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