Inspector Mustapha Alawi picked up the phone on the fourth ring. “You know that you’re interrupting worship here.”
“I’m sure I am. This is worth it.”
“Aren’t we off-duty tonight?”
“That’s what I told the sergeant. But Keller and I are standing here down the street from Crawford Long next to the corpse of a homeless man.”
“Sounds like a typical Monday night in Atlanta.”
“This corpse has no eyes.”
“Right,” sighed Mustapha. “Be right there.”
“You can always put the game on pause.”
“This is Monday Night Football.” He rang off.
Keller walked up to her. “What’s the score?”
“Score of what?”
Keller rolled his eyes. “The game.”
She rolled hers right back. “Didn’t think to ask. What do you have?”
He waved a worn brown leather wallet at her. “Only three dollars and a scratch-off ticket, but he’s got an ID for the shelter. Alex Dawson.”
Diana turned around and looked at Peachtree-Pine. The three-story brick building had once held offices, but had for almost a decade now been the city’s largest and most controversial homeless shelter. “Let’s just hope it’s his real name.”
Keller handed her the ID in a plastic evidence bag. “You want the lotto ticket, too?”
“It has to be somebody’s lucky day.” She tucked the bag into her coat pocket and looked both ways before crossing an empty Peachtree Street. Once she stepped up onto the curb, she flipped through her phone’s recent call list, didn’t find what she wanted, sighed at herself, then found the right name in the contacts list and dialed.
As the phone continued to ring, one of the homeless men—a tiny man who looked like an elf with missing front teeth—shambled toward her. “Hey, officer?” he said in a shaky voice. “Is that Alex you found back there in the bushes?”
She smiled as she waved him off. “We’re taking care of it.”
Grace picked up after the fourth ring. “Pho 79.”
“Because you’re calling because you want to know where I want you to take me to dinner, right? And not because you got called into work because too many people got killed today.”
“It might be nothing, honey, and I might be home in a couple of hours.”
“That’s okay, Mom. I made a backup plan with Dad just in case.”
Diana stopped in her tracks. “I know you think I say this all the time, but this one could be really important.”
“You only say it about half the time. Keep saving the city.” Grace hung up.
Diana stared at her phone for a moment, wondering how that could have gone worse. She smelled the homeless man approaching before she heard him. “See, what I’ve been saying to the other fellas is that old Reaper ain’t never gone away.”
There’s less setting—we already know where we are, and all we need here is the detail about the brick building being the homeless shelter. But there’s more character, in that we develop Keller a little, Diana a lot, and introduce Mustapha, our other primary detective. Keller is the simplest; we just reinforce his cynicism. Mustapha gets a little more: football is sacred, but the Job is more important. He’ll show up in Scene 5.
Diana gets quite a bit more. We learn she’s divorced, she has a mostly-grown daughter who’s not in her phone’s recent call list, and with whom she has a crappy relationship because she values her job over that relationship. Grace is already over her mother’s commitment to the job, but is still young enough to hold out hope there at the beginning of the call.
And that makes three themes now: death in life, the Reaper, and now Diana’s lack of connection to her own family. Diana is emotionally a loner, though in fact she has a vivid family life, as we’ll see; the implicit contrast to this is homeless people, who we often think of as being cut off from their families, though in fact this is a false stereotype.
Peachtree-Pine is a real place, by the way, not an invention. It’s quite controversial, in that it both goes against the grain of what is currently recognized as best practices in transitioning people away from homelessness, and it renders a choice zone of intown Atlanta impossible to gentrify like everything else around it. This Wikipedia article does a very good job of summarizing the controversy; you can read the views of the organization that runs the shelter here, and Atlanta’s NPR station goes into a lot of detail on the shelter and the controversy here. I’m going to bracket a lot of the actual details of the controversy in order to move Claire into the shelter as its director; but I’m getting ahead of myself here.