by P. Orin Zack
"Yeah, but Buster Flange?" Buzz asked incredulously. "How can anyone take that clown seriously?"
Marjha Horcik thumbed the pause icon on her cell phone. The City Councilman had been caught fulminating in character again, but this time his performance wasn't just sacrificed at the altar of Internet comedy. The video was being used to attack his proposal to change the city charter. "He may be a jerk," she said, glancing at Flange's reddened face on the little screen, "but his idea is good. The homeless community in this town could use something like that."
"Bull. Creating a virtual district so Occupy supporters can make themselves feel important isn't going to do squat for anyone who hasn't got four walls and a john. I read about his crackpot scheme in the Sidewalk Spectator. It's just a sop for suckers."
"That's not the point," she insisted. "If Occupy Wall Street can have a virtual district, then so can we. Just because someone lives in their car or a tent city, or under the highway like this doesn't mean they shouldn't have a say in how this city--."
A loud metallic crunch from the highway support trusses overhead snatched the sound from her mouth. She glanced at Buzz for a quick read on the situation. He'd risen from the boulder he was leaning against and was peering upward. "That's not right."
The screech of tires above was followed in rapid succession by an air horn, and then a series of crashes. It was obvious that something nasty had happened on the highway, doubly so because the din of traffic rumbling past quickly subsided.
"Jesus," Buzz breathed. "Let's get out of here."
Marjha nodded, took one last look along the length of the highway supports, and then peered into the shadowed distance below it. People had begun emerging from hidden niches, hauling bags and pushing wagons piled high with stuff. Then, just as she turned to go, there was another, much louder crunch, and a section of roadway dropped to the ground, crushing nearly a dozen people under a pile of twisted steel, reinforced concrete and scraps of black roadway that rained down over the rest of it.
"Those people"" she said, but couldn't bear to finish the grisly thought.
"Those people might as well not even exist," Buzz said coldly. "Nobody knew who they were, nobody knew they were there, and nobody's going to look for them."
"But they're people!"
"They're ciphers. We all are. Face it, Marjha, the only time homeless folks like us even get noticed is when one of us makes a pest of themselves, and then it's only to cart us off to lockup, or pawn us off to social services. The people up there don't want to know about us. We're the ugly little secret that makes it possible for the rich to be rich in the first place."
She stared at him, breathing hard, as the rising wail of sirens filled the air, peppered with the staccato beat of news copters approaching from two directions. "And that's exactly why Buster Flange's proposal matters," she said, raising her voice. "We're only invisible because we're split up. Nobody will know what happened to those people down there --" she broke off as the foul memory turned to reflux, "-- unless we do something."
"Like what?" he said, more a challenge than a question.