Washington Horror Blog

SEMI-FICTIONAL CHRONICLE of the EVIL THAT INFECTS WASHINGTON, D.C. To read Prologue and Character Guide, please see www.washingtonhorrorblog.com, updated 12/27/2014. Follow Washington Water Woman on Twitter @HorrorDC ....

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Dark Side of Charles Wu

It always starts the same:  he is lying on a purple silk sheet on a Miami beach, water dripping from his red Speedo through the silk and down into the sand.  A beautiful woman in a bikini casts a shadow over his face.  He shakes his head laughing, wondering why he bothered to bring towels.  He reaches for her hand, and she takes him back into the water.  Then the Gulf Stream suddenly grabs him and he starts floating away from her--northeast, northeast, northeast.  The water is getting colder.  He is in British waters!  He starts eating everything in sight.  Now the currents are pulling him southward again--southeast, southeast, southeast.  The water is getting warmer as he floats closer to the Equator.  The food is all different here, but he starts eating everything in sight.  Now another current grabs him, and he's pulled towards the Caribbean--west, west, west.  Now he knows he is a sea turtle, and the ancient Atlantic Ocean has already cast the fate of his entire life.  He mates deep in the dark water, then follows his pregnant mate north on the Gulf Stream.  She is supposed to lay the eggs on the Florida sands, but something is wrong.  He follows her further north--north, north, north.  She lays the eggs on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay.  A demon lunges out of the water, kills his mate and starts devouring the eggs.  He is able to save only one:  little Delia.

Then he wakes up.

He has written it all down.  After dreaming it four times, he shared it with Lynnette Wong, but she said it was clearly because they had watched "Turtle:  The Incredible Journey" with Buffy Cordelia.  But he knew it was more than that.  He emailed it to his mother in Hong Kong, who said it meant that the Chinese New Year--Year of the Goat--was already wreaking havoc in his life.  She told him to wear nothing but red clothing for a week, and only red underwear the rest of the year.  The red clothing was not working--yet?  He started telling his father about the dream.

"You never expected to be in Washington so long," said his father, visiting from England.  "You are a Pacific creature, but now your business interests have brought you to the Atlantic.  You are wondering how much of this was random chance, how much was destiny, how much was free will."  Charles Wilkinson Montgomery continued building a Cinderella castle out of Lego blocks, with a little help from his adorable granddaughter.

"It's more than that," said Wu.  "What if there really is a demon in the Chesapeake?" he whispered so that Delia would not hear him.

"What?!" exclaimed his father, who had been secretly summoned here by Wu's estranged friend/agent/bodyguard, Angela de la Paz, to deal with the growing darkness in his son's soul.  (Nobody said anything about psychosis?!)

"What if it's true?" repeated Wu.

"There's no such thing as a d-e-m-o-n!" exclaimed Montgomery, who was choosing his words carefully because Delia was three now, and had an excellent vocabulary.  "Now tell me what's really bothering you!"

Charles Wu had quietly bought up a third of the businesses in Chinatown to launder money for his espionage business.  He was a prominent leader now in the business community there, even though many of the Taiwanese families were not entirely comfortable with his Chinese citizenship.  (He was supposed to be downtown right now for the parade, but he had begged off, lying that his daughter had the sniffles.)  He had started his own secret Political Action Committee last year.  His power, wealth, and influence had never been higher, but he couldn't shake the feeling something was stalking him and his daughter.

"Something's wrong," he said quietly.

"What?!" pushed his father, who waited a few more moments, but Wu said nothing.  "Look, I know about Delia's m-o-t-h-e-r," said Montgomery, smiling at Delia, who had looked up at the sound of her name.  "Angela told me everything.  You have to let it go."  Wu jumped up, instantly understanding now that Angela was behind his father's sudden desire to take a winter vacation in Washington.  "Sit down!" barked his father, startling Delia.

"It's okay," said Wu, sitting back down to take his frowning daughter into his lap.  "We can't talk about this now," he said to his father, helping Delia put together a few pieces in her lap."

"Look, I know your mother is a bit superstitious and used to say she saw g-h-o-s-t-s, but--"

"I have, too," said Wu.

"You were very impressionable--you were just a child!" protested Montgomery.

"As an adult, too," replied Wu.

"She believed your brother was a m-o-n-s-t-e-r, switched at birth.  You know this now.  Clearly, her hysterical beliefs had an influence on you.  But the British Secret Service is 90% responsible for the d-e-a-t-h of the child's m-o-t-h-e-r."

"And they need to pay for it," said Wu quietly.

"No, they don't!" argued his father.  "That won't solve anything!  That won't give her a m-o-t-h-e-r!  All that will do is give her a homicidal f-a-t-h-e-r!  You're losing your grip, Charles!  Only love can conquer hate!"

Wu burst out laughing at this, which prompted a peal of laughter from little Delia, who kissed her father, then ran across the room to gather some little people to put in her fairy castle.  "There's so much darkness in my life," whispered Wu, suddenly fighting back tears.

"Well, welcome to the human race!  There's darkness in everybody's life!  Did you think you were immune because you were so handsome and clever and funny and charismatic?  You could find affection, admiration and respect everywhere you went.  Well, I didn't!  Your mother was the only woman that ever loved me, and she had a breakdown after the birth of your brother, and another after his death.  Life and death, hatred and love!  This is the ying and yang of the universe, Charles!  You can't escape it!  You have a million blessings in your life and choose to nurse a hatred over this one tragedy?  It's absurd!  It's childish!  Of course there's evil out there, but it's not d-e-m-o-n-s!  We're all bloody bastards but for the grace of God!"

Wu blinked back the tears.  He had never heard his father speaking like this.

"Snap out of it, Charles!" Montgomery exclaimed, and he took his son by the shoulders and shook him.  "Snap out of it!"

Delia skipped back to their corner of the room with two handfuls of little play people and farm animals to move into the Lego creation.   "Here's your pretty castle!" she told the little creatures, sitting down on the rug to arrange them.

"You have love in your life, son," said Montgomery.  "That's a lot more than many people have."

And for a few minutes, Wu forgot about all the spying and womanizing and drinking, the thrills and spills, the ups and downs, the calculated undernourishment of his conscience, the constant lies and betrayals.  For a few minutes, he thought only of his father and daughter, and how absurd he was to wear red clothing when he owed them so much more.  For a few minutes, this was enough, and it was good.

And so Charles Wu returned to his balanced perch, poised between good and evil.  Like so many Washingtonians, he would do what was best for himself, without deliberately wishing harm on others and yet not exactly lifting a finger to stop those who do.  His underdeveloped soul was at peace behind his massive wall of chi.

Out in the Chesapeake, the demon aborted another attempt to become Ardua of the Atlantic, and slithered back to the familiar waters of the Potomac.  I need to grow bigger, she thought, noticing that the break-up of river ice had brought the ducks back.  A lost sea turtle shuddered as Ardua went by, then continued his return to the Atlantic.  A flock of starlings landed on the west bank to tell Ardua about the Arlington National Cemetery funeral for the sniper who had become famous on YouTube for urinating on slain Taliban corpses.  Another flock of starlings landed on the east bank to tell the demon that Charles Wu had slipped out of the darkness and back to the line.

And the Washington media was too busy reporting on nutrition guidelines and Giuliani's definition of love for (the One Percent of) America to report on how the NSA hacked into a European sim card manufacturer, enabling it to spy on hundreds of thousands of cellphones without a court order--not even a "Get Out of Jail Free" card from FISA!

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COMING UP:  State (Department) of Confusion.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Yellentine's Day

Helen Yellen was walking up the aisle of St. Matthew's Cathedral, a beautiful church with enough Italian marble and devotional artwork to please her future mother-in-law.  The housesitter was on the arm of one of her favorite clients, Jon Bon Jovi, who was reluctantly giving her away even though he knew this meant she was unlikely to be able to keep a watchful eye on his New Jersey mansion ever again.  Bon Jovi knew he had been selected out of all her clients (rock star or otherwise) because of his Italian name, so it was a shame that Mrs. Talaverdi had told him at the rehearsal dinner that she didn't believe blondes were true Italians--his ancestors were clearly Swiss who had snuck over the Alps!  And Bon Jovi had promised to sing only Tony Bennett and Perry Como songs at the wedding reception, but he smiled to himself because he had a surprise planned anyway!

One way or another, nobody has the whole story walking up the aisle--that's what Maggie Smith had said on "Downtown Abbey"!  And as Helen walked towards the altar in a white velvet dress with Italian gloves and an Italian lace veil, she knew she probably should have told her groom that she believed their pot-bellied pig had ESP, but she would tell him that later.  She smiled at the guests in the pews--a motley assortment of hippies, punks, goths, international entrepreneurs, musicians, and actresses on her side, and a sea of somber business-attired types on his (including most of the members of Sense of Entitlement Anonymous, D.C. Chapter).  She recognized Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve Board, sitting in the second row, just behind the groom's mother; Helen Yellen didn't know the entire courtship had been all about the other Yellen.

FRB economist Luciano Talaverdi watched his bride float up the aisle, a winter fairy queen vision.  He had never told her that his interest in her had stemmed from the mistaken belief she was related to his boss, and that Helen was supposed to be the marital magic to boost his career.  But after discovering the truth about Helen's tragic childhood abroad and possession of the name "Yellen" only by adoption, he had stuck with her out of a mix of stubbornness, dating fatigue, and affection.  A lot of relationships start for the wrong reasons, he told himself, and she didn't need to know!  He took her arm with a smile, nodded appreciatively at Bon Jovi, and turned to face the priest.

Two hours later, the reception was under way in the central foyer of the Federal Reserve Board building.  Though Talaverdi had been on the cheaper side about quantitative easing, he and Bon Jovi had spent lavishly to drown the cold marble in a sea of Italian lights and roses.  Fifty table cloths had been dyed pink for the wedding guests, and a cupid ice sculpture greeted the guests as they arrived--except for Dick Cheney, who had been stopped at the entrance when the dogs smelled traces of explosives on his sleeves.  ("I just took in a little target practice in my basement shooting range this morning!"  "Sorry, sir, you can't come in."  "I'm the Vice-President of the United States!"  "No, that's Joe Biden."  "Don't you recognize me?!"  "No, sir, please step back and put your hands in the air.")

It was all very lovely.  Bon Jovi dutifully sang other people's mellow ballads for an hour until he was satisfied that the elder Mrs. Talaverdi had downed sufficient champagne, and then he signaled for Petro Pig to be escorted in riding a model red Ferrari.  "This is a toy version of the car I bought you, Helen and Luciano!  Happy Yellentine's Day!"  And then Bon Jovi launched into a raucous version of "I'll Be There For You".  The pot-bellied pig, however, was being harassed by Pippin, the ghost of Condoleezza Rice's cat, and pulled a "fainting goat".  Helen screamed and ran over to check on Petro Pig while Talaverdi was absorbing the fact that he now owned a red Ferrari!  He grabbed a glass of water to splash in the pig's face and knelt by his bride's side.

"We need to change our name legally to be the same thing," Talaverdi blurted out to his bride.  "We're a family now!  Let's both take the name 'Talaverdi Yellen', okay?"

Helen, of course, thought he meant a hyphenated "Talaverdi-Yellen", and happily agreed, but Talaverdi was ready to become a Yellen.  In the FRB directory, he would be "Luciano T. Yellen", right after "Janet L. Yellen".  When people started typing emails to her, they would have his name pop up in the address field!  It was all so exciting, he could hardly contain himself!

"I love you, Helen! I am ecstaticified!" he exclaimed, suddenly faltering in his English.

"I love you, too," murmured Helen, her head resting on Petro Pig's chest, listening to the racing heartbeat.  But something's wrong, she thought.

Ghost Pippin raced up into the FRB offices in an unsuccessful attempt to rip Charles Wu's listening devices out of the carpeting and crush his robotic millipedes, hatred burning in her little spectral heart.

**********************************************************
COMING UP:  The dark side of Charles Wu.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday the 13th nightmares Valentine-style.

It was one day before Luciano Talaverdi's Valentine's Day wedding with Helen Yellen, and he was in his shrink's office, recounting last night's nightmare.

"My mother rips my heart out.  I am very alarmed, but she says it has to grow back periodically.  I suddenly remember that she had already ripped out my stomach, saying the same thing."

"Hm," said psychiatrist Ermann Esse.

"Well?" asked the Federal Reserve Board economist.

Dr. Esse continued to write notes while he thought about this.  His patient was a classic mama's boy, but well within the acceptable bounds of Italian culture.  In fact, his patient had left Italy to live and work in the United States for several years.  Nonetheless, his pending nuptials were clearly stirring the pot.  "Your mother is here for the wedding?"

"Yes, she's been here for a week."

"How is she getting along with your fiancée?"

"She thinks Helen is a terrible cook, has hips so narrow she will die in childbirth, and talks to the pet pig too much."

"That's not so bad--I've heard worse," said Dr. Esse.

"I think when we have a child, she will want to come live with us."

"Many grandparents do."

"But that would be impossible!" exclaimed Talaverdi.

"Of course, but you could get her a nearby apartment.  Sometimes it is a challenge to find the right balance, but having a grandparent around is usually a good thing for most families."

"She will see."

"See what?" asked the shrink.

Talaverdi hesitated.  "I don't love Helen very much.  I love her enough, but not very much."

Dr. Esse frowned.  "Do you want to get married tomorrow?"

"Very much!" said Talaverdi truthfully.  "I just wonder, what if I meet somebody later that I like better?"

"You'll come talk to me about it," said Dr. Esse, determined to see one of his patients actually make it to the altar.

Several minutes later, Dr. Esse's next patient was on the couch:  U.S. Attorney Atticus Hawk.

"Well, I'm kind of glad she's back in my life, but it's really weird," said the Justice Department lawyer, who had no idea that Barbie Bucephalus (real name Barbara Hellmeister) was drugging him to feel good about her.  "She's still pretty evasive about how her farm burned down and why she was on the run for awhile.  She's working at the CIA, so she did pass their security clearance."

"Humph," said the shrink.  (Most of the CIA agents he knew were routine law-breakers.)

"Humph?"

"Go on, please."  (He was fully booked, what with it being Friday the 13th AND the day before Valentine's Day.)

"So last night, I had this crazy dream about her.  We're in Miami, and I'm dressed as 'Pepe', a Mexican organ grinder, but really I'm from the Dominican Republic.  Barbie tells me she hid cocaine in my accordion, and we start arguing about it.  Next thing I know, she's hammering long nails into my legs--she says it's acupuncture and won't hurt at all."

"Does it hurt?" asks Dr. Esse.

"No, but it's scary--I can see blood dribbling out of my legs.  I ask her to open the hotel window for some air, and this decapitated but living human head floats through the window to attack me.  Barbie tosses me a plastic fork to defend myself but the fork goes right in my eye.  Then I wake up."

"Wow," said Dr. Esse.

"Wow?" repeated Hawk.

"Several of my patients have been reporting zombie nightmares lately."

"I didn't say there was a zombie," said Hawk.

"Didn't you?"

"No."

"Well, there are some similarities.  When she left you before, she ended up on the FBI Most Wanted List, and your life was turned upside down for a long time.  Why do you think things are different now?"

"I don't," said the Justice Department attorney.  "I just feel like I need her, but I don't know why.  Tomorrow's Valentine's Day.  What am I supposed to say to her?"

"I think it is best in this situation to say nothing.  She is clearly in control of the relationship--you can only react."

"What kind of advice is that?!" exclaimed Hawk, angrily.

"The best I can give you," said the shrink, who was hoping the toxic girlfriend would dump him tomorrow after a lackluster Valentine's Day performance from Hawk.

Dr. Esse's next patient was Bridezilla.

"I dreamed I was walking up the aisle to marry Wince, when suddenly everybody and everything in the church turned into a circus!  There were elephants trumpeting and trapeze artists flying through the air and everything.  I got to Wince, and he looked very handsome.  He reached out his arm for me, and then he suddenly turned into clay.  Then the clay hardened, and he was a statue."

"Hm," said the shrink.

"Hm?"

"What do you think the dream means?" asked Dr. Esse.

"Every time I plan a wedding, it turns into a circus," said Bridezilla.

"Yes," said Dr Esse, pointing his pen at her, "but is this because of you or the groom?"

"Neither!" she cried.  "A crazy shooter showed up at my last wedding!"

"But the other weddings were not called off because of a crazy shooter."

"Okay!" exclaimed Bridezilla.  "I have issues--that's why I'm here!"

"Do you want to marry this man?  You called off the wedding the first time because he picked Croatia for a honeymoon spot."

"He said it was ten times more affordable than the Riviera!"

"And if you had married him then, you would now have that extra money in the bank, or in a house, or paying for your children's food and clothing."

"But Croatia!"

"Where will your honeymoon be this time?"

"He hasn't told me yet."

"Ah," said Dr. Esse.  "This is your parachute again, then."

"What does that mean?" she wailed.

"I think you know," he said.

After that, he was surprised to see Helen Yellen show up at his office.

"I know my fiancé is seeing you," she said to the psychiatrist.  "I'm not going to ask you what you talk about, but I'm having a little anxiety about this wedding tomorrow."

"When did the anxiety start?"

"After his mother arrived from Italy."

"Ah," said Dr. Esse.  "Go on."

"She doesn't like me."

"Many brides think their mothers-in-law are too harsh in the beginning, but over time this generally resolves itself."

"Last night I had this incredibly vivid dream.  I'm in China circa 1945 to attend the wedding of Superman to an American socialite who's been living in China teaching children.  We are at a pre-wedding party, and about 200 people are swimming in a huge pool.  One of the party guests suddenly starts walking on water:  she runs across the surface of the pool, then back again.  I ask her how she did it, and she says, 'It's easy!  Just make the top half of your body hotter than the bottom, and you'll float upwards.'  To make the top half hotter, she says I should flutter my arms rapidly to build up friction.  I try it and, much to my surprise, rise rapidly out of the water.  I get scared, though, and let myself drop back in.  Now other people ask me how to do it.  Suddenly someone tells me that they have evidence that Superman's fiancée is marrying him under false pretenses, and we have to warn him.  I suddenly realize it must be true because he's supposed to marry Lois Lane!  I see a vision of Superman and Lois Lane in the future:  first they are giving out food with Mother Theresa in India, then they are working on an Indian reservation in Arizona.  In my vision they look like Jesus and Mother Mary."

Dr. Esse continued writing notes for another minute, then looked carefully at Yellen.  "What do you think this means?"

"I'm not good enough for him--I'm not the one that's supposed to be in his story."

"Maybe he's not the one that's supposed to be in your story, but what I really think is it's not about who's good enough.  Maybe you are both in the right story, but your mother-in-law is giving you unfounded doubts.  You want to marry him, and you had no doubts until she showed up.  This is very common, and you can rise above it."

Yellen smiled at the psychiatrist, feeling a little bit better.

A little later, Dr. Esse was taking a 15-minute break to wolf down a microwave burrito when Didymus interrupted him.  (Didymus was actually the ghost of Robert McNamara.)

"I told Carter not to take the job, but he didn't listen to me!" said the former Secretary of Defense.  "War authorization in the Levant!  It's Vietnam all over again!"

"It is certainly not Vietnam," protested Dr. Esse, secretly relieved he finally had a non-Valentine-emergency patient.

"The U.S. can never win there!"

"But now the U.S. has peaceful relations with Vietnam!" said the psychiatrist.

"But that's not because we won the war!"

"Exactly!" cried the shrink, patting the ghost on the head.  "History repeating itself is not our greatest fear!"

"Yes, it is!" argued Didymus.

Outside his window, a catbird laughed at the sight, but another blast of frigid wind sent him scurrying from the ledge to look for shelter elsewhere.

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TOMORROW:  Luciano Talaverdi marries Helen Yellen to boost his career!

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Putting the Carter before the horse.

"He's not British, you see," said Cedric, who was using his liberal leave from the Arlington Group Home for the Mentally Challenged to call on Charles Wu's English governess.  "'Ashton Carter' sounds like a British name, but he's not.  He's not a lord or anything."

"Yes," said Mrs. Prudence Higgety-Cheshire, uncertain where this was going.

"I knew your husband, you see," said Cedric.

"Yes," repeated the governess, pouring herself more tea.

"He was a British spy."

"How did you know that?" asked Mrs. H-C in surprise.

"Well, I was, too," said Cedric.  "I was a British spy--well, I was an American spy posing as a Brit for awhile.  Well, that's not the important part."

"What is the important part?" asked Mrs. H-C, stopping to smile at little Delia, who was chattering to herself while working on her Peter Pan coloring book on the living room coffee table.

"Your employer is also a spy."

"Yes, I know that," replied the governess.

"But not a British spy--he's a Chinese spy!"

"He's from Hong Kong," said Mrs. H-C, "and his father is English.  Hong Kong was British before it reverted back to China, you see.  That's why he's such a valuable spy."

"He gives secrets to the Chinese!" protested Cedric.

"Well, of course!  He has to feed them little bits to get other bits out of them.  Are you sure you understand how this works?"

"I can protect you!" exclaimed Cedric, dropping to his knees.  "I love you!  I can take you to my family's nuclear bunker in Idaho!  We have enough canned beans there to live 20 years, easily!  There's also an old VCR with all the James Bond movies on tape.  Or do you prefer Sherlock Holmes?  Dad put in some of that, too."

"A bunker in Idaho!  Good heavens!"

"I love you!" exclaimed Buffy Cordelia, jumping up for a hug from Mrs. H-C.  (That was the only part of the conversation that had made much sense to her.)

"The Chinese spies are the biggest threat on the planet!  Why do you think Putin is running his submarines all over the place?  He can't compete with Chinese espionage!  He needs to scare people the old-fashioned way!  Don't you know it was the Chinese that hacked Sony and framed North Korea?  The Chinese are hacking everybody!  They are also secretly programming the Food Network with subliminal messages about communism--and don't get me started on what happened after the Chinese took control of Bravo!  The spider in my bedroom told me about that."

"Yes, well, that might very well be, but I don't see why I should have to go to Idaho.  It sounds like a dreadful place."

"But you can't trust Wu!" Cedric proclaimed.  "And I love you!  You need a real man in your life again!"

The governess looked at Cedric, who had dried oatmeal in his hair and was wearing his sweater backwards.

"Really, sir, this is very kind of you, and I'm sure my late husband would be grateful, but you're a bit of a mess.  Why don't we sort you out first, and then we can discuss Mr. Wu."

A few miles away, they were also discussing Defense Department nominee Ashton Carter at the Brewmaster's Castle in Dupont Circle.

"We absolutely cannot allow anybody named 'Carter' at the Pentagon!  It sends the wrong message," said the international arms dealer.  "What if people start talking about human rights again?"

The former CIA agent shuddered.  "And 'Ashton'--what sort of name is that?  It sounds like that gay guy from 'Gone With the Wind', doesn't it?!"

"Don't be ridiculous!" exclaimed the Heurich Society chair, Henrietta Samuelson.  "Does anybody have a serious objection to his nomination?"

"He's a physicist," crackled Condoleezza Rice over the speaker phone.  "They can't be trusted--they believe abstract hypothetical concepts are real.  Why didn't the Senators question him about defending the Earth from asteroid strikes?  Because he would have argued that we could stop asteroids with a string theory singularity!"

"What does that mean?" asked the investment banker.

"Nothing!" exclaimed Rice.  "Absolutely nothing!"

"Well, he's pro-Argentina, so he's got that going for him," said Samuelson.

"I'm not comfortable with this nomination!" protested the former CIA agent.  "I say we derail it!"

"We could end up with somebody worse," said the former U.S. Congressman, "or a woman!"

"What?!" hollered Rice over the speaker phone.

"First Loretta Lynn and now Jimmy Carter," said the investment banker, shaking his head.  "Back to the 1970s we go, and then inflation."

"Loretta Lynch and Ashton Carter," said Samuelson, shaking her head in annoyance.  "If nobody has a real objection, we need to move on to other business.  I know one of you was involved in that insane pass call at the end of the Super Bowl!  Who was it?  You know how I feel about wasting our resources on sports!"

A mile away, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was discussing Ashton Carter's nomination with former Senator Evermore Breadman in his Prince and Prowling corner office.

"His name just gives me the heeby-jeebies," said McConnell.  "'Carter!'"

"Why do I keep hearing this?" exclaimed Breadman, throwing his hands in the air.  "The GOP is in control of Congress, now!  You can do more with your lives than hating Democrats and hating Obama nominees!  What's the policy going to be?  Hating Cuba and wanting to bomb ISIS does not constitute a cohesive defense policy!"

McConnell gasped.  "Evermore!"

"Look," said Breadman, who was more than capable of making money with any political party in power, "what about the Navy corruption scandal?  That's the sort of thing my clients worry about!  That's the sort of thing that motivates them when it comes time to drop cash into the PACs!  When a new sheriff comes to town, he might change contracting rules!  He might embolden the Inspector General!  You need to be prepared to bring the right kind of oversight!"

"Well, I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," muttered McConnell.

"I've got honest businessmen losing money because military officers are taking bribes from foreigners!  How the Hell did that happen?  It's just wrong!  The Pentagon needs to stop doing business with Fat Leonard and show some love for American contractors!"

"Um, okay," said McConnell, unsure where this was going.

"The Secretary of Defense is only as good as American oil men and weapons manufacturers can make him, Mitch!  My clients are happy to do their part, but you boys need to do yours, too!"

A mile away, in Foggy Bottom, Dr. Khalid Mohammad was in the cafeteria taking a break from emergency room duty at George Washington University Hospital.  Nurse Consuela Arroyo sat down next to him, noting his untouched food and two empty coffee cups.  "Not sleeping?" she asked.  He shook his head.  "Maybe we should talk about it."

"What's there to talk about?" asked Mohammad.  "My cousin was burned alive in a cage by ISIS.  I left Jordan because I was a coward."

"You're a doctor!" Arroyo said.  "There was nothing you could have done!  You're trying to bring your relatives here--"

"Because I gave up on Jordan!  I gave up on my homeland!  Others still fight for it."

"We're not all meant to be fighters or martyrs.  The world needs doctors, too."

"The Americans gave Jordan fighter planes, and a Jordanian pilot is dead in Iraq."

"He didn't die in vain," said Arroyo.

"Didn't he?  Now there will be a new Secretary of Defense, but nothing will change.  There has never been peace in the Middle East in two thousand years.  They just invent new ways to kill each other."

"And we invent new ways to stitch them up," said the nurse.

Dr. Mohammad burst out laughing.  "Do you have any idea how absurd your optimism is?" he asked.

"It's called faith," she said.  "Lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness.  You are a doctor, and you do good in this world."

It's never enough, he thought, but he didn't say it out loud.

Back in Cleveland Park, Mrs. Higgety-Cheshire had finally succeeded in chasing away her eccentric suitor a few minutes before her employer arrived from the airport with his father, Charles Wilkinson Montgomery.  She let little Delia run outside to meet them and watched from the doorway as Montgomery scooped up his only grandchild in his arms.  Wu carried his father's bags in, and she told him tea was ready.  Wu nodded without a smile, and she wondered what they had talked about in the car.

Out on the river, veteran Dubious McGinty had fallen asleep in the 14th Street Bridge watchman's quarters, reading Internet articles about Ashton Carter on the old laptop that reporter Perry Winkle had given him.  McGinty was dreaming about Vietnam and Robert McNamara and a song that a Chicano used to sing when he was smoking reefer.

        They say in the morning, the fighting will stop.
        They say in the afternoon, the war will be over.
        They say in the evening, the enemy will surrender.
        But it's Pascual who's working on it.

Ardua of the Potomac laughed as she swam under the bridge, looking for her next target.

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COMING UP:  Luciano Talaverdi marries Helen Yellen!

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Girl Hurl 2015!

Liv Cigemeier had been doing the Girl Hurl blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account for two years now--first for International Development Machine, then for International Development Nerds, and now again for International Development Machine.  Even though "philanthropist" Charles Wu was primarily funding her current position to administer his spy-cover operations in the Philippines, he had always been supportive of her efforts to promote girls' rights all over the world.  But today, he was not quite certain.

"It's just time to push the envelope a little," said Liv, pulling the tiny burqa over the adorable face of Wu's 3-year-old daughter, Buffy Cordelia.  "First I post the normal photos, then the burqa photos."  Little Delia giggled under what she thought was a Halloween costume.  Liv's also giggling son, Lucas (who was not yet one), was dressed as a Saudi prince and propped up in a toy car beside her.

"Are you sure this is going to have the intended effect?" asked Wu.

"Yes--controversy, commentary, discussion.  And I'm not just posting the photos:  I'm writing about it.  Michelle Obama appeared in Saudi Arabia without even a head scarf--this is a great time to pounce on this issue!"

"Of course," murmured Wu, saluting Liv's husband as he walked into the living room photo shoot.  "Our children are making a bold political statement on social media today, Felix!"

"Wow," said Felix, "this looks really atrocious."

"Atrocious in a good way, you mean?" asked his wife.

By then, Delia was pulling the burqa off her face, but Liv had gotten enough photos.

"Um, yeah, I think," said ever supportive Felix, reaching down to pick up Lucas, who was clamoring for his daddy.

"Has Angela been by?" asked Wu, referring to his secret agent, the birth mother of Lucas.  "She's taking a break from work, and I haven't seen her in awhile."

"Yeah, she babysat last night while we had date night," said Liv, tossing the burqa on a chair and scooping Delia into her arms.  "She just gets prettier and prettier every day!  And sweeter and smarter, which is more important, of course."

"At least that's what you say in your blog," joked Wu, who, truth be told, was starting to getting alarmed that his daughter really was too pretty.  The world was full of leches like him, after all, and many of the American ones had fetishes about "exotic Asian" girls, which offended him on many levels.  Delia was only a "quarter" Chinese, but it was probably enough to attract those types of men--the ones who believed Asian women were sex kittens.  And Brazilian, French, English:  Delia was beautiful in so many ways.  He could see how a father might want to hide a pretty daughter's face from all the leches, but that was abjectly unfair--burqas were truly disturbing.  Still, he wasn't looking forward to those teenage years.  "Yes, my princess has everything going for her, knock on wood."

"Thank you so much, Charles!" said Liv, handing the motherless Delia back.  "I know my little voice doesn't pull a lot of weight in the world, but we have to keep trying, don't we?"

"Yes, of course," said Wu.

Several miles away, Angela de la Paz was again at the National Arboretum visiting Dr. Devi Rajatala.  There were still a lot of things Dr. Rajatala didn't know about Angela, but she was the closest thing to a mother that Angela had.

"You're not really happy in your work," said Dr. Rajatala, handing more gardening tools to Angela to clean.  (With yearly budget cuts, the arborist had more and more work on her plate.)  "Have you thought at all about going back to school?"

Angela looked at Dr. Rajatala, who had been the first woman in her own family to go to college, eventually getting a Ph.D.  She had been on a fairly straight-line path all her life, not that it had been easy, but--

"I know how much you like helping people," continued Dr. Rajatala.  "Maybe social work?"

"My boss needs help, Dr. Raj," Angela finally blurted out.  "Last year, he found out his daughter's mother was killed tragically, and I think he wants revenge.  There's this darkness settling into him, and I don't know what to do about it."

"Have you talked to him about it?" asked the arborist, alarmed.

"I tried."

"What do you think he's going to do?"

"I don't think he's decided yet.  I think he's just letting this anger grow inside himself to a dangerous level.  He's angry that his daughter has to grow up without a mother."

"But the mother had already given up that girl, didn't she?"

"Yes," said Angela, "but when it became permanent for the worst of reasons, Charles got furious about it."

Dr. Rajatala finished tightening the screws on a spade and handed it to Angela for the to-be-cleaned pile.  "I think you should ask him to get counseling.  See, that's the sort of thing a social worker can help with, or a psychologist.  How could you possibly know how to help him?"

Angela tossed a hoe into the clean pile.  Dr. Rajatala had been like a social worker to adolescent Friendship Gardeners for a decade now, but still claimed to believe that nothing could or should be done without the proper academic training.  Or maybe she's still trying to protect me.  She's never stopped trying to protect me.  "He doesn't really let people get close to him.  I'm one of the few people he will even listen to."

"But he stopped listening," said Dr. Rajatala.

"You can't just give up on people!" said Angela.

Dr. Rajatala looked with pride at this young woman who had been through so much, had lost so much already.  "I'm not saying give up on him, sweetie, but he might need more help than you can give him."

The two fell back into silence.  If Charles had a demon inside him, Angela would know what to do--but it was just his own darkness.

A couple miles away, in their Chinatown herb shop, Lynnette Wong was also contemplating the growing darkness in Charles Wu.  Though his affection and respect for her seemed genuine enough (albeit, not very strong), she knew he was primarily viewing her as a potential stepmother for little Delia.  Though he was wooing her, he had shown little interest in having deep, emotional conversations with her.  She was mixing up a new blend of herbs for him, but she was running out of ideas for re-balancing his massive chi.  She knew she was in no danger, and Delia was in no danger, but this looming darkness in Wu was going to vent somewhere.  She looked around her shop, and smiled at a browsing customer.  Who am I kidding?  I'm sprinkling drops of water on a roaring fire.  Wu had been precisely balanced between good and evil for so long, and then they had been lulled into believing that becoming a father had pushed him over to the light.  But no.  Delia was, ironically, the reason he was now in the dark.  A dark that could not be touched by the love of a girl...or a woman...because it was focused on the evil done by men.

Over on Capitalism Hill, Ann Bishis was contemplating her path from law school  to Congressman Herrmark's office, where she had risen to Chief of Staff.  Though nobody could argue Representative Herrmark had much influence in Congress, she felt she had done a good job for his constituents and at least some of his personal goals.  But now they finally had a chance to make a huge difference:  she just had never expected it to be like this.

"What should we do with him now?" asked her cousin, Nick, one of Herrmark's twin bodyguards.  He and Costas both looked to Ann for the answer.

She looked at a very pale Herrmark, who was also waiting for her answer.  I am now a powerful woman on Capitol Hill, she thought to herself.  She looked down at the zombie they had lured into the men's restroom and decapitated.  Maggots were already crawling out of its neck.

"I can't believe this is really happening," whispered Herrmark, starting to shake.

"Cut off and flush everything you can," Ann said to her cousins, pulling her boss over to a sink to start washing blood off his hands.  "Then take what's left down to the incinerator."

"Is it hot enough to burn bones?" asked Costas.

"I think so," said Ann, chastising herself for not having a disposal plan.  She knew celebrating their first kill would be in bad taste, but she felt she needed to say something to commemorate the successful launch of their campaign against the Zombie Caucus.  "We did a good thing here."

"Maybe I should get the Holier Than Thou Caucus involved," said Herrmark, suddenly feeling more than a politically expedient interest in religion.

"They could have zombies on their own staffs," said Bishis.  "We need to do more investigating, first."

"But they could help us!" whined Herrmark.

"Not until we're sure," said Bishis.  "I have a huge list of suspects and a new leadership style in the Senate, so it will take some time to monitor committee activity and voting patterns.  All I know for certain is that there was no zombie influence on the global warming vote--that was partisan.  Zombies don't care whether the planet heats up or not."

Nick and Costas nodded as if this made perfect sense, then they slyly smiled at each other.  This job was really getting interesting now!

A few miles to the west, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was experiencing an unexpected smackdown in the Prince and Prowling office of former Senator Evermore Breadman.

"You need to affirm Lynch as Attorney General!  What happened was a disgrace!"

"What are you talking about?" gasped McConnell, who had expected a conversation about Breadman's pro-Keystone clients who had spent big on GOP campaigns last fall.

"Calling her 'Eric Holder with ovaries' is a disgrace!"

"But we didn't call her that!" protested McConnell.  "Dinesh D'Souza did!"

"I don't care if the Mormon Tabernacle Choir called her that!  You should have condemned that remark!  If you allow that to stand, how do we stop people from calling Clarence Thomas 'Scalia with melanin', huh?"

"But that's outrageously racist and offensive!"

"What's the difference?" snarled Breadman.

"It's outrageously racist and offensive!" repeated McConnell.

"Wrong answer!" bellowed Breadman.  "You need to confirm that woman now--you don't have a decent leg to stand on!"

"Alright, alright!" said McConnell.  After a few minutes of discussing Keystone XL, McConnell was thrilled to take his leave.

Breadman's wife stood up from where she had been hiding behind Breadman's couch.  It was the first time she had been to his Prince and Prowling office in years.  "That was really well done, sweetheart!" she said, more pleased with her man than she had been in a very, very long time.  "Let's have a drink!"

Back at the National Arboretum, Angela petted Rani (the donkey) one more time and took leave of Dr. Rajatala.  She had a feeling that the Warrior was near, and it comforted her.  And then she realized something:  men really could do something that women could not--understand other men.  She would ask what the Warrior thought about Charles, and if that didn't help, she would bring back his father.

Finally she saw and heard her pink warbler, and followed it through the winter woods.

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COMING UP:  Will Republicans allow somebody named "Carter" to become Secretary of Defense????

Monday, January 26, 2015

It's snowing drones!

"Cigemeier!"  (It had been awhile since Prince and Prowling partner Felix Cigemeier had heard that kind of yelling from former Senator Evermore Breadman, and he knew what it was about.)  "I thought you had this drone practice under control!"  Breadman threw down his coat and slammed Cigemeier's door.  "I get back from Augustus Bush's place in the U.S. Virgin Islands to hear drones are slamming into the White House, and one of our clients has self-reported to the Secret Service?!  Tell me I heard wrong!"

"Nothing slammed into the White House, Senator," replied Cigemeier.  "And it was just one drone--it landed on the lawn."

"In the middle of the night?!  Tell me you are not advising our clients they can fly drones over White House air space at two in the morning?!"

"Certainly not, sir.  They all know White House air space is off-limits 24/7."

"Well, evidently not!" exclaimed Breadman.  "Why the hell were they flying it in the middle of the night?"

"To take photos of the Washington Monument at night," said Cigemeier.

Breadman burst out laughing.  "Please tell me you're not that naive!"

"That's what he said, and I had no reason to question it."

"Because January is when people want to be out taking photos of the Washington Monument!" said Breadman sarcastically.

"It had something to do with the snow."

"You better screen these clients better!  Their money isn't worth this kind of risk for the firm!  I want you to put a GPS tracking device in every one of those drones, and if they get within three blocks of POTUS, SCOTUS, or the dome, an alarm goes off on your phone!  If they don't agree, drop them as clients!  Whose drone was it?"

"Glenn Michael Beckmann."

Breadman didn't recognize the name, and stomped out.  Cigemeier breathed deeply, certain he had escaped his worst-ever crisis at the law firm by the seat of his pants.  He didn't buy his client's story, either, but that's what Beckmann had said during the questioning--and some other crazy stuff.  The odd thing was that the Secret Service agents had seemed already familiar with Beckmann, by the questions they had asked.  And Cigemeier had been jubilant to get out of that conference room.  And now he was starting to envy Breadman's liquor stash.

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COMING UP:  Girl Hurl 2015!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Adventures of Ghost Pippin

They were gathered at Washington Circle for the funeral of Wolfman Jackie, a recently deceased Irish wolfhound.  Becky Hartley had placed shamrock-shaped hurricane-glass candles in a circle around the urn holding WJ's ashes, and Dizzy was 30 feet away, playing "Danny Boy" on his trumpet.  (The homeless musician had not been invited, but nobody seemed to mind.)  The co-owners (who had paid Hartley $50 for the economy package) were sobbing softly as she eulogized the dog.

"We are laying Jackie to rest at the time and place he loved best:  evening stroll, Washington Circle.  Jackie loved sniffing the park, barking at starlings, chasing a Frisbee, and watching people walk through the park.  Jackie also loved peeing on the statue of George Washington, which ignorant people might find disrespectful but which dog-lovers know meant that Jackie was marking our first President as his own.  Jackie was known for eating food out of the garbage, growling at bobbleheads, and letting small children take short rides on his back.  [Much louder sobbing.]  Let's spend a few moments talking about the day Wolfman Jackie first went home with--"

Sebastian L'Arche finally gave in to the fierce pulls of his seven leashed dogs and walked briskly away from his colleague.  Then the dogs abruptly stopped to the right of the George Washington statue, with hair raised and low growls in their throats.  Now the Dog Whisperer could see what they were riled up about:  the feline ghost of Pippin was sitting on the horse's tail, and the canine ghost of The Gopper was sitting below it.  "Oh, no," L'Arche moaned.  He had been hoping that Ghost Pippin was a supernatural freak, and was devastated to see his old pal, The Gopper, in spectral form.  "What the Hell?"  The Dog Whisperer had heard that The Gopper was last seen in the (hired?) company of a Capitol Hill staffer, but he had never heard the full story.  "Why, Goppie?" he asked, after approaching as closely as the taut leashes would allow him.  Then The Gopper told him about being ripped apart by the Zombie Caucus in the Congressional tunnels.

A hissing Ghost Pippin abruptly launched himself off the statue in the direction of L'Arche's pack of dogs, who violently jerked their leashes and ran away, with a disturbed L'Arche running behind them.  He finally got them to calm down before they ran into traffic, squatted down to whisper to them for a few moments, then persuaded the dogs to return to the memorial for their friend, Wolfman Jackie.

Hartley looked up at L'Arche's return with a hint of annoyance.  "And so we will not sprinkle Jackie's ashes, to be blown by the wind and rain into the sewers.  We will pour them gently into this six-inch grave I have dug under a grass divot, where Wolfman Jackie will someday become part of the grassy field he loved."

Some of the other dogs in attendance looked puzzled by this last bit, but not L'Arche's dogs:  he had explained in advance everything that would happen at the service.  Hartley lifted up the divot to show the grieving parents where to pour the ashes, and they jointly tipped over the urn, letting out an even louder burst of sobbing--which led some dogs to start howling.  Then they tossed in his favorite chew toy.  Hartley gently patted down the divot and handed them a water sprinkler.  "Just a few drops to help him mix in."  The parents were not enthusiastic about that last idea, but went ahead and did it.

"Please let Becky know when you're interested in adopting another dog," interjected L'Arche at this point.  "I'm always fostering dogs."

"Too soon!" whispered Becky, grabbing L'Arche's arm and pulling him away.  "Give them some time to grieve!  The clover-scented candles are still burning!"

"Sorry."

"What was all that about?" asked Hartley, when they were out of ear shot.

"I saw Ghost Pippin again.  He was with the ghost of The Gopper."

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Hartley.  "Why is this happening?"

"I don't know," said L'Arche.  "Goppie said he was ripped apart by the Zombie Caucus in the tunnels under Capitalism Hill."

"What the Hell does that mean?!"

"There must be zombies in Congress," sighed L'Arche.  "That's not really a big surprise, but these animal spirits are freaking me out!  Dogs always bark at ghosts, and they don't like ghosts, so what does it mean when dogs become ghosts?  Are they bad?"

"Do they even have a soul?" asked Hartley.

"They have something!  But this is really messed up."

"But you said Ghost Pippin seems evil.  Did The Gopper Ghost?"

"I don't think so," replied L'Arche, "but he was runnin' with Pippin."

Over on Capitol Hill, the Zombie Caucus was celebrating some of 2015's early victories--especially renaming the "Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights" to simply the "Subcommittee on the Constitution".  They raised their glasses of pulpy blood to the chief of staff for Senator John Cornyn and exclaimed in unison, "Down with humans!"  (They were dining on a cleaning lady tonight--an unfortunate immigrant from El Salvador.)  "Up with zombies!"

Back at Washington Circle, the funeral had broken up.  All the dogs and dog-handlers paying their respects were now gone.  Dizzy carefully finished cleaning his mouthpiece, and put his trumpet back in the case.

"Hssssssssssssssss!"

Ghost Pippin was arching his back at Dizzy, who picked up his case and started running.  Then he heard an unnatural bark, and turned to see another ghost--this time a dog!  He started running faster.

The Gopper Ghost was actually barking at Ghost Pippin, who complained that he never wanted Pippin to have any fun.  The Gopper repeated (for the hundredth time) that dogs and cats were supposed to help humans, not hurt them, and Pippin repeated (for the hundredth time), "fool!"  Ghost Pippin had been Condoleezza Rice's cat, and his view of the human race was very hawkish.  Pippin hated Charles Wu, Colin Powell, Laura Bush, Henry Samuelson's ghost, the Chicago Bears, the New York Giants, Miley Cyrus, Ted Turner, Sunny and Bo, Rizzoli and Isles, Stephen Colbert, Hillary Clinton, everybody on "America's Got Talent", the George Washington mascot of the Washington Nationals, Dick Cheney's housekeeper (Olivia), and probably hundreds (if not thousands) of other people, except that Pippin had a tiny little feline brain without a huge amount of memory.  For that reason, he was prone to erupting with rage at almost anybody, uncertain if they were somebody he actually hated.

Ghost Pippin also hated Petro Pig, but The Gopper Ghost was willing to let that slide.  However, he would not give up trying to convince Pippin that pets were supposed to like humans, and it was unnatural for pets to hate humans!  Pets should help humans whenever possible!

After months of this, Pippin was not the slightest bit convinced, so The Gopper finally decided to try a new tactic.  "Weren't you named after a prince in search of a grand purpose in life?"  (Pippin was actually named by a frenemy of Condoleezza Rice's, who was trying to convince the then-Secretary of State to let go of some of her grand ambitions and seek solace in domestic bliss.)  "'Corner of the Sky', 'Spread a Little Sunshine', 'Glory'--don't you want to find a purpose and mission?"

"'War Is a Science!'  That's what I remember!" exclaimed Ghost Pippin (who had, in fact, heard Rice play the "Pippin" soundtrack many times).

"Well, I think we need to warn the humans about the Zombie Caucus.  They're eating people!  And passing bad legislation."  (The Gopper Ghost had both a bigger heart and bigger brain than Ghost Pippin.)

"No!" hissed Ghost Pippin.  "And stop following me around!"  He hissed again, and The Gopper shook his head in disgust, then trotted away to search for a new pack.

Ghost Pippin jumped back on top of the George Washington statue, this time on the head.  He was filled with rage (all the time), but maybe The Gopper Ghost had a point?  Maybe he would be happier if he had a purpose?  Every day seemed so pointless--wandering around, throwing hissy fits, urinating on other ghosts, frightening the sparrows.  It was then that a catbird alighted on the tail, looked Ghost Pippin in the eye, and began chirping, "Ardua ... Ardua ... Ardua...."