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, December 28, 2008

Heaven-Sent

The Assistant Deputy Administrator for Anti-Fecklessness was at his State Department desk, monitoring the violence in the Gaza Strip.  It's Holy Week—there's bound to be somebody getting bombed in the Holy Land.  He had heard his father say that...twenty years ago?  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  He looked at his framed photo of Eva Brown; he was planning to propose on New Year's Eve...if he could get away from the office.  It didn't seem that long ago that the Secretary of State was crowing that she had achieved peace between Israel and the Palestinians, yet here he was.  They would both be out of here soon, and he was almost glad.


A couple of miles away, Golden Fawn was cooking plantains, beans and rice with the recipe she had learned in Puerto Rico a week before.  Marcos Vasquez had taken the trash and newspapers down to the Southwest Plaza basement for her (since the trash chute was now sealed off due to a cockroach population explosion), and she took advantage of her fiance's absence to stare blissfully at her new engagement ring.  He had proposed on a cold night--after a bad day at work, after they had climbed several flights of stairs because all the elevators were broken, after they had burned their dinner because of the beggar at the door, after they had curled up on the couch with soup mugs and candy bars, after the unusually large number of candles he had lit had set off the smoke detector.  It was perfect.  He told her later that he had been planning to propose to her at a waterfall in the Puerto Rican rainforest, but he was worried she would think he had delayed his proposal until after his mother had approved.  However, Golden Fawn had actually worried about the opposite—that Marcos had thought bringing her down as his fiance would preempt a repeat of the cool reception Sra. Vasquez had given Golden Fawn last time.  The reception had still not been what one would call warm, but Golden Fawn knew by then enough about Sra. Vasquez to disarm her future mother-in-law with intense interest in cooking, garden figurines, and needlepoint pillows.  Now Golden Fawn's worries were shifted to getting her grandmother to warm up to Marcos.  She heard the key in the lock and turned to see him bring in a poinsettia that somebody had evidently dumped in the trash room.  “That smells great!” he said, eyeing the stove as he headed to the sink to water the plant.  He wanted to ask her when they should start house-hunting, but he didn't want to have to discuss finances so soon after getting engaged; she wanted to destroy the real estate demon living under the building before they moved out of their apartments here, but she did not want to bring up something that unpleasant so soon after getting engaged.  They smiled at each other silently, basking in the private cocoon they had learned to spin around themselves at will.


A few miles north, Dizzy was chatting with the current occupant of the permanent peace vigil at Lafayette Park.  “Here's my idea,” said Dizzy, as he watched tourists tossing nuts to squirrels in the unseasonably balmy habitat.  “The ducks are spreading everywhere, right?  First they were in the canal, then Urine Park, then Lafayette Park, now McPherson Square—and there must be 100 at McPherson alone, right?”  The vigilist nodded, uncertain where this was going.  “ Now, I don't care for the ducks—nothing personal, but most of them are infected from that damn Ardua of the Potomac, right?”  The vigilist nodded again, having learned a few days back that he should always agree with Dizzy when Dizzy was talking about “Ardua”.  But they're not all infected, and some of them are just refugees—like us, right?”  The vigilist nodded again, but he was starting to tune out; he was watching a group of tourists, imagining the women in dusty hoop skirts and the men sporting guns in their holsters instead of cellphones.  “I say, put 'em all in the zoo!”  Come again?  The vigilist looked at Dizzy quizzically.  “Look, people obviously think dukes are cute, right?”  The vigilist nodded.  “And those homeless men keep sharing their food with the ducks. They act like they own those ducks!  They love those ducks!  They take pride in those ducks!  And this is what it's all about, right?  Own it, love it, take pride in it!  Right?”  The vigilist nodded, uncertainly.  “Move 'em all to the zoo!  Let the homeless men live in one of those old gorilla houses or something; let them feed the ducks, then they can learn how to feed the monkeys and the lions and the elephants, right?  Then they'd have roofs over their heads, the ducks would be far from Ardua and recover, the men would be rehabilitated, right?”  Dizzy leaned back, pleased with himself.  


“What about you?" the vigilist asked. “You wanna live in the zoo?"


“Hell no!  I'm no damned zookeeper!  I'm a trumpet player”  And with that, he picked up his trumpet and launched into his two-hundredth performance of “Jingle Bell Rock” since the lighting of the White House Christmas tree.  The women who were not wearing hoop skirts but were, in fact, from a prairie, came over to listen and take pictures, and their men, who did not have guns in their holsters but were, in fact, cattle men, dug in their pockets for loose change, underestimating the value of the Juilliard-trained trumpet player's performance.


A couple of miles away, Sebastian L'Arche was sitting perplexedly at a sidewalk table outside Soho, petting Lucky Charm as they both looked around for signs of “John Doe”.  John Doe had told him to meet here, today, at this hour—L'Arche was sure of it, but he pulled his pocket calendar out to double-check.  Well, the guy does have a brain injury and epilepsy—I guess he was confused.  So far Lucky Charm had not seemed particularly interested in being a helping dog for the blind or the wheelchair-bound, and this week was going to be an exploration to see if Lucky Charm could smell pending epileptic attacks.  “I know you're gonna be an amazing dog—I just know it!”  The Irish setter wagged her tail in agreement.  Meanwhile, across the street, John Doe was drinking a Coke at the Fireplace.  He was ignoring the gay men around him, and had only taken up residence at this table to peer out the window to see who showed up at the cafe with an Irish setter.  John Doe (who still liked using that name, even though his family had shown up to claim and identify him some time back) was uncertain about whether he really wanted a helping dog.  The best it could do would be to force John down before John had an epileptic attack.  Was that worth all the trouble of taking care of a dog?  He liked being unemployed and on disability, having no responsibilities, available whenever Heaven wanted to send him a vision in a seizure.  He didn't really see the need for a dog to complicate things.  It is a pretty dog, though.  Just then, Calico Johnson rounded the P Street corner and began walking past Lucky Charm, who leaned back on her haunches and started growling in a way L'Arche had never seen in any dog except Gipper during a de-ratting session.  Johnson jumped away with a start, and L'Arche apologized sheepishly, but Lucky Charm wouldn't stop growling, and L'Arche wasn't going to argue with her.  Sitting up on the Soho roof, one of the Shackled looked down and pondered the special future awaiting Lucky Charm.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Frank-incense

“Doctor!”  Nurse Consuela Arroyo was calling Dr. Khalid Mohammad away from the stabilized asthmatic and back to the no longer stabilized patient in the last bed of the George Washington University Hospital emergency room.  “Should I take it off?”  Dr. Mohammad hesitated a moment, then nodded yes, and the nurse removed the oxygen mask from Clio's face.  Oh, no.  Green mucous was oozing out of the woman's eyelids, and Nurse Arroyo was already handing Dr. Mohammad a large cotton swab to wipe it away.  He then turned to ask for the rubber bulb, but she was already handing it to him and taking away the dirty swab with her other hand.  He gently suctioned more mucous out of Clio's nostrils, then turned to ask for the other breathing apparatus, but Nurse Arroyo had already hooked it up to the oxygen machine and was ready to hand it to him to insert into the patient's nostrils.  He then turned to request another cotton swab, but Nurse Arroyo was already handing him a clean one, and he set to work swabbing more mucous oozing out of the patient's eyelids.  Another call for doctors erupted as ambulance workers brought a new patient into the E.R.; Nurse Arroyo silently nodded to Dr. Mohammad that she could handle it, and he left her alone to tend to the patient.  Clio gazed up weakly at the Filipina nurse, and the nurse was glad the patient did not see what was coming out of her sinuses in every direction.  Clio had tried to soldier through the cold, trying to save up her personal leave time for a long Christmas vacation with the kids, but the cold had just kept getting worse.  After she was rehydrated, and the mucous avalanche slowed, she would be put in intensive care.  Then blood tests would be done, but Nurse Arroyo's instincts already told her that the diagnosis was going to be HIV and pneumonia—the sinus infection was the least of this woman's problems.


Out in the emergency room waiting area, Clio's twins sat in uncharacteristic silence next to Bridge, who was fingering his knit cap nervously in his lap.  How could they not have seen?  He tried to remind himself that they were, after all, still children, and children don't usually watch over their mothers' colds.  They see everything else—why didn't they see this?  He turned to glance at Ferguson and Regina for the upteenth time, but they were sitting motionless, heads bowed, without even a leg twitching.  He asked himself for the tenth time if he should contact the children's father, but he was fairly certain even this calamity would not prompt that man to come back to these kids.  Regina took a deep sigh, and Bridge turned to see if she was going to say something, but she was still looking down.  Clio was sick a long time...we all knew it...but couldn't they tell me now it was serious?  The only reason they were here was because of the Obama representative who had stopped by to talk to the White House butler about how the East Wing move-in would be handled; she's the one that had noticed Clio was barely standing and advised her to see a doctor if the fever didn't go back down in a day.  Why didn't any of us see how bad it had gotten?  But he knew why—the haze of the White House ghosts.


Several miles to the north, Charles Wu was at home lying in his recliner in a haze of frankincense, his brain half-asleep like a dolphin's.  He had learned the trick from a yogi in Hawaii, and it was a very useful trick for times like this when he had a lot on his mind.  As his right brain let go of consciousness, his left brain was processing the changing paradigm of China.  Taiwan has resumed mail, shipping, and plane flights to the mainland for the first time since 1949.  The Chinese economy was hemorrhaging jobs as Western credit card purchases plummeted.  The political heat on China's human rights issues had dissipated as world leaders shifted their Asian focus to the tense relationship between nuclear India and atomic Pakistan.  In a few days, he would be dining at a 5-star restaurant in Hong Kong and telling his business partner that American sales of his partner's luxurious gold-plated digital stereos had placed approximately three-thousand listening devices in the homes of the rich and powerful all over the United States.  Prince and Prowling had become a force to be reckoned with in Beijing.  And then there was the British embassy party in Hong Kong, where he would be delivering--.  The phone rang, he picked it up and spoke to the spy cryptically, then hung up—his right brain still asleep.  Lately, whenever it was awake, things seemed too complicated...or too clear?


A few miles to the south, the Heurich Society was having what might charitably have been called a “holiday party” at the Brewmaster's Castle, but even tinsel and vodka-spiked Hawaiian Punch weren't enough to stop this group from talking shop.  Henry Samuelson was speaking to a cluster of men about the Guantanamo prisoners recently released to Bosnia.  “In my day, no god-damned judge in the whole country would have even known about those prisoners, let alone ordered us to release them!”  Condoleezza Rice was spinning her latest appearance on “Meet the Press” to a few members who had actually already watched the performance and privately snickered at her trailblazing approach to defining the word “humble” in the context of foreign policy.  (In their day, nobody would have bothered pretending to be humble about American foreign policy!)  Closest to the window, the society chairman was speaking enthusiastically about the initial results of the Ming Dung plan; then he raised his glass, pinged the crystal, and made a toast to 2009.  Down in the kitchen, Chinese defector Han Li was dipping into the vodka and wondering if he should start selling the Heurich Society secrets to other people besides Charles Wu.


Several miles to the east, Jai Alai was fussing over Atticus Hawk, who was trying to depart their Sunday night dinner with only a t-shirt and fleece jacket on.  “What do you mean you didn't know how cold it was outside?  I still can't believe you showed up like this!”  She was trying to get him to take one of her sweatshirts, a hat, and/or a scarf.  “Sometimes I don't know where your head is at!”  His head was still at his Justice Department office, in the middle of the memo he needed to finish by Monday morning on Judge Leon's judicial order for the Guantanamo release—which is to say, his head was in an uncomfortable place where his years of expertise as the Administration's torture expert were starting to unravel in multiple ways.  She was forcing tube socks over his hands, even though he would have to take them off to grip the steering wheel.  He kissed her goodnight and high-fived her son, and then he thought he heard her say “I love you” as he walked to the car, and then he had to admit to himself that it kind of felt nice to hear it, but then he frowned because he wasn't sure she really knew him at all.  Who does she love?  Who is that guy?


He started the engine and was surprised to see a flock of starlings sitting on his hood, unfazed by the rumble of the motor.  Aw, shit, he thought, literally.  He started driving away, and they just kept staring at him until he made a fast and sharp turn, which finally prompted them to fly away.  He shivered and wished he could drive with the tube socks on his hands.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Prophecy

"I wish that Prophecy would kick in soon."  Dizzy was chatting up the current tenant of the Permanent Peace Vigil at Lafayette Square.  "I mean, change isn't coming fast enough for me!"  Dizzy was polishing his trumpet, waiting for another clump of White House tourists to approach.  "And it's not right that they moved you way over here, after all those years!"  The Vigilist nodded silently from inside his tent, which had been moved to the far northern edge of the park to make way for the erection of inauguration stands.  "I mean, who's gonna notice you over here?"  The Vigilist was eyeing the bloody moccasin-like shoes on Dizzy's feet.  "Oh, don't worry about that!  The bleeding stopped a few days ago."  Dizzy explained to the peace activist how he had used an old hunting knife to amputate all his toes because they "wouldn't give him no peace", and how people had been telling him for months that it was restless leg syndrome or diabetes or a magnesium deficiency, but it wasn't!  He knew it was those "cursed ducks and river rats gnawing on his toes" while he slept.  He wasn't sure if he wanted to go back to Urine Park now:  he kind of liked being in a park where squirrels were in charge.  "But those damned S.S. guys with the police dogs!  Don't you get sick of them?"  The Vigilist shook his head no and told Dizzy they never gave him any trouble.  (He had been spit on, yelled at, and kicked, but never by the Secret Service--the Permanent Peace Vigil was the least of their phantom concerns.)  However, the Vigilist had never seen any street musicians collecting money at Lafayette Squre, and suspected this would not be tolerated past January 21st.  "Ooh!  Here come some more!"  With that, Dizzy scooted back to the other side of the sidewalk and started playing "Deck the Halls".


A couple miles to the west, Condoleezza Rice was trying to finish the piano concerto she had been composing for three years.  She turned her pencil over and rubbed the eraser over the notes again, then lifted the page and carefully blew the eraser residue into the Japanese lacquered umbrella stand she used as her living room trash can.  She looked over at Pippin, but the cat was still giving her the evil eye, just as he had been every day since future Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and her hyena laugh had invaded the Watergate for a private dinner tete-a-tete.  Rice nodded at Pippin sympathetically.  "It had to be done," she told the cat again.  "It wasn't that bad."  She was still annoyed that Clinton had dried her hands on the wrong towels in the bathroom--and why did she need to use the bathroom anyway?  If that woman can't get through a two-hour dinner without using a bathroom, how is she going to dine with heads of state?  Rice tried another run of notes, then another, then another--but none of them satisfactorily resolved the key change.  She started moving her fingers in a different direction, but then the phone rang.  “What?!”  It was the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Anti-Fecklessness calling, and he repeated that the Internet was buzzing with a video of an Iraqi reporter throwing his shoes at President Bush during a news conference.  She threw her pencil across the room and slammed the piano cover shut.


Several miles to the north, Charles Wu was re-listening to his tape of the dinner conversation between the outgoing and incoming Secretaries of State, but it had gotten very faint—obviously Pippin had retreated to a far corner after Clinton had let loose a few belly laughs.  Wu fiddled with the volume, bass and treble one more time, and gleaned a few more nuggets about Israel, but that was it.  Not that he was in any mood to feed intelligence to China right now:  he was definitely tilting west after seeing the Chinese reports this week of the tainted milk plaintiffs thrown out of court, the Shandong Province activists and petitioners routinely committed to the local psychiatric hospital for lengthy “treatments”, and the arrest of dissident Liu Xiaobo for organizing an online petition calling for an end to one-party rule and other political policies.  He got up and made himself a gin and tonic, which he was prone to do when getting ready to feed dirt to his British associates. He knew that the Beijing office of Prince and Prowling was representing some of those milk companies, and he didn't like the feelings of guilt stabbing at his normally indifferent conscience.  The Shandong story was probably published by the state because of a personal feud with the provincial government, but people around the world would assume the story was representative of all of China.  And the online petition—well, that was par for the course; if the central government was going to prohibit that sort of thing, they needed to ratchet up their policing of the Internet.  Fools.  He felt the warm relaxation of the gin kicking in, reflected on his record of superior judgment in brokering world power and managing the flow of information, and decided to take the rest of the evening off from being a double agent—tomorrow was a new day.  He headed out to see humanity lectured and punished in “The Day the Earth Stood Still”.


Several miles south, former Senator Evermore Breadman was still hungover from the Prince and Prowling holiday party.  He didn't really like seeing his partner profits tossed away so lavishly on the staff—two different live bands? seven types of fresh-carved meats? a dedicated ice cream sundae maker? the whole ballroom floor of the Benjamin Hotel?—and the only protest he could make was drinking all the champagne he could get his hands on.  He pulled some more Chinese herbs out of his bottom drawer and stuck them in his ears because he had already tried drinking them, snorting them, and soaking his feet in them.  Did I dance with Chloe Cleavage to “Brick House”?  He was nagged with uneasiness about the event, and wished the firm had allowed people to bring spouses.  He tried to refocus his eyes on the set of relaxed timber regulations he was preparing for President Bush, but the words were still dancing around the page.  Did I set something on fire?  He leaned back and closed his eyes again.  The wad of herbs stuck in his ears blocked out the giggling of Bridezilla as she passed his office door on her way to pick up some Christmas gifts she had locked up in her office.  Down the hallway, Laura Moreno was finally ready to pack it in for the evening, but for once she was really concerned about Breadman—she was sure he would lock himself out again after his next trip to the restroom, and what would he do if she weren't there to let him in?  She looked in the trash can at her party name tag—with the asterisk signifying she had not been eligible for any of the door prize drawings—then headed out the door.


A couple miles to the east, Atticus Hawk was at the Justice Department finishing up his memo on the Senate Armed Services Committee report naming Donald Rumsfeld and other top Administration officials as responsible for the detainee torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and other detention centers.  Senator McCain had managed to hold up release of the report until after the Presidential election, but he was now free to turn on the Bush Administration and denounce it.  Yeah, NOW you're a maverick.  Hawk was relieved that the Justice Department role had remained somewhat murky, and thankful that his paranoid boss had required much of their communications to be in code.  Hawk was fairly certain that his role as a torture expert was not going to keep him employed by the next Administration, and the lousy economy had prevented him from finding a golden parachute...yet.  His cellphone rang—he was late to dinner with Jai Alai.  How did I let it get this far?  He had vaguely been planning to break up with her before the holidays, but it was too late now.  He was still fond of her, but Christmas, New Year's?  This was dangerous territory.  He picked up the phone to explain one more time how important his work was.


A satisfied catbird left Hawk's windowsill to report back to Ardua of the Potomac, who had lately become anxious about the Warrior's threats to her apostates. Many of the little ones had already fallen, and she was desperate to protect her big guns--but how could she until she found out more about the Prophecy?  She slunk down to the river bottom to think, but thinking was not her strong point.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Syndrome

Dubious McGinty was huddled in the warmth of the drawbridge watchman's quarters, drinking a third Irish coffee.  He was reading the 452-page federal report that Perry Winkle had brought him about Gulf War Syndrome.  Turns out it's real!  He harrumphed to himself and took another swallow.  Eighteen years after the Line in the Sand, the Congressionally mandated report was released with little fanfare or commentary.  Winkle wanted to do a follow-up report--interview Gulf War Syndrome sufferers in  the D.C. metropolitan area--but The Washington Post wasn't interested.  McGinty could barely remember the Gulf War, but he sometimes talked to other veterans and heard about these things.  Aren't they still in Iraq?  He had been too embarrassed to tell Winkle he was confused about it.  Sometimes he was even startled to realize he had left Vietnam over thirty years ago:  it still seemed like just a couple of years had gone by.  Winkle had left to go work on another story about inauguration preparations, something else McGinty was having trouble wrapping his brain around every time he saw a photo of Obama.  No cure for Gulf War Syndrome.  He closed the report, wondering why Winkle had brought it to him.

A mile to the east, Golden Fawn was huddled under a Cherokee blanket, reading a newspaper near the space heater.  Marcos Vasquez's apartment still had heat, but his now had mold growing all over the bathroom and closet walls, so he was huddled in her apartment, too.  Her biopsy had been OK, but now she felt like her bosom was a volcano, and the only question was when the cancer would erupt again.  Her grandmother was begging her to leave Washington and come home, but home now felt like wherever Marcos was....And she loved her job at the National Museum of the American Indian....And then there was her responsibility to fight Ardua....And she had not yet figured out what to do about the real estate demon living at Southwest Plaza.  

Vasquez glanced over to see what she was reading--another article about the backlog of housing inspections at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.  He had already read it--how a bunch of uncertified inspectors were fired and had not been replaced yet.  He didn't understand how you had to have certified inspectors to see that heat was not working, or black mold was covering the walls, or an elevator had been broken for five  years.  The sex discrimination suit brought against his office had been settled out of court, and although he was angry that his name would forever be in that pile-up of innocent defendants, it was over, and his career at the Coast Guard was safe.  Or was it?  He still had these lingering suspicions that he was being spied on, though he had never found any hard proof--just enough to wonder if it was fair to ask Golden Fawn to become a Coast Guard wife.  But what would he do if he left the Coast Guard to stay here in Washington?  But enough was enough.  They had to get out of this building.  Would she move in with him if they went somewhere else?  His mother wouldn't approve.  Her grandmother wouldn't approve.  And he did want to marry her.  She looked up to see him gazing at her, and she smiled.  Ardua's mind games were starting to weaken against them, and the balance was shifting in their favor.

A few miles east, Sebastian L'Arche was on his computer trading emails with the anonymous veteran at howtobreakaterrorist@gmail.com.  Lucky Charm gave a little whimper to remind L'Arche that they had not had a proper walk yet today, but L'Arche was waiting for the biting wind to calm down, and only paused to scratch the Irish setter's head.  The anonymous former interrogator had claimed that his methods without torture had actually produced more results in Iraq, and had also claimed that foreign fighters had gone to Iraq for jihad precisely because of prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.  L'Arche couldn't believe that that there were still people who believed otherwise--or who claimed to believe otherwise; L'Arche was dismayed that this argument still needed to be made.  He glanced over at the abandoned doberman pinscher in the cage, remembering the caged Iraqis--always the last resort.  L'Arche got up to let him out for a supervised playdate with Lucky Charm, then walked over to the corner where an exhausted mother was suckling her mutt litter on a used dog bed he had received from one of his dogwalking clients.  The puppies would be the perfect weaning age to give them to the Obama girls after they moved into the White House.  He was going to scrutinize their personalities carefully to see if there were any suitable, and if there were, he would see if some of his politician clients could arrange a puppy meet-and-greet.  Not here in this dilapidated Southeast rowhouse, of course--somewhere else.  L'Arche decided the doberman was doing well socially, so he leashed the two dogs and headed out to start picking up his mid-day charges as a catbird settled into the windowsill to look intently at the litter of puppies.

"I already made my extra bonus," Bridezilla was crowing.  "I don't even have to bill another hour the rest of the year!"  She was announcing this over the phone to Wince, who had happened to call just after Laura Moreno had entered her office with the binders Bridezilla had requested. "We could take a really long Christmas vacation!"  Wince was patiently reminding her that he could not take any more time than his Supreme Court Justice was taking.  "Oh, Justice Prissy Face can do without you for a few extra days!  We can go skiing in Europe!"  Laura sat down in the guest chair, the three heavy binders perched in her lap, then regretted it as soon as Bridezilla reacted with a facial expression that suggested fear of leprosy or lice.  "We could elope!"  Bridezilla was as surprised as anybody to hear those three words come out of her mouth, and instantly regretted them, but Wince--who was not actually at his office but was, instead, watching a football game on Atticus Hawk's muted tv, was scarcely listening to her and did not register the last three words.  "Fine!"  Bridezilla slammed down the phone after getting the let's-talk-about-it-later comment.  "Is that the binders?"  Laura stood up to place them on Bridezilla's desk and explain the tabbing system, then made a quick exit.  She was on her way back to the Prince and Prowling workroom when Chloe Cleavage accosted her in the hallway.

"Did you take those binders out of my office?!"  Laura explained that Bridezilla had requested them.  "I don't care if Moses requested them!  You can't go into my office without permission!"  Well, if you had returned the binders to the workroom, I wouldn't have to.  "Don't do it again!"  The woman was positively livid.  Does she have marijuana growing in there?  What is her deal?  Laura walked dejectedly back to the workroom, knowing she would be receiving no bonus, knowing all her overtime pay could scarcely keep pace with her mounting medical bills--physical therapy, supplements, drugs, wrist gloves, ice packs, heat packs, vitamins, minerals, special sugars and salts.  But half a million people had lost their jobs in November, so she knew she had to be thankful.  (Ardua's favorite law firm had counter-cyclical strengths...and an attorney underclass to do the work and not cut into the profit margin.)

A couple miles to the west, Ardua was drinking in the chilled Potomac waters and the report from former Senator Evermore Breadman (via her spy network) on vulnerabilities in the incoming Presidential Administration.  There would be much work to do, but the sudden arrival of the Warrior--followed by the reappearance of the pink dolphins and the deaths of so many apostates--had inspired her to double her efforts.  She sensed the Secretary of Treasury passing above her on the Teddy Roosevelt bridge and reached up to give him a preternatural whack.