City Haul was a money maker, optioned by MGM and by some mopes at ICM. Now it's up at Smashwords, or on the various e-reader platforms.

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A feckless, womanizing San Francisco county supervisor robs the City Hall payroll to underwrite his otherwise hopeless re-election campaign.

The novel has been optioned twice, first by MGM, and then by some mopes from ICM.  If anybody wants to see it I'll send a few chapters.  philgarlington@yahoo.com

 

 

City Haul

By Phil Garlington

 

 

Chapter 1

San Francisco

1985

 

San Francisco county supervisor Jay Bodwell could have been the study for a muted work in oil entitled Young Man in Thought.  His broad forehead was creased with exactly three horizontal furrows, while on his tanned, close-shaven cheeks a parenthesis bracketed a pensive frown.  Those ruddy lips, usually so ready to laugh or smile, now were pursed with concentration, while an index finger toyed artlessly with a carefully trimmed mustache, the first such adornment to make an appearance in the marble and mahogany supervisors' chambers since 1928.

Doubtless it was comforting to the dozen spectators attending the board's deliberations on tax code revision to see this virile young supervisor so rapt with a topic that admittedly was arcane, demanding, but above all tedious.

            Since the board still applied the principles of an open society Mrs. Valentine Rhinegarden, vice president of the Taxpayers' Justice League, had been allowed the floor to better acquaint the board with her organization's scheme for sweeping tax reduction.

 "And I speak not only for the league," Mrs. Rhinegarden was saying, "but for the Lunchbucket family as well." 

"The average working family," she added, in case the supervisors failed to grasp the metaphor.

As Mrs. Rhinegarden launched into a description of the travails of the Lunchbuckets, Supervisor Bodwell nodded slightly, removed a gold Mark Cross fountain pen from his inside pocket, and deliberately made a note on the yellow legal pad lying next to his water pitcher.

A speculative mind, had such a thing existed in this audience, might have assumed the note to himself might read, "Lunchbuckets unfairly taxed ...adjustments necessary...soak renters, make poor go to work...," since this, after all, was the essence of the league's prescription for reform.

            But, in this instance, the non-existent speculative mind would have missed the boat.  For Supervisor Bodwell had not the slightest interest in Mrs. Rhinegarden, the Lunchbuckets, or even in tax reform.  He was interested rather in trying to sort out his own tangled finances, and was jotting down his most pressing debts.

"May I borrow your calculator?" Bodwell said to his seatmate to the left, Supervisor Melvin Anchorstein, the towering, gaunt boss of one of the city's premier accounting firms who, as an elected official, seemed to be perpetually gritting his teeth and balling his fists.

Anchorstein grudgingly assented.  Unlike Bodwell, he was avidly interested in taxes, and had been churned into politics by the countless Lunchbuckets who vaguely perceived the screwing they were getting and had elected a man of zeal to hew at the ankles of the big spenders.

Bodwell picked up the little black box manufactured by the Texas Instrument Company.  It was capable of integral calculus, but Bodwell just wanted to use it to total his bills, so that nobody would see him counting on his fingers.  First, however, he tapped the buttons so that the little green numbers on top represented the annual city budget.  Nudging Anchorstein he showed him the number, erased it, and punched in another number approximately two million higher

"Next year," Bodwell whispered.

"Never," hissed Anchorstein, "I'll cut the balls off every department he

"We'll have to raise taxes," Bodwell whispered.

"Never, never, never."  The veins in Anchorstein's neck were standing out like rope, and Bodwell decided to ease up.  While knowing nothing about Freudian mumbo jumbo Bodwell could see that Anchorstein's interest in taxation was abnormal.  And since Anchorstein also happened to be the leading crusader against smut, Bodwell had the vague idea that raising taxes must have some convoluted meaning in the hidden part of his colleague's mind.

Anchorstein was gazing uneasily in Bodwell's direction as the young supervisor caressed the keys of the borrowed calculator with one hand while he smoothed his silk tie with the other.

Glancing around the chamber Bodwell could see that the four other board members present all had what he privately termed the glazed doughnut look.  It was an expression that comes over those suffering from an onslaught of repetitive tiresome nonsense, yet a countenance that couldn't exactly be called inattentive either.  Board president Sylvia Dardenelle, sitting at the elevated podium, polished her gavel with a thumb and waited for the second hand of her stopwatch to make the necessary three revolutions before she would be required by board rules to cut off the speaker in mid-sentence, and send her back to the company of her wizened and sexually-depleted cronies.

In the press box, two newspaper reporters, so inert with boredom that their faces looked like a couple of collapsing balloons,  sprawled along a long walnut table, amidst fifteen or twenty yellow pencils.  A policeman sitting by the door waved his hand metronomically in front of his face.  And the clerk of the board shuffled through his papers to find the New York Times crossword puzzle.

"...and the people of this city will no long shoulder the heavy burden of  unproductive parasites that sap the blood and marrow of the producing majority, the people who work for a living, who have pride in their homes..." Mrs. Rhinegarden was hurrying along now to wrap up any loose ends in the final seconds of her allotted time.

Bodwell bent to his task.  Calculating his income, of course, did not require electronic help.  A month ago he could count on a monthly income of $2500.  Along with his board salary of $800, he received $700 and change from the University of San Francisco as a part time lecturer in political science.  And then there was the $1,000 that his father-in-law slipped him under the table as a putative consultant to Lapp Development Corp.

With this modest monthly income, Bodwell, through shrewd management, had been able to juggle things so that his outlay seldom overran his income by more than $500 or so.  With the aid of credit card juggling, accounts at seven banks, his elected office, a blitz of confusing correspondence, it posed no difficulty for a young man of dash to stall off his creditors from day to day.

That had been last month.  Since then, the wheel had turned a few spokes in the wrong direction.  For instance, it had been impolitic of his wife to share with her wealthy developer father her long-held sentiment that his major civic contribution, Lapp Retirement Villa, was inhumane residentially, roach-infested ecologically, and a firetrap architecturally.  Acute as these observations might be on an objective plane, it had been more unfilial than a serpent's tooth, and worse, the final straw that had caused the always prickly Lapp elder to terminate the consultant fee that he always jocularly referred to as "your shit heel husband's allowance."

That had been shattering enough.  But troubles never come as single spies.  His last episode in the copy room with one of his most apt pupils, little Mary Sheen, had, it seemed, been discovered, thus possibly endangering his sinecure at the university.  Reaching into his breast pocket he brought out and reread for the forth time the note he had received that morning from Dean Racker.

"Dear Supervisor,

I regret to say that it has come to my attention that you and a female student have been utilizing the copy room for an unauthorized reproductive process.  Ha ha!  Please see me about this as your earliest, etc, Racker."

Bodwell had hope here, because Racker was not really such a terrible person, judged whole, and enjoyed a laugh almost as much as the next academic.  It was imperative, however, that Bodwell get out to the college that very afternoon to square things with the dean.

At best then, assuming the dean could be assuaged, it meant he had a terrifyingly measly $1,500 per month to tide him over.   Bodwell thus had decided he'd better boldly confront his debts, and here he felt Anchorstein's calculator could have a role.

Opening his briefcase, Supervisor Bodwell brought out a pile of crumpled letters, many of which were colored yellow or pink with things like "Urgent," or "Immediate Remittance Mandatory," printed on them.  Others were tricked up by collection agencies to look like telegrams or official documents, while still others had pictures of Reddy Kilowatt with a big frown on his face.

After spreading the letters in front of him, Bodwell applied a method similar to the medical practice of triage in a war zone.  In one pile went the hopelessly wounded that not even a miracle could save:  the bill for back rent at an apartment he no longer lived in; a mechanic's lien on a car that had since blown up; the bar tab at a saloon that had 86ed him anyway for being too chummy with the owner's wife.

In the second pile went the soldiers who had been hit in the heart or lung but by divine intervention might pull through yet.  Here went all the tailor and department store bills; all the bills from the major oil companies; the demand for payment on back taxes from the Internal Revenue Service; and the third communication from the plastic surgeon who had removed the birthmark from the side of Bodwell's neck.

Finally, in the last pile went the casualties that were screaming so loudly that something had to be done to shut them up.  The gas and electric company said it was serious this time about stopping the utilities if payment was not received in twenty-four hours; likewise Pacific Telephone wasn't kidding around any more either; the car agency from which Bodwell leased his Mercedes had stepped up its barrage of inquires, and the tone had changed from one of puzzlement to that of hostility; and most importantly, Fast Eddy, the corner grocer had said no more credit until Bodwell took care of a little matter of $273.65.

The young supervisor's attention was diverted a moment by the light tapping of President Dardenell's gavel.

"Mrs. Rhinegarden, please.  Your three minutes are up."

Just one comment more and I'll yield, Madame President, but I must say that the civil service commission has been shamefully lax in weeding out the shiftless incompetents who featherbed the payroll.  That's why we pay $12.94 per $1000 of assessed valuation..."

Nodding thoughtfully, Supervisor tried to think of himself as a glazed doughnut as he plied the calculator.  Yes, there it was.  The total of the must-pay debts came to $1543.45.  Bodwell shrugged as he penned the figure at the top of his work sheet and circled it.  That was not really so awesome a sum.  Of course it meant sacrifices and stringent economy.  Opening his desk drawer, Bodwell lifted the lid of a chased silver humidor, a wedding gift, and picked out and examined a handsomely wrapped Panama cigar.  He would have to have a long heart-to-heart with Jennifer this evening about economy.

"Call of the board," Mrs. Dardenell said.

What was this?  Supervisor Bodwell hadn't realized any measure was on the floor, and for the thousandth time in his political career he cursed the fate that had named him Bodwell instead of Zithersmith.  Being second to vote on the board meant he hardly had time to grasp the issue before being called upon to say aye or nay.  Fortunately, since the newspapers had him down as an open-handed liberal, it was usually safe to vote the opposite of Anchorstein, the cost-conscious curmudgeon.

"Supervisor Anchorstein," said the clerk.

"Aye."

"Supervisor Bodwell."

"No"

The measure carried five to one.

Anchorstein angrily grabbed his calculator and shoved it back in his briefcase.

"Now why in God's name, Bodwell," he said, "did you vote against adjournment?"