"And how would we go about doing that? The county hasn't got two dimes to rub together. We can't afford to support that horde out there. The soup kitchens on the church rotation are already at full capacity. You think they could handle a few hundred more every night?"
"So what's the answer?"
"They've gotten about all they can from Hamilton County. There's only so much they can steal from us. Pretty soon, they've got to move on."
Phil shook his head.
"What?" Rodger said. "Not what you were hoping to hear?”
Phil laughed. “Maybe I’m just not used to hearing the truth from an elected official."
The bell over the door rang, and into the restaurant came a young blond. Lacking makeup and covered in grime, she was still a beauty. She had a fairy's delicate features and an upturned nose. Her eyes were focused on Phil and Rodger. They were a brilliant green, and in them was a seriousness that seemed at odds with her face.
"I think that's my guide," Phil said, standing and dropping bills on the counter.
"Phil," Rodger said. "I know you. When you get a bug up your ass to do something stupid, there's no stopping you. Just do me a favor and be careful."
* * *
Her name was Carmen. She looked so young, but she spoke like someone who had already lived a lifetime. There was a gravity to her stare, a maturity in her eyes that had defied her youth. Growing up on the streets would do that, he supposed.
"We collect rainwater," she said, pointing to a giant plastic swimming pool on the west side of the makeshift city. "And our runners fill their bottles from peoples’ hoses before the sun comes up."
They rode bicycles, pulling trailers behind them. They could be seen all over town, patrolling the streets by day like flea-ridden policemen. Carmen had showed him a station where they would drop off their wares and hand over the bike for the next man on duty.
"How many runners do you have?" Phil asked.
She didn't answer, just pushed through a group of rough men waiting in line for a cup of broth from a large iron pot. It was thinner than the stew in Phil’s belly, but the same shade of brown.
Phil took a second to look at the men. They were lean and hard. Their eyes were cold, dead. They stared at Phil, but if it was with hate or envy or shame, he couldn’t guess. They parted for Carmen, nodding to her with respect as she passed.
"How long have you been here?"
She threw a look back over her shoulder and kept walking. Phil wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think it was him she was looking at. He turned as well, and saw the men were watching after them.
"Where did you come here from?"
"Dallas," she said.