The mayor was found shortly after eleven with his bronze, brooding face lying on the last two slices of a prosciutto and artichoke pizza, his head turned and his wide mouth gaping, as if gulping for a smashed brown bulb of garlic with life's last breath. Blood from his gums had already seeped into the tomatoes, prosciutto, and caramelized onions. His blue oxford-cloth shirt was unbuttoned. His red tie had been slipped out of its knot and trailed forlornly from his collar. His heavy gray slacks were laid across the back of the sofa where he was sitting for his last meal, illumed by the cold glare of the television set. The security guards who had rushed in heard the ice in the mayor's bourbon crackling while it melted (it was that fresh) over the cloaked gallop of their thick shoes against the great carpet. Three men's magazines were fanned across the sofa, each with the kind of cover that, in Indiana, would call for the woman's bosom to be enrobed with a brown paper strip. But the guards' attention was drawn to the bold red letters they saw marching across the mayor's boxer shorts: big daddy.
One of them reached gently for the mayor's arms to feel for a pulse. Another slowly passed a hand over his eyes, and softly called his name—it was how they were trained—while the third muttered some kind of code, colors, numbers, alphas and tangos, into a minuscule microphone in his hand.
Mrs. Bacon, the mayor's secretary, edged close to their burly gray shoulders to peer into the mayor's blank brown eyes and shakily point her hand at the slogan on his undershorts.
"I'm sure they were a gift," she said quietly.
It was the mayor's habit to have one extra-large pizza from Quattro's delivered to City Hall by ten each night, after he had returned from an evening's round of appearances. His standing order specified extra cheese and prosciutto. When the kitchen staff at Quattro's deduced the pizza was destined for City Hall, they spontaneously contributed extra glistening strips of onions and grilled peppers. His security guards joked that two officers were required to carry the pizza across the threshold of the mayor's office; it felt like carrying a manhole cover in your arms. So much extra cheese had been loaded onto the pizza that when anyone took a bite—an endeavor that involved opening one's mouth as if for a molar examination—they had to pull gooey strings away from their teeth to almost the length of their arms.
Most politicians groused that over an evening of cocktail receptions, fund-raising dinners, and precinct meetings, they never got a chance to eat. They needed to keep both hands free for handshakes and clapping shoulders. They couldn't chance that a sprig of parsley from a canapé might blemish their smile and photograph like a vagrant's missing tooth. They didn't want to be seen swallowing steak tartare on a round of toast, only to be asked, "Do you know how that cow was slaughtered?"
But the mayor's immense appetite was too well publicized for him to plead self-restraint. He risked political peril if he appeared to be indifferent to the specialties of any neighborhood. This guaranteed that on any given night, the mayor consumed cheese pierogi, chickpea samosas, pistachio-studded cannolis, and/or sugar-dusted Mexican crescent cookies in his nightly rounds. And consumed them in toto, for half portions were considered fraught with risk. "How can I tell the good citizens of Pilsen that I have to go easy on this magnificent tres leches cake," he remonstrated, "because I'm saving room for the ale cake in Canaryville? They might suspect that I truly like only two of the tres leches. I mean, when they've seen me make room for the packzi in Logan Square"—a cream-filled, pre-Lenten donut that was popular in the city's Polish bakeries—"how do I explain any diminution in my commitment to the pastry of Pilsen? A man has to consider the consequences before he keeps his mouth shut."
So the Quattro's pizza would be waiting at the mayor's office as a reward for his duodenal daring. He would lift the top of the box with a great, yeasty smile.
"Goodness gracious, our citizens mean well," the mayor would explain as steam from the pizza seemed to plump his whitening eyebrows. "I can't disappoint them. How can a man of my positively legendary cravings ever convince anyone that I can't have just one more bite? If I turn my nose up at a shrimp and ginger wonton, I risk offending the entire Fifteenth Ward. I just might have to put new traffic lights up and down Canal Street. Bibimbop, halvah, or chitterlings, a man in my position can't refuse hospitality. It does not promote domestic tranquility. These days that's practically a matter of national security. It is positively antediluvian not to recognize that."
The mayor sprinkled antediluvian over his conversation like fresh cracked pepper; he believed it made everything tastier. He excoriated all political rivals as antediluvian, the state and federal governments—which had a depressing tendency to be run by elected Republicans—and any other daily source of irritation, including the city's newspapers, banks, and any restaurants that did not deliver beyond a twelve-block radius.
It was the mayor's custom to remove his pants and unbutton his shirt while he sat at the coffee table in front of the television in his office and punch out the numbers of local stations to follow himself on the ten o'clock news. Mrs. Bacon would overhear him cheering or swearing loudly and ingeniously as he ascended the dial:
Two: "Dumb-ass hayseed! A year ago, you were reading pork belly prices on a station in Iowa that didn't carry farther than a lightbulb! Now you're some kind of ex-pert on pub-lick fi-nance. The nerve! The stupefying effrontery! As if she knows any more about pork bellies than she does about finance!" Five: "I am not going to listen to any grown man who wears makeup for a living and isn't dressed in velvet tights! And I know it's not cause you're gay, 'cause you wouldn't be so ugg-lee if you were!" Seven: "Un-comp-reeehending, ass-licking ingrates!" Nine! Eleven! "Antediluvian enemies of the people!" Thirtytwo! "Super-sillius ass-hole! You couldn't show a slug how to curl up and sleep!" Forty-four! "Oh, my, but I shine! I might have my annual bourbon!"
On Thursday night, Mrs. Bacon had entered when she realized that she had not heard the usual fusillade.With rising alarm, she rapped her hand on the thick polished door; on hearing no response, she turned the heavy brass handle and found the mayor slumped onto his last meal.
The three guards who rushed in at her cry reacted with professionalism. But their voices quavered as they called out to him gently, and their hands fumbled slightly as they undid the buttons over his wrist. Their attachment to the mayor was personal. They didn't really know—didn't really care—if he was a competent and incorruptible civic leader. They knew he was good company, a man who worked hard, laughed at himself, and batted down the darts and knives of political combat with contagious zest. The applause and smiles that crowds cascaded on the mayor fell on his guards, too. They shared his chores, his travels, his foes and friends, his frustrations, his feats, his humor, his phrasing. When traffic snarled, when an elevator was slow, when planes were delayed, the guards shook their heads and exclaimed, "Positively antediluvian!"
All of the guards had prepared for the chance that one day they might have to repel an obstreperous protester from the mayor's path, wrestle away a weapon, or even throw themselves in front of an assassin's shot. The mayor was a compelling personality. Some reactions he aroused were ferocious and threatening. But that they should finally be summoned to his side to protect him from a prosciutto and artichoke pizza ...
"I should have come in earlier," Mrs. Bacon said in a small, quiet voice as the boots of a paramedic team squished ruthlessly over the thick olive-colored carpet of the mayor's office. The head of that shift's security team, a large blond man whose shoulders strained against the sockets of his dull gray suit, had taken Mrs. Bacon gingerly into his long arms and softly patted her back.
"It would have made no difference," he assured her. "It happened so quickly."
"I could have cleared out ... all this," she said, making a small, stabbing motion at the melting bourbon, the curling pizza, and the mayor's abandoned slacks on the sofa next to the sheaf of Indiana-offending magazines.
"It doesn't matter," the security chief reassured her.
"It's just so ... pathetic," said Mrs. Bacon.
A paramedic crew had been assigned to an anteroom near the mayor's office a few years before. It was more a sign of the times than of the mayor's conspicuous magnitude in the city, or even the robust demands he made on his health. In five years of duty, the crew had transported just one case to the hospital (an old alderman, Stefano Tripoli of the 11th, snipped himself while zipping up in the men's room; thereafter he was known as Lefty), and one case to the morgue (a homeless man who had frozen to death while trying to sleep through a snowstorm against the Randolph Street wall of City Hall).
A woman paramedic held up the mayor's gray slacks by a belt loop. They looked like the skin of a small elephant.
"No wallet. No keys," she announced.
"He wasn't robbed," said Mrs. Bacon.
"We carried everything," the security chief explained.
The mayor's empty pockets were renowned. He believed it was a mark of distinction to walk through each day unencumbered by the tedious need to fish out bills or coins. "You jangle with each step," he once told his guards. "How can a man concentrate?"
One day, Linas Slavinskas of the 12th discovered an old city ordinance that said anyone found within the city limits with less than a dollar in his pockets could be arrested for vagrancy. Linas stood up from his seat near the end of the first row of the council floor, to wave the regulation and point to the mayor. "Arrest that man!" he commanded the sergeant-at-arms. "City ordinance 91-5!" The mayor
stood up from his high-backed burgundy leather seat, laughing as he turned out his pockets and pulled them out from his trousers, like a zookeeper demonstrating the wingspread of a bat.
"That man is asking you to approve a budget that's larger than Mongolia," roared Linas. "And he doesn't have a dime in his pants! He knows as much about budgets as I know about mapping the genome of a fruit fly! Arrest him for his own protection! And ours!"
John Wu of the 15thWard, who owned the Big Bad Buddha gift store on Cermak,Tommy Mitrovic of the 21st, who sold insurance, and Jesus Flores Suarez of the 22nd, who owned a travel agency ("Jesus Saves—On All Fares!") pulled out plump money clips from their seats in the center of the second row and began to ball up dollar bills and throw them to the mayor. Miles Sparrow of the 7th, who owned Pedro's Blues Room on Cottage Grove, Dorothy Fisher of the 3rd, who ran a luggage delivery service at Midway Airport, and Arty Agras of the 1st scuttled under the balled-up bills as they unfurled in flight, and lunged to intercept them.
"Turn awaaay from temptation, aldermen!" the mayor exhorted, his arms splayed to suggest a figure on a cross. "Reee-ject these antediluvian moneylenders!"
"Credit cards? Driver's license?" the paramedic continued.
"I doubt he had a driver's license," the security chief said. The guards smiled at the thought of the mayor fulminating behind the wheel of a car at the antediluvian buses and trucks slowing his progress along the Kennedy Expressway.
"Credit cards?" another guard said, as if the paramedic had asked if the mayor kept a bowling ball in his pocket. The mayor had wellpublicized financial difficulties—a record of uncollected debts and
questionable tax returns—that not even two terms' incumbency could altogether improve.
"We carried whatever he needed," said the guard with growing irritation. "Are you paramedics or Woodward and Bernstein?"
"We just have to account for these things," another paramedic rushed to explain."We don't want the family to think anyone took his personal effects."
"There is no family," Mrs. Bacon said quietly. "Every now and then, we'd hear from a cousin somewhere. Georgia, Jamaica.We'd send them an autographed picture. There are no personal effects," she said, her last words catching, and she finally put her hands over her eyes and turned
into a corner of the room, her elbows holding her up against the wall while she shuddered.
Four uniformed officers who had been summoned to the fifth floor walked alongside the ambulance trundle bearing the mayor, down a windowless hallway that buzzed with a weak light. The wheels on the cart squeaked beneath the mayor's weight, at a piercing pitch above the slow, grave footsteps. The paramedics sensed the police were observing a ritual; wordlessly, they consented to walk behind the blue uniforms. The chief of security took hold of the trundle railing just above the mayor's head, and steered the cart. When the police and paramedics had all tramped into a service elevator, he spoke in low tones to the officers, who had all turned around to stand at attention over the mayor's body.
"Nothing gets out yet. Please."
The officers muttered yes, sir, as the fourth and third floors blinked
by. At the stroke of the second floor, they could feel the elevator begin to brake.
"No sirens," said the chief, turning to take the paramedics into his sight, too. "Okay? A nice, quiet, last ride." He paused until the three men and one woman officer had all nodded.
"Hell of a guy. We had some times together."
The chief blinked his eyes dry as the silver doors in front of the trundle began to roll open. One of the paramedics reached a rubbergloved hand quickly down to the mayor's chin.
"I'm sorry," she said with detectable alarm, "but there's some kind of green discharge here."
The chief pulled back on the cart before it could be rolled through the open doors. The officers surrounding the trundle stiffened, and mechanically dropped their hands to steady the cart. Then the chief let out a breath and seemed to smile. Then, he really did smile—a laugh even snuck into his voice as the paramedic held the bewildering green secretion on the end of her thumb, finally returning his smile.
"Artichoke," the chief announced. "You take him from here."
Sunny Roopini heard his phone warble through his sleep, raised his head, but couldn't reach it without upsetting Sheldon. His head was tucked just below Sunny's shoulder, and Sunny could feel Sheldon's breaths tug across his ear; he decided to keep his arm in place below his head.
Sunny had been astonished when Sheldon had first crept onto his collarbone. For months he had simply sat on the foot of the bed, peering over the top of the blanket's folds, as if surveying the Somme from a trench. Sunny's daughters understood why their mother was no longer around. After all, they were teenagers of their times. They had seen spacecraft fall apart, infants starve, subways burst, and skyscrapers smashed. They had already heard so much about lung, skin, thyroid,
testicular, uterine, prostate and pancreatic cancers, treacherous car suspensions, trans fats, lasers blinding airplanes, aids blighting continents, sporadic bone spurs, swine flu, Christmas tree electrocutions, cholesterol, high-speed car chases, category five hurricanes, and mad cow disease that they must have wondered how any human being grew to be as old as their father. Sunny had just turned forty-eight.
But how to explain to Sheldon—it had been the one challenge of being a widower about which no book or counselor had cautioned—that the shoulder on which he slept was now cold and gone? Sheldon's trust was unswerving, stirring, and slightly unnerving. For months, he struck what Sunny and his daughters came to call his British Museum pose at the end of the bed, splayed on his stomach, front paws extended straight as train rails, his gray face impassive, his blue cat's eyes looking out from his small head with vast certitude: she'll be back, she always has, I'll just keep watch.
Sunny would wait until his daughters had shut their door and tried to drown out the sound of a late-night newscast with the blare of music to splay out on his forearms and speak softly to Sheldon: I'm sorry, old boy, but Mummy is not coming back (under no circumstances did he want his daughters hear him refer to Elana as Mummy to their cat). We love you, Sheldon. She'd be here if she could. She just can't. But Daddy (he dropped his voice even lower—he would rather his daughters overhear him booking a high-priced call girl than refer to himself as Daddy to Sheldon), Rula, and Rita will take care of you.
Sheldon's blue-rimmed eyes barely broke their gaze as he blinked. He looked back at Sunny with utter, unchanged certitude: She'll be here. Lose faith if you must. I never will.
Then one night, Sheldon just came crawling across the covers and rammed his small gray head into Sunny's chin. Then he burrowed his nose into Sunny's armpit, not demonstrative so much as desperate. Sunny stayed in place, essentially pinned, hearing Sheldon's breathing finally begin to slow to something that his slight chest could contain, until the sky lightened and Sunny could hear the grind of buses begin along Broadway.
"How did you manage it, Pappaji?" his daughters asked when he shared the story that night—brandished it, really, recounting it several times with newly remembered details. "How did you ever convince Sheldon to come over?"
"Nothing," he told them finally, surprising even himself with his own reflection. "He just had to decide that it was his idea."
So Sunny slowly rotated his free arm over his chest and around to the night table just beyond Sheldon's head. A woman's voice—an unfamiliar voice—was there.
"Mr. Roopini," she said. "I'm Sergeant Maureen Gallaher." She waited while she heard fumbling and throat clearing on Sunny's end. "I'm with City Hall's security detail. I have instructions to bring you downtown to the mayor's office. If you have no other commitments, of course." She heard another fusillade of phone fumbling.
"That last line was a joke, right?" But Sunny kept his voice sociable.
"I guess so, sir."
"Later than usual for this sort of thing. It must be—" Sunny tried to twist himself to see the unblinking green numbers on his bedside alarm.
"A little after midnight, sir," said Sgt. Gallaher.
"Mrs. Bacon usually calls," said Sunny.
"It might be too late even for her."
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
"I wouldn't know, sir," said Sgt. Gallaher quickly, and then understood the point of the question. "No, sir. No alerts. Subways and skyscrapers are fine," she said finally. "All I hear on the radio is a warehouse fire in Lawndale and a shooting in Pilsen."
She heard Sunny hold his hand over the phone and clear his throat. She thought she recognized the phlegm midnight coughs of a cognac drinker. The racket of clearing his throat seemed to remind Sunny to speak more softly.
"My daughters. Teenage girls. I am always available to the mayor, but it's the middle of the night, and, you know, we're alone now."
Sgt. Gallaher seemed to remember. "It's a quiet night, sir," she said after a pause. "I'll see if the Twentieth District can send over a car to sit on the street for a while."
"Do I have time to shower?"
"Your choice, sir. I'm passing Fullerton now. I'll be on the Lawrence Avenue side of your building in six minutes."
"I didn't figure to use the siren, sir."
Sunny jumped in quickly. "I was kidding, Sergeant," he assured her. "I was just intimidated by your precision."
"It'll be five now, sir," she said without perceptible reaction. "Whenever you're ready, we'll be on Lawrence."
Sheldon had opened his eyes and yawned, so Sunny left him in the folds of the pink sheets and flowered covers. He showered and chose his clothes carefully, quietly sliding back closet doors and snapping on lights.A pale violet shirt worn open at the collar, he decided, so that the mayor would not forget they were working after-hours; a light gray sport coat, to suggest seriousness; tan pants, brown suede shoes, a white linen pocket square onto which he dabbed some Vetiver after splashing two jots onto his cheeks. Sunny snapped on a small reading light to appraise the results in a mirror: he was dressed like the lawyers and brokers you could see on television sitting in the front six rows of professional basketball games, cell phones set to stun-only, but dealing out business cards. Just one of the boys tonight, but don't forget who I am tomorrow.
Rita was up. She shuffled in on bare feet, wearing a man's—or at least a boy's, he hoped—red candy-striped shirt.
"Something wrong?" She rubbed her eyes with the tips of her fingers, as her mother had when the girls would totter into their room to tug on their sheets and demand milk and songs.
"No. The mayor wants me downtown."
"To watch TV?"
"Nehru listened to the radio with Gandhi. Same idea. You'll be okay?"
Rita rubbed the back of her neck with the palm of her hand, black hair shaking in a waterfall over her shoulders (she was the younger of his daughters, in her second year of high school; he was startled to see such a gesture of mature fatigue).
"We'll call our dope dealer as soon as you close the door," she assured him. Sunny had turned his face down to examine his watch in the low light: it was nearly 12:30.
"You need money?" he asked.
"We give him your best cuff links and have unprotected sex." Sunny reeled back from her joke and smiled.
"We'd never refuse an extra twenty," she said.
Sunny slipped two out from a thick clip and put them in his daughter's hands.
"This won't go far with the dealer," he said. "But River Kwai delivers until one. Tip well, they know us. I've got my phone. There's some beer in the fridge, and I won't mind so long as you leave one. There should be a cop car outside on Lawrence ... "
Sunny's daughters were the ones who usually stepped into his embraces these days. It spared him the adolescent anxiety of wondering if his arms would be welcome, but also made him feel pitied. As Rita brought herself close, Sunny placed his lips softly against her smooth cheek.
"Nice shirt," he told her.
"An old one of Mama's," she said."Wasn't it yours?"
Sunny stepped back and beheld his daughter at the end of his arms.
"Oh, good Christ, I think so," he said. "So long ago. I wore it on a Valentine's Day we spent in Boston and never really got it back." He squeezed his daughter's shoulders. "Back before you get up. To try to sleep a little, too." Sunny reached back into a pocket to find his clip and left a last twenty on the bedroom bureau.
Sgt. Gallaher was a tall, bony, boyish woman in her mid-thirties, wearing a crisp white shirt, blue pantsuit, and black topcoat. Her squawking black brick of a radio hung on the front of her belt, and her service badge was pinned over a floral pink pocket square. She was standing by the dark blue cruiser when Sunny came out onto the street, and had to stoop down to pull open the back door for him. He saw wispy strands of long, raven hair stray from the bun she had tucked behind her head and tried to hold back with a drugstore clip. Sgt. Gallaher slid into the front seat of the cruiser, alongside a young uniformed officer—Officer Mayer was the name Sunny picked up—with a pale neck.
"Sergeant Gallaher, have we met?" asked Sunny. She turned around in her seat to smile.
"Good memory, sir. I used to work out of Foster Avenue. I came to your restaurant a few times."
"You never go back home for dinner?"
"Long trip for chicken vindaloo, sir."
"You won't find better," he said, and Sgt. Gallaher laughed. She had wide shoulders under the blazer—Sunny guessed, from the way she sat, that her gun was holstered under her right arm—and broad blue eyes.
"Actually, I remember the polenta alla Sarda. My mother's side is Italian."
"We've added a little more Italian. Come any time, we'll take care of you. That used to mean: cops eat free. Now it means free toothpicks. Well, nothing prevents the owner from sending a couple of cannolis or mango barfis over to his friends."
"I'll come by some night, sir."
"You too,Officer Mayer," said Sunny, lightly clapping his shoulder.
As the patrolman pulled onto the Outer Drive, Sunny noted that they had left his ward and crossed into Jane Siegel's 46th. Puffs of smoke, burped from car exhausts and brilliant as small clouds in the frigid night, scurried across the highways. The people who lived in those glass houses along the lake never had to draw their shades.Who would see them—Peeping Toms flying into O'Hare? Lake Michigan ore boats miles beyond the beaches that frosted the eastern face of the city? So what you could see from the street after midnight looked like campfires dwindling down on a hillside: small yellow hall lights, slivers of bright bathroom lights from where someone left the door ajar, aquarium lights, kitchen lights, or a lone table lamp somebody left on to find the bathroom.
The people who lived there had to be up early to get to the gym by seven, a breakfast meeting by seven-thirty, or the trading pits by eight. They watched the news and went to bed. Perhaps they stayed up late enough to hear the first few jokes of a late show monologue while they brushed their teeth—after all, they were concerned about issues.
But just a few blocks west, past Broadway, people lived in apartments that could not look above the towers to the blank blue waters of the lake. They had to look out on each other—close the curtains, shut the doors, worry about what people might see across the way. The people who boiled eggs and brewed coffee for breakfast meetings might be just getting up when the people who cleared dishes and served late-night specials were just getting home, aching for sleep. Sunny was convinced that the critical differences in his constituency weren't between blacks, whites, browns, and Asians, or Jews, Gentiles, and Muslims. It was between those people who get enough sleep and those who never can.
Sunny stretched back slightly in the back of the cruiser, careful not to catch his suede brogues below the seat.
"May I ask, sergeant—where are you from?"
"Beverly, sir," Sgt. Gallaher answered without turning back. She had escorted a fair number of politicians. None dozed or read in the back. They all seemed to feel that it was vital to leave the sergeant with an impression of their personal concern. They asked where she had grown up, gone to school, and whom she had met in her duties, until they heard something they could match from their own lives.
At the mention of Beverly, Sunny sat forward, putting his chin above the front seat.
"East or west of Western?"
Sgt. Gallaher held her reply for just a moment.
"I'm surprised you had to ask a Gallaher," was how she finally put her answer.
"The Nineteenth!" Sunny cried. "My friend Mit Volkov."
"But I live right across from Curie High now," the sergeant added.
"The Fourteenth!" cried Sunny. "My friend Collie Kerrigan."
The 14th Ward alderman was an outlandish little turnip of a man—even the gray suits that he wore seemed to acquire a stale greenish cast encasing Collie's pasty neck—who unfailingly approached Sunny in the minutes before the mayor rapped the council to order.
"Come on, Sunny," he'd say, flicking a hand up toward the gallery. "The folks came to see an Indian. Give 'em at least a little war whoop. A rain dance."
Collie was one of the south side votes that Sunny routinely needed to approve the Parks and Recreation budget. So he would whisper back, "This one's for you, Collie," and pat his open mouth three times. Whoop, whoop, whoop.
Sunny began to sense an amiable challenge from the sergeant, and readjusted the crisp white points of his pocket square.
"So: you went to Curie?"
"No. No sir."
When Sgt. Gallaher turned around, her blue eyes blinked with triumph.
"Mother McAuley," she announced quietly, and Sunny sat back, fairly slapping his knees.
"My gosh. From parochial school plaids to police blues. Mother McAuley," he repeated, as if he had heard the most unexpected answer to a crossword clue. "Did you have a problem with boys?"
"That's why my parents sent me there," said Sgt. Gallaher, determinedly looking straight ahead to the towers along the lake looming before them. "So I wouldn't. But when we played hospital, I was always the cop who brought in the gunshot victim," the sergeant added. "Never the nurse or doctor."
The car clipped past North Avenue, into Sidney Wineman's 42nd. Sunny spoke before any silence could fall.
"Is security interesting?"
"Yes. But I don't see the mayor much. My detail precedes him to appearances. I do get to work with international delegations. That's an education, really," said the sergeant. "I've learned that all Mounties don't wear red tunics. British security people don't wear Sherlock Holmes capes, and they do carry guns. No Chinese policeman I've ever met knows any more about kung fu than what he's seen in the movies. And there aren't any she Chinese police. Polish policemen all have relatives in Jefferson Park. Anyway, they get discounts on Milwaukee Avenue by saying they do. And, you don't win any points with a Pakistani cop by saying, 'I've always wanted to see the Taj Mahal.' Sometimes, it's a short course in international relations."
"A lot of people think aldermen don't have to worry about international relations," Sunny observed. "But I don't think a politician can afford such an impoverished imagination."
Sgt. Gallaher noted Sunny's choice of words. Most of the pols she took down to City Hall called themselves public servants or legislators, but almost never a politician. Politician was a word, like sodomist, that was perfectly accurate, but had connotations.
"When I first started in politics," said Sunny, "the best way to draw applause was to say, 'Thank you. And in conclusion, I just want to say, up with Walesa, free Nelson Mandela, and hands off of central America!' You don't get ovations like that for vowing to extend commercial zoning on the forty-three hundred block of Sheridan Road."
The mayor, in fact, had been Sunny's tutor on the utility of foreign policy in local politics. He remembered one of their late night meetings, with the mayor hunched over a bourbon glass like a sly cat protecting a nibble, taking his voice down to a greatly jowly growl.
"You think that all we have to worry about here is picking up trash, plowing the snow, and keeping Al Capone in his grave? My God, man. There are a hundred languages spoken here. Assyrian, Lakota, Urdu, and Yiddish. The Yoo-nited Nations doesn't have to worry about how to say 'beans' in as many languages as any diner on Western Avenue. All of these folks with five-day beards and black head scarves who are going for each other's throats over in Snowdonia? They send their kids to the same school here and tell them, 'Now behave!' This nation kicks a little ass some place, and soon we got thousands of them living in basements on Halsted Street. Next day, you're in the back of their cab while they're on their phones, plotting a coup. We've got nuclear physicists from the Poon-jab and goatherds from Namibia.We've got brain surgeons from Ogbomoso—that's in Nigeria, if you were too embarrassed to ask—and rocket scientists from Petropavlovsk—that's in Kazakhstan, as I'm sure you knew—working as doormen. One day, after they find life on Mars, we'll have bug-eyed, green-ass Martian-Americans bussing tables on Clark Street. This great heaving mass of diversity is united by a single, momentous desire: They expect you to get the snow off their street."
Their car looped left along the older stone towers along the lake. The car wheels threaded into a high-pitched whimper against the smooth new pavement. The blast from the car heater started to make Sgt. Gallaher woozy, so she wordlessly inched down the window on her side until a chute of cold air cleared her head.
"But foreign policy has pitfalls," Sunny added. "One night I was in Andersonville for a zoning meeting. Someone said that a new preschool in a basement would be named after Pope John Paul. I saw my chance and said, 'Pope John Paul, who did so much to help so many throw off the chains of oppression.' Notice that I didn't say communism. Over on Lincoln Avenue, there are still storefronts where people burn a candle for communism. And anarchism, syndicalism, and probably fetishism. Call them nuts. But a politician never forgets: Nuts vote. All the Nobel laureates teaching at the University of Chicago don't have any more votes than people who believe they've had sex with space aliens. So I drop the pope's name, softly, like a ten-dollar bill in the collection plate. Suddenly, angry women get up all over the basement. 'The Pope is a pig!' they shout. 'The Pope oppresses women!' That was one night," said Sunny, shaking his head, "when I should have stuck to zoning."
Officer Mayer had threaded the cruiser into the complex of streets below the Loop. Fringes of snow, which had been blown in by a storm but concealed by the streets overhead from the day's sunlight, looked like grimy gray rails lining the roads. The policeman steered the car into a landing alongside three other cruisers in the Daley Center garage. A gray iron door rocked open from the wall, revealing another blue uniform on the other side.
"Thank you, Sergeant," said Sunny. "I enjoyed our conversation."
"Me too, sir. That detail will take you up to the mayor's office.We'll be down here when you're through. Whenever."
Maureen Gallaher sat back down alongside Officer Mayer, leaving the door on her side open to let in some of the numbing night air. She inhaled a bite of the frozen river, and ashy, misty warm exhaust from trash trucks whining nearby. Officer Mayer patted his pockets for a cigarette lighter. City police cruisers were no longer so equipped. Radios and laptop computers had pointedly been mounted in their place.
"Nice guy, Alderman Roopini," she told the young officer. "But conversation? I don't think we got in ten words, do you?"
Three blue suits briskly showed Sunny into a service elevator and whisked him to the fifth floor. The officers seemed distinctly more sullen than Sgt. Gallaher—Sunny decided that this unexpected meeting must have necessitated an extra shift—and were silent on the short ride up. A gray suit took him through a gray-walled and wired equipment room, and another iron door swung open into the mayor's official waiting room.
Three sat in the mayor's outsized emerald-upholstered waiting chairs. Artemus Agras of the 1st Ward, whose brown potato shoes just touched the top of the thick maroon rug;Vera Barrow of the 5th, whose stockings brushed silkily as she rose in her pink sherbet suit to extend her hand to Sunny; and Linas Slavinskas of the 12th, who flicked a speck of something unseen from the smooth sleeve of his buttery chocolate-colored cashmere sport coat and stepped up to Sunny to take his hand into both of his own.
"Your lordship," said Linas. It was his nickname for Sunny, prompted by the clipped British school accent of Sunny's boyhood.
"Linas, I'm surprised they could find you at home."
"They don't look for me at home, milord."
"If I was your wife, Linas, I'd have them staple a tag in your ear to track you," said Vera Barrow. "Like they tag grizzly bears in mating season."
"That's not where she'd tag me, darling," said Linas.
Sunny brushed his lips against Alderman Barrow's smooth copper cheek.
"Resplendent as always," he told her. "Whatever the hour. Whatever the weather." He put his hand out to Arty Agras.
"We've been trying to figure out to what we owe this honor," said Arty. "It's a little late for this pajama party." Arty had pulled on his hairpiece with apparent haste, so that it rode up on the left side of his head, like a picnic blanket flipped over by a breeze.
Linas Slavinskas was chairman of the city Finance Committee, the council's most powerful. Artemus Agras was head of Budget and Government Operations, which theoretically employed the most city workers, and Vera Barrow was the mayor's floor leader and chairman of Police and Fire.
Sunny chaired the Parks and Recreation committee. The budget his committee set was not nearly as large as many other city agencies. But the money employed between four and nine thousand city workers, depending on the season: grass cutters, baseball coaches, bridge tenders, lifeguards, and trash pickers, in more than five hundred parks, sixteen lagoons, nine museums, ten bird and wildlife gardens, nine lakefront harbors, eight golf courses, two arboretums, and baseball diamonds, soccer fields, swimming pools, rec centers, fountains, band shells, and plazas.
Sunny was also vice mayor. The position was more a title than an actual office, a name to imprint near the bottom of brass plaques. Sunny understood, without awkwardness or apology, that his appointment was seen as a gesture to the position East Indian immigrants had won in the city. They spoke English, often quite lyrically, and had grown up, like the Irish immigrants of a century ago, with boisterous and combative politics ("So many parties!" Sunny once told a delegation of visiting Indian legislators. "Indian National Congress! Bharatiya Janata Party! National People's Party! Here in Chicago, we find that just one party can be as chaotic as you like.").
In politics, ethnicity was just one of the immutable facts of a man's biography.A politician learned to make use of it, as he might guiltlessly exploit his brains, looks, or wealth.
Arty Agras and Vera Barrow resumed their seats on one side of the room, sinking into the cushions against a bare cream wall (the mayor enjoyed watching security cameras shots of people on those cushions, squirming and flailing; they were disheveled and exhausted by the time they were brought into his office). Sunny took the one seat left, which was on the other side of a lamp table from Linas Slavinskas. Linas twisted his head slightly and caught Sunny's look as he comically turned his head and pretended to shield his eyes from the blazing dazzle of Arty's diamond stickpin. Linas was convinced it was a glittering fake.
"You see ads for these tchotchkes all the time," he once told Sunny behind his hand during a break in a zoning committee meeting.
"It's not as if he can't afford a real one, Linas," Sunny pointed out, but Linas snorted. His suspicion of the stickpin reflected his dubiety about Arty's political reputation. Arty took lunch (moussaka, a lettuce wedge, a kourambie cookie, and coffee) every day in the front booth of Thessalonica on LaSalle, a simple steel, ceramic, and cream-pie diner just across from City Hall. His conspicuous companions were men identified in newspapers as Jimmy Glad Bags, Sally Snake Eyes, and Larry Lizard Skin (inspiring Linas to call Arty Squid for Brains). Artemus Agras was somewhere between "allegedly" and "reportedly" organized crime's unofficial emissary in the city council. He was a full-time alderman whose annual financial statements reported everchanging investments in 1st Ward restaurant linen services, a car park company, and, in recent years, trash recycling businesses (inspiring Linas to also refer to him as Eco Arty).
Arty did not decry rumors about such ties. In fact, he jovially advanced them. He'd pull up to the urinal next to Patrick Tierney of the 33rd, who owned a rug cleaning service, and mutter, "Can I show you something in a concrete overshoe?" Or he'd hail tall, bald, Wandy Rodriguez of the 30th, a retired high school basketball coach, at budget committee meetings by saying, "I don't care how big you are, amigo.You can still fit into the trunk of a car." But Linas Slavinskas thought Arty's jokes betrayed him as a small, mild man with wise guy aspirations.
"Total con," he often told Sunny. "He's not a made man. He's a putz. At best, he knows a couple of cheap goombahs that could tie your shoelaces together.You know how the outfit works. They need lawyers, they hire the best Jews on LaSalle Street. They want a suit, they get the best Italian on Oak Street. So if the outfit wants a man in City Hall, do you really think they'd have to settle for a half-spiced plate of pastitsio like Arty Agras?"
Sunny picked up a copy of the city's Cultural Affairs newsletter from the low lamp table between him and Linas. There were stacks piled in Sunny's district office. Occasionally, the office ran short of tax forms, liquor license forms, taxi complaint forms, and zoning applications. But never Cultural Affairs newsletters. No matter how freely dispensed, there was always a pile or two to be disposed by the time the next was delivered.
Sunny couldn't remember the last time he had opened one that he hadn't used as a placemat for a sandwich. On those few occasions that he opened the newsletter as mental refreshment of last resort, Sunny was always astonished at the astounding display the city provided in public spaces and parks.
There were films, lectures, and mariachi bands, symphonies, puppet shows, gallery opening, and lectures about the linguistics of Augustine of Hippo. Sunny drew Linas's attention to a small box that read, Creation of the Sacred Mandala. "Something for you," he said, and ran a finger across the text as he read: "The public is invited to observe Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery as they meticulously lay fine, colorful sand into beautiful patterns created as prayers for peace and healing."
"Oh, that's just what we've been missing," said Linas. "Sacred sand. Sure has done the job for Tibet."
"You're more sophisticated than you let on, Linas."
The newsletter said that when summer came, the Grant Park Orchestra would perform Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream," Elgar's "Sea Symphony" and "Cockaigne," and selections from Mozart and Mahler.
"Look at that," said Linas, pointing his finger as if he had noticed a rooftop sniper.
"Estrogen Fest," Sunny read aloud. "Live music, theater, dance, visual art, poetry, and performance art."
"Estrogen Fest," exclaimed Linas. "Estrogen Fest! Parks should have softball games, hot dog and taco stands. High school bands playing "Stars and Stripes Forever." Maybe polka and Motown. But Estrogen Fest?"
"It's just a weekend next August, Linas."
"Estrogen Fest! That's what's wrong with this city now. Every goddamn loopy group has their own fest. What about Colostomy Patient Fest? What about Falling Down Drunk Fest? Don't they deserve recognition? When is Shoe Fetish Fest? I really want to try to make that one. Estrogen Fest!"
"Should be a great place to meet girls, Linas," Sunny said with a smile.
"I'm sure the kind of girls who go to Estrogen Fest think so, too," Linas replied.
Vera Barrow looked up from her newspaper and flung a smile from across the room, like the queen of Spain flinging a brooch from her throne.
"They just haven't met you yet, Linas."
Linas broke into the yellow-toothed grin that he knew made him look like the conniving wolf in a child's fairy tale and said only, "Natch."
Two more blue suits appeared in the waiting room and showed the aldermen down a bright, buzzing hallway into a conference room. They sat for another moment in silent, almost silly expectation around a shiny golden oak conference table.
"Oooh," moaned Linas. "Principal's office." He rubbed a palm ostentatiously over the glossy table. "You know they make these at a federal pen," he said. "I wonder if I can commission the warden to make me a dining set."
"Build your own when you get there, Linas," said Vera Barrow. "Service for twelve. One a year, twelve to twenty."
"Naw, babe," said Linas, "I'm a lover—" he began, but Collins Jenkins, the mayor's chief of staff, came suddenly into the room, his brown tweed coat flapping as if he'd been running after a bus, a creamy, hairy Nordic scarf—Linas was sure it had been knitted by nationalist Laplanders—looped around his neck.
"For chrissakes, Collins." It was Arty. "For the love of God, if he got us down here just to have you ream our . . ." Arty Agras tucked down his chin as he looked over at Alderman Barrow and let his observation stop short.
"Give us the two-minute scolding," said Linas Slavinskas. "And let us get back wherever."
Collins Jenkins took the seat at one end of the conference table. Stuart Cohn, the corporation counsel, an aging eagle with his smooth head and sharp face, stood behind him to take a snip of any question before Collins would risk doing so. Collins Jenkins had a peculiar gesture of lifting his reading glasses onto the top of his head. The precious little prop seemed to suggest that he could see things far above that were lost on others.
Collins flicked his tongue over his lips, clicked it against the back of his teeth, and thrummed his fingers three times before speaking.
"The mayor of Chicago is dead," he announced. Sunny heard a gasp from Vera Barrow—a sound as unexpected as a yodel from a woman of her incomparable composure. Linas dropped a gold lighter that had suddenly come into his fingers, and Artemus Agras let his mouth drop so far he needed his right hand to push it back.
"He died at his desk," said Collins. "Working late at night for the people of this city. Alone. It seems to be some kind of heart arrest. He's at Rush Medical Center now. I am awaiting the call from the doctors to confirm ..." Collins voice caught "... whatever happened."
It was Linas Slavinskas who finally spoke, softly.
"Well, God rest his soul."
"You didn't give him much peace while he was here," snapped Collins.
"He gave it back pretty well himself," said Linas a little more sharply. But Collins Jenkins resettled the glasses on his head and went on.
"You aldermen chair the most vital committees. I wanted to inform you before I make a formal announcement. I want to have the medical report in hand. These days, there are always questions. I'm planning to call in the chihuahuas at six this morning."
The chihuahuas were the mayor's name for the City Hall press corps, and for reporters generally (he made no distinction between the gossip tout of a free weekly passed out in bars, and the religion editor of the Christian Science Monitor). Reporters were silly, smelly, noisome, and inconsequential entities that yapped and snapped against the ankles of the great and worthy. They had brains as small as walnuts, and soiled sofas and rugs. They cared only about eating, mating, and scratching themselves.
"If the mayor is on a slab over on West Harrison," Arty Agras admonished Collins, "some orderly has already told his girlfriend, and she's called chihuahuas. Or it's on somebody's computer bog somewheres."
Collins turned to face Sunny Roopini.
"You are vice mayor," he began softly. "You now become the acting interim mayor. I've checked with Stuart here." Collins actually raised the glasses off his forehead and gestured over his shoulder to the counsel. "As you know, your legal duty is to preside over the special session we'll hold tomorrow," and here he cast a glance down at his watch, then corrected himself. "Later today. To memorialize the mayor. At the regular meeting on Monday, you preside to elect a new mayor. Then of course there are regular elections next year. But although you hold office for just a few days, Sunny, your portrait will hang on the fifth floor here permanently, alongside the mayor and all of his predecessors. Harrison, Medill, Daley,Washington, Daley—and Roopini."
"Hell of a firm, your lordship." said Linas Slavinskas. Even Collins Jenkins permitted a small smile.
"The mayor was my friend," said Sunny. "For just a few days—it's an honor I don't deserve. I'll try to serve him well."
But before their smiles could fall, a door behind them was thrown open so roughly it whacked the back of a chair and banged like a shot. Blue uniforms trooped in, two, four, then six. Sgt. Gallaher strode in quickly, bending her head to the black brick of a squawking radio she had drawn from her belt.
"I'm sorry, you have to clear this area," she announced. Maureen Gallaher looked flushed and breathless, her blue eyes batting hugely. "This whole floor, in fact. Now. Now, please. The fifth floor of city hall is a crime scene."
A blue uniform was suddenly behind Sunny, taking each of his shoulders as he stood. Alderman Barrow had already reached her feet, and was stepping back to squirm out of the clasp of another uniform. "What the hell," she began. "What's this shit?" asked Arty Agras. Blue uniforms surged into the room and surrounded the aldermen, and the aldermen and Collins Jenkins turned so that their backs and shoulder blades suddenly bounced off each other as they shouted, "Hey! Hey? Hey?"
"Something's happened, right?" said Linas Slavinskas. "What the hell has happened?"
A shorter man in a more splendid blue uniform, with gold stripes and squared shoulders, stepped through the doorway. Sunny knew Matt Martinez, the police chief, just well enough to nod if they encountered one another at the same holiday parade.
"I'm sorry about the upset, aldermen," he said. "And Alderwoman Barrow." The title was alderman by statute, and Vera usually insisted on being so addressed; she could be withering with city functionaries who thought they flattered her by revising the phrase. But she did not correct the police chief.
"I'm afraid you'll have to leave right now," he said. "The entire floor is a crime scene."
"What have you got, Matt?" asked Linas, speaking gently. "This wasn't just a sixty-seven-year-old fat man who put too much cheddar on his cheese fries?"
"The mayor was poisoned," said the chief flatly. "That's what the doctors say. I am not at liberty to share any more information." Chief Martinez seemed to recharge his voice. "Clear this area. Clear this entire floor. Go to your offices on two. Or go home—there are cars downstairs. Get a drink, go to church, go to Lake Geneva. But get off this floor. The mayor of Chicago has been murdered in his office, and we don't know what the hell is going on."
Sgt. Gallaher had moved to Sunny's side and whispered that she and Officer Mayer would drive him home. As Sunny was stepping around a ragged line of chairs, he could hear Collins Jenkins remonstrate with the police chief.
"I have to stay, Matt. Decisions have to be made."
The chief only had to shake his head two or three times before Cohn stepped forward. When he spoke it was to the police chief, not Collins Jenkins.
"Chief Martinez, Mr. Roopini is the only one who has any legal authority right now."
Collins's head snapped around as if he had been slapped.
"Mr. Roopini has no experience. I say that with respect, Sunny," he added, but too late to keep Sunny from raising his left hand to Sgt. Gallaher and turning his feet pointedly to the center of the conference room.
"I've been in City Hall for nine years. I've been the mayor's chief assistant since he was a ward committeeman. Where were you then, Matt—getting flat feet on a beat in San Jo-Nowhere? I know every precinct commander by name. I can get the president of the United States, the queen of the Netherlands, the head of Scotland Yard, Bill Gates, or the cardinal of Chicago on this phone"—Collins brandished his own small silver mobile only an inch under the police chief's nose—"right now, right now, right now," he said, boiling and scowling. "Can you? Can Sunny?"
"That's not germane," Cohn told Collins Jenkins, more shakily. "Mr. Roopini is the acting interim mayor."
But Matt Martinez had already cast his vote with his broad, black, boat-heavy service shoes. He turned away from Collins Jenkins and fixed his red-rimmed eyes on Sunny.
"Mr. Roopini," he repeated. "Let me have Sergeant—" and here he looked over at Maureen Gallaher's brass nameplate—"Gallaher take you to your office downstairs." Then he turned around to face Collins Jenkins.
"And Collins—I need your help. My officers need to run a few things by you."
"Question me? Question me?" Collins's face had switched into red as rapidly as a traffic light. He bopped between his right and left foot, sputtering and spitting, like some mad cartoon duck in tweeds.
"Question me! Question me! What the fuck, Matt. The mayor has been assassinated! Do you know what could be going on? Do you know what kind of world we have? What the fuck, Matt? What the fuck! This city needs direction now, Matt, not amateur hour."
But two blues had gotten a nod from their chief and had taken Collins's elbows gently into their huge gloved hands. They had already lifted him from his feet like a cranky toddler. Collins noticed suddenly that his heels were no longer in contact with the floor, and he looked down, confused and startled, as if the law of gravity had been suspended and a water glass had floated by.
"Just help us out, Collins," Matt Martinez said soothingly. "Thank you." The chief turned around to face Sunny again.
"And perhaps you should stay in your office, sir, so we know where to reach you. Please give me about fifteen minutes to see to things here."
Sunny felt his face flush and swell. He thought he should sit down; then he decided that he should be seen on his feet. He could see the back of Collins Jenkins's shoulders duck through the doorway between two blue arms.
"Do I need to take an oath?" he asked. There was a pause before the corporation counsel answered.
"Not technically," he said. "You were acting interim mayor from the moment the mayor drew his last breath."
"But maybe under the circumstances," said Alderman Barrow. "So there is no doubt."
Sunny stood up stiffly, reflexively raising his right hand.
"Should we have a Bible or something?" asked Linas Slavinskas.
"What is it that you swear on, Sunny?"Arty Agras asked solemnly. "The Kama Sutra? Whatever they call it ..."
Sunny turned to Arty with a wide grin; the warmth of it surprised him.
"I'll take that pledge," Linas declared. Even Alderman Barrow couldn't restrain a smile.
"I swear on nothing, Arty," Sunny explained genially. "I don't know when I was last in a Hindu temple. I haven't been to a synagogue since we said goodbye to my wife. I've only been to a church for political meetings in the basement.You know how it is." Sunny turned back to Stuart Cohn. "Is there some kind of legal requirement?"
"No sir," said the counsel. It was the first time Sunny could recall Cohn addressing him with the honorific.
"Is there any book that means a lot to you, Sunny?" asked Vera Barrow. Titles reeled by in his mind as if they were spilling visibly from the top of a shelf. A Bible was packed with poetry, narrative sweep, and heroic depictions. The Bhagavad Gîtâ might be a nice touch that would be widely and approvingly reported. But Sunny wouldn't know where to find a copy of the huge Hindu holy book at this hour, and besides—there were too many rabbis and Hindus in the city to attest that Sunny was a stranger to them except during campaign season. War and Peace? Ulysses? Sunny had never really finished them. Midnight's Children? Sunny found the ending depressing. Leaves of Grass? Sandburg's Chicago Poems? Lincoln's Gettysburg Address?
Sunny finally asked, "Is there a subway map around here?"
Vera Barrow unclasped the gold snap on her soft black purse. She dug a delicate hand down, past crumpled tissues, scuffed emery boards, sugarless breath mints, mini-Cooper keys, crimped parking stubs, castaway combs, and smiling snapshots of 5th Ward children who were now in high school or the army.
"Exactly right," she said, waving the map, a spaghetti swirl of red, blue, green, orange, pink, and purple strands.
It was folded along the Green Line on the city's south side, between Cermak and Garfield Boulevard. Sunny took the slick map from her hand and unfurled it so that all folds flapped down over Vera's two hands. She held the map lightly, like a bowl of water that might spill. Sunny placed his left palm down, the tips of his fingers all the way north at Howard Street, the base of his palm south, along the Indiana line. He heard an ensemble of breaths in the room, and recognized his own. He picked up the shriek outside of a lonely late-night El car, spitting steel sparks into the cold as it leaned into the Lake Street turn, as he raised his right hand as he'd seen men in browning old photographs do.
"I, Sundaran Roopini . . ." he began.
The foregoing is excerpted from Windy City by Scott Simon. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from Random House.