The Mayor of San Francisco, the Honorable Willie Brown, hated spending the night in San Jose. Usually, a long night mixing with the DotCom elite at South Bay galas meant a long, traffic-logged morning return to his precious city, but other times it meant waking up in the nineteenth century. Monday night, the 30th of December 2002, faded into Tuesday morning, November 14, 1896. The mayor woke; saw the walls of the hotel had gone from soothing cream, to harsh, yellow Victorian annoyance. His Honor saw that the fine silk suit he had worn all night had been replaced by a fine wool suit he would wear all day. I don’t like grey, he mumbled, but it’s better than that brown thing I had last time.
The mayor stood, the wood under his feet reminding him of the time difference, just as the taste of champagne hours previous made him forget. He heard footsteps up the wood stairs outside the room, a gentle knock and his butler, Gibson or Gimlet, a drink name either way, entered holding the early edition.
“Your Honor, the paper.”
Willie’s head was a little hazy from the trip, or maybe he had overdone it back in the twenty-first century. He stared a bit at an etching, though his attention strayed to the banner of The San Jose Bee.
“What’s all this about, Gibson?”
“Gilby, sir. It’s Gilby, and it’s the airships. The airships passed over the city last night.”
The Mayor focused a bit on the picture, finally making out the image of a blimp floating over the tower of light. He rather liked the fact that he ended up in the body of another man of import, though spending the day as a barkeep might have been a good time for all. He folded the paper, pretending to read the story.
“Well, this is a most serious matter. I think… I think I’m going to get dressed, go down to the City Hall and call a meeting. Will you get my advisors on the phone… I mean, get them to the hall, right quick.”
Gilby turned, and started down the stairs. Willie noticed the box of cigars on the bed stand, took one and flicked the lighter on the small table, turning the perfecto gently in the flame. He brought it to his mouth, drew slowly, far more gingerly than he would have on the Dominicans he favored. Just the scent coming from the open box told stories of Cuban soil, of a perfect roll on the inner thigh of a Havana virgin. He savored it, let it roll around before exhaling with his yelled words.
“And lunch; I’d say a steak, some potatoes, something with a lot of oomph to it. I’ll get dressed, send someone with a coach to take me to the office in half-an-hour. Understood, Gilby?”
Gilby made a barely audible reply from the first floor. The Mayor made a note to give Gilby a raise if he made it through the day. He rose, removed the nightshirt and slid into the suit, gravel on bare skin when he thought of the silk he had left behind. Lunch couldn’t come soon enough, he hadn’t eaten in negative one hundred and six years. Willie suited himself up nice, a styling man, even if he paled in comparison to the Frisco Fashion plate (a term coined by Esquire… or maybe GQ). He started downstairs, the sounds of a steak breakfast ringing towards his ears.
“Morning, Mr. Mayor.”
The lovely young thing approaching him wore an apron, a smile, and a dress that managed to show off precise curves, and still maintain an air of Victorian distance. She gave a small bow, the Mayor, cursing the lack of modern necklines at a time like this, bowed his head a slight bit forward.
“And how are we this morning, Miss…?”
The girl, probably nineteen, maybe twenty-one, smiled, looked at the floor and walked into the kitchen. The mayor must have had a fine night last night. The mayor smiled the smile that made him the mayor of the greatest city in the world. He knows how to live, I’ll say that for him.
The breakfast was heavy, greasy, and a hundred times better than the granola and grapefruit juice he’d have in the limo on the way back to the City. The biscuits and steak he smothered in gravy so thick, no ladle could contain it. The potatoes, crunchy and lard-fried, smelt of rosemary, sweet-stinging on his lips. If you are going to be trapped in the body of a Victorian, you may as well take advantage of the arteries your host provides. He washed the morning down with a tankard of… well, the Mayor wasn’t sure. It was obvious that it must be the mayor’s favorite drink, as it had waited for him at the table. He finished the meal, sat for a moment looking over the paper, reading the various reactions to the war in Cuba, the stories of the airship, and had started in on a story of Japanese farmers when Gilby entered the room, a notebook in each arm, his steps hurried.
“Sir, the men are at your office and the auto is outside. Here is a full breakdown of topics that the boys have asked you to go over with them today. I took the liberty of putting the airships at the top of the agenda.”
The mayor wiped his mouth, gave a quick smile to the young maid who had stayed in the dining room while he ate. She giggled slightly to herself and looked back to the floor. The mayor tossed the napkin to the table and went to Gilby, taking one of the notebooks from him.
“Excellent, Gilby. Let’s make our way over. I’ll read this as we head over.”
Gilby stared at the mayor with annoyed amazement.
“Sir, I don’t think it is wise to drive and read at the same time, especially not this time of day.”
“Well, you could drive, couldn’t you Gilby?”
The house staff laughed, just enough so that the mayor could tell that Gilby couldn’t drive, and that the mayor would never let anyone else take the wheel anyway.
“Fine then. I’ll drive and you can give me notes on the way, just give me the gist of the topics as we go.”
The mayor walked out the front door, hoping that the car was at least as steerable as the Jag he would take into Napa on the weekends.
* * * * *
The Mayor’s office was filled with smoke from six cigars and the scent of at least ten thousand others smoked over the years. The walls were the same yellow from the house, only stained darker, giving an antiqued look that he had always associated with old lady docents at historic homes. He went to the desk that everyone had seated themselves around. This is what a mayor’s office should be. Men, crowded eight to a space designed for three at most, and the desk, the monstrous desk, affording his honor room to stretch. Every man stood as the mayor entered, Willie’s head slightly hurting from the smoke. A young man, maybe thirty, clipped a cigar and handed it to the mayor, flipping the handle on the desk lighter, sending up a perfect flame. The mayor bent, puffed it three times and set it in the ashtray, unable to subject these men to any more smoke.
“Alright, let’s talk turkey. What can you all tell me about the airships last night? Anyone have anything solid?”
An older gentleman stood in the back, his cigar smoke hiding a hideous pair of hanging sideburns.
“Well, there are theories, your honor. A great many theories, mostly floated by those with a little science. Folks in Sacramento seem to reading too many of the stories by Mr. Welles, as they are claiming that it is an armada of alien ships coming to take the world prisoner.”
The mayor had a chuckle.
“Alright, now, how about anything with a touch of science behind it?”
Another man spoke, his eyes glowing against the haze, though he too had the same awful sideburns.
“I can say that the coursers seem to be of our design, like the Germans have been experimenting with for years. I remember seeing such a device at our fair, something I believe built by the Swiss. Again, I am not certain of any of this.”
The young man who had lit his cigar spoke out of turn, received heavy warning glances that he failed to notice.
“Sir, if I may bring up another subject; I feel we must quickly speak of the Japanese issue. The area of Fourth Street was set aside years ago, and now that they are eying land outside of the area, I am afraid that we will be unable to control them for much longer.”
The mayor focused on the young man with severe control.
“What are you talking about?”
The oldest man in the room, the one who must have been present when Junipero Serra wandered into town, spoke up, his voice hoarse with decades of meetings in room like this.
“Well, a Mr. Yamamoto has asked to buy a farm near the Santa Clara border. It would be a quite large farm, some 130 acres. It would be quite near Santa Clara University, and the Chaplain has asked for us to prevent this. I am of the opinion that offering the gentleman a suitable piece of land closer to the Fourth Street section would satisfy him, if we can arrange for a drop in price.”
The mayor stood, paced and spoke simultaneously, trying to figure a way that the men would understand his opinion and not think he had dropped his mind on the auto trip over.
“Now, I am firmly of the opinion that the Japanese citizens of this fine city are, and always will be, a vibrant and important part of our electorate. We must allow them to grow, and if we encourage that, we will be rewarded with votes in upcoming elections. Do you understand me?”
The oldest man spoke again.
“You have the next election bought and paid for, sir. Besides, how would a few hundred votes sway things your way. It opens up a great many possibilities as well. What if the Jews or the Russians feel that they can simply find a piece of land and buy it to make a home? Hell, those countries will empty in a week if we fail to put up limits. Why, even Negroes may make permanent settling in the heart of the polite citizenry.”
The mayor stopped moving, leaned onto the desk, and steadied himself on both arms, a look of fire and disgust coming from Willie.
“You will listen to me. I will not allow the good Japanese of our city be discriminated against. They will live wherever they feel and will hopefully bring as many members of their families as possible. They will ensure the future of this city without question. Is that clear?”
The young man looked back at the mayor, his eyes fearful of the rage that his elder colleague had been put through.
“Your honor, I think you should think of the security issues in these times. The Japanese are… well…”
The mayor shifted to the speaker with even greater intensity.
“What could you possibly mean.”
“Well, the airships, sir. I have heard that the Japanese may have something to do with the airships. There are rumors, sir.”
A man, still wearing his bowler and smoking a long thin cigar, stood and spoke, removing his hat and holding it over his stomach as if to deflect an expected blow.
“Well, there are great kite flying festivals in Shanghai. It is quite possible that they could equip these great kites with bombs and destroy the state. Or, they could be working with the Spanish. Both are devilish races.”
The mayor made the man glad he had removed his hat, as he whipped a stack of papers at the offender, the only one to make contact hitting the hat before gliding to the floor.
“First, Shanghai is in China, you dolts! Second, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Now, all of you get out! I need to take a nap, and afterwards, we will go to Japantown and discuss our options. Now, out!”
The crew walked through the door, with Gilby lagging behind.
“Will you need me for anything?”
“No, Gilby, you can take a break. I’ll be fine.”
Gilby closed the door behind him, the sounds from the street making it up to his window. The lively voices, the calling of newsboys, the sounds of horses and carriages all mixed with the heavy meal to put the mayor to sleep in record time.
* * * * *
The mayor woke up in the Palace hotel, his best black silk suit on a hanger hung on the top edge of the open television cabinet. Surrounding the bed were a dozen bottles of whiskey, the heavy scent of cigars, and a half-dozen room service trays. The knocking on the door had woken the mayor in his own time, and unfortunately in the body that had been the recipient of the mess that had once held the contents of the bottles and trays that littered the room. Mayor Brown walked to the door, opened it and let in his personal assistant, his personal assistant who seemed to be wearing a suit that Gilby would have thought suitable for a day at the office.
“Your honor, we have a busy day, and there were complaints all evening about the noise from your room. My God, look at this place? Did you buy every bottle of Jack Daniels in the city last night?”
The mayor managed a slight laugh as his stomach began to rumble under the weight of prior festivities. “I wasn’t quite myself last night. What have we got?”
The pair went over details as the mayor dressed, the silk feeling a hundred times better than the burlap the Victorians called wool. The mayor put a hundred dollar tip on the dresser, insisted on paying for the room on his personal credit card, and hopped in his car, waving and signing an autograph for a little girl on the way. Once safely in the car, he spoke sidewardly to his assistant.
“I need you to do me a favor. Call up the San Jose archivist, get me the paper for November 15, 1896. I wanna see how I did last night.”
The assistant wrote it down, then buried his face in his hand. The mayor smiled, burped, and laughed. That damn Victorian sure knew how to live.