TOC page here.
The last excerpt ended with Diana and Mustapha interviewing Henry Buchanan, the shelter’s doorkeeper. We established him in Act I as a bad guy, homeless because of his criminal record and his attitude. But Henry knew something about the elusive Red, so he got a few more lines. Now, watch me make him three-dimensional:
Mustapha caught Diana’s glance again. He said, “You sure are ignorant, for a man who spent months in the… what was it, Dee?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Does it work, Henry?”
“What?” The confusion almost seemed real.
“The program, dumbass. You come back to life yet?”
“I ain’t never been dead.” At Mustapha’s glare, “Sure. In the joint, nobody cares about your problems. But Ms. Claire does. You talk, you sort out some of what put you on the streets.”
“Like your attitude problem.”
A little spirit came back into Buchanan’s face. “You grow up with your daddy, Detective?”
“I ain’t the one living on the streets.”
“Cos I didn’t. All I got was the last name, and a lot of whippings from whoever my mama was fucking that month. So I got issues: you try it. I know that Jesus’ compassion flows through us all, and God has a plan for each of us: you just got to learn to accept it and stop struggling.”
“Yeah? What’s his plan for you?”
“Get off the streets and take better care of myself, is all I know right now. The Lord don’t send no text messages.”
Diana said, “If only everyone believed that. How did it work for your pal Red? The program?”
“Well, he got off the streets and started taking better care of himself. Stopped drinking, in his case. Me, I got issues, but alcohol ain’t one of them. Your real drunk, like Red, or that poor Alex guy y’all were asking about, if they get sober it’s either because they done figured out what was driving’em to drink in the first place, or cos they swapped out drinking for meetings.”
Diana said, “There’s a good trade.”
“Sure, if you can stand the shitty coffee and the chain-smoking. They still addicts, is what I’m saying.”
Mustapha remembered some bad times from the old millennium. “You’re not wrong. Which kind was Red?”
“The second kind. The man was out of the shelter and at a meeting all the damn time.” Buchanan caught Diana’s expression. “And not facedown drunk, which like you said was a good trade. But in group therapy, he never did come out with what put him in front of the bottle to begin with. I respected the man for letting Jesus and Ms. Claire take the wheel, but I always had the feeling that if the meeting was canceled, old Red would have ended up at a bar.”
“That’s why there’s always a meeting,” said Mustapha.
“I guess so. You want to know what made the man tick, you need to talk to Bill. He’s a white man, used to be all rich and shit before he wound up in the gutter.”
“Oh, I met him,” said Diana.
“Him and Red was drinking buddies, and then meeting buddies.” Buchanan jerked a thumb behind him. “Lights out, or I’d go fetch him for you.”
“Count on it,” said Mustapha. “And tell your boss we need to see her.”
“She ain’t my boss, man; she my counselor.”
Now we see why Buchanan wound up the way we did; he lets us imagine him and Mustapha growing up in swapped circumstances. If Henry had had a real father figure, he might have turned out all right: remember, way back we already pinned him as too bright for a common criminal. But this is intended to be the case, as it is for the rest of the homeless in the book. There are reasons, usually reasons beyond their control, why they ended up on the streets. Henry has insight, and more importantly is now “real” to both the detectives and to us. This signals that he’s going to end up being important without drawing too much attention to the fact or the process.