Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 7, Scene 1

TOC page here.

We left Diana rushing away from her sister Fiona’s narrative about an octopus in a nightclub. Sergeant Brown and Officer Slaughter have heard about a guy in a white van who the homeless call Dread Man:

Diana pulled her car in behind the patrol car on Pine, just as Mustapha had at lunchtime. Brown was on the sidewalk, tapping his nightstick into his other palm, glaring down a trio of homeless men. “Do you really want to be the ones who piss me off?” he growled at them. “Down the block, off the block, don’t even look at the car. Shelter’s already closed for the night. Beat it. Now.”

They scurried off: he turned to Diana. “Sorry, Detective: the real animals come out at night.”

Diana bit back a retort as Slaughter got out of the car. Slaughter said, “I hope we didn’t interrupt you. This guy was handing out food down there, but none of the guys we talked to would admit to being there at the time.” Her gaze flickered to the side for an instant. “I guess some people just don’t like cops.”

Brown rolled his eyes. “How you want to work this, Detective?”

Diana said, “Let’s take two cars, in case we have to chase the guy down. I’ll follow you: do a tour of the various camps around here, maybe find someone who did see the van.”

“Yes, ma’am. Where to, first?”

“Renaissance Park.”

Brown jerked his head at Slaughter, who hopped into the squad car; he got in behind the wheel. As he gunned the engine, Diana took out her phone, caught Slaughter’s eyes in the side mirror, pointed at the phone and put it to her ear. Slaughter nodded: Brown popped the blue lights and pulled out onto Peachtree.

Diana stuffed the phone into her pocket, sauntered over to the three homeless guys. “I don’t have cigarettes,” she said. After coaxing them out into the open, “Oh, hi there, Tommy. Is Sergeant Brown giving you trouble?”

“He’s an angry man. We don’t take it personal.”

“Speak for yourself, Tommy,” said the chain-smoking man.

“God demands I dispense mercy and forgiveness.”

Diana said, “White vans, fellas. Big ones, for delivery, not people.”

Tommy said, “I wish I had something for you, ma’am.”

The tall man said, “We ain’t seen nothing. And we’ve kept an eye peeled.”

The smoker said, “Sad as it is to say, we do indeed fear the Reaper.”

Diana asked, “What are other people saying? About the van.”

“We been here all evening. Everybody know we got to watch for the van.”

Tommy said, “But nobody said they seen it.”

Diana said, “What’s going on in the shelter? Has Claire Longstreet made the place any better?”

The smoker said, “A little bit, yeah. They tightened up on some of the bad shit was going down there.”

The tall man said, “Still ain’t safe.”

“Yeah, but it takes more lookin’ to find trouble, now. That Claire lady, she a witch.”

Diana couldn’t help but ask. “Is she a good witch, or a bad witch?”

Tommy said, “It don’t matter, ma’am. Witches is witches. Stay away, don’t mess.”

“Sensible. Do you guys know what the Lazarus Program is?”

The tall man said, “We don’t watch us a lot of TV.”

The smoker said, “No, Charlie, it’s one of her witch things. She got that boy Red off the streets and back into the human world.”

Diana said, “Does Red have a real name?”

Charlie said, “I’m sure he do, but I never did hear it. Nothing red about him: he as black as Tommy.”

Tommy added, “She got him an apartment, cross town somewhere. We had a farewell party for him at the shelter.” He sighed heavily. “There ain’t nothing more awkward than a room full of people in recovery trying to enjoy themselves at a party.”

The tall man said, “Drive even the strongest to drink.”

Diana said, “Tell me something about him. Birthdate…?”

Charlie said, “He was a preacher, before.”

Before Diana could answer, she heard her phone crackle to life. Slaughter’s voice was tinny and stressed. “Detective Siddal? We’re at North Avenue and Argonne. A gentleman just flagged us down and said there’s a white van in Renaissance Park. Headed there now.”

What do we get out of this? Apparently not much: none of her questions are really answered, and what answers she gets complicate things. But we see the tension between police like Diana, who are respectful and get results (or at least, more questions), and Brown, whose uparmored persona drives potential sources away. Keep in mind, though, that Diana is a detective and therefore probably doesn’t have to spend a lot of time wrestling drunks.

Mostly, however, this scene reinforces the existence and value of the Greek chorus of homeless men who are going to provide a lot of the background in this novel. In Greek theatre, the function of the chorus was to provide conventional wisdom or the general attitudes of society; since these guys are the epitome of marginalization, their function is to critique the conventional wisdom.

But now we know about someone named Red, who was apparently helped by the Lazarus Program. This does not help Diana right now, but it will—or it may.


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  1. Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 6, Scene 6b | Julian Cage

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