Chapter 8: An Introduction to the City Bureaucracy

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“Her?”

“Her,” said Tosh, looking towards the door again.  ”Roger's executive assistant.”  It was about five to 12, and people were starting to pour out; even after my time in the Corps, the regimatation of time for people in government service always kind of startled me.  9-5, no exceptions!  No late hours!  Lunch from 12-1!  Etc.  2 years of it had been plenty for me; as a career, I think it would drive me nutty.  

“Roger?”  I was beginning to get tired of ending every sentence as a question, like I was a teenager again—you know: “Billy?  My friend?  We went out?  On Friday?  To the movies?”

“There she is; come on,” he said, getting up.  And then in answer to my question, “Roger Dean, the chair of the city council.”  He smiled.  ”Her desk is in a very central location, and she hears a lot of stuff.”  He shook his head, frowning now, as we headed towards his friend.  ”You'd think that by now, people wouldn't still think that secretaries are brain dead, but I guess the women's movement still has some work to do there.  But she hears a lot,” he went on, “And I'm hoping she has some information for us.”

He looked over into a crowd of people and gave a very discreet wave.  Apparently it was enough, because he moved off to the side of the walkway and waited; I fell in next to him.  A short, 30-something brunette of average figure came up and smiled up at Tosh.  She was dressed conservatively—especially for Santa Cruz—in a gray wool skirt and navy top, over which she wore a light sweater.  I could easily imagine that, unless she was the talkative sort, or cracked her gum, or some such, she would blend into the background and yeah, definitely be ignored by people around her.  Especially by someone who considers secretaries, women, or both, to be second-class people.  Even in Surf City there were plenty of those.

“Tosh,” she said.  ”Back to pump me for some information?”  I winced; Tosh just smiled.

“If it's okay,” he said.

“Sure!” she said.  ”You parked nearby?  I don't see that ugly car of yours.”

“It's art, and no, are you kidding?  I was thinking King Chwan.”

“Sounds good.”  She looked over at me.

“Oh, sorry!  Kim, this is Zack.  Zack, Kim.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said.  ”I'm Tosh's roommate.”

“Got another new one, huh?” she said to Tosh.  He looked mildly embarrassed, but didn't say anything.  ”Well come on; you know I only have an hour,” and she started across the parking lot towards Ocean street—she had a quick, purposeful stride and didn’t wait for us, so we had to hurry to follow.  Tosh and I caught up to her just as we hit the sidewalk, and we headed down Ocean Street in the direction of the beach, towards the restaurant.

King Chwan sat on the corner of Ocean and Soquel, only a few (long) blocks up from the county complex.  It was one of those remarkable places that, somehow, manages to stay open even though it had both excellent food and low prices.  Lunch was especially cheap, with lunch specials for only six or seven or eight bucks (depending on what you got).  My guess is that it just stayed afloat during the school year, and made its nut during the summer, when it's prime location on the route from the freeway to the Boardwalk, and it's wrap-around parking lot (a rarity in the city) probably made it a very, very attractive stop for weary tourists desperate for food after a long day of dragging the kids around and needing some calories before driving over The Hill and home.

As a place for a conversation, it was less than ideal.  It was loud, very busy at lunchtime, and the tables were packed tightly together.  Tosh managed to secure us a small table behind a folding screen in a corner, where it was unlikely we would be overheard.  Or not much, anyway.  We spent the obligatory few minutes inspecting the menus, but I had been jonesing for Szechuan Prawns in sweet sauce, which was on the specials list, so the examination didn't last long.  Tosh and Kim were equally quick.

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