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, October 26, 2008

The Reptilian Brain

Sebastian L'Arche was at Eastern Market helping out with a pet adopt-a-thon.  One of his colleagues had given him a "dog whisperer" t-shirt to wear, which he had reluctantly put on.  He didn't like people asking him how he had gotten so good with animals.  First, he had stopped talking to his platoon-mates.  Then he had started whispering to the scorpions to kill all the cockroaches.  Then he had started using mental telepathy to drive away the flies.  Then he had trained a couple snakes to eat the rats.  Then he had started taking care of Iraqis in cages.  "This is a Jack Russell terrier," he told the pony-tailed legislative correspondent who might or might not be out of a job in a month.  "He's pretty stupid, but all you have to do to make him happy is take him outside and throw a ball straight up in the air about 20 times a day."  He demonstrated this for her, and she smiled as the dog gleefully jumped up and down.  The Iraqis had trusted him because he understood their needs without speaking a word of Arabic, and because every time he was on duty, he retrained the guard dogs to understand that their job was to protect the prisoners.  If you put an animal in a cage, the animal's life was in your hands--and there was no greater duty.  "This snake is defanged.  She's the ideal pet for a basement apartment because she'll eat mice and roaches.  Also, she'll always look for damp spots, so you'll have an early warning system for leaks."  Sometimes he could still see the faces of the Iraqi prisoners, and the worst part about leaving Iraq was not knowing what happened to them.  "This is a Siamese cat.  She's completely self-centered and the perfect pet if you travel a lot because she won't care.  But if you want her to cuddle with you, you just need to keep your home cool, and she'll come to you for the warmth.  He fur color blends in with any decor."  He could still barely remember the day he had been discharged for cutting a tattoo out of his hand with a knife because he was tired of it staring at him.  That was still a little bit early in the war--if he had done that later in the war, they would have medicated him into a zombie and kept him in Iraq.  That is a homeless Iraqi war veteran curled up on a subway ventilation grate for warmth.  In a little while, he'll wake up and go look for food.  You can't adopt him because he's a human being and cannot be caged against his will unless he's a danger to himself or others.  Sleeping in his own excrement does not count as danger, but if you adopt a pet here today and let it sleep in its own excrement, we will repossess that pet.  "This is a puggle:  it's a cross between a pug and a beagle."  The newlyweds were oohing and ahhing appropriately at its cuteness.  "He's a little hyper, but he's smaller than a beagle and won't need as much exercise.  He'll probably only grow another few inches."  He left the nesting couple to play with the half-grown puppy, stepped around the homeless veteran, and went over to take the chimpanzee out of her cage to meet her bespectacled admirer from the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

Several miles to the west, Dubious McGinty was sunbathing outside the watchman's quarters on the drawbridge.  He had lined up all his plates and silverware on a towel beside him to sunbathe too because Perry Winkle had told him that sunshine was the best disinfectant.  He was in a bad mood.  First Ardua had killed that boy during the drowning rescue drill, then he had seen that ABC News report that 12% of the soldiers serving in Iraq were being psychiatrically medicated by the military doctors to keep them functional.  In his day, you medicated yourself--cigs, weed, LSD, booze--whatever you could get.  Except opium and heroin, because those would kill you...unless that's what you wanted.  Sure, soldiers got crazy in Vietnam, but the crazier they were, the more the brass seemed to like it.  Another helicopter flew over his head, and he instinctively gave it the finger.  Nobody gave us a bottle full of happy pills or sleeping pills--they wanted us tense and awake.  He reached for his jar of vodka tomato sauce and took another swig.  What am I gonna do about Ardua?

A few miles north, two-hundred feet below any glimmer of sunlight, the Freaks of Dupont Down Under were having a meeting to discuss the upcoming election.  "Who's gonna protect us?" was the constant refrain.  The decade-long legal morass which had kept their tunnels safe from encroachment was in danger of imminent resolution.  The yoga women were afraid of the masculine energy that would arrive if the space went to Washington Sports Club, the homophobes were afraid of the Velvet Foundation's aspirations, and the communists did not want to see the Dupont Circle Citizens Association spew forth bourgeois propaganda in the guise of a "cultural space".  The Elders were having trouble explaining to their brethren that any of these groups would evict them.  "Our only hope is to vote in the D.C. Statehood Green Party--they'll slow down everything.  If that doesn't happen, we may have to find a new home"  This was met with stony silence until a Desert Storm veteran said quietly, "We need to draw a line in the sand."  Nobody knew what that meant, but loud cheers erupted anyway.

Three-hundred feet above the unwashed masses, Heurich Society members were arriving at the Brewmaster's Castle to discuss contingency plans for the national election, under the close scrutiny of a larger than normal troop from the Shackled.  For the Shackled, the best thing about being a ghost was, of course, you no longer had a fear of death.  The members of the Heurich Society measured their own importance by the number of people in the world who wanted or had ever wanted to kill them--or who would want to kill them if they knew what those members were up to.  Kill or be killed.  It was a simple enough motto that it never had to be stated in the Heurich Society.  How could the Shackled ever do anything about a group so terrified of death?  A flock of starlings arrived to settle in on the window ledges, their beady eyes trained on The Heurich as the donuts and conversation began to flow.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tough as a Three-Dollar Steak

"Thanks!  You saved my life!"  The discombobulated Dutch tourist giddily received the wallet back into his hand from Charles Wu, who had fished it out of the gutter where it had landed upon the Dutchman's exit from the taxi.  Wu nodded and walked away from the backpack-laden visitor and his similarly encumbered mate.  Backpackers.  He wiped his hands on his silk cashmere sweater and returned to his coffee and newspaper at the Cosi outdoor table, where he was staked out watching a new target.  Hmmm.  Another distraction came into view.  Now that's something you don't see every day.  The woman got off the Dupont Circle escalator and began walking east quickly, a baby propped up in her arms and attached to her breast.  The baby was accustomed to drinking on the go and never noticed the stares, but her father cast an icy look at Wu, and Wu bent his head back down to his paper.  He remembered Chinese women nursing in public all the time, but the white women of Hong Kong never did.  This woman was a racial mix (like Wu), but the father was all Korean, and it was clear the woman wouldn't be doing it if he had his way.  Wu almost missed it, but out of the corner of his eye, he caught the exchange he had been awaiting for fifty minutes, just before getting distracted again.

It was Laura Moreno, walking home quickly.  Wu had seen her plenty of times at Prince and Prowling, but he could not consciously remember who she was.  He never said hello to her at Prince and Prowling, so she ignored him and continued on her way, a million things to do, as usual.  Just when she thought her two years of pro bono work had finally come to a successful (albeit, too little too late) conclusion, more legal problems had erupted for the family.  She had a fax to prepare for the Attorney General--who had just opened a child support investigation which was, in addition to being riddled with errors, completely pointless.  The new Superior Court hearing she did not even want to think about right now.  She had been without a working computer for weeks, her place was a pigsty, and her hands were in pain all the time from the lousy new computer program dumped on her at work.  She desperately needed a vacation but was terrified she would lose her job if she took more than half a day of work off.  She bit her lip and massaged her forearms as she walked, and Wu turned his gaze to follow her, wondering if she was having a psychotic episode.

Several miles east, Angela de la Paz had just crushed a mosquito in her bare hands.  It kind of grossed her out, but she was tired of watching it circling.  She wiped her hands on her jeans and returned to raking up leaves at the National Arboretum Friendship Garden--where last week's Indian summer had brought a new surge of mosquitoes, gnats and bees out of synch with the autumn panorama.  Something was going on with her family, but she didn't know what it was, and she wished they would tell her.  A pink warbler settled onto a tree limb above her head and sang to Angela of the days to come.

"The neighborhood?  Tough as a three-dollar steak."  Judge Sowell Lame couldn't believe the Supreme Court opinion he was reading online in his upper Georgetown home.  It's only in the dissent, but what the @#$% crap is that?  This is our Chief Justice?  Writing crime noir?  He emailed back the friend who had sent him the link. This town makes everybody crazy.  He got off the computer and opened up his briefcase to look at the filings his new and irritating law clerk had suggested he catch up on over the weekend.  He didn't need any smart-ass, over-achieving, affirmative-action Yalie in his face trying to speed up his docket.  Thanks to her last uninvited brief, he had already had to make a ruling on that Potomac River case that that his predecessor had fearfully avoided deciding for years, and now he was having nightmares three or four times a week about a goddam Loch Ness monster rising up out of the water to tell him "nobody owns the Potomac river bed but me!" before biting Lame's head off.  Now what?  He frowned as his synapses at last made the name connection in his brain.  Not this family again....

Several miles to the south, Condoleezza Rice was relaxing in her red leather recliner, sipping a walnut oil/amaranth/curry/honey/beet juice smoothie.  She always felt better when she just looked out on the Potomac from her Watergate window.  Israel and the Palestinians were at peace, but nobody noticed, or cared, or thanked her for her efforts there.  She stroked Pippin's back.  Colin Powell had just endorsed Obama, trying to distance himself from the "eight years", but she was on the hook for all of them.  The Democratic Senate had finally squeezed the torture admission out of her--yes, the White House had known for years that the CIA was using "enhanced" interrogation methods.  She took another sip.  But that doesn't matter.  Her eyes roved the river view.  The Moon Township Plan is in full swing, and the Heurich Society can't do without me now.  I'm more powerful than anybody in this town realizes.  She smiled softly, a red drop dangling from the corner of her lip.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Into the Wall

Atticus Hawk was slipping away from his Justice Department desk, little by little.  He tried to grab hold of the edge of his desk, but the suction force grew stronger and stronger.  Like a dust bunny yanked by a vacuum nozzle, he flew away from the desk, landing on his back against the stark white wall, flanked by his ebony-framed diplomas.  He tried to plant his feet on the floor, but the wall was eating him.  He was surprised at how painless it was--getting sucked into the wall--but he was a little apprehensive anyway.  He looked wildly around, trying to think of a way to escape, then disappeared completely into the wall.

The phone rang, and he awoke with a jerk.  Owww.  He grabbed hold of the crick in his neck with one hand and picked up the phone with the other.  He listened for a minute, said "OK", and hung up.  He shoved aside his National Security Agency pile and pulled forward his Guantanamo papers again.  It had been like this for days, except for a few times he had unplugged the phone and curled up under his desk to sleep with his briefcase for a pillow.  What is the rush on this?  The U.S. Court of Appeals had given the Justice Department until October 16th to file a new brief blocking the transfer of the 17 Chinese-born Moslems from Guantanamo.  Even though they had been un-labeled as enemy combatants, there was nowhere for them to go:  Afghanistan was not going to take them, they were afraid to return to China, and they would cause an international scandal if given asylum in the U.S.  Discretion of Department of Homeland Security to refuse entry of foreign nationals....He had told his boss repeatedly that this was not really the issue, but he kept getting sent back to that legal issue anyway, and his research was going in circles.  The problem is that we captured them, and then some moron labeled them political refugees from China.  The problem was that every time Hawk tried to tell his boss that, it was like talking to a brick wall.  He highlighted a few more holdings in orange, then began pulling up case citations on his computer, but before he had read even one of them, his phone rang again with another urgent research request from the N.S.A. concerning their little whistleblower problem.  He rolled his chair away from the computer and reached out for the N.S.A documents on the two military linguists' allegations to ABC News that the government had been routinely eavesdropping on American aid workers and U.S. military personnel living overseas.  "Yes, General....Well, the brief is not finished yet....Yes, we take the Senate Select Intelligence Committee seriously.  (No we don't!)  It's just two whistleblowers, sir--all your processes were in place (with a nod and a wink)....I believe, ahem, we believe that the salaciousness of the alleged eavesdropping details paints the whistleblowers in a bad light....Yes, well, no.... No, witness credibility is only part of our analysis....A few more hours, sir....Yes, sir."  He hung up the phone, bent over his wastepaper basket, and vomited up the coffee and pizza leftovers from the hour before.

A few miles to the south, Marcos Vasquez was peeling out of the Southwest Plaza parking lot, running after an ambulance at full throttle.  It turned the corner, and Vasquez cut across the yellow grass.  There was too much traffic on the road, he was almost on top of them--BAM!  The ambulance had jumped across the center line and knocked a sedan over.  Now drivers were taking off in all  directions as the ambulance clipped a few more cars before getting away.  Vasquez pulled up, caught his breath, and surveyed the automobile accidents in front of him.  Nothing on fire, nobody thrown from a vehicle--he heard a woman crying for help for her baby and ran in the direction of the voice.  Back at Southwest Plaza, Golden Fawn had watched the whole thing unfold while holding the hand of the black and blue woman on the stretcher beside her.  She heard the EMT on the phone reporting the ambulance theft and requesting another ambulance for Southwest Plaza.  Golden Fawn looked down at the unconscious woman, then turned to the EMT who was not on the phone to ask him why somebody would steal an ambulance.  "Drugs, needles, bandages, oxygen tanks."  He recited the list unemotionally, as if this was a daily occurrence.  "Or it could have been a joyrider."  A raven perched on a nearby flower pot began squawking at her, but Golden Fawn already knew it was the demon living below Southwest Plaza--one of Ardua's disciples.

Several miles north, Charles Wu was eating saffron noodles in the upper room of Skewers, listening to Che Flaco and Che Gordo report to him on the recent G7 meeting in Washington, but there was little to report:  whatever the G7 had agreed upon, it was top secret, and nobody had leaked it.  The two Che's fell silent, digging their pita bread into the hummus.  Wu touched both corners of his lips with the linen napkin and took a long look at the Che boys.  The light was dim, the reds and golds and browns of the room more mystical than romantic.  The faint aroma of a recently snuffed hookah pipe wafted to them from behind a brocaded curtain.  Wu could barely see their eyes in this room, but he could tell from their voices that they were lying.  "Who bought it before me?" Wu asked.  The Che brothers exchanged glances and continued chewing.  "It doesn't matter," added Wu.  "It will all change again next week anyway, won't it?"  You know it's quite a week when one of the Axis of Evil countries gets taken off the Terrorist List and nobody even asks you about it--but what was North Korea's threat compared to the shutdown of the CREDIT way of life as we know it?  "Do you have someone in Paris?"  Wu took up another forkful of noodles, smiled encouragingly, and waited for their intelligence on the upcoming European Union meeting.  Wu had fifty-thousand dollars and thirty-thousand Euros stuffed into various pockets around his body, and he would not be paying the bill with a credit card.

A few miles further north, Liv Cigemeier and her husband were side-by-side at their Silver Spring home computers, reading online articles.  It was an incredibly boring Sunday ritual they had somehow fallen into, and Liv really didn't know what to do about it.  "It's a beautiful day--we should go hiking," she commented cheerfully without looking away from her monitor.  Her husband mumbled something that sounded like "later", and they continued reading.  Liv was reading a study released by a Deutsche Bank economist, which reported that the annual cost of global deforestation was between $2 and $5 trillion dollars--absolutely dwarfing the current banking crisis.  The European Union-commissioned study was a hot topic of discussion at the World Conservation Congress, illuminating the myriad functions that humanity is already having to supplement or replace as forests stop cleaning air, providing water, and sequestering carbon.  "You should read this," Liv said, and emailed her husband the link.  A few minutes later, she heard him say "hmmm", and they fell back into silence.  She frowned slightly, thinking he didn't want to tell her he disagreed with the article.  She then heard him abruptly get up from the computer and put his hands tenderly on her shoulders; he was having a panic attack, but all he said was that he was ready to go hiking.  Liv worried about everything, and her husband desperately wanted to fix it all, but didn't think it was fixable.

Many miles to the south, Regina and Ferguson were solemnly examining the two large pumpkins placed before them by Bridge, the White House gardener.  "You draw the faces any way you like with those markers, and then I'll carve them out for you."  There was no way he was giving the twins knives, and they knew it.  They discussed the business for a couple of minutes in their secret twin language, then picked up the markers as Bridge turned away to sort out some hyacinth and tulip bulbs.  Bridge could hear the White House ghosts whispering to the children, but Lord knows he could never understand a word of it.  Pale pink here, then the lilac, then the white and yellow, then the deep red over there--he was lost in his own thoughts.  He had worked here a long, long time, and he knew it when he saw it:  that President was broken down now.  Without that good woman by his side, Lord knows he would have been back on the bottle by now.  The twins had already seemed to lose interest in President Bush, and it made him nervous to think they were already preparing for the next President.  He finished his color arrangement and turned to see how the pumpkin faces were turning out.  Reggie's had three eyes, no nose, and a frowning mouth full of fangs.  Fergie's had granny glasses, but they had squiggly lines like they were cracked.  "What's that--hair?" Bridge pointed to the odd design on the top of Fergie's pumpkin, then realized he was looking at half of the jack-o-lantern's brain:  Fergie wanted his pumpkin to be scalped.  "Alright!  That's good!  Nice and scary."  He steered the twins over to a different table and gave them some unshelled peanuts to keep busy with while he did the carving.  These are gonna be damn creepy jacks.  Still, Bridge didn't like it when the twins were silent--he was glad to know what was going through their minds.  Lord knows their mother don't see it.  But she did--more than Bridge knew:  right now, she was lying on her couch (not 200 feet away from Bridge's workroom), too awake to sleep, too tired to do anything else.  The HIV coursing through her veins was happy, but nothing else inside her was.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Instigator

Dr. Leo Schwartz was having a tough week at the Arlington group home for the mentally challenged.  First, Melinda had taken to stealing other people's eyeglasses in her attempt to remake herself to look like Sarah Palin; when the psychologist had warned her that stealing would get her removed from the group home, she had accused him of being part of the Washington elite and out of touch.  Then Larry had become obsessed with the documentary "I.O.U.S.A.", watching it four-to-five times a day; when he wasn't watching it, he was using his pre-paid cellphone to phone into any and every talk show he could find and impersonate former Comptroller General David Walker in railing against the bailout plan as an unconscionable expansion of the national debt.  Now Cedric was sitting on the back lawn, rocking himself and mumbling how he was going to Hell for writing the Moon Township Plan.  "What's going on here?"  Social worker Hue Nguyen was startled by Dr. Schwartz's question.  It was almost as if he knew there was an instigator. She told him that Theresa had been the first to start acting strangely, right after their visit to the waterfront restaurant in Old Town.  "What do you mean 'strangely'?"  Nguyen explained how Theresa had started scratching herself and asking for an intervention.  What Theresa had really asked for was a second exorcism, but Nguyen couldn't tell Dr. Schwartz that, nor could she tell him that the exorcist was coming over tonight as soon as Dr. Schwartz left.  Nguyen explained to Dr. Schwartz that outings always stirred up the group a bit, but they usually settled down after another week of routine life.  Dr. Schwartz put his glasses back on and jotted down some notes about prescription doses, then he stood up and contemplated his next move.

A few miles to the north, Calico Johnson was sitting on his balcony overlooking the Potomac, a spreadsheet of recently acquired foreclosures in front of him, while he contemplated his next move.  Three-bedroom Cape Cod in Silver Spring, two-bedroom luxury condo in the Palisades, four-story rowhouse on Capitol Hill, twenty-unit apartment building in Brookland, four-bedroom colonial in McLean...."  He was becoming obsessive-compulsive with his list of holdings, reading and rereading it two or three times per hour, all day long.  He almost had it memorized by now, except for the items he closed on Friday.  He no longer had a penny in the stock market--it was all in D.C. real estate now.  I own four percent of the region's real estate!  His mental calculations were wildly off in that respect, though the real estate demon living under his front porch did believe that Johnson had even more potential than that.  He decided the quickest return would be on the rental unit, so he picked up his cellphone to call his occasional girlfriend and new property manager Button Samuelson--fire old management company, raise rent (tell Button how to get around the rent control law), remove perks, cancel landscaping contract, repaint exterior and market as luxury rental building....  In time he wouldn't even have to go through the list with her--she would just know.  He was smiling broadly until he got her voicemail, which vexed him to no end.

Several miles to the south, Button Samuelson's cellphone was turned off because her father would have given her an icy death stare if she let it interrupt her visit with him.  She was again trying to explain to him that it was Saturday and she had real estate clients to meet with, but he kept ignoring her protests and saying it would only take a minute.  They were inside a small self-storage unit in Springfield, moving around boxes with mysterious labels like "Russian vodka 4", "Def Con Ulcer", "African Eden", and "Polar Roaches".  Henry Samuelson finally stopped at a box labeled "Moon Township" and told her this was the one.  Sometimes she wished her mother had never died, prompting her father's confession to her that his entire career had been in the CIA.  He asked her to help him carry it to the car, and a couple minutes later they were loading it into her trunk.  "Well, what is it?" she asked, tired of waiting for him to tell her.  He said it was the first thing she should open if he died or became incapacitated.  "But what is it?" she repeated.  He told her not to worry about it--it was just a precaution.  She climbed into the car, wondering how much of her father's CIA career was real and how much was in his imagination.

Was it just her imagination, or--?  A couple of miles to the north, Condoleezza Rice was staring at her curio cabinet, trying to figure out if something was missing.  She had been traveling so much the last few months, maybe she just didn't remember how things looked in her apartment anymore.  The truth was, something was missing:  a small jeweled goldfish that Pippin had decided to bat down and eat in a fit of annoyance that Rice had been absent so much.  Rice blew off a little dust, then settled into her red leather recliner to relax for a couple of hours before heading to the Heurich Society meeting.  She was not looking forward to it--that good old boy's club had proven harder to control than she had anticipated.  Still, anybody was easier to work with than Cheney.  The regional conflict was growing:  the Lebanon/Syria/Israel conflict was heating up, Kenya had been caught red-handed helping to smuggle arms to Sudanese rebels, Somalian pirates were staking out their own territory, bidders were falling over each other trying to get the contracts to arm India with nukes, and Charles Wu was going to pass her the latest intelligence on Pakistan any minute.  Gorgeous?  Pffhh!  She was annoyed that Pakistan's new president had publicly called Sarah Palin gorgeous.  I'm prettier, I'm smarter, I'm stronger--.  Her thoughts were interrupted as Pippin jumped into her lap demanding to be petted.

Several miles to the north, Charles Wu stopped listening to the bug planted under the cat's fur after Pffhh!  I'm prettier, I'm smarter, I'm stronger.  It was really only an amusement for him now:  Rice really never uttered aloud anything intelligible in that apartment, and he had already found a pretty decent cache of files on her computer.  He walked outside to stand on the corner with the bent stop sign and "Impeach Bush" flyer to wait for his Pakistan contact to arrive by taxi.  A few minutes later, Wu was riding through Rock Creek Park listening to the driver tell him about Pakistan's slide into civil war with half of his mind while the other half was thinking about how Prince and Prowling had landed its first big client in its new Beijing office--one of the manufacturers using toxic milk additives in China, a manufacturer that hadn't even been fingered yet but wanted to be ready when it was.  There weren't too many things that bothered Wu on a conscious level, but babies dying from powdered milk was a little too distasteful even for him.  And he hadn't liked the way that former Senator Evermore Breadman had crowed about the retainer.  The Pakistani taxi driver said something about "two weeks", and Wu turned his focus entirely back to Pakistan.  He had already decided to feed only a little information to Rice today, and the rest to the British.  Maybe he would feel differently tomorrow.  Even his own investments had taken a bit of a pounding lately--it might be time to start thinking about going to the highest bidder a little more often and suppressing his own personal feelings, which had recently been less about money and more about people, for God's sake.  Like the pending U.S. arms sale to Taiwan--which he had basically helped out on for free.  He needed to go back to looking out for number one.  The word "Taliban" again drew him back to the Pakistani's voice, and now he really didn't like what he was hearing.

A few miles to the east, Sebastian L'Arche and eight leashed dogs were on foot in the Aids Walk.  A little over $600,000 had been raised--about two million dollars less than Congress had just porked over to a couple of bow and arrow manufacturers in Oregon (which was apparently just as much of an emergency as the collapse of mortgage lenders and investment banks, because it was part of an additional hundred billion tacked onto the seven-hundred billion already in the legislation).  Although one in twenty D.C. adults has AIDS, one in ten federal Senators and Representatives has Acquired Immersion in Deficit Spending--which has been cured in some Third World countries by radical budget-slashing and IMF-designed austerity programs that knocked the working class back into the poverty class where they belonged (not taking food and resources away from the upper class), but which has yet to be cured in the United States, or even treated in any way.  L'Arche had long ago given up trying to understand how Congress spent money, but he did wish that its members would occasionally look around at the city surrounding their walls and see real need, real emergencies, real people dying.  Then again, maybe it wasn't their fault--maybe it was that thing in the Potomac.