Previously: A two-dead gun battle near Washington, D.C.’s blighted Liss Gardens forces community activist Dante Jones to defy his wife Rhea, go “back to the streets” to re-politic a gang truce. Dante negotiates his protégé ‘Trey out of a jam with the Murder Police, and they convince community stalwart Mrs. Williams to ask her “wild boy” grandson Jerome and his Liss Gardens West Side posse to meet with them.
Dante woke as sunlight streamed over him on the floor of his office.
Rhea will kill me if she finds out I slept on the floor.
Actually, on cushions pulled off the donated chairs and under a sheet destined to be a drop cloth if the Coalition got enough money for paint.
As he lay there wearing a CCC T-shirt and his boxers, last night’s shirt and pants draped on his desk chair, his socks airing beside his shoes, he imagined his wife grousing: “I bought you that cot for you and you gave it away to a Group Home.”
Maybe I just won’t tell her about the cot.
But he knew he would. Eventually.
Like he’d tell her about the ambush warning from Luther.
Dante checked his watch: 7:09 the morning after the killings.
Rhea’d be getting dressed for work at the clinic where she was Chief Administrative Nurse. Coulda been a doctor but I couldn’t bear to pronounce one person dead. He’d called her cell phone at midnight when he got to the Coalition’s building, but she’d out-foxed him, had it on, answered so he couldn’t just leave a message. He ached from hearing worry in her voice. He thought about calling her now, but if he didn’t, maybe she’d think he got to sleep in, wouldn’t worry about his 60-year-old heart.
She’d be drinking coffee.
He clutched the white sheet around him while holding his shirt, pants and a razor. Scanned the empty main room where Angela did more than answer phones near the desk for Max, the Coalition’s Chief Operating Officer. The other guys who’d created the Coalition were in Omaha on a training grant scrounged by a citizens’ group there desperate to pull peace from street wars spun out of Nebraska’s meth market. Dante was the only CCC exec in town who’d worked Liss Gardens.
‘Least I got young ‘Trey to help.
Dante shuffled down the hall to the bathroom with a working shower.
Dante’s watch read 7:32 when he stepped out of the shower, dried off with the sheet, wore his shirt & pants to barefoot back down the hall.
Dante’d been angry when he first heard a young gangbanger call the Coalition’s two story battered brick building: “the bat cave.”
“We aren’t some comic book movie!” he’d complained to Rhea.
“Yeah,” she’d said, “be a shame if kids you’re trying to reach thought your busted up headquarters was a kind of cool place for heroes and them.”
Can’t be coffee I smell, thought Dante as he shuffled down the hall.
But it was, Angela pouring a cup from the 1970’s plastic brewer, handing it to him as he entered the main office: “Trey texted me.”
The phone rang.
Dante answered: “Coalition of -“
“Reggie Parker!” barked the voice in the phone.
“Councilman, how are -“
“You said we had a Liss Gardens truce, but there’s two more dead plus! I got cops crying for more patrol budget. I got party workers burning my ears. If this don’t get fixed, it’s on you guys, not me!”
“You liked being in the photo when the Mayor announced that truce.”
“Don’t think that won’t come back to haunt me – us.”
Reggie sighed. “Give me something to run with.”
Buzzing, what –
Angela went into his office, came out holding his cell phone.
Dante told the Councilman: “Tell people you made sure we’re on it.”
Angela handed Dante his cell pone with a text on its screen:
rnng late baby girl sick at ER bout six hrs trey
Reggie said: “This couldn’t have come at a worse time for you.”
“You guys meet with the Housing Authority next Thursday, right?”
“Every month for seven years, we go in, document what `public use’ we’re doing that’s benefiting the city, how we’re maintaining this old tax lien-seized building, why Housing should let us stay here, no rent.”
“I’m hearing that you could have a problem this time. Liss Gardens blasting apart a Coalition truce won’t help.”
“We always appreciate your support at the Housing Board, Reggie.”
“I’m calling you now, aren’t I?”
So you can claim credit, thought Dante, or dodge blame, but he said: “What are you talking about?”
“There’s talk that your building, that corner lot, that there might be better use the city could get from it. Like revenue. Increase the tax base.”
“Developers,” said Dante. “Big money.”
“Progress,” said the City Councilman who depended on totally legal fundraisers to keep his job. “Everybody wants that.”
“Progress is just a direction. What matters is where.”
Into the office walked Max, the bald bear who’d served on Dante’s bank jobs crew.
Dante told the Councilman: “You rip us out of here, Housing will stuff us in some rat hole that the people we help can’t get to. Nine gang truces that still hold, classes here, counseling, that counts for nothing?”
“Last night Liss Gardens bloodied you,” said the Councilman.
“As for what you’ve done,” he added, “I certainly appreciate that – I’m on record there – but politics….
“Politics forgets about yesterday for promises about tomorrow.”
Dante thumbed END on his cell phone.
Max told him: “‘Didn’t hear until this morning after I put Sis’ on the plane back to Cleveland. Last night we went to the Lincoln Memorial, saw the Reflecting Pool full of the Washington Monument, then the Vietnam Memorial, so I wasn’t around. You need me in the Gardens?”
“Need you here. Our good friend Councilman Reggie’s looking to cut us loose. Maybe even knife us.”
As Dante explained, the office phone rang.
Angela answered it.
Max said: “Maybe that ties in with the earmarks fight. Until Congress comes up with its budget for D.C. – that Congresswoman from Seattle is looking to shift bucks over to her District, some hospital – until Congress tells our City Council what they’re gonna get, all us contractors ‘n’ grant groups are frozen. Maylene at the schools is pulling in groups to figure out how to pressure who. Don’t worry, I’ll work it.”
“Watch out for Reggie,” said Dante. “Get who we can in his District to call – no, have ’em write their Councilman, e-mail, how they appreciate his support of the Coalition in these rough times.”
Angela hung up the phone. Walked toward Max and Dante.
Max said: “I’ll call our guys out in Omaha. They can squeeze in some phone calls ’round helping those folks. Talked to ’em last night: there’s bodies falling in the corn fields.”
Angela opened her mouth –
Max asked Dante: “‘You look at that bill in the California legislature to `regulate and certify’ everybody who works gang truces?”
“I get what’s behind that,” said Dante. “But we’re about who’s willing to walk out into the bullets, who can talk to gang guys, which means mostly guys who been locked up. Guys like us struggle just to get Off Paper, won’t clear more regulations, and if we get popped for violating them…”
Max said: “Still only a probably won’t pass bill out in California. Not some national trend gonna run us over.”
Angela said: “One of the wounded kids died. Now it’s three killed.”
Nobody said so far.
“A 16-year-old girl,” said Angela. “Not from the Gardens. Got off the subway to go visit her aunt. Caught a stray bullet like that subway car.”
Her name was Barbara.
Dante’s cell phone buzzed.
Max squeezed his shoulder; like Angela, walked away to work.
The buzzing cell phone displayed Rhea’s number.
Dante answered: “I was gonna -“
“Wait until your flowers softened me up?” said his wife. “We can’t afford this bouquet. Sure, it’s beautiful with red roses and white carnations, but its big enough for a wedding or a funeral! I should say thank you, but you never sent a card.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The huge bouquet you had delivered to me ‘soon as I got to work.”
He heard Rhea catch her breath.
Heard his own slamming heart.
NEXT – Episode Seven: Terrorist Weather
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