The fire was crackling pleasantly, and the glass of scotch wasn't exactly unpleasant, either. But the spy novel was long on assassinations and short on originality. The clock struck 11. I put the book on my chest, took another sip of Scotland's finest and decided to stare at the ceiling for a little while . . . .
"Mr. Levey? Mr. Robert Frank Levey?"
It was a little bald man carrying a clipboard. He looked a little frazzled.
"Yes, I'm Robert Frank Levey," I told him, in as helpful a tone as I could muster. "Would you like some coffee? A cookie, maybe?"
"Nothing to drink. Nothing to eat. Just sign here," the man ordered.
"Now just a minute," I said. "I never sign anything I haven't read."
The man thrust a document in my direction, with the same impatient expression a car salesman wears when he's showing you the truth-in-lending statement. My eye fell on words like "annuity" and expressions like "credited past service." It took a while for it to dawn, but then it dawned like 173 Mondays all at once.
"Hey," I said, cleverly, "these are my retirement papers!"
"And I," said the little bald man, "am your retirement officer."
"Sir," I said, summoning whatever was left of my youthful energy, "I have no desire to retire. I'm in the prime of life. I'm at the top of my game. I even have a column idea for next Monday. Why in the world should I leave Bob Levey's Washington to some other mother's son?"
"Perhaps," said the man, "you'd care to look at this -- and at this."
The first "this" was a pocket calendar. It was full of pages marked "2016." The second "this" was a mirror. In it, I saw snow-white hair and a face so deeply lined that it might have been a satellite photo of the Mississippi River's tributaries taken from 14 miles up.
"Hey," I said, cleverly, "if this is 2016, I must be 70 years old."
"And 70 is the new mandatory national retirement age," the man told me. "President Shields just signed the legislation last week."
"Yes, Brooke Shields. Don't you read the papers? I'm sure you've heard that she's the first movie star to be elected since that fellow back in the '80s . . . . Um, uh . . . . "
"I believe you're referring to Ronald Reagan," I said.
"Yes, Reagan," the man said. "The one who wouldn't tamper with Social Security. How long ago Social Security seems."
"You mean that if I retire, I can't get Social Security? After all those bucks were taken out of my check every week?"
"Social Security doesn't exist any more," the man informed me. "We had to use the money to rebuild Interstate 95 after all that traffic crushed it to pieces on the July 4th weekend of 1994. Are you going to tell me you don't remember that, either? Some newspaper guy you are."
"Sir," I asked, "if I do sign those papers of yours and retire, what am I going to live on?"
"These papers give you free food, free clothing and a free lifelong lease on a condominium in Dumfries. Right in the center of things."
"The center of things? Dumfries? What are you, a comedian?"
"Levey, were you asleep when they built the Outer-Outer-Outer Beltway, and turned Dumfries overnight from a truck stop into a megalopolis of 875,000 people? Were you dead on your feet when the Kennedy Center moved out there, and the Capital Center followed two years later? Were you blind when Washingtonian Magazine published that special issue, with the cover that said, 'The 50 Very, Very, Very Best Restaurants in Dumfries?' "
"I guess I must have been," I replied. "But tell me one more thing: What happens if I won't sign that piece of paper you're holding?"
"I regret to inform you that society will be unable to make any guarantees. You may have to sleep on a heating grate. You may have to sell apples on the corner. You may have to move to . . . Georgetown."
"Hey, pal, I'd live in a $700,000 house any time," I chirped.
"You must not have been there recently, Levey," he declared. "That's all I can say. The memory of the 1997 Super Bowl disturbances is still painfully fresh. All those houses leveled by Redskin fans demanding that Coach Theismann put himself in the game at quarterback. Awful!"
"Well, buster, Theismann or no Theismann, I ain't retiring, and that's final. You can take those papers you're holding and fold them up and . . . . "
A log emitted a loud crackle. I awoke with a start. The ice in my drink had melted. The novel had fallen to the floor, open and face down, exactly as it deserved. The cat hopped onto my chest and gave me a questioning look. "Seymour," I said, to those huge green eyes, "I have to ask you: Do you think you could get used to . . . Dumfries?"