The San Francisco City Hall was built not long after the 1906 earthquake to scream to the world that the city was back, bigger, stronger, and more opulent than ever.
The building’s Beaux-Arts flourishes, Doric columns, and Grand Baroque copper dome inspired by St. Peter’s Church in Rome meant you would never mistake it for anything but a capitol of some kind. As if the grand dome wasn’t grand enough, it’s topped with an ornate steeple and a torch that lights up at night when the City Council is meeting.
The building always struck me as garish and pompous rather than majestic and imposing. I guess that’s fitting for a place that houses mostly politicians and bureaucrats.
But standing in Mayor Smitrovich’s office, I felt like I was in an aquarium. There were tarpon, swordfish, and Dorados mounted on the walls, their mouths agape, forever twisting in midthrash. A pair of window cleaners worked outside, peering in at us from the other side of the glass behind the mayor. All that was missing to make the effect complete were a ceramic mermaid and a castle for us to swim around.
“It’s a real pleasure to finally meet you, Mr. Monk,” Smitrovich said, coming around the desk and shaking Monk’s hand. “I’m a big fan.”
I handed Monk a moist towelette.
“Really?” Monk said, wiping his hand.
“I truly appreciate your tireless efforts on behalf of this city.”
“That’s such a relief. I was beginning to think you were ignoring all my letters,” Monk said. “It’s about time someone in authority ended our city’s shame and turned Lombard from the world’s crookedest street to the straightest.”
“You want to straighten Lombard?” the mayor said.
“Whoever approved that street should have been beaten with his T-square,” Monk said. “It’s a good thing he was stopped before every street in the city looked like Lombard. It’s astonishing to me that nobody has ever bothered to correct it.”
“You know how it is, Mr. Monk,” the mayor said. “There are so many other pressing issues that demand our attention.”
“What could be more important than that?”
“Actually,” the mayor said, “that’s why I asked you here today.”
“You’re not straightening Lombard?”
“Not just yet.”
“I know you’ll face some opposition from a wacko minority of hippies and beatniks. But I’ll back you one hundred percent.”
“That’s reassuring, because I truly need your support,” the mayor said. “It’s clear to me that we both share a deep and abiding love for this great city.”
“It can’t be great as long as the world’s crookedest street is here,” Monk said. “What would be great is a city with the world’s straightest street. Just think of all the tourists who would come here to see it.”
“Millions of tourists do come to see Lombard Street,” the mayor said.
“To ridicule us,” Monk said. “Where do you think the phrase ‘those crazy Americans’ came from? Lombard Street. Fix the street and they’ll never say it again.”
“Right now, I’m more concerned about the lack of police officers reporting to work. Most of the patrol officers are on the job; it’s the detectives and supervisory personnel who aren’t showing up,” the mayor said. “It’s creating a serious public safety issue. We don’t have the manpower to investigate major felonies. You know how important the first forty-eight hours are in an investigation. Tracks are getting cold. Something must be done about this, especially with this strangler on the loose. They couldn’t have picked a worse time to pull this crap.”
“You could drop your demands for big cuts in police salaries and benefits,” I said. “I bet that would bring the detectives back to work.”
“Sure, I could give the police officers what they want,” the mayor said, shooting me an angry look before shifting his gaze back to Monk, “but then where would the money come from to straighten Lombard Street?”
Monk glanced at me. “He has a point.”
“No, he doesn’t,” I said. “With all due respect, Mr. Smitrovich, these people lay their lives on the line for us. We owe them a decent wage, affordable medical care, and a comfortable retirement.”
“And what should I tell the sewer workers, the schoolteachers, and the firefighters who aren’t enjoying the same benefits, Miss Teeger? And what do I tell the citizens who want new schools and cleaner, safer, straighter streets?”
The last bit was clearly for Monk’s benefit, but Monk wasn’t paying attention. He was tipping this way and that, trying to peer around the mayor.
The mayor looked over his shoulder to see what was distracting Monk. All he saw were two window cleaners running their blades across the glass, wiping away the soap.
“You didn’t invite Mr. Monk down here to give him the city’s party line on the labor negotiations,” I said. “You want something from him.”
“That’s true, I do,” the mayor said, addressing Monk. “I’d like your help solving the city’s homicides.”
But Monk was busy waving at the window cleaners. They waved back. Monk waved again. They waved back. Monk waved again and they ignored him.
“Mr. Monk consults for the police because of his special relationship with Captain Stottlemeyer,” I said. “He’s not going to work for another detective.”
I looked at Monk for confirmation, but now he was wiping the air with his hand palm-out in front of him. The window cleaners finally understood and soaped the window again. Monk smiled approvingly as they wiped it again with their blades.
“I don’t want him to work for any other detectives,” the mayor said. “I want them to work for him.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“I want to reinstate him in the San Francisco Police Department,” the mayor said. “And promote him to captain of the Homicide Division.”
“Is this some kind of joke?” I said. “Because if it is, it’s cruel.”
“I’m completely serious,” the mayor said.
Monk marched over to the window and tapped on the glass. “You missed a spot.”
The window cleaners shrugged. They couldn’t hear him. He mimed spraying the window and wiping the glass in front of him again. They shook their heads no.
I looked at the mayor. “Now I know you’re joking.”
“He’s got a better solve rate than all the detectives in the homicide department put together, and at a fraction of the cost. With Monk at the helm, the homicide department could do the same job or better than they’ve been doing, with half as many men. Besides, I think he’s ready for command.”
“Are we talking about the same man?” I said. “Look at him.”
Monk shook his head at the cleaners and pointed to the spot they had just cleaned. The two cleaners started hoisting their platform up to the next floor. Monk banged on the glass.
“Get back down here,” Monk yelled.
The mayor smiled. “I see a man with an incredible eye for detail and a commitment to sticking with a task until it’s done right.”
Monk turned to me. I hoped he’d finally say something about the mayor’s outrageous offer.
“I need a wipe,” Monk said.
“Excuse us for a moment,” I said to the mayor, then went over to Monk and handed him a wipe. “Did you hear what the mayor just said?”
Monk tore open the packet, took out the wipe, and began scrubbing the glass with it.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
Monk looked at his wipe and shook his head. “Silly me, the stain was inside.” He turned to the mayor and held up the wipe. “Crisis solved. You can relax now.”
“Then you’ll take the job?” the mayor said.
“What job?” Monk asked.
“Captain of the Homicide Division,” the mayor said.
Monk looked at the wipe in astonishment, then at me. “This was all I had to do? All these years I’ve been working to get back in, and it comes down to this?”
“Mr. Monk,” I said quietly, so the mayor couldn’t hear me. “He’s taking advantage of you. He’s using you as a ploy to break the strike. You’ll be a scab.”
Monk’s winced with revulsion. “A scab? That sounds disgusting.”
“They are,” I said. “You’d be relieving some of the pressure on the city and undermining the officers’ efforts to get a better contract.”
“But he’s offering me my badge,” Monk said.
“He’s offering you Captain Stottlemeyer’s job,” I said.
Monk handed me the dirty wipe, then faced the mayor. “I want the job, but not at the captain’s expense.”
“You’d just be filling in until this labor situation is resolved, commanding a handful of other reinstated detectives who, for various reasons, had to leave the department,” the mayor said. “But if you do a good job, and I know you will, this temporary assignment could become a permanent position at another division. I know you want to support the captain, but think about all those crimes going unsolved. Do you want people getting away with murder?”
Monk looked at me. “How can I say no?”
“Repeat after me,” I said. “No.”
Monk considered for a minute, then turned to the mayor. “I’ll do it.”