Coming Home - Part 1

[Gotham Brownstone - January 2030]

He looked up at the brownstone. It still needed some work, it probably always would, but it looked a hell of a lot better than it had three years ago. The neighborhood hadn’t appreciated it, but the people that needed it did. Signs in the first-floor windows and the large sign by the door announced it as Gotham Homeless Shelter and Soup Kitchen.

Jack Thomas had had to have an elevator installed because of the services he offered. Though five levels, the homeless only occupied the first two, but many could not navigate the stairs due to disability or frailty. It was a poorly kept secret that the third floor was reserved for battered women and young mothers who were at the edge of survival. Battered men, of which there were few, had a room on the lower floors. Another poorly kept secret was that runaways often found their way through the GHSSK (pronounced Ghisk).

It still needed a lot of work, but Jack Thomas took pride in what he had built over the past three years-in Gotham, Metropolis, Bludhaven, New York, and Philadelphia. He let professionals and volunteers do what they were trained for and what they had skills for. A manager took care of each facility making sure everything functioned and people and programs were coordinated. Charitable donations, city matching funds, and corporate matching funds kept everything going. Jack smiled as he started up the front steps.

The front door was open. It always was during the daytime. At night, they locked it promptly at ten o’clock, and while the rule was that it wasn’t unlocked again until seven o’clock the next morning, there were often exceptions.

Jack nodded to a man just inside the door, sweeping the aged hard-wood floor. He was one of the “resident” homeless. They were expected to work for their bed for the night. Everyone was. It was a GHSSK requirements. If you stayed at the shelter during the day, you worked, either for the shelter, or on self-improvement and job training. Laughter brought his attention to the big front-room to the left, several volunteers were working with residents on laptops, probably helping them understand a spreadsheet program, or to fill out an application. Checking his watch, he thought they should be shifting to lunch soon. Jack walked into the room.

“Oh, hi Mr. Thomas.” A young man came over, about twenty, one of the volunteers. He, another volunteer, and three of the residents were gathered around a laptop that had been the cause of the laughter.

“Hello, Billy. What are you looking at?” Billy looked over his shoulder back at the group still looking at the laptop.

“Footage from a few days ago. Some kid beat up a few LexGoons saving a guy from a beating. And then flew off. It’s on a pirate site. Apparently, some people caught it on their cell phones. The guys were saying it was like Superman used to be, or Wonder Woman.”

Jack walked over to the group and watched the video over their shoulders. “Well that's interesting. It gives hope. A dangerous weapon.” Jack smiled as he patted Billy’s shoulder. “Keep up the good work.”

“Mr. Thomas,” called a female voice from the office doorway on the other side of the entrance hall. “I didn’t know you were coming today.”

“An unexpected stop Evelyn. I thought I’d go through some of the stuff on the fourth floor.”

“Nothing up there but old furniture and stuff we don’t normally use.” A woman somewhere in her late thirties or early forties approached crossing the entry hall. Jack thought that once she was cute, and now pretty. Her dirty blonde hair must have faded from what was once golden blonde. Her blue eyes carried some scars, but not deep ones, no more than most people her age carry. A ring on her finger indicated she is married. She was the first person he hired when he returned to Gotham. He needed someone he could trust, and her resume and background checks indicated she was such an individual.

“I know, but now and then I find something that sparks an idea.”

“Well, you can do what you want Mr. Thomas. I think most of it just needs to be donated.”

“Maybe. Maybe. But for now, we’ll just keep it here.”

“Yes, Mr. Thomas.” Evelyn smiled as she half turned to go back to her desk, pausing just enough to see Mr. Thomas nod his head with a half-smile himself as he headed to the double stairway leading up to the second floor.

The stairway was six-feet wide, having been originally built in the 1880s when everything was being built larger than necessary, having a true purpose of an exhibition of largesse. The main hall itself was almost twenty feet wide with great rooms on either side some forty feet across the front of the building in each direction. Jack thought calling it a brownstone was an understatement as it was more akin to a French townhome mansion. This brownstone had been the crown of the block. Smaller brownstones branched off to either side.

They had erected a cage around the bottom of the stairwell from the third floor to fourth floor, and another at the top of the stairwell. The cages allowed for the third-floor residents to have privacy as no one was needed to govern access between the floors to prevent possible mishap. No one was currently about, but he could hear them down the other hallways.

Jack opened the bottom gate. Locked it behind him. Unlocked the top gate and locked it behind him. He pulled a small penlight out of his trouser pocket to light his way through the shadows and around furniture coated in dust. Wooden and folding chairs were arranged in short rows. Fold-up tables accompanied them. Several doors, all closed, lead to other rooms.

Moving to one of the farthest doors, he tried it. Locked. He looked around to make sure he was alone, knowing he would be. Jack put the butt of his penlight against the door-jamb, even with the lock. There was a very soft click. Trying the doorknob again, it opened. Jack closed it behind him as he moved through the door.

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