from “Swift Boats for Jesus”

He parked on the side of the three-story building. The Pearl Blossom personnel conducted their trade on the first two floors, with the second floor reserved for their renowned specials. The neon sign in fancy script announcing authentic Thai deep tissue message was off, it’s tubes dingy and splattered with bird droppings. He knocked forcefully on the back door security screen. Footsteps on the rear stairs, then Fanny Xa opened the inner door and after a beat the outer one. She was in sweats and a tank top with a picture of a collie on it. Her graying black hair stood up and out like a fright wig.

“How far gone is he?” Garza asked, moving past the bleary-eyed woman and onto the stairs.

“Good morning to you too, fuckhead.”

“Not today, Fanny.”

“Whatever,” she mumbled, shuffling outside in her bare feet to spit.

Upstairs on the third floor, Garza entered her bedroom, which was painted in purples and black for accents. She had one of those old fashioned vanities in one corner, its make-up table overflowing with small bottles of perfume, eyeliner, lipsticks and a tube of Ben Gay, he noted. Mayor Pete “Pedro” Sharpe snored on his back in the bed, his girth tangled among the purple silk sheets and dark lavender duvet. Garza smiled, shaking his head. In the late Eighties, Sharpe, a former football and track hero at local Israel Bissell High, had taken his cue from Dylan’s song and knew which way the wind blew. He adopted the Mexicanization of his first name when he was running that first time for re-election. The mayor knew from being out and about, let alone from a census chart, that the demographics of Bell Park, once the hillbilly haven of Dust Bowl-era migrants, were irrevocably changing.

The city had seen an influx of African-Americas in the Sixties, and there had been a resulting power struggle for who got what seat at the table. Sharpe, who was black, emerged from that fight and came to office backed by a shaky coalition. This happened just as the next ethnic wave was coming on strong in the city – Latinos. But it didn’t hurt that Sharpe spoke Spanglish with ease. On a Spanish language station he verbally outmaneuvered his Latino opponent in his first re-election contest. That candidate had been earnest, but he was a pocho, a Latino who didn’t speak Spanish who didn’t go over well with the new majority.

“Pete, time to rock, baby.” Garza shook him and only succeeded in interrupting a snore. Sharpe smacked his lips but didn’t otherwise make an effort to wake.

“Like Dr. Phil says, how’s that workin’ out for you?” Behind him Xa laughed and hacked. She began searching in a nightstand beneath a shelf with a stuffed red-and-black-feathered rooster before a sun painting. Garza knew these to be some sort of religious symbols reflecting Xa’s Muong heritage.

A couple of light backhand slaps to the whiskered face roused the mayor. The whites of his eyes were as red as spoiled apples. “Hey,” he managed.

Xa found her half-smoked joint and fired it up.

“Let me hug up on a little of that, will you, my dear?” Sharpe held out a large hand. A ring with a dark gem that sucked up the light was on his pinkie. She handed the joint across and he took a healthy drag. He didn’t cough and his hand didn’t quiver as he blew out a steam of narcotic smoke. He handed it back to Xa, who leaned over and gave him a peck.