This is Part 3 of 4.
Gambino and his best friend, Joshua Sand, were waiting for drinks at his favorite cafe, The Pumpkin Field. Only a few seasonal items had anything in them remotely connected to pumpkins, but no one cared. It was the idyllic suggestion that fed its urban clientele. The mere breath of the agrarian reminder that somewhere, perhaps even somewhere close enough they could get to within the day, there were people who actually grew pumpkins. People who worked the land. People who stunk of earth and sweat, instead of greed and self-doubt.
They had started on the porch, but ducked inside when a late August thunderstorm threatened. Joshua Sand was Professor of History and Cultural Development at Napsotle University, and he was only too happy to make sure you knew that. But he also carried that prideful disdain for his own school and colleagues, as one does who likes to have the best of both worlds. He was popular with the students, in part because he liked to make fun of them for their privilege.
As their Woba tea arrived, Sand was complaining about a particularly entitled and lazy student named Luxel.
“Clearly never does anything but the most cursory research, but then moans over every point off. Then you can be sure it’s only a matter of time before he mentions his parents.”
Gambino took a deep, steady sip from his Woba tea, savoring its soothing, relaxing potency. He sat back, enjoying being taken out of himself, into a world of foreign problems over which he had no control and no responsibility. Their waiter had come by to take a lunch order. Just then, Gambino’s assistant director, Michael Cooke, came and sat down at their table, almost without a sound.
Gambino started, as if waking from a dream, and felt his appetite ebb away. Cooke was not there for a friendly bite. He wondered for a half second whether Cooke ever had a casual meal with another human being. He wondered whether Cooke had possessed, at one time, the capacity for small talk, and then lost it while painting himself a professional, or whether he had never understood it to begin with.
“Cooke, have some tea!” Gambino collected himself, waving the waiter away.
“No thanks. Have a look at this.” Cooke handed him his Communications Slab. Pulled up was a recent report from Graham Donner, the East side PW supervisor.
Incident & Report
Mr. Ira contacted us immediately. He admitted he had lost his temper with Officer Anthony. Officer Anthony requested to speak with him during patrol, during Mr. Ira’s business hours. Claims Anthony charged him that his building’s signage was not indicated from a far enough distance. Also charged that he had not established sufficient private security on the grounds, creating undue burden on the Public Watch.
Mr. Ira claims Anthony mentioned the cost of the fines of these offenses at 1250 keth. Mr. Ira claims Officer Anthony offered to reduce the fine to 600 keth, and permit Mr. Ira to continue with his under-staffed security arrangements, if Mr. Ira paid the 600 keth to Officer Anthony directly in the next 48 hours.
Officer Anthony denies making the above alleged offer, or charging Mr. Ira with improper signage, but stands by his charge of insufficient private security. Offc. Anthony suggests PW follow up on the charge of insufficient security at Mr. Ira’s office, Vinda Engineering.
Mr. Ira has filed a charge against Officer Anthony and the PW. He requests formal apology, and remuneration from time lost from his business operations. Upon evaluation of the incident, PW East district has opened an investigation on Officer Anthony. Request cooperation and oversight.
East district PW Supervisor
“Mm.” Gambino grunted as he put down his C-Slab. His hands dropped to his waist, and he stared into space, considering.
“What do you make of this, Cooke?”
Cooke shot a nervous glance at Professor Sand.
“Oh, don’t bother about him,” Gambino said gruffly. “What do you think happened here?”
Cooke hesitated for another moment, chewing his lip as he eyed Professor Sand. He turned back to Gambino.
“Sounds a lot like extortion,” he said in a low, monotone voice, trying to block Sand out of the conversation.
“Let me see?” Professor Sand leaned in, and Gambino slid him the C-Slab, giving Cooke only enough time to grunt a guttural objection.
Gambino watched his friend closely as he scanned the report, then slid the C-Slab back.
“Campaigns can be an expensive affair, I hear,” Professor Sand was suppressing a smile, and his eyes were laughing. It was his turn to play tourist, basking in the troubles of world removed, as a spectator in a show.
Gambino grimaced, looking back over at Cooke, a forlorn hope for receiving consolation.
“There have been other reports,” Cooke resumed his usual volume and terse, urgent tone, perceiving the whole issue was already out. “Nothing formal, not like this. Then again, it’s rare for an officer to start at a place like this. Takes a degree of comfort and familiarity with the business. And there have been others… People on the East side. Hearsay… People Anthony has…” he searched for the euphemism, “convinced to give to his campaign. They’re in his patrol area, and they come under the impression, via Anthony, that life could be more difficult if PW wasn’t so accommodating to them.”
At that moment, the door to The Pumpkin Field popped open, and a man and a woman came in. The man was short, stout, tan and leathery, and more than halfway bald. The woman was about twenty years younger, dressed in sharp business professional, and carried herself with a brisk energy. Both were dripping in rain.
“Table for two!” the man called, starting to find his own seat. Then he spotted Gambino.
“What luck! Just the man I wanted to see!” It was Anthony. He came striding toward the table. The woman who must have been his campaign manager disappeared back outside, or perhaps further into the cafe.
“He must know he’s running out of time,” Professor Sand whispered across the table, after surmising who it was from the faces of Gambino and Cooke.
“Let me draw up a chair,” Sand offered hospitably, without the courtesy of so much as pretending to deliberate whether he himself would leave.
This is Part 3 of 4.