In the upper floor conference room of the Brewmaster's Castle, the Heurich Society was observing Martin Luther King Day by watching a Beyoncé video while eating black and white cookies. Henrietta Samuelson, chair of the secret society, had been hoping for a more robust follow-up to her triumphal humiliation of Dick Cheney in their last meeting, but when Condoleezza Rice had suggested these activities, she could not very well have argued that it was in bad taste. In fact, Samuelson was quite certain it was a horrendous joke Rice was playing on the others, but what was she to do? And Rice wasn't even here, of course! Not even on the speaker phone!
After five minutes of gyrations, Samuelson shut the video off.
"OK, that's enough. We have important work to do. We have just learned that one percent of the world's population controls fifty percent of the wealth on this planet." ("Hear, hear!"
) Samuelson waved down the applause. "By my calculations, our society only controls 2% of the wealth on this planet. I think we can do better. What is our motto?"
"Maximize wealth, power, and freedom," said her erstwhile lover, a former CIA agent. "We do have to balance our efforts on the power and freedom--it's not just about wealth. A lot of those billionaires really don't have power like we do."
"Does the ability to deflate footballs during an AFC championship game really count as power?"
"We did a lot more than that
this week!" protested the international arms dealer (who had just earned another $3,000,000 in Europe--some of it from actual governments). "We got the Kurds and Assad forces at each other's throats, didn't we? That power vacuum is bound to burst wide open sooner or later!" Samuelson stared at him in amazement. "Oh, didn't you know about that?"
"The aid to the Kurds was supposed to be for freeing women from ISIS slavery!" exclaimed Samuelson.
"Well, they did a little of that, too" said the retired Army general. "You gotta let them have some fun! That's how these things work."
"But what good is money and power if we can't change how things work?" asked Samuelson.
"You can't control everything," said the retired Senator. "People need a tiny bit of freedom, themselves. Of course, most of the freedom is supposed to be for us, but we have to allow others the illusion of freedom."
an illusion," said Samuelson. "Adjourned."
"What's eating her?" asked the FBI assistant director.
"She just needs to get--"
"Shut up! hollered the former CIA agent, who rose and quickly went after her.
Out in Virginia, Wince was putting on his coat to leave Bridezilla's apartment. "But it's Martin Luther King Day!" she protested to her fiancé. "Even Prince and Prowling is closed for the holiday!"
"I thought you had 50 contract attorneys in your State of the Art review bunker today?"
"What? Well, SOTA-BUNK doesn't count. Anyway, we're doing them a service--otherwise, how would they get paid? Is Lye, Cheit and Steele actually open
"Not officially, but I can set up my new office and mingle with a few of the attorneys who are working today," said Wince. "Learn where everything is, get familiar."
"But none of the partners
will be there!" pouted Bridezilla, a junior partner.
"I'm just going in for a few hours." (More pouting.) "We can still go out to dinner. Look, everything's going to be easier now that I left the Supreme Court: we don't have to hide our engagement anymore!"
But Bridezilla was
still hiding the engagement. How could she tell the partners of Prince and Prowling she was engaged to the same man she had been engaged to many years ago, the one who had shown up at the altar to wreck her wedding to Buddy Lee Trickham just before that mystery guy had arrived to start shooting every P and P attorney in sight? Not to mention Wince was a former Supreme Court clerk who had just gone to work for their rivals!
She had begged him to seek a corporate counsel position, but he had been so eager to get away from his alleged blackmailers (she rolled her eyebrows to herself) that he had said there was no time to lose, and took the first good offer he got! And her, in charge of P and P's new Cuba practice group, while Wince would be toiling as a mere litigation associate, drafting tedious motions and running e-discovery reviews! Her darling Wince who had single-handedly been drafting Justice Prissy Face opinions for years and shaping the very fabric of society!
She turned back to her coffee table book on "The 100 Most Beautiful Wedding Reception Table Centerpieces of All Time," but she was still pouting.
Over on Capitol Hill, an equally unhappy Solomon Kane was reluctantly sitting down for another meeting with Congressman John Boehner.
"Here," said the Speaker of the House, handing his former private investigator an envelope. Kane opened it and saw the reimbursement check he had written Boehner, uncashed. "You can't quit: I need you to keep working for me. Even if you are
too chicken to tell me who my unknown enemy is, or who his psychic bodyguard is, at least you know
, so you can protect me from them."
protect you from the blackmail, and they're not out to cause you physical harm."
"Maybe, maybe not. You can't really count on anything in this town. I have a House full of whipper-snappers coming in who think they rule the world now. They want me to deliver a level of veto-proof power I don't have, and the blackmail is often tying my hands, anyway. I think it's going to get uglier, not prettier."
"What do you want from me
"Surveillance on all my enemies," said the Speaker of the House, "and an added layer of protection."
"Don't you get Secret Service?"
"The people who hire hookers and forget to lock the front door? Don't make me laugh! Congressman Herrmark has two
personal bodyguards! He tried to pass them off as one because they're identical twins, but everybody knows he has two
It had taken Kane a very, very long time to ascertain that Charles Wu was behind the Tarantula's blackmailing of Boehner, so he was still baffled as to why the Speaker would ask him to take over all enemy surveillance duties. "Look, I only know the one psychic bodyguard," said Kane. "If you're hoping I'll come up with another one--"
"No," said Kane, "I want you to get me that
"My lady staffers call you a handsome fellow. There must be ways you can persuade her to switch her allegiance."
"He's paying her a lot, and I tried wooing her before with no luck. No offense, Congressman, but I'm not sure you or I could offer her anything she wants."
"We'll see about that," said Boehner, who was fixating on this issue because he was increasingly spacing out during political meetings, daydreaming about himself acting out storylines in "House of Cards," "Game of Thrones," and "Charlie's Angels." Boehner tented his fingers in a theatrical way and waited for Kane to ask what the plan was, but Kane seemed painfully unaware of the script here. "All in good time, my fine fellow," Boehner said at last in answer to the unanswered question. Then he stood up, and the puzzled Kane followed suit. "Report back tomorrow," concluded Boehner.
Kane had no idea what he was supposed to do between now and tomorrow, or how he was supposed to offer protection to Boehner with Boehner pointing him towards the door. "Alright," Kane said, and walked out.
He encountered a young staffer on the way out who handed him another envelope. "This will get you into the State of the Union address," she said, with a mischievous smile. "Stand close to him at all times."
"Can I bring a gun in?"
"Oh, don't worry about that--he'll loan you a couple of his." She leaned in close to whisper in his ear. "And be careful of the Zombie Caucus." She pulled away and winked.
Back in Virginia, Congressman Herrmark had rented out a private estate to practice killing zombies.
"OK," said bodyguard Nick, handing Herrmark his weapons. "If you nail them in the head with a paint gun, that's a kill. If your axe breaks the collar around their neck, that counts as chopping their head off. If you get the Velcro torch flames to stick to their clothing, that counts as burning them up. We hired 100 actors to play the zombies. They think they're here for a private birthday party, and you're an eccentric millionaire from the Mars candy dynasty."
"I'm supposed to take out 100 zombies by myself!"
"Of course not!" said bodyguard Costa. "We're all going to do it!"
Herrmark looked at his twin bodyguards and their cousin, Ann Bishis, his Chief of Staff. "That's still three against 100!"
"Um, four, and they won't have weapons," said Bishis. "They can only hurt us if they lay hands on us and disarm us. We've done loads of research on this."
"But it's not like I can walk around Capitol Hill with these types of weapons on me!"
"No, of course not," said Nick.
"Ann will identify them by their voting records and other clues," said Costa, "and then we'll pick them off one by one--the staffers, the committee counsel, and the Members of Congress."
"ONE-BY-ONE," echoed Bishis. "Ready?" She shot her starter pistol in the air, and they waited for the hidden throng to emerge and attack.
Back in the city, Barbie Bucephalus (neé Barbara Hellmeister) was trying hard to forget all about the zombies she had accidentally created using notes from her Nazi grandfather's journal. Her former boyfriend never knew anything about that, but she was not entirely certain he was buying her story about how her Maryland farm was burned and why she had fled for so long. "I had to do my own witness protection program," she said to Atticus Hawk, who had temporarily lost his top security clearance as a U.S. Attorney because she was a fugitive from justice. "I had provided drug-test-proof drugs to very powerful people in this city, and things had gotten very ugly and dangerous with one of the clients. Don't ask me to reveal more than that, please! I'm safe now! The CIA has cleared me to work. Isn't that good enough?"
Being DOJ's torture expert and trusting the CIA are not the same things.
Hawk fiddled with his pancakes. "You can't really expect me to pick up things where we left off? I had no idea where you were, what you were doing!"
"Well, you're not dating anybody else!" she said, as if this were unassailable logic. "I know everything you've done for the CIA interrogation program, Atticus! You, of all people, should trust and admire what I'm doing there! We are working for the same things!"
thought Hawk, feeling sick.
"We belong together!" cooed Bucephalus. She picked up a forkful of drugged pancakes and stuck them into his mouth, determined to get that warm, fuzzy feeling back into his heart.
Over at Lye, Cheit and Steele, Mr. Cheit walked in on Wince hanging up the photo of himself with Justice Prissy Face. "Didn't know you were stopping by today, my boy!"
Wince had not been called a boy in quite a long time, but he attempted to interpret this generously. "Just wanted to be ready at the start of the gun tomorrow, sir!"
"Excellent, excellent!" The partner closed the door and sat down in a guest chair. "Tell me, while we have a moment, how's the old fellow going to rule on that McGillicuddy business?"
"Um, I don't know, sir," said Wince.
"You know, my boy, you went straight from law school to the Supreme Court. I understand you have certain guiding principles, but you're out of the ivory towers now. One percent of the people on this planet own fifty percent of its wealth. Why? Because we helped them acquire it, that's why." (Wince sat down.) "These things don't happen because one percent of the people on this planet work harder than everybody else. It's all about working smarter
." Mr. Cheit tapped his temple. "Smarter
"Yes, sir," answered Wince. "I was being blackmailed," he blurted out.
"What?!" cried Mr. Cheit.
"I did have principles, but even Supreme Court opinions can't always be predicted, sir." Wince sighed deeply.
"Are you telling me you're not free to do as you're told?" asked Mr. Cheit, turning red in the face.
"Oh, I'm free now, sir! Free as a bird! That secret was just something I had to keep secret from my boss because he wouldn't have liked it."
"Wouldn't have liked what?"
"That I'm not a, um, [air quotes] confirmed bachelor. I have a fianceé."
Mr. Cheit burst out laughing. "So you do have some entertaining stories to tell me about your boss! Well, that's a relief!" (He stood up to go.) "Alright, see you tomorrow, my boy!"
Over at the White House, the ghosts were discussing Martin Luther King Day, and their latest attempts to whisper in President Obama's ear about the State of the Union address. The clouds parted briefly, and they ventured out into the cold sunshine for a few minutes to chase the wicked starlings and infected ducks away.
COMING UP: The adventures of Ghost Pippin!