Tuesday, November 22, 2011
“People!” Palmer yelled into the radio. “People hiking up the freeway!”
“Stand by,” Sara said. “And don’t yell.” She let go of the mike button and looked over the balcony, where most of the community was still at breakfast. “Cleve! Palmer says there’s people on the freeway!”
Sally’s voice cut through the answering hubbub from below: “Well, they invited them here, right?”
“No,” Sara shook her head, thinking Cleve woulda killed them.
“Not enough folks left to be choosy!” Sally snapped. “Tell ’em to bring ’em here!” Everyone started talking at once.
Cleve’s police whistle cut through the commotion. “Look: we’ve been expecting to find other people,” he said. “We’ve talked about it, what to do — now it’s time. Sara: tell ’em to come back. Tim can take me out there, we’ll have a chat with the newcomers, and if things check out we’ll bring ’em here. We can take care of things if they get hostile — right?”
Nobody objected. “Okay,” Cleve said, “get your acts together and we’ll see what happens.”
“Where’d they go?” Tim asked nobody, looking up and down the freeway from the overpass. The trucks, and the usual debris, were the only thing on the road on either side. “We weren’t gone long enough to lose ’em — even if they turned around, we should still be able to see ’em.”
Cleve looked around, then down. “They might be underneath us.”
“Ah!” Tim smacked his forehead. “Yeah, that could be. Let’s roll down the off-ramp and have a look.”
“Yeah,” Cleve said, and thumbed the mike button. “We think they might be underneath the overpass. We’re about to check it out.”
They coasted down the on-ramp, looking over their shoulders as they descended. They made room for a truck to pass them on the right, then cut across the apron to the shoulder — and braked quickly and dismounted as several people under the overpass stood to face them. They all looked wary, except for one who stepped out to greet them.
“I believe I know you two,” he said, a short bald man in a frayed overcoat. “You stood against a mob who would sacrifice your enemy.”
“Jeremiah Fortune Patterson!” Cleve laughed. “How could I forget a name like that!” Cleve and Tim holstered their pistols and stepped forward to shake the preacher’s hand. “How’ve you been? Who’s your friends?” He gestured toward the others, watching from the shadow of the overpass.
“Well enough, under the circumstances. As for my companions, they are my flock, those who have heeded the call to find a new dwelling place. As they are the homeless, they also might say one place is as good as another.”
“The call?” asked Tim.
“Indeed. Now I consider it disrespectful to open one’s Bible and and point to a random verse, as if one were consulting an oracle. But random phrases have been much on our minds lately, and when put together…”
“Perhaps. Judge for yourself: ‘Behold, the city has been made desolate.’ ‘Come out of her.’ ‘I will bring you to a new place, where you may dwell in peace.’ There are others, but you get the idea: get outta Dodge.”
“So you’re the Moses of Atlanta,” Cleve chuckled. “Hey… you think any of those dreams from about a month ago had anything to do with it?”
“Ah… did we share a single dream that night? It must be true. A great Evil is loose in the world, and what is to be done…” He shrugged.
“Yeah. Where are y’all headed?”
Jeremiah gestured to his companions; they stepped forward: four men, two women. “In the words of the personal ad columns: ‘Street preacher and homeless flock seek to join non-judgmental community.’” He grinned. “It may take a while for them to get used to living in a community once again, but God will bring the healing as He sees fit.”
“Have you seen any other groups?”
Some of them shook their heads. “A few individuals,” the preacher said. “No organized groups.”
Cleve thought a second. “Well, there’s plenty of room where we’re at — we’ve taken over most of the townhouses in our subdivision. There’s a few left, but your flock might be more comfortable in a house. Maybe a halfway house of sorts. Once they get used to the rest of us, they can move into the townhouses if they want. I can’t speak for all of us, but we’ve been expecting to find other people and one of our older ladies asked why Tim didn’t invite you to our place right away.”
Tim nodded. “We’ll put it to a vote, but I don’t think anyone will object. Then you can get a meal and pick out your new places, right?”
“God’s blessings upon you and your community,” Jeremiah said. “Lead us to the promised land.” Cleve grinned and picked up the mike.
“Hey.” One of the “flock,” a black woman, called to Cleve. “You were a cop, weren’t ya?”
“I quit a year before the trucks,” Cleve said. “You can’t still smell bacon after all that time!” Cleve was playing it light, but Tim could tell by now when his friend’s defenses came up.
She half-laughed, half-cawed. “I thought I recognized you — you busted me!”
“Yeah.” She broke from the others and moved to walk beside Cleve on the other side of his bike. “It’s you, awright. It was a year ago spring. I was out on the street, starvin’, and I needed money for food. I never turned no tricks before, but I figured one time would be okay and I could eat for a few days —”
“And you offered it up to a plainclothes cop,” Cleve shook his head. “Y’know, I kinda remember that now, but not what came of it.”
“Oh, I got eleven months at the county jail,” she said. “Which wasn’t so bad. I got to eat and I still didn’t have to turn no tricks. I got out and ran into Preacher Man back there, and he did what he could for me. Then them trucks came along…” she shuddered. “That’s some voodoo right there. I figured I’d rather starve than climb in one, y’know?
“Anyway. My name’s Elinaeya. You can call me Elly. And this time, I ain’t sellin’ nothin’.”
“Cleve Isaacs,” he grinned. “Good thing too, I’m the closest thing to a cop we got where we live. Don’t make me bust you again!”
She let that boisterous laugh loose once again. “How much longer?”
“Couple miles. It’s a short bike ride, but kind of a long walk.”