“There are some things we can do. We don’t have to take this lying down. We can challenge this decision.” Juniper has spear-headed a tenants’ meeting in a downstairs common area that none of them even knew existed. It seems everyone is present. The tension in the room is so thick it could be cut with a knife. Some aren’t holding back how disgusted they are with this sudden inconvenience. Some are hanging around the refreshments seemingly more interested in free food and evening entertainment.
Geneva creeps in and pushes her way through the crowd, taking a vacant seat near the wall at the back of the room.
“Some things we can do like what? Those folks aren’t going to listen to us! If they cared anything about what we thought, they’d have talked with us before making this decision.” Maria’s tone leaves no question as to how she feels about the entire ordeal. Valissa looks at her sideways, then rolls her eyes and shakes her head. She sits with her arms crossed, hoping this is finally her ticket to return home to her father.
“Unfortunately, this is what happens when we don’t pay attention to what’s going on in city government. If suggestions are made and there’s no one there to speak on our behalf or otherwise, we get excluded from deciding upon the outcome,” Bethany echoes. As any best friend would, she’s volunteered to help organize and whatever else Juniper might need.
“Then, who’s our councilman? Or is it an alderman? Whatever it’s called, I’ve never seen anybody around here introducing themselves even around election time.” Alesandra whirls in with an armful of additional finger foods. Tish is close behind carrying beverages to put on ice. They begin to assemble the refreshments on the table amongst the others.
“What about the owner of the building? He made the deal without telling us anything! And I just moved in here a couple months ago. Do you know how expensive it can get moving? Then transferring mail and all that!”
“Ok, there’re quite a few questions we want answered. Now, I think the first thing we should do is get an attorney to advise us of what our rights are. Do any of you happen to know someone or have a family member that could help us out? Cost-friendly?”
The room remains silent.
“Ok, there could be someone that would be willing to do some pro-bono work. I’ll handle it. And… the next thing would be to find out who represents us on that council. Since none of us seems to know, I’ll phone and find out whose district we’re in and ask a few questions.”
“Who should I speak with about possible relocation assistance, since we’re being forced out?”
Juniper’s hands are throbbing from scribbling the tenants’ questions on her steno pad. “I’ve noted that also, Alesandra. By the way, let’s give Alesandra a hand for these delicious refreshments that she’s prepared.” A few tenants chewing on finger food smile and nod in her direction, with staggering applause. “Thank you so much, Alesandra.”
Alesandra nods with a nervous smile, slightly taken by surprise. The tenants resume their questions and complaints.
A stranger enters the room, his head swallowed by an oversized chapeau. He leans against the doorway with his hands in his pockets. For a moment, Juniper is hopeful that it’s the owner of the building. She invited him via voicemail and email but never received a response. He did send one of the maintenance men to open up the room for them, though. So perhaps he did decide to show.
“Ok, so how many of us would be willing to attend the next city council meeting?” Surprisingly, most the entire room raises their hands, murmuring among themselves how serious they are about challenging these decisions. “That’s great! I’m going to start a contact list. You can include your name, telephone number, email address and whatever other information you think would be useful.” Juniper tears out a couple sheets and makes a quick heading before starting the list circulating around the room. “Beth, do you have an extra pen? I have more notes to jot down.”
At the mention of Beth’s name, the stranger begins scanning the crowd. Beth digs through her purse and pulls out a writing utensil. She taps the person in front of her and asks her to pass it to the person with the list.
“Beth, can we take a moment to talk?”
“The stranger towering over her shoulder isn’t easily identifiable to the other tenants with the oversized chapeau. They pay little attention to his quiet request that Beth to excuse herself.
Juniper freezes as she watches Bethany try to handle the situation on her own. The look on her face is clear. It isn’t the maintenance man, nor the owner of the building. “Sir, this meeting is for tenants only. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“This lady isn’t a tenant in this building,” the man rebuttals, almost with a tinge of humor. “But we’ll gladly leave,” he smiles as he takes Beth by the hand. She tries to resist, but his grip is firm. Some other tenants notice that something doesn’t look quite right. To avoid further embarrassment, Bethany gets up from her chair and reluctantly walks toward the exit with her escort.
Juniper watches, unsure what to do. She wants to call out to her friend, but doesn’t want to give away too much of Bethany’s personal matters to the other tenants.
“Perhaps we can also get the media involved. They’d have a field day with this story. Local residents forced out. All these faces in the news.” Juniper’s message is clear. The man looks around at the crowd, some of them still watching. He smiles maliciously back at them before turning to Beth.
“Are you coming along? Or should I plan on seeing you afterwards?”
Bethany slowly turns and makes her way back to her seat, occasionally glancing behind her as if she’s afraid she’ll be threatened with violence. She doesn’t say another word. The entire room has an eerie silence.
He never takes his eyes off of her. “Later then,” he announces before glancing over the room one last time. “You all have a very productive meeting. Sorry to have disturbed you.” He gives another malevolent smile and exits.
“Alright, then,” Juniper sighs. “Now, let’s make plans to organize a –“
Bethany bolts out of her seat and runs out of the room, startling Juniper and a few others seated nearby. Some roll their eyes and shake their heads as if they’ve seen this before.
“Beth, NO!” Juniper calls out to her, watching her run after her abuser. “Ma’am, do you mind continuing? I have to-“
“Not at all, honey. Go see about your friend.” A lady gets up and starts to make mention of other resources that could be useful to their cause while Juniper goes to assist Bethany.
The tenants all seem slightly shaken. Yelling can be heard echoing from the foyer. They glance at each other, not sure what should be done. Some are fidgeting with their cellulars, contemplating phoning the police. Others seem all too familiar with this scenario and begin whispering among themselves, ignoring the lady that’s taken the floor.
“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!?!” Someone yells from the foyer.
Gunfire echoes throughout the place, followed by screams and gasps. Panic and tension return. Some run toward the foyer. Others quickly dial the police. aH