Call to Mr Walton

The conversation would have gone something like this. The man would pick up his handset and say: “Walton.” The deep voice on the other end was rich, accented, probably black. It would ask for Mr. Walton by full name and wait for confirmation. By way of answer, the busy bureaucrat would inquire of his business. “I have something that belongs to you,” said the voice. Response: “Is that right.” “Yes, you were out / down / around here a few months ago and were asking about it.” “I travel a lot,” said the man, examining his cuticles unconsciously. The voice: “I’m sure you do, but I can’t tell you anything more until we have an arrangement.”

“Okay,” said the man, perking up at this hint of self-orientation. “Do you know what I’m doing right now?” Silence. “I’m overriding your caller ID block and writing down your phone number… Got it. Now, what is it that you have?”

The voice seemed unperturbed. “What I’ve got is — well, I don’t exactly have it. I can get it for you, if you’re interested.”

“Did I mention,” went on the Washingtonian, “that I’m recording your voice? Now that I’ve told you, it’s admissible in court.”

“I’ve got nothing to hide, I just want my usual finder’s fee.”

“Your usual finder’s fee? The federal government doesn’t pay finder’s fees. If you have federal property, you’re obliged by law to return it. Finder’s fee!”

“But you’ll be pleased to have this returned to you. It’s not really government property. I think if you knew who had it, you’d want to know that and take appropriate action. And for such a patriotic act, I think it would be appropriate to receive a reward, a finder’s fee, of, oh, ten thousand. That’s not much for the government and it would make all the difference in this particular situation.”

“For ten thousand you’d better be selling out your own dear sweet mother. Supposing I could arrange a reward, I’d have to have a pretty good reason to give you that kind of money.”

“Well, does a little green glowing spot mean anything to you?”

There was a silence as his mind switched from mocking malice to intrigue and avarice. “Maybe. Tell me more.”

“How about a computer monitor with burn marks on it.”

After a short silence, during which he dredged his mind, he said, “So this must be Reginald. I’ll have to check the files to get your last name.”

“Very good,” said his interlocutor. “But you’ll need my help to recover what’s yours.”

“What — does that Corinthian character have it?”

“You can conclude what you want, sir, but I’m telling you, you’ll need my help.”

“If you’re convinced this is government property, why do you think we won’t come down and arrest the lot of you on charges of a conspiracy to misappropriate public goods?”

“I know you want to keep this under wraps, so I don’t think there will be any arrests. I just want this thing out of our lives. And maybe a little compensation for my time and effort.”

“I’d like to be able to compensate you appropriately, Reginald, but I’m afraid that for the moment I don’t see any reason to do so. I know just about all I need to know.”

“I don’t think so, Mr. Walton. But why don’t you come on down / by / over here, and try to get it back without my help. If you can, fine. But if you need my help, of course I’m always happy to lend it.”

“I’m sure you are,” said the dapper man with a chuckle to himself, shaking his head smugly, “I’m sure you are.”