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 ....

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Party on the Potomac

Lynnette Wong was riding the Metro down to the Mall to see the Cherry Blossom Festival. She did not always close the shop on Sundays, but she was exhausted from monitoring the situation in Tibet. Her cousin was talking about it even now, but Lynnette had stopped listening and was watching a tourist family seated nearby. They had that look on the cusp of being northern Chinese or perhaps Korean; because Lynnette’s family had come from Canton, she was not that good at discerning among the northerners, and this family was silent. Their son of about 2-1/2 or 3 years was sleepy, but every time his head started to nod down in sleep, the boy slapped himself back awake. This was endlessly amusing to Regina and Ferguson, who were also seated nearby, on their way to the Tidal Basin.

A couple of miles away, Charles Wu was also on his way to the cherry blossoms, but he was riding in a taxi. The Pakistani driver was quietly passing Wu reports on John D. Negroponte’s recent visit to his homeland—where the Deputy Secretary of State had discovered just how vocal and strong Musharraf’s political opposition had grown. Indeed, to the journalists covering Negroponte’s visit, it had really appeared that the Pakistani parliament and judiciary were flexing serious muscle against Musharraf, and a collective backlash against the U.S. support for him; however, Wu’s driver was telling him why it was way too early to count out either Musharraf or his military might. Wu handed the driver $200, knowing he was thinking of giving up taxi driving because of the looming transition to a low-priced meter system.

Wu got out of the taxi and began moving in a counter-clockwise direction around the Tidal Basin. He knew what color shirts everyone was wearing and walked methodically until he spotted the group: “C. Coe Phant” and the South Korean dignitaries he was handling today for the State Department—one of whom was suspected of harboring serious hatred of the Japanese, and significant sympathy with communists to the north and west. Phant, in fact, believed the man had encouraged the recent resurgence of North Korean belligerence about its nuclear program. Wu sauntered nonchalantly past the group, wearing a very tweedy outfit and dark sunglasses to hide the hints of Chinese in his eyes and cheekbones; Phant tapped Wu on the shoulder and asked if he would help take some pictures of the group. Wu obligingly received several cameras, carefully embedding miniscule electronic devices in each one as he clicked multiple portraits in front of the gracefully adorned cherry trees. He handed the cameras back, committing to his photographic memory all their faces and wondering if Phant had a death wish.

A mile away, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Anti-Fecklessness noted the late hour and began wolfing down the health food lunch his girlfriend had packed for him, while simultaneously fumbling for the pill box containing the herbs, vitamins, and chemicals his girlfriend’s naturopath had prescribed after the Administrator’s diagnosis of adrenal fatigue. His stomach was already full of coffee and groaned at the amount of liquid necessary to wash down the pills, and he still hadn’t finished the salt-saturated sandwich Eva Brown insisted he needed to start eating regularly. He sprayed the hormone spray into his mouth, mixed it with saliva for twenty seconds, then swallowed it down. He quickly hid the stash back in his bag, wishing he had not been ordered to take supplements mid-day. Eva had also told him not to work while he was eating, so he stared blankly at the framed photo of himself with Condoleezza Rice as he continued biting, chewing, and swallowing as fast as he could, trying not to think about all he still had to do before Monday morning.

Back at the Tidal Basin, Marcos Vasquez and his partner were taking the Coast Guard patrol boat back out to the Potomac for another foray. There had not been even a hint of terrorist chatter this year, and yet Vasquez seemed unduly tense to his partner—who had a vague idea that Vasquez did not command the full confidence of their superiors, even though there wasn’t a Coast Guard officer alive who would not have welcomed him as a partner. Behind his dark sunglasses, Vasquez continued to look down into the water for signs of dolphins and signs of Ardua until they approached Roosevelt Island, where Golden Fawn was performing ceremonies under the cover of the tourist horde spillover. She tipped her hat discreetly as his boat passed so that Vasquez’s partner would not notice her receiving Vasquez’s blown kiss. On the other side of the island, Lynette Wong was also performing a discreet ceremony under the cover of the tourist horde spillover--in front of a handful of pink dolphins doing leaps and flips that only she could see--while Lynnette’s cousin hiked around the island taking photographs of the mini-oasis on the Potomac.

A hundred feet below, Ardua was writhing in the cacophony of messages—some good, some bad--coming in from river rats and starlings. She had ordered the Beaver to hold his ground in the Tidal Basin, and so far the pink dolphins had not interfered there, but Ardua had a feeling it was coming. While one catbird reported back to her on the Secretary of State, another had arrived to tell her that Wu was back and vulnerable. There was too much to do, and she needed a larger army to do it. She stretched out into the Tidal Basin towards Wu and made a grab for him, but he turned away in the nick of time, and she accidentally grabbed a tourist from Ohio instead; the man would inexplicably throw his two small children off their hotel balcony later that evening before his wife and older child would succeed in knocking him unconscious with a Jefferson Memorial snow globe and a cherry blossom paperweight.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stimulating

Sebastian L'Arche was back in town after a pet courier job out of Atlanta (a pot-bellied pig belonging to a mortgage specialist recruited to beef up the subprime damage control staff at Freddie Mac). He was eating carry-out and rifling through his mail pile when he was startled by the IRS mailing, since he had already gotten his tax refund. "Economic Stimulus Payment Notice -- Dear Taxpayer: We are pleased to inform you that the United States Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, which provides for economic stimulus payments to be made to over 130 million American households. Under this new law, you may be entitled to a payment of up to $600...." The letter went on to give him more useless details and a vague promise about when the money was coming. Could have gotten another $100 if they hadn't done this mailing. He looked down at the three dogs currently residing with him, all gnawing cheerfully on their respective bones. Maybe I'll catch up on the money I owe the vetrinarian, and then she can buy a new TV to stimulate our economy of sales clerks peddling Asian electronics at big-box stores. It had taken his accountant a full day's work to cobble together all the receivables and business expenses from L'Arche's various enterprises; he felt as if he had ten different jobs with no benefits other than animal companionship. But at least you can feel the love where I work. He smiled at the contented canines and threw the IRS letter into the pending basket sitting on his hand-me down kitchen table leaning up against the wall with the water stains from the leaks his basement apartment frequently got, then continued going through the pile of mail.

A few miles to the west, Golden Fawn was also catching up on her mail, including the IRS notice. She had already decided to send her "stimulus" check to her grandmother, though she was hesitant to tell Marcos that, since they were informally saving up to buy a place together. She was startled to hear the sudden call of the ice cream truck pulling up to the public housing project across the street. She walked out on the balcony to see if it was the same one, and it was: a plain truck with no pictures of ice cream, a truck that looked like a small armored money truck except for the loudest bell she had ever heard. She and two of her neighbors had called the police and several other city entities, which had all somehow agreed that the truck's bell was illegally loud, but they also somehow never managed to do anything about it. She watched children coming out into the windy, chilly drizzle to buy ice cream, and wondered what was in the ice cream--which the salesman peddled all year round, in rain and snow and sleet. Marcos often joked that it might be a DEA agent with a death wish. He promised her he would go out sometime in his Coast Guard uniform to buy some ice cream and check it out. She walked back inside to finish her pile of mail, which included a letter from the lawyer she had hired after all her hand-made jewelry had "disappeared" the day she came home to find to her complete surprise that all her faucets had been replaced by water-savers. She finished her mail pile and impulsively began examining her breasts to see if any new lumps had appeared; everything always seemed out of place in the bizarro world of Southwest Plaza.

A couple of miles to the west, Condoleezza Rice had finally caught up on her mail pile and logged onto her blog site to check on page hits. She typed in the password ("condopalooza") to get her analytics. Several new viewers! Canada, Chile, Finland (!), Germany, Guatemala, India, the U.K....She had actually done nothing to advertise her anonymous blog, and was pleased at her growing global reach. (If she had read the analytics more carefully, she would have realized that most of those new viewers were tagged as "bounces" because they had departed her site almost as soon as they had landed on it.) She clicked on the referral analytics to see if people were referring her blog to others, and there were a few referrals. Then she noticed something she had never noticed before: she could actually view in what cities her readers resided. Hmmm.... Though there were several viewers in the Washington area, there were none in New York or any other U.S. city that mattered. I need to get on some other blog sites and start chatting up my blog. The truth was, she didn't like looking at other blogs because they had so many rants against the Bush Administration. She logged into the posting page and began writing about what a successful trip the Secretary of State had executed in the Middle East, and how desperate and insecure Vice President Dick Cheney looked the way he went to the Middle East right after she did (trying to steal credit for what she had already started!). Then she blogged about the success of the Secretary of State's recent meetings and agreements with Asian leaders. Then she spent a few minutes mocking the Economic Stimulus Plan because she did not like her blog to look excessively in favor of the Bush Administration. Then, just to be sure, she spent a few more minutes mocking the Vice President, but she finished by posting a completely false story about Billary Clinton. Before publishing, she reviewed her blog for typos while sipping a mustard/pomegranate/cauliflower/almond butter/merlot smoothie. She hit the publish button and sat back and smiled, a couple of red drops pooling in the crease of her lips. She didn't even know why she was smiling--it just felt so good to be home this week.

A few hundred feet below, Ardua was looking up at Rice's window, happy to see her home.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen

Bridezilla was walking down the street to meet Wince for lunch when a clump of people stopped her to ask for directions. It was a group of Korean tourists who could barely speak English, and a little old lady; they were trying to help the old woman find the Social Security Office. Bridezilla told them she was walking that way and would show the woman where it was. The woman thanked her profusely and began moving her cane forward at a pace of about two miles per hour; it was only 2-1/2 blocks, but it was going to be a long walk. The woman told her the taxi had dropped her off at the wrong place; Bridezilla surmised that the taxi driver had mistaken the U.S. Passport Agency for the Social Security office, but the woman insisted that the taxi driver had taken her money while lying about knowing where the Social Security Office was. By the time they got to the Social Security office, Bridezilla knew the woman was 86 years old, had grown up in Greensboro, had two sons in D.C., had a daughter who had just retired back to North Carolina, had cooked tomatoes and okra the night before, and had been robbed of her identity by a "flim-flam artist". The woman had been up since 6 a.m. and had already been to the police to tell them somebody had tried to purchase a car in her name, and to her bank to have her account changed. Bridezilla assisted her into the Social Security office where they got a numbered ticket and sat down to wait. The old lady was comfortable with Bridezilla because Bridezilla had confessed to living in North Carolina for awhile and loving fried okra. The old lady extracted her wallet from her purse and began methodically handing Bridezilla all the items she thought she would need: her new checkbook, her photo ID, a business card from the bank, the policeman's business card, her Medicare card, and her Medicaid card. Bridezilla was watching the monitor and listening to how the tiered alpha-numeric turns were being called, and began wondering how long this was going to take. The old lady--whom she now knew was named Eleanor Williamston--kept telling her that she did not have to stay, but Bridezilla had a feeling this woman might not even recognize when her turn was called. Bridezilla pulled out her cellphone to call Wince and tell him she would be late, but barely got a few words out when the security guard pounced on her and told her she could not use cellphones there. She frowned, annoyed; she didn't even have a magazine to read, and the security guard was shushing people who were talking too loud. If she had brought her briefcase she could be doing something billable, but she hadn't. Bridezilla commented quietly on the inappropriateness of President Bush's portrait's being hung next to the men's room, which prompted a tirade from Williamston on why that's where Bush belonged, and how he had led them into a country where they had no business being, and how her grandchildren (and if Bridezilla had children and grandchildren someday) would be paying for that war for years to come. Bridezilla nodded and said nothing, accustomed to the ignorant views expressed by uneducated poor people.

After a half-hour, two of the window clerks went to lunch and were not replaced; then a new clerk came in, but another clerk left for lunch, and so on, until the clerks dwindled down to one before their numbers began climbing back up again. Bridezilla had already phoned Wince again--quickly--to cancel lunch, even though Williamston had told her again she could go, but Bridezilla was having a horrible vision of herself sitting in this waiting room sixty years from now, unmarried, no children, no grandchildren, confused, screwed over by a "flim-flam artist". Would there be anybody to help her? An hour and a half later, Bridezilla suggested that Williamston use the restroom since it would still be at least a little while longer; the old woman agreed, leaving Bridezilla behind with the checkbook and crucial pile of cards, again leaving her identity in the hands of a stranger, which bothered Bridezilla in no small part, but she said nothing. Another quarter hour later, Williamston's turn was finally called, and Bridezilla accompanied her to the clerk's window to lay down all the cards. After an initially confusing exchange, the clerk finally understood that he needed to change Williamston's Social Security direct deposit to the new bank account; unfortunately, he was unable to understand her concerns about her Medicare and Medicaid being "stolen" because she had not brought with her "the letter" that told her that her health insurance cards would no longer be valid at the end of the month. Apparently, she had been refused service at the doctor's office, and believed she had been tricked into signing her coverage over to the flim-flam artist, who had promised her and a dozen other senior citizens in her building supplemental insurance coverage. The clerk flagged her account to make it extremely difficult for anybody to change her address or any other information connected to her record, but he said her Medicare was fine. With some difficulty, Bridezilla and the clerk convinced Williamston to get that letter and speak to the Medicaid office about it tomorrow. Williamston declared to the clerk that in her entire life she had never seen a white person help a colored person like this. As Bridezilla helped the old woman hail a taxi, Williamston pressed a twenty-dollar bill into Bridezilla's hands; Bridezilla was wondering what kind of vermin goes into an apartment building to steal identities from a dozen senior citizens. Back at Prince and Prowling, two floors below Bridezilla's empty office, a contract attorney was finally being sacked for coding documents incorrectly for the past six months under the not-so-careful eye of Chloe Cleavage--who had let the guy bill 60 hours/week despite Laura Moreno's warnings.

Meanwhile, Wince had quickly changed lunch plans and gotten his old law school roommate to meet him at the K Street Squire, where men got shoeshines and other obsequious services in exchange for paying a lot of money to rub shoulders with the power-lunchers of Washington. They were digging into raw ribeyes--the kind of cholesterol nightmare that Wince could never order in Bridezilla's presence--and knocking back whiskey sours. As Atticus Hawk's tongue loosened up, he began telling Wince more salacious details about the recent U.S. Attorney probe of Elliot Spitzer, and the two men laughed raucously. In the kitchen, their waitress was picking up another order while her manager told her to wear shorter skirts if she wanted better tips.

A few miles west, a pudgy businessman from Missouri was seeing his dream come true, as he walked out of Fireplace Restaurant escorted by a stunning ("Brown Sugar"!) transvestite wearing a full-length white evening gown like something out of the Academy Awards. She walked daintily beside him, her high heels in defiance of the brick sidewalk, her bare arms in defiance of the cold wind, her narrow hips in defiance of the childbirth that the female pelvis was made for. Charles Wu watched in amusement from the other side of the window at Soho, where he was watching for C. Coe Phant to make a lunch-time drop at P Street Beach. Wu hadn't been back there since the night he had found that murder victim, and though the memory was now purged from his active memory, it lingered underneath.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Figure It Out

Charles Wu entered the Chinatown shop quietly, having a feeling that Lynnette Wong was going to be in a bad mood, and he was right. She had been up half the night reading and distributing emails about the Chinese crackdown in Tibet, and he could see the dark circles under her eyes. He had already phoned in his order, so she simply nodded to him and reached down to the shelf below her to find his bag of herbs. He knew her family had come from Taiwan, and she knew he had grown up in Hong Kong; they rarely discussed mainland China. He took the bag, handed over fifty dollars more than he needed to, then dropped a folded piece of paper on the counter. He said goodbye in Cantonese and turned to go without another word. Seeing the shop was empty, she opened up the sheet to find a printed email from a mid-level Chinese military officer discussing tactical plans for suppressing the uprising in Tibet. She looked up in surprise, but he was already across the street and turning the corner. She tore off the portions of the email with officer names and shredded them with the device she used for shredding herb leaves; the rest of the email was in her pocket.

Wu got off the escalator and headed to the Metro platform. He knew it was not a coincidence that Admiral Keating had been in China buttering up the Chinese military scarcely a day before the Tibet crackdown, and encouraging the Chinese military brass to call him whenever they wanted to talk. And yet there was Condoleezza Rice only a day later issuing a condemnation of the heavy-handedness of Beijing's response in Tibet. He was accustomed to seeing the U.S. military and diplomats send conflicting messages, but the stark contrast between these words and actions left him uneasy. The Tibet situation was escalating quickly, hundreds of reporters were being expelled from Tibet and western Chinese provinces after reporting fatalities, Russia was voicing support for Beijing, and Rice was making an absurd call for the Chinese to engage the Dalai Lama-- who was not, according to her--a separatist. He bit his lip, uncomfortable with the voices inside him that shifted their balance of influence every time the balance of Chinese and Western power shifted in Asia. Why can't China see that it would gain so much more by freeing Tibet? He stepped onto the train, wondering what C. Coe Phant had left for him at today's drop point.

A few miles west, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Anti-Fecklessness was giving a final proofread to his five-page memo printed out on crisp State Department letterhead. It was not about Tibet, but, rather, about the March 11th resignation of the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, Adm. William J. Fallon--specifically, about his rumored resistance to the Administration's Iran policy. He knew Rice was pleased with the resignation, but he had, nonetheless, been careful to write a balanced analysis and report on how Fallon's replacement was expected to bring about a shift in Middle Eastern military tactics. He drummed his fingers on the scratched-up maple wood beneath his memo, wondering why, after all this time, he could still not figure out what the Secretary of State really wanted for Iran--or, for that matter, Israel, or Lebanon, or Syria, or even for Iraq.

About a mile east, former Senator Evermore Breadman was sitting in his Prince and Prowling office, fielding another congratulatory phone call on the E.P.A.'s weak response to the recently released national dirty air report. He hung up the phone feeling silly--it was like taking candy from a baby to be paid to lobby the E.P.A. these days. He clutched his groaning abdomen and headed past his Wall of Me photographs to the restroom, pausing only a moment to straighten out the photo of himself with the Dalai Lama. A few minutes later, a couple of young associates hustled quickly out of the men's room, wrinkling their nose at the odor--which was actually coming from the Chinese herbal detoxification pads that Breadman had just peeled off the soles of his feet.

A mile north, Liv Cigemeier was reading internet news reports on the crackdown in Tibet. International Development Machine had an informal policy of excluding human rights considerations from its projects, and sometimes Liv wished she were back in Ecuador doing simple and miniscule rural projects instead of being involved in the highly politicized world of Washington foreign aid money. Sometimes she wondered at the large number of Peace Corps alumni running these nonprofits, and the statistical probability that at least some of them had actually been undercover C.I.A. The ringing phone interrupted her thoughts: it was her husband telling her laughingly of the stink bomb assault in the Prince and Prowling men's room. She knew he was so bored with his work that he would use any excuse to call her, and this made her feel useful to him. She told him about the latest news reports from Tibet, and he told her he had to get back to work.

A mile south, the White House butler was having lunch with her twins. Clio was lecturing them on the upcoming Easter Egg Roll, and how she did not want a repeat of last year's incident. She looked at them sternly: "We're lucky they didn't ban us from returning!" Ferguson started giggling, and Regina pinched him under the table. "It wasn't funny, Fergie! Sticking eggs in babies' mouths is not funny! I'll just take Reggie this time if you don't promise to behave!" Ferguson promised he would not stick eggs in any mouths, even if they were crying babies without pacifiers. "You're not going to touch anybody, or anything, except eggs and baskets! Do you understand?" They both nodded their heads solemnly. "I need to get back to work now." She dropped them off in the laundry room, since they had been expelled from another nursery school. They seemed immune to any punishment, and uninterested in any rewards she could give them. And most of the time they're good! The truth was, her AIDS was getting serious, and she was too tired to do much with them after work; some days, they got more parenting from the White House ghosts than from her. I know something's wrong....Why can't I figure it out?

A half a mile away, a White House staffer was sitting in Ermann Esse's office, and the psychiatrist was thinking to himself, I know somethings's wrong....Why can't I figure it out?

Monday, March 10, 2008

At Risk

She was walking down the State Department corridor in the heels that made the clicking sound she really liked. She could still sense grains of Middle East sand deep in her sinuses, and it made her keep wriggling her nose. Condoleezza Rice was glad she was back; the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Anti-Fecklessness, less so. President Bush had vetoed the water-boarding block from Congress on Saturday, and, as usual, the White House was bumbling the spin: she needed him to lift the State Department to the moral high ground.

A mile away, Charles Wu entered Overtime Cafe at the precise minute planned, reached into the beverage fridge, and grabbed the jump drive placed carefully behind the Diet Dr. Pepper two minutes earlier. He also grabbed the Diet Dr. Pepper. He slipped the jump drive into his back pocket in the same maneuver he used to pull out his wallet, paid for the drink, and headed back outside. He hadn't seen Sebastian L'Arche coming out of the pantry (after Gipper's de-ratting session) just in time for L'Arche to see Wu retrieve and slip the jump drive into his back pocket. L'Arche thought the object looked a tad small to be a drug drop, but he decided it was none of his business. He ordered a couple of omelets for himself and Gipper, then sat down in the corner and pulled out his pocket calendar to ponder the rest of his day.

A few miles away, Button Samuelson was checking her pocket calendar and sipping her second Diet Coke at Hawk and Dove as she waited for the Congressional staffer to meet with her about his desire to purchase a rowhouse in Capitol Hill. These people were all the same--they thought somewhere tucked amidst the astronomically priced houses would be a forgotten one in their price range that "just needed a little work". Unless this woman was a Chief of Staff, it would never happen, and even some of them didn't make enough money--or they told her they were prepared to pay in cash, which was another issue altogether. She pulled out her clipping from the Sunday Washington Post and began re-reading the article about D.C. landlords neglecting rental units until they have enough tenants moved out of the building to convert the building to condo without tenant consent under the law. She had placed several of her clients in a couple of the newly condo-fied buildings discussed in the article...and some of these clients were the same ones leaving her whiny--or even hostile--emails and voice mails about their escalating adjustable rate mortgages or their inability to re-sell the properties they had purchased with interest-only mortgages three years earlier "at her suggestion". I can't help it if they don't understand risk. She put the article back in her bag, drummed her fingers on the table, pulled the clipping back out of her bag, and crumpled it into a wad which she wrapped in a napkin for good measure.

A mile to the west, Atticus Hawk was also crumpling a newspaper article and tossing it into the trash; it would have been the sixth article to be indirectly incorporated (rebutted) in this memo since he had begun it in February, but he had now decided it was already covered. Is this ready? He still didn't like the subject line of the memo: "The judicial integrity of Military Tribunals at Guantanamo" He was still unsure that defending them before they even began was a good idea, but too many reports were coming out saying that the detainee procedures would all be rigged for conviction. He paged down to the section where the memo addressed the "whistleblowing" allegations of Col. Morris Davis (former chief prosecutor for Guantanamo's military commissions)--the only critic who had been addressed by name in the memo. You bastard. He paged all the way down to the conclusion, sat back for a few minutes, then sent it to the printer. He reached for his Department of Justice coffee mug to occupy the next few minutes, but it was cold, and he was jittery enough. He stood up, cracked his back, cracked his knuckles, exhaled deeply, then pulled the memo out of the printer to deliver to his boss.

Several miles east, Dr. Devi Rajatala was re-reading the memo emailed to her this morning by the biologist consultant from North Carolina State University; the title was "Genetic Mutations and Developmental Anomalies: A Time Series Analysis of Data Gathered from the National Arboretum 2005-2007". Worm mutations rose 30%, bee population dropped 80%, transgendered tadpoles rose 18%, frog population dropped 53%...on and on. She looked at the detailed chart on bird species in the Arboretum, then flipped to the even larger chart on insects. Her email in-box chimed, and she saw that another colleague had just emailed her an Associated Press story on pharmaceutical traces rising in watersheds around the country. Six pharmaceuticals found in Potomac watershed.... She was surprised it was only six. She finished reading the article, then reached for the memo from her boss explaining Bush's plan to cut as much as $2,000,000 from the National Arboretum's miniscule budget of $4.9 million; her boss's memo was also asking for recommendations on budget cuts. Two billion dollars per week for the Iraq War, but he has to slash our miniscule budget. For what? She did the math. 16.8 hours of additional war in Iraq: that's what we will get in exchange for jeopardizing every program we run, if not neglecting the entire ecosystem. She wondered if the Friendship Garden program would survive at all. If the youth can't come here, the staff is slashed, and the fauna are falling apart, it will just be a bunch of trees...unhealthy trees, maybe. She had never felt more discouraged.

Back at the State Department, Rice was taking a phone call from Henry Samuelson. "I told you not to call me here," she admonished him, though she knew he was vexed that she had not returned his phone call on Sunday. "I need to take care of some things here before I deal with that." She assured him she would call him back by Tuesday. Outside her window, some young pigeon doves watched her carefully.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Missions

Liv Cigemeier left the meeting with her boss and returned to her desk, weary: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had just announced that it was launching another $100 million health initiative, and her boss wanted International Development Machine to apply for ten million dollars. The foundation had stated it would consider grant applications from "anyone" with a "good idea" for improving health internationally, and it was now Liv's responsibility to come up with a "good idea". Never mind that this is not a public health organization, never mind that nobody on our staff has a public health degree, never mind that our mission is sustainable development. It was, again, time to follow the money, and international funding was getting more and more difficult. Maybe I will tell B & M that if people could earn money, they could pay for their own health care! She quickly started jotting down ideas off the top of her head, regardless of whether they would be vetoed later: (1) clean up urban air by harnessing wind and solar energy, (2) distribute bicycles and build bicycle paths in congested Third World cities, (3) support environmental watchdogs in their efforts to hold polluters accountable for contaminating water sources, (4) promote organic agriculture, (5) support sustainable forestry jobs in the remaining rainforests, (5) build subsidized schools for girls, (6) work with ocean advocates to clean up the oceans, restore fish populations, and educate consumers on mercury contamination, (7)--She paused, tired; it was late in the day. She knew that all those ideas would improve health around the world, but her boss was expecting some kind of silver bullet--a simplistic proposal like mosquito nets to combat malaria or subsidized AIDS medication. If people weren't so poor, they could buy those things themselves. When did we stop talking about economic development?

A few miles away, Charles Wu was also contemplating that question. Has the West given up on economic development? Wu was perusing the details of the current White House economic stimulus plan, which seemed to him rather simplistic for a "superpower", and completely silent about the looming foreign debt--most of which was held by China. So basically you're going to borrow more cash from China, distribute it in election-year "tax rebates" in increments too small to pay for rent or health care but large enough for Americans to run out and buy more consumer goods, thereby returning additional profit to the Chinese who manufactured most of those consumer goods, stimulating few (if any) American industries...and you're going to whine and plead with OPEC to lower oil prices because OPEC is "strangling" the American economy. Wu shook his head, baffled that Republican economic advisors had changed so radically in just a couple of decades. Ultimately, it would mean more money for China, and make it easier for Wu to develop additional legitimate Chinese clients to provide more cover for his clandestine operations. Still, sometimes he felt twinges of pity for the American people, who had mortgaged their fiscal future far more deeply than many of the ignorant would ever understand. Just last week, he had received a solicitation for a donation to Bread for the City, and he had almost written a check! And, in fact, he still had not thrown away the solicitation, and this troubled him.

Several miles south, Laura Bush was sitting at her East Wing computer, logged onto http://www.947theglobe.com/ to get some Republican work done before dinner: she was casting votes in the radio station's "kissability" poll on presidential candidates. When she had first heard of the poll, John McCain had zero votes, which was extremely upsetting to her, so she had diligently been logging in during most of her spare time, and had finally gotten McCain into first place. She had thought about mentioning the poll to Mrs. McCain during their White House lunch on Wednesday, but had decided that the poor dear was probably exhausted and could not take on any additional campaign work. And what if she had taken it the wrong way? I suppose it's better that I did not tell her I was voting her husband the most kissable presidential candidate! Laura did a lot of unsung heroics for the Republican party. Maybe I should tell Lynn about it?

Several miles north, Lynn Cheney heard the phone ringing, saw it was Laura Bush, and let it go onto the answering machine. Then she quickly logged onto the radio station's website and began casting votes for Barak Obama. She told herself this was because McCain believed in global warming and was a threat to the Cheney oil industry nest egg, but that wasn't the real reason. She got so engrossed in casting votes that she forgot she was supposed to be cooking dinner for Dick tonight.

A hundred feet away, Dick Cheney had gone into his home office without saying hello to his wife. He needed to make another call to Condoleezza Rice in Israel before she went to bed, but he got her voicemail and asked her to call him right back. He decided to wait another ten minutes in case she called him right back, so he logged onto http://www.947theglobe.com/ and began casting votes for Hillary Clinton because he thought she was hot and because he had already done enough for the Republican party. Outside his window, a catbird got ready to tell Cheney that there was plenty left to do.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Rapid Response

Perry Winkle was falling off the drawbridge into the Potomac. This had never happened before, and he had visited Dubious McGinty several times now. His first thought was, "I wonder how cold the water is?" His second thought was, "I'm gonna die!" What he didn't know was that it hurts a lot when you hit water from a height, and he was crying in pain as he sunk into the river, thereby swallowing water. He immediately forgot which part of his body had hit the water first, and began swimming down instead of up. He suddenly remembered that you're supposed to exhale and then watch for the direction the air bubbles rise, but it was dark, and he could see nothing. Up in the abandoned watchman's quarters, Dubious was watching early primary results on one of the fancy news programs he could now watch since Winkle had brought him the satellite dish; he didn't know that Winkle had been on the bridge. Not too far away, Marcos Vasquez and his Coast Guard partner had been patrolling up and down the semi-balmy tourist coast all day, and were speeding towards Winkle's splash wake.

Several miles east, the Department of Homeland Security was having an emergency of its own at an unmarked annex building for the Capitol Police--not the kind of emergency for flashing lights and blaring sirens, but the kind where their discreet (barely marked) black van pulls up and the DHS officers quietly exit the van and walk (do not run) to the nearest entrance. Unfortunately, although the Capitol Police were outranked by the DHS badges, this did not stop them from initiating their own police response. Soon the hazmat response team, fire department, mounted police, sniffer dogs, and riot squad were crawling all over the building...because the DHS officers had refused to tell the Capitol Police what was happening. This, in turn, resulted in an exit stampede of illegal aliens who had been laying navy blue carpeting on the third floor, and the DHS officers were nearly trampled to death in the stairwell. Angry, they got on their walkie-talkie and broadcast in the secure frequency that the Capitol Police needed to lock down the building. As the DHS officers made their way to the target, another exit stampede erupted of workers who had seen the fire trucks and hazmat team. Cursing vehemently, the DHS officers finally reached the target telephone line, which was still registering a live connection to an intercepted person of interest. A curly-haired boy of about three years was holding the phone to his ear and mumbling toddler Arabic words to the confused professor on the other end. He smiled warmly at the DHS officers as his mother returned from the photocopy room and screamed at the sight of drawn guns pointed at her son. They turned the guns on her instead, and five minutes later, she and the boy were in the discreet black van, not to be heard from for a very long time.

Not too far away, Judge Sowell Ame was looking at the clock and yawning, wishing desperately to find an interesting case to bring to trial. He had accepted this gig expecting a host of exciting cases ripped from the headlines of the world's most powerful city, but all he seemed to get were tenant complaints, personal injury lawsuits, and real estate disputes. Laura Moreno again? He frowned at the motion for a hearing, having been warned in advance not to rule against that defendant ever. He set it aside for his law clerk to examine for procedural errors. Ermann Esse? Where have I heard that name? He Googled the name, perused the results for a few minutes, wrote a note for the patient's tort to be dismissed, then added it to the law clerk's pile so that the supporting citations could be gathered. Boat club? After several minutes of reading, Ame groaned heavily, realizing he had inherited a takings case that had been stalled in Superior Court for almost ten years because the previous judge had never ruled on the motion for summary judgment. What the Hell...? Believing his predecessor must have harbored a serious aversion to constitutional rulings, he started digging through the files to see why the judge had not punted the case to federal court. Several minutes later, Ame found a pile of notes, a folder of newspaper clippings, and an envelope of photographs. He thumbed through the materials, frowning several times along the way. Could it be? He took a closer look at the notes, some of which seemed to be in code or shorthand. He exhaled deeply and put the file down, now believing that his predecessor had been collecting records on Potomac drowning deaths near the boat club out of a fear that they were not accidental. That's nuts. He took another deep breath and decided to take the oral arguments in the case. As if some boat club's gonna rub me out!

Several miles northwest, the Heurich Society was just getting started, and Henry Samuelson was again annoyed that Condoleezza Rice was not there. "I mean, how many times does this woman have to go to the Middle East? What's the point?" He was reminded that she was in full support of the Moon Township Plan, and would defer to their decisions at this meeting. "I don't buy it!" Samuelson muttered. "I think she's got her own agenda!" He was then reminded that she is, after all, Secretary of State, and sometimes had to serve other people's agendas. "Hogwash! She's a smart lady! She does what she wants." A few eyes were rolling, but not all of them. The Chair changed the subject, announcing that they needed to discuss the Presidential primaries and the Society's next phase of election work. Samuelson sat back in his chair, expecting the world to look very different by the time November rolled around.

Back in the Potomac, Marcos Vasquez's partner was pulling up Perry Winkle from the depths; Vasquez breathed two sighs of relief--one that the victim had been saved, and the other that there was no sign of Ardua. Vasquez helped them onboard and began CPR on the victim as the rescue swimmer caught his breath. A minute later, Winkle came to and began spitting out water. Vasquez gave him the standard Coast Guard reassurance speech, but Winkle had scarcely begun breathing before he was asking them if they had seen the dolphins. The Coast Guard officers shook their heads, and Winkle was incredulous. "They saved my life! My foot was stuck in something, then these dolphins came and started pulling me out. That's the last thing I remember." The officers explained how the rescue swimmer had pulled Winkle up, but he was insistent: "My foot was caught in something--like tentacles, or teeth! It was horrible! I think it was Ardua! I couldn't move, and then these dolphins came, and they were squeaking and clacking, and then they were ramming something, and then my foot was free and they started pushing me, but then I couldn't breathe anymore." Vasquez said nothing as his partner calmed the man down and encouraged him to take slow, deep breaths. Vasquez checked Winkle's pulse and blood pressure, thinking the man looked vaguely familiar, pondering what had really happened down there, and wondering how Winkle knew the name Ardua.