drew Hammer's imagination through windows of stained and leaded glass, and she remembered childhood fears. She was ten when her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Wheat, was buried in the Baptist church cemetery a block away, her gray granite headstone in plain view from the street. Every morning on Hammer's way to school, she would run past the cemetery as fast as she could because she had never liked Mrs. Wheat and was certain Mrs. Wheat knew it now that she was in heaven.

  Hammer still hated cemeteries. She did not like anything about them. She was afraid of their pungent smells and insect sounds and subtle mounds. She was afraid of death. She was afraid of what she felt about Seth's. She was afraid of being alone. She was afraid of failure. She was afraid of fear. All of her many fears took energy, and frankly, at this moment, she was fucking fed up.

  This is ridiculous,' she said to West and Brazil. 'I'm not going to quit, retire, do nothing, whatever.'

  'Well, if you do, I'm not hanging around here,' West retorted.

  'I'm history, too,' Brazil let his boss know as they neared Davis Circle.

  'Are they still behind us?' Hammer peered in the rearview mirror.

  'You absolutely shouldn't quit, Chief Hammer,' Brazil advised her. 'Especially now. I think the more people pick on you, the more you should offend them with your presence.'

  'That's very astute.' Hammer considered Brazil's words. 'I rather like that thought.'

  Not everyone had praised Hammer for tackling Smoke and putting a gun to his head while yelling obscenities. The mayor told all TV networks in time for the six o'clock news that the incident should never have happened to begin with and he had gone on to label Hammer's heroics a self-serving publicity stunt. Lelia Ehrhart told Q94 that Hammer was a 'Jack Footed Thung' who didn't give a 'hoo' about prevention. The city manager had called for a thorough investigation by internal affairs.

  'Don't be discouraged by today.' Brazil seemed to know what she was thinking. 'Don't forget, Governor Feuer was impressed. He called to congratulate you. He ought to count more than the other ones do.'

  'Aren't we supposed to turn somewhere?' Hammer couldn't see a damn thing.

  Brazil saw Jefferson Davis first.

  'I'm melting! I'm melting!' Brazil mimicked the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

  'Well, I'll be damned,' West said as the statue was fully exposed by Hammer's high beams.

  She stopped her Crown Victoria and turned the police spotlight on the statue.

  'Hot dog!' Brazil exclaimed. 'Shit, I wish Weed could be here to see this.'

  'I don't know,' Hammer said thoughtfully. 'He'd probably be disappointed.'

  'Yeah.' Brazil reconsidered sadly. 'I guess you're right. Twister's moved on.'

  Jeff Davis was fast losing his newly acquired race and position on the University of Richmond Spiders basketball team. His face was streaked black, his red-and-white uniform in pools around his no-longer-Nike footwear and the orange-smeared marble base that supported him. The basketball he held in his left hand had turned back into a hat.

  Car doors were opening and shutting, lights scattered with rain. Feet sloshed and sounded wetly over stone. Judge Davis was a native of New York. She walked up to the statue and looked it over carefully. She bent down and plucked a tiny Southern Cross out of the sod. She waved it from its slender stick as if trying to see how it worked or what the big fuss was all about.

  'I think it's clear this isn't vandalism anymore,' Hammer announced. 'Nor was it ever. We just thought it was.'

  Sue Cheddar was under a bright pink parasol and only her long, animated nails were visible as she spoke.

  'See,' she said as red claws flashed at Commonwealth's Attorney Michael.

  He was getting soaked and looked like a defeated Confederate soldier in his ill-fitting gray suit and skinny dark tie. His hair was plastered to his head, rain running down his tired face as he watched the president of the Confederacy lose his glory once more.

  'Point is, Weed meant to do damage,' Michael said with no conviction. 'Goddamn, will this rain ever stop? You ought to see my yard. The road in front, too, since the city doesn't do a damn thing to maintain it. Water must be six inches deep.'

  'Do we have any further arguments?' Judge Davis faced all of them as rain turned back into hail and began to click and clatter.

  'Not me,' West said.

  'Of course not,' said Hammer.

  'Nope,' Brazil agreed with everyone.

  'Then I rule that the charge against Weed Gardener be dismissed,' Judge Davis decided as a marble woman with an open Bible and an angel looked on. 'Officer Brazil.' She nodded at him. 'Let's get the paperwork. I want him released immediately.'

  'Right this minute,' Hammer agreed. 'Virginia, Andy? Straight to detention. We're taking Weed home.'

  Brazil cheered and put his arm around West. Chief Hammer began to clap. West did, too. Cheddar joined in, although it wasn't possible for her hands to touch. Commonwealth's Attorney Michael shrugged. Paperwork was completed and the six of them returned to their cars. Jefferson Davis receded into the night as the small motorcade followed Waterview through rain that no longer seemed so harsh, past monuments that did not seem quite so sad.



  Patricia Cornwell, Southern Cross



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