Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 3, Scene 4a

TOC page here.

Diana is so fatigued she can barely think, but when her ex-husband Andrew called, she asked him about who among his mover and shaker friends might be a member of the business association for the neighborhood that includes the homeless shelter:

And so it was she found herself in Mary Mac’s Tea Room, along with everyone else who cared about flavor more than they did about their hearts, sitting across the table from Mr. Clyburne. He was round and jolly, and black, which Diana chided herself for being surprised about. “Your secret is safe with me,” she told him. “I’m going to face-plant into pot roast and starch.”

“And I’ll rely on you never to tell my wife I had me a pork chop.”

After their order was taken, Clyburn said, “You’ve met Andrew’s new bride?”

“I understand she’s Best In Show.”

“I’m not going to deny it, she’s real nice to look at.” A slow head shake. “Twenty-first century manufacture. Who wants babies, at his age?”

Diana managed to make herself stop after exactly half of her pot roast, her mac and cheese, her mashed potatoes and the broccoli casserole she’d chosen to add a little green to the plate. She moved the plate aside, covered it with her napkin. “Here’s my question,” she said as Clyburne used his knife to work a sliver of meat from the bone. “Peachtree-Pine is a giant pain in y’all’s rear end. You want them gone, and you’re rich and powerful. Y’all have wanted them out for… since the Olympics, right? There’re obnoxious, they kill your property values, they stop you from making those blocks as ritzy as the ones up past Ponce.”

Clyburn held up a finger, chewed, swallowed, wiped his mouth. “Look, we’re not opposed to taking care of the homeless. Most of us are Democrats. We’ve been willing since the millennium to buy them out and help them get settled in a different part of town.” The whole hand went up. “One near transit and services, not way out in the ghetto. Our intention all along has been to provide them with better care. Well, you’re a cop: you know even more than I do what goes on there. They’ve got way too many people for that building, and they’re warehousing them.”

“Sorry; I’m very tired. I’m not trying to critique you. I’m saying, even if I might not agree with you, that you have a bunch of compelling arguments. The thing I’m really interested in is, we’re in Atlanta, where money always trumps everything and new development always pushes out the old; and yet, Peachtree-Pine is still going strong. I can think of a few times where it looked like they were about to close. Something about the water bill? But they never do. It’s certainly not Atlanta’s tender concern for the downtrodden that keeps you from dropping a political or financial hammer on them.”

“Well, we did foreclose on them. That didn’t work, either. Maybe oh-nine? I wasn’t really part of it. Let me think.” Another sliver of pork. “They used to own that building outright, up until 2002 or so. Then they took out a million-dollar mortgage. Nobody has any idea how that money got spent. I mean, I dealt with Ms. Longstreet’s predecessor, Maxine Lee, for well over a decade, and let me tell you, that woman was a real… object lesson in the humility, compassion and forbearance that Jesus Christ demands of us all. But bless her bellicose little soul, she was not lining her own pockets, and neither were any of the other managers.”

He put the utensils on the plate and pushed it away. “Divine. I may not have agreed with them, but they weren’t corrupt. Neither is Ms. Longstreet: we did due diligence on her last year, just like we did on the others once they took all of about six months to stop making payments on the mortgage.”

“I bet y’all thought that was a golden opportunity.”

“You got that right. Just keep in mind that we’ve been clear since forever that we’re willing to fund what it took to make sure those people got better care. That ain’t just talk: it’s how we treat the least of us that counts. And they are not being well-served.”

Here’s the crux of the matter from the larger perspective of how the shelter fits into the fabric of the city. How is it they manage to stay there, when more or less everyone wants them out? This scene is a lot of infodump, but sometimes you need infodump—and there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. The worst way is to just give five paragraphs of third-person omniscient narration: it’s boring, it breaks up the story, and it’s just shitty writing. If you can’t work the background into the story, or at the very least dole it out sparingly, you’re not doing it right. The second worst way is to have one character say to the other, “As you know, Bob, the…”, which is just laughable. You have to have a character who doesn’t know the story find out the details, as Diana is doing here, and you have to make the character giving the information be a real person instead of just a mouthpiece. Hence, food.

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