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 ....

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Angela and Alice

Angela de la Paz was struggling to get through her homework. The apartment was quiet and dark except for the kitchen light on over her head. She liked it better when all the lights were on, but she knew that every few dollars saved on the electric bill made a huge difference. Music was playing softly from the radio on the kitchen counter--just audible enough for Angela not to feel so alone. She lost her concentration again and stared blankly at the page open on the table, thinking about her grandmother in the hospital. It would be another hour or two before her cousin got home from the Adams Morgan restaurant, and she would be too tired to help with the homework--or anything else. Angela's cousin would come in, turn on the TV, and lie on the couch watching it until she fell asleep. Angela would finish her homework by herself, pack her school lunch and backpack by herself, clean the kitchen by herself, and go to bed feeling as alone as when she got home from school several hours earlier. Angela wished her cousin would just give her a hug or tell her she was glad to be there. Angela was starting to wonder if this was the last time the cousin would come, and if abuela went into the hospital again, where Angela would end up. Angela knew that some of the kids at school lived in foster homes, but they did not like talking about it--all she ever heard was the whispering of gossips about the horrible things that happened in foster homes. The radio antenna fell off with a clunk onto the counter, making Angela jump. She got up to fix it, not wanting even a minute of silence, but then she noticed there was music coming from somewhere else. A chill went up her spine until she realized it was a pink warbler sitting on the ledge outside the kitchen window. Angela walked over to gaze at it through the cold pane. It's so beautiful. She had thought the pink warblers had flown south for the winter because she had not seen one in awhile, but this one looked healthy. She listened to it sing a long song, then it gazed deeply into her eyes for a moment, then it flew away. Angela turned the radio back on and finished her homework.

Several miles south, Atticus Hawk was rubbing his eyes, trying to decide if he could finish this memo at the office or if he needed to take it home and work on it after a break. Just wrap it up. His phone buzzed again with another text message from his boss: j4mm19 muck up101. Hawk's boss liked to send messages in coded gibberish: the problem was that his boss was always messing up the code. Just forget (Monday's memo? my memo?) 19th (paragraph? sentence?) Mukasey likes start with (what?). The Justice Department's torture law expert put his head down on the desk to close his eyes for awhile, and fell asleep. Soon he was dreaming of Attorney General Michael Mukasey's first Congressional hearing testimony--his appearance yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee--except in his dream, Mukasey was dressed as Alice in Wonderland, Senator Patrick Leahy was dressed as the floating Cheshire Cat head, and Senator Charles Schumer was Tom Petty in his Alice video costume, and he was singing "Don't Come Around Here No More". Then Mukasey said, "but this is my first time here!" Then Tom Petty began singing "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around". Then Mukasey told the committee that this was the stupidest tea party he had ever been to, and it was the Senate's fault that the McCain Amendment was ambivalent on torture. Then Tom Petty began singing "Last Dance With Mary Jane". Then Mukasey ate a mushroom and told the committee that he would now "refrain from naming all the other things that I find repugnant". Then the Cheshire Cat head spun around 360 degrees like Regan in "The Exorcist" and shouted, "Will you waterboard or not?!" Then Mukasey shouted, "Off with their heads!" Then Senator Ted Kennedy ran in dressed as the Mad Hatter and screamed, "but that's illegal!" Then Mukasey ate a tart and said, "only for bank robbers." Then Tom Petty began singing "I Won't Back Down!" Then Senator Sam Brownback pulled a Barack Obama mask over his head and shouted, "Don't mess with Texas!" Then Orrin Hatch pulled a Hillary Clinton mask over his head, jumped up on the committee table, and began dancing the can-can. Then Mukasey grabbed his talking points memo from Atticus Hawk and jumped down a rabbit hole. Then a pack of hedgehogs was sent down the hole after him, and soon everyone in the hearing room could hear him screaming. Then the Cheshire Cat pulled out a chain saw and ripped the engine starter cord, preparing to chop of Mukasey's head. Then Hawk woke up because the buzzing sound was another text message, and this one said, "You blew it! Your memos stink! Mukasey looked like an ass because of you!" Then Hawk woke up for real.

A few miles west, Condoleezza Rice was sitting uneasily in her red leather recliner listening to "No Excuses" by Alice in Chains. She was slowly draining a cranberry/fennel/couscous/whey/clam juice smoothie, Pippin curled up asleep in her lap. Mukasey is a ding dong. She took the last swallow--which left a red drop stuck on the crease of her lip--then set the glass down on the table beside her. But he's still standing. She absent-mindedly stroked Pippin. I have less than a year left. She picked up her phone to dial former Senator Evermore Breadman, but he did not answer at any of his numbers because half of his clients' business operations in Asia and Asia Minor were crippled by the massive internet cable disruption under the sea and that was more important. She needed to call another Heurich Society Meeting.

"Just give me the priority order, sir," said Charles Wu confidently over the phone, turning down the volume on the Pippin transmission of Alice in Chains. "I'll take care of the routing through secure Hong Kong channels." Wu did not even bother naming a price--he was confident that Breadman would send him a huge check for the sudden miraculous expansion of baudwidth, followed in the near future by the money the Chinese government would pay Wu for routing the information through the very un-secure Hong Kong channels. "It's always a pleasure!" An hour later, everything was taken care of, and Wu rewound the tape on the Pippin transmission, but there was nothing there except Alice in Chains.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Pruned and the Stunted

President Bush was sitting in the Oval Office, reading the updated draft of his State of the Union speech, circling the words he didn't like--words like "tenacity," "barometer," and "cathartic." (Words like that did not flow well when he spoke them out loud.) Then he decided to cross out a couple of paragraphs altogether--these speeches were always way too long. (Didn't I already cross that paragraph out from the last draft?) He felt a burning desire to add words like "triumphant," "destiny," and "hallowed," so he searched for places to put them in. It felt very stuffy in his office, and it bothered him that he had no window to open. He stood up again to walk over to the window, while a couple of ghosts breathed down his neck. Outside, he could see those two little kids following the gardener around again. On cue, they both looked up and met his gaze, giving him the chills, and he returned to his desk.

Reggie and Fergie turned back to the shrubbery trimmings they were dutifully picking up after Bridge's pruning passes in front of them. They had been inside way too much lately, and their mother felt they should get some fresh air today while things were a tad warmer. They quietly began discussing the president in their secret twin language--they were arguing about something. Bridge listened carefully but said nothing; he didn't know what worried him more--the idea that Regina and Ferguson might be affecting things they did not understand, or the idea that they understood all too well. He kept telling himself that, as soon as they were a little older, he would confront them about the ghosts they talked to,...but somehow, they never seemed old enough, and he never felt it was the right time. Then he would tell himself it was time to talk to their mother about it, but he would chicken out of that, as well. It grew suddenly quiet, and he turned to look at the twins behind him--they stared at him, then at the shrubbery. He turned back and realized he had cut it down almost to the ground. He looked back at the twins, and they laughed merrily. He smiled and moved on down the row--nobody would notice one stunted bush anyway, except the sparrows. On the other side of the yard, the sparrows watched the pruning nervously, worried about their protective homes, as screeching catbirds circled in the tree branches above them.

Not too far away, a cart in desperate need of wheel grease screeched its way over to a Prince and Prowling conference room with a load of fifty document boxes. A new band of contract attorneys had just started a brief assignment: somehow, there was not enough work for Laura Moreno to get any job assurance letter for her realtor, but Prince and Prowling was adding more temps. to the team. She had been training them all morning, just as she had trained the others, just as she had trained the new associates in the fall, just as she had trained the summer associates in the summer, and so on, and so forth, stretching back further into her memory than she cared to remember. Laura was writing down the requests she thought she could handle--swiping another garbage can from a vacant office, trading a broken chair for an unbroken chair when nobody was looking, finding a functioning Coke machine--and explaining that they would not be getting their other requests--internet access, catering, or a relaxed dress code. Bridezilla entered the nearby kitchen and began talking loudly to a consultant on the government relations firm, so Laura Moreno raised her voice to be heard by the contract attorneys listening to her. Bridezilla entered the conference room to tell the contract attorneys she was "of counsel" and her team needed them to be quiet; Laura told her they would be happy to quiet down if Bridezilla quieted down her own conversation in the kitchen. Bridezilla's jaw dropped, and she retreated quietly as the contract attorneys stared at Laura in amazement, but Laura had done nothing brave--Bridezilla would be unable to get Laura fired because Bridezilla still had no idea who Laura was.

Around the corner and down the hall, former Senator Evermore Breadman had his door closed, a nervous Department of Justice attorney in his office to discuss the looming threat of a lawsuit by former Guantanamo prisoners now living back in Sudan. Breadman had already finished reading the press conference statements made in Khartoum to denounce the U.S. and seek financial compensation for torture, unjust imprisonment, and consequential damages to the prisoners' families; he was now reading a brief prepared by Atticus Hawk on the possible merits of such a lawsuit. After another ten minutes, he put down the brief and reached wordlessly into his lower drawer to retrieve a bourbon bottle and some shot glasses. "You need to settle out of court," Breadman said after they had both downed their shots. In truth, Breadman had not done real litigation work in decades, and had no idea how such a lawsuit might fare in the courts, but he did know that it would fare very badly in the press, and drag on for a long time. "A confidential settlement with a gag order," he added. The DOJ attorney clenched his hands on the arm rests and told Breadman he was not sure his higher ups would agree to that, and he felt his staff needed to prepare for litigation--unless they were sure it could be handled politically. Breadman knew that "higher ups" was not a reference to the Attorney General, and he also knew that "handled politically" was a request to Breadman. How could they be so stupid? He had told the Administration from the start how to handle Guantanamo, but they had cherry-picked his advice and left themselves exposed. The only possible fix for this was to drive it out of the media. "Don't do anything right now, make no public comments on it--I'll call you in a couple of days." The DOJ attorney left in a bad mood, and Breadman called his acupuncturist to set up an appointment.

A couple of blocks away, a White House speech writer rushed into a nondescript medical office for a quick half-hour session with his shrink. "I'm losing my mind!" he blurted out, as soon as he lay down on the old-fashioned couch. "I don't even know what's real or what isn't! It's like I'm living in a dream world." Dr. Ermann Esse did not believe in psychiatric medicine, and was on a one-man quest to rid Washington of its pyschotropic stupor forever. He directed the speech writer to stare at the swinging pendulum of the grandfather clock on the east wall of the office and lulled him into a hypnotic trance to discuss the State of the Union. A half-hour later, the speechwriter returned to the West Wing ready to pull it all together, only to be intercepted by ghosts before he even got to his computer.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Intelligence

Hue Nguyen exited her staff office at the Arlington group home for the mentally challenged to check on Melinda, who had been self-diagnosed with Morgellons since reading about it in the Washington Post Magazine the previous Sunday. Melinda was in her room, curled up in the fetal position on top of a layer of butcher block paper she had placed on a plastic chair--the only place she would sit or sleep. She had gauze tape binding her fingers together to stop her from scratching herself, and was otherwise naked under a 100% cotton blanket that had to be changed morning and night. A large heat lamp was shining on her because she refused to bundle up against the January chill. The butcher block paper--also changed morning and night--was dotted with dried up blood droplets and dead skin cells. Melinda immediately called out to the social worker to view the latest "fibers" falling out of her skin. "Melinda," Hue started, looking obediently at the residue, "I can only keep you here one more day. If you don't stop the scratching, Dr. Schwartz is going to have you sent back to the hospital. They'll put you in a straight jacket, and you'll have to smell that disinfectant you hate, and you'll have to go to that group therapy session you hate." Melinda bit her lip, anxiety showing in her irises. "They're just fibers," Hue said softly, against protocol. "They can't really hurt you. Look what came in the mail today." Hue opened the Amazon package in front of an intrigued Melinda. "It's udder cream! This is the best cream in the world! It soothes dairy cows. Can you imagine being yanked for milk over and over again, two or three times a day? If this cream can fix that, I'm sure it can soothe your skin from these fibers. I mean, they're just fibers!" Hue opened the jar and scooped out a little to rub onto her own forearm, and Melinda looked on jealously. "Do you want to try it? I hear all the Australian movie stars use it whenever they are shooting in the outback." Melinda obediently stretched her arms out from under the blanket, and Hue began rubbing the cream onto Melinda's raw forearms. Ten minutes later, Melinda stopped thinking about the Morgellons--unaware that a biogenetically engineered parasite developed at a chemical weapons research laboratory in Maryland was living comfortably just under her skin, where it had taken up residence the last time she was in the psychiatric ward.

A few miles east, Laura Moreno was sitting in the over-heated workroom at Prince and Prowling, scratching her forearms again because the air had sucked all the moisture out of them. Her hard work had paid off: all these Saturdays had put enough money in the bank for a condo down payment. There was just one problem: the partners refused to sign a letter for the lender stating that Laura had been working here steadily for over two years, that the client still needed her services, and that there was no plan to let go of her services. "The case could end on Thursday, for all we know," the junior partner had said, even though "the case" she was now working on was actually about thirty different cases, with new lawsuits being filed on a weekly basis against the client, and he had no intention of letting her go until the last legal matter for this painful client was done. He had not even shown enough backbone to tell her this directly, but had relayed the message to her through her agency. She had then emailed the senior partner--who had told her at least ten times that he wanted to hire her as a staff attorney--but he had still not replied. She scratched her arms and stared at the wall, wondering how big a down payment she needed to get a condo without an employment letter to the lender. Her spirit guide stared back at her from a cut-out calendar page taped to the cinder block wall--a pristinely white arctic fox who knew the secret to surviving the planet's most hostile climate, but had still not told her.

Out on the street, Bridezilla walked out of the parking garage and approached the Prince and Prowling building in her dazzlingly white arctic fox fur coat. She waved warily to Chloe Cleavage, who was already leaving for the day to meet her realtor. Chloe had a lot of money saved up now because she had been shoplifting her wardrobe since junior high school and most of her other expenses were paid by men--it just worked out that way. She had even found a sugar daddy to pay the deductible on her boob job completed over the holiday break, and was in a very good mood! Between the two of them, they would deliver four hours of real work for the client today, but bill eleven. They paused only for a moment to discuss one of the cases and share saccharine smiles. Bridezilla knew that Lance was a legs man, but she imagined there was no longer a male attorney in downtown Washington who was unaware of what Chloe Cleavage had gotten under the tree. Chloe headed off to meet her realtor, dreaming of granite countertops, though she was not sure why.

A few miles north, the new butler and caretaker at the Brewmaster's Castle directed the caterers to place the luncheon trays on the granite countertops. A recent defector from the Chinese embassy construction project, he was grateful for the mysterious web of connections Charles Wu had come up with to get him this job. Still having trouble with English, he was nonetheless a quick learner and showing a somber dedication to his job, which pleased the building ownership greatly. The defector had already (indirectly) given Condoleezza Rice as much Chinese intelligence as he would ever have, but Charles Wu knew that the man would have second thoughts about his new country as his English skills grew, and then it would be Wu's turn to learn something valuable for the Chinese. But for now, Han Li was only concerned about the luncheon...and the rats lurking outside the door.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

National Secrets

Charles Wu walked into the researchers' entrance of the Library of Congress, passed through the metal detector, deposited his coat with an attendant who kindly let him keep his Burberry muffler, then ascended to the main reading room of the Jefferson Building. He approached the central circulation desk with a sly smile and asked the librarian for the National Book of Secrets. She had heard the joke before, but she liked the way he said it, so she smiled at him. "It could be a bit of a wait," she whispered conspiratorially, like a school girl in a play. "Is there something else I can help you with in the meantime?" Wu handed her a slip of paper with a number, being certain to brush her hand with his fingertips during the transfer. She took the note with a measured drop of her eyelashes, then plugged the numbers into the computer system. A minute later she turned back to him. "It will be one to two hours, darling," she said in a pouty voice. "I could give you a magazine." He squeezed her hand but declined the offer, telling her he would have no trouble passing the time. He walked a short distance away, choosing an uninhabited table with a good view of her. She continued looking at him until another librarian made fun of her; she blushed and turned away.

Wu smiled to himself about his unstoppable charm. He pulled out his new PDA from Hong Kong and began catching up on his text messages. "Monday lunch?" he wrote in reply to former Senator Evermore Breadman's request for a report on Wu's recent trip to China. "Lynnette Wong," he wrote in reply to a colleague's request for an herbalist referral. "Sunday night," he wrote in reply to the Belgian woman's inquiry about when she might see him again at a milonga. Then he hesitated: it was a message from his mother. He had called her every day since the second trip to Hong Kong--after the brief health scare she had suffered while he had been off in Beijing--but it no longer seemed enough for her. He would have to start emailing her multiple times per day. He sent her his love through the PDA, then looked again at the librarian, but he wasn't thinking about her: he was thinking about his mother's next-door neighbor and suddenly wishing he had gotten her pregnant so that his mother would at least have a grandchild there in Hong Kong. He never asked her why she hadn't found another man after his father--the cultural shame had been something Wu had learned of very early on. But now, so many years later, with me so far away, surely my mother could find another man if she wanted to? She's still beautiful.

A few miles east, former Senator Evermore Breadman pulled his SUV up to the Home Depot, and his three day laborers hopped out with less-than-hearty thanks. He had told them he needed men to help him clean his basement, but what he had meant was that he needed men to clean up the household chemical waste dump caused by his drunken date's accidental arson the night before. Normally his wife took care of all domestic needs, but he had to get this taken care of before she got back into town. The day laborers walked wearily to their hatchback parked at the far end of the parking lot, their lungs full of toxic mold, drywall dust, carpet fibers, bleach, paint stripper, wood shavings, amonia and polyurethene. He had paid them a total of $100 for the day, and Pop Tarts for lunch. Breadman felt the vibration and checked his Blackberry: lunch with Wu on Monday? He was hosting a Martin Luther King memorial luncheon on Monday, so that wouldn't work. He drummed his fingers on the dashboard, anxious to get Wu's input on the new China/India pact, the "new era of cooperation" and "vision statement" they had announced last week: China would back India's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, India would back China's policies on Taiwan, and the two would develop a new trade agreement. He really didn't care about Russia's subsequent reminder to the world in general that it still had nuclear arms and would use them if necessary: Breadman just knew it was time to realign his clients' Asian investments.

Several miles west, the Heurich Society was being called to order to discuss the new China/India pact. "I told you Putin was dangerous!" shouted Henry Samuelson as soon as the meeting was called to order. He really meant the comment for Condoleezza Rice, but she was still galavanting around the Middle East, pretending that the State Department had something to do with Middle East policy when everybody knew it was all CIA. The meeting chair asked Samuelson to settle down, assuring him that Russia was just mouthing off. "Look," declared Samuelson, "Russia would do it, see? And China doesn't care! They could have a hundred million people die in a nuclear attack and still be able to invade Russia in a heartbeat!" The meeting chair refrained from saying 'so what', and assured Samuelson that they were fully prepared to deal with that scenario--what they needed to talk about today was Moon Township. Samuelson's gray visage grew another shade of pale, and he sat back in his chair.

Several miles south, Marcos Vasquez was carrying Golden Fawn down several flights of stairs as the Southwest Plaza fire alarms rang loudly in their ears. Her still compromised immune system had been down with the flu all week, and every time he took her out into the cold January air, he saw her grow another shade of pale. Two prank pulls and three real arsons since Christmas--things were out of control. As they entered the lobby, they saw the crazy old man who liked to drop his pants and pull fire alarms, but his pants were up today. Vasquez carried Golden Fawn close to the exit, but he was not taking her out in the cold unless he detected actual smoke or fire. He sat down on the floor with her in his lap. A cluster of people nearby were talking about the tenant association lawsuit. They whispered that the building had been turned into a public housing project, and the city was dumping mentally ill people into the building while the landlord was getting federal tax breaks for it--a real "win/win" situation. Vasquez and Golden Fawn exchanged puzzled glances: clearly a lot had happened here that they did not understand. Across the lobby, the crazy old man dropped his pants, then pulled them back up, then started pulling at his hair. A few minutes later, Vasquez and Golden Fawn heard some passers-by saying that an abused woman had pulled the fire alarm as she had fled her boyfriend's eruption of violence on the sixth floor.

Back at the Library of Congress, the librarian--suddenly feeling ten years younger--sauntered over to Charles Wu and handed him the book, being sure to brush his hand with her fingertips. "Just let me know if you need anything else," she cooed, and he thanked her with a wink. He turned to the sci-fi novel's 16th chapter, "Moon Township", and began reading.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Worse than Death

Huddled next to his electric space heater, Dubious McGinty had been watching CNN and BBC America all day on the television he had garbage-picked after Christmas. It had been tough work getting it up the drawbridge and into the watchman's quarters, but it was three years younger and five inches wider than his last one, and he could actually read the ticker-tape news stories on the bottom of the screen. And now that Perry Winkle had brought him a satellite dish, he could see all kinds of programs he had not previously known existed! Still, as Winkle had warned him, more channels mostly meant more garbage. He was amazed at how many movies showed massive fireball explosions, crashing vehicles, and human victims under violent assault and screaming in terror. Just turning channels sometimes jolted enough of his post-traumatic stress disorder to give him the shakes, but sometimes he found nice stuff. Last night he was mesmerized by an African anthropological tale disguised as a Lindsay Lohan movie--he did like that ABC Family channel!--but today he had decided to be serious and watch these programs that all the Washington bigshots watched.

Why was Bush delivering $20 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia? Isn't that the country which spawned the 9/11 suicide bombers? Isn't that the country where women were treated worse than pigs? And why was Blackwater still getting away with all this crap in Iraq? They took their vehicles to the shop before the investigation concluded? Where were all the bullet holes from when they said they were under attack before they shot up all those civilians?

But the story that had gotten under his skin most was the statement by Adm. Mike Mullen that Guantanamo should be shut down. The reporters touring the prison with the Joint Chiefs Chairman, the discussion of how it had hurt the U.S. reputation worldwide, the fact that only four prisoners are facing any kind of trial after 600 were originally locked up there--it all seemed like a story about some other country, not his country, not the U.S.A. He twitched violently, recalling his imprisonment in Vietnam--where he thought they would never set him free. He would never, never, never forget how that felt--thinking he would die in that prison, listening to people always talking about him in a foreign language, being watched all the time, being beaten and tortured and having no idea why they just didn't kill him and get it over with. Some things are worse than death.

Dubious took a break to have a glass of brandy. He had a vague memory of somebody (a V.A. Hospital doctor?) telling him to lay off the liquor because it was hard on his pancreas, but he didn't take brandy very often. What is going on? He had a horribly unsettled feeling that things were getting buried even further in the darkness while Washington hotshots went around telling people that things were getting better.

A hop, skip, and a throw away, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Anti-Fecklessness was listening to his girlfriend saying the exact same thing over the phone. "No, honey," he said to the speakerphone on his 36-year-old State Department bureaucrat desk. "It's not really up to us--the military controls Guantanamo." He looked down at Condoleezza Rice's memo concerning Mullen's statement. "I don't know what's going to happen next." Rice was sick and tired of the Administration talking out of both sides of its mouth. He knew what she wanted to do, and he knew she expected him to make it happen. "I've gotta go." He hung up on Eva Braun and turned back to the memo, acid churning in his stomach.

A couple of miles east, Atticus Hawk was reading a similar memo, acid churning in his stomach. He knew what it meant--don't let loose-talking G.I. Joe's undermine the six years of legal reasoning which formed the invisible fortress around Guantanamo. Four cases that might go to trial, hundreds transferred to hellhole prisons overseas, a few released, and the rest dead or waiting to die. He was startled by the phrase "9/11" in the third paragraph of the memo, and realized he had actually not thought about 9/11 in quite some time. "Did you hear the joke about the Ground Zero firefighters that had to go to Guantanamo to get health care for their burned-out lungs? Yeah, they claimed they qualified to be there because they had been picked up on a battle site where Americans had been harmed." He didn't know why he suddenly recalled hearing that from a mocking German seated near him in a restaurant in October. When did Germans start getting morally superior with us?

A mile north, Perry Winkle was at his Washington Post desk, working on another follow-up story on the four girls murdered in Southeast. He was still wondering if it had at least been fast, or whether they had been abused for some time. Dubious McGinty had not said much about it, other than, "Yeah, I heard the birds talking about that." What Winkle didn't hear Dubious mutter under his breath after Winkle had left was, "it's better for those girls now--some things are worse than death."

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Southeast

Perry Winkle was back at his Washington Post office, trying to write up the story about four children found dead and decomposing in a Southeast rowhouse, but his fingers refused to move over the keyboard. It would be days before the coroner's office could issue a report on the cause of death, so what was he supposed to write about now? The mystery woman living in the house with four corpses? What could he say about her? He knew nothing except that the bird in the maple tree outside that rowhouse had really given him the creeps. He exhaled deeply, then decided it was time to look up Dubious McGinty again and try to learn some more about...whatever it was that was happening in this town.

Several miles away, the Shackled were still hovering in that rowhouse, quarreling with the ghosts that lived there. There were the old ghosts, angry and spiteful, and now there were four new ghosts, dazed and unstable. The Shackled were pleading with them all to leave the rowhouse and move towards the light, but the ghosts could see no light. Outside, a catbird was sitting in the maple tree, imitating the sound of gunfire, and this was making the new ghosts jumpy and agitated. The Shackled continued coaxing the new ghosts away from the house, telling them that a better world awaited them, but they had to let go of their home in Washington. At last, as the sun began sinking, the four ghost children saw the true light and went towards it. The Shackled then turned back to the old ghosts, who swore they had nothing to do with those deaths, but this was a lie. One of the Shackled went outside to the maple tree, grabbed the catbird, and flung it to the pavement to kill it. The world grew quiet as the spirit flitted over the yellow police tape and back into the rowhouse, where it was going to be a long night.

A few minutes later, Sebastian L'Arche made his third trip past the yellow-taped rowhouse, several leashed dogs trotting cheerily at his ankles. The dogs were on top of the smashed catbird before L'Arche even saw it. He hollered for them to heel and yanked their leashes away from the corpse. He turned back to look at the grim sight as they walked away, wondering what had happened to it. Too much death for one day. A half-hour later, he was back at home with a coffee cup in one hand and the will in the other. He read it again, the fourth or fifth time since he had left the probate office. Jeff had a half-sister in Philadelphia to whom he wanted to give his computer, but he wanted the rest to go to his army buddy L'Arche. L'Arche put the letter down and stared out the window, remembering the soldier he knew in Iraq, as well as the underweight veteran who had just died of a meth overdose. L'Arche knew what he would inherit from the guy--a bunch of CDs and DVDs, some crappy old furniture, a few books, and the dog bed for Scooby--who was already living with L'Arche. Anything else would be sold to pay the estate expenses. His lip trembled, but he had decided a long time ago not to cry when people died. A burst of real gunfire too distant for L'Arche to hear with human ears prompted Scooby to jump abruptly into L'Arche's lap, and L'Arche pulled him close. A flock of starlings passed over L'Arche's house, on their way to report back to Ardua.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Surviving the Winter

Laura Moreno had spent all afternoon trying to figure out what was wrong with the evidence database when she finally realized what it was. She went back to her saved emails from April and found the warning email she had sent to the partners about a potential database problem that would end up causing a misidentification of files. They had pooh-poohed her warnings with a stern "we are not touching the database". Now it had come true. She had emailed the partners again to explain what had happened in the database, and now they informed her that the paralegal-from-Hell would fix it on Monday. There was no mention of Laura's earlier warning on how to prevent this problem, which had already resulted in the wrong documents being pulled for two new lawsuits: if they did recall her earlier warning, there was no admission of it now. She closed her Prince and Prowling emails and clocked out for the week, wondering if Prince Charming would ever show up to rescue her so that she could leave Prince and Prowling for one of those exciting non-profit jobs that paid only $35,000/year and which were only alotted to those who were supported by a sugar daddy (or sugar momma).

Outside, another political motorcade was in full motion--sirens blasting and a parade of police offers zooming away from downtown in their motorcycle/sidecar combos. Why were the sidecars empty? Why did they have empty sidecars? Why not just motorcycles? Laura longed to jump into one of the sidecars heading in her direction, stifled an impulse to give the finger to the trailing limo, and wrapped a scarf around her face for the cold walk home. From a frigid park bench in Urine Park, Dizzy was also watching the motorcade go by. He saw ghosts sitting in each sidecar, flipped the bird when the limo went by, then resumed playing a holiday song for the pedestrians passing by.

A couple of miles north, Liv Cigemeier was also bundled up as she headed to the Metro station from her job at International Development Machine. Liv had three degrees, spoke several foreign languages, had lived abroad, and was an expert on environmentally sustainable and socially equitable economic development--but she was only earning $35,000/year and, subconsciously, she felt an acute need to get to Silver Spring before her husband so that she could have a hot dinner waiting for him when he got home from Prince and Prowling. He was always crabby, always stressed, always complaining, and always subconsciously resentful that Liv liked her job so much and was actually doing humanitarian work (or at least as much as could be done in a country that was spending $2 billion/week of its foreign budget on war). He paid most of the bills, and they both knew it, but nobody called him Prince Charming. Liv stepped onto the down escalator, realized she had forgotten to pick up her husband's dry cleaning, and made an abrupt turn to get off the down escalator; unfortunately, it was moving faster than she realized, and she stumbled and fell, banging her shinbone and jamming her ring finger. She accelerated her pace and finally jumped off the down escalator. She rubbed her shinbone with her right hand while shaking the pain off her left. By the time she got home to cook dinner, her ring finger was so swollen that her wedding band was pinching--but she didn't stop to ice it because she needed to make dinner. It was times like this that she imagined what it would be like when they had kids and she was making a hot dinner for a whole family...but tonight it was just for the two of them. She repressed the thought that Prince and Prowling was changing him, and turned on the oven. Across the street, an unattended space heater was starting a fire that would soon destroy three apartments--something Liv would not notice until her husband came in at 7:30 or 8 p.m. and mentioned the flames leaping from the neighboring building. Outside her window, a flock of starlings daringly plucked winter berries from the long branches of an ash tree while sparrows continued scrounging for seeds on the ground.