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The Edge of Midnight
Shivering with cold, thirty-three-year-old Sarita Grayson walked over to the worn pea coat hanging on a nail behind her desk and put it on. Even though it was only mid-October, the temperature inside her office in the old warehouse felt like below freezing. During the day, if the sun was out, being inside the drafty old eyesore wasn't too bad, but once evening rolled around, the temperature dropped like a stone, and cold ruled. The building's ancient heating system was kept running with duct tape, hairpins, and prayer. It was two-faced, however, and would cut off at a moment's notice, so Sarita and her staff didn't like turning it on until the weather outside made it absolutely necessary.
She blew on her hands to keep them warm, then dug through the mountain of papers atop her lop-sided desk looking for the notice from the city. She picked it up and read it again for maybe the fiftieth time since it had arrived in the mail three days earlier. The words had not changed. Block red letters, three inches high screamed eviction proceedings across the top like a tabloid headline. The day it arrived the shock had paralyzed her. Even now, her hands shook a bit. She and her people had been using this abandoned warehouse for many years, working hard to transform the abandoned hulking structure into the hub of the struggling community surrounding it. The space offered the children a safe environment in which to learn and play and gave the senior citizens a place where they could meet and stay connected to life and the neighborhood.
But now, because the city wanted to auction off the property, they were being threatened with eviction.
The building had originally housed a food distribution company. After the owners moved the operation to the suburbs back in the early eighties, it sat empty, attracting gang graffiti, rats, and crackheads. One summer night in 1990, the local Baptist church down the street caught fire and burned to the ground. Having no place for the congregation to worship, Pastor Otis Washington and the elders approached the city about moving into the vacant building temporarily until money could be raised for a new church. The city gave its permission on the condition that if the building were sold, the church would move its services and neighborhood programs elsewhere. Washington and the congregation agreed. The new church was built, but the out-reach programs dedicated to kids, seniors, and unwed mothers remained housed in the old warehouse. Because of all the neighborhood crack and crime, neither the city nor the congregation envisioned anyone's buying the place.
Obviously, times had changed; the city received a bid for the property two weeks ago. Sarita had taken over the running of the William Lambert Community Center after Pastor Washington's death in 1998, and if she could come up with the money to match the seventeen-thousand-dollar offer, then she and her people could stay -- if not, they were on the street. How in the world the city expected her to come up with that much cash, and in six days no less, was beyond her.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sight of Silas Devine sticking his gray head in the doorway. After the death of Sarita's grandmother and great-uncles, Silas had become the elder in her life. She loved him dearly.
"Afternoon, General," he said to her.
It was his pet name for her, and she gave him a smile. "Afternoon, Silas. How are you?"
"I'm okay. Any luck?"
She knew he was talking about the seventeen-thousand- dollar dilemma. She shook her head. "So far, nothing."
Silas was her right-hand man. He looked after the plumbing, mowed the grass, helped out with driving the homebound seniors wherever they needed to go; anything Sarita needed, Silas did. He was also the only person she'd told about the eviction notice.
"Something will come up," he said confidently. "This place is too important to shut down. You'll see."
Sarita agreed with him on the Lambert Center's importance to the neighborhood, but wasn't sure the city officials who'd sent the eviction notice felt the same way. "How's the van this morning?"
Their donated van was fifteen years old and on its last legs. It needed a new engine, muffler, and struts, and the floor was almost rusted through; but, somehow, Silas kept it running.
"It woke up in a pretty good mood," he told her. "Started right up."
They shared a grin, and Silas added, "I'm on my way to take Mrs. Black over to the train station so she can get to Chicago for her brother's funeral."
"Okay. I'll see you when you get back."
He nodded, then studied her silently for a moment, before saying, "Don't give up. Somewhere up in heaven, Pastor Washington and that grandmamma of yours are all pulling strings. We'll get through this, I know we will."
She shook her head in agreement, but in reality, didn't share his optimism.
After his departure, Sarita got up from her cluttered desk and walked over to look out of her small, wire-screened window. The center's uncertain future filled her with a sense of helplessness that was totally out of character. In the years she'd been in charge, she'd always, always been able to effect some change in a seemingly unsolvable situation -- able to do a fast shuffle here, call in a favor there to keep the ship afloat, but this time she wasn't so sure. School had let out about an hour ago, and out of her office window she could see the children playing down below on the cracked, broken pavement of the building's parking lot ...The Edge of Midnight. Copyright © by Beverly Jenkins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.