Southern cross, p.7
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       Southern Cross, p.7
 

           Patricia Cornwell

  'You got a hairline crack in the roof line,' he said.

  chapter six

  Weed refused to read his story, causing Mrs. Grannis to doubt that he had written one. This disappointed her greatly, and the other students in the class did not know what to think. Weed had always been so eager, the little boy-wonder in art class. Now, suddenly, he was uncommunicative and uncooperative, and the more Mrs. Grannis pressed him, the more obstinate he got. Finally, he was rude.

  'Why I did the fish is my business,' he said, reaching under his desk for his knapsack.

  'You had an assignment, just like everyone else,' Mrs. Grannis said firmly.

  'No one else did a fish.' Weed looked up at the clock.

  That's all the more reason we want to hear about yours,' Mrs. Grannis answered.

  'Come on, Weed.'

  'Read it to us.'

  'Hey, it's not fair. You heard ours.'

  It was 1:48. Fifth period ended in three minutes. Mrs. Grannis felt terrible. Weed was impossible, sitting rigidly in his chair, head bent, as if he were about to be beaten.

  His classmates shifted uncomfortably, waiting for the bell.

  'Well,' Mrs. Grannis broke the silence. 'Tomorrow we start watercolors, and don't forget, we have a special program next period.'

  Henry Hamilton was the star pitcher of the baseball team, and he hated any activity that kept him sitting past two in the afternoon. He made a face, slumped in his seat and sighed loudly. Eva Grecci did the same because she had an aching crush on Hamilton. Randy Weispfenning wasn't happy, either.

  'We have two very important police officers who have been sent to Richmond by the National Institute of Justice,' Mrs. Grannis said. 'They have generously agreed to come today and talk with us.'

  'About what?'

  'Crime, I suppose,' Mrs. Grannis said.

  'I'm sick of hearing about it.'

  'Me, too. My mom won't even read the paper anymore.'

  'My dad thinks I should start wearing a bulletproof vest to class.' Hamilton laughed, ducking when Weispfenning tried to cuff him.

  That's not funny,' Mrs. Grannis said.

  The bell rang. Everyone jumped up as if there was a fire.

  'Off to see the wizzz-aarrrddd ..." Hamilton sang and started skipping down an imagined Yellow Brick Road.

  Eva Grecci laughed too hard.

  'Weed,' Mrs. Grannis said. 'I need to see you for a minute.'

  He sullenly shuffled up to her desk. The room emptied, leaving the two of them alone.

  This is the first time you've not turned in an assignment,' she said softly.

  He shrugged.

  'Do you want to tell me why?'

  'Because.' He shrugged again as tears smarted.

  'That's not an answer, Weed.'

  He blinked, looking away from her. Feelings boiled up in him. In an hour he was supposed to meet Smoke in the parking lot.

  'I just didn't get around to it,' he said as he thought of the five-page story hiding inside his knapsack.

  'I'm very surprised you didn't get around to it,' she measured her words.

  Weed said nothing. He had spent half of Saturday writing four drafts of it before painstakingly making the final copy in black felt-tip ink, letters perfectly formed in the calligraphy that he had learned from a kit and then modified to his bold, funky, completely unique style. The second bell rang.

  'We need to go on to the auditorium,' Mrs. Grannis said.

  He felt her searching his face, looking for a clue. Weed knew she was hoping the faculty had not made a mistake advancing him to the outer limits of Godwin's art instruction.

  'I don't want to listen to no cops,' Weed told her.

  'Weed?' It wasn't negotiable. 'You're going to sit with me.'

  Brazil parked his marked patrol car on the circle outside the high school's front entrance, and despite his constant complaining during the drive, felt happy to be here as he climbed out of the car and students milling about stared. It did not occur to Brazil that his tall, chiseled, uniformed presence was striking, that this might have something to do with the attention he so often got.

  He had never really accepted his physical self. In part this was because he was an only child left to the mercy of a mother who had always been too miserable and eventually too drunk to see him as someone separate from herself. When she looked at him, she saw a bleary projection of her husband, who had been killed when Brazil was ten. In her rages, it was Brazil's dead father she ranted to and struck and begged not to leave her.

  'You got any idea where the hell we're going?' West asked as she pushed shut the car door.

  Brazil scanned the notes Fling had given him.

  '"Go in, take a left,'" he read.

  'Go in where?'

  'Uh,' Brazil scanned some more. 'Doesn't say. We "go through doors ahead to green hallway through more doors to a blue one until see a bulletin board with photographs.'"

  Tuck,' West said as they walked.

  'After that,' Brazil said, 'we "can't miss it.'"

  'It's a conspiracy. I'm telling you, Andy. They deliberately had Hammer inherit Fling to fuck her.'

  'I don't know,' Brazil said as he opened one of the front doors for her and they entered the commons. 'The former chief had him for three years.'

  'The former chief also got fired for incompetence.'

  'Ah.' Brazil spied a pretty young teacher walking with one of her students. 'Excuse me,' Brazil said to her with a smile. 'We're trying to find the auditorium. I'm Officer Brazil and this is Deputy Chief West.'

  'Of course,' Mrs. Grannis answered with enthusiasm. 'You're exactly who we're on our way to see. I'm Mrs. Grannis and this is Weed. You can just follow us. It's just straight ahead. I'm sure everybody else is already seated and waiting with great anticipation.'

  'What'cha say?' Brazil said to Weed.

  'Nothing,' Weed said.

  'Ah come on,' West said. 'I hear they teach a lot more than nothing here.'

  'Weed's our star artist,' Mrs. Grannis said proudly, patting Weed's shoulder.

  He moved away from her, his lower lip protruding in a combination of hostility and near-tears.

  'That's cool,' Brazil said, shortening his long strides. 'What kind of art, man?'

  'Whatever kind I want,' Weed said.

  'Oh yeah?' Brazil said. 'You do sculpture?'

  'Yeah.'

  'How about pen and ink?'

  'Yeah.'

  'Watercolors?'

  'Going to.'

  'Papier-mache?'

  'Easy.'

  'Impressionism. You like Cezanne? "Le Chateau Noir"?'

  'Huh?' Weed looked up at Brazil. 'Say what?'

  'Cezanne. He's one of my favorites. Go look him up.'

  'Where's he live?'

  'He doesn't anymore.'

  Weed frowned, following the two cops and Mrs. Grannis into the auditorium. It was full, students turning around in their seats, wondering what Mrs. Grannis and Weed were doing with the two important guests. Weed held his head up, walking cool in his baggy look of the day. He and Mrs. Grannis slipped into the second row, near other teachers. Brazil and West made their way onto the stage and sat in chairs on the dais, spotlights on them. West tapped her microphone and it thudded loudly.

  'Can everybody hear?' she asked.

  'Yes,' voices returned.

  'All the way in the back?'

  'Yes.'

  'Where's your gun?'

  Laughter started rolling through the rows.

  'We'll start with that,' West said, her voice booming. 'What's all this crap about guns? Yeah, sure, I've got one on.'

  'What kind?'

  'The kind I don't like,' she answered. 'Because I don't like any gun. I don't even like being a cop, and you know why? Because I wish we didn't need guns or cops.'

  She and Brazil talked for about twenty minutes.

  Afterward the principal, Mrs. Lilly, made her way up to the front of the auditorium as the applause continued. Brazil bent down
and handed Mrs. Lilly the microphone. She squinted in the glaring lights and announced there was time to take a few questions.

  Smoke had returned to school after a quick stop at Sears, where he had shoplifted ten garage remote controls. He stood up from an aisle seat on the tenth row.

  'I was wondering,' he spoke loudly and sincerely, 'if you think some kids are born bad.'

  'I think some are,' the lady cop answered bluntly.

  'I'd like to believe that's not true,' Mrs. Lilly piped up.

  'We'd all like to believe it's not true,' the blond uniformed cop said. 'But I think what's important is that at the end of the day, people make choices. Nobody makes you cheat on that test or steal that car or beat somebody up.'

  Smoke continued to stand in the darkness, listening attentively, his expression innocent and thoughtful. He wasn't finished yet.

  'But what do you do if someone's really bad and nothing's going to change him?' he asked in a loud, sure voice.

  'Lock him up.' The lady cop meant it.

  Laughter.

  'About all you can do is protect society from people like that,' the blond cop added.

  'Isn't it true though that genetically bad people are usually smarter and harder to catch?' Smoke asked.

  'Depends on who's trying to catch them.' The blond cop was a little cocky.

  Laughter swelled as the bell rang. Smoke slipped out of the auditorium first, through a side door, heading straight for the parking lot. A cold smile played on his lips as he envisioned the blond cop and his sidekick with the big tits and imagined himself in direct combat with them. The thought aroused him.

  Power lifted him and pumped through his blood as he trotted to his Escort and unlocked it. He sat behind the wheel, working himself into intense excitement as he stared at the circle of yellow school buses and the hundreds of kids suddenly streaming out of doorways, cheerful, playful and in a hurry.

  Smoke started the car and drove to the appointed spot in the parking lot, forcing other students to go around him or turn and head out the other way. He wasn't going to move for anyone. Traffic and voices were loud as he sat watching for Weed, who was about to hurt like hell and make Smoke famous.

  Smoke wanted to touch himself again, but resisted. When he deprived himself, he couldn't be stopped. He could do anything. He would get a faint metallic taste in his mouth as energy rushed up from between his legs and lifted the top of his head. He could work himself into anything.

  All he had to do was play the same fantasy over and over again in his mind. He was sweaty and dirty on a downtown rooftop with an AR-15, taking out half the rucking cops in the city, slapping magazine after magazine into his assault rifle, shooting down helicopters and slaughtering the National Guard.

  Smoke never carried the fantasy much beyond that point. A rational part of his brain realized that the last scenario most likely would be his death or imprisonment, but neither was enough to get his attention when he was consumed by lust so intense and seething that these days he did little beyond playing with plans.

  It was five past three when Weed walked up to the car, knapsack limp in his hand. Smoke was silent as Weed climbed in, shut the door and fastened his shoulder harness. Smoke drove off, slowly making his way out of the parking lot. He turned onto Pump Road and followed it south to Patterson Avenue while Weed got increasingly nervous, licking his lips, staring out his side window.

  'So how come you asked the cops all those questions?' Weed finally mustered up the courage to ask.

  Smoke said nothing.

  'I thought they was good questions.'

  Smoke was silent as he turned east on Patterson Avenue. He started driving faster. He felt Weed's fear, and the heat of rage pressed against Smoke like a wall of fire.

  'I thought the cops were fuckin' stupid.' Weed tried to sound big. 'Hey. You hungry, Smoke? I didn't eat my sandwich at lunch. You want it?'

  A long silence followed. Smoke turned south on Parham Road.

  'Hey, Smoke, how come you ain't talking to me?' Weed's voice jumped. 'I do something?'

  Smoke's right hand flew out as if it were alive on its own. It chopped Weed hard between the legs.

  'What time I tell you to meet me in the parking lot?' Smoke yelled as Weed shrieked, doubled over, arms locked under his crossed legs, head practically in his lap. 'What time, you fuckin' little shit!'

  'Three!' Weed cried, tears running down his face in little rivers. 'Why'd you do that? I didn't do nothing.' He hiccuped. 'Smoke, I didn't!'

  'And what time was it when you walked up to my car, you little fuck!' Smoke grabbed the back of Weed's woolly cornrows. 'It was five after three!'

  He yanked. Weed screamed again.

  'When I say three, what does that mean, retard?'

  'I couldn't get away from Mrs. Grannis!' Weed choked, gasping and making awful faces as Smoke gripped Weed's hair, tearing some of it out by the roots. 'I'm sorry, Smoke! I'm sorry! Oh please don't hurt me no more.'

  Smoke shoved him away and started laughing. He turned up 2 Pac on the CD player, every other word fuck and nigger. Smoke reached under his seat and snatched out the Glock. He shoved it between Weed's ribs, getting off on how bad the little shit was shaking. Weed put his hands over his face. He farted and burped.

  'You pee or shit in here, and I'll blow your dick off,' Smoke told him.

  'Please, Smoke,' Weed begged in a tiny, pitiful voice. 'Please don't, Smoke.'

  'You gonna do what I say from now on?'

  'Yes. I'll do anything you want me to, Smoke. I promise.'

  Smoke tucked the pistol back under his seat. He turned up 2 Pac and started rapping along. There was no further conversation as Smoke headed across the river toward Huguenot Road, winding here and there, cutting over to Forest Hill, avoiding tolls whenever he could. Weed had gotten very quiet. He dried his eyes and kept his legs tightly crossed. The kid was so puny his Nikes barely touched the floor. Smoke knew all about timing. He knew exactly how to make people do what he wanted.

  'Feeling better?' Smoke asked, turning down 2 Pac.

  'Yes,' Weed answered politely.

  They were on Midlothian Turnpike now, passing German School Road.

  'You know what an oath is?' Smoke asked.

  He was nice now, relaxed and taking his time, as if they were going out for a hamburger or just cruising.

  'No,' Weed answered softly.

  'You need to speak up,' Smoke said. 'I can hardly hear you.'

  'I don't know what it is,' Weed said more loudly.

  'You ever been a Boy Scout?'

  'No.'

  'Well, to be one you got to take an oath. On my honor I promise to do my best and on and on, whatever. That's an oath. Something you swear to, and if you break it, something really bad happens.'

  Businesses along this stretch of Midlothian Turnpike were all about cars and trucks and everything that went with them. A Cheers restaurant had gone out of business, and an adult bookstore had only one car in the lot. Smoke cut up an unpaved side street and drove through the middle of a trailer park, where balding, muddy yards were littered with metal chairs, flowerpots and ceramic lawn ornaments. Scrawny cats darted out of the way. Wind chimes tinkled, and parked trucks reflected the sun.

  They turned into the cracked, weed-infested parking lot of the Southside Motel, which had been out of business and boarded up for years. A chain was strung across either end of the drive leading into it, air conditioning units outside the rooms rusted, a breeze sucking dingy white curtains in and out of broken windows. Junipers had grown out of control in clumps, shielding entire blocks of rooms, and grass was dead and treacherous with broken glass. Smoke drove around to the back of the motel and parked next to a Dumpster.

  'Remember when I drove you through here last week?' Smoke said. 'Remember, the first rule is, nobody parks back here. You see all the No Trespassing signs?"

  'Yeah,' Weed answered, looking around and scared.

  'Well, the cops don't come here, but I can't ta
ke the chance. They see your car, and you're fucked.'

  He put the Escort in gear and drove back around to the front. Weed was quiet as Smoke backtracked and parked on the side of a rutted, muddy road on the outskirts of the trailer park.

  This is how I go in,' Smoke said, cutting the engine and reaching down for his Glock. 'You gonna have to come in another way because they don't have nothing in here but white trash and you'll attract attention. They might even call the cops.'

  'Then what do I do?' Weed asked, climbing out and casting furtively about.

  'Cut in through Fast Track, Jiffy Tune, Turnpike Auto Parts, one of those other places on the strip, and just come through the woods behind the motel,' Smoke said, sticking the pistol down the front of his jeans and pulling his Chicago Bulls sweatshirt over it.

  He kept a good pace along the unpaved road, Weed limping along as fast as he could, obviously hurting. Smoke knew his latest recruit was wondering if he was going to get his brains blown out behind an abandoned motel in the middle of nothing, and Smoke let him worry. Smoke understood fear. The gratification was instant when he made something suffer. He had learned this as a little boy when he could see panic in the eyes, when he could feel terror in the rapidly beating heart of the weaker creature he tortured to death.

  Smoke came from a better home than most, one of comfortable, open-minded parents who had never gotten in his way or tried to hold him back or believed their son could be bad. They preferred to give permission rather than force the child into clandestine behavior. They believed if they were trusting and fair-minded, their three children would make the right choices. Smoke's older brother and sister had seemed to prove the philosophy right. They were making good grades in college and associated with nice people and had normal ambitions.

  Smoke had always been different. During the interminable evaluations and counseling sessions in Durham and training school at Butner, he had not complained about his family or a single event that had or hadn't happened to him. He had blamed no one for who he was, and in fact, took full credit. He had diagnosed himself as a psychopath. He worked hard to be a good one. Smoke had no doubt that one day the world would know his name.

  Smoke wasn't giving Weed a hard time right now, and Weed was grateful and appropriately cooperative. Their feet clinked bits of broken bottles and dislodged rocks, and acres of dense woods shielded the back of the motel from busy highways and streets just blocks away. Smoke headed straight for a large sheet of plywood propped against a wall behind a clump of junipers. His eyes narrowed as he looked around and listened. He slid the plywood to one side and stepped through the empty bent aluminum frame of what was left of sliding glass doors.

 
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