Southern cross, p.4
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       Southern Cross, p.4
 

           Patricia Cornwell

  He handed the list to Weed: for/end, effigy, pogrom, Versailles, mead, Faberge, Fabian, Waterloo, edict, pact. Not one word was familiar. Mr. Pretty snatched back the list.

  'Which words were in bold?' Mr. Pretty demanded.

  'I can't pronunciate them.'

  'Versailles,' Mr. Pretty prodded him.

  Weed looked at the list in his head and located the only word that began with a V.

  'Fourth one, not in bold,' he said.

  'Pogrom!'

  'Third, not in bold.'

  'Fabian!' Mr. Pretty fired back.

  'He's four before last. Not in bold, either.'

  'Effigy!' Mr. Pretty blurted out, his attractive face distorted by anger.

  'It's in bold,' Weed said. 'Just like five and ten are.'

  'Oh really?' Mr. Pretty was beside himself. 'And just what are five and ten since you think you know so much?'

  Weed saw mead and pact in his head and pronounced them his own special way. 'Med and paced.'

  'What do they mean!'

  Mr. Pretty was talking loudly and Mrs. Fan cracked open her door, out of concern, to check on things.

  'Shhhhhhhhh!' she said.

  'What do they mean, Weed?' Mr. Pretty lowered his scornful voice.

  Weed did the best he could.

  'Med is what you feel when someone disses you. And paced is what we use in art class,' he guessed.

  Officer Fling was guessing, too. He had gone to the next layer control, then hit function 3 for thematic display, and selected remove to get rid of the latest pie, and brought up priority one, two and three calls for fourth precinct, which was not what anyone was interested in at the moment.

  Hammer flipped on the overhead lights. The presentation was never supposed to run over an hour and it was well past the limit. She was discouraged and frustrated and determined not to let it show.

  'I realize we're all new at this,' she said reasonably. 'I understand that things don't happen overnight. We're going to leave computer mapping until Friday morning at seven hundred hours, by which time I'm sure we will be well versed in it?'

  No one responded.

  'Officer Fling?' she said.

  His hands were lifeless on the keyboard. He looked dejected and defeated.

  'Do you think you will be able to make this work by Friday's COMSTAT presentation?" Hammer persisted.

  'No, ma'am.' Fling was honest about it.

  The door opened and West returned to the room and took her seat.

  'Okay, Officer Fling, that's fair enough,' Hammer said in a positive tone. 'Is there anybody else who might want to learn how to work this program? It's really very user-friendly. The point was not to design it for programmers and engineers, but for police.'

  No one spoke.

  'Officer Brazil, help me out here,' Hammer said.

  'Sure,' he said dubiously.

  'Maybe for now you'd better pitch in,' Hammer said. 'Deputy Chief West? You're also very familiar with the software. See if the two of you can't work to get this thing up and running. I expect smooth sailing by our next COMSTAT presentation.'

  'Who's willing to learn?' West asked, looking around the table. 'Come on guys, show some guts.'

  Lieutenant Audrey Ponzi raised her hand. Captain Cloud's hand went up next, and Officer Fling decided to give it another try.

  'Excellent,' Hammer said. 'Major Hanger? If you'll resume with your presentation. We'll proceed without the computer. And we really need to wind this up.'

  Hanger hastily looked through his notes and took a nervous sip of coffee.

  'Nothing much has changed since our last meeting,' he began. 'We got the same rash of petit larcenies from autos, mostly Jeeps, broken into for their airbags.'

  'CABBAGES,' Fling interjected.

  All eyes turned toward Captain Cloud, who had come up with Car Air Bag Breaking And Enterings and its acronym CABBAE, which the media had immediately mistaken for CABBAGE, or CABBAGES, and continued to do so, despite the police department's numerous corrections.

  'Anyway,' Hanger resumed, 'we suspect most of the stolen airbags are ending up at two body shops recently opened by Russians. Possibly the same clan of Russians who opened the kiosk at the farmer's market last summer, on Seventeenth Street directly across from Havana '59. Selling cabbages, the kind you make slaw with, which has done nothing but add to the confusion.' He glared at Cloud.

  'But the CABBAGES might be related because the Russians possibly are,' Fling figured.

  'We're thinking that,' Hanger said.

  'Let's get back to the airbags,' Hammer said.

  'Well, the MO remains the same in these most recent petit larcenies.' Hanger avoided using the term CABBAGE. 'Owner returns to his vehicle, finds a window smashed, the airbags gone. These same cars go in to one of the Russian body shops to get the airbags replaced and ironically the stolen airbags installed to replace the ones stolen could be the very ones stolen out of the vehicle in question. So you're really paying for the same airbags twice, thinking you're getting new ones for three hundred bucks apiece, when in fact you're getting stolen ones. It's gotten to be a pretty big racket all over the world.'

  'But if you're getting your same airbags back, they're really not secondhand because they were never owned by a second person,' said Fling. 'Does that . . . ?'

  'What are we doing about this situation?' Hammer raised her voice.

  'We're coordinating with investigations to get an undercover guy in at least one of the body shops,' Hanger replied.

  'Are the airbags traceable?' Hammer asked.

  'Not unless they start putting VINs on them,' Hanger said, referring to the Vehicle Identification Numbers that were etched on the edge of all driver's doors. 'I was thinking maybe we could get some kind of grant to help out. Maybe NIJ would be interested.'

  To help out in what way?' Hammer frowned.

  To do a study on the usefulness of ABINs.'

  'ABINs?'

  That's what we could call them,' Hanger explained. 'Air Bag Identification Numbers. Thing is, if your same stolen airbags are put back in your vehicle, then for sure the ABINs are going to match.'

  True.'

  That would make it pretty easy.'

  Hanger nodded. 'Not only could we start making cases here, but I'm pretty sure a lot of these stolen airbags are going overseas. So if we developed a system of ABINs, we could get Interpol involved, too. It might bring us some recognition.'

  'I see.' Hammer fought a growing sense of hopelessness. 'Anything else?'

  'Two more stolen Saturns. We got a pattern going on.'

  'How many so far?'

  'Twelve General Motors cars stolen in the past month.'

  'Any breaks?' Hammer asked.

  'It appears several kids are involved. We think they bought master keys for Saturns from some kid named Beeper, supposedly in the area of Swansboro Elementary School on Midlothian Turnpike.'

  'Gang-related?' Hammer asked.

  'Can't say for sure,' Hanger answered.

  'What does that mean?'

  'Well, all we got to go on is this one snitch who's lied to us before.'

  Hammer jumped ahead. 'We just had another ATM robbery, I'm sorry to say. I'm going to let Deputy Chief West give the details.'

  'Victim is an Asian male, age twenty-two.' West looked at her notes. 'Pulled up to the Crestar ATM at 5802 Patterson. Nobody else was there. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, says duct tape was suddenly slapped over his eyes, a gun jammed into his back. A male, he couldn't tell race, demanded money. By the time the victim removed the tape, the perp was long gone.'

  'The duct tape is different,' Hammer said.

  'Absolutely,' West said.

  'That makes six ATM robberies,' Hammer said. 'Four on Southside, two in the West End. An average of one per week since early February.'

  'Let me just say that I'm extremely concerned about this latest one, assuming it's related,' West spoke up. 'Let's just go through it. We have the first four ATMs late ni
ght or early morning when it's dark. There's a male-female team. She diverts by asking the victim where the nearest post office, pay phone, whatever, is. The male appears, opens his jacket just enough to show the handle of a gun and says, / want the money you took out of the machine. Maybe the gun's real, maybe it's not. The perp takes the money and runs.

  'Then we have a fifth ATM in Church Hill. Again, when it's dark out, but this time the male perp actually displays the gun. He gets into the victim's car, turns out the interior light so the victim can't see his face. Threatens if the victim ever tries to help cops ID him, he knows the guy's plate number and will find him and kill him. Then he forces the victim to drive several blocks. The perp jumps out with the money. Now we've got an ATM in the West End, and this time it's daylight. I'm seeing a possible pattern of escalation here. An escalation that could end in violence.'

  'We got anything more on these cases?' Cloud asked.

  'Not anything helpful. Some of the victims think the female perp's black, some think he is, and vice versa. Age unknown, assumed to be juveniles. No sign of a vehicle, if they use one,' West replied. 'Bottom line is we don't know.'

  'And bank tapes?'

  'Of no use.'

  'Why not?' Hammer asked.

  'In the first one, all you see is the back of her and it was dark,' West said. 'On the next four you don't see anything at all.'

  'And the cameras were functioning?'

  'Nothing wrong with them.'

  'And the one this morning?'

  'Seems fine.'

  'Anybody have anything even remotely similar going on in other parts of the city?' Hammer then asked.

  No one did.

  'What about third precinct? We haven't heard from you, Captain Webber,' Hammer pushed ahead.

  'Some Russians opened up an antique store on Chamberlayne, near Azalea Mall,' Webber said. They haven't done anything illegal yet.'

  'Any reason to think they will?' Hammer inquired.

  'Well, it's just this Russian thing going on.'

  'How do we know they aren't gypsies?' burglary detective Linton Bean asked.

  'Can gypsies be Russian?'

  'Seems to me they can be anything as long as they drift around and con people.'

  'Yeah, but the ones we've had coming through here are mostly Romanian, Irish, English and Scotch. The Travelers. Well, that's what they call themselves. They get real pissed if we call them gypsies.'

  'How 'bout if we just call them tramps and thieves?'

  'I've never heard of Russian gypsies.'

  'My sister went over to Italy last year and said they have gypsies over there.'

  'I know for a fact they got Hispanic ones in Florida.'

  'See, that's the whole thing,' said Detective Bean. 'There's no such country as 'Gypsy'. You can be from anywhere and be a gypsy, including Russia . . .'

  'What are we doing about this problem?' Hammer interrupted.

  'Stepping up patrols in neighborhoods like Windsor Farms, where you have mostly older people with money,' said Bean. 'Maybe forming a task force.'

  'Do it,' Hammer said, glancing at her watch and conscious of the time. 'Lieutenant Noble is commander for a day in second precinct. What do you have to report?'

  'This week we arrested a domestic violence recidivist,' said Noble, who spoke the proper police language and was resented by all.

  'Very good,' Hammer said.

  'We're also doing warrant sweeps but so far haven't surfaced the suspect in the stairwell rapes,' Noble added. 'And if it's all right, Chief Hammer, I have a comment to make.'

  'Please,' Hammer said.

  'I'm not so sure it was a good idea to piss off all the citizens with this gang crap Brazil wrote about for the Sunday paper.'

  'It wasn't crap,' Brazil said.

  'Name one gang,' Noble challenged him.

  'It's all a matter of semantics,' Brazil answered. 'It depends on how you label gangs.'

  Hammer agreed. 'Juveniles are committing the worst crimes. They mentor each other, influence each other, form packs, gangs. We have them here and need to identify them.'

  'Most of the kids that go in schools and blow everybody away aren't in gangs. They're loners,' Noble argued.

  'Let's look at Jonesboro,' West countered. 'A fourteen-year-old recruits an eleven-year-old to pull the fire alarm, right? So what would happen if you had four, five, six kids involved? Maybe twenty kids and teachers would have died.'

  'She's got a point.'

  'Got to admit, it makes you think.'

  'You'd have to call in the damn National Guard.'

  'Kids are scary. They don't have any boundaries. They think killing's a game,' West added.

  'It's true. There's no concept of consequences.'

  'What happens if you get some charismatic gang leader and he really organizes? Imagine,' Brazil said.

  Insights and arguments were volleyed back and forth as Hammer deliberated over how to broach the next subject.

  'Recent intelligence,' she began, 'indicates that two white males may be planning a hate crime, the robbery and murder of a black woman possibly named Loraine. The males may go by the names or aliases of Bubba and Smudge.'

  No one spoke for a moment, faces perplexed.

  Then, 'You don't mind my asking, Chief, where'd this come from?'

  Hammer looked to West for help.

  'We're really not at liberty to reveal the source at this time,' West said. 'You just need to be aware, keep your eyes and ears open.'

  'If there's nothing further?' Hammer said.

  There wasn't.

  Then I do have two commendations to present and I believe both people are here.' Hammer smiled. 'Communications Officer Patty Passman and Officer Rhoad?'

  They came forward. Hammer handed each a certificate and shook hands. Applause was weak.

  'Communications Officer Passman, as you know, handled a nine-one-one last month that saved a man from choking on a hot dog,' Hammer said. 'And Officer Otis Rhoad issued three hundred and eighty-eight parking tickets last month. A department record.'

  'Booooo!'

  'Yeah, a lot of 'em on our cars!'

  Passman glared at Rhoad.

  'He wins the prize for talking on the radio!'

  'Rhoad Hog!'

  Passman bit her lip, her face an angry red.

  'Rodeo!' Fling had to toss in, although the aspersion made no sense.

  'That's enough,' Hammer said. 'I'll see all of you back here on Friday.'

  The Ford Explorer's turn signal was beating like a panicking heart as its driver, who had already missed his exit, tried once again to ease in front of Bubba. Bubba accelerated and the Explorer swerved back into its lane, where it belonged. The cop was still on Bubba's bumper and Bubba slowed to send the message that he wouldn't tolerate tailgaters no matter who they were. Bubba was a cowboy herding cattle on the open prairie of motoring life.

  'Unit 2 to Unit 1.' Honey was sounding increasingly concerned over the two-way.

  Bubba was too busy to talk to his wife.

  'Smudge,' he got back to his good buddy, 'Queen Bee's buzzing, got a city kitty tailwind, and a sixteener with a low seater's trying to wipe my nose.' Bubba spoke in code, letting Smudge know that Bubba's wife was trying to get hold of Bubba, he had a city cop riding his ass and a 4x4 driven by a punk was trying to swipe in front of him.

  'I'll leave ya lonely.' Smudge signed off.

  Throwin' ya back. Catch ya later, good buddy.' Bubba signed off, too.

  By now, the kid in the Explorer seemed challenged and might have become violent but for the cop one lane over. The kid decided to default. He got in the last word by laying on his horn and giving Bubba the finger and mouthing Fuckhead. The Explorer disappeared in the current of other traffic. Bubba slowed to communicate to the cop one more time to get off his rear bumper. The cop communicated back by flashing his red-and-blue emergency lights and yelping his siren. Bubba pulled over into a Kmart parking lot.

  chapter four
r />   Officer Jack Budget took his time collecting his silver anodized aluminum Posse citation holder and dual clipboard. He climbed out of his gleaming blue-and-red-striped white cruiser, adjusted his duty gear and approached the red Jeep with the Confederate flag rear bumper sticker and BUB-AH vanity plate that he had been staring at for miles. Its redneck driver rolled down the window.

  'Am I to assume you go by the name Bub-ah?' Budget asked.

  'No, it's Bubba,' Bubba said rudely.

  'Let me see your license and registration.' Officer Budget was rude, too, although he might not have been had Bubba not started it.

  Bubba pulled his nylon wallet out of his back pocket. Velcro ripped as he opened it and got out his driver's license. He fished around in the glove box for his registration, then handed both proofs of identification and ownership to the cop, who studied them for several long minutes.

  'You have any idea why I stopped you, Mr. Fluck?'

  'Probably because of my bumper sticker,' Bubba stated.

  Budget stepped back to look at the Jeep's rear bumper, as if just now noticing the Confederate flag on it.

  'Well, well,' he said as images of white pointed hoods and burning crosses violated his mind. 'Still trying to win that war and round up Negroes to pick your cotton.'

  'The Southern Cross has nothing to do with that,' Bubba indignantly said.

  'The what?'

  'The Southern Cross.'

  Budget's jaw muscles knotted. It had not been so long ago that he had been bused to one of the city's public high schools and had watched seats empty one by one as other black kids got locked up or killed on the street. He had been Buckwheat, Sambo, drone, porch monkey, Uncle Tom. He had grown up in the niggerhood. Even now on some calls, white complainants asked him to go around to the back door.

  'I guess you know it as the Confederate flag,' the white redneck asshole was explaining to him. 'Although it was really the battle flag, versus the Stars and Bars or Stainless Banner or Naval Jack or Pennant.'

  Budget knew nothing of the various official Confederate flags that had gone in and out of vogue for various reasons during the war. He only knew that he hated the bumper stickers and tattoos, tee shirts and beach towels he saw everywhere in the South. He was enraged by Confederate flags waving from porches and graves.

 
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