He started off at three-forty, after putting on his best jacket and slacks. He debated wearing a tie, but he didn’t want to overdo it. He knew how silly it was, but he was dressing for Carmen.
The sun was low in the sky when he arrived, already touching the tips of the tallest trees on the horizon. The thought of being there after dark unnerved him. He called Rodger.
"You have reached the automated…"
"Shit." He waited for the beep, then hung up without leaving a message. He tried again. No answer.
Fort Promise was alive with activity. People were rolling up tents, pulling up stakes and loading items onto wheeled carts. There were black trash bags thrown in the middle of the makeshift street, piled high in the center, a pyramid of refuse reaching for the heavens.
It hit Phil then: they were all women. There was not a man to be seen on the square, and there wasn't a bicycle in sight. All of the runners must be on duty.
He scanned the faces for Carmen but she wasn’t among them. Jimmy poked him in the back with a finger, urging him forward. The flap over the door to the hall was hanging at an awkward angle, the light from inside making it look like a mouth with a lopsided smile.
"Take a seat, Phil," Simon Heller said as he entered the hall.
There were less people seated at the table this time, only four in all. They were all men, and Phil recognized the one who had seen him in the car with Carmen. He was pleased to see the makeshift spear was not in his hand.
It was colder in the hall than it had been the last time Phil was there. Only three of the torches were lit, and the dance of the flames sent shadows leaping and whirling in the corners, ghosts moving in the periphery of Phil’s vision. He kept his eyes forward, not chasing their motion.
"I've been thinking about what you said," Simon said. "About people feeling hopeful about what we're doing. Maybe it would be a good idea to show them what's happening here."
"Do you mind if I record?"
Simon held out both hands, palms up. "Be my guest."
Phil set his cell phone on the table, the voice recorder app open. He saw movement in the doorway, the flap of canvas swaying as if taken by a breeze. A gap in the fabric revealed Jimmy's spying eyes. Phil winked before giving his full attention to Simon.
"Where should we start?" Simon said.
"How about hope?" Phil said. "You call this place Promise. What exactly are you promising?"
"A fair shake. A chance to be judged not for how you dress and what you're worth, but what you do."
"You say that everyone has to do their part. What happens if for some reason you stop pulling your weight?"
Once again there was motion at the doorway, but this time it was Carmen who moved the flap aside. She entered the room, scanned the crowd, and made her way to the table. Phil was dismayed when she passed him, and that feeling was doubled when she sat on Simon's lap.