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Chapter Twenty

The Robins Center, where the Spiders played basketball before great crowds, was between the private lot where Ehrhart had tucked her Mercedes, and the X lot where commoners parked, no more than two rows of parking spaces or approximately fifty yards from the track, where this moment Brazil was running hard for the second time this day.

It was late afternoon. He had spent hours working on the COMSTAT computer crisis while the media continued to kick around mean-spirited stories about Fishsteria and the vandalism of Jefferson Davis's statue. Comments of low intelligence and terribly poor taste streaked through e-mail and were passed word-of-mouth through offices, restaurants, bars and health clubs before at last finding their way to the ears of the police.

Cops finally catch something, no longer let crooks off the hook.

Knock knock. Who's there? Police. Police who? Police get rid of the fish.

Jeff Davis coloredized.

What's black and white and red all over? (Jeff Davis.) Brazil had been desperate for a break. He needed to clear his head and work off stress. What he did not need was to see Lelia Ehrhart walking out of the Robins Center, heading toward her black Mercedes parked in the Spiders Club lot. He knew instantly what she was up to and was furious.

Brazil sprinted off the track and through the gate. He got to her as she was backing up. He tapped on her window as the car continued to move. She braked, made sure her doors were locked and the window down an inch.

'I'm Officer Brazil,' he said, wiping his face with the hem of his tank top.

'I didn't recognize you,' Ehrhart said, appraising him as if thinking about a purchase.

'I don't mean to be rude,' Brazil said, 'but what were you doing in the gym?'

'Fact finishing.'

'Did you talk to Bobby Feeley?'

'Yes.'

'I wish you hadn't done that, Mrs. Ehrhart,' Brazil said.

'Someone had to, and I have a personal interested in this that has to do with me. Aren't you visiting outsiders from Charlotte always telling us to community police? Well, here I am. How old are you?" 'Community policing does not include interfering with an investigation,' Brazil told her.

She stared at his legs.

'You are quite the athletic,' she flirted. 'I have a trainer. If ever you want to work in together, the both of us, wouldn't that be nice?'

'It's generous of you to offer.' Brazil was courteous, professional and respectful.

'Which gym do you work in out of?' She rolled the window down the rest of the way, caressing every part of him with eyes that had huge purchasing power.

'I've gotta go,' Brazil said as she stared at his crotch.

'How often do you hang yourself out here?' she inquired, continuing her physical examination of him. 'You are very sweating. It's running all down you in little rivets and you look very hots. You should take your shirts off and drinks some Gatorades.' She patted the passenger's seat. 'Come sits, Andy. Out of the heats. I have a swimmer pool at my house. We could go and jump on it. Think how good that would feeling when you are so hots.'

'Thank you, Mrs. Ehrhart.' Brazil couldn't get away fast enough. 'But I've got to head out.'

He ran off. Her window hummed up. Her tires sounded angry when she sped away.

Brazil took two steps at a time and ran inside the Robins Center, dashing into the gym, where Bobby Feeley was working on defense and fouling imaginary Cavaliers.

'Mr. Feeley?' Brazil said from the sidelines.

Feeley dribbled the ball over to him. He started laughing.

'What is this? The inquisition? Or are you just looking for the track, man?'

'I'm with the Richmond Police Department, investigating the vandalism that occurred in Hollywood Cemetery last night,' Brazil explained.

'You always go to work dressed like that?' Feeley tried another jump shot and the ball didn't even come close.

'I just happened to be out running when I saw Lelia Ehrhart drive off,' Brazil said.

'Now that's a piece of work.' Feeley retrieved the ball. 'How long's she been on this planet?'

'Look, Mr. Feeley 'It's Bobby.'

'Bobby, do you have any idea why someone would paint a statue to look like you?' Brazil said. 'Assuming you didn't do it.'

'I didn't do it.' Feeley faked passes. 'And although it's very flattering to think there's a statue of me in a historic white cemetery, I don't think so.' He missed a layup. 'I'm a pretty sorry basketball player and not likely to be anybody's hero.'

'How'd you get on the team?' Brazil had to ask as he watched Feeley miss another layup.

'I used to be better than this,' Feeley said. 'I pretty much ripped up the court in high school, got recruited a million places and decided on Richmond. So I get here and something goes haywire. I'm telling you, man, I started worrying that maybe I had lupus, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's.'

Feeley sat on the basketball, resting his chin in his hand, depressed.

'Doesn't help that I'm wearing Twister Gardener's jersey,' Feeley said despondently. 'I've wondered if that's part of it. Getting psyched out, you know, because everybody looks at my number twelve and remembers him.'

'I'm not from here.' Brazil sat beside him. 'More into tennis than basketball.'

'Well, let me tell you,' Feeley said, 'Twister was the best player this school's ever seen. I got no doubt he'd be playing for the Bulls right now if he hadn't got killed." 'What happened?' Brazil asked as something started stirring deep in his mind.

'Car wreck. Some fucking drunk driver on the fucking wrong side of the road. Last August, right before his sophomore year.'

The story pained Brazil. It enraged him that an extraordinary talent could be completely annihilated in a second by someone who had decided to throw back a few more beers at the bar.

'I'm just glad I got to see him play. I guess you could say he was my hero.' Feeley got up and stretched his limber seven-foot frame.

'Pretty tough to wear your hero's jersey,' Brazil commented as he got up, too.

Feeley shrugged. 'It's part of running with the big dogs.'

'Maybe you should get your number changed,' Brazil suggested.

Feeley was startled. His face got hard, eyes flashing.

'What did you say?' he asked.

'Maybe you should retire the number, let someone else have it,' Brazil explained.

Feeley's eyes snapped. His jaw muscles bunched.

'Fuck no.'

'Just a suggestion,' Brazil said. 'But I don't understand why you'd want to keep it if you get psyched. Give it up, Bobby.'

'No fucking way!'

'Just do it.'

'Fuck you!'

'It really makes sense,' Brazil went on reasonably.

'Motherfucking never!'

'Why not?'

'Because nobody would fucking care about it as much as I do!'

'How do you know?'

Feeley threw the basketball as hard as he could and it swished in without touching the rim.

'Because nobody would respect Twister, treat him right, spread the word about him like I would!'

Feeley ran full speed for the ball, dribbled with his right hand and left and slam-dunked.

'And I'll tell you what, too, you'll never see that jersey dirty or tossed in a corner somewhere!' He dunked the ball over the back of his head, the rim vibrating. 'Some little spoiled piece of shit coming in here and wearing Twister's number!'

He hooked it in, rebounded, slam-dunked, snapped it up, thundered to the top of the key and banked it in, wrestled it away from grabbing hands and jumped a good two feet off the floor, sinking it.

'Does Twister have family around here?' Brazil asked.

'I remember going to the home games and seeing him with some little kid. Twister would sit the little guy right behind the bench,' Feeley said, hitting free throws and talking at the same time. 'I got the impression it might be his little brother.'

At James River Monuments, Ruby Sink was doing a little investigating on her own. The noise of air hammers and pneumatic tools was awful, and someone was bouncing a four-point bumper on Southern Georgia granite. The sandblaster was going and an overhead crane was lifting a thirteen-hundred-pound monument that was chipped and stained green along the top from moss.

White Vermont marble was very difficult and not used anymore and Floyd Rumble had a chore on his hands. He was a bit overwhelmed, anyway. It had been one of those days. His back hurt and his son was stuck at the desk inside the office because the secretary was on vacation.

Then Colonel Bailey, who had Alzheimer's, had come in for the fourth time in a week to say that he was to be buried in uniform and wanted something very patriotic engraved on his Saint Cloud Gray marble monument. Each time, Rumble made out a new order because the last thing he'd ever do was humiliate anyone.

Rumble picked up a knife and resumed cutting a leaf on Nero Black marble, thinking how bad he'd felt when stockbroker Ben Neaton had suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack and the wife had to come in here, too distraught to think, much less pick out something.

So Rumble had suggested the elegant black stone because Mr. Neaton had always driven shiny black Lincolns and worn dark suits. The inscription, Not Gone, Just Reinvested, had been stenciled into a sheet of rubber which was placed over the face of the stone. The sandblaster had etched the letters in a matter of minutes, but Rumble always cut the detail work, such as ivy or flowers, by hand.

It was common for bereft, shocked people to ask Rumble to make all decisions and unfold the story of their lost loved one's life, and what the person had last said or eaten or worn, or had intended to do the next day. Always there was that one little thing that gave the person a bad feeling.

Rumble would hear endless renditions of how the husband didn't go out and get the paper like he always did while his wife was fixing breakfast and school lunches and getting the kids up and ready for school and making sure they didn't miss the bus before she fixed his eggs the way he liked them and asked what he might like for supper and what time he'd be home.

Ruby Sink had worn out Rumble's patience. She had been planning her monument ever since her sister died eleven years ago, and it wasn't uncommon for Miss Sink to wander in once a month just to see what sorts of things Rumble was working on. First she wanted an angel, then a tree, then a plain African granite headstone with raised lilies, then she got into marbles and went through them like a woman rifling through her closet trying to figure out what color dress to wear. She had to have Lake Superior Green, then Rainbow, then Wausau, then Carnelian, then Mountain Red, and so on.

Rumble's business had been in the family for three generations. He had dealt with all sorts and was smart enough to quit placing orders for Miss Sink after the third time she had changed her mind.

'Good afternoon, Floyd,' Miss Sink walked right in talking loudly above the chop chop chop and rat-a-tats of machines and blasting of carbon sand and whirring of the exhaust fan and roaring of compressors.

'I guess so,' he said.

'I don't know how you stand all the dust in here.' She always said that.

'It's good for you,' he always replied. 'Same thing they use in toothpaste. All day long your teeth get cleaned. You ever see a Rumble with bad teeth?'

In part, he went down this path to distract Miss Sink. Sometimes it worked. Today it didn't.

'I guess you heard.' She moved close to confide in him.

The thirteen-hundred-pound monument hung perilously midair and Rumble thought about what a chore restoring it was going to be. All duplications of old work like that had to be chiseled by hand, and there was no way he was going to start on it while Miss Sink was within a mile of his shop. She'd decide she had finally found what she wanted. She'd know without a spark of doubt that she had to have soft white Vermont marble chiseled by hand.

He started looking through trays of stencil types, preparing to etch a Hebrew inscription on Sierra White marble while his crew lowered the damaged monument into a cart.

'You heard what they did to Jefferson Davis,' Miss Sink told him.

'I heard something about it.'

Rumble started laying out stencil types. They had to be plastic so one could see through them, but they broke all the time.

'As you know, Floyd, I'm on the board.'

'Yes, ma'am.'

The overwhelming matter that must be taken care of is how badly is the statue damaged, how do we go about restoring it and how much will it cost.'

Rumble hadn't gone into the cemetery to look yet. Nor would he bother at all unless he was offered the job.

'He paint any of the marble base or just the bronze?' Rumble inquired.

'Mostly the bronze.' Just the thought of it made her sick. 'But he did paint the top of the base to look like a basketball floor. So yes, some of the marble was involved.'

'I see. So he's standing on a basketball floor. What else?'

'Well, the worst part. He painted a basketball uniform on him, tennis shoes and the whole bit, and changed his race.'

'Sounds like we got two problems here,' Rumble said as he tossed out another broken letter and the diamond saw in a corner started cutting through stone. 'To fix the marble, I'm going to have to chisel it down and put on a new surface. As for the bronze, if we're talking about oil-based paints" 'Oh we are,' she said. 'I could tell. Nothing spray-painted here. This was all done in thick coats with a brush.'

'We'll have to strip that down, maybe with turpentine, then refinish with a polyurethane coating so we don't get oxidation.'

'We'll study this, then,' Miss Sink announced.

'We should,' Rumble said. 'Eventually we'll have to get Jeff Davis in my shop. I can't be doing all this work on him in the middle of a public cemetery with people all over the place. Means we'll have to hoist him up with a crane and a sling, lower him in a truck.'

'I 'spect we should close the cemetery while you're doing all this,' Miss Sink said.

'During the removal, for sure. But I'd do it now anyway in case other people get ideas about other monuments. And I suggest you get security patrolling around there.'

'I'll get Lelia to take care of it.'

'In the meantime, I don't want anyone touching that statue. Now that's saying you're asking me to fix it.'

'Of course you're the one, Floyd.'

'It will take me a day or so to get it out of the cemetery, and then I don't know how long after that.'

'I guess all this is going to cost a pretty penny,' the parsimonious Miss Sink said.

'I'll' be as fair as I can be,' Rumble said.

Bubba had no intention of being fair. There had been too much trauma and disruption for him to even think about sleep, and as soon as the detective had left with lifted prints and other evidence, Bubba had returned to his shop. He had cleaned up fast and hard, anger giving him boundless energy while Half Shell bawled and bawled and ran around in circles and jumped up and down from the overturned barrel.

Bubba's karma had not been favorably inclined so far this day. He had bought a bag of large white marbles and a bottle of iridescent yellow paint. His attempts at drilling holes through the marbles were disastrous. They kept slipping out of the vise, and when he tightened the vise more, the marbles cracked. The drill bit kept sliding off, then broke. This went on and got no better until he came up with a clever idea.

At several minutes past three P.M., Honey poked her head inside the shop, a concerned expression on her face.

'Sweetie, you haven't eaten a thing all day,' she worried.

'Don't have time.'

'Sweetie, you always have time.'

'Not now.'

She spotted what was left of her favorite large pearl necklace on the workbench.

'Sweetie, what are you doing?'

She dared to venture several inches inside his shop. The pearls were loose and Bubba was widening the holes through them with a 5/64th-inch drill bit.

'Bubba? What are you doing to my pearls? My father gave me those pearls.'

'They're fake, Honey.'

Bubba threaded black string through one of the pearls and tied a tight knot. He did the same thing with another pearl and took the two lengths of string and tied them together maybe four inches below the pearls. He slowly whirled this above his head like a lasso. He liked the way it felt, and proceeded to make several more.

'Honey, you go on back inside the house,' Bubba said. 'This is something you don't need to see or tell anybody about.'

She wavered in the doorway, her eyes uneasy.

'You're not doing something sneaky, are you?' she dared to ask.

Bubba didn't reply.

'Precious, I've never known you to do anything sneaky. You've always been the most honest man I've ever met, so honest everybody's always taking advantage of you.'

'I'm meeting Smudge at his house around six and we're heading out to Suffolk.'

She knew what that meant. 'Dismal Swamp? Please don't tell me you're going there, Bubba.'

'May or may not.'

'Think of all the snakes.' She shivered.

'There's snakes everywhere, Honey,' said Bubba, who was acutely phobic of snakes and believed no one knew it. 'A man can't spend his life worrying about snakes.'

Smudge had his own workshop, which was much better organized than Bubba's and equipped with only the essentials. He had the expected table, power miter, radial-arm and band saws, a thickness planer, wood lathe, workbench and shop vacuum. Smudge wasn't fond of snakes, either, but he used common sense.

The weather had been unseasonably warm. Water moccasins might be stirring in the Dismal Swamp, meaning Smudge had no intention of hunting coons down there. Southampton County would be better, although probably not for Bubba. Smudge was at his workbench Super-Gluing a real rattlesnake rattle to the tail of a long rubber snake. He snagged the snake with a simple eagle-claw hook threaded with twenty feet of monofilament.


Chapter Nineteen | Southern Cross | Chapter Twenty-One