This is chapter three of a serialized tale of politics, capitalism, and corruption in San Francisco. Look for the next fiction installment in each new issue of the View.
Nash gently knocked on the Honorable William E. Wong’s executive office door. The Mayor often did not want to be disturbed. But neither did he want to be late for a scheduled meeting. Either could cause a prominent worm-shaped blood vessel on the left side of his forehead to start throbbing. Depending on the throb’s tempo, it could be followed by an explosion of expletives, or, particularly if it was prompted by a big campaign donor, lower the Mayor’s voice to an ultra-soothing purr. Nash had taken to counting the forehead’s pulse, making silent bets with himself as to whether the Mayor would release the tiger, or the pussy.
The scheduling coordinator had told him that the Mayor’s previous meeting had been with a group of biotechnology venture capitalists. She hadn’t seen them leave, but she was often too busy fielding calls, emails, and impromptu visits from lobbyists or advocates to notice comings and goings.
Nash carefully pushed open the door. The Mayor was leaning back in his desk chair, eyes closed. Nash squinted. The Mayor had small, colorful spots all over his face and neck. They looked like the candy dots Nash’s mother rewarded him with after he finished swimming lessons when he was in kindergarten twenty years ago.
Nash stepped into the room. He glanced at the wall behind the mayor, which was covered with hats hanging on pegs: construction, firefighter, and football helmets, sailor, police and National Guard hats, baseball and surgical caps. A hoodie hung on a hook, draping down in such a way as to reveal the writing stitched on the back; Bayview Bombers.
The Mayor had started his hat collection when he headed the City’s public utility commission. Nash imagined he acquired each of them after he vanquished its wearer in bureaucratic battle, the beaten individual solemnly doffing his cap and handing it over. Lately, though, supplicants had taken to bringing unusual head coverings as gifts. A fedora on the wall’s far left side had been presented to the Mayor by a previous, even more powerful, mayor, who had grown wealthy fronting for developers. A native headdress was next to it, provided by a tribe exploring whether it might open a gambling casino on Treasure Island.
The Mayor’s eyes were open. He was staring hard at Nash. The blood vessel steadily pulsed. For a moment Nash thought there actually was a worm under there, and it was about to burst out of the Mayor’s head as a fanged butterfly. His hands automatically drifted awards, in case they needed to cover his face.
“Uh, Mr. Mayor, your next appointment is here.”
The Mayor waved in Nash’s direction. The forehead throb had accelerated. Nash braced for a wet torrent of foul vocabulary.
Instead, the Mayor purred. “So,” he murmured over Nash’s shoulder. “What did you learn about me?”
Nash glanced behind him. Three people – two overweight balding men in matching khakis and blue button down shirts and an attractive twenty-something woman in a blue skirt and white blouse – were seated on the sofa in the alcove at the back of the room. The woman, who had on chunky green hipster eyeglasses and a grim expression, was examining a device that looked like an oversized iPhone.
“You’re blood sugar is a bit high,” said the woman, without looking up. “Cholesterol looks pretty good. For someone your age. Negative on HIV; let me check for other STDs…”
One of the men abruptly stood up, placing a hairy hand on the woman’s shoulder. “I think the Mayor gets the idea,” he almost shouted. “Amazing, isn’t, Mr. Mayor? As I explained, our technology can do a complete array of lab tests, with no nasty needles, almost immediately, with all data sent to any device that’s wireless enabled. You can get a checkup in China, and have a UCSF doctor read the results!”
He looked down at the woman, who was swiping different screens on her handheld. “Stephanie, I think we’ve taken enough of the Mayor’s time. Please remove the med-dots, and we’ll be on our way.”
Stephanie slowly tore her eyes from the screen, handed the device to the man, walked over to the Mayor, and began peeling off the dots with a tiny chisel-shaped tool, depositing them into a small metal box.
“Amazing!” echoed the Mayor, who didn’t try to hide his glance down Stephanie’s blouse.
“Indeed!” said the second man, who had risen from his seat, and walked briskly to the Mayor’s desk. “Which is why we’re looking to expand our space in Mission Bay. I hope we have your support.”
“Indeed!” said the Mayor, with enthusiastic ambivalence. “Thanks for coming in and showing me the magic!” He shook hands with his three visitors, and walked them towards the door, past Nash. A stray red dot remained tilted on his neck, and then fell off, drifting down into the carpet.
The Mayor spun around and strode back to his desk. “What now?” he barked.
“Mr. Block, er, John is here for his 3 p.m.. He wants to talk to you about that Potrero Hill property.”
“The asshole property owner still won’t budge?” asked the Mayor, as he reached down to pick up his telephone.
“Apparently not,” said Nash.
“He will,” said the Mayor, as he started dialing. “Tell Block I need to reschedule.”
As Nash turned to leave he spotted the red dot. Glancing at the Mayor, who was already purring to someone on other the other end of the line, he reached down, picked it up, and slide it in his pocket. The door hardly made a sound as he closed it softly behind him.