I had been having this recurrent dream, the one where I’m in an accident and they’re rushing me to the hospital. On the way the only thing I can hear is the EMT saying, “I hope he’s wearing clean underwear.” Suddenly the phone rings, waking me before I can assure my would-be doctor that I had done my laundry. As I lean over to answer the phone, I can see the clock flashing ‘12:00’ — some day I’m going to set the time on that darn thing. “This better be important,” I growl into the phone, my brown fedora falling over my eyes. No answer. It takes me a couple of seconds to realize that I’m speaking into the wrong end of the handset. I flip myself around so that my feet are now at the headboard and growl into the handset again. This time I hear Rummy on the other end of the line.
“You sound a million miles away, T., like you were speaking into the wrong end of the phone,” Rummy cackles.
“Rummy? Geez… Last time I heard from you was in—“
“Lebanon, I know. Sorry to interrupt your beauty sleep,” he says mockingly. I was taken aback. How did he know I ‘d been using Oil Of Olay?
“You know what time it is, Rummy?” I ask gruffly.
“Oh…” Who knew Rummy would break down and finally by a Timex? “You know, your people left me holding the bag back there in Beirut,” I reply, returning to my growl.
“Huh? What are you talking about? You had just gone grocery shopping. That box of Fruit Loops wasn’t going to walk itself back to the apartment.” Rummy was getting defensive.
“Alright, Rummy. It’s late… I think.” I yawn, then expectorate into a cuspidor, except I don’t own a cuspidor—it’s my shoe. “So get on with it, Rummy.”
“Alright. And stop calling me Rummy. I hate that.”
“Hey, I could turn over and go right back to sleep… Don.”
There was a moment of silence before Rummy – er, Don – spoke. When he did, all the vibrato was gone from his voice. “I’m holding a news conference tomorrow.”
“You always were looking for an excuse to get in front of the camera,” I reply, before belching into his ear.
“What was that—bourbon again?”
“No, Pepsi.” It really was Pepsi. The liquor store wouldn’t extend me any more credit until I paid them the 69 cents I owed.
“Pepsi and bourbon… some things never change,” muses Rummy.
My head was flooding with memories. “Yeah,” I sigh, “those are just a few of my favorite things.”
“Reminds me of when you and I were at that meeting in Langley. We went outside for break and you got that dog bite, then that bee sting—“
“Get to the point, Rummy!”
“I just wanted you to know,” Rummy continues, his tone quite somber now, “that I’m coming clean. I’m gonna tell them everything.”
I was shocked. “What? Everything?”
“Yep, the whole 2.3 trillion.”
I couldn’t believe it. No one would. For the longest time there had been rumors that the bean counters at the Pentagon somehow could not account for over $2 trillion dollars in spending. I remember something about The Washington Post calling the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, asking if he knew anything about the missing dough. The guy’s aide said the senator was aware of it, but was indisposed at the moment—probably hiding under his desk. Then CBS News produced a whistleblower, a guy who had been looking for all that change behind every sofa cushion in the Pentagon until his bosses got wind and splurged at IKEA. And now, Rummy was going to go before the cameras later and spill his guts. “That’s one helluva rock you’re turning over, Rummy.”
“Don,” Rummy corrects me. “That’s why I called you first, T. I need you to help me find it.”
“The 2.3 trillion?” I ask.
“No, the office cat. Of course, the 2.3 trillion! If it were only a billion I’d have found it myself.” Rummy could be contrite when he wanted to.
“You offering me a job, Rum—er, Don?”
“You telling me you can’t use the work? Last time I looked, you were living out of a suitcase.” He was back to being snide stentorian Rummy.
“It’s a big suitcase,” I snap defensively. “American Tourister, with a matching garment bag.”
“Well, with what you’ll make from this case, you can buy yourself a shoulder bag to hold all your accessories.”
“Three cents on every dollar you turn up, T.”
I was incredulous, either that or it was gas. “Three cents? We’re not just talking defense contract largesse, here. We’re talking stuff even the Inspector General admits the Pentagon can’t track! I won’t touch it for less than a nickel,” I say, realizing I had him over a pork barrel.
“What are you—crazy? I can get two cents on the dollar down at Barney Franks.”
“So go, already. You’ll be hung up in committee for the next 6 months. C’mon, Rummy, you’re always looking to put your two cents in. Add it here.”
“Alright, already—a nickel. But I want results and I want ‘em fast!”
“No sweat,” I say, feeling smug. “What’s today?”
“What—Labor Day already?”
“Labor Day was last Monday,” snaps Rummy, “Today’s the tenth. Why don’t you buy a calendar, for crying out loud?”
“Why, when I can get them free from that Chinese restaurant on Fifth and Union.”
“What—Wong Foo’s? They closed down three years ago!” snorts Rummy.
“Oh… I guess I should throw out that egg foo young I got in the ‘fridge.”
“You’re an idiot, T.!”
Rummy had hurt my feelings, but I was going to let it go. After all, I needed the dough. “Fine. I’ll spend today nosing around, see what I can find and get back to you later. Where are you gonna be tomorrow, in case I need you?”
“Let me check… Tomorrow’s the 11th—I’m having breakfast with a couple of guys on the Hill, probably go over to IHOP. Wanna come?”
“No thanks. That stuff just goes right through me.” I hang up the phone and lay back. Wow!—a nickel for every buck I find. The year may have started out badly, but now 2001 was shaping up to be my best year ever!