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Chapter Eight

Andy Brazil also lived in the Fan, but on Plum Street in a fifteen-foot-wide row house with a flat roof and cornices of plain brick, and old plumbing and appliances, and creaking hardwood floors scattered with worn-out braided rugs.

The house was furnished and owned by the old spinster Ruby Sink, a shrewd businesswoman and busybody, one of the first who heard the NIJ team was coming to town and might need a place to stay. As it so happened, she had one vacant rental property she had been trying to fill for months. Brazil had taken it sight unseen.

Like West, he regretted his choice in living accommodations. The trap he had fallen into was plain to see. Miss Sink was rich, lonely, cranky and a compulsive talker. She popped over whenever she wished, ostensibly to check on the small patch of landscaping in front, or to make sure no repair work or touch-ups were needed, or to bring Brazil homemade banana bread or cookies and to inquire about his job and personal life.

Brazil climbed the steps to the front porch, where a package was propped against the front screen door. He recognized Miss Sink's fussy cursive penmanship on the brown wrapping paper and got depressed. It was late. He was exhausted. He hadn't eaten. He hadn't gone to the store in days. The last thing he wanted was another one of Miss Sink's cakes or tins of cookies, which was sure to be followed by yet another visit or a phone call.

'I'm home,' he irritably and sarcastically announced to nobody as he tossed his keys on a chair. 'What's for dinner?'

He was answered by a dripping faucet in the guest bath down the dark paneled hall. Brazil began unbuttoning his uniform shirt as he walked in the direction of the master bedroom, on the first floor and barely big enough for the double bed and two chests of drawers.

He unsnapped his holster and slipped out the Sig Sauer nine-millimeter pistol, setting it on a bedside table. He unbuckled his duty belt, took off his boots, pants and lightweight body armor. He rubbed his lower back as he headed to the kitchen in his socks, briefs and sweaty undershirt. His office was set up in the dining room, and as he passed by it, he was shocked by what was on his computer screen.

'My God,' he exclaimed as he pulled out a chair and placed his hands on the keyboard.

Glowing on his computer screen was the city crime map. Beat 219 was filled with little blue fish and outlined in flashing red. That particular area of second precinct was bordered by Chippenham Parkway to the west, Jahnke Road to the north, railroad tracks to the east and Midlothian Turnpike to the south. Brazil's first thought was that some terrible disaster had happened within those boundaries since he had marked End Of Tour twenty minutes ago. Perhaps there had been a riot, a bomb threat, an overturned chemical truck, a hurricane watch.

He got on the phone and called the radio room. Communications Officer Patty Passman answered.

'This is unit 11,' Brazil announced abruptly. 'Is something big going down on Southside, specifically in beat 219?'

'You marked EOT at 1924 hours,' Passman came back.

'I know,' Brazil ten-foured.

'Then why are you asking about 219? Are you monitoring the scanner?'

'Ten-10,' Brazil let her know he wasn't. 'Is something on it about 219?'

'Ten-10,' Passman said as radio chatter sounded in the background.

'Oh. I thought when you asked if I was monitoring 219 maybe you meant that something was going on,' Brazil said, realizing that ten-codes were not necessary over the phone.

'Ten-10, unit 11,' said Passman, who no longer knew how to talk in anything but. 'Ten-12, unit 11,' she told him to stand by. 'Ten-10,' she came back. 'Nothing 10-18,' she let him know nothing urgent was afoot.

'What about anything at all?' Brazil couldn't let it go.

'How many times do I have to 10-9 myself?' She was getting increasingly impatient as she let him know she wasn't going to repeat herself again.

'What about a fish truck overturning, for example?" 'What?'

'Anything that might have to do with fish? Blue ones, maybe?'

Ten-12,' she told him to stand by again. 'Hey, Mabie!'

Passman inadvertently keyed the mike. Brazil and all on the radio, including felons and hobbyists with scanners, could hear every word.

'Anything come in about fish?' Passman was saying in a loud voice to dispatcher Johnnie Mabie.

'Fish? Who wants to know?'

'Eleven.'

'What kind of fish?'

'Blue fish. Maybe a truck overturning or a problem with one of the fish markets or something.'

'I'll have to get hold of an inspector. Unit 709-'

Horrified, Brazil snapped on his scanner.

'Seven-oh-nine,' the inspector's voice blurted into Brazil's dining room.

'Anything going on with fish in second, specifically in 219?' dispatcher Mabie came back.

'Who's fish?' 709 responded.

'Anybody's.'

'I meant is Fish a subject?' 709 qualified. 'Or are you referencing fish?'

'Fish,' Passman bullied Mabie out of the way. 'A fish spill, for example.'

'Ten-10,' 709 replied after a long pause. 'Possible fish could be an a.k.a.?'

Passman got back on the phone without ever having gotten off it, really. She posed the question to Brazil. He could think of no wanted subject with the alias Fish or Blue Fish. Brazil thanked her and hung up as other units began calling in with insincere questions and mocking tips about fish and fishy people, incidents, situations, false alarms, mental subjects, prostitutes and pimps named one or the other, and vanity plates. Brazil snapped off the scanner, furious that the Richmond cops now had one more thing to ridicule him about. reporters and camera crews were out in force this night, stalking La Petite France, waiting for Governor Mike Feuer and his wife, Ginny, to emerge from a power dinner of fine French food and warm chats with the chef.

The media wasn't necessarily interested in the Virginia Economic Development Section of the Forbes magazine CEO kickoff banquet going on inside. But Governor Feuer had appeared on Meet the Press over the weekend. He had made controversial statements about crime and tobacco, and Richmond Times-Dispatch police reporter Artis Roop felt dissed because the governor had not given the quotes to him first.

For weeks Roop had been working on a significant series about the impact of black-market cigarettes on crime and life in general. Roop believed if the price of Marlboros, for example, climbed as high as thirteen dollars and twenty-six cents a pack, as predicted by financial analysts as recently as the end of trading today, citizens would start growing tobacco in hidden places, such as cornfields, wooded backyards, backyards enclosed by high walls, greenhouses, logging roads, private gardens, private clubs and anywhere that ATF might not look. Citizens would begin illegally manufacturing their own cigarettes, arid who could blame them.

The country would revert to the days of stills, or smokes, as Roop called the imagined contraption necessary to make bootleg tobacco products. He further theorized that in Virginia, especially, people would get away with operating smokes, since not a day went by when there wasn't controlled burning, a forest fire, a fire in a landfill or on a hearth somewhere. Smoke drifting from acres of trees or refuse or out of the chimneys of historic homes would not necessarily raise suspicions.

Roop was smart enough to know that if he was one of the twenty or thirty aggressive members of the media perched outside the restaurant door, he would not get special treatment. He had wisely chosen to sit in his car, monitoring the scanner as usual. He had been perplexed and excited when he picked up something about a fish spill in second precinct's beat 219. Roop was a streetwise investigator. He was certain fish spill was a code for big trouble, and he would get the scoop as soon as he finished with the governor. even as he was thinking Shit, and staring at the computer screen, it suddenly came to Brazil that what he was seeing was not COMSTAT computer mapping at all, but a clever, creative screen saver that someone had downloaded into the police department's new website.

'I'll be damned.' He was incredulous.

He noticed the light flashing on his answering machine. He played his messages. There were three. The first was from his mother, who was almost too drunk to talk and demanding to know why he never called. The second was Miss Sink making sure he had gotten the sweet potato pie she'd delivered, and the third was from West, wanting him to call right away.

Brazil knew her number, even though he never dialed it. He switched to speakerphone, his pulse running harder, hands busy on the keyboard to no avail. He could not get rid of the screen saver or alter it in any way.

'Virginia?' He ran his fingers through his hair and strangled his nervousness before it could speak. Tm returning your call,' he said easily.

'There's something bizarre going on with the computer.' She was all business.

'Yours too?' He couldn't believe it. 'Fish?'

'Yes! And get this. I leave home this morning and my computer's off, right. Then I come home and not only is it on now, but there's this map of 219 with all these little blue fish swimming around in it.'

'Has anyone been inside your house today?'

'No.'

'Your alarm was set?'

'Always.'

'You sure you didn't just think you turned your computer off?'

'Well, I don't know. It doesn't matter. What are all these fucking fish? Maybe you should come over.'

'I guess you're right,' Brazil hesitated to say as his heart beat harder to make itself heard.

'We've got to get to the bottom of this,' West said.

Chief Hammer had been fighting with her computer for the past hour, trying to figure out how the city crime map had gotten on her screen and why there were fish in it. She tapped keys and rebooted twice while Popeye restlessly paced about, in and out of her toybox, scratching, standing on her hind legs, and jumping on furniture and finally into Hammer's lap.

'How am I supposed to concentrate?' Hammer asked for the tenth time.

Popeye stared up at Hammer as she pointed the mouse at an X and tried again to exit the map on her screen. This was crazy. The computer was locked. Maybe Fling had screwed up the software. That was the risk when all PCs had to log into the microprocessor downtown. If Fling put a bug in the system, everybody on the Richmond network was infected. Popeye stared at the screen and touched it with her paw.

'Stop it!' Hammer said.

Popeye stepped on several keys that somehow jumped Hammer off the map and landed her on an unfamiliar screen with the heading RPD PIKE PUNT. Under it were strings of programming that made no sense: IM to $im__on and available and AOL% findwindow('A.OL Frame2.5', 0 amp;), and so on.

'Popeye! Now look what you've done. I'm in the operating system where I absolutely don't belong. Let me tell you something, I'm not a neurosurgeon. I don't belong here. I touch one thing and I could braindamage the entire network. What the hell did you hit and how am I supposed to get out?'

Popeye stepped on several keys again, and the map and fish returned. She jumped to the floor, stretched and trotted out of the room. She came back with her stuffed squirrel and started slinging it. Hammer swiveled her chair around and looked at her dog.

'Listen to me, Popeye,' Hammer said. 'You've been home all day. When I left the house this morning, my computer was on the main menu. So how could it be that when I walked in just a little while ago I find this map with all those little fish? Did you see anything? Maybe the computer made noises and things started happening on it? We don't have fish in any of our COMSTAT applications that I am aware of.'

She reached for the phone and called Brazil, catching him just before he was out the door.

'Andy? We've got trouble,' she said instantly.

'Fish?' he asked.

'Oh God. You too,' she said.

'And Virginia. Same thing.'

'This is awful.'

'I'm on my way to her house right now." 'I'm coming,' Hammer said.


Chapter Seven | Southern Cross | Chapter Nine