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 6/6//2017. Follow Washington Water Woman on Twitter @HorrorDC ....

Friday, November 23, 2007

Magic Numbers

Former Senator Evermore Breadman escorted his out-of-town guests away from the champagne brunch spread in their Georgetown Four Seasons suite and into the waiting limousine. The three amigos bantered about football as they rode swiftly downtown to the Prince and Prowling building, where Laura Moreno stood outside the entrance befuddled that her keycard was not working. The building was in weekend security mode, even though the Prince and Prowling office was open, and Laura could not even enter the building. She grimaced at the cold wind and swiped it a couple more times before the Breadman trio arrived, exited their limousine, and approached the building. Breadman stopped expectantly, waiting for Laura to open the door for them, but she told him her card did not seem to be working. "Your brand new card's not working?" he asked, surprised. She told him she did not have a brand new card. "Hmmm," he replied. "They were distributed Monday through Wednesday. I think the old ones were deactivated on Thanksgiving." Overlooked by the Firm again, she meekly followed the power brokers into the lobby, signed in as one of Breadman's building guests (without his noticing), and quickly followed him to the elevator. The three amigos rode up in silence, stil feeling tingly from the champagne. Breadman vaguely recognized Moreno, but had no idea who she really was, and made no effort at introduction. The gentlemen let her exit the elevator first, but she hung back meekly, waiting for Breadman to let her into the suite for the first time ever. She entered the workroom and clocked herself in.

Several miles east, Sebastian L'Arche entered the Moultrie Courthouse for the arraignment of his cousin for car theft. He walked downstairs to Family Court and began hunting for the right courtroom. He walked past two chatting police officers and a few scattered civilians before finding the correct courtroom: it was Judge Sowell Lame's turf. L'Arche walked in quietly, looked around, saw his aunt and other cousin, and joined them. They whispered a few words to L'Arche, then fell silent. L'Arche was feeling guilty. He knew his 16-year-old cousin had been snatching bourbon shots every time the booze bottles were unattended on Thanksgiving, and L'Arche hadn't told his aunt. He knew James had wanted to hang with him last night, but L'Arche had left his aunt's house at 6 p.m. to meet up with his friends at the karaoke party in Columbia Heights. L'Arche nervously fingered his watch, a birthday gift from his aunt last spring. He had envied her, with her good job at the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue. He had thought their family was doing pretty well, and his cousins would both be going to college instead of joining the army as he had done, and ending up with some dead-end job like pet courier. Nobody had said anything to him, but his aunt's house had looked different yesterday--less crystal on display, fewer china figurines, no fresh flowers. His aunt had hosted the family Thanksgiving dinner in a plain blue dress without one spec of jewelry on and without cracking a real smile the entire day. Could it be? Was it really possible she was in on millions of dollars of fraudulent tax refunds? L'Arche's cousin was going to be arraigned less than 24 hours after his late-night arrest for stealing a car worth about $3,000. Nobody knew if or when his aunt would be indicted as part of a white-collar conspiracy that might total over $30 million. L'Arche rubbed his temples, a little hung-over, wondering why he had not questioned his aunt's ability to purchase the large house in Hillcrest two years ago, buy the BMW last Christmas, and take her son and daughter on the African safari last summer. All this time, L'Arche had been worried that the whole family was looking down on his lifestyle. "I don't know what is happening to this family!" his aunt suddenly blurted out. L'Arche could see, hear, and almost smell the fear. What WAS happening to her family?

Back at Prince and Prowling, former Senator Evermore Breadman's guests were comfortably ensconced in his brown leather guest chairs. If Laura Moreno had been a regular reader of Fortune, Forbes, or Businessweek, she would have recognized them as the CEO and CFO of a major pharmaceutical company recently hit with an FDA drug recall. The CFO was informing Breadman that they had already made enough cash from that drug to have a $12 billion profit above and beyond the legal liability contingency fund already set aside, but they knew that a couple other drugs they had were demonstrating too many fatalities too early in their cycles, and they felt it was important to get another baby boomer remedy to market quickly. Breadman pulled out his FDA file and began telling him about his associates there and how Prince and Prowling's regulatory attorneys could assist in streamlining the FDA review process for the new drug. The CFO's champagne was starting to wear off, and one of his anxieties bubbled to the surface: "We don't want some Scott McClellan kind of person to act like he's on our side, then turn around and stab us in the back later." Breadman frowned, but assured them that none of his people ever turned--his people knew that hypocritical tell-all books only made one pile of money, but being a team player meant pile after pile after pile. The CFO arched his back, a little surprised at the crass answer; he looked sideways at the CEO, but the CEO semed to be staring out the east-facing window at a few starlings shimmering in the brilliant morning sunshine. "Buck?" the CFO called to the CEO, who turned back and told Evermore to fax the legal services contract to their Chief Counsel. The CEO rose abruptly, and asked if they could go for their White House tour now.

Back in the workroom, Laura Moreno had made a good start on the Jones case but was wondering how she would get back into the suite if she exited it to use the ladiesroom. She made a mental assessment of who she knew was out on vacation today, and could think of nobody left that she could borrow a key from. Didn't the paralegal-from-Hell keep guest cards in her office? But Laura could not get to that lair without a keycard. She emailed the witch about it, but got an out-of-office reply message. She groaned again. She summoned her nerve and marched down the hall to ask the former Senator to borrow his keycard, but his office was already vacated. She walked around the entire suite, and it became apparent that everyone in her suite was taking a paid vacation day except her--the person who did not get any. She propped open the suite door and went to the restroom--at least nobody was there to yell at her.

Back at Moultrie, James was finally being arraigned. Judge Sowell Lame could tell immediately from body language where the boy's family was sitting in the courtroom, and subconsciously dismissed the boy as another fatherless lost cause. The public defender told the judge that James had been picked up on circumstantial evidence only, and had not been the car thief. Sowell Lame was really irritated that he had gotten stuck with today's juvenile arraignments while the senior judges were off on their four-day holiday weekends. Sowell Lame set the bail at $20,000 and slammed his gavel. "WHAT?! This is a first-time juvenile arrest for a non-violent crime?!" The public defender was livid--the police officers had not even been asked to testify, and the judge did THAT?! Sowell Lame slammed the gavel again, harder, and called for the next case; he wanted to get home early...very early.

A few miles west, former Senator Evermore Breadman entered the East Wing of the White House as he always did, without showing ID to the guards, waved in by Clio, the butler. Clio had been waving in the President's special friends since long before 9/11, and nobody had ever questioned her authority to do so because she had never made a mistake. Nor did anybody question the presence of her twins on the foyer settee, quietly reading, because they were always well-behaved when she brought them to work. Fergie looked up at the CFO as he walked past, but the boy's smile only left the CFO cold. Reggie looked at her brother, then at the men walking past, smiling sweetly, but they passed her quickly. She looked back at her brother, and they exchanged words in their secret twin language--which always gave the security guards the creeps.

Back at Prince and Prowling, an exasperated Laura Moreno was in the office of the administrator-from-Hell, in a last-ditch effort to salvage her day. "OK," the a-f-H said, "you didn't get a new building card, and your computer username disappeared?" Laura repeated that her copy machine code had also stopped working. "Well, you can't have a copy machine code!" the a-f-H barked at her. Laura raised her hands in bewilderment. "What's the client going to say when they see copy charges from you? They don't even know who you are!" Laura, who was well-aware of that fact of life, pointed out that she had been using that copy machine code for over two years. "Well, that's WRONG! You need to use somebody else's code. Here's a guest pass until we can get a new building swipe card for you, but you need to pay $10 because that's not your correct swipe card anyway--you obviously lost yours and picked this up as a guest key, and you should not have done that. I'll call I.T. about the computer password." After declaring indignantly that she had used that swipe card for three years and had never lost it, Laura walked off with her new swipe card without handing over $10, leaving the a-f-H fuming. Laura began walking the halls of the litigation team until she found a Partner she knew. She told him what she was supposed to be doing on his case and why she couldn't do it. He wrote down a number on a post-it note, stuck it on top of a large pile of documents, and handed it to her, telling her she could use his code and get those documents photo-copied for him. An hour later, she handed him two piles, then picked up her bags, and left several hours earlier than she had intended to go to court to file her final (she hoped) pleadings in her pro bono case. As she reached the courthouse, Sebastian L'Arche was just walking out with his two cousins and his aunt, who had just paid the $20,000 bail with a stack of $500 bills she had pulled carefully out of her large leather handbag. L'Arche mumbled that he had to go do his lunch-time dogwalks, hugged his relatives, then headed off to the subway--declining the ride home in the BMW. His aunt gave the car key to James to drive them home and got on her cellphone to find a real defense lawyer for her son. After a couple of calls, she finally got a recommendation, dialed the number, and accidentally got the voicemail of former Senator Evermore Breadman, who would later delete repeated messages from the strange woman for days to come.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Legal Eagles

Atticus Hawk looked up nervously at the clock, knowing that his fiancee would be calling him any minute to ask when he was leaving the office. It was his first memo for new Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and he wanted it to be perfect. Hawk's own boss had been of no help at all, abdicating the responsibility to Hawk, and talking out of both sides of his mouth just as Mukasey had done during the Senate confirmation hearings. Torture, shmorture, you say po-ta-to, I say po-tah-to. The truth was, Hawk was not sure what slant Mukasey really wanted in this memo. He looked enviously out his door at the dark office across the hallway. Everybody knew that Hawk and his boss had been two of the biggest supporters of Alberto Gonzales, so they were clearly being tested. He called his boss again, and got the answering machine again, and again left him a message asking whether he should put in or leave out the 1943 Supreme Court case. He slammed down the receiver, startling himself. He pulled out his last Dunkin' Donut and began chewing it slowly....When he was done with the donut, he was going to wrap up the memo and leave.

Meanwhile, Bridezilla was miles away from the Justice Department, driving home from Pentagon City with a trunk full of new winter clothes and shoes so that she could give away last year's wardrobe to Dress for Success and get a tax write-off. It was that time of year, and the car radio was playing yet another jewelry commercial, subconsciously causing her anxiety about what Atticus would be getting her for Christmas. After all, his career stress (not to mention the resultant acne!) had forced them to postpone the wedding again, and it had been a long time since he had given her the diamond engagement ring. Surely he would give her a diamond necklace this Christmas! Or at least emeralds or rubies...or SAPPHIRES! Yes, that was it--she needed to make up a story to tell him about a blue-eyed co-worker whose eyes were set off by the most glorious SAPPHIRE necklace. She stopped off at Balducci's to pick up a gourmet dinner she would tell him she had been cooking all afternoon, then called him up to see when he would be home.

Meanwhile, several miles east, Laura Moreno was rummaging around Bridezilla's Prince and Prowling office, trying to find the research memo that Chloe Cleavage had promised to leave there. Laura found it at last, under a Federalist Society paper weight. Laura picked it up and was astonished to see it was only one page long, cited only two cases, and had no attachments. Bridezilla is not going to be happy with that. There was a time when Laura would have spent two more hours expanding her own research memo to cover Chloe's gaps, thinking it would win brownie points with Bridezilla, but now she knew it would not, so she didn't bother. She put her own seven-page memo with six printed cases underneath Chloe's, then added back the paperweight. Chloe had done thirty minutes of work on her memo, but had claimed two billable hours. Laura had done three hours and claimed three hours. Bridezilla would claim two billable hours because she had sent two separate Blackberry messages to them while she was out shopping, and the messages had been an hour apart, and the messages had been on her mind during those hours.

Laura headed wearily back down the hall, trying to muster the energy to prepare another pro bono pleading, but she knew she was too tired. She would have to do it on Thanksgiving, and go to court to file it on Friday--it wasn't as if she had anything better to do. She could not remember the life she had lived before she had started working at Prince and Prowling, and then took on the pro bono case from hell because the Prince and Prowling job was not teaching her to be a real lawyer. And now her pro bono family had been transferred to yet another social worker, and she had spent hours on the phone and the email trying to get the new kid up to speed. Didn't those people keep files? By Laura's count, the family had been through seven social workers in four different agencies in two different jurisdictions. Laura stopped at the kitchen, surprised by the smell of turkey, and found a senior associate heating up a plate in the microwave. 'It looks like Thanksgiving came early for you!" Laura said with her best drummed-up camaraderie. The associate told her it was just leftovers from the firm party on Friday. "Firm party?" she asked. He gave her a funny look, and she realized that Prince and Prowling must have had a Thanksgiving banquet for the staff, but nobody had thought to tell her. He told her there was plenty left in the fridge, pulled his steaming plate out of the microwave, and left. He was working on a high-profile pro bono case that would give Prince and Prowling a lot of do-gooder prestige, and cement his profile as a candidate in the next American Bar Association election. Nobody at Prince and Prowling or the ABA would ever know about Laura's pro bono case, her pro bono family would probably not even need legal help if these social work agencies were adequately funded and didn't keep dropping the family through the cracks, and there was still a chance her client would die before they ever got inside the courtroom--where Laura might someday be giving the judge a long-deserved Italian salute. The cold, corporate Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge proved unappealing, so she shut the fridge door and headed back to her room to get her coat and bag.

As she walked past Urine Park, she thought she saw a familiar face, but she could not remember who it was. She walked past John Doe, who was sitting on a park bench, rolling a ball of yarn. He did not look up at her. If she had seen him in better light, she might have remembered that he used to work at Prince and Prowling some time back, before a violent mugging had left him with total amnesia and frontal lobe epilepsy. Even though the insurance company had finally given his family no choice but to pull him out of George Washington University Hospital, he still had not returned to his former life, and, in fact, still refused to believe what he was told about his former life. He liked to carry around skeins of yarn so that if he had a seizure and woke up and did not know where he was or what he was supposed to be doing, he would reach in his pocket and find the yarn, and then he would start balling it up. Has family tried to talk him into going to live with his sister in New Jersey, but that did not appeal to him at all. He was having fantasic visions here, and did not want to lose them. A few minutes later, he had balled up enough yarn to remember what he had been doing before his seizure--he had taken a nap at Filene's Basement because they had full-length changing-room divider walls that ensured total privacy. Then he had planned to walk to the bookstore, but somehow ended up here instead, after a rousing vision of the Pied Piper leading the rats of Georgetown into Rock Creek Park and then all the way north to a wild forest in Maryland. He put the yarn back in his pocket, and got up to go find that book he still wanted to buy--Larry Sabato's idea for fixing the Constitution. If he was going to be a lawyer again someday, maybe that was the sort of thing he could do. He certainly could not go back to Prince and Prowling to work for greedy American corporate scumbags again.

He smiled and nodded at a perplexed Dizzy, then walked down the street to Starbucks to get some coffee. He sat down at an inside table, pulled out his small notebook, and opened it to page three--which was entitled "NAP SPOTS". His family was always begging him to stay at home--they were too proud to suggest he should be in a day program for the mentally challenged--but he got terribly bored at home, and liked to go around the city seeing museums and things like that. The only problem was that the visions and seizures could strike at anytime, as could the desperate need for a nap. It was easier in the summer when he could nap in the parks, though the benches were quite uncomfortable, and often staked out by the homeless. Most of the downtown parks had low ratings on his list because of that, and the cigarette smokers, but the parks further out worked better. The only park with a 5-star rating was the astroturf park, where he could lie on the astroturf and get no grass stains, and it was at a slope, so he he could lie with his legs sprawling down or shooting up, whichever he preferred, and there was unusual artsy-fartsy murals there, too. But now it was cold, and he had to find indoor places, and he was learning what the homeless already knew--people don't like to see you sleeping during the day, or having visions, or having seizures. The libraries were the worse! You would think it would not be a crime to nod off while reading a book at the public library, but if they caught you with your eyes closed, you were in big trouble. Busy restaurants were more tolerant if you nodded off after your meal, as long as there were enough tables, and so he had several optimal napping restaurants listed in his notebook. Bookstores? Forget it--most of the downtown stores scarcely had a chair these days. Clothing store dressing rooms were his newest discovery, and Filene's was definitely the best, though his instinct told him he needed to be in a different place every day of the week. Tomorrow he would spend the day at the Library of Congress.

Outside, the senior associate had finished his pro bono brief and left Prince and Prowling. He walked past the Starbucks and noticed his former mentor in there. He knew the guy would not remember him, but he still felt that saying hello would be the right thing to do. He walked in to greet the man, but John Doe just stared blankly at him for a minute. The associate mumbled a quick goodbye but his face had already registered deep in John Doe's subconscious, and he went into a TLE seizure even before the associate was out the door. In John Doe's vision, the associate had a white robe on, and he was holding Larry Sabato's book in his left hand and rewriting the Constitution in his right hand, and children were laughing and playing in the background, and birds were singing, and it was beautiful.

Outside, starlings brooded quietly in the dormant trees while river rats scurried around the Starbucks dumpster and legal eagles all over the city went home for dinner.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Two to Tango

Henry Samuelson sat stonily in the corner of the Bethesda lounge, perfectly still except for the slow sweep of his eyes across the room of the teatime milonga. Based on his CIA training to recognize accents, facial features, attire, and gestures, he had identified one Japanese man, a couple of Korean women, a French woman, a Bolivian man (or Peruvian?), an Australian woman, a Turkish man, several Russians, a British couple from Yorkshire, three genuine Argentines, and two-dozen Americans. There were no Chinese there at all except half-breed Charles Wu. Samuelson's eyes narrowed a bit as he saw Wu invite a Russian woman to tango with him. Could it be...? "Would you like to dance?" Samuelson turned with a start: it was one of the older American women. He declined politely with a polished smile, then turned his attention back to Wu as the woman slunk back to her seat, wondering why the men were all so picky at these milongas, and how even the older ones would only dance with the young, beautiful girls in spike heels.

Wu deftly conducted the young, beautiful Russian girl in spike heels backwards, then sideways, then in a molinete, then to a boleo, then through several intricate steps leading to three ganchos in a row--and that was all in the first two minutes. She smiled coquettishly at him, and he returned the smile: in that moment, neither of them cared about anything else but the tango. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Wu saw his true target walk into the room in a rabbit fur jacket and purple suede boots, just as the Pakistani taxi driver had described her...but there was still plenty of time to dance with this woman and get her phone number....

Miles away, former Senator Evermore Breadman had headed straight from the airport to Lynnette Wong's shop in Chinatown. "Thank you for meeting me here, Lynnette!" He handed her an above-average souvenir sculpture he had picked up in the Mariana Islands for his granddaughter. "I thought this would look good in your shop!" Lynnette accepted the gift in surprise, exclaimed over its beauty, and turned to place it on a high shelf. While her back was turned to him, Breadman quickly told her the venereal disease symptoms he had picked up in the Mariana Islands. She asked him a couple more questions about his symptoms as she headed to the far end of her storage shelves, continuing to avoid his glance as she now knew she must. She gathered four herbs, measured and mixed them carefully, then blended them into balsam wax to make a sticky paste. She scooped it all into a plastic container, which she told him to keep at room temperature. She added the container to the bag of intestinal herbs she had prepared before his arrival, and told him to apply it four times a day. He handed her a traveler's check for $500, smiled, and asked if he could use her restroom.

A few minutes later, he was back in the limo, on his way home, glad that his wife had been sleeping in a separate bedroom for years now. As the itching slowly subsided, he struggled not to think of the girl--one of the hundreds, maybe thousands, that had migrated from China to work in "American" factories in the Mariana Islands. Breadman had made sure as a Senator that the U.S. Territories of the Pacific would remain free from the safety, environmental and employment regulations applicable in the forty-nine states, District of Columbia, and even Puerto Rico. His own investments in three sweatshops there had given him an 80% return above and beyond the Mariana Islands lobbying fees he had earned since leaving the Senate. The girl had been young and beautiful, and he had really thought himself pretty generous with his tip, even though she had just lay there like a sack of potatoes. And he knew she was earning more money doing that than working in the clothing factory, so, really, it was something to feel good about...until the layover in Hawaii when he could no longer deny the itch. Now, for the first time in a very long time, he wondered if he was being punished by Someone. As the limo left D.C. and they headed over the bridge into Virginia, Ardua detected the angst in her disciple: she reached out to help him forget that the week of drinking, golfing, gambling and whoring in the Mariana Islands was all thanks to the indentured servitude agreements that left poor girls locked up as factory workers or prostitutes in "America". But the pink dolphins in the Potomac knew about the Chinese girls slaving away in the Mariana Islands, and they angrily hurled a sonar wave at Breadman, who grimaced at the onset of a migraine headache--was that a side effect of the treatment?

Meanwhile, the one Pakistani taxi driver in D.C. who had accurately predicted to Wu exactly what Perez Musharraf would do during the past two weeks passed Breadman's limo in the opposite direction, heading back into D.C. with another airport pick-up, wondering if he would ever be able to go home.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Who ya gonna call?

Sunlight was shimmering on the Potomac under a clear blue sky--at least, that's what the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Anti-Fecklessness vaguely recalled from his train ride into the city before chaining himself to his State Department desk several hours earlier. He had tried to warn the Secretary of State that forcing senior Foreign Service officers to serve in Iraq against their will would not be worth the grief it would cause, but the Secretary was off enjoying her Sunday while he was sitting here dealing with the grief it had caused. Spread across his desk in lowest-to-highest degrees of uppityness lay printouts of several blog entries, letters-to-editor, and media interviews concerning the angry denunciations that diplomats were being sentenced to death by their own government. (If you had done your job right, we would have had more than enough volunteers to serve at the U.S. embassy in Iraq.) Her words continued to ring in his ears. (They're safe as long as Blackwater is guarding the embassy.) He bit his lip and resisted an urge to telephone his girlfriend, who would probably just tell him to quit his stupid job instead of boosting his confidence. (The soldiers can't do their job without more political support.) She wanted more puppeteers in Baghdad--even the CIA officers no longer wanted to pose as Foreign Service officers there. He gulped down the last of his Red Bull and turned back to his computer to write the easier memo first--how to deal with Rice's subpoena in the AIPAC espionage case.

Not too far away, Condoleezza Rice was staring out her Watergate window at the shimmering Potomac, petting Pippin and talking on her secure line to Prince and Prowling's AIPAC lobbyist, former Senator Evermore Breadman. He reassured her that they still had plenty of time to deal with the criminal subpoena, and there was no way that the judge would force her to testify about--

SSSSSSSSSSSSS. Several miles north, Charles Wu was sitting on his balcony enjoying the fine fall weather and listening through headphones to the transmitter implanted in Rice's Persian cat. "DAMN!" It was supposed to be an interference-proof transmitter, but every now and then it got tripped up. "SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS....I'll call you tomorrow. Have a good night!" He missed the whole thing! He took his empty cocktail tumbler and hurled it to the pavement below just to hear the sound of the glass breaking. He took a deep breath and continued listening....Sometimes she talked out loud after she finished her phone calls.

"What do you think, Pippin? Do I need to go back and see Cedric, or should I call up Spook Samuelson?" Pippin dropped her battery-operated rat daintily to the floor and looked up quizzically. "Spook it is!" The next thing Wu heard was silence as Pippin jumped off Rice's lap and headed to a sunnier spot in the other room. Rice stayed in the growing shadow, watching for a few minutes as the sun begin to set, then made another call. Outside her window, five starlings sat quietly on the Watergate ledge listening to Rice as Ardua watched from the river below.

A few miles east, President Bush muted the football game to take a phone call about his Attorney General nominee. He hated it when Senators called on Sunday afternoons. "Cinnabonner! Good to hear from you!" He fumbled through the papers on the end table looking for his talking points but could not find them. "He's a valiant soul, a truth warrior, with...after the...I can confide in the soundness there he's got." The game went to a commercial, and Bush looked out the window at the starlings sitting on the ledge. He could not see out into the gathering darkness, but Regina and Ferguson could see him in the lit-up East Wing family room. They paused for a moment to look up at Bush and the ghosts hovering in the family room with him, then Bridge called them back to have one more jump in the leaf pile that would get composted tomorrow. Bridge then announced it was dark and time to go inside for supper with their mother. He looked up uneasily at the ghosts, wondering why the President still could not feel them after all these years.