Report, by special investigator Johnny Dollar, to the office of the Transition Administrator, Washington, D.C.
The following is an account of expenses incurred in the Stolen Secretary Matter.
It was half past one on a rainy Thanksgiving morning, and I’d been rudely awakened by an urgent telephone message. “We need your help,” they said, and when my country calls I’m there.
Uber to DC Union Station: $43.85
Amtrak DCU to WIL, Coach, $46
Amtrak coffee, $2.50
Amtrak doesn’t usually run overnights to Wilmington, but due to the transition, things were hopping. I caught the Biden Express at Union Station and we pulled in to Wilmington at five past three in the morning. It was still drizzling, but it’s only three blocks to the Queen Theater so I hoofed it.
I hadn’t been to the Queen for years, but it hadn’t changed: a crumbling red brick shell with blocked-up windows and vomit-green facing, it looked bad and smelled worse. To save expenses, management never turned on the heat, and that much hadn’t changed because the windows were frosted up. But Uncle Joe loves the old town, so that’s where he had them put the Transition office, hoping they’d use the money to spruce up the place. It had never happened before, but you don’t get to run the country by being a hopeless cynic — which is why I’m still an investigator.
The lights were on, and I was met at the door by Bernie Saunders (no relation), long-time Biden loyalist and hatchet-man. I could tell things were tense because he actually had the proverbial hatchet with him. I’d thought they’d buried that years ago, but I didn’t get to ask because he started right in.
“It’s serious, Johnny, real serious this time. The whole place is in an uproar. Nothing like this has ever happened before. We’re all in shock.” It was true; I could see almost half a dozen people wandering around the lobby with dazed expressions on their faces. They were all wearing faux furs against the piercing damp chill.
“What’s so important? What is it that’s happened?”
“Not out here; step into my office.”
Doorman, Tip: $1.00
Hat Check, $1.00
He led me through a side door and up a spiral staircase to one of the private boxes overlooking the main stage. Someone had tacked a piece of plywood over the front, which was a mercy; I’ve seen enough of those tacky peeling murals to last a lifetime. A public-spirited arsonist really needs to drop a match and collect on the insurance. At least it would be warmer for a minute or two. I was glad I’d kept my coat.
We sat in seats that were last reupholstered when Lincoln was in office, and he spoke in a low voice. “The Secretary of State has been stolen,” he said, breath steaming in the icy air.
“Stolen?! Don’t you mean ‘kidnapped’?”
He sighed. “No, stolen’s the word. You see, we decided continuity was important, and so for Interim Secretary we promoted from within. Trouble is, Trump fired everyone with real experience. We went through the minutes of hundreds of meetings, and everyone who ever said anything of substance had been fired. There was only one name left, present at every meeting, never said a word so he couldn’t have ever offended anybody.”
“I’m with you so far.”
“Well, it was the middle of the night and we were in a hurry, fifteen thousand things to get done, you know how Transitions are. And nobody from State has ever refused a promotion, not once since 1789. So we didn’t ask; we just stuck his name on the list and moved on. Trouble was, nobody realized it wasn’t a name but a description. Oakwood Hatrack.”
I stared. “You’re telling me—“
“Yes, Johnny. There’s a piece of furniture as Interim Secretary of State. Turns out there’s precedent; for six months under Kennedy, the Resolute Desk filled in as Ambassador to the United Nations after Adlai, and nobody even noticed. Besides, it’s only until the official candidate gets confirmed, and that’ll be a shoo-in.”
I was interested despite myself. “Oh? Who’s it gonna be?”
Bernie grinned and stroked his hatchet. “Now, now, Johnny; no names. We’re keeping it secret until the last minute.”
“Fine, fine; I was just asking.” I didn’t like the way he was holding that axe — or the way his eyes kept darting about wildly. I figured I’d better change the subject right away.
“So — a hat rack. As a cabinet official. How come nobody noticed?”
“Well, the interim names are all technically recess appointments. The Senate just sends the two most senior members on the Committee, and they have a sit-down with the President-Elect and the appointee. Thing is…” Again, Bernie sighed and looked apologetic. “Chuck and Dianne are each eighty-seven, and Joe’s not as young as he once was. After they got through Interior and the Climate Change board, the two Senators were dozing, and it was thought best not to wake them — asleep, they couldn’t object, you see.”
“I gotcha. Politics as usual.”
“Right; exactly. But then Joe fell asleep too; candidates went in, had their say, then they came out. And Wilson Funt, the guy that wheeled Oakwood Hatrack in, well, he’s union; he broke for lunch right after.”
“When was this?”
“Eleven A.M. yesterday. He should be back in at… oh, about nine-thirty; you can talk to him then.”
“Fine; fine. So when he got back from lunch he just assumed someone else had—“
“No, no, Johnny. You don’t understand: He’s still on his lunch break. They’ve got a powerful union here in Wilmington.”
I was impressed. “Nice work if you can get it.”
“Oh, we employ two thousand. On a rotating basis, of course; half on mornings, half afternoons. Otherwise, we’d never get anything done. But as I was saying… The last candidate of the day came and went, and the secretary — that’s Liz Warren — she realized Hatrack had signed in but never signed out. So, naturally…”
“Wait — Elizabeth Warren? Senator from Massachusetts?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“I hadn’t heard. What’s she been named secretary of?”
He blinked and peered at me. “Just secretary. We needed someone to answer the phones and more or less run the place, and she’s the only one who knows where all the plans got filed. I do wish you’d stop interrupting.”
“Sorry. Go on.”
“Well, that’s about it, really. We started the search immediately, but so far there’s been no sign of him.”
Bernie cleared his throat. “None of that, now. We’re not speciesist around here!”
“I only meant… How did you know? He or she, since a hat rack can’t—“
“We don’t pry into anyone’s personal lives. Someone identifies as male, that’s enough for us!” He sniffed disdainfully.
“Well, sure, but—“
“No more buts! All this hemming and hawing about irrelevancies! The Secretary of State has been stolen! Now, what are you going to do about it?” He was really getting agitated now, and that hatchet of his kept twitching.
“Okay, Bernie; settle down. I’ll start by talking to the witnesses.”
“Fair enough. The Senators are still asleep, and the President-Elect… well, I’ll have to ask. He was really quite fond of Oakwood. They’d bonded, you know.”
“Fond of— No, never mind. I guess I’ll start with Sena– Secreta— uh, Ms. Warren.”
UberEats from Dunkin’ Donuts, $9.38
In every office there’s one just like her: the person that does all the work and never gets any credit. The only reward for work done well is more work, and there’s no job ever that was better done than the job she did on Bernie during the primary. So of course she was still hard at work now, bustling about in her trademark cardigan and sporting fingerless gloves against the chill. I handed her a hot coffee and she smiled radiantly.
“Now, that’s just the nicest thing anyone’s done since I started here!” she said. “Thank you so much!”
“Not a problem, ma’am; least I could do. I’m here about Oakwood Hatrack.”
Her face went hard. “I see,” she said. “And so you’re here to waste my time asking questions, instead of going out and looking.”
“Helps to know where to look first,” I said, pulling out my notebook and pencil. “It’ll just take a minute, and I’ll be out of your hair.”
She sighed. “Oh, all right. Go ahead.”
“First, I just want to make sure of the facts. You were here throughout the interviews?”
“That’s right; never left my desk until my five o’clock walk.”
“Got it. And the interviews were over at…”
“We sent the last one in at half-past four — James Traficant, for the Pardons Office. He was still inside when I went for my walk.”
I stared at her. “Let me get this straight — you left the door unguarded to take a walk?”
She was unrepentant. “Of course. I keep to a precise schedule here, or I’d never be able to leave. I walk at least six miles every day, rain or shine — three in the morning, three at night. And I listen to audiobooks. It’s the only break I get… the only…” I watched in horror as she broke down, sobbing.
“Oh, you don’t know what it’s like!” she wailed. “I did everything right; I had such great plans, and nobody ever even notices! All I ever get is more work, and more work! It’s not fair!”
I tried to comfort her. “There, there,” I said. “Hey, I voted for you.”
She sniffled, and said, “You did? I mean, I know it didn’t matter in the end; the fix was in, but… it matters, you know? To know that someone cares…” I thought she was going to start weeping again, but with a visible struggle she regained control. I started the questions again.
“So. You left at five. And when did you come back? Did they call you at home, or—“
“No, no, no. Three miles, I do in half an hour. I got back at five-thirty. Been here ever since.”
“What, no breaks?” She shook her head. “You didn’t even stop at the restroom, not even to splash water on your face?”
“Oh, I never wash my face. Pond’s in the morning, Pond’s at night, and never wash your face. Keeps your skin young.”
“But– but–” I was flabbergasted. “When do you sleep?”
“Now see here, young man!” she snapped, and it was suddenly easy to picture her as a teacher. “I’ll sleep when it’s over, do you understand? There’s too much to do, and there’s nobody else doing the work! So, I persist.” She sighed a bit sadly, and repeated, “I persist.”
I was about to ask something else when we were interrupted by a faint groaning from inside the conference room. Warren caught the look in my eye. “Oh, that’s just Chuck and Diane.”
“They’re still in there, asleep?”
“Sure! It’s more rest than they’ve had in weeks, poor dears. They were all wound up in their overcoats when I looked in on them. I managed to untangle them, then covered them up with a couple of blankets each and left them to it.”
I peeked in and there they were, dozing peacefully side by side. Politics does make strange bedfellows and that’s a fact. I closed the door quietly.
“Just for the record, when did you notice they’d dozed off?”
“Oh, it must have been, yes, right around one o’clock. But they’d both been snoring since… oh, half past ten.” She looked at me worriedly.
I jotted it all down in my notebook. “So they wouldn’t have noticed anything out of the ordinary. Makes sense. Okay, and what was the President-Elect doing?”
“Oh, he was napping too. But he already had his blanket; he brings his own to these meetings.”
“Hm. Then I guess there’s no need for me to bother him. I think that’s about everything, then. Next I’ll need to see… let me think… Wilson Funt’s his name, right?”
“Yes, that’s right. But he’s still on his lunch break. He won’t be back until a little after nine.”
“This is important. I don’t mind interrupting his ‘lunch’. Where would he be? Home in bed?”
She blinked, surprised I didn’t know. “Oh, he has to either actually be at lunch or come back to work. Union rules. As far as our records show, Mr. Funt hasn’t actually gone anywhere near his home in Palm Beach since 1978.”
It made a twisted sort of sense, I guessed. “Hunh. So where does a guy get lunch at this time of night?”
“Oh, at the Dunkin’, right around the corner. He’s always there.”
“Fine. He can’t object if I buy him a coffee, now can he?”
Uber Cancellation Fee, $5.00
I walked briskly to the front door of the theater, then stopped — I’d forgotten my hat, and it was still raining. I remembered I’d checked it at the booth, but when I looked in there was nobody there — and no hat. No nothing.
Just then, Uncle Joe came in through the front door, white hair like a halo, forming a perfect circle around his head. He saw me and grinned, then came right up and shook my hand.
“Well, well! Johnny, as I live and breathe!” he exclaimed. “So they hauled you down from the City, eh?”
“Yes, sir, they did, Mr… uh… President-Elect.”
“Oh, don’t be so formal, Johnny. We’ve known each other since the radio days! Just call me Uncle Joe like you always used to. So — any luck yet finding him? I always did like old Oakwood. Never once stepped out of line.” He winked at me. I never can tell whether he’s insane or just unspeakably clever.
“I’ve just gotten started, sir. Heading out to see Wilson Funt.”
“Ah yes! Big man in the unions, you know. Inventor of the All-You-Can-Eat Lunch. Well, I won’t keep you; I know your time is money.”
“Yes, sir. Only…”
“Well, what is it?”
I gestured at the empty booth. “The hat-check girl took off with my hat!”
Uncle Joe stared at me for a moment, then collapsed in a fit of chuckles. “Oh, oh, oh!” he said, then started in again. I couldn’t see what was so funny and I told him so. The sun was starting to come up outside, and this was getting more urgent by the minute. And then, even as he spoke, it started to dawn on me.
“Oh, but Johnny, don’t you see? The Palace hasn’t had a hat-check girl since 1928! You got conned out of your hat! Hee hee hee!”
And just like that, I knew how it had been done.
New Hat, $187.50
I hurried back into Liz’s office, the President-Elect in tow. “Quick, it’s important: When the Senators showed up, did they have their hats on?”
She blinked, thinking back. “Why yes, yes they did. Hats and scarves and coats. It’s pretty chilly in here, you know,” she added, looking narrowly at the President-Elect.
“Oh yes, hasn’t been heated since the winter of ’29 and the coal riots. Grand old place, the Queen! Pride of the city!” Uncle Joe chuckled.
“Yes, sir. Now, Ms. Warren — think back. When you brought in the blankets at one o’clock, did they still have their hats?”
She sniffed. “Right on the table in front of them. That’s no way to treat a hat, you know; takes the curve out of the brim if you set them flat.”
“And so you…?”
“I hung them up, of course. Right inside that little wardrobe over in the corner, there’s a stand for hanging things.” She blinked at me, then slowly she realized what had happened. “Oh. Oh my. I hung them on the Secretary, didn’t I?”
“Yes you did, ma’am. And he’s still right there — in the cabinet, where he belongs.”
Remarks: Well, that’s that, I guess. Oakwood Hatrack is the new Interim Secretary of State, or at least he will be starting at noon on Inauguration Day. Hopefully they’ll replace him soon, but then again, I guess he can’t do much harm. And what more can we ask of any government?
Expense account total, including return fare to D.C. plus incidentals:
The Not Fake News has no legal rights to the name “Johnny Dollar”, which was an amazing show that ran for years on CBS Radio and, in my opinion, should still be running today. You can catch his adventures every week at 7:00 Eastern on The Big Broadcast, streaming at WAMU. The preceding story is intended as humor, and of course none of the named politicians contributed or authorized this at all. It’s being presented here by sheer gall under the Humor clause of the Fair Use Doctrine, loosely interpreting the definition of Humor. No references are intended to apply in any legally enforceable manner to real persons, living or dead, including Oakwood Hatrack himself — who, I might add, is one of the greatest deadpans of this century.
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