Game Theory

The mayor smiled as he dropped the coin off the edge of the building. The wind threw it off course, but he still managed to follow it most of the way down.

As the quarter faded from view, he loosened his tie. The gaudy things had always suffocated him. In a perfect world, he’d find a job where he could wield similar authority in a polo shirt. From an air-conditioned basement, preferably. Or a sedan chair. He wasn’t very picky with his power fantasies.

This was his favorite place in the world. It wasn’t a fixed location, but rather any spot that he could sit alone with a bottle of wine and a diversion. Time away from the buzzing flies that followed him around was more valuable than gold.

“It’s going to be a good night.” he said to the air. Behind him, his lackey (the man would prefer “assistant” or “vice mayor”) didn’t share his mirth. He stared at his boss with the usual expression of repressed disapproval.

“Is this really the time for that?” complained the vice mayor, shattering the rare silence.

“Always make time for your hobbies, Reynolds.”

“Your ‘hobbies’ aren’t very important during the year’s biggest fundraiser.”

“You must be a hit at parties.”

Reynolds narrowed his eyes. “At least I show up at mine, instead of playing with coins like a child. Stop screwing around, John!”

The mayor wagged his finger. “Stop screwing around Mr. Silvers. In case you’ve forgotten, you ride my coattails for a living.”

“I’m twice your age.”

“And half as important.”

“We’ve worked together for years.”

“Each one longer than the last. Do you know what your problem is, Reynolds?”

Reynolds ran his right hand through his thinning hair and stared at the man before him. Mayor John Silvers reclined on an overpriced lawn chair, facing the city. His back was turned to the array of noises and lights that the party offered. The glass door separated him and the world he was supposed to be running.

“Enlighten me.”

“You actually like this job. Mine, not yours. Yours sucks. But you think my job is important. You believe that if someone else sat in my chair, they wouldn’t be performing the same role with the same script.”

Reynolds’s shoulders sagged. “In any case, I came out here to tell you that the crowd expects you to make a speech. I’ve already had it put together, it’s waiting on the podium. And the reporter’s back.” As he finished the third sentence, he realized that Silvers had put on a set of ear buds while he was talking. The vice mayor sighed and slid back through the glass door.

Left again to his own devices, Silvers contemplated which coin to drop next. The differences were subtle. Flipping a quarter off had a certain stylistic flair, while watching dimes and pennies fall provided a bit more challenge. The nickels provided a boring middle ground, so he cast those aside.

As he settled on a Susan B. Anthony dollar, another voice interrupted his thoughts. “That’s an urban legend you know.”

Mayor Silvers sighed and turned around. This time, it was a woman with a pair of thin gloves and small rimmed glasses. Her arms were folded lightly behind her back. Silvers made a shooing gesture with his right hand, and returned his attention to the silver dollar.

She continued. “They can’t break concrete or kill pigeons – I’ll assume you don’t want to hit people. You see, change dropped from buildings doesn’t get enough velocity to really do anything. Too many environmental factors.”

“Why do I even hire fucking security?”

The woman raised her right hand, revealing a press pass. “Are you drunk?”

“I would be, if people would stop interrupting me.”

“My…apologies. I won’t be long.” said the woman in an unchanging tone. “My name is Maria Grayson. I write for The Daily Call.”

“I’m sure Hearst is proud.” muttered Silvers. He gently let the silver dollar fall out of his palm.

She ignored the comment. “You’re a busy man, so I’ll cut to the chase. I have a recording of you on the boat.”

He gave a dime a light flick off the edge.

“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about, Sir.”

“Let’s hear what you want.” Silvers said with clear agitation.

“You’re a stain. A cancer. I want two million large by the end of the week, or a resignation tonight. The vice mayor already knows the relevant account.”

“Great. I know where to charge you for my time.”

“Mr. Mayor, it’s election season. I recommend spending less effort on comebacks and more on your current crisis.”

Silvers slowly stood up and stretched out, with his back to the reporter. He coughed and fixed his tie before turning around. “You think this is a crisis?”

“Well, yes.”

“That’s adorable. Do you have a comb?” He picked up his wine bottle and glass as he scrutinized the writer-turned-extortionist.

“No.” Maria’s harsh glare was unchanged.

“Oh well. I’m headed inside. Watch closely. You’re going to learn why there are only three estates.”

After a few short steps, John Silvers threw the door open. The silence of the balcony was crushed by the wave of idle conversation and uniformed brass band. A legion of posters and slogans littered the walls. The two largest hung from the ceiling, and read “Silvers-Reynolds: Shielding Tradition” and “Silvers-Reynolds: Moving Boldly Forward”.

He made his way toward the stage. This was a game of deflecting star struck supporters with quick buzzwords. This worked swimmingly for getting across the room, but his progress was eventually halted by running into his brother.

“It’s so good to see you. I have some policy ideas I’ve been meaning to talk to you about…” Todd began. Silvers repressed a curse as the tide of pseudo-intellectual babble began. Ever since he gave Todd a nice, responsibility-free position at his mother’s request, the man had assumed that his opinions were of value in the world outside of college cafes. John Silvers drifted in and out as Todd continued speaking. He was relatively sure there was something related to recycling in the rambling. After mentally counting to ten, he cut his brother off.

“Yes. Really? Uh-huh. I’ll think about that. Right now, I have to give these fine people a speech.”

“Oh. Perhaps you could run it by me? I have some writing experience…What’s it about?”

“Business as usual.” he said before side-stepping his brother. As he climbed the short wooden stairwell leading to the podium, applause erupted behind him. The speech had been scheduled a half-hour before Silvers had actually bothered to come up.

The outline of his speech was folded neatly on the podium, sitting under the microphone like the world’s dullest Christmas gift. Reynolds’s usual Times New Roman Letterhead adorned the top of the document. Silvers picked it up as he put down his wine glass.

As he stared at the sea of expectant faces, a grin took over the stern mask he’d spent years in front of the mirror perfecting. The grin widened as he slowly tore his speech in half.

“It doesn’t matter what I say here tonight.”

The background chatter died down. He took a final sip.

“It doesn’t matter, because the election has never had anything to do with who I am, or what I promise to do. It has everything to do with three facts:”

From the crowd, Maria waved the envelope.

“The first is the support of a handful of very old, very pale, very rich people. Most of them are in the crowd tonight, and will keep paying to be able do whatever they want to. The second is Advertising 101. The third, and most important, is the fact that you’re all used to me. Call it complacency, incumbency, stagnancy, or simple apathy. I’m more of a fixture here than the streetlights. You won’t replace me because you don’t have the will, desire, or spine.”

The only answer from the room was a cough from the back.

“Tonight, a young lady with too much free time thinks she can change that with a few words. I think I’ll save her the trouble. I’ve sold all low income  housing development contracts to my father’s company. They offered to do half the work at twice the price. They also love asbestos. There’s a recording of the whole ‘negotiation’. You’ll have forgotten this in two weeks in favor of the latest blockbuster. I believe it’s called Gun Rangers III: Ace’s Revenge. At this point, I will promptly return the public dialogue to taxes. Or gays. It depends on my mood.”

No response. He considered dropping a pin.

“Good night.” Silvers said as he let the empty glass fall to the ground. As the sound of it shattering filled the dumbstruck room, he gave the reporter a wink. He gestured at the brass band’s conductor, and they resumed playing. The mayor left the stage with a small hop.

As the crowd awkwardly resumed small talk, the vice mayor grabbed him by the shoulder. Reynolds had borrowed the expression of a braver man.

“I just thought you should know that you’re going to hell.”

“Probably. Do you think we’ll get to share a room?”