"I just don't know." The girl with straight, honey hair, waved a hand toward the heavy window casements. "No one is going to care anyway. Why should we stand out there and get wet?"
Lori shifted in her chair, but she was done mentoring. They'd do what they'd do.
Rain beat against the windows. Nate, the lanky ringleader of the group, lolled in his chair. "Look, we did what we had to. The Nazi won't be speaking on campus. Our message is that we've won."
The talk shifted into plans for the weekend. Nate steered things that way and the other students, three girls and one other boy, followed his lead as usual. Every student group needed a faculty adviser and they had Lori. But advisers don't usually attend meetings.
The group broke up and three of them got up to leave, while Rust and Kelly were giving each other looks and eyeing the back stacks speculatively.
"When's the next meeting," Lori asked Nate's back.
He turned back around, black dreads swinging, and he looked apologetic. "Oh, sorry, Lori," he said. "I'll let you know. Maybe in a couple of weeks. See you on Twitter."
Then they were gone. Lori wheeled slowly toward the exit. The trek back to faculty housing was going to be soggy and cold.
She stopped under the architectural overhang that made a dry spot at the front of the library. There must be a specific word for that, Lori thought.... Wait! No, that was Russian and not quite the right term anyway. It was the English word she wanted.
She chuckled at her own nerdy preoccupation. Who but a linguistics professor would care?
The poster caught her eye. It had a huge anarchy A scrawled and circled over it. But the black block letters underneath were still clear. "White lives matter in America the great! Pastor Author Cox at the Washington Park Center at 5:00 pm on Saturday, November 25."
The poster had been torn down and replaced dozens of times and there were still soggy remnants of the previous posters pressed into the wet sidewalk around the library entrance. Well, Nate's Anti-racist Alliance had managed to keep the speech off of campus at least.
Cox was a national figure and there was talk of a Senate race in 2018. This was the man who said insurance companies should be "encouraged" to deny people with disabilities coverage, until all books mentioning evolution were stripped from America's classrooms. After all, his argument went, evolution would require all the disabled to die as soon as possible.
Lori put her hat on and tucked the collar of her jacket up before wheeling out into the drumming rain. The cold drops splashed on her head, on her shoulders and on her thighs. She turned down Baker street. Four blocks. That was all and she could always change into a new outfit. A different kind of thoughts clamored at the back of her mind, but she had a thick wall up against them.
She had her head down so that she didn't see the truck drawn up to the convenience store until she was just ten feet from it. She stopped. There was no sign of life, no loaders or unloaders at the back. And the space between the truck and the shop was too narrow for her chair. Lori eyed the street--cars speeding by on four lanes, dirty water spouting from their wheel wells. Better to wait than to go out into the street in an attempt to get around the truck. Wait and get progressively more soaked.
Then she spotted the bus shelter. Okay, make the best of a bad situation.
She wheeled under it and stopped. Rain rattled on the fiberglass roof and a damp chill sank into Lori's limbs. This wasn't the life she'd always imagined. She'd had high hopes for travel, activism and a different kind of career. Everyone had said she could and would do it. And there was no specific reason why not. She and her chair had traveled for exchange programs--Russia, Germany, the UK, even a short stint in Egypt. And a doctorate in linguistics and a career as a professor were nothing to be sneered at. But there were moments...
The hiss and rumble of a large vehicle pulling up startled Lori. Before she could get herself turned around the doors were open and the wheelchair lift was buzzing out of it's nook against the wall of the bus.
Damn it! She'd only been hiding from the rain in the bus shelter, waiting for that damn truck, which still hadn't budged. She rolled out of the shelter, trying to catch a glimpse of the driver and shaking her head in the rain. This would be just her luck and the next time he saw her, that driver might gripe about putting the ramp down.
"Addison, Washington Park, Central..." the line of electronic orange text scrolled across the panel on the side of the bus.
Lori stopped rolling, stopped shaking her head.
Okay... this was weird. Were the "powers that be" trying to tell her something? Or was this day just trying to outdo the standard end-of-November drear?
What the hell! Clothes dry.
She yanked on the left wheel and spun toward the ramp. It bumped down and she rolled into position. The driver jumped out and ran around to check the clamps. Lori wished he wouldn't. She could actually clamp them herself. But she guessed there were regulations. They couldn't have wheelchairs rolling off the ramp when it was two feet off the ground. Just the thought of the lawsuits.
"You're brave, lady," he croaked, grinning up at her from a weathered dark-brown face, "coming out here in all this weather. Where're you going?"
"Thank you so much, sir," Lori said and tried to give him her most winning smile. "Washington Park, if you don't mind. I know it's only two stops but--"
"No problem, no problem. Don't you worry about that, ma'am." He gave the lift a pat and headed back around to the front, his uniform already damp.
The bus was nearly empty and the heat was on so high that the windows were completely steamed over. Still, the moisture in Lori's clothes did nothing but warm slightly in the eight minutes before the lift started buzzing again at Washington Park. She thanked the driver and ducked her head against the wind. It was too bad they hadn't scheduled the Cox speech for the park itself. If anything constituted inclement weather, this would be it.
The Center, a conference building owned by the Chamber of Commerce, was on the other side of the park and across a major street. But there were curb cuts at least and the light was still good. She was a whole hour and a quarter early after all.
The students had a permit for a protest in the park across from the Center. She could theoretically position herself there, Lori realized, and be perfectly legal. Except she hadn't actually planned on coming, so she didn't have a sign or an umbrella with her... only maybe a yellow notepad in her backpack. She and the pad would be soaked in minutes out here.
She crossed at the light and turned up the sidewalk toward the glassed entrance to the building. It had one of those turning doors but at least it was a big one, one her chair could theoretically move through, if she kept turning exactly right. She managed it with little more than bruised knuckles. Inside there was a long entrance with potted plants and at the far end a desk.
Lori wasn't sure what exactly she was going to do. She thought she should be nervous. She could end up in trouble with the university administration. They had been warned that protesters who crossed the street, let alone entered the building, would be arrested.
She put that wall up agaom. She would not care. Some part of her could not let this bigot speak in her town without a protest registered. He was a prominent member of the KKK. He advocated the most hateful positions possible and there were two large student groups on campus that supported him and planned to attend.
"May I help you?" the trim woman with tasteful make-up and short brown hair leaned over the counter.
"I'm a little early," Lori said. "It's at five, isn't it? That's just how the buses run."
"You're here for the talk?" The woman sounded like she didn't believe a word of it.
"Why not? White lives matter, right? Wheels or not," Lori said, and put on the same smile she'd given the bus driver. Smiles are cheap.
"Okay, have it your way," the receptionist sighed.
Cox was to talk in the main conference hall. Lori had been there several times for off-campus events. She didn't really know why she had come, except she had some vague idea that she would go in and sit quietly. Then she would start yelling during the beginning of the speech. Security would haul her our. Not a big deal, but she would at least answer him in some symbolic way. She could not bear to be silent.
When she turned into the main hallway behind the reception area there were three police officers talking at the other end. Of course, the police would be on hand. Nate and his friends had a permit to protest after all, even though they weren't going to use it.
Lori stopped to examine the notice board, which was covered with the shiny brochures of local businesses and several not so local corporations. The officers finished their conversation and walked toward her and then past. One stopped. She could feel him behind her, hear his breathing. But he said nothing and eventually followed the others. Was it her wheelchair, she wondered, or her rumpled jacket?
The hallway was empty again but she heard a murmur of voices. She rolled quietly toward the door to the conference hall. It was cracked open, and there were several men inside. She was surprised. Cox was one of them. An hour early? Maybe he'd come to check the venue. She recognized one of the faculty from the university, a political science professor who had promoted Ayn Rand ten years ago. She didn't know the others.
There were double doors but not too wide. The doors themselves and the frame were both made of carved oak, and old fashioned glass had been fitted into small diamond windows on either side. It was a handsome entrance, the only one, except for a fire escape at the back, she recalled. Despite the new glass facade, most of the building was old and well-preserved. Lori recalled the fight over accessibility at the Washington Park Center when the building was remodeled... was it fifteen years already? The fire escape was still marginal.
It was the easiest thing in the world at first. The door was only cracked open three inches. She just reached out and shut it.
That was all. But the two handles... they could be bound together...
The bike lock hung on a clamp from the side of her chair--mostly for safety, not so much for locking up the wheelchair, although she could get up and walk a few steps, if painfully.
A swift loop around the door handles and then through the spokes of a wheel..
The key was on her key ring, tucked in the inside pocket of her jacket. But she didn't even need it to close the lock.
"Hey! What are you--?" A harsh shout from down the hallway. One of the police officers was striding toward her, but his words cut off in a snarl.
Lori glanced up at him. Her face relaxed. This would do. Yes, it would do very well.
She lowered a hand and engaged the safety brake on the chair. The officer stared at her with blue-gray eyes. A bit of gray showed at his temples too. but his neck was turning red, as were the corners of his eyes.
He stepped a bit closer, craning his neck to see the bike lock. "Unfasten that immediately and clear the doorway." It was a cold order but there was an edge to it. He did not want this to happen.
Lori's face didn't change.
A fist hammered on the inside of the door and the handle moved. The door opened a crack and the chair jerked against it. Lori braced herself a little better but the doors stopped on the lock.
"Just a moment," the officer said more loudly. "I'll get a saw."
"There's a fucking moron chained to the door," a voice said on the other side of the door. Lori peeked and glimpsed the profile of the Alt-Right faculty member on the other side of one of the windows out of the corner of her eye.
"I'll gladly see you arrested," the police officer hissed at Lori. Then he stalked off down the hallway.
It took longer than she'd thought, at least fifteen minutes, for the officers to come back. The curses and threats from the other side of the door had died down. Lori had managed to get her backpack and pull out a sharpie and a piece of paper from the legal pad.
She wrote, "Don't dishonor your ancestors." It was the sort of slogan a linguistics professor and lapsed Wiccan turning Reconstructionist would come up with. Most people wouldn't even understand it. Lori didn't really care.
But it wasn't the blue, gray and red officer who returned. This one was black.
He walked down the hallway with measured firm steps and stopped in front of her. She held the makeshift sign by two corners, her face schooled into calm.
"We could arrest you for this, you know," the officer said in the placating voice some people employ when talking to a person in a wheelchair. He was big and his uniform was dark, like a looming cloud threatening rain.
I'm already plenty wet, Lori thought.
He shifted from foot to foot. "I don't want to do that."
She tried not to smile. She tried. But finally the flicker of it came onto her face.
"I don't want you to either," she said.
"You can't block this door," he said. "For one thing, it's a fire hazard." A hand reached up to massage the short hair on the back of his head.
"There's a fire exit," she said.
"That's not up to code if there is only one exit with an audience of two hundred in there," he said.
"They aren't in there though," she said. "There were only four in there last time I looked."
"You still can't block it. It's private property," the officer said.
He didn't look happy but Lori sensed that he wasn't angry like the other officer. She wondered what he really thought. It couldn't be much fun being black and defending the free speech rights of a man who said Christianity belongs to white people and who wanted to turn the United Sates into a white, Christian ethno-state. He hadn't said publicly how that should be accomplished, what should be done with all the black and brown people, but still...
"The city isn't private property and this speech pollutes our city," Lori said. "I may have to sit down for it but I won't take it lying down." She raised the "Don't dishonor your ancestors" sign an inch.
"I don't want to arrest you, ma'am," the officer said. "But you've got to unlock that thing and leave."
"I don't see how you're going to saw the lock off without damaging the door or my chair or injuring me," Lori said. "Someone will end up suing you."
He gave her a flat look. She wondered if he would take offense. She had as good as threatened a cop with a lawsuit. They don't generally take kindly to that.
"We could have you carried out," the officer said.
"I insist that male officers don't touch my body for search or any other reason," she said. "That's my right."
"What's the hold up, Wheeler?" the harsh voice of the blue, gray and red cop lashed down the hallway.
The black officer knitted his brows and gave Lori a distinctly disgruntled stare. Then he walked off toward the other cop and they disappeared around the corner.
A few minutes later the first patrons arrived, trickling into the hallway and staring at Lori. A bored-looking local TV reporter walked around at the end of the hallway. No one spoke to Lori or came close enough for her to start a conversation. She continued to sit, holding her paper sign on her lap.
Finally the hallway was crowded except for a tense space around Lori. The people hoping to attend the white supremacist speech were all white and mostly young. There were twice as many men as women, but still far more women than Lori had imagined. Their language, whether muttered among themselves or hurled at Lori was crude and tired. She didn't store any of it for future reference.
The door at Lori's back rattled several times and the curses emanating from beyond the oak were growing more urgent and frenzied.
After some minutes the two police officers returned, pushing a hospital-issue wheelchair through a narrow gap in the crowd. The white officer smirked and folded his arms, standing in front of the crowd. The black officer pushed the chair forward, his head down. He put the chair next to Lori and then squatted down beside her.
"Ma'am, there are no female officers available at the moment. You have to move and I have to move you or..." He spoke low enough that his voice wouldn't carry in the crowded hallway but he made a small jerk of his head.
Lori watched him for a moment. His face was unhappy, his shoulders slumped. No, she decided, this was no fun at all for him.
A fist beat slow and hard against the door behind Lori's head. Author Cox's words followed it in a plodding rhythm. "You're scum! The police... are idiots... in this town. How long... does it take... to arrest... one parasitic... bitch?
"You have children don't you?" Lori leaned forward so the cop could hear her low voice over the racket..
He nodded. "Two." His eyes and his tone of voice had both chanced. All direct now. He looked right at her.
"And they need a father with a job," she guessed. She handed him the yellow paper sign and he held it awkwardly for a second. Then she nodded and he folded it into fourths.
She braced her hands on the arms of her chair. "You'll still have to cut the lock, you know," she said.
She got to her feet, wobbled unsteadily for a second. The officer put his arm out, like a bar in front of her, not touching her but steady as iron. She gripped it for support and moved a step, then another sideways and sank into the hospital-issue chair.
The officer took out his tools and started to work on the lock, the high-pitched whine of the saw drowning out the epithets of the crowd and the pounding behind the door. The television camera came close, ignored Lori, and focused on the image of the officer cutting the lock.
It aired on TV that night. A minor incident. One unnamed and unpictured protester blocked the door against two hundred right-wing supporters of Author Cox and was forcibly removed by police.