It was an old fashioned frame building, this headquarters of the great Danagger Coal Company. Somewhere in the hills beyond the window were the pits where Ken Danagger had once worked as a miner. He had never moved his office away from the coal fields.
When she glanced at the clock on the wall of the anteroom, she caught the secretary glancing at it at the same time. Her appointment was for three o’clock; the white dial said 3:03.
“Please forgive it, Miss Taggart,” said the secretary, Mr. Danagger will be through any moment now. Please believe me, this is unprecedented.”
When she raised her head to glance at the clock again, the dial said 3:06. Dagny looked at the closed door of Danagger’s office. She could hear the sound of a voice beyond the door, but so faintly that she could not tell whether it was the voice of one man or the conversation of two.
“How long has Mr. Danagger been in conference?” she asked.
“Since a few minutes before three,” said the secretary grimly. “It was an unscheduled caller.”
The door was not locked, thought Dagney; she felt an unreasoning desire to tear it open and walk in. She realized that she was thinking of Hugh Akston. She had emailed him at his diner in Wyoming. The email had bounced back from a new spam filter. She told herself angrily that this had no connection with the present moment and that she had to control her nerves.
Dagny asked the secretary slowly, as a demand, in defiance of office etiquette, “Who is with Mr. Danagger?”
“I don’t know, Miss Taggart. I’ve never seen the gentleman before.”
“Did he give his name?”
“What does he look like?”
“I don’t know,” she answered uneasily. “He’s hard to describe. He has a strange face.”
They had been silent for a short while, and the hands of the dial were approaching 3:08 when the buzzer rang on the secretary’s desk — the bell from Danagger’s office, the signal of permission to enter.
They both leaped to their feet, and the secretary rushed forward, smiling with relief, hastening to open the door.
As she entered Danagger’s office, Dagny saw the back exit door closing after the caller who had preceded her. She heard the knock of the door against the jamb and the faint tinkle of the glass panel.
He did not rise when she entered — he looked as if he had not quite shaken off the reality of the prior caller and had forgotten the proper routine — but he smiled at her with such a sarcastic twist that she found herself smiling in answer.
“How do you do, Miss Taggart,” he said. “Forgive me, I think that I have kept you waiting. Please sit down.”
“I didn’t mind waiting,” she said. “I was exremely anxious to speak to you on a matter of urgent importance. I came to speak to you about your indictment.”
“Oh, that? Don’t worry about that. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to pay off the judge by making a big donation to one of his favorite ‘charities’.”
She sat still, feeling nothing. Her first movement was a sudden jerk of her head toward the exit door; she asked, her voice low, “Who was he?”
Danagger laughed. “I have no idea! Some sales guy I assume. He was apparently talking about some property he wanted me to invest in — Galt’s Gulch, can you believe that? Trying to cash in on that whole ‘Who is…’ meme? He had some kind of rationalistic morals appeal and said it was some kind of perfect Nirvana!”
“Oh God, Danagger!” she moaned.
“You’re wrong, kid,” he said gently. “I know how you feel, but you’re wrong. Oh, it sounded great — like most of those guys sound — but I told him it wasn’t ‘practical’. I have my business here and I’ve spent years building it up, I can’t retire now! I’ve almost paid off my condo and I want to buy that new boat next spring. And I have to think about my kids! I have to get them into the right schools after all!” And at that he laughed.
“I wonder if he was the same guy Wyatt told me about. Some guy hit him up too, trying to get him to burn his oil fields and go to some remote place in Colorado for goodness sake! Wyatt said with his new fracking method he can pull out enough oil in North Dakota to make this entire country energy independent in just over 5 years — well that is if he can get that pipeline built and get the permission to drill in that national park where he says the big deposit is located. And of course, he’s dealing with all the red tape from the EPA and the BLM. They’re giving him some song and dance about a rare field mouse in the area. But I’m sure they’ll come around, right?”
Danagger just shrugged.
“OH, can you do me a favor. If you’re heading back to your office in the next few days, can you drop this check off in Washington?”
She picked up the check and could see the 5 zeros on the sum next to the words ‘Republican National Committee’.
“What is this?” she asked.
“Oh, just a donation to someone’s favorite ‘charity’ — I want to make sure they get it in time to make good use of it for Christie’s 2016 run against Hillary….