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Chapter Twenty-Seven

At the Commonwealth Club, Hammer was losing her polish and becoming argumentative. She had not eaten breakfast and unwisely had washed down a Multi-Max 1 sustained release multivitamin, two Advils, two BuSpars and three tropical-fruit-flavored Turns calcium supplements with black coffee. Her stomach burned.

'I think we need to put things in perspective,' Hammer announced.

'I think there's exactly why we're doing it,' Ehrhart answered her.

'The point is not our reverence of monuments and a historic cemetery,' Hammer said, knowing she was venturing into an Indian burial ground.

'It's not a matter of reverence but of a far-stretching perception,' Ehrhart butted in. 'Hollywood Cemetery is a symbolism of the prospering advancement of culture that midway in the middle of the nineteenth century catapulted our marveling city into the twenty-fifth bigger of the others in America.'

'Anybody know how many big cities there were back then?' challenged Reverend Jackson.

'Anybody know what she just said?' Mayor Lamb whispered in Hammer's ear.

'At least thirty-five,' offered publisher Eaton.

'Closer to forty. South Dakota entered the union in 1859,' Lieutenant Governor Miller quietly corrected the mayor.

'I'd like to finish what I was saying,' Hammer pushed forward. 'The important point is that a painted statue is not the worst crime that's ever happened here.' She looked pointedly at Ehrhart. 'It might be a better idea to focus on gangs and escalating juvenile crime, and on the community's refusal to participate in protecting and taking care of itself. Which is what brought me here to begin with." 'Why did you thinking were in here there morning if not to participate?' Ehrhart said with emotion. 'And for the records, it's never been my believe we needed Charlotte to telling us how to ruin our police department and our city.'

'Well, they're sure as hell running things a whole lot better than we are,' commented NationsBank president Albright, who had worked out of the headquarters in Charlotte before transferring to Richmond.

'We're not here today to talk about Charlotte,' the mayor said irritably.

'Nothing wrong with learning from somebody else,' said the lieutenant governor.

'I suggest the Blue Ribbon Crime Commission pave the way, Lelia,' Hammer said to Ehrhart, who was looking at her gold and diamond Rolex watch and getting anxious. 'You're in a strong position to mobilize citizens and state and city officials. You have a voice.'

'It's the responsible police, not the citizens what do away with crime. You already know the commission's subscription. We need to hire another additional more one hundred officers. We need more patrols on feet. Police officers should be forced even if they don't want to, to live with the city and carry there police cars home so there's more in our neighborhoods to be visible." 'Who's going to pay for all that?' the mayor wanted to know. 'You never have explained that part, Lelia.'

Hammer's flip phone vibrated. She absented herself from the gathering umbrage at the conference table and went out the door.

'Chief?' West's voice came over the cell.

'Now's not a good time,' Hammer said.

'I'm at 6807 Midlothian Turnpike,' West said. 'I think you'd better come.'

The handcuffs around Bubba's wrists had been snapped on with contempt and no nonsense. Steel teeth bit into his soft flesh. The air conditioning inside the patrol car was up too high and Bubba's cranky bowel syndrome had rumbled out of remission.

Bubba had always known it was risky to tuck his Anaconda.44 under the seat, but he had never imagined he might get into this much trouble. Police were everywhere, some of them detectives. Moments ago, two fire trucks and an ambulance had screamed past, heading around to the back of Kmart. The media was rolling in and a helicopter was circling the area.

Officer Budget was standing outside the car talking to the woman deputy chief who had come to Bubba's house after the break-in. He recalled her name was West. She kept glancing in at Bubba, her face hard, eyes sharp with anger that Bubba was certain was directed at him, although he didn't know why. He didn't understand why the cops had wanted his filthy tee shirt.

No one would tell him anything except that he had committed a class one misdemeanor by concealing a weapon from common view, a weapon that Budget had freed from beneath the seat and checked to see how many cartridges were inside the cylinder. With growing panic Bubba watched a tow truck turn off Midlothian Turnpike and park beside his Jeep.

Bubba tapped his manacled hands against his window. Budget glared in at him. West stopped talking. Bubba tapped again. Budget opened the front passenger's door and leaned inside the car.

'What?' Budget asked in a most unfriendly way.

'I need to use the bathroom.' Bubba lowered his voice because he didn't want West to hear.

'Yeah, yeah,' Budget said with no compassion.

'I can't wait,' Bubba told him quietly.

'You're gonna have to.'

'Can't.' Bubba gritted his teeth, pressing his buttocks together tightly.

'Too bad.' Budget shut the door.

Hammer rolled up in her midnight-blue Crown Victoria as a detective and two crime-scene technicians searched for evidence. The twenty-four-hour money stop had been cordoned off with yellow tape, and two more officers were standing sentry around a red Jeep Cherokee. West and another officer were talking by a patrol car, a suspect in back.

Hammer parked and got out as a blue medical examiner's van turned off Midlothian Turnpike and drove slowly through the Kmart parking lot, heading to the crime scene.

'Chief.' Budget greeted Hammer.

'What's going on?' Hammer asked West.

'We've got a white female shot in the head behind the Kmart, found at 0832 hours inside her vehicle, a baby in the back seat, strapped in a car seat.'

'God,' Hammer said. 'The baby all right?'

'Screaming, seems feverish,' West replied.

'How young?' Hammer asked.

She stared through the patrol car window at the suspect, a white man with thinning brown hair and a pudgy, flushed face. She thought he looked rather ill.

'I'd say less than a year old,' Budget replied. 'Child Protective Services just removed her from the scene, taking her to Chippenham Hospital to make sure she's okay while we try to find next of kin.'

'We might have a lead on that,' West said. 'There was a note in the victim's purse. Possibly written by the mother. Something about the baby's doctor whose office might be on Pump Road. The note refers to a sick baby named 'Loraine'. We're also making arrangements for temporary foster care, which we hope we won't need.'

Hammer stared at the red Jeep, noting the Confederate flag bumper sticker. She noted the BUB-AH vanity plate. She took a closer look at the suspect. He was shirtless and wearing camouflage pants.

'What's the victim's name?' Hammer asked.

Budget flipped back pages of his notepad.

'Ruby Sink,' he said. 'Seventy-two years old with a Church Hill address.'

'Miss Sink?' Hammer interrupted in horror. 'Oh my God! She's one of my neighbors. I can't believe it.'

'You knew her?' Budget was startled.

'Not well. Dear God! She's on the Hollywood Cemetery board of directors. I just talked to her.'

'Christ!' West said, throwing Bubba a killing look.

'Another ATM?' Hammer asked as a terrible darkness settled over her.

'We know she withdrew two hundred dollars at 0802 hours,' Budget answered. 'We found the receipt. The cash is gone.'

Pieces were fitting together, although not without a little forcing. Hammer recalled the fragmented cell phone conversation between two men named Bubba and Smudge. They were planning to rob and murder a woman. The name Loraine and something about pumps were in the mix. Hammer had supposed their intended victim was black. But perhaps she had misunderstood. Hammer stared at the suspect again.

'Tell me about him,' she said.

'Butner Fluck the fourth, but goes by Bubba,' West replied. 'Oddly enough, Brazil and I responded to a B and E at his house just yesterday. A lot of guns allegedly stolen from his workshop.'

'Interesting,' Hammer said.

'Appears he was parked here at the time the homicide occurred,' Budget added.

'Did he see anything?' Hammer asked.

'Says he didn't. I recovered a forty-four Magnum that was concealed under the seat. One of these eight-inch-barrel jobs with a scope. Recently fired, four rounds missing. Plus, I'd stopped him maybe a half hour earlier, pulled him over to the exact spot where his Jeep is now…'

'Wait a minute.' Hammer held up her hand. 'Start over.'

'I know it's rather bizarre,' West tried to clarify. 'But the suspect was driving erratically shortly after seven this morning and Officer Budget pulled him over here, exactly where the Jeep is now. No outstanding warrants, nothing on him. He was charged with reckless driving and released. Less than an hour later, the victim's discovered behind Kmart.'

'I heard the call over the radio and responded,' Budget explained. 'And there's the same Jeep right where I'd seen it last, the suspect hiding on the floor, the gun in plain view.'

'So he never moved after you pulled him,' Hammer said. 'The Jeep was right here when the victim was robbed at the money stop and then murdered behind Kmart.'

'That's how it appears,' West said.

'What about his demeanor?' Hammer stared at Bubba.

'Extremely agitated, sweating profusely,' Budget replied. 'He has blood on his tee shirt. We said we'd like to take the shirt to the lab, but he was under no obligation to let us. He was compliant.'

'Anything else that might link him to the homicide?' Hammer asked.

'Not so far. Not until we can see if the bullets in the victim were fired from his gun. But it's kind of doubtful, to be honest. The shells we found in the car are nine-millimeter, ejected from a pistol.'

'This is all very strange,' Hammer said. 'And it sounds like all we've really got on him is a class one misdemeanor.'

'Yes, ma'am.'

Hammer stared again at the fat man in the back seat of the cruiser. He stared back at her with exhausted, miserable eyes.

'Well, it doesn't appear to me that we have probable cause to hold him,' Hammer said with extreme disappointment.

'We don't,' West agreed. 'But we couldn't be sure of that at first.'

'It's hard for me to imagine he was sitting here while a woman was robbed and never saw a thing,' Hammer remarked angrily as she thought again of Bubba and Smudge and their broken conversation.

'Nobody ever sees a thing,' West said.

Chapter Twenty-Six | Southern Cross | Chapter Twenty-Eight