The Mayor's press secretary paused at His Worship's office door, reached to straighten his tie, then realised he wasn't wearing one, so he adjusted his cuffs instead. He paused for two beats and checked his watch. Time for his weekly one-on-one. Or was it a one-to-one? He wished they could forget the touchy-feely stuff and use the right term: bollocking.
"Come in," the Mayor said, barely looking up from the past week's stack of press clippings and blog printouts.
"Good morning, Francis."
"Good morning, Your Worship."
"But not a good week," the Mayor continued.
Francis didn't need to look at the bullet-pointed list on his iPad to know what the Mayor meant.
"Chief Executive's salary and bonuses revealed."
"Weekly bus strikes after talks fail."
"Dumped bus card firm seeks $20m compensation".
"Judges put Auckland Council lawyers under fire."
With any luck he hadn't read "Mayoralty race a rich man's sport": His Worship had been at a business networking breakfast that morning.
"We've had better ones, Your Worship."
"I think," said the Mayor, looking up for the first time and fixing Francis with a smile competing with the wind-chill factor on Queen St in the morning, "that we had better have a better one this week. While there is still a we, if you get my drift."
"Right on to it, Your Worship."
"Who's the mochachino?" Claudia managed the coffee orders as the Communications team gathered for their weekly debrief, which followed the Mayoral Press Secretary's chat with His Worship.
Claudia could always gauge the temperature of the team meeting on the basis of Francis' txt when he came out of the Mayor's office: trim flat with one promised an orderly slide into the weekend, long black meant there was sod-all chance of meeting the girls at Britomart this side of Sunday. This was going to be a long, black, day.
Francis briefly outlined His Worship's world view as defined by the previous week's media coverage and concluded, "So what we need to do as a team is, present the public with a view of another side of the Mayor. Something different, something daring ... something innovative. The floor is open for ideas, anyone?"
No one stirred, apart from Claudia, who had finished serving everyone else's coffees and was dropping the sugar into her half-strength decaf soy latte.
One of the youngsters put up his hand. "We could take the emphasis off all this doom and gloom by presenting the Mayor as a friend of the young. What about him presenting the prizes at the Rockquest on Saturday night? He could rap the awards speech."
Francis shivered. In the past two years the new council's Communications departments had mushroomed. The city had so much to communicate it had contracted every graduate the journalism schools could mint. They were young. No sense of history, no memory.
The think tank was all but empty. Then a shy young woman at the back spoke for the first time.
"We have been approached with a photo opportunity," she said. "The Thai community is marking its National Youth Day with a dinner at one of the local restaurants."
"Where?" asked Francis. An idea was germinating.
"Up around Ponsonby somewhere," replied the young woman, tapping her iPad.
"That's it," enthused Francis. "Youth, cultural diversity and a lovely, character suburb. Pushes all His Worship's buttons. Not to mention it's a part of town the Mayor needs to cultivate before the next ... in the near future. Get the details and book us in," he told Claudia.
Saturday night was mild: it teased there might be a spring in the air. The Mayoral car hummed up College Hill and along Jervois Rd. The Erawan Restaurant wasn't quite in Ponsonby, it was in Herne Bay, but Francis could forgive the intern's geographical challenges, for a small crowd had gathered outside.
Francis purred. He could almost picture the photo on the front page of next week's Central Follower. Perhaps even the daily's City page.
The Mayor's wife leaned over. "They don't look Thai," she said. "And what do those placards say?"
Francis was close enough to read the messages: "Mr Mayor, save our history."
"Error One - we trusted promises on heritage".
"City planners - villa idiots".
"I think that one's rather clever," said the Mayor's wife.
His Worship straightened his tie, adjusted his cuffs and fiddled with his watch.
"Francis ..." he began.
For the first and last time in his career the Mayor's press secretary interrupted his employer. "Not a problem," he said, thinking on his seat. "We'll just tell them your mother-in-law's had a turn and you've had to rush off to her."
"But we need some good news," grumped the Mayor. "I mean, we need to present me as a serious, caring leader of the whole community."
"Don't worry," promised Francis. "We're on to that. Kelly Tarlton's has undergone a $5.5m makeover and they want you to feed the penguins next Wednesday. Should make a great photograph."
Ewan McDonald makes an occasional appearance in The Aucklander as The Whimsy Editor. Any similarity to real-life persons or events is - mostly - purely coincidental. Email email@example.com