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Now both detectives get to meet Claire Longstreet, the director of the shelter. Diana met her briefly, earlier, but now we get to see her from Mustapha’s POV:
The shadow led them down a hallway decorated by the kind of amateur acrylic paintings he’d think untrained homeless guys would create. Still better than he himself could do. She ushered them in, keeping her eyes to the ground the whole time, then vanished before Mustapha had a chance to turn around.
Claire Longstreet looked great, as always: the one woman in a hundred where the boyfriend wouldn’t be full of shit when he said he wanted his girl to stop wearing makeup. Her office had real art in it, and a curtain on the inside wall, that if the building made any sense, would cover a window looking out over the main room with all the bunks. “I’m sorry Henry kept you waiting, Detectives. I probably should have told him you’d come and to send you right in. He’s very loyal.”
“What did he do?” said Mustapha. “I mean, how did he become homeless? He doesn’t look or sound like a guy with a drug problem.”
“He doesn’t have one. Didn’t. I’m not sure how comfortable–”
“He spent time inside, didn’t he?”
“… Yes. Henry grew up in circumstances we can hardly imagine, and when he was a very young man, he did something foolish and spent a few years in prison. I’m sure you know as well as I do how difficult our society makes it for felons who have served their time to take up a place in society.” She pointed to a hot plate on a table in the corner. “Would you like tea?” At their nods, she got up to turn on the burner. “So to answer your question, Inspector Alawi, in Henry’s case it was abject poverty. Henry is intelligent and capable, but nobody would hire him for even minimum wage.”
Diana said, “And since he’s intelligent and capable, he wasn’t willing to–”
“Exactly. If our society provided more in the way of transition? Or less stigma, or even access to capital? But I suspect I’m talking to the wrong people.”
Mustapha said, “Oh, we agree. We just aren’t in any position to do anything about it. So tell us what your… clients have to say about what happened to Alex Dawson.”
A wry smile. “Well, they have a great deal to say. How much of it is germane, I don’t know. I saw the picture on the Internet, and that certainly dispensed with some of their theories: I can’t imagine that zombies would have the patience to learn Arabic calligraphy. I wish I could give you something specific, but all I have are third-hand reports of Alex getting into a white van with his girlfriend.”
“Yeah, we might have got second-hand on that one. But we tracked the girlfriend down, and it wasn’t her driving that van. She was…”
“Otherwise engaged,” said Diana, stifling a laugh. “It wasn’t her. Anyone he had a conflict with? Does anything your clients have to say sound credible to you? And can we talk to them?”
“Detective Siddall, you asked me last night, and I’ll give you the same answer now: I’m not going to open up Peachtree-Pine to you without some clear link to a specific person. There are forces in Atlanta who have been doing their best to close down this facility since the turn of the century. They want to transform these blocks into a playground for rich people, just as they have with everything surrounding us. We live in a city, and we can’t just exile the poor to some distant enclave and forget about them. They have just as much right to be here as anyone else. The same people who want us out would campaign against a tax hike that would pay for enough services to give everyone a home; and they’d spend more of their own money on the campaign than they would ever pay in higher taxes. Atlanta is ruled by the one percent, and class inequality is their–”
She looked to her side, suddenly self-conscious, then got up and took the kettle off the heat just as it began to whistle. “Sorry. You can probably guess how I feel about this. You may think I’m a conspiracy theorist; but the conspiracy here is very real.” She put the kettle on the other burner, turned off the first, got out mugs. “All I have is herbal; with the hours I keep, I had to give up caffeine.”
They both shrugged; she poured. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Chamber of Commerce and the so-called doctors of Emory Midtown got together and murdered one of our clients as a way to further discredit the organization. They already think the lives of the homeless are disposable. I’m sure you have heard what some of the city’s leaders have to say about the homeless in public, but even folks like you might be shocked about by what people tell me in private.” She plucked the teabags back out of the hot liquid, passed them each a mug. “But with Alex? I just can’t see them being that creative, really: they wouldn’t have converted the Reaper to Islam. And if it had been one of my clients? Alex would have been stabbed with a broken bottle, or beaten to death; and the killer would have ended up in my office confessing—and yes, I would have sent him to you. You’re looking for someone outside the Peachtree-Pine community.”
She’s a real preacher, in a way that the Reverend Carter from the beginning of the chapter wasn’t. This is more infodump, but again, it’s intended to be organic. Claire is telling, not showing, but she’s got a compelling reason to tell a story, so we can get background even in a situation where Mustapha and Diana probably already know the story quite well. And in doing so, we can add to her character: she’s charismatic, articulate, passionate about the people she represents, even though she clearly comes from a class background.
In the previous scene, Mustapha’s drive set up the physical layout of the neighborhood; now, we get the political layout. And in each case, there’s tension between the homeless and the 21st-century city that surrounds them.