“Floor it,” I hissed in Lope’s right ear. “Run them down.”
“I can’t,” Lope said. I saw sweat instantly form on the back of his neck. “I’m not there, yet.” I knew what he meant. He wasn’t at the point where he could ram a car into people, even if they were menacing and had guns. I wished to God that I was in the driver’s seat, because I was there. I was so tired of having enemies I hadn’t even made myself that I could scream.
Slight movements on my left side caught my attention. I saw Mike’s right hand tighten on his gun. His left hand was reaching for the door handle. “No,” I grabbed his arm. “No, don’t try to be a hero, damnit. There are too many of them.”
While I worried about Mike, someone else was getting ideas. I heard a clunk to my right and my head spun around just in time to see Moira exiting the car. I let go of Mike and leaned back in the seat, looking at the ceiling of the car roof. I was all out of ideas and hope. After just a moment, I couldn’t help myself and turned my head to see what the hell she was doing out there.
Moira was talking to the men behind the car with her gun casually cradled in her arms. The men were in similarly relaxed poses. I sighed and shoved Bethel’s carrier into Mike’s lap. “Don’t get out,” I warned him. “Stay in the car.” Mike opened his mouth. “I MEAN IT,” I warned him. His mouth closed.
I scooted across the seat to get out of Moira’s door. The men she was talking to tensed up a little when they saw me, but I raised my hands over my head in universal sign language for “I Can’t Shoot You, So You Don’t Shoot Me” and they relaxed again. One of them actually waved cheerily at me.
I walked over to the group and put my hands down when I saw who the waver was. It was Jessie Brooks. He’d started out as a lowly theatre intern who got coffee for big-wigs, but he had rapidly moved up into the world of independent film. Moira had designed costumes for his latest, a short about two crack heads who won the lottery but had burned half their ticket lighting a pipe.
“Jessie,” I said, “honey. I would have killed your ass, if I’d been driving.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Hard to know who to kill, these days. Let’s get inside the gate so we can talk in safety.”
Harlem opened up her clanky arms and let us inside. It actually took about twenty people to move that huge crazy gate. They each grabbed on and ran. Lope drove us in, and the people on foot followed. The twenty people ran the other way to close the gate after the last man was in.
We got out of the car after Lope rolled to a stop. We all wanted to know what was happening in Harlem. Jessie leaned against the car and said quietly, “We’ll just talk right here, if you don’t mind. Best not to leave your stuff. Anybody who wasn’t poor before is poor now.”
“Why is Harlem locked down this way, Jessie?,” Moira asked. “And what’s the deal with white people wanting sanctuary?”
“People have been trickling up here. More every night. They are scared to stay in their buildings, anymore. They talk about creepy men who show up and try to rally whole buildings full of people to go to the tunnels. When people don’t want to go, the pressure ratchets up, so some of them sneak out. It didn’t seem like a big deal, at first. But our resources are stretched thin. We can’t take more hungry mouths, and we are starting to wonder when we are going to get a newcomer we can’t trust. So, we built a gate. We never thought Harlem would be a gated community.” Jessie grinned at his small joke.
“If I can guarantee that you are moving on, it shouldn’t be a big deal for you to drive straight through. But, you really can’t stay.”
“Oh, we aren’t staying,” I said. “You can count on that. But how can you guys be sure that we drive out of here instead of stopping and finding somewhere to hide?”
“I ride with you to 145th St.,” Jessie said.