I poked my head in the coffee shop door, got waved in out of the cold and found the veterans busy at their assigned tasks. One was selling coffee at the carry-out window. One was brewing up a fresh pot. Somebody was banging around in the kitchen. One was sweeping the floor. The rest were arrayed around the room in their lawn chairs, lifting their feet as the broom came by.

Sarge got up from his spot at the counter, cocked a finger at me and led the way around the corner to a dark, narrow staircase. “You’re the only one of the bunch who can climb these,” he said.

At the top of the stairs was … nothing. Just a large attic space.

“I’ve decided,” he said, flipping on a light, “to turn this into a dormitory for six. What do you think?”

I paced off the space. “Depends who’s going to live here,” I said.

He looked surprised that I didn’t know. “Well, homeless veterans,” he replied. “There’s a good half dozen in town who avoid government like the plague. They could live up here once it’s finished off, stay warm, if we can keep off the town’s radar.”

I asked a bunch of questions, and clearly Sarge had thought it through.

“They avoid the shelter because they get kicked out at seven in the morning, druggies steal their belongings and start fights. Here they could hang out, fix meals downstairs. Maybe get a couple of them started on jobs around town. They’d sign a lease with me, pay rent, 10 dollars a week, no excuses. No drugs, no women. I’d put in a computer and internet. What do you think?”

I paced off the space again, imagining a completed room.

“What I think,” I replied, “is that this is the best idea I’ve heard in a long, long time.”

(c) 2021 King Features Synd., Inc.

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