Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 6, Scene 5a

TOC page here.

In the last scene, we got a vivid story from a homeless man. Now, let’s hear a guy with a job and a place to live tell one:

Mickey Strauss from the Kidney Foundation was the picture of long-term fatigue and stress. He took one look at the sketch and sighed, then handed it back and massaged his temples. “Man, I do not need this. Y’all are going to take the van, impound it and keep it for like a month, aren’t you?”

Diana said, “Probably not a whole month.”

Mustapha said, “Right now, we just want to look at it, maybe follow up with your records where it was the other night. Were going to need a list of whoever has access to the van, too.”

“Sheeit. There’s two teams of guys that use it.” He looked across the office at the ancient filing cabinet, bursting with papers. “You just made my day. This is the thing on the news, right? You want just the Muslim guys? One of’em’s on the truck now. Ahmed; but he’s about as Muslim as you are.” He looked Mustapha up and down. “As I am. The other team, they’re both Muslims, from Africa. But different ends of Africa.” He caught Diana’s look. “We’re a nonprofit, we pay crap, we get new immigrants. Good people, hard workers. I don’t see either of them killing a bum. Not like that, anyway.”

Diana said, “What do you mean?”

“You ever had the pleasure of working around that shelter, Detective? Shit, what am I saying? You’re a cop: of course you know about that shithole. And I call it a shithole after, what? Twenty-three years now of working in charity. You cannot park a truck or any other vehicle within a block of that place, or those bums will break in and steal you blind—and if it’s locked up too tight, they’ll dent it, or piss on it. That lady who used to run it, the one who wouldn’t pay the water bill? She once told my wife that she encouraged them to pull shit like that, because she got off on pissing off rich people. Which, I’m all for that. But it’s not their cars getting broken into.” He looked at his phone. “Crap. What I mean is, I can see just about anyone going after some of the bums down there with a tire iron, but that creepy stuff?”

He slumped in his chair, took a deep breath. “The non-Muslim guy is the one with the temper. Clint. He’s got a record.” Diana must have made a face. “And part of the charity here is getting people who have made mistakes back on their feet.”

Mustapha said, “What did he do?”

“Beat up the guy who was f… sleeping with his wife. Now that was expensive. He’s done anger management, twice, but I can still maybe see the tire iron thing. But that Islamic hoodoo? Shit. Clint writes English like a first-grader.”

Two teams of guys use the van, so four suspects, five if you count Strauss, which Diana and Mustapha won’t, right away. Part of the intent here is to once again paint Peachtree-Pine as something other than a standard-issue homeless shelter: someone like Strauss, who’s spent his working life in underpaid do-gooder positions and has a file cabinet with actual paper to show for it, ought to be pro-PP, but he’s not, because he’s lived it. Complexity. But Strauss points us to Clint, even if Clint seems an unlikely suspect.


Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 5, Scene 4a

TOC page here.

The last scene ended with Diana and Mustapha talking about Claire Longstreet’s letting her pastoral counseling efforts be called the Lazarus Program. Longstreet ended with “Like I said, I didn’t make up the name.”

In the car, Diana said, “But she didn’t change it, either. She’s letting her clients call her Jesus.”

“And she sure doesn’t look like a Mexican dude.” Mustapha pulled the car away from the curb, waved at Officer Slaughter, who waved back, and at Brown, who didn’t. He turned right onto Peachtree, eyeing the hospital on the other side of the street. “I don’t blame her for being paranoid, though: I can just see the hospital admins wanting to turn this block into offices, maybe a hotel for people visiting their families.” Right on Linden, right on Courtland, heading downtown, past the crowds of homeless milling about on the corner of Pine. “But did she murder this poor guy because he was about to spill the big secret? Whatever that was? We’re spinning our wheels, here.”

Diana said, “Someone’s out there, with voices in his head, and he’s Arab, or Muslim who knows Arabic, and god is calling to him.” She squirmed in her seat. “But then there’s the van. And figuring out Alex has a girlfriend, and taking the trouble to look enough like Rosa to fool Mario.” Before Mustapha could speak, she said, “Who, I admit, has no business on a witness stand. But whoever was in the van fooled Alex, too. That level of planning is incompatible with voices ordering you to kill.”

Mustapha drove down Courtland, between the big hotels, into the zone that used to look neutron bombed but was now getting rebuilt with apartment buildings for students on their parents’ budget. “So there’s two of them, one of those folie à deux things where there’s a prophet and his enabler.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of that one. Sure.” She sighed. “I’m thinking, someone is messing with us. With the city, I mean. And then the question becomes why? Who benefits from sowing chaos, or what happens when we’re focused on this rather than looking out for other things that might happen?” She flipped open the cover on her tablet. “I’m overthinking this. Your idea is better.” She started tapping. “How did our new friend Henry Buchanan wind up in jail?”

Mustapha crossed Edgewood and the streetcar tracks, gunned it up the hillinto Georgia State territory alongside Hurt Park, then found himself swerving over to come to a fast stop at the corner of the park.

Diana braced herself with a knee against the dash. “Careful, cowboy.”

Mustapha pointed across her. “They’re feeding people, in the park.”

Diana kept her eyes on the screen. “Let’s go to Sweet Auburn Market, instead.”

“Feeding homeless people.”

Now she looked up. “Oh, and the women are wearing headscarves.”

They’ve wanted to know about Islamic groups feeding the homeless, and here we are. This short subscene is basically a transition from one scene, Longstreet, to another, where they’ll talk to the Muslims feeding the homeless. But as a writer, these are the best opportunities to add depth to the story. I could have just said, “They drove down Courtland until they came up on a Muslim group feeding the homeless,” which would be workmanlike and sometimes is even a good idea. But here, I can get a few things done:

  • I can redouble, twice, the role of large-scale development in the story. And the second one’s organic: we can see it happening in a second part of intown, for a different but similar reason.
  • I can update their theory of the crime through conversation, not just narration or giving someone’s thoughts. It’s really improbable that one person would commit this precise sort of crime; so maybe two perps would make more sense.
  • I can bring Georgia State slowly but doubly into it, as the university is another big driver of the development.

And all this in just a few paragraphs of conversation. Sometimes, this can be fun.