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А Б В Г Д Е Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я


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Chapter Nineteen

Hammer was extremely sensitive to racial issues and had studied the Richmond metropolitan area's thoroughly. She knew it wasn't so long ago that blacks couldn't join various clubs or live in certain neighborhoods. They couldn't use golf courses or tennis courts or public pools. Change had been slow and in many ways was deceptive.

Memberships and neighborhood associations began to accept blacks, and in some cases women, but making it off the waiting list or feeling comfortable was another matter. When the future first black governor of Virginia tried to move into an exclusive neighborhood, he was turned down. When a statue of Arthur Ashe was erected on Monument Avenue, it almost caused another war.

Chief Hammer was worried as she and administrative assistant Fling drove through Hollywood Cemetery to inspect the damage and find out if the descriptions of it were exaggerated. They weren't. Hammer parked on Davis Circle, where the painted bronze statue was clearly visible in the distance, rising amid a background of magnolias and evergreens, small Confederate flags fluttering at the marble base, the perimeter secured with yellow crime-scene tape.

'Looks like he's hogging the basketball and won't pass it to anyone,' Fling observed. 'He looks kind of stuck-up, too.'

'He was,' Hammer commented.

She stifled laughter, her blood fluttering with peals of it that were almost impossible to suppress. The statue of Davis had always been described as having a proud and haughty air. He had worn the southern gentleman's dress typical of his day, before the graffiti artist, remarkably, had transformed the long coat into a baggy jersey and voluminous shorts to the knees. Trousers had become muscular legs and athletic socks. Boots had been turned into hightop Nikes.

Hammer and Fling got out of the Crown Victoria as the throaty roar of a black Mercedes 420E came up from behind. The sedan, with its sunroof and saddle interior, swerved around Hammer's car and parked in front of it.

'Shit,' Hammer said as Lelia Ehrhart gathered something off the Mercedes's front seat and opened her door. 'Where's the interpreter?'

Although Ehrhart had been born in Richmond, she had spent most of her growing-up years in Vienna, Austria, where her father, Dr. Howell, a wealthy, prominent music historian, had labored for years on an unauthorized psychological biography of the very gentle, sensitive Mozart and his fear of the trumpet. Later the family had moved to Yugoslavia where Dr. Howell explored the subliminal influence of music on the Nemanjic dynasty. German was Lelia Ehrhart's first language, Serbo-Croatian followed, then English. She spoke nothing well and had combined the three, stirring and folding, as if making a cake.

For a moment, Ehrhart stood, transfixed by the statue, her lips slightly parted in shock. She wore yellow Escada jeans, a full yellow-striped blouse with an E on the breast pocket, a black belt studded with brass butterflies and shoes to match. Although Hammer mostly wore Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, she knew other designers and recognized that the butterflies were several seasons old. This gave Hammer a little satisfaction, but not enough.

'This will excite a riot,' Ehrhart exclaimed, moving in closer to the crime scene, a Canon Sure Shot in hand. 'Nothing like this has even happened before this.'

'I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that,' Hammer replied. 'Not so long ago someone painted graffiti on the statue of Robert E. Lee.'

'That was different.'

'He wasn't changed into a black basketball player,' Fling agreed. 'Not saying he wouldn't have been, but he's on a horse with a sword, and right there on Monument Avenue where if you spent a lot of time, someone's bound to notice. So I really don't see how you could easily do him. Or doing anybody on Monument Avenue. Arthur Ashe's holding a tennis racket and the other guys are on horses. Unless you did polo, I guess.'

'I want to know how you're doing about this?' Ehrhart said to Hammer as a sudden gust of wind stirred trees and whipped the Southern Cross at Davis's feet. 'And where were your officers when some vandal came in here like Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel?'

'The cemetery is private property,' Fling reminded her.

'If a serial killing shows up on my private property, is that a so-what also?' Ehrhart replied indignantly.

'Not if we know he's a serial killer,' Fling retorted.

'The truth is,' said Hammer, 'we do patrol the cemetery.'

'That's even worst,' Ehrhart said. 'You certainly must have somewhere been elsewhere last night.'

'The beat car is very busy in that area, Lelia. We've got VCU, Oregon Hills. We get many, many calls," Hammer said. 'When calls involve living people, they take priority.'

'As if I would know this!' Ehrhart indignantly answered.

'It's confusing what's city and what isn't.' Fling tried to gloss over his misinformation. 'And Mrs. Ehrhart, my earlier point that I wanted to emphasize was you shouldn't take this so hard when it may simply be a random choice because of how remote being in a place like this is if you're up to no good.'

That's easier to say,' said Ehrhart.

Hammer felt as if she were listening to aliens.

'When about Bobby Feeley?' Ehrhart was becoming more accusatory.

'We're working hard on this, Lelia,' Hammer replied.

'He's twelve,' she persisted. 'That ought to add up for something.'

'We are investigating this with great seriousness,' said Hammer, who frankly thought the statue was much improved by the new outfit.

'He probably alibied his way from there to here and you take it at fact value.' Ehrhart wouldn't let it rest.

'I think he wasn't feeling good last night and didn't go out,' Fling offered. 'There are witnesses.'

Hammer glared at Fling, who had just divulged sensitive information about the case.

'Well, we'll put this up at my meeting. And by the way, I've had to move it earlier to seven A.M. in the morning, Judy.' Ehrhart started taking photographs of the crime scene. 'The Commonwealth Club private boarding room. If you don't know where it is, they'll ask you at the door when you cash your coat.'

'It's a little warm for a coat,' Fling said.

For the past century, Lelia Howell Ehrhart's alleged ancestors had been laid to rest in stately family plots and tombs, and remembered by obelisks and urns, and blessed by crosses, and guarded by Carrara marble angels of grief and a cast-iron dog, and embellished with ornamental metalwork.

It was well known that her family tree included Jefferson Davis's wife, Varina Howell, although genealogists had thus far been unsuccessful in tracing Ehrhart's bloodline back to any geographic region even close to Mississippi, where Mrs. Davis was from.

Ehrhart was traumatized and personally outraged. She took the vandalism personally and couldn't help but think it was directed at her, and therefore gave her the right to find the monster who had done it and lock him up for the rest of his life. Ehrhart didn't need the police. What good were they anyway?

What mattered most and got things done was connections, and Ehrhart had more than the Internet. She was married to Dr. Carter 'Bull' Ehrhart, a millionaire dentist and alleged descendant of Confederate General Franklin 'Bull' Paxton. Bull Ehrhart was a University of Richmond alumnus. He was on the Board of Visitors. He had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to U of R and rarely missed a basketball game.

It had been no great matter for Lelia Ehrhart to call Spiders head coach Bo Raval and find out exactly where she might get her hands on Bobby Feeley. Probably the gym, she had been told. She turned off Three Chopt Road onto Boatwright and followed it to the U of R campus. She turned into the private lot, where members of the Spiders Club parked during the games. She tucked her Mercedes at an angle, taking two spaces, far away from those less expensive cars that might hit her doors. She walked with purpose up the Robins Center's front steps.

The lobby was empty and echoed with the memory of many games won and lost that Ehrhart had not enjoyed. Eventually, she had refused to attend them with her husband, nor would she subject herself to football. She simply would not watch sports on TV anymore. Bull could get his own beer and make his own microwave popcorn. He could point the remote as often as he wanted, playing God, controlling, master designing, making things happen, and she didn't care.

A basketball bouncing beyond shut doors sounded lonely and determined. Ehrhart entered Milhouser Gym, where Bobby Feeley was shooting foul shots. He was tall, as expected, with long sculpted muscles and a shaved head and a gold loop earring, like all basketball players. His skin glistened with sweat, gray tee shirt soaked in back and front, shorts baggy down to his knees and swirling as he moved. Feeley paid no attention to Ehrhart as he tried again and hit the rim.

'Shit,' he said.

She said nothing as he dribbled and faked, rushed, elbows flying, turning, faking again, fast breaking, leaping and slam-dunking, hitting the rim again.

'Fuck,' he said.

'Excuse me,' Ehrhart announced herself.

Feeley slowly dribbled the ball, looking at her.

'Are you Bobby Feeley?'

She stepped onto the gym floor in high-heeled shoes with brass butterflies.

'That's not a good idea,' he said.

'Excuse me?'

'Your shoes.'

'Who's not right with them?'

'They aren't tennis shoes.'

'Yours aren't wearing tennis shoes,' she said.

He dribbled some more, frowning.

'What do you call these?' he asked.

'Basketballs shoes,' she said.

'Ah. A purist. Okay,' said Feeley, an honors English student. 'But you still can't walk on the floor in those shoes. So you can take them off or go somewhere else, I guess.'

Ehrhart slipped out of her shoes and drew closer to him in knee-high hose.

'So, what can I do for you?' Feeley asked as he pulled the ball away, elbows out and dangerous, eluding an imaginary adversary.

'You're number twelve,' Ehrhart said.

'Not that again,' Feeley exclaimed as he dribbled. 'What is this anyway? You people think I have nothing better to do? That I would do something as sophomoric as painting graffiti in a cemetery?'

He dribbled between his legs and missed a jump shot.

This is not just graffiti as you watch on subway trains. It's not 'The Screech' and schmucks you watch on buildings.'

Feeley stopped dribbling and wiped sweat off his brow, trying to interpret.

'I think you mean scream,' he tried to help her out. 'As in Edvard Munch's 'The Scream'. And maybe you mean schmoeP Schmuck's not a nice word, although those unfamiliar with Yiddish usually don't get it.'

'Spray-painting Mountain Rushmore, how about then?' she said indignantly.

'Who did?' Feeley asked.

'So you can go paint your basketball uniform, number twelve included, on my ancestor!'

'You're related to Jeff Davis?'

Feeley ran and dunked. The ball bounced off the backboard.

'I'm related to Vinny,' Ehrhart stated.

'As in Pooh?'

'Varina.'

'I thought that was a place or maybe something else we shouldn't allude to.'

'You are vulgarly rude, Mr. Feeler.'

'Feeley.'

'It disdains me that people from your generation respect not a thing that's gone before in the past. And the point is, it isn't gone even if it started before you in. I'm standing here, as evident.'

Feeley frowned. 'How 'bout ringing me up again. I think we have a bad connection.'

'I wouldn't,' she said flatly.

He cradled the ball under his arm. 'What did I do?'

'We know both what you did.'

He dribbled into a hook shot that swished below the net.

'Sorry,' Feeley said, 'but I didn't do a job on Mr. Davis's statue, although I must say that it was about time somebody put him in his place.'

'How dare can you!'

Feeley flashed his big smile. He dribbled back and forth from one hand to the other and hit his foot.

'Indicted for treason but never tried. First and last president of the Confederacy. Ha!' He missed another foul shot. 'Got to feel sorry for him, when you think about it. Inferior railroad, no navy, no powder mills or shipyard and forget arms and equipment.' A jump shot sailed over the backboard. 'Congress fighting like cats and dogs.' Feeley walked and hit his toe again. 'Lee surrenders without asking Davis if it's all right.' He trotted after the ball. 'Jeff Davis finds himself in leg irons and ends up an insurance salesman in Memphis.'

'Not truth.' Ehrhart was incensed.

'Sure as hell is, ma'am.'

'Where were you last night?' she demanded to know.

'Right here, practicing.' A last-second shot from half court hit the stands. 'I didn't go to the cemetery and have never been inside that cemetery.'

He trotted after the ball again and started spinning it on his middle finger.

Ehrhart misinterpreted. 'Are you giving to me an obscenity gesture?'

The ball wobbled off. Feeley tried again. He tossed it around his back and missed.

'Rats,' he said.

'I fine you most lacking in respect,' Ehrhart said loudly and with emotion. 'And you can alibi from then on and in the end, what comes and goes around!'

'Look, ma'am.' Feeley tucked the ball under his arm. 'I had nothing to do with the statue. But I sure do intend to go take a peek.'

Many people in the Richmond area had decided the same thing. Clay Kitchen had never seen such a solid line of cars without headlights on. He had never in his twenty-seven years of faithful service observed such unbecoming behavior.

People were cheerful. They had rolled windows down and were enjoying the premature spring weather. They were playing rock amp; roll, jazz and rap.

Kitchen and West zipped along in the truck, avoiding the flow of traffic by entering the crime scene from Lee Avenue. West looked out the window, rather amazed by the interest. When the statue came in view she almost lost her proper police decorum. She almost said fucking unbelievable.

'Stop right here,' she said to Kitchen. 'I don't want people seeing me getting out of your truck.'

Kitchen completely understood. West was here in plain clothes and would not tell him why, but he was quite a reader. He knew what was going on. Criminals often returned to the scene of the crime, especially if they were pyromaniacs or wanted to apologize or had forgotten to take a souvenir. Kitchen had talked to police when they patrolled the cemetery on slow days. Kitchen had heard the stories.

He remembered the man who stabbed his wife almost a thousand times and slept with her body for days, bringing her breakfast in bed, watching TV with her, talking about the good times. Of course, that really wasn't the same thing as returning to the scene since he'd never left it, Kitchen supposed. He did know for a fact that up north a few years back, a woman ground up her husband in a wood chipper and came back several days later to burn up his pieces in the backyard. A neighbor apparently got suspicious.

The crowd was pressing too close to the statue and threatened any moment to duck under or even break the crime-scene tape. West got on her radio and requested backups. There was a near riot situation at the cemetery, hundreds of people. Many of them had been drinking and probably still were.

'Three,' Communications Officer Patty Passman came back. 'Is this 10-18?'

West checked her annoyance. People pushed against her. Passman was always questioning West's calls, and now she had the nerve to ask if the situation was urgent. No, why don't you get around to it when you can, West felt like saying. After I've been stampeded.

'Three, 10-10. At the moment.'

Three, what's your exact 10-20?'

'I'm exactly at the statue,' West answered tersely.

'Hey! Who's the chick with the radio?' some man yelled.

'We got undercover cops here!'

'FBI.'

'CIA.'

'Yay!'

'You want my fingerprints, baby?'

The smell of alcohol was strong as bodies pressed closer and jeering people got in West's face. Her body space wasn't there. People were jostling her, touching her, laughing. She got back on the radio and suddenly noticed the small blue fish painted on the statue's base, just below Jefferson Davis's left Nike. A kid came up behind her and pretended to go for her gun. She lifted him off the ground by his belt and tossed him like a small bag of garbage. He laughed, running off.

'Three, 10-18!' West exclaimed over the air as she stared at the fish, her thoughts crashing into each other.

'Any unit in the area of Hollywood Cemetery, an officer needs assistance,' Passman broadcast calmly.

'Step back!' West shouted to the crowd. 'Step back now!'

She was against the crime-scene tape, the crowd getting frenzied and moving in.

West whipped out her red pepper spray and pointed it. People paused to reflect.

'What the hell's gotten into you?' West yelled. 'Step back now!'

The crowd inched back a little, faces twitching with indecision, fists balled, sweat rolling, the air throbbing with the heat of violence about to erupt.

'Someone want to tell me what this is all about!' West yelled again.

A youth wearing a Tommy Hilfiger shirt and stocking cap, one relaxed-pants leg rolled up, one down, spoke for the group.

'Nobody wants us in here,' he explained. 'Maybe it gets to you, you know? And then one day something happens and you snap.'

'Well, there'll be no snapping here,' West told all sternly. 'What's your name?'

'Jerome.'

'Seems like these people listen to you, Jerome.'

'I don't know any of them, but I guess so.'

'I want you to help me keep them calm,' West said.

'Okay.'

Jerome turned around and faced the mob.

'CHILL!' he shouted. 'EVERYBODY FUCKING BACK OFF AND GIVE THIS LADY SOME FUCKING SPACE!'

Everybody did.

'Now listen up.' Jerome stepped into his new role and had no problem with it. 'The deal is you people don't know what it's like,' he told West.

'Tell it!' a woman yelled.

'You think anybody wants us in here?' he whipped up the crowd.

'Fuck no!' they screamed.

'You think anybody wants us dropping by?'

'Fuck no!' the crowd chanted.

'You-think-you-go-Hollywood-who's-gonna-let-you-they're-gonna-get-you-throw-your-ass-in-the-grass-cemetery-in-the-hood? "Jerome started rapping.

'Never!'

'The-mon-u-ment-like-the-mom-u-meant-is-cold-rm-told-how-many-times-I-gotta-tell-it.' Jerome was strutting before the crowd. 'What's-it-take-to-taste-and-smell-it-when-you-got-no-chance-to-sell-it-'cause-everything's-for-sale-except-for-me-and-you-no-matter-what-we-do-we're-the-boys-in-the-hood-ain't-no-fuck-in-Holly-wood.'

'AND-THE-GIRLS-IN-THE-HOOD!'

'Boys-and-girls-in-the-hood-ain't-no-fuck-in-Holly-wood,' Jerome politically corrected himself.

'AIN'T-NO-FUCK-IN-HOLLY-WOOD!' the crowd rapped back.

'Thanks, Jerome,' West said.

'AIN'T-NO-FUCK-IN-HOLLY-WOOD!' The crowd was out of control.

'Jerome, that's enough!'

'Say it again, brothers!' Jerome was spinning and kick-boxing. 'AIN'T-NO-FUCK-IN-HOLLY-WOOD!'

'AIN'T-NO-FUCK-IN-HOLLY-WOOD!'

Sirens sounded in the distance.


Chapter Eighteen | Southern Cross | Chapter Twenty