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 4/12/2014. Follow Washington Water Woman on Twitter @HorrorDC ....

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Visit to Georgetown

British special agents Nigel "Prickly" Blackthorne and Richard "The Third" Mollington were knocking back another lager at Kafe Leopold, whining quietly but vehemently about the refusal of their boss, Paul, to let them have a 3-day weekend with the Yanks.

"Where is this bloke, anyway?" muttered Prickly.  "I've told Paul a hundred times these Viennese agents are overrated."

"You're preaching to the choir, mate," said The Third.  "They're good at selling arms to terrorists, and then forgetting where the arms go!"

"And forgetting their appointments," said Prickly.  "Bloody useless!  Wait a minute!  Maybe he said to meet us at Stoney's?  He likes their grilled cheese."

"What are you bloody talkin' about?!" exclaimed The Third.  "Who would pick Stoney's over Kafe Leopold?"

"Well, a bloke's gotta mix it up," said Prickly.  "I think maybe we're supposed to be at Stoney's."

"How could you get it so screwed up?" asked The Third.

"Oh, don't start on me!  I had a rough week!"

"Binge-watching 'The Musketeers' doesn't count as a rough week!"

"And I had to go salsa dancing with Carolyn!  It was dreadful!"

"It's too late to catch him at Stoney's now," said The Third.

"Maybe he'll stop at Whole Foods and do his shopping afterwards?" suggested Prickly.

A few tables away, Camisole Silk signaled Apricot Lily that it was time to make their move.  The two got up and sauntered over to the British agents they had lured to Georgetown.

"This song is a great song to tango to," said Silk, looking directly at Prickly.  "Would you like to clear a few tables and dance with me?"

Prickly looked over at The Third for guidance, but The Third had a weakness for beautiful Chinese women, and Lily was extending her hand in a silent invitation to dance, as well.

Prickly looked back at Silk.  "I tried the salsa last week, but I mucked it right up--a total halibut, I was."

"Tango is much easier," said Silk, grabbing his hand and pulling him up.  "Really, you just push me around backwards, and I do the rest."

"Really, is that all?" asked The Third, rising to his feet to dance with Lily.

"Count to four," whispered Lily.  "One, two, three, four."

The Third had never seen lips that red and shiny.  "One, two, three, four."  He promptly pushed her into a table, but she just giggled at him.  "And you have to look over my shoulder."

Prickly, on the other hand, was having no trouble looking over Silk's shoulder--he was too terrified to make eye contact with her.  Mostly he was worried he'd never be able to eat at Kafe Leopold again, imagining the waiters sneering at them in the future as British dolts' hiring Chinese hookers.  But Silk and Lily didn't need their money--Charles Wu was paying them for this.

Not far away, Wu was having a quiet dinner with Angela de la Paz at the Old Europe restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue--not too far from the haunted house she was keeping vigil over.

"You didn't have to do this," said Angela.  "You're paying me to work for you!"

"Well, I haven't been seeing you too often lately, and I wanted to thank you in person for retrieving my drone."

"It was no big deal," said Angela.  "And it wasn't even in one piece."

"No big deal for you, maybe, but I never would have found it again without your help!  You need to tell me more about this Ghost CIA."

"They're mostly harmless," said Angela.  "Sometimes they get their act together, but there are much bigger threats out there."

"Are they really in the CIA, haunting actual agents?"

"Sometimes.  Sometimes they go overseas.  Samuelson keeps shifting focus, so his leadership is a little problematic."

Wu took another sip of wine, trying to wrap his head around all this.  "What I was worried about was Condoleezza Rice having enough evidence to get me deported!  The Ghost CIA was not remotely on my radar."

"What are you trying to get out of Prickly and The Third?" asked Angela, who knew about the spy operation underway at the other end of Georgetown.

"I'm not sure," Wu said.  "I think they're hiding something from me."

"They're spies!" she laughed.  "That's what you all do!"

"No, it's something big," he said, looking at her wistfully--he had given up trying to convince her to use her Dreamtime abilities for mentally invasive espionage, and was grateful her scruples still allowed her to work for him at all.  "I know, I know--if I'm in real danger, you'll know."

"You're not in any danger," Angela said.  "But I worry about the bigger picture."

"Look, this ghost stuff is a bit much for me--I can't really think about that."

"No," she said.  "I mean Russia and everything.  Don't you worry about how the things you do fit into the bigger picture?"  (One thing Angela had in common with Ardua of the Potomac:  they both knew Wu was poised in a perfect balance between good and evil, seemingly immune to either side's ability to tip him completely over.)  "China, the U.S., Britain--you're spying for all of them, so how does it balance out?  What good does it do?  People talk about World War III like it's going to happen someday, but the world is always at war.  I think someday I'm going to have a vision about nuclear bombs, but I'm just one person."

Wu took another sip of wine, at a loss for words.  All the choices he had made in his life--every, single one of them--made perfect sense to him.  His chi had made him more powerful, more intelligent, more skillful than almost anybody he had ever known.  But he had vulnerabilities, and the more he tried to ignore them, the more Angela reminded him of them.  He took another sip of wine, as she waited patiently for him to say something, but he just wanted to go home, read a bedtime story to little Delia, and then get drunk.  "You are just one person," he said at last.  "But in your case, it's far more than enough."  They both knew she had wanted him to say something about nuclear secrets, high-level espionage, and what direction the world was really going in, but he couldn't.  "And you're still young!" he added, wondering how many more of his messes she would have to clean up before it was all said and done.

Back at the other end of Georgetown, Camisole Silk and Apricot Lily had coaxed Prickly and The Third down to the waterfront, where the Chinese spies twirled in the rain, soaked (most becomingly) to the skin.

"Come on, now!" shouted Prickly.  "There's lightning!  It isn't safe here!"  He tried to grab Silk, but she slipped through his hands.

"Lily!" pleaded The Third.  "The thunder's too close now, love!  We need to find a taxi!"  He slicked his wet hair out of his eyes, feeling more alive than he had in years.

The ladies finally acquiesced to getting into a taxi with their marks, barely eluding the grasp of Ardua as she lunged out of the river to grab them.  The lightning cracked again, and the demon glided back towards Key Bridge to continue her hunt.

Up on the hill, in a darkened Georgetown University building, The Seekers sat silently around a conference table, looking out the window at the approaching storm.

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COMING UP:  Congress returns to town, and still accomplishes nothing (except groping Senator Kirsten Gillibrand).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Constantine the Coroner

John Constantine was finishing his final autopsy of the day.  All in all, it was a fairly typical Sunday of work after the usual late night and early morning shootings and drunk driving accidents.  He was annoyed that his days off earlier in the week had been rainy, and he had to work on this beautiful Sunday, but all the coroners took turns covering the weekend-blowout shift, and it was his turn.

He peeled back the sheet and began examining another Great Falls drowning victim.  It was a young man who looked healthy and strong enough to swim, but Constantine knew by now that a lot of people died in the Potomac's tricky tides and currents.  The young man's friends had told his parents they were sure they saw something capsize his kayak and drag him under, so the parents had requested an investigation for foul play.

Constantine's boss popped into the room.  "You can write two reports, if you want--one for the public and one for my private file."  He looked at the young man for a moment.  "You probably won't see it, but sometimes...."  He didn't finish his thought, knowing that Constantine was well aware of his boss's belief that an evil demon lived in the river.  "But you can call me at home if you want to," he concluded, then left.

"OK, buddy," Constantine said.  "If you want to tell me who or what killed you, I'm all ears."  He stared at the corpse for a few moments, but got nothing.  "I don't know why people believe in ghosts," he muttered.  "There would be no unsolved murders if ghosts really existed!"

The corpse's ghost howled in frustration, but, like most new ghosts, he was too angry and frustrated to listen to his elders' advice on how to communicate to the living.  "Ardua!" he kept noiselessly yelling.  "Ardua of the Potomac!"

Over at Southwest Plaza, Glenn Michael Beckmann (who had sent a few people to the D.C. coroner's office) was taking an afternoon nap, unaware that the Ghost CIA had invaded his apartment to inspect the Charles Wu spy drone he had shot down a few hours earlier.  "No!" he moaned, having a nightmare about wallpaper patterns.  "Stop it!"  (His fake lifestyle blog and front business, Beckmann's Floral Cushions, were taking a toll on him.)  "No!"

"What is wrong with him?!" exclaimed Ghost Henry's deputy.

The ghost of Henry Samuelson shrugged.  "Bad dream--just ignore it."

Beckmann was getting very agitated.  He kept walking into new dream rooms where the wallpaper was different, and then then the floral cushion in his hand would change pattern to match the wallpaper.  "Stop it!  I worked hard on these flowers!"  (Ghost Henry shook his head in disgust.)  Finally, he jumped up screaming, then started screaming even louder because he had taken off the knee braces protecting his shattered knee caps.  He sank back onto the bed, now howling from conscious pain rather than unconscious demons.

"Hard to believe the Heurich Society wanted to hire this clown," said Ghost Henry's deputy.

"Well, he did get Charles Wu's drone!" replied Ghost Henry.

"I wish John Doe had arrived to pick it up for us before Beckmann woke up," said the deputy, who had been struggling for 20 minutes just to get the hallway door unlocked for Doe.  "Now, what are we gonna do?"

"We'll just have to wait and signal Doe when Beckmann is in the bathroom," said Ghost Henry.

"How do you know he'll use the bathroom?"

"He ate three chili dogs and drank a fifth of scotch before his nap," said Ghost Henry.  "He'll be in the bathroom as soon as he can hobble over there!"

Back at the coroner's office, John Constantine was finishing his two reports--the official one, which said that the young man died from water in his lungs and cardiac arrest, and the unofficial one, which added:  "Slimy, viscous liquid under fingernails, which could be consistent with digging fingers into an unknown marine life form.  Other signs of struggle include four broken ribs and eyes locked in open position."  Constantine sighed.  There's no point in telling his family this, right?  What are they gonna do?  Ask the police to search for a suspect in the river?  Constantine returned the body to the cooler.  He shivered.  Eyes wide open.  Drowning victims always have their eyes shut, don't they?

Over in Georgetown, Angela de la Paz was having a backyard picnic dinner with Golden Fawn, Marcos Vazquez, and Joey Bent Oak.  The family had turned the key on their new house a couple hours earlier, and were not entirely surprised to find that Angela had been camping out there for weeks.

"So there's nothing you can do?" asked Golden Fawn, smoothing out the blanket over the wild plant growth beneath them.

"Not yet," said Angela.  "I need more time.  I can't just destroy them, like demons."  She looked at young Joey, who was not eating his cherry pie as enthusiastically as one might expect.  "But I can keep you safe."

"Are you absolutely sure?" asked Vazquez.

"Yes," she said.  "These are definitely the angriest ghosts I've ever seen, but I can block them from hurting you.  I think eventually they'll get frustrated and leave."

"Will they go haunt a different house, then?" asked Joey.

"There's only one place they can go--Purgatory."

"And then Heaven?" asked Joey.

"After their penance," said Angela.

"Because they were bad?" asked Joey.

Angela was not going to tell any of them--least of all little Joey--that the ghosts had been responsible for more murders and suicides than the realtor had disclosed to them prior to their bargain-priced purchase from the bank.  "Yes," Angela said.  "They were bad.  They were treated very cruelly as slaves in this house, worked to death, and then sought revenge--except they treat every new owner in this house badly, not just their own.  They need to learn that's wrong."

Golden Fawn pulled Joey into her lap.  "Maybe we should take a little vacation--give Angela more time?"

"No!" exclaimed Joey.  "I'm not afraid!  I'm not afraid of those ghosts!  They should be afraid of me!"

Angela smiled:  the ghosts were just starting to be afraid of her.

A few miles to the east, John Constantine was sipping absinthe alone at the Black Squirrel, waiting for his dinner to come.  He usually preferred quieter places after a busy day, but tonight he was hoping the din of the crowd would drown out the thoughts in his own head.  Constantine came from a long line of coroners, and had been taught early on not to fear death, but he was seeing things in this city that gave him the creeps.  He sighed, half wishing that his girlfriend was back from her Greek vacation, half glad she wasn't.  He had very little in common with her, and come October, it would be a year--time to fish or cut bait.  He sighed again.  She had all kinds of kooky (pagan?) habits herself, but whenever he tried to bring up anything weird weighing on his mind, she strenuously resisted.  Ann Bishis did not want to be sidetracked by anything outside her comfort zone, and their relationship was stuck in a dull and shallow pattern.  And yet.  He smiled at the arrival of his dinner, and nodded to accept the waiter's offer of another absinthe.  A little voice inside his head kept telling him, push this woman to another level.  He just didn't know why or how.

A few miles to the south, the ghosts of Regina and Ferguson were very excited to have the Obama family back at the White House.  Bridge looked up at them on the roof, using the solar panels as slides.  "Reggie!  Fergie!  You come down from there!"

"Why?" the twin preschoolers shouted in unison.

And then Bridge realized he had no reason to give them--he was just instinctively telling them everything they did was wrong.  I guess there's no harm in that sliding, he thought, absent-mindedly swatting away a late-summer bee.  But why won't they move on?

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COMING UP!  The (espionage) adventures of Prickly and The Third!

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Revenge of Pippin!

"This is it, boys," said Condoleezza Rice, who had flown into Washington for this emergency meeting of the Heurich Society.  She laid a tiny electronic device down on the conference room table in the upper floor of the Brewmaster's Castle.  "The coroner found it during Pippin's autopsy."  ("Why did Pippin have an autopsy?"  "Because it's northern California!"  "But why?")  "Gentlemen!" exclaimed Rice, making Henrietta Samuelson cringe a second time.  "I spent $48,000 on feline leukemia treatments, and I needed to know why he died!"  ("This is what killed your cat?")  "No, this is not what killed him!  That's not important now.  This is a listening device I've traced to Charles Wu."

"Damn it!" cried a former CIA officer, who grabbed the device and dropped it into his glass of water.  "Why did you bring it here?  Of all the idiotic things to do!"

Rice stared icily at him for several seconds.  "Do you really think moisture can stop it?  It's been inside my cat for God-knows how many years!"

"You're right," he replied.  "We need a hammer."

Rice grabbed the water glass away from him and fished it out.  "The listening component is on mute right now.  I want to use this to entrap Wu."

"Brilliant!" cried the international arms dealer.

"There could be listening devices all over this place!" exclaimed the investment banker.

"The Castle is swept for bugs daily," said Samuelson, the Chair of the Heurich Society.  "What's your plan?" she asked, knowing that Angela de la Paz, their dangerous former errand girl, was now working for Wu.

At that moment, the crawl space above the conference table collapsed, and a chunk of ceiling formerly holding up Glenn Michael Beckmann crashed down on the table.  Beckmann (who thought he had planned this surveillance a lot better than the last one--which had left the conspiracy blogger with two broken feet), shattered both his knee caps...and smashed Wu's listening device into a hundred minute pieces.  (The conference room table, impressively, was still standing!)

Han Li rushed into the room at the sound of the crash, and the members looked up expectantly at him.  "Should I call the police?" he asked, knowing full well they would say no.

"We need to interrogate this jackass!" said the former CIA officer.

"Always itching to waterboard somebody," sneered Rice, who had started going through the unconscious Beckmann's pockets.  She pulled out lip balm, a Metro SmartTrip card, a sheathed dagger, two lottery tickets, a tear gas canister, a ski mask, a small revolver, and a folded-up newspaper article about aroma therapy--in that order.  "He's just a nut job."

"Check the attic," said Samuelson to Han Li.  "Maybe there's a bag or something."

"How did he get in here?" asked the germ warfare specialist.

"He must have slipped away from a tour group," said Samuelson.

"Well, this is unacceptable!" said the investment banker, and all eyes turned to Samuelson.

A few miles away, Charles Wu began receiving a series of text messages from Han Li recounting the incident.  "An autopsy!" Wu exclaimed out loud.  "On her cat?!"  He read some more messages.  Well, that explains why I've heard nothing in two days.  He looked anxiously out his office window at little Delia frolicking around the back yard while her governess pruned the rose bushes.  I can't believe Rice did an autopsy on her cat!  This is not good.

Back at the Brewmaster's Castle, the ghost of Pippin (who had followed Rice from  California) was distraught at seeing the destruction of the listening device.  He was trying furiously to claw Beckmann, but it wasn't working.  He hissed in frustration and jumped out the window to search for this Charles Wu himself.  Now cats have small brains, and feline ghosts are not the sharpest spirits out there, so Pippin really had no idea what he was doing.  The ghost of Henry Samuelson, who was arriving late for this meeting, ran into Ghost Pippin outside.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, but Ghost Pippin just hissed because feline ghosts can't talk any better than live cats can.  "Did you come with the Bloodsucker?  Why is she in town?"

It was then that Ghost Pippin recognized Ghost Henry from photos he had seen previously...and he knew that Rice hated him.  He jumped on Ghost Henry and started clawing furiously.  This time it worked!  Ghost Henry cried in unfamiliar pain and knocked Ghost Pippin to the ground.

"Knock it off!" yelled Ghost Henry.  "I've got to get in there and find out whether they support another invasion of Iraq."

Ghost Pippin lifted his leg and urinated on Ghost Henry.

"Hey!" hollered Ghost Henry, who didn't even know ghosts could pee.  He kicked the cat to the curb, then flew upstairs to enter the conference room.

A few yards away, the Dog Whisperer had been watching this all with great curiosity.  He had never seen a ghost before, though he knew from the whispers that they existed.  However, now he could see Ghost Pippin.  He looked down at his charges.  The Great Dane was sniffing a tree.  The Springer Spaniel was sniffing the Great Dane.  The Golden Retriever looked up at Sebastian L'Arche, and L'Arche knelt down to whisper.  The dog told L'Arche what had transpired with Ghost Henry (whom L'Arche had not seen).  L'Arche sighed heavily, feeling he had more important things to do, but there it was.

"Pippin," whispered L'Arche, and Ghost Pippin turned around and looked at L'Arche suspiciously.  "They won't hurt you," L'Arche said, nodding at his three charges.  "Why don't you move on?  This isn't a good place for your kind."  Even L'Arche did not think this was a compelling argument, but it was all he had at the moment.  Ghost Pippin, who still had a small brain, had no idea what L'Arche was talking about.  "You don't belong in this world anymore," continued L'Arche.  "Do you see a light that you can go to?"  Pippin looked around in the bright sunlight, saw a glint of light reflected from the Dupont Circle fountain, and ran off to check it out.  The Dog Whisperer looked at the Golden Retriever, shrugged his shoulders, and continued their mid-day walk.

Meanwhile, Ghost Pippin continued on his way, unaware that his spectral hissy fit had sent a nearby John Doe into a temporal lobe epileptic fit.  A couple of river rats near the Dupont Circle fountain watched him approach with sinister curiosity--after all, no mind was too small for Ardua of the Potomac to recruit into her army.

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COMING UP:  Constantine the coroner.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Washington Lifestyle

And now the thumping again.  Chloe Cleavage marched out on her balcony to register a complaint about the thumping on the balcony next door, where Joey Bent Oak was dribbling his basketball.

"Oh, come on!" he replied.  "I waited until noon!  You can't sleep that late!"

"It's a disturbance of the peace at any hour!"  Cleavage could not believe she had sold all her eggs for a million dollars and purchased a D.C. condo, only to end up living next door to this freaky Indian/Puerto Rican family.

"You complain about everything!" cried Joey.  "It's ridiculous!"

"How many people do you have crammed into that condo, anyway?" asked the Prince and Prowling staff attorney.  "There are rules!"

"You don't scare me!" he said.  "I climbed Eagle Mountain all by myself and spent the night there, too.  I jumped into the Gray Gorge and swam across it when I was only six!  I--"

"Sure you did, kid!  But you've never known fear and trembling until you've faced the wrath of a D.C. condo association board!  You tell Golden Hind and Marco Polo I'm reporting you!"

"It's 'Golden Fawn' and 'Marcos Vazquez', you idiot!" he exclaimed, as she slammed her balcony door shut.  "And we're moving," he added, more softly, thinking about the creepy house they had just purchased in upper Georgetown.

A couple miles away, Luciano Talaverdi was also struggling to maintain his peaceful lifestyle.  "It's hard to read the newspaper when he just sits there staring at me!" he complained to Helen Yellen.

"Oh, don't be such a sourpuss!" she replied, scratching the pot-bellied pig with her bare feet.  "He learned not to sit on your Italian leather, and not to pee on the lemon tree, and not to rub against the medieval tapestry on the wall.  When are you going to cut him some slack?  Petro Pig is a good boy!"

"I don't think he's happy as a pet," said the Italian economist.

"Well, he's not gonna be happier as prosciutto!" she pouted.

"I didn't say that!" protested Talaverdi (who now only ate prosciutto at the Federal Reserve Board cafeteria).  "But he only seems happy outdoors!  He's very restless indoors."

"He likes an active lifestyle, that's true," Yellen said.  "But it's good exercise for us to take him out a lot.  And his outgoing personality is making me a lot of money!"

Talaverdi couldn't argue with that, though he was not exactly comfortable with his girlfriend renting Petro Pig out for political and social events.  Petro Pig oinked agreeably at Talaverdi, pleased that he was paying attention to the porker.  "Can you just get him to stop staring at me?" the economist pleaded, wondering if he could ever raise bambini with this woman.

"He can't help it," said Yellen with a smile.  "He loves you!"

Over at Meridian Hill Park, love was also in the air...as well as an active lifestyle:  dog walkers in the grass, welter-weight boxers on the pavement, wedding party photos beneath the waterfall, guitar players on the wall, bees in the clover, bongos up the hill, lovestruck interns next to the duck pond, hula hoops under the trees.  Nothing aroused Glenn Michael Beckmann's conspiracy theories more than an excessive number of happy people gathered only a couple miles from the White House, and he walked around uneasily in his cut-off army fatigues.  Too many foreigners, he thought.  Too many young people.  Too many idle people.  Too many people watching other people.  Too many cameras.  He snapped a photo of Africans playing a suspicious-looking musical instrument.  Don't they all have something better to do?  Beckmann, in truth, was secretly hoping to be recognized, after having been interviewed earlier in the week on "Let's Talk Live".  Though it was humiliating to be on television talking about his front organization, Beckmann's Floral Cushions, it had been a great opportunity to broadcast coded messages about illegal aliens (how their mass movements cause tornadoes), the true origin of ISIS (Minnesota), the secret agenda of the African summit (elect more Africans to the White House), and how they tampered with the evidence against Governor McDonnell (there was more than one cheerleader in that mansion!).  The talk show appearance had been very confusing for the hosts (especially when he presented them with personally embroidered pillows that appeared to have guns in the motif), but his blog hits had skyrocketed, and he had gained three new clients for Beckmann's Bad Asses.  (Only the baddest bad asses could understand his coded messages!)  But, somehow, being on television had not made him famous, and he had always thought it would.  There must be a conspiracy against me, he thought, looking around in perplexity at all the people ignoring him.

Across town on H Street, Beckmann's lifestyle blogging rival (and former girlfriend), Giuliana Sunstream, was still enjoying a huge run of popularity on her blog, but she was consumed with jealousy that Beckmann had landed a spot on "Let's Talk Live".  Now the NoMa streetcars were on the brink of becoming operational, and it was the biggest chance she had to attract national attention.  "The beauty of the streetcar," she typed furiously, "is that the rider becomes organically entwined with the pulse of the city rendered electrically.  In other words, the rider is no longer a solitary particle in the urban landscape, but has become statically connected to the wave of pure energy which is a living city."  That's good! she thought.  "You can also knit your recycled sock fibers more comfortably, because the ride is smoother than on the bus."

Over at Prince and Prowling, former Senator Evermore Breadman's wife was knitting furiously in the corner of the conference room as he prepared to begin his emergency webinar on ethics for public officials.  "Really, honey, this is going to be so dull for you," he said to her one more time, but she was tired of his saying he had to go to the office every Sunday, and she was temporarily in-between lovers.

"No, I'm really looking forward to this!" she called through gritted teeth, wishing with all her might that Maureen McDonnell would be sent to the Big House so that she, Mrs. Evermore Breadman--who never had a chance to be a first lady of anything after her husband left the public sector for Prince and Prowling--could visit her in prison and give her a hand-knitted scarf (jailhouse gray).

The webinar producer signaled Breadman that the camera was rolling, and he could begin.  (The producer was going to get a 20% cut of all the $700/head webinar registrations.)

"Ladies and gentlemen," began the former U.S. Senator.  "I'm going to start today by reminding you that public office is not the place for you to make your personal fortune--it's the place where you learn everything you need to know to make your personal fortune later."

A few miles to the west, Angela de la Paz gritted her teeth as she walked into the haunted house in upper Georgetown.  She had lived in poverty before.  She had roughed it in the Afghan mountains, Egyptian slums, and Iraqi deserts.  But this place was the most miserable place she had ever lived.  "I'm home!" she called out robustly to the ghosts, as she made her way into the kitchen to prepare herself some lunch.  She looked around at the knocked-over chairs, broken plates on the floor, and food dumped out of the refrigerator.  "You're not scaring anybody!" she said, which was true enough for now, but the ghosts were wearing her down, and Golden Fawn's family would be closing on the house this week.  "I know you're angry about a lot of things, but those people that hurt you are long gone!" she cried, pulling out one of the paper plates she had thought to purchase at the store today.  "There's a lovely family getting ready to move in here, and we are not the enemy!"  Her abilities had become so advanced that she rarely had to use violence anymore, and could telepathically convince most people--or demons--to stand down, but these ghosts had some type of fierce psychic energy which she had no power against.  "We might only have another week or two alone," she said to the ghosts.  "You can talk to me whenever you want."  She sat down to eat.  "You will never be able to hurt these people," she added.  "You need to find something else to do."

Outside the house, a pair of pink warblers began singing in the trees, until a cackling cat bird chased them away.  Then it started laughing--like a ghost.

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COMING UP:  The Revenge of Pippin!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Some people never grow up.

"Some people never grow up," Bridge muttered to himself, shaking his pruning shears at the ghost pre-schoolers running through the First Lady's vegetable garden.  "NOT NOW!" he shouted at Regina and Ferguson.  "I told you about the African leader summit and the state dinner this week!  This place has to be in tip-top shape!  Reggie!  Fergie!"  He caught himself, remembering that people might be watching from inside the White House, and started moving closer to be in whispering range, but they stuck their little ghost tongues out at him and ran off to see if Sasha and Malia were home.

A mile away, a few members of the Heurich Society were thinking about sticking out their tongues at the arrival of their president, Henrietta Samuelson, to the upper meeting room of the Brewmaster's Castle, but they held their tongues.

"Alright," she said, tossing down her bag and getting straight down to business.  "I've carefully considered the surveyed responses--"

"I was led to believe there would be ice cream," said the international currency trader.

"What?" said Samuelson.  "Oh."  She looked at the crystal platter covered in Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

"It's too late in the day for doughnuts," added the disgraced former Congressman from Alabama.

"Well, I guess Han Li forgot about the ice cream," said Samuelson.  "Now getting back to--"

"Maybe you forgot to ask him!" said the member from the FBI.

"Maybe if you wanted ice cream so damned much, you should have stopped at Ben and Jerry's before you came here!" exclaimed Samuelson.

"Here, here!" echoed Condoleezza Rice from the speakerphone.  (She was rarely in town to get the snacks.)

"Our new mission statement is 'maximize wealth, power, and freedom,'" Samuelson blurted out rapidly, before she could be interrupted.

"Well, that's a bit vague," said the international arms dealer.

"We don't do anything which does not advance at least one of those goals," continued Samuelson.  "That means no more meddling in the Academy Awards, or the Super Bowl--"

"Now, wait just a minute," said the member from the CIA.  "Who's going to decide whether something advances the goals?  Just you?  Because it's not a dictatorship!"

"No, it's not," said Samuelson.  "It's a secret society with a ridiculous amount of money and a mind-boggling array of agents around the world.  If we're going to get involved in projects like the Black Sea, we can't be wasting energies on trivial matters."

"I thought you had dropped that project," said the retired army colonel.

"It was not advancing our goals," said Samuelson.

"Says you!" he retorted.

"Gentlemen!" interrupted Condoleezza Rice.  "We have leaders from the entire continent of Africa coming to town!  Please tell me we are prepared for this!"

Samuelson shook her head at Rice's use of the word "gentlemen".

"Yeah, yeah," said the African affairs committee leader.  (He didn't like being on that committee, and pouted for months after he was passed over for Asian Affairs.)  "Maximizing power and all that jazz.  It fits our goals!"

"Does this involve more than embarrassing Obama by sneaking cockroaches into the State Dinner?" asked Samuelson.

"Of course!" he retorted.  "There's more than just that!"

Back in the White House neighborhood, cockroaches had, in fact, been reported in Prince and Prowling's state-of-the-art, totally secure, underground document review center.

"How is this possible!?" declared the Managing Partner, who had just spent half a million dollars (some of that to bribe city building inspectors to overlook the lack of permits) in emergency renovations to re-stabilize the foundation after the entire building had shifted.  "Do we need to fumigate the contract attorneys?"

Laura Moreno pretended she hadn't heard that last remark.  "They've been working very long hours, so they have to eat."

"But they're not allowed to bring anything into SOTA-BUNK!" he declared.  "They even take their clothes off and put on our jumpsuits!"

"Chloe Cleavage was bringing them some snacks," Moreno said, referring to the other staff attorney involved.

"SNACKS?!"  The managing attorney started typing furiously on his computer to pull up access to the security tapes.  "What kind of snacks?!"

"Costco boxes of snacks with pre-packaged chips, cookies, that sort of thing."

"That sort of thing makes crumbs!"

"Well, she wanted them working more hours, so--"

"Good Heavens!" the Managing Partner exclaimed, finding a snack time in the video replay.  "They're stampeding like Somali refugees spotting bowls of rice!"

"Yes," said Moreno softly.  "People like to be first in line to get first pick of what's available."

"This is totally unacceptable!  They can only eat when they exit SOTA-BUNK!"

"Then they'll have to get more breaks," said Moreno.

"In my day--" began the Managing Partner, but then he thought better of it.

"What are we going to do about the roaches?" asked Moreno.

"Won't that self-correct now?" he asked.  (A small sigh escaped Moreno.)

Up on the top floor of Prince and Prowling, former Senator Evermore Breadman had his own snack problem--Congressman John Boehner's compulsively plowing through the last of his Little Debbie Cupcakes.  "You want more whiskey with that?"

"Absolutely!" said the Speaker of the House.

"Look, John," said Breadman, "I know they voted you the authority to sue the President, but to be honest with you--"

"Be honest with me!" declared Boehner, raising his shot glass encouragingly.

"There are three branches of government--"

"Not that again!"

"John!  The Constitution says the remedy is impeachment.  There's only so much wool you can pull over the American people's eyes."

"This is not about wool!"

"Congress is the weakest branch of government right now.  Why on Earth do you want to toss off your impeachment power and ask the judicial branch to handle it?  The judicial branch, for crying out loud!  Sissies who wear robes to work!  Instead of having handsome Congressmen in dark suits entering testimony on the House floor, you'll have sissies in robes telling you exactly what kind of evidence you can or cannot submit--"

"Evermore!" cried Boehner.  "Those Congressmen in dark suits are useless to me without a Republican Senate!"

"You can still impeach!"

"Evermore!" cried Boehner.  "A judge could say Obamacare is unconstitutional!"

"But it IS constitutional, John!" exclaimed Breadman.  "The Supreme Court said so!  The SUPREMES!  The best you could get is some narrow little ruling about maybe one or two pieces of regulation in Health and Human Services, and the court will just tell HHS to rewrite them!"

"But I can do that," whispered Boehner conspiratorially, "with just the lawyers I hire!  No more wheeling and dealing with all these prima donna a-holes in the House!  Do you know how many hours of my life I've wasted inserting mark-ups that will never get through the Senate, let alone across Obama's desk, just so those a-holes can put in their next campaign ad, 'I fought for blah, blah, blah!'"

"That's what people think you're doing!" exclaimed Breadman!

"What?!  Me?!"

Back at the White House, Regina and Ferguson were now in the Oval Office, rearranging books on the shelves and hiding framed photos.

"Reggie!  Fergie!"  The ghost twins looked up in annoyance at Ghost Dennis.  "When are ya gonna grow up?"

"When are you?!" exclaimed Ferguson.

"Yeah!" echoed Regina.  "Silly old summits!  Men just sit around in their fancy clothes, and then they go back to killing each other the next week!"

"And nothing you whisper in Obama's ear can change that!" said Ferguson, before he whispered something in their secret twin language to Regina, and the two ran off in a burst of giggles.

Ghost Dennis sighed and set to work putting things back in the order they should be, as best he could.  There has got to be a way, he moaned softly.

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COMING UP:  The Washington lifestyle!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Home, Sweet Home

It had taken awhile, but Giuliana Sunstream, was finally feeling settled back into her own life after losing the cursed Rolex, falling out of the Glenn Michael Beckmann love curse, returning to live in her NoMa condo, and doubling her lifestyle blog hits over a summer of intense writing and staged events.  She had several new commercial sponsors, and was more optimistic than ever that she really would be the next Martha Stewart--but younger, hipper, and prettier!

"Vegas!" she called to her toy Maltese, posing under the balcony dog shade Sunstream had crafted out of a Salvation Army bedsheet stretched smartly over a tee-pee made of re-purposed tomato cages.  (She had posted her balcony tomato photos one day before the branches had all bent and broke last week.)  "Smile!"

A few miles to the west, Glenn Michael Beckmann was not smiling.  First of all, he was not over Sunstream!  And it ticked him off that her lifestyle blog had almost caught up to his own fake lifestyle blog in popularity.  (Sometimes he would forget that his lifestyle blog was actually a conspiracy blog written in code to avoid federal detection.)  He was exhausted from the constant orders he had to fill for "Beckmann's Floral Cushions"--the fake name in his blog for his security firm, Beckmann's Bad Asses.  And he was still dealing with the aftermath of that unfortunate mass wedding shooting committed by a Beckmann's Bad Asses client in April--an event which had gained him as many clients as it had lost him, and gave him nightmares about when the cops would break down his door and haul him in for questioning.

And now this!  Beckmann was standing outside the Old Post Office Pavilion, alternating between taking notes from casing the joint, and shaking his fist and muttering that he would never allow Donald Trump to turn this federal architectural treasure into a den of casino thieves and hotel harlots financed by Saudi petro dollars!  The appearance of Trump on Wednesday for the ground-breaking ceremony had reinvigorated Beckmann's determination to thwart the New Jersey mafia from bringing their dirty money to destroy the beloved viewing bell tower in which he had once kissed politician Christine O'Donnell!  [That memory was actually a figment of his imagination.]  He would never allow that Russian Trump to take away such a wonderful public monument and then charge $400/night for the privilege of walking through the post office door!  No, he would rather blow it up!

One man who would give anything to stop things from blowing up was Dr. Khalid Mohammad, who had recently returned to George Washington University Hospital after more than a year on sabbatical to treat Syrian war refugees in his native Jordan.  "I just couldn't do it anymore," he told Nurse Consuela Arroyo, over coffee in the cafeteria.  "I know when you're a doctor that you just treat patients, and you can't stop all the reasons for war, but I just couldn't do it anymore.  Nothing is getting better.  After ISIS declared the caliphate, I realized just how dangerous it has gotten.  I decided I needed to come back here, start working again, and then bring all the relatives I can to the U.S.  I cannot believe that just a few hundred miles from where I grew up, there are men who believe female genital mutilation will make their society into what God wants!  They are the sickest, most depraved men on Earth, full of hatred and violence-induced psychoses.  They think everything will be better if they can turn time back 1,000 years--this is how ignorant they are.  But they love their modern weapons!  And somewhere safe, the sociopaths that sold them all those weapons are going to retire comfortably--those international arms dealers, scum of the Earth."

Nurse Arroyo was amazed at how quietly Dr. Mohammad uttered these words, as if he barely had the strength to utter them but was determined to force them out of his mouth.

"And now I cannot get them out of Jordan fast enough!" he continued.  "Israel and Palestine blowing each other up again.  The Lebanese are a divided people, and Jordan is like the last breath of sanity and peace in the whole region--it will be completely overrun by refugees, and then the refugees in Jordan will become completely militarized.  Here," he said, gesturing around him, "there is violence, and I will sew up bullet wounds, and maybe it will even get worse every year, but living here, at least the women in my family--"  With that, his voice choked up, and he could say no more.

"Don't give up hope," said Nurse Arroyo, a very religious woman.  "The Philippines saw a lot of violence and oppression, but things did get better there."

Dr. Mohammad smiled in thanks.  He had missed her, even if her words were utterly useless.

A few miles to the west, Marcos Vazquez's words felt utterly useless to him--his wife had made up her mind.  "I just don't know," he started again.

"It's such a beautiful house!" Golden Fawn beamed, as their adopted son Joey Bent Oak wandered around the weedy backyard.  "It's a great neighborhood, with good schools, and we can spruce it up, and it will be great!"

Vazquez could not argue about upper Georgetown's being a great neighborhood, but he was having a lot of trouble accepting that their finances were so constrained that their best option for buying a house was to buy a haunted one.  He looked up at the kitchen window, where realtor Button Samuelson quickly jumped out of view, and he shivered, wondering if he would actually start seeing ghosts.

"It's been on the market a long time," Golden Fawn said again, though they both knew this was because of the murders which had taken place here.  "The price is too good to pass up."

"Are you sure?  I mean, I know you have some abilities, but taking on this kind of evil--"

"I think that girl can help us--Angela de la Paz."

"Do you know how to find her?" asked Vazquez.

"I think she'll find us, after we move in."

And so they walked back into the three-story row house and told their realtor they wanted to make an offer to the bank which owned the property.  Vazquez thought he heard somebody laugh and watched Joey's eyes dart to the corner, and then he shivered.  And suddenly he longed for a clap of thunder, and bolt of lightning, and a deluge of rain to assure him that even this place was under Heaven, after all.

A few miles to the north, in Cleveland Park, Angela de la Paz, was, in fact, having a vision about the house in Georgetown.

"More peas?" asked Mrs. Prudence Higgety-Cheshire, whose meals cooked for adults were not much more exciting than what the nanny cooked for her toddler charge, Buffy Cordelia Wu.  Angela didn't hear her, and Charles Wu recognized the look on Angela's face.

"She's having a vision," he said to his governess.

"Really?!" Mrs. H-C exclaimed.  Much to everybody's surprise, the shocking ninja-like attempted robbery the week before, followed by the revelation that her deceased husband had been a British spy the entire time they were married, followed by the revelation that Wu was also a British agent, had neither given her a nervous breakdown nor sent her packing back home to her grown children in England.  "I've been longing to see this!" she whispered, thinking it better to quiet her voice.  "A psychic with mystical powers--it's utterly magnificent!"

Wu nodded pleasantly.  He had not actually told his governess that he also worked for the Americans and Chinese, as he still believed the less she knew, the better.  In some ways, his life was a little simpler now that she knew he was a spy, to be sure.  On the other hand, it was obvious that Prickly and The Third (British agents Nigel Blackthorne and Richard Mollington) had not told him everything about her late husband, and he would have to proceed with the worry that they were constantly doing surveillance on his house--or that thugs might show up again at a time when Angela was not in town.  He was thinking about firing Mrs. H-C, but he could scarcely stand the thought of little Delia's losing another nanny.

Angela was now gazing from Wu's backyard deck to the shed in the yard of the Cigemeier house next door.  "That was a piece of cake," she said, thinking about the real estate demon she had detected and banished there the first day she had moved in with the Cigemeier's.  "This will be different."

"What will be different, my dear?" asked Mrs. H-C, grasping Angela's hand in hers.

"I won't stay in the hotel much longer," Angela said, turning back to Wu and the governess.  "I know where I need to go live now."

Next door, the pink warblers now living in the shed came out to sing their encouragement to Angela.

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COMING UP:  A visit with Reggie and Fergie at the White House.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Butterfly

Triple agent Charles Wu was having a challenging week.  His handlers in Beijing wanted him to take over the corporate espionage that a thousand of its best hackers had publicly failed to accomplish against algae biofuel trailblazer Algenol, while his British and American contacts were pressing him for information about the hackers.  "Perhaps those hackers' time would be better spent running computer models on biochemistry experiments," Wu had offered the Chinese.  "Clumsy amateurs," he had assured the British and Americans.  But none of his clients were happy about it, and Wu, uncharacteristically, was waxing sentimental about his less complicated days in Hong Kong.

He found his tiny daughter, Buffy Cordelia, in the butterfly room with her governess, Mrs. Prudence Higgety-Cheshire.

"Ah, Mr. Wu!  I dare say, my children are incredulous when I tell them that you have your very own butterfly room in this house!" she said, as she checked on the cocoon cabinet.  "They know how keen I am on them."

"Let me take a photo of you with Delia!" exclaimed Wu, fishing his phone out of his pocket.  "You can post it on that Facebook account they set up for you."

"Oh, I don't know how to do any of that," she replied, turning to see what Delia was giggling about.  "She has two blue morphos in her hand!"

"Quickly!" exclaimed Wu.  "Get behind her!"  Mrs. H-C obligingly squatted down with her charge, unaware what a dangerous thing she had just done.

Down in Dupont Circle, Henrietta ("Button") Samuelson was, in contrast, quite aware of the dangerous thing the Heurich Society had just done.

"I'm canceling the Black Sea Chimera project," she said.

"Well, that's probably wise," said a relieved Navy admiral.  "Costs for submarines can quickly spiral out of control."

"Money is not the problem," replied Samuelson.  "The downing of that Malaysian airplane in Ukraine was horrific.  I'm canceling the entire Black Sea Revolution project."

"But we had nothing to do with that!" protested a former CIA agent.  "Did we?"  He looked at the speaker phone to see what Condoleezza Rice would say, but she was holding her tongue.

"All the agents need to get out of there," said Samuelson.

"But we've invested so much in this," said the international arms dealer.  "Accidental civilian casualties are a part of any war."

"It wasn't an accident!  If there's one thing my father taught me, it's don't fight a war you can't control."  ("Huh?"  "That doesn't even make any sense!")  "Well, it was something like that.  Innocent people are dying because of that civil war, and we don't have a good enough reason to be a part of it anymore."

"Has anybody ever told you that you might be in the wrong business?" asked the investment banker.

"She's a realtor," Rice crackled over the speaker phone.  "But we know how important her father's legacy is to her."

"We're re-writing our mission statement," said Samuelson angrily.

"I didn't know we had one," whispered the arms dealer.

"We need to sharpen our focus--this obsession with controlling everything happening in the world is unrealistic, unproductive, and uninspiring."

"Well, we're all looking forward to hearing your realistic, productive, and inspiring new mission statement," said Rice (who was, actually, quite surprised that Samuelson had not yet walked away from the Heurich Society).

"I want everybody to write down the five goals that are most important to them, and I will synthesize them and get back to you."

"Can I write down keeping the Black Sea Revolution project?"

"No!"

Meanwhile, Mrs. H-C's photos in the butterfly room had gone live on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  It would not be until the next day that her grown children in England noticed, but two people stateside noticed immediately.

One was Cedric, a former CIA agent living in the Arlington group home for the mentally challenged.  "Dear God!" he exclaimed, leaning in to inspect the photo more carefully.  "It can't be!"  And with that, Cedric finally remembered that he was never a British spy, and that he had actually been an American spy, and that this was the reason he had been following (the normally boring) Mrs. Higgety-Cheshire on social media.  "The butterfly!"  He ran upstairs to retrieve his gear, realized he didn't have any gear, grabbed his wallet and the extra shoe laces he kept in the sock drawer, ran back downstairs, ran back upstairs, grabbed his teddy bear (Aloysius), raced back downstairs, then ran outside.

"What?!" exclaimed social worker Hue Nguyen.  "Was that Cedric running out the door?"

"He seemed upset about something on Facebook," said Melinda.  "It's just a photo of a lady and a little kid with some butterflies."

Mrs. Higgety-Cheshire's (normally boring) social media accounts had also just tripped an alert at the British embassy.  "Dear God!" exclaimed special agent Nigel Blackthorne (code name "Prickly").  "It's in the widow's necklace!"

"What are you talking about, mate?" asked special agent Richard Mollington (code name "The Third").

"Her husband always said it was a butterfly and just flew away!  He hid it in that bloody butterfly necklace she's wearing!  Look!"

The Third followed Prickly's gaze to the Facebook photo.  "Well, that doesn't seem bloody likely!  And a lot of ladies wear insect jewelry--God only knows why."

"I'm going over there."

"What--now?"

"Yes, now!" exclaimed Prickly.  "Who knows how many others might have seen this?"

"Alright," said The Third, draining his beer glass.  "We need to phone Paul--"

"There's no time!" said Prickly, packing up his gear.

"Look!" shouted The Third.  "You can't just knock on her door and rip the necklace off!  She'll want to know why!  We have to plan something subtle!  And what if you're wrong?  Then how are we going to do surveillance on her later?  She'll find out her husband was a bloody spy!  And we need to fill out that form--"

"Oh, bloody Hell!"

And so the race was on!  Former CIA agent Cedric ran all the way to the Arlington Metro station only to discover it would be a 25-minute (Sunday schedule!) wait for the next train into the city, and then the transfer to the red line to Cleveland Park, and then running to the house.  "No, damn it!" he shouted, racing back out of the Metro station to get a taxi.

And back at the British embassy, Prickly and The Third had woken up their boss, Paul, in London, who was nonplussed.  "I'm sure about it!" declared Prickly over the closed circuit video conference connection.  "I feel it in my bones!"

"Like that terrorist you [air quotes] felt in your bones last September, who turned out to be a blind Indonesian poet rehearsing for a play?"

"That was different," said Prickly (who had no actual recollection of that incident, as he had been quite drunk at the time).  "And what if Wu figures out what it is?  He'll know we lied to him about--"

"Wu knows nothing!" exclaimed Paul.  "He's never been involved in those operations!  He has no idea her husband was a spy, and he must never know!"

Back in Cleveland Park, Charles Wu was tucking his delightful daughter into bed, while Mrs. H-C was cozying up with a cup of chamomile and a murder mystery novel in her bedroom armchair.  "Come and sit out on the porch with me," called Wu through her door.  "It's a beautiful evening!"  The surprised and annoyed Mrs. H-C put down her book and tea cup, and exited her bedroom to join him.  She was, in fact, quite surprised that he had spent most of the weekend at home, after the obvious level of debauchery he had been enjoying the previous couple of weeks.  "Oh, wait--I have to take this," said Wu, looking at his ringing phone.  "I'll be out in a minute."

Mrs. H-C took the baby monitor from his outstretched hand and went out on the porch alone.  She lit the citronella candle to ward off the mosquitoes, then settled down to listen to the fading bird chirps in the bushes.  Cedric was also in the bushes, and decided now was the time to make his move--when suddenly, a different spy emerged from the side bushes.  "Give me the necklace!" a woman shouted, running up the porch stairs with a gun in her hand.  "Now!"

"Don't do it!" shouted Cedric, throwing his shoelaces around the woman's neck to choke her.

The governess screamed and got up to run back into the house, but collided with Wu, who was just stepping out.  "What the--?"

Then Prickly and The Third ran around from the other side of the house.  "Everybody down on the ground!  Drop your weapons!"

The governess was the first to hit the deck, with Wu barely able to stop her half-fainting fall.  The British spies separated Cedric from his mysterious adversary, then instructed Mrs. H-C to hand them her necklace, which she rushed to do.

The Third leaned over to pick up the necklace while Prickly continued monitoring the other two--until he was knocked unconscious by Angela de la Paz, who had suddenly materialized out of the shadows.  "I'll take that," she said, grabbing the necklace with her telekinetic power, and then flinging it into the curbside sewer.  "And that," she said, telekinetically removing The Third's gun and knocking him unconscious with it.

"You need to go home," she said gently to Cedric, pulling him up from the ground.  "Here's your teddy bear.  Your taxi is still waiting around the corner."  Cedric walked off quickly, while the mysterious female spy ran off in the other direction.

On the porch, Wu had gotten the governess back into the porch seat, where she stared in amazement back and forth between the unconscious men and Angela.  "I thought you were just a babysitter!"

"Did you miss me?" asked Angela, smiling at Wu.

"Very much!" said Wu.

"I just got back into town from Texas, when I had this vision in the taxi cab."

"I don't understand any of this," said the governess, starting to cry.

"Your husband was a spy," said Angela.  "Believe me--everybody's better off with that butterfly in the sewer.  Why don't I take you inside for a cup of tea?  Charles, do you mind getting my bag?  It's around the side.  These two are British agents--you can go through their pockets before they wake up, if you like, or I can tell you about them later."

Wu looked around to see if all this commotion had attracted any attention from his neighbors, then casually walked around the side of the house to find Angela's bag.  He saw Felix Cigemeier peering out of the window next door, waved cheerily, and returned to his unconscious houseguests on the porch.  "You've ruined my English nanny," he complained.

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COMING UP:  Golden Fawn finds a (haunted) house for her family.