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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
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 Fails," 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 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 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
nineteenth-century 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 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 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
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 computer-driven 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
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 beginning 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
"I don't think they hate us." Brazil tried to be positive about how unfriendly
and unappreciative Richmond cops had been.
"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.
"Do you wish you'd stayed in Charlotte?"
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 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.
"Fly like the wind." She rudely waved him on. "Damn it," she
bitched as her flip phone vibrated on the waistband of her running
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
He had a southern drawl and was obviously a redneck. West felt instant
"... 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 ..."
"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.
"... 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
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 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 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
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
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
The cop remained on Bubba's tail, dark Oakleys staring 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 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