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, April 13, 2014

Spring Fever

Washington Water Woman has been sidetracked by cherry blossoms and other time-sucking horrors, but hopes to return to blogging in a week!

If you simply MUST have a D.C. horror fix this week, I suggest reading some articles from Taxpayers for Common Sense about how screwed up our fiscal policies are:  http://www.taxpayer.net/

Sunday, April 06, 2014

A New Dominion

Charles Wu was jogging home from the health club in his slowly drying swim bodysuit, unwilling to change in front of strangers.  Having prided himself all his life on a perfect body, he was horrified by the knife scar on his shoulder. It was still chilly outside, so he picked up the pace, suddenly beset with unpleasant memories of cold showers at boarding school in England.  He had lost all mental clarity, and was constantly beset by unpleasant thoughts and memories now.  But I'm still in good shape.  He accelerated even faster, pumping adrenaline to chase away the demons.  My life is a mess.  It was a horrible, horrible thought, and something he hadn't felt since he was a teenager.  The police investigation was over, Mia's death ruled a suicide, her body already flown back to her family in Asia, his mother picked up from Hong Kong on the way back after her insistence on coming to take care of granddaughter Delia, Wu's business affairs back in swing....

And yet....He tripped on a buckling sidewalk, cursed it, and began running on the Cleveland Park grassy lawns.  I never trip.  Cigemeier was asking a lot of questions about who Mia was, what was wrong with her, who was Angela, why did Angela say she wanted to give up her baby for adoption but insisted on breastfeeding and living with the boy, when was Angela actually going to give up the baby?  Wu tried to hurdle a small rhododendron, stumbled, and almost fell down.  What is wrong with me?  Thoughts of Mia haunted him endlessly.  He had been a fool to think he could train her to be a spy for him, a girl so broken.  It's not my fault!  I'm not the one that broke her!  And he knew he wasn't, and yet for the first time in his life, he felt he had failed.

Several miles to the south, former Senator Evermore Breadman was hosting a special catered brunch at Prince and Prowling to celebrate the Supreme Court victory for their client, Shaun McCutcheon.  "This is our time, and we cannot fail!" he cried, triumphantly.  (McCutcheon and several of the attorneys present applauded enthusiastically.)  "Now some people think," continued Breadman, "that there may be rich folks in this country who do not welcome this victory against the Federal Election Commission because now they no longer have a polite way to say, sorry, I can't donate to your campaign because I've already reached my legally ordained contribution limit!"  (Peals of laughter, with McCutcheon laughing hardest of all.)  "To this I say, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!"  (More laughter, and more applause.)  "There are deserving political candidates out there, and the best candidates will now get the financial support they deserve."  (Applause.)

Bridezilla sat at the far end of the conference room, discreetly busy with wedding planning on her Blackberry.  (This Supreme Court ruling was wonderful, really, but it could not have come at a worse time for her.)  Her date and fiance', Buddy Lee Trickham, was a little appalled at the speech he was hearing, and even more appalled at this Georgia Brown dish masquerading as grits.  "If my mother saw these grits--"

"Buddy Lee!" Bridezilla whispered.  "We've got bigger things to worry about!"

"Yeah, but if the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson come down and start throwing millions of dollars around Mississippi elections," he whispered back, "those carpetbaggers'll be run out of town on a hogback!"

Bridezilla had already diverted about $40,000 of Koch and Adelson legal fees to paying for her wedding (because her exasperated father had declared he would only give her $5,000 for this wedding!), and the Prince and Prowling partner was starting to have panic attacks that somebody was going to catch on.  "Those are patriotic Americans!" she declared, by rote, without even lifting her head from the email she was reading from Laura Moreno--the beleaguered staff attorney tasked with finding a country music wedding band willing to use only banjos, with no fiddles.  "If this ruling had been in place in 2012, they could have gotten Mitt Romney elected!" she added.

"I thought your law firm took clients from any political party," Trickham said, suspiciously.

"Sure," said Bridezilla, pausing to clap because she heard other people clapping, "as long as the clients aren't directly against each other.  Damn!"

"What is it?"

"Laura says there's been a cave-in!"

Several floors beneath them, Laura Moreno was, in fact, running away from a cave-in.  She was (in-between planning Bridezilla's wedding) overseeing the creation of Prince and Prowling's state-of-the-art underground bunker review site (SOTA-BUNK, for short), and one of the recently dug tunnels had just caved in.

"I told you we couldn't dig past Pennsylvania Avenue!" cried the contractor.  "We've got the White House bunkers crowding us on one side, and Dupont Down Under crowding us from the other!"

"How can Dupont Down Under possibly stretch this far?" asked Moreno.

"They don't, but they send out scouting parties constantly to attack anybody even remotely approaching their borders--kinda like what Russia does."

Moreno shook her head in amazement.  She had thought becoming a staff attorney would bring stability and normalcy to her life, but things were just getting weirder and weirder.  The recently renovated state-of-the-art review center a few floors up had already been deemed not secure enough, and now Prince and Prowling was paying former CIA contractors to build an underground review bunker which contract attorneys would not even be allowed to enter without shedding all clothing and personal effects in exchange for hospital-type scrubs and a keycard to enter the under-construction Situation Room.  Internet-based databases and cloud storage would become things of the past, and Prince and Prowling would be the first law firm to take its clients' document reviews back in time to using CD-rom's.  But right now SOTA-BUNK was neither fit for mice nor men.

A few miles away, another building contractor was being wooed for a new project:  the rebuilding of the Old Dominion Boat Club in Alexandria.  Right now he was gliding past the future site, hosted by the Poseidon Auxiliary of the ODBC on one of their large sailboats.  "I don't know," he was saying nervously.  "I've heard rumors about this club."

"That's all behind us," said Ann Bishis.

"It was in litigation for decades!" the contractor replied.

"That's all behind us," repeated Bishis.

"Some people say it's cursed!" he whispered.

"I heard that, too!" exclaimed Bishis's boyfriend, a D.C. coroner.  (Bishis gave him a warning look, but he paid no heed.)  "And some people think there's a man-eating demon in this river!"  (Bishis kicked his ankle.)

"You heard that, too?" asked the contractor.

"Gentlemen!" protested the president of the Poseidon Auxiliary of the ODBC.  "Come on!  This is the 21st century!  We're just talking about building a new boat club!  It's not rocket science, and it's not the Twilight Zone!"

"Then what are those girls doing?" asked the contractor, pointing to the back of the boat, where some young, toga-wearing women were saying Greek prayers to Glaucos and Poseidon, while tossing parsley into the Potomac waters beneath them.

"It's just a traditional spring ritual," said Bishis, but the contractor was shivering in the cool breeze and insisted he had a bad feeling about it all.

Back on land, Angela de la Paz was one person who had no doubt there was a man-eating demon in the Potomac River.  She was strolling slowly around the Tidal Basin, whispering to her papoosed baby son about Ardua and how he was stronger than that old demon.  She gazed wistfully across the water at the Jefferson Memorial, a favorite spot she and Roddy had often jogged to.  Next to her, arborist Devi Rajatala walked quietly, a lot on her mind.  Several times Angela had ceased hearing her altogether, and when she would come back from these little blackouts, Angela would say something like, "I had to talk to my mom" or "I needed to visit Relisha".  Angela was retreating more and more into the place she called the World of the Spirits, and it was unclear to Dr. Rajatala whether she was really prepared to give up her son.

"Dr. Raj," Angela said, "I told the Warrior about the IPCC report on climate change--what it said about coming agriculture problems, famine, drought, disease.  He was very troubled, but he said the human race had survived the ice age, and it could survive this, too."

Dr. Rajatala looked at her in surprise, amazed that Angela was even aware the report had come out.  "The human race will survive," she said, "but that doesn't mean there won't be a lot of suffering."

"Like during the Middle Ages, with the bubonic plague?"

"Yes, times like that.  Many will die."

"The Heurich Society expects a lot more war," said Angela.

"Expects it or wants it?" asked Dr. Rajatala.  "Yes, there will be war, there will be refugees--there already are.  Many of the wars happening right now can be blamed in large part on droughts.  And droughts might tear apart the U.S., as well."

"Charles thinks," Angela began, and then she stopped.  She hadn't really talked to her boss since saving his life and going on maternity leave the same day.  He had visited with flowers and toys, of course, but they hadn't really talked...and she didn't know what he was thinking these days.

"You are a very special girl," said Dr. Rajatala, "I mean, woman, a very special woman, but right now, it's OK to just focus on the baby and get through this sad time."

"No," said Angela, kissing little Lucas.  "Everything goes together--I have to see all the parts."

Not too far beneath the surface, Ardua of the Potomac eavesdropped intently, furious that Mia's breakdown and suicide had not paralyzed her arch-enemy.  But there's much more I can do.... 

**************************
COMING UP:  Spring Fever.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A New Moon

"I just can't take any more snow!" pleaded the White House butler to her psychiatrist, Dr. Ermann Esse.  "It's making me nuts!  I keep seeing the twins outside playing it in!  Even today, on the way over here, in this horrible sleet with the driving wind, I saw them, and I was pleading with them to go back inside before they caught their death, and then I remembered, they're already dead!"

Dr. Esse nodded kindly, but he was, in fact, alarmed.  He had thought she was doing better about not hallucinating about her deceased pre-schoolers, but this was a serious setback.  "Did they speak back to you, Clio?"

"Of course not--they're dead!  And I know they're dead, but the constant snow is driving me nuts!"

"The snow has had a terrible effect on many people in Washington who are not used to it, and it's even worse for those who fled the north a long time ago--they feel betrayed that this is happening to them."

"Betrayed?  You can't blame anybody for snow!" exclaimed Clio.

"In this town, you can always blame somebody," said Dr. Esse.

Not far away, it was reporter Holly Gonightly who was being blamed for tying up a camera crew at the National Women in the Arts Wikipedia edit-a-thon when her television station was trying to film scenes of people struggling with snow and sleet all over town.  "Do we really need another shot of disappointed cherry blossom tourists or stranded airline passengers?" she wailed.  ("Yes, we do!")  She hung up her cellphone and looked forlornly at her camera man.

"What did the boss say?" he asked.

"Let's shoot the intro one more time here in the foyer, and then we have to go to the Tidal Basin to film people in snow and sleet."

"Are there actually people at the Tidal Basin right now?"

She shrugged and waited for him to prepare the camera again.  "This is Holly Gonightly, reporting from the National Women in the Arts Museum, where women from all over the Washington region were invited to learn how to be Wikipedia editors!  The popular, online, crowd-sourced encyclopedia has taken much criticism over the years for having 90% of its entries written or edited by men, but now these female edit-a-thons are being held all over the world to start changing that number!  How was that?"

"Perfect," the camera man lied, because (a) she was Too Fat For Television, so it could never be perfect, and (b) he didn't think the producers would air it anyway.

Coming out of the Edit-a-Thon, Giuliana Sunstream looked in vain for her boyfriend--who was supposed to be picking her up.  The weather was frightful, and he wasn't answering his cellphone.  She scratched the rash under her cursed Rolex, quite certain that her edits on interior decorating topics would be read by far more people than those other snooty women's edits on science, music, politics, and literature would be.  Especially the paragraph she had written on converting army surplus store parachutes into bed sheets!  (She was learning new and amazing things from Glenn Michael Beckmann every week!)

Beckmann, meanwhile, was a couple miles away, and had forgotten to tell his girlfriend he would be late.  Tipped off about a secret society meeting in the Brewmaster's Castle, the conspiracy theorist had just used his Batman grappling hook to shoot up to the roof, and was struggling in the snow and sleet to find a way in through the chimney.  Worried he was going to fall off the wet surface, he decided instead to swing back out on the rope, and then kick his way in through a window--like Kevin Costner in that "Robin Hood" movie.  This would have been a fine plan, except he ended up trying to kick in a window that had bars in front of it, broke both his feet, screamed in pain, and dropped down to the ground in a sodden lump.

"Did you hear that?" asked Henrietta Samuelson, chair of the Heurich Society meeting being held in the upper meeting floor of the Brewmaster's Castle.  ("It's just wind.")  She looked around uneasily, then asked how the Black Sea Revolution project was doing.

"Better than expected," crackled Condoleezza Rice over the speaker phone, "but we think it's time for you to go over there yourself."

"Me?  I thought we had plenty of agents operating over there."

"Don't you think it's time you got a little more hands-on?" echoed a former CIA operative.

"Your father wanted you to be more than a realtor, you know," said a Governor from the Federal Reserve Board.

"It's an honest living," she said.  (A few people stifled their laughter.)  "And I'm making more money now."

"You could be making even more money if you got more experience--then you would understand why we launch the projects we launch," said a World Bank attorney.

"If you're talking about buying the local elections, I told you I can't stand that crap!  There's nothing worse for a realtor than corrupt politicians."

"Not if they're your corrupt politicians, Button."  Samuelson looked around to see who had actually said that out loud, but saw only a bunch of blank, smiling faces.  "Fine, I'll go to Ukraine.  And I told you:  don't call me 'Button!'"

"Excellent!" crackled the Bloodsucker over the speaker phone.

A few miles to the north, Golden Fawn also had a huge decision to make--whether to join the board of the new Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.  "My father would have said take the money and run," she said to her husband, Marcos Vazquez, as they prepared dinner.  "Take Snyder's money and spend it as fast as you can!  I know that's what he would have said."

"But that's not what your grandmother would say, which is why you haven't even called her to ask her opinion," replied Vazquez, with a supportive follow-up kiss.  (She'd been struggling with the decision for days.)

"She'd say it's a terrible example for Joey," admitted Golden Fawn, "letting the white man act all magnanimous--giving with his right hand while still taking away with his left."  She threw some more sage in the stew and sighed.  "This is really high-profile.  They will get so much publicity for tribes that are really in need.  The National Museum of the American Indian gets a lot of sympathy, and it educates a lot of people, but we're talking NFL money--that's serious cash!"

"He'll be doling out that cash whether you're on the board or not."

"And the board might make really stupid, political decisions about it!"

"Alright," said Vazquez, "I hate being this kind of husband, but I'm gonna tell you straight out:  I don't think you should do it.  If it's giving you this kind of a headache before you even join it, you're going to be having a nervous breakdown about it once it really gets rolling.  Don't you have enough on your plate?  Two breast cancer battles, adopting Joey, and, well, the rest of it."

"Ardua," whispered Golden Fawn, and Vazquez found himself reflexively crossing himself.

"Look, why don't you tell him that you can't sit on the board, but that you and the museum will always be available to the board for advice?"

"Oh, you're so logical!"

"But I know your heart is telling you not to be on that board!" protested Vazquez, who wanted to protect her from anything and everything.

"OK," she said.

Back at Dr. Esse's consulting office, Bridezilla was the latest patient ranting about seeing snow again.  "I almost didn't come in at all!" she wailed.  "I was actually afraid to drive in this weather!  Thank goodness Buddy Lee got an invitation to watch hoops downtown and he could drive me!"

"I thought he doesn't know you're in treatment?"

"I'm not in treatment!  And he dropped me at the office, and I took a cab from there."

"You're not in treatment?"

"I just need somebody to talk to about certain things," said Bridezilla.

Dr. Esse was about to rebut her on the semantics, but thought there were more important issues to focus on.  "Do you think you are ready to marry this man when he doesn't even know you need me to talk to about certain things?"

"Of course I'm ready to marry him!  The wedding is in April!  And every woman has some secrets she keeps from her husband."

Dr. Esse was worn out from a long afternoon of stressed-out patients ready to completely flip out if they saw one more snowflake.  He had even talked down a wild-eyed National Security Council member from advocating nuclear strikes on Russia!  He simply could not bring himself to care whether Bridezilla was ready for this marriage or not because he knew damned well she would never go through with it.  "Before our next session, I would like you to write down a list of secrets you are keeping from your fiance', and we will discuss them."

"OK," she said, feeling like a heroine in some sort of Jennifer Aniston film...or maybe Cameron Diaz.

Several miles away, Angela de la Paz eased baby Lucas off her breast, then took him to the window.  "You have to see past all the clouds," she whispered to him.  "There's a beautiful, flaming sun setting over there--" (she moved to a different window) "--and a new moon rising over here.  There will always be clouds--that's why you need to learn how to look right through them."  The tiny boy struggled to understand the words of the voice he had heard so many times, then let his heavy eyelids close.

***********************************
COMING UP:  a New Dominion

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Life and Death

Nobody would agree to put the very pregnant Angela de la Paz on a plane, despite her insistence that she knew when her baby was going to be born, so she ended up having to find the Malaysian jet passengers in the spirit world.  Out of her body (lying on a hotel bed in Bethesda), she had willed her spirit to find them, and this was the hardest quest of all, since she had never met any of them.  She heard doleful bits of music in A minor, and saw the notes illustrated in gray and red and brown.  (Synesthesia.)  She felt numbness and terror and anger and confusion like little daggers flying through the air.  (Neurogenia.)  She crept deep into the Indian Ocean where the dry currents and eddies pull away from the wet flow of life.  (Amrita Manthan.)  Now she was with them.  (Purgatoria.)

"You can leave this place," she told them.  "Follow me."

"But the demons!" they wailed.

However, the demons were already fleeing from She Whose Gaze Must Be Avoided.  Angela looked around once more with satisfaction.  "It is time to go."

And so they went, quickly, until nobody was left behind but one.  "Roddy!" she cried in amazement.

"I was fending off the demons for them, but I couldn't defeat them by myself," the deceased Aussie commando said matter-of-factly.  And then more gently: "We have a son!"  He touched her belly softly.

"I miss you," Angela said.

"It'll be alright, Angie!" he said cheerfully.  "But you need to get back now:  Charles needs you."

She shook her head in amazement and laughed.  "He's having an emergency espionage sale?!"

"No," he said, this time more forcefully.  "It's Mia."

"There's something wrong with her, isn't there?  What is it?"

"It's Ardua, ain't it?  You need to go."  He kissed her and vanished.

She opened her eyes and jumped to her feet.

Down in Cleveland Park, Mia was at Charles Wu's house, out in the backyard with little Buffy Cordelia in the sandbox.  Mia did not feel the warming sunshine, she did not hear the sparrows chirping gaily, and she did not see that the first crocus patch blooming in the neighborhood was here.  The darkness inside her, and the heaviness and despair, would no longer abide resistance.  She stared at the face of Hello Kitty on a sand pail, as the face slowly twisted itself into the furious, terrifying visage of Ardua of the Potomac.  Her protege' cheerfully threw some sand on Mia's right leg, and the nanny flew into a rage.  "Delia!" she screamed, and the toddler burst into tears as Mia scooped her up and roughly belted her into the baby swing.  "Leave me alone!"  With that, she gave the swing a shove, then ran into the house.

She grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen, the voice in her head whispering that Delia was evil and had to be destroyed.  She wrapped the knife in a towel, her hands shaking, and sought out Wu.  I'll seduce him.  Then I'll kill him and take his money.  Then I can go anywhere I want.  They can't keep me here!  The former human trafficking victim had forgotten every good thing that had happened to her in the last couple of years, had forgotten her new friends, had forgotten her family in Asia, had forgotten all but the deep knot of pain that Ardua had turned into a ticking time bomb inside her.

She found him upstairs in his bedroom, looking out the window with consternation at his daughter crying in the swing.  He turned to run outside but found his nanny blocking the bedroom doorway.

"What happened to Delia?"

"Do you love me?" Mia asked, her hands trembling.

"We're good friends," Wu said quietly, his chi uncharacteristically whacked out.

"Do you love me?" she repeated.

He didn't like the look of the towel she was clenching with trembling hands.  "Delia is crying.  Let's go get her, and then we can have some tea and chat."

"No!" she pulled out the knife and kicked him swiftly in the crotch.

Stunned and in pain, Wu struggled to snap his mind back into focus, then lifted his elbow too late to fully deflect the knife coming down on his back.  He writhed from the cut to his shoulder.  "I don't want to hurt you!" he said, but his attempt to grab her by the ankle failed, and she lifted the knife again.

"Don't!" shouted Angela, rushing into the room.

Mia stepped away but didn't drop the knife.  "I hate you!" she screamed at Angela, forgetting everything about her friend except the power she had to talk people out of things.

"Mia, we love you," said Angela.

And Mia knew she would believe it if Angela said it one more time, but it was a lie!, so Mia slashed her left wrist, then hurled herself out the window.

Angela ran to look out the window, but she could already feel Mia's spirit violently discharged from the broken body.  She rushed back to Wu, who was clutching his bloody shoulder.

"I'm OK--go to Mia."

"It's too late," said Angela.

Wu took a deep breath.  "Then go check on Delia:  she might be hurt."  He pointed to the backyard beyond the shattered glass.

A few minutes later, Delia's sobs were subsiding as she sat in her father's lap in a kitchen chair.  Angela handed Delia a cup of milk, then set to work on Wu's shoulder cut.  "It's bad," she said.  "It's gonna need stitches."  She continued applying pressure with her elbow as she pulled her cellphone out of her pocket to call 911.

"What are you gonna tell them?" asked Wu.  If Angela had not been standing behind him to lean on his wound, she would have seen tears in his eyes for the first time ever.

She didn't answer him because her call was picked up immediately.  "We need a couple ambulances," she began.  "We have a man with a knife wound in the shoulder.  He's conscious, but weak, and I can't get the bleeding to stop.  We also have a suicide victim."  (She felt Wu shudder.)  "I'd rather not talk about that because there's a little girl here, and I don't want her to hear me talk about it."  (She felt Wu pull Delia in a little tighter.)  "And I'm going into labor."  (Wu turned his head to look at her, but Angela silently mouthed to him that she was OK.)  "I can't talk about the victim right now because of the little girl here.  She's in the backyard, and definitely d-e-a-d."

Angela gave the address, then burst into tears and handed the phone to Wu.

Next door, Liv Cigemeier was staring at her newly furnished and decorated nursery with satisfaction.  She exhaled deeply and happily, knowing they were finally ready to adopt Angela's baby as soon as it was born.  She went into the master bedroom to put away the adult laundry, smiled at the bassinet, then walked over to open the window and let in some fresh air while it was warm outside.  That's when she noticed Mia lying next to the bushes in a most unnatural way.  She ran downstairs, grabbed the spare key to Wu's house, and raced next door.  She let herself in without bothering to knock, expecting to find Delia wandering around alone.

"We're in the kitchen," she heard Wu call, and she raced back there to find Wu a bloody mess, Delia in his arms, and a crying Angela leaning on his shoulder.

"My boy's gonna be born today," sobbed Angela.

"Mia--" Liv began, pointing out the wide-open back door.

Wu shook his head.  "It's too late for her.  Ambulances are on the way."

"Are you sure?" asked Liv.  (They both nodded yes.)  "Sit down," she said, motioning to Angela that she would take over the job of applying pressure to Wu's shoulder wound.

The now grimacing Angela pulled a chair away from Delia's view, and sat down gingerly.  "Did you pick his name out?" asked Angela.  "It will help me with the labor."  (She was still crying.)

"Lucas Felix," said Liv, feeling a little faint at the sight of the blood, and the thought of Mia outside, beyond help.  "We thought Lucas could be an Australian OR a Latin American name, and we wanted to honor his parents.  My husband hates his name, but 'Felix' means happy, and he agreed to it as a middle name."  And then she started crying.  "What happened?" she whispered.

"Later," said Angela, pointing at little Delia, and then Liv understood they didn't want her to hear them talking about it.

"I think I should move in with you for a couple of months," Angela said.  "I can breast-feed and babysit Lucas, and help watch Delia, too, until Charles finds a new nanny."

On any other day, Liv would have thought this a really terrible idea, and she was fairly certain Felix wouldn't like it, but she knew it was the right thing to do.  A few minutes later, she was the one holding Delia in her arms while Angela and Charles were loaded onto stretchers.

"Lucas is really healthy," Angela called to Liv, as she got back out of the stretcher.  "I'm gonna walk outside to let my water break there," she said to her confused caretakers, "and then I'll be ready for the ambulance.  I don't want to leave a mess here!" she cried, bursting into tears again.

Liv carried Delia--crying with renewed vigor after seeing her father carried out on a stretcher--into the family room to search in vain for a toy to soothe her.  "I don't know what happened," she repeated to the police officer following her with his memo pad.  "She was the nanny.  I arrived after it all happened."

Out in the backyard, a few members of the Departed waited patiently with Mia's ghost as she tried to comprehend that her body was not her body anymore...and it was time to move on.  The pink warblers from next door flew over to sing gently to Mia and encourage her.  I don't understand, Mia kept saying, and she didn't.

But the Departed understood all too well.

*****************************************
COMING UP:  A new moon.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Shadow Worlds

Angela de la Paz knew that the Heurich Society was involved in the Crimean crisis, but her new boss, Charles Wu, told her to leave it alone.  International espionage was only about money for him.  Now that she had decided to give up her baby (at his suggestion!), she didn't even need as much money, but somehow she was still working for him.  She thought it was ridiculous that China had abstained on the United Nations Security Council resolution.  How can you not be for or against something like that?, she had asked Wu.  It's all about strategic interests, Wu had said, as usual.  Lynnette Wong had used the topic as an excuse to--again--tell Angela she really needed to finish her education.  Crimea has a long and complex history...yadda, yadda, yadda.

There will always be men who use guns to get what they want, a soft voice said.  But there are other things you can do.  Angela opened her eyes, not remembering whether she was awake or dreaming.

"Mami?"

"Yes, mi hija!"

Angela rushed to embrace her mother, and felt a flood of warm emotion surge between them.  "I thought I'd never see you again!"

"It's taken a long time for you to find me," her mother said.

"Where are we?" asked Angela, looking around.  They seemed to be at the end of a rainbow.

"It's a safe and happy place," said her mother.  "So happy that I do not even feel the pain of missing you--because I know it is temporary."

"Is this Heaven?"

"You are still alive, mi amor--you can't be in Heaven!"

"I don't understand, mami."

"You are a special soul, so you can see things others can't see.  You must go find the airplane."

"The airplane?!"

"A watery grave tended by sea demons," her mother said.

"But they're all dead!  It's too late!"

Her mother smiled and shook her head.  "It is never too late.  Don't you know that by now, after all you have seen and heard and done?"

"Who murdered you, mami?"

"A troubled soul--but you cannot help him.  You have helped many, and I am proud of you for it, but you cannot help him."

"I don't want to help him!"

"And that's why you can't.  Go to the plane."

"I'm pregnant," Angela said.

"I know," said her mother.  "The baby will wait."

"I'm giving it up," Angela said.

"I know, mi amor--but he will always be ours, too.  Remember that word:  always."  With that, her mother hugged her tightly, and then she was gone.

Over on Capitol Hill, the man who had murdered her mother was squeezing his new girlfriend just as tightly.  "Where do you want to eat, lassie?"

Giuliana Sunstream laughed:  Glenn Michael Beckmann had a new pet name for her everyday.  "Anyplace with microbrews," she said.  "The St. Patrick's Day Parade was so much fun!  I always thought they would be so corny."

"You've spent too much of your time trying to be cool and trendy," Beckmann said.  "But nobody's cooler than St. Patrick!  Did you know he had his own Hunter-Gatherer Society?  That's how they drove the snakes out of Ireland."

"I think you're being blasphemous," she laughed.

"Never!" he exclaimed, but his ire dissipated immediately when she wrapped her arm in his and he felt that cursed Rolex against him.

A few miles to the west, Laura Moreno was full of ire that would not dissipate.  She was working a ton of hours at Prince and Prowling--her staff attorney agreement already a distant, fictional memory.  And now they had saddled her with reconfiguring the previously "state-of-the-art" review center to once again host contract attorneys now that the law firm had won over the huge federal client that rival Goode Peepz had lost after a failed security audit.  (Goode Peepz had made the mistake of hiring Beckmann's Bad Asses for security.)  This afternoon, she had to test each and every computer to make sure it was headless, armless, and legless:  a mere fragment of its former self, kept alive for one purpose and one purpose only--to code documents.  No internet surfing, no file-saving, no file-printing, no ports, no CD drives, no nothing.  (The computers had been furnished by Charles Wu, who mysteriously had a special order of them from Hong Kong available for purchase after another buyer had fallen through.)  The workmen were almost finished installing the hidden cameras and recording devices which would allow the new contract attorneys to be spied on continuously.  Contractors would go through a full body scanner every time they entered or left the room, and their bags would be searched at the same time.  They would also be subject to random scanning and searching throughout the day.  Former Senator Evermore Breadman had even insisted on purchasing an invisible ink kit to examine every paper coming in and out of the room with contract attorneys.  If there was anything else that could be done to prevent corporate espionage by fellow members of the D.C. Bar (!), Moreno did not know what it was--but she did know she would be blamed for not thinking of it.

Several miles away, Mayor Vince Gray was having his own nervous breakdown about blame.  It was the first time he had ever hosted a D.C. chapter meeting of Sense of Entitlement Anonymous, and crow was not on the menu.  "So what if I called somebody uncle?  Can anybody explain to me how that's illegal?!"

"I think there's more to the story than that," said Judge Sowell Ame.

"Shouldn't you have recused yourself from this meeting?" asked real estate tycoon Calico Johnson.

"His trial won't be in my court!" answered Ame.

"There won't be a trial!" protested Gray.  "I just called him uncle!"

"I know exactly how you feel," said a former member of the FISA court.  "All I did was call it classified!  Where's the crime in that?"  (Dick Cheney burst out laughing.)  "What's so funny?"

"Can we talk about me now?" asked Bridezilla.  "I'm getting married next month!"

"When pigs fly," Congressman John Boehner whispered to FRB economist Luciano Talaverdi.

"What?" asked Bridezilla.

"I was a little surprised you're registered at Maybelle's Mississippi Mercantile," said Cheney.

"Buddy Lee's cousin's family owns that.  It's so embarrassing!  He says buying from them helps the post-Katrina economy, but if anybody actually sends me that 20-slot toaster or turkey fryer, I will just die."

"Is it true in this country that a wedding guest has up to a year to send a gift?" asked Talaverdi, who had once courted Bridezilla himself, and who had no intention of throwing money away on a wedding everybody said would never happen.

"Well, I think it's tacky to register anywhere!" declared Mayor Gray.  "To indicate to other people how they should spend their money to support you?  I would never do such a thing!"

Far away, and yet very nearby, Angela de la Paz was still in the world of spirits.  She had more things she wanted to talk to her mother about, but she couldn't find her again.  Angela!  She turned quickly, and was shocked to see the ghost of Henry Samuelson.  I've been trying to speak to you for ages!  She backed away but kept listening.  Do you recognize me?  She nodded.  I'm worried about Button!  She can't handle the Heurich Society without your help.

"That was her choice," said Angela.

But she still needs you!  The Bloodsucker is ascending again!  Who do you think started all this mess with Russia in Crimea?

"Condoleezza Rice?"  (Ghost Henry nodded.)  "It doesn't matter--I'm staying out of it."

Because that damned spy Wu told you to?!

"My mother said I need to find the airplane."

My entire Ghost CIA can't even find that airplane!

"It's been hidden by demons."

We're on the brink of nuclear war with Russia, Angela!  Think!

Angela shook her head.  "I'm doing what my mother asked."  Then she heard the voice of a pink warbler and followed it back to the material world.

In the world she left behind, Ghost Henry angrily went after Angela's mother, only to find her defiant but serene.  How many times do I have to tell you that she never belonged to you, Henry?

****************************************
COMING UP:  Life and Death.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Running Out of Time

"What happened to all the clocks?" asked Charles Wu, returning to his Cleveland Park home from his espionage mission to Quantico.

"They weren't working right, so I threw them away," replied Nanny Mia, without looking up from her GED textbook.

"Clocks broke!" echoed little Buffy Cordelia, who emphasized her point by using a toy hammer to attack her Wee People barn.

"What are you talking about?" asked Wu.

"The time was wrong on all of them," replied Mia.  "None of them matched my cellphone time."

Wu hesitated for a moment.  Mia still had not looked up at him from her textbook.  "Are you joking?"

"No," she said, without looking up.

"Mia, it's Daylight Savings Time today--they need to be reset.  They're not broken!"

"Oh," she said without looking up.

"Where are they?"

"I threw them out."

"Where?"

"In the trash!" Mia said, tired of the topic.

"Are you still seeing your therapist?"

This time Mia looked up.  "That is really offensive!"

Wu went into the kitchen to check the trash can there, and saw under the coffee grounds and orange rinds a pile of clocks which appeared to have been smashed into pieces.  What the Hell?

Several miles away, Congressman Herrmark--one of the few legislators who had bravely fought President Bush's decision to make Daylight Savings Time arrive earlier in the year--was mourning the loss of what few remaining hours he had left in his Sunday to an unending luncheon meeting of the Holier Than Thou Caucus.  "I just don't see how Crimea is Obama's fault, or what it has to do with our caucus."

"What the Hell do you mean, how it can be Obama's fault?" exclaimed the Congressman from Missouri.

"Please watch your language!" exhorted the Congresswoman from Georgia.

 "Seriously," said Congressman Herrmark.  "How is it Obama's fault?  What are we gonna blame him for next?  The Polar Vortex?  Khloe Kardashian's divorce?  The Oscar Pistorius murder trial?  The Oscars?"

"This is serious!" retorted the Congressman from Texas.  "Obama is weak--that's why Russia invaded!"

"We have military troops on every continent in the world," exclaimed Herrmark.  "We spend more on the military than any other country in the world.  We have no strategic interest in Crimea, and Russia does."

"So you just want to let Putin win?" hollered the Congresswoman from Georgia.

"We can't police the whole world!" pleaded Herrmark.

"Then what's the point of having a military?" asked the Congressman from Florida.

"Defending ourselves!" said Herrmark.

"We can't let Godless communists win!" protested the Congresswoman from Arizona.

"Putin is not a Godless communist!" retorted Herrmark.  "And there's nothing we can do about it except invade Crimea or launch a nuclear bomb, and I don't see how that's what Jesus would do!  But I do think Jesus would want us to stop hydrofracking, because we're stewards of the Earth."

"I'm beginning to wonder if you know anything about Jesus at all, son!" said the Congressman from Texas.

Over in Foggy Bottom, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Hope was also wondering what Jesus would do about Crimea--since nobody else the State Department had consulted had come up with a good response yet.  And the bitter truth was, there were bigger problems in the world--the violent disintegration of the Central African Republic, strains in Chinese-American relations, and the endless violence in Syria echoed by increasing sectarian conflict all over the Arab world--but the Republican and media pressure for action on Crimea had become relentless.  Project R.O.D.H.A.M. had declined to send a team there, saying there was no plan they could come up with that had a high enough reward to be worth the risk.  Every realpolitikian in the world would say give it up--the U.S. can't go to war over Crimea, and Russia knows it.  But how could he tell Secretary Kerry that Russia had already won, and it was more important for U.S. diplomatic efforts to focus on other regions of the world?

A couple miles away, the Heurich Society was meeting at the Brewmaster's Castle to celebrate the spectacular progress of their latest project:  the Black Sea Revolution.  Condoleezza Rice herself had flown in to attend the meeting in person, reveling in the success of her complex plan to weaken the European Union, shake up Turkey, emasculate President Obama, and pave the way for Neo-Neocons to take over the U.S. in the next election.

"Your Russian expertise really paid off this time!" exclaimed a former CIA agent.

"What do you mean, this time?" asked Rice, smiling in a frightening way.  ("Um....")  "Just kidding, Joe!"

"I still don't understand exactly what's going to happen in the next couple of weeks," said Heurich Society Chair, Henrietta Samuelson.

"Well, we can't predict everything, my dear," said Rice, "but I promise you, it will be a lot of fun!"

Floating in the corner, the ghost of Henry Samuelson despaired for his daughter's naivete.  You've gone too far this time, Bloodsucker! he railed at Rice.  Then he flew off to consult with his Ghost CIA and ponder making another attempt to get through to Angela de la Paz.

Back in Cleveland Park, Charles Wu's neighbors were racing against time to get ready for the birth and adoption of Angela de la Paz's baby.  "Are you sure you're doing it right?" asked Liv Cigemeier, handing screws to her husband while he worked on assembling the baby crib.

"These things always look strange in the first stages, and then they come together," he said.

"Well, it's not that important--the baby will be in the bassinet at the beginning."

"You haven't chosen a bassinet yet," he reminded her.

"I have it narrowed down."

"You have everything narrowed down," he laughed.  "At some point you need to start making your selections or I will."

Liv did not laugh.  The whole thing had happened so suddenly that she still had no idea what to make of it.  She had gone next door to look after Mia one day, and Wu had abruptly told her that Angela de la Paz wanted to give up her unborn child to the Cigemeiers.  And when she had told her husband that night, he did not seem as surprised or overjoyed as she had expected.  Of course, he was the primary breadwinner and it would be a huge financial pressure on him, on top of the mortgage on this house they had purchased right before Liv's career had entered a chaotic trajectory.  He seemed to be getting happier as the due date approached, but every now and then he seemed lost in thought; she would ask him if something was bothering him, but he would always say no.

"How about a name?" he asked.  "How much have you narrowed that down?"  She leaned over to kiss him, but was not ready to answer him.

Next door, Wu had just finished ordering half a dozen new wall clocks online when Mia walked into his office.  "Delia is asleep, and I'm going to lie down, too," she said, sashaying her hips as she walked over to him.  "Would you like to join me?" she asked, placing her hand on his shoulder.

"No, thank you," he said, firmly removing her hand.

"Suit yourself," she said, blowing him a kiss before leaving.

Wu stared at the doorway for several minutes, alarmed.  He wondered if her therapist was doing more harm than good in the effort to help her overcome her past as a human trafficking victim.  She was losing interest in Delia, resenting the schoolwork she had once craved, and now this.  A phone call at last brought him out of his reverie--and he tried to refocus his thoughts on preparing a report to China on what the U.S. was going to do about Crimea.

Outside his window, an anxious pink warbler flew back to her nest in the Cigemeiers' yard, while a catbird started imitating the sound he had heard a few hours earlier--the bang, bang, bang of Mia's pounding the clocks to smithereens.

***********************************************
COMING UP:  Angela in the world of spirits.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Thunder Snow

Laura Moreno returned to her Prince and Prowling office and began the laborious process of shedding her snow boots and extra layers of clothing.  She then sorted out the Starbucks selections and prepared the tray she was bringing to Bridezilla (who was treating her like 12-hours-a-slave ever since she had picked Moreno up in the truck borrowed from fiance' Buddy Lee Trickham).  Moreno walked past her defective office chair, abridged desk furniture, coffee-stained carpeting, dented filing cabinet, bookcase full of tax law newsletters dating back to 1957, and nameless nameplate wall slot, and headed for Bridezilla's office.  Bridezilla had insisted that their client meeting today was too important to miss, and now that Moreno was a Staff Attorney, she could not take a snow day--ever.  (Actually, hardly anybody had shown up for work today, but Bridezilla couldn't take one more hour of wedding planning with Buddy Lee, and so she had declared to him that it was absolutely essential she make it into the office today.)

"They didn't have the muffin you wanted, or the salad, so I got these for you--I hope you like them," said Moreno.

"What?!  Why didn't you call me to ask?!"

"They had a fairly limited selection, so I just picked the closest things."

"These aren't close at all!" protested Bridezilla.

"They did have the coffee you wanted."

"These aren't close at all!" Bridezilla said again.

"I'm taking my lunch break now," said Moreno, and Bridezilla stared at her in shock.  (Who does she think she is?!)

Several miles to the east, Angela de la Paz went outside to test the snowshoes The Warrior had fashioned for her in the old way, just like the first pair he had made 400 years ago.  Arborist Devi Rajatala watched anxiously from the window of her National Arboretum field office (where she and Angela had spent the night), but she had given up wondering who exactly Angela thought she was.  Angela had assured her she would be fine, and the baby would be fine.  Angela was no longer the fragile little thing who had first come on a school bus to the Friendship Garden not so many years ago.

"Tell me about the thunder snow," said Angela.

"Rare, like the white buffalo," said The Warrior, tramping effortlessly towards the trees.  "It is a sign from the Creator that Nature's balance is shifting.  The Thunderbird is challenging the North Wind, and so lightning and snow begin a fierce battle.  It is always brief.  When it is over, everything has changed, but few can see what has changed."

"Can you see what has changed?"

"Yes," replied The Warrior, with no further explanation.

"I haven't decided about the baby yet," said Angela.

"I think you have," The Warrior retorted, but gently.

"I want to see a sign," she said.

The Warrior believed that if she were contemplating giving up the baby for adoption, it must be so--if she were meant to keep it, she would know.  But he also knew she was a troubled soul who had been asked to give much to the world, and had received but little.  "Look there," he said, stopping to point out a bird's nest that had miraculously survived since last spring in a small tree hollow.  "The mother may very well move back in this year--she built it so well.  And it will be softer this year from the snow, but still strong enough to hold her eggs."  Angela contemplated the nest for a moment, and then a pink warbler appeared and settled into the nest.  She turned to see if The Warrior saw it also, and he nodded, but he knew she had seen pink warblers many times, and which choice would it be a sign of, anyway?

"I know the Cigemeiers would be good parents," she said.  "But it's altering the baby's life forever.  It's scary to decide that."

"A million things will alter that baby's life."

"But this one is my choice.  How can I be sure it's the right choice?"

"You can't," said The Warrior.  "It's like the thunder snow--everything changes, and yet we will never know how things would have continued without it."

"You said that you can see the difference," Angela reminded him.

"I can see what has changed, but not what might have been without the change."

Angela struggled to understand this, and then the pink warbler started singing to her.  The two watched and listened, mesmerized, for several minutes.  From the field office, Dr. Rajatala looked out to see where they were, and she could see them in the distance, inexplicably staring at a barren winter tree.  Then she prayed for Angela.  Then they all saw the quick flash of lightning, to the south, followed several seconds later by a deep clap of thunder.  Dr. Rajatala watched as Angela took The Warrior's hand, and the two turned around.

Several miles to the north, Golden Fawn also heard the thunder clap and rushed out to her balcony, knowing everything had changed.  A raven was already waiting for her, perched effortlessly on the snowy railing, and she held out to him the piece of bread that she had not put down when jumping up from her lunch.  The raven hopped onto her shoulder, whispered in Golden Fawn's ear, then hopped down to her wrist to start pecking at the bread.

"Honey?" called Marcos Vazquez from the doorway.  "You don't have shoes on."

"She's OK," said little Joey Bent Oak, also walking out in his stocking feet, and she reached out to him with her birdless hand, and smiled.  She looked over Joey's head to her husband and mouthed the words, we're keeping him.

Back at Prince and Prowling, Bridezilla also heard the thunder clap, and took it as a bad sign.  She picked up her large LL Bean tote bag and marched off for a third time to look for Laura Moreno.  "Where have you been?"

"I was at lunch," said the Staff Attorney.

"But I couldn't find you," said Bridezilla, looking around in vain for a guest chair.

"I went out," lied Moreno, who had been hiding out in the deep recesses of the firm's law library--a place she knew Bridezilla had never graced with her own presence.  "I only took an hour."

Bridezilla rolled her eyes.  "You're a Staff Attorney now!  We need to know where you are at all times!  I'll have to find you an old Blackberry or something.  I don't know how we will pay for it, with the budget being what it is.  They already removed the snack vending machine to pay for your two vacation days a year!"

"That doesn't even make sense--the vending machine shouldn't cost the firm anything."

"I don't know why becoming a Staff Attorney has made you think you're entitled now to be so argumentative all the time!"

"It's just a discussion--it's not an argument," said Moreno, who would have really liked to say instead, you're the argumentative one!

"Whatever!" exclaimed Bridezilla.  "I'm not going to let you ruin my happy mood!"  (Bridezilla was anything but happy.)  "The client just called to cancel the meeting.  (Now it was Moreno's turn to roll her eyes.)  "We're going to use the time to have a Skype meeting with my wedding planner.  She needs to give you the options for floral arrangements, souvenir candles, birdseed bags, limo rentals, and first-dance songs."

"Me?" asked the attorney who had just single-handedly salvaged the Bank of America case.

"Well, I don't have time for this, and my maid of honor just had a baby."  (After so many canceled weddings, the only woman Bridezilla had found willing to stand up with her was a second cousin from Marietta.)

"You really don't want to choose these things yourself?"

"Of course I do!" retorted Bridezilla, increasingly annoyed.  "I need you to narrow down the wedding planner's options to three of each category, and put it all in a PowerPoint presentation.  But first set up the TV in the conference room for the Skype call.  It's at 3."

"I already took an hour for my lunch," said Moreno.

"Bill it to 123456," said Moreno.  "Duh!"

Moreno looked up the number on the billing codes list and found "Partner Bonus".
 
Out in the river, Ardua of the Potomac had also been awakened by the thunder snow--something she had not heard in many years.  She yawned and peeped out at the snowfall and the now-clearing skies.  The air and water smelled different.  She swished her tail and glided towards the Jefferson Memorial to work on pulling it further down in the muck because she was still drowsy and had not yet thought of anything else to do.  Then she remembered there was a good chance at World War III in Europe, and turned her sights to the State Department.

*****************************************************
COMING UP:  The haunting of Mia.