Patricia Cornwell has a sixth sense about the men and women in blue. In Hornet's Nest, her page-turning novel about crime and police in Charlotte, North Carolina, Cornwell moved behind the badges of these real-life heroes to uncover flesh-and-blood characters who strode through her pages to reveal vulnerable, passionate, brave, sometimes doubting, always fascinating figures.
In Southern Cross, Cornwell takes us even closer to the personal and professional lives of big-city police, in a story of corruption, scandal, and robberies that escalate to murder. This time, her setting is Richmond, Virginia, where Charlotte Police Chief Judy Hammer has been brought by an NIJ grant to clean up the police force. Reeling from the recent death of her husband, and resented by the police force, city manager, and mayor of Richmond, Hammer is joined by her deputy chief Virginia West and rookie Andy Brazil on the most difficult assignment of her career. In the face of overwhelming public scrutiny, the trio must bring truth, order, and sanity to a city in trouble.
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 morgue.
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 Falls,” 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
Local Indians discovered firewater and hangovers, and
traded herbs, minerals and furs for hatchets, ammunition,
cloth, kettles and more firewater. Slaves were shipped in
2 Patricia Cornwell
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
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
Southern Cross 3
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 nineteenthcentury
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
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
4 Patricia Cornwell
the “City of Science,” a place of enlightenment and thriving
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
Southern Cross 5
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 computerdriven
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 companies.
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 begin6
ning 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
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.
“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 more?”
“I don’t think they hate us.” Brazil tried to be positive
about how unfriendly and unappreciative Richmond cops
Southern Cross 7
“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
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
8 Patricia Cornwell
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 shorts.
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
“Chief Hammer?” West loudly said. “Hello?”
“Virginia . . . You there?” Hammer’s voice scattered
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
“. . . can do it anytime . . . usual rules apply . . .” The
male voice was back.
He had a southern drawl and was obviously a redneck.
West felt instant hostility.
“. . . 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 . . .”
Southern Cross 9
“Chief Hammer . . .” West started to say more, then
caught herself, realizing the rednecks might be able to hear
“. . . 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
“. . . 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
“Bubba . . .” the second stranger crackled again. “Somebody’s
on . . .”
Static, scratch, blare, blip.
“Goddamn it,” West muttered when her phone went
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
10 Patricia Cornwell
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
Southern Cross 11
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 Book value.
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
“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 city limits.
No answer. Bubba’s eyes scanned his mirrors. A Richmond
police cruiser pulled in behind him. Bubba slowed
“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 him immediately.
The cop remained on Bubba’s tail, dark Oakleys staring
12 Patricia Cornwell
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
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
“Trackin’ and yackin’, buddy,” Smudge came back
over the CB.
“Unit 2 to Unit 1?” Honey anxiously persisted over the
“Yo, Gig,” Bubba said into the portable phone. “What’s
“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
Southern Cross 13
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 blanket.”
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