Again picking up where we left off, here’s the Greek chorus of homeless men who are going to appear as a counterpoint every so often:
Renaissance Park wasn’t named out of irony: Atlanta’s symbol is the phoenix, and the city’s renaissance after being burned to the ground in the Civil War remains a source of pride for many residents. But Renaissance Park is only three blocks away from the Peachtree-Pine shelter, and nobody with a permanent residence dares to enter the park after dusk. For the Atlanta Police Department, the park was a constant source of citizen complaint and arrests for petty crimes: for the local homeless population, Renaissance Park was a permanent encampment for those too dissolute, mad, or antisocial to spend the night at the shelter.
By the time Diana and Mustapha arrived there, the park had been cordoned off by three radio cars and a squad of uniformed officers. Five men sat on the steps leading up into the park, watched over by a patrolman. Three more dozed on the grass next to the stairs.
The patrolman saluted as they walked up. “Sergeant told me to round up the ones who were still awake, let them talk to you.”
“Thanks, officer,” said Diana. She looked at the five men and put on her best Officer Friendly smile. “Good evening, fellas. Sorry you got rousted. But maybe you’ve already heard about your friend Alex.”
The tallest of the men nodded. “We sure did. But we ain’t had nothing to do with it. Last we saw, his girlfriend came to get him.”
Another man lit a cigarette with palsied hands. “She killed him, didn’t he?”
“No, she didn’t,” said a third.
Diana said, “What makes you think she’s responsible?”
He shrugged, or tried to. “Women. Begging your pardon.”
“It ain’t like that,” said the shortest of the five men. He was very articulate for a man with only two teeth. “She killed them, she would’ve done it in the bedroom. Alex couldn’t keep his dick in his pants–”
The third man laughed. “He liked his liquor too much to care about his dick.”
“Yeah, but when he wasn’t drinking he was a player,” said the smoking man. “Tommy’s right, though; if Rosa killed him, it would’ve been one of them… what do you call it? When she ain’t planned it?”
“A crime of passion?” said Diana.
“Yeah, that’s it,” said Tommy. “But Rosa is a good lady. She ain’t no killer.”
“What about Alex?” said Mustapha. “You know of anything he was into?”
“Well,” said the first man, “less you count Rosa…”
“And he wasn’t into her no more,” said the third man.
“I thought she broke up with him,” said Diana.
“What I’m saying. Alex isn’t the sort of guy who looks back.” He paused. “Wasn’t the sort of guy, I guess I mean.”
“Don’t none of us look back,” said the man with the cigarette. “We all living in the now, now.”
Diana looked at him, blankly. “Okay. Let’s go back to the beginning. Alex was with you tonight?”
“He sure was,” said the smoking man. “Not every night, cause we wasn’t that close. Alex, he likes himself the space to roam.”
“He a lone wolf,” said the tall man.
“Ain’t that the truth,” said the third. “Alex is a man who likes his comfort. So if they let him in, he stays at the shelter, because he don’t like camping.”
Tommy said, “But if he’s been drinking, he comes and hangs out with us or in the squat across the freeway. But them guys is all crazy over there–”
“No respect for public property,” said the smoking man.
“That’s right. But they do like to party. So sometimes, he over there, and sometimes, he over here.”
Mustapha tried not to sound exasperated. “But he was here tonight?”
“He surely was,” said the third man. “Until his lady came and got him.”
“When did that happen?” said Diana.
The tall man laughed. “Time, it be time, sister. Detective.”
“We ain’t exactly on a schedule, here,” said the smoking man.
“Right. Before dark or after dark?”
“After,” said Tommy. “Cause he showed up after dark, because he had a bottle, and they wouldn’t let him into the shelter.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” said Mustapha. “What did his girl say when she showed up?”
“Now that, I don’t know,” said Tommy.
“We ain’t seen her,” said the smoking man.
“But your friend Willie told us that he got into her car,” said Diana.
“Willie is not what you would call a–” began the smoking man.
“Reliable witness,” finished the third.
“So Willie didn’t see Alex get in the car?”
“No, ma’am,” said Tommy.
“Then why the hell did he tell us that?” asked Mustapha.
The tall man said, “He trying to help y’all out.”
Mustapha made a visible effort to remain calm. “So who did see Alex get in the car?”
“Wasn’t me,” said the third man.
“Wasn’t any of us,” said the smoking man.
“Great,” said Diana. “Now we’re back to square one.”
“No, you ain’t,” said Tommy. “You just have to learn to ax the right question.”
“No shit?” said Mustapha. “Maybe you can help us out.”
“Sho. None of us standing here right now saw Alex get in the car, on account of we was all having us a drink up there yonder,” pointing into the darkness of the park.
“Willie didn’t see it, neither,” said the tall man.
“So what y’all are saying,” said Diana, “is that someone else saw Alex get in the car.”
Tommy grinned, making him look like a large and demented baby. “See? You just got to get to the heart of the mystery.”
“Guys, I missed the football game for this,” said Mustapha.
“Who won?” said the smoking man.
“Broncos. Who was the person who saw Alex get in the car?”
“Oh, that was Mario,” said the third man.
“Excellent. Can I talk to him?”
“It’s y’all who done took him,” said the tall man.
Diana sighed. “You mean he got arrested?”
“That’s right,” said the smoking man. He lit another cigarette off the coal of the first, then pinched out the first one and put it in his pocket. “Mario, he got himself a big mouth.”
“It’s true,” said Tommy. “We know we ain’t supposed to bother the citizens walking back from Publix or whatever, but Mario, he gets some beer in him and he wants to start axing people questions.”
“Asking for money,” said the third man.
“After Alex left,” said the tall man, “Mario done mouthed off to the wrong person, so he got to go spend the night down in the Catacombs.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Diana.
“See, it was Mario,” said the smoking man, “who saw the car. He come into the trees and told Alex his girl was waiting for him.”
“And Alex went?” said Mustapha. All five men nodded.
“Did this come as a surprise to Alex?” asked Diana. They all nodded, again.
“He said she done broke up with him,” said the third man. “We told you that.”
“Just trying to make sure I know the whole story,” said Diana. “Alex wasn’t worried about anything?”
“Alex?” said the tall man. “He never worried about anything his whole life: that was his biggest problem. God bless him.”
“Ma’am?” said the third man. “Who’s gonna let us know about his funeral?”
The point of the chorus in ancient Greek drama was to represent the general as opposed to the particular in the form of the hero(es). Sometimes they say what the hero can’t; sometimes they add wisdom to the hero; sometimes they represent the conventional wisdom. Since a big part of this novel is how the media create the conventional wisdom, these guys, who have very little access to mainstream news, are the counterweight to what the endless news reporters are going to have to say.