The Hornet’s Nest. Patricia Cornwell

The Hornet’s Nest

Patricia Cornwell

The Hornet’s Nest

Patricia Cornwell


Chapter One.

That morning, summer sulked and gathered darkly over Charlotte, and heat shimmered

on pavement. Traffic teemed, people pushing forward to promise as they drove through

new construction, and the past was bulldozed away. The US Bank Corporate Center

soared sixty stories above downtown, topped by a crown that looked like organ pipes

playing a hymn to the god of money. This was a city of ambition and change. It had

grown so fast, it could not always find its own streets. Like a boy in puberty, it was

rapidly unfolding and clumsy at times, and a little too full of what its original settlers had

called pride.

The city and its county were named for Princess Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-

Strelitz before she became George Ill’s queen. The Germans, who wanted the same

freedoms the Scotch-Irish did, were one thing. The English were another. When Lord

Cornwallis decided to come to town in 1780 and occupied what became known as the

Queen City, he was met with such hostility by these stubborn Presbyterians that he

dubbed Charlotte ‘the hornet’s nest of America. ” Two centuries later, the swarming

symbol was the official seal of the city and its NBA basketball team and the police

department that protected all.

It was the white whirling dervish against midnight blue that Deputy Chief Virginia West

wore on the shoulders of her crisp white uniform shirt with all its brass. Most cops,

frankly, had not a clue as to what the symbol meant. Some thought it was a tornado, a

white owl, a beard. Others were certain it had to do with sports events in the coliseum or

the new two-hundredandthirty-million- dollar stadium that hovered downtown like an

alien spacecraft. But West had been stung more than once and knew exactly what the

hornet’s nest was about. It was what awaited her when she drove to work and read the

Charlotte Observer every morning. Violence swarmed, and everybody talked at once.

This Monday, she was in a dark angry mood, ready to really stir things up.

The city police department recently had relocated to the new pearly concrete complex

known as the Law Enforcement Center, or LEC, in the heart of downtown on Trade

Street, the very road British oppressors long ago had followed into town. Construction in

the area seemed endless, as if change were a virus taking over West’s life. Parking at the

LEC remained a mess, and she had not completely moved into her office yet. There were plenty of mud puddles, and dust, and her unmarked car was new and a striking uniform

blue that sent her to the carwash at least three times a week.

When she reached the reserved parking spaces in front of the LEC, she couldn’t believe it.

Occupying her spot was a drug dealer’s set of chrome mags and parrot-green iridescent

paint, a Suzuki, which she knew people flipped over in more ways than one.

“Goddamn it!” She looked around, as if she might recognize the person who had dared

this perpetration.

Other cops were pulling in and out, and transporting prisoners in this constantly moving

department of sixteen hundred police and un sworn support. For a moment, West sat and

scanned, teased by the aroma of the Bojangles bacon and egg biscuit that by now was

cold. Settling on a fifteen-minute slot in front of sparkling glass doors, she parked and

climbed out, doing the best she could with briefcase, pocketbook, files, newspapers,

breakfast, a large coffee.

She slammed her door shut with a hip as the dude she was looking for emerged from the

building. He was jailing, jeans at low tide in that cool lockup look of six inches of pastel

undershorts showing. The fashion statement got started in jail when inmates had their

belts confiscated so they wouldn’t hang themselves or someone else. The trend had

crossed over every racial and socioeconomic line until half of the city’s pants were falling

off. West did not understand it. She left her car right where it was, fought with her

armload as the dude mumbled good morning, trotting past.

“Brewster!” Her voice halted him like a pointed gun.

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