Southern Cross
An Excerpt From
Southern Cross
THE LAST MONDAY morning of March began with promise

in the historic city of Richmond, Virginia, where

prominent family names had not changed since the war

that was not forgotten. Traffic was scant on downtown

streets and the Internet. Drug dealers were asleep, prostitutes

tired, drunk drivers sober, pedophiles returning to

work, burglar alarms silent, domestic fights on hold. Not

much was going on at the morgue.

Richmond, built on seven or eight hills, depending on

who counts, is a metropolitan center of unflagging pride

that traces its roots back to 1607, when a small band of

fortune-hunting English explorers got lost and laid claim

to the region by planting a cross in the name of King

James. The inevitable settlement at the fall line of the

James River, predictably called “The Falls,” suffered the

expected tribulations of trading posts and forts, and anti-

British sentiments, revolution, hardships, floggings,

scalpings, treaties that didn’t work and people dying

young.

Local Indians discovered firewater and hangovers, and

traded herbs, minerals and furs for hatchets, ammunition,

cloth, kettles and more firewater. Slaves were shipped in

2 Patricia Cornwell

from Africa. Thomas Jefferson designed Monticello, the

Capitol and the state penitentiary. He founded the University

of Virginia, drafted the Declaration of Independence

and was accused of fathering mulatto children. Railroads

were constructed. The tobacco industry flourished and

nobody sued.

All in all, life in the genteel city ambled along reasonably

well until 1861, when Virginia decided to secede

from the Union and the Union wouldn’t go along with it.

Richmond did not fare well in the Civil War. Afterward,

the former capital of the Confederacy went on as best it

could with no slaves and bad money. It remained fiercely

loyal to its defeated cause, still flaunting its battle flag, the

Southern Cross, as Richmonders marched into the next

century and survived other terrible wars that were not their

problem because they were fought elsewhere.

By the late twentieth century, things were going rather

poorly in the capital city. Its homicide rate had climbed as

high as second in the nation. Tourism was suffering. Children

were carrying guns and knives to school and fighting

on the bus. Residents and department stores had abandoned

downtown and fled to nearby counties. The tax base

was shrinking. City officials and city council members

didn’t get along. The governor’s antebellum mansion

needed new plumbing and wiring.

General Assembly delegates continued slamming desktops

and insulting one another when they came to town,

and the chairman of the House Transportation Committee

carried a concealed handgun onto the floor. Dishonest gypsies

began dropping by on their migrations north and

south, and Richmond became a home away from home for

drug dealers traveling along I-95.

The timing was right for a woman to come along and

clean house. Or perhaps it was simply that nobody was

looking when the city hired its first female police chief,

who this moment was out walking her dog. Daffodils and

crocuses were blooming, the morning’s first light spreading

across the horizon, the temperature an unseasonable

Southern Cross 3

seventy degrees. Birds were chatty from the branches of

budding trees, and Chief Judy Hammer was feeling

uplifted and momentarily soothed.

“Good girl, Popeye,” she encouraged her Boston terrier.

It wasn’t an especially kind name for a dog whose huge

eyes bulged and pointed at the walls. But when the SPCA

had shown the puppy on TV and Hammer had rushed to

the phone to adopt her, Popeye was already Popeye and

answered only to that name.

Hammer and Popeye kept a good pace through their

restored neighborhood of Church Hill, the city’s original

site, quite close to where the English planted their cross.

Owner and dog moved briskly past antebellum homes with

iron fences and porches, and slate and false mansard roofs,

and turrets, stone lintels, chased wood, stained glass,

scroll-sawn porches, gables, raised so-called English and

picturesque basements, and thick chimneys.

They followed East Grace Street to where it ended at an

overlook that was the most popular observation point in

the city. On one side of the precipice was the radio station

WRVA, and on the other was Hammer’s nineteenthcentury

Greek Revival house, built by a man in the tobacco

business about the time the Civil War ended. Hammer

loved the old brick, the bracketed cornices and flat roof,

and the granite porch. She craved places with a past and

always chose to live in the heart of the jurisdiction she

served.

She unlocked the front door, turned off the alarm system,

freed Popeye from the leash and put her through a

quick circuit of sitting, sitting pretty and getting down, in

exchange for treats. Hammer walked into the kitchen for

coffee, her ritual every morning the same. After her walk

and Popeye’s continuing behavioral modification, Hammer

would sit in her living room, scan the paper and look

out long windows at the vista of tall office buildings, the

Capitol, the Medical College of Virginia and acres of Virginia

Commonwealth University’s Biotechnology

Research Park. It was said that Richmond was becoming

4 Patricia Cornwell

the “City of Science,” a place of enlightenment and thriving

health.

But as its top law enforcer surveyed edifices and downtown

streets, she was all too aware of crumbling brick

smokestacks, rusting railroad tracks and viaducts, and

abandoned factories and tobacco warehouses with windows

painted over and boarded up. She knew that bordering

downtown and not so far from where she lived were

five federal housing projects, with two more on Southside.

If one told the politically incorrect truth, all were breeding

grounds for social chaos and violence and were clear evidence

that the Civil War continued to be lost by the South.

Hammer gazed out at a city that had invited her to solve

its seemingly hopeless problems. The morning was lighting

up and she worried there would be one cruel cold snap

left over from winter. Wouldn’t that be just like everything

else these days, the final petty act, the eradication of what

little beauty was left in her horrendously stressful life?

Doubts crowded her thoughts.

When she had forged the destiny that had brought her to

Richmond, she had refused to entertain the possibility that

she had become a fugitive from her own life. Her two sons

were grown and had distanced themselves from her long

before their father, Seth, had gotten ill and died last spring.

Judy Hammer had bravely gone on, gathering her life’s

mission around her like a crusader’s cape.

She resigned from the Charlotte P.D., where she had

been resisted and celebrated for the miracles she wrought

as its chief. She decided it was her calling to move on to

other southern cities and occupy and raze and reconstruct.

She made a proposal to the National Institute of Justice

that would allow her to pick beleaguered police departments

across the South, spend a year in each, and bring all

of them into a union of one-for-all and all-for-one.

Hammer’s philosophy was simple. She did not believe

in cops’ rights. She knew for a fact that when officers, the

brass, precincts and even chiefs seceded from the department

to do their own thing, the result was catastrophic.

Crime rates went up. Clearance rates went down. Nobody

Southern Cross 5

got along. The citizens that law enforcement was there to

protect and serve locked their doors, loaded their guns,

cared not for their neighbors, gave cops the finger and

blamed everything on them. Hammer’s blueprint for

enlightenment and change was the New York Crime Control

Model of policing known as COMSTAT, or computerdriven

statistics.

The acronym was an easy way to define a concept far

more complicated than the notion of using technology to

map crime patterns and hot spots in the city. COMSTAT

held every cop accountable for everything. No longer

could the rank and file and their leaders pass the buck, look

the other way, not care, not know the answer, say they

couldn’t help it, were about to get around to it, hadn’t been

told, forgot, meant to, didn’t feel well or were on the phone

or off duty at the time, because on Mondays and Fridays

Chief Hammer assembled representatives from all

precincts and divisions and gave them hell.

Clearly, Hammer’s battle plan was a northern one, but

as fate would have it, when she presented her proposal to

Richmond’s city council, it was preoccupied with infighting,

mutiny and usurpations. At the time, it didn’t seem

like such a bad thing to let someone else solve the city’s

problems. So it was that Hammer was hired as interim

chief for a year and allowed to bring along two talents she

had worked with in Charlotte.

Hammer began her occupation of Richmond. Soon

enough stubbornness set in. Hatred followed. The city

patriarchs wanted Hammer and her NIJ team to go home.

There was not a thing the city needed to learn from New

York, and Richmonders would be damned before they followed

any example set by the turncoat, carpetbagging city

of Charlotte, which had a habit of stealing Richmond’s

banks and Fortune 500 companies.

Deputy Chief Virginia West complained bitterly through

painful expressions and exasperated huffs as she jogged

around the University of Richmond track. The slate roofs

of handsome collegiate Gothic buildings were just begin6

Patricia Cornwell

ning to materialize as the sun thought about getting up, and

students had yet to venture out except for two young

women who were running sprints.

“I can’t go much farther,” West blurted out to Officer

Andy Brazil.

Brazil glanced at his watch. “Seven more minutes,” he

said. “Then you can walk.”

It was the only time she took orders from him. Virginia

West had been a deputy chief in Charlotte when Brazil was

still going through the police academy and writing articles

for the Charlotte Observer. Then Hammer had brought

them with her to Richmond so West could head investigations

and Brazil could do research, handle public information

and start a website.

Although one might argue that, in actuality, West and

Brazil were peers on Hammer’s NIJ team, in West’s mind

she outranked Brazil and always would. She was more

powerful. He would never have her experience. She was

better on the firing range and in fights. She had killed a

suspect once, although she wasn’t proud of it. Her love

affair with Brazil back in their Charlotte days had been due

to the very normal intensity of mentoring. So he’d had a

crush and she had gone along with it before he got over it.

So what.

“You notice anybody else killing himself out here?

Except those two girls, who are either on the track team or

have an eating disorder,” West continued to complain in

gasps. “No! And guess why! Because this is stupid as shit!

I should be drinking coffee, reading the paper right now.”

“If you’d quit talking, you could get into a rhythm,” said

Brazil, who ran without effort in navy Charlotte P.D.

sweats and Saucony shoes that whispered when they

touched the red rubberized track.

“You really ought to quit wearing Charlotte shit,” she

went on talking anyway. “It’s bad enough as is. Why make

the cops here hate us more?”

“I don’t think they hate us.” Brazil tried to be positive

about how unfriendly and unappreciative Richmond cops

had been.

Southern Cross 7

“Yes they do.”

“Nobody likes change,” Brazil reminded her.

“You seem to,” she said.

It was a veiled reference to the rumor West had heard

barely a week after they had moved here. Brazil had something

going on with his landlady, a wealthy single woman

who lived in Church Hill. West had asked for no further

information. She had checked out nothing. She did not

want to know. She had refused to drive past Brazil’s house,

much less drop by for a visit.

“I guess I like change when it’s good,” Brazil was saying.

“Exactly.”

“Do you wish you’d stayed in Charlotte?”

“Absolutely.”

Brazil picked up his pace just enough to give her his

back. She would never forgive him for saying how much

he wanted her to come with him to Richmond, for talking

her into something yet one more time because he could,

because he used words with clarity and conviction. He had

carried her away on the rhythm of feelings he clearly no

longer had. He had crafted his love into poetry and then

fucking read it to someone else.

“There’s nothing for me here,” said West, who put

words together the way she hung doors and shutters and

built fences. “I mean let’s be honest about it.” She wasn’t

about to paint over anything without stripping it first. “It

sucks.” She sawed away. “Thank God it’s only for a year.”

She pounded her point.

He replied by picking up his pace.

“Like we’re some kind of MASH unit for police departments,”

she added. “Who were we kidding? What a waste

of time. I don’t remember when I’ve wasted so much

time.”

Brazil glanced at his watch. He didn’t seem to be listening

to her, and she wished she could get past his broad

shoulders and handsome profile. The early sun rubbed gold

into his hair. The two college women sprinted past, sweaty

and fat-free, their muscular legs pumping as they showed

8 Patricia Cornwell

off to Brazil. West felt depressed. She felt old. She halted

and bent over, hands on her knees.

“That’s it!” she exclaimed, heaving.

“Forty-six more seconds.” Brazil ran in place like he

was treading water, looking back at her.

“Go on.”

“You sure?”

“Fly like the wind.” She rudely waved him on. “Damn

it,” she bitched as her flip phone vibrated on the waistband

of her running shorts.

She moved off the track, over to the bleachers, out of

the way of hard-bodied people who made her insecure.

“West,” she answered.

“Virginia? It’s . . .” Hammer’s voice pushed through

static.

“Chief Hammer?” West loudly said. “Hello?”

“Virginia . . . You there?” Hammer’s voice scattered

more.

West pressed a hand over her other ear, trying to hear.

“. . . That’s bullshit . . .” a male voice suddenly broke in.

West started walking, trying to get into a better cell.

“Virginia . . . ?” Hammer’s voice barely crackled

through.

“. . . can do it anytime . . . usual rules apply . . .” The

male voice was back.

He had a southern drawl and was obviously a redneck.

West felt instant hostility.

“. . . time to . . . kill . . . Got to . . . or score . . .” The redneck

spoke in distorted blurts.

“. . . an ugly dog not worth . . . lead to shoot it . . .” A

second redneck suddenly answered the first redneck. “How

much . . . ?”

“Depends on . . . Maybe a couple hundred . . .”

“. . . Just between us . . .”

“. . . If . . . body . . . finds . . .”

“. . . not invited . . .”

“What?” Hammer’s voice surfaced and was gone.

“. . . Use a . . . cold nose . . . Not your piece . . . shit . . . !

Blue . . .”

Southern Cross 9

“Chief Hammer . . .” West started to say more, then

caught herself, realizing the rednecks might be able to hear

them, too.

“. . . coons . . .” The first redneck came back. “. . . not

one born too smart for . . . Dismal Swamp . . .”

“. . . Got that right, Bubba . . . We covered . . . a blanket

. . .”

“Okay, Smudge . . . buddy . . . early morning?”

West was silently shocked as she listened to two men

plan a homicide that clearly was racially motivated, a hate

crime, a score to settle that involved robbery. It sounded as

if the murder would go down early in the morning. She

wondered if a cold nose was slang for a snub-nosed

revolver and if blue referred to a gun that was blue steel

versus stainless steel or nickel-plated. Clearly, the psychos

planned to wrap the body in a blanket and dump it in the

Dismal Swamp.

Static.

“. . . Loraine . . .” Bubba’s fractured voice was back.

“. . . At old pumps . . . cut engine . . . headlights off so

don’t wake . . .”

Static, and the cell cleared.

“Chief Hammer?” West said. “Chief Hammer? Are you

still there?”

“Bubba . . .” the second stranger crackled again. “Somebody’s

on . . .”

Static, scratch, blare, blip.

“Goddamn it,” West muttered when her phone went

dead.

Bubba’s real name was Butner Fluck IV. Unlike so many

fearless men devoted to pickup trucks, guns, topless bars

and the Southern Cross, he had not been born into the tribe

of Bubbas, but rather had grown up the son of a theologian

in the Northside neighborhood of Ginter Park, where old

mansions were in disrepair and Civil War cannonballs on

porches were popular. Butner came from a long line of

Butners who always went by the nickname “But,” and it

was lost on his erudite father, Dr. But Fluck III, that calling

10 Patricia Cornwell

his son But in this day and age set the child up for problems.

By the time little But had entered the first grade, the

slurs, the slander and the derision were on every tongue.

They were whispered in class, shouted on buses and playing

fields, and drawn on sheets of notebook paper slipped

from desk to desk or left inside little But’s locker. When he

wrote his name it was But Fluck. In the teacher’s grade

books he was Fluck, But.

Any way he looked at it, he was screwed, really, and of

course his peers came up with any number of other renditions.

Mother-But-Flucker, Butter-Flucker, But-Flucking-

Boy, Buttock-Fluck, and so on. When he retreated into his

studies and went to the head of the class, new pet names

were added to the list. But-Head, Fluck-Head, Mother-

Flucking-But-Head, Head-But-Head, et al.

For But’s ninth birthday he requested camouflage and

several toy guns. He became a compulsive eater. He spent

a lot of time in the woods hunting imaginary prey. He

immersed himself in a growing stash of magazines featuring

mercenary soldiers, anarchists, trucks, assault

weapons, Civil War battlefields and women in swimsuits.

He collected manuals on simple car care and repair, automotive

tools and wiring, wilderness survival, fishing, and

hiking in bear country. He sneaked cigarettes and was

rude. His tenth year he changed his name to Bubba and

was feared by all.

This early Monday morning Bubba was driving home

from third shift at Philip Morris, his CB and two-way

radios turned on, his portable phone plugged into the cigarette

lighter, Eric Clapton on the CD player. His stainless

steel Colt Anaconda .44 with its eight-inch barrel and

Bushnell Holo sight on a B-Square base was tucked under

his seat within quick reach.

Multiple antennas bobbed on his red 1990 Jeep Cherokee,

which Bubba did not realize had been listed in the

Used Car Buying Guide as a used car to avoid, or that it

had been wrecked and had a hundred thousand more miles

on it than the odometer showed. Bubba had no reason to

Southern Cross 11

doubt his good buddy, Joe “Smudge” Bruffy, who last year

had sold the Jeep to Bubba for only three thousand dollars

more than the Blue Book value.

In fact, it was Smudge who Bubba had been talking to

on the portable phone moments earlier when two other

voices broke in. Bubba hadn’t been able to make out what

the two women were saying, but the name “Chief Hammer”

had been unmistakable. He knew it meant something.

Bubba had been raised in a Presbyterian atmosphere of

predestination, God’s will, inclusive language, exegesis

and colorful stoles. He had rebelled. In college he had

studied Far Eastern religions to spite his father, but none of

Bubba’s acting out had eradicated the essence of his early

indoctrination. Bubba believed there was purpose. Despite

all setbacks and personal flaws, he had faith that if he accumulated

enough good karma, or perhaps if yin and yang

ever got along, he would discover the reason for his existence.

So when he heard Chief Hammer’s name over the cell

phone, he experienced a sudden release of gloominess and

menacing persecution, a buoyant happiness and surge of

power. He was transformed into the warrior on a mission

he had always been destined to become as he followed

Midlothian Turnpike to Muskrat’s Auto Rescue, this time

for another windshield leak. Bubba snapped up the mike of

his two-way Kenwood radio and switched over to the

security channel.

“Unit 1 to Unit 2.” He tried to raise Honey, his wife, as

he followed the four-lane artery of Southside out of

Chesterfield County and into the city limits.

No answer. Bubba’s eyes scanned his mirrors. A Richmond

police cruiser pulled in behind him. Bubba slowed

down.

“Unit 1 to Unit 2,” Bubba tried again.

No answer. Some shithead kid in a white Ford Explorer

was trying to cut in front of Bubba. Bubba sped up.

“Unit 1 to Unit 2!” Bubba hated it when his wife didn’t

respond to him immediately.

The cop remained on Bubba’s tail, dark Oakleys staring

12 Patricia Cornwell

straight into Bubba’s rearview mirror. Bubba slowed

again. The punk in the Explorer tried to ease in front of

Bubba, right turn signal flashing. Bubba sped up. He deliberated

over what form of communication to use next, and

picked up his portable phone. He changed his mind. He

thought about trying his wife again on the two-way and

decided not to bother. She should have gotten back to him

the first and second times. The hell with her. He snapped

up the mike to his CB, eyeing the cop in his mirrors and

keeping a check on the Explorer.

“Yo, Smudge,” Bubba hailed his buddy over the CB.

“You on track come back to yack.”

“Unit 2,” his wife’s out-of-breath voice came over the

two-way.

Bubba’s portable phone rang.

“Sorry . . . oh my . . .” Honey sweetly said as she

gasped. “I was . . . oh dear . . . let me catch my breath . . .

whew . . . was chasing Half Shell . . . she wouldn’t

come . . . That dog.”

Bubba ignored her. He answered the phone.

“Bubba?” said Gig Dan, Bubba’s supervisor at Philip

Morris.

“Trackin’ and yackin’, buddy,” Smudge came back

over the CB.

“Unit 2 to Unit 1?” Honey anxiously persisted over the

two-way.

“Yo, Gig,” Bubba said into the portable phone. “What’s

goin’ on?”

“Need ya to come in and work the second half of second

shift,” Gig told him. “Tiller called in sick.”

Shit, Bubba thought. Today of all days when there was

so much to do and so little time. It depressed the hell out of

him to think about showing up at eight o’clock tonight and

working twelve straight hours.

“Ten-4,” Bubba replied to Gig.

“When you wanna shine on yellow eyes?” Smudge

hadn’t given up.

Bubba didn’t really like coon hunting all that much. His

coon dog Half Shell had her problems, and Bubba worried

Southern Cross 13

about snakes. Besides, Smudge always got a higher score.

It seemed all Bubba did was lose money to him.

“Before slithers wake up, I guess.” Bubba tried to sound

sure of himself. “So go ahead and shake out a plan.”

“Ten-fo, good buddy,” Smudge came back. “Gotcha

covered like a blanket.”

Southern Cross

Southern Cross