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 ....

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Generations

Calico Johnson sat down with sometime girlfriend and sometime employee Button Samuelson in the L'Infant Plaza office space housing Caljohn Management, and handed her the thick Washington Post section entitled "Notice of Real Property Tax Sale".  She spread it out on the (illegally cut and exported) mahogany wood conference table and read silently for a few minutes.  "I don't understand," she said.  "How can a property on Washington Circle sell for $186?"  She had become a real estate agent during the boom cycle, but sometimes he was still amazed at how much he had to teach her.

"That's just a minimum starting bid," Johnson said.  "That's all the Office of Tax and Revenue needs to cover the back taxes.  The bids will go a lot higher:  if they don't, the banks holding the mortgages will step in to protect their own interests--unless the current owners step in.  We have a lot of work to do between now and September 9th."  By "we" he meant mostly her, though he had devoted several hours to poring over the list, a street atlas by his side.  "You need to check out all the properties highlighted in yellow and fill out one of these forms."  He handed her a stack of simple questionnaires about physical condition of the property and neighborhood details.  "Actually, you'll be able to eliminate some of these online simply by looking up the zip codes."  He handed her a list of zip codes he would not touch.  "Cross out anything with an automatic strike against it."  She started flipping through the Notice; there were hundreds--no, thousands--of yellow highlights...also some orange ones, which she pointed to.  "Those are owned by a corporation.  I need you to fill out a different form on those--I might negotiate directly on those, work out a deal to get those corporations out of the auction list."  He leaned back in his chair and watched her continue to thumb through the listings, an awestruck expression on her face.  She had probably been responsible for getting borrowers into many of these properties, but he did not comment on that.  "This is your top priority for the next two weeks."  He was fingering his haunted Rolex and salivating at the thought that he might own 25% of D.C. real estate by the end of September.  She was fingering a ten-dollar earring and thinking how surprised the Nanchotank would have been that that their ancestral land of several square miles was now subdivided into hundreds of thousands of individually owned slices--most not even directly touching the ground beneath them.

A few blocks away, Golden Fawn was curled up in her desk chair at the National Museum of the American Indian, reviewing some new pieces that were being added to the Nanchotank collection.  One of them had arrived in an anonymous padded envelope with a cryptic note reading:  "For Golden Fawn--a ceremonial Nanchotank necklace".  The arrowheads strung on brittle buckskin had already been authenticated as Nanchotank, but she could find no clue about the center pendant.  She carefully removed all the pendants, laying them out in perfect order in a shallow pan of lukewarm vinegar water, then retrieving them one-by-one to be laid again in perfect order in a shallow pan of rubbing alcohol.  This time she massaged each piece through her fingers to remove body oils and attached dirt, then she retrieved them one-by-one to be laid out again on a floursack towel to dry.  She pulled out a supple string of fresh buckskin and checked it for length against the brittle one.  Her eyes wandered back to the mysterious pendant, which she picked up and began reexamining under a nearby microscope.  It was then that she noticed the hairline crack--a very symmetrical hairline crack.  She reached for a thin plastic tool and wedged it gently into the crack until the pendant (locket) popped open.  Inside was a piece of dried-up human placenta, an amulet carved from bone, and a raven claw.  A quiet voice whispered in her ear to take the necklace because it would help her fight Ardua.  She thumbed through the photo portfolio pertaining to the Nanchotank collection and concluded that the necklace's absence from the display would be negligible.  She restrung the necklace on the fresh buckskin, tied it around her neck, then moved the pendants under her blouse.  The two Departed hovering above her nodded in satisfaction and flew away.

A few miles away, Liv Cigemeier was editing a grant report at International Development Machine.  Every foundation's shrunken Wall Street endowment meant more hoop-jumping for the non-profits depending on their largesse.  Each paragraph of the grant report had to be painstakingly reviewed and edited to unprecedented levels of perfection.  Every dollar spent had to be accounted for and justified in minute detail.  The full-time grant writer had been laid off, and Liv was on her own.  And every five minutes, somebody else came by to ooh and aah over the baby reclining in a bouncy seat anchored to her desk with a guardrail consisting of a heavy-duty stapler and a large New York City snowglobe.  He's the cutest thing ever!  How old is he?  Who is he?  (Yes, he is!  Three months.  My neighbor's son.)  Liv and her husband had babysat for Zeke many times, but they were shocked last night when the baby's single mother telephoned them to say she was not coming back for awhile.
 
It was currently the accountant admiring the baby--tickling his tummy, murmuring Bangladeshi nursery rhymes, bouncing his toes.  Momzilla had not come into the office yet and had no idea that Liv and her protege had suddenly eclipsed Momzilla's maternal reign.  "Don't touch his nose," Liv gently warned the accountant, seeing a looming pinch from the corner of her peripheral vision.  "He really freaks about his nose."  The accountant (a mother of three) ignored the warning and pinched Zeke's nose gently, eliciting a shocked gasp and outcry, followed by hysterical arm twitching and what would have been teeth-gnashing if Zeke had any teeth.  Liv re-saved her document, unbuckled Zeke, and announced it was time to change his diaper.  She started singing "Sunshine" and leaned his red face into her shoulder, where his hysterical sobs quickly subsided into contented murmurs.  Coworkers watched with approving eyes as Liv headed to the ladies room, Zeke in one arm and the diaper bag dangling from the other.   As  she walked past the receptionist, she nodded to Momzilla (who was showing off her latest fetal ultrasound) and then heard the receptionist start telling Momzilla all about Zeke.   Isn't he adorable!  And Liv is soooo good with him!  Momzilla's jaw dropped in horror, and her mind quickly turned to revenge.

A few miles away, another brood of haunted ducklings followed their mother out of the Potomac River and into Washington, D.C.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Total Eclipse of the Sun

"The Germans were invading," Didymus began.  "There was an android bride who had just married her flying superhero boyfriend, and then he raced off to save the day.  Most of the Germans gave up the invasion and turned back, but some decided to stay as refugees in our land.  The problem was, that some of the so-called refugees were soldiers, and they were hoarding supplies and planning a future uprising.  Since some of the refugees were friends we had known before, we asked them to find out what was going on, but it was too dangerous for them, so we had to go house-by-house searching the refugees.  It was a nightmare that would never end."  Dr. Ermann Esse asked Didymus how long he had been having these flying dreams.  "No!  I wasn't the one flying!  The dream was about the threat of the Germans."  The psychiatrist assured Didymus that the dream was most certainly not about the threat of the Germans, then asked Didymus how long he had been having these android bride dreams.  "I wasn't the one marrying the android bride!  What about the dangerous refugees?"  Dr. Esse assured Didymus that the dream was most certainly not about dangerous refugees.  

"You are obsessed with the death of Robert McNamara, and his failure in Vietnam.  Very few remember that he fought the Germans in World War II:  you are trying to distract yourself from remembering his failure in Vietnam.  You are trying to turn back history to a time when the enemy was obvious, and America's warriors succeeded.  But this cannot be done!  You must move forward in your life."

"But I'm already dead."

"You feel metaphorically dead, but I can assure you that you are most decidedly alive!"

The ghost of Robert McNamara folded his arms across his chest and sunk his head into the couch pillow, wishing that St. Peter had sent him to purgatory rather than this.

A few blocks away, the shit had hit the fan at Prince and Prowling.  A furious general counsel from one of America's Fortune 100 corporations was in the Managing Partner's office demanding to see two years' worth of billing files.  Apparently, a tipsy Chloe Cleavage had given the man's wife an earful about the law firm's over-billing practices during an alumni expedition to see a Nationals baseball game the day before.  "Attorneys surfing the internet all day and billing us for 12 hours of work?!  You actually fired the attorneys who turned in honest timesheets?!  You fired people for taking sick days, but retained people who came in and coughed all over everybody else?!  You fired people who asked for one day per week off, but retained people who billed us while spending their time day-trading and Twittering?!  You fired people for having acne, but retained--"

"Sir," the managing partner eked out, followed by a tortured clearing of the throat.  "You cannot take seriously the silly ramblings of a girl at a happy hour event."

"Silly?  Girl?  Is this woman or is this woman not an employee at Prince and Prowling?!"

The partner cleared his throat again and mustered a saccharine smile.  "She's a kidder!  Always has been and always will be!"

"And a drunk?"

"Are you sure she was drunk?  Sometimes she's just ebullient!"

"Do you think it's appropriate for an 'ebullient' employee to be mocking us at a college alumni event and telling everyone that we have overpaid Prince and Prowling at least a million dollars in the past two years?!"

"No, of course not."

"Then show me the goddam billing files!"

"I'll be right back."  The managing partner headed to the men's room to think and to recover the pint of perspiration pooling in each underarm.  If I fire her, she'll post that video of me on You Tube and my marriage is over...and I'm fired.  If I don't fire her, we'll lose our biggest client, and I'm fired, but I'll still be married...maybe.  If I show him the official files, they will match everything he's been given.  Will he demand more files?  There really are no files that prove any of that, are there?  He vomited into the sink just as former Senator Evermore Breadman walked in, but Breadman said nothing.  (Breadman had his own gastrointestinal demons.)  What if there are videos from "Sangria Saturdays"?  He'll find the sexual harassment lawsuits with a few choice Google terms...and the blogs!  All these goddam contract attorneys and their blogs!  He wiped his mouth and headed out of the men's room.

Several blocks away, Atticus Hawk was meeting with his boss to discuss the recent formation of the Guantanamo Justice Center in Geneva, Switzerland, and the attorney formerly called the "Torture Expert" did not like the direction his boss was going.  "If you're asking me to fall on my sword for Dubyah--"

"Nobody's asking you to fall on your sword!  Don't be so melodramatic!"  The truth was, there was a time when both of them would have gladly fallen on their sword for the former President, and it would not have been melodramatic, but that time had passed.  "They're going to be working up their case for a long time, which is to our advantage.  Memories fade and get confused, bruises heal, cuts close, medical files disappear, a lot of the witnesses are dead, for crying out loud!"  Hawk did not need to be reminded of the number of Guantanamo detainees who had already died--suicides, hunger strikes, medical problems.  "We're going to have to do what the Attorney General asks us to do, but we have a constitutional right to defend ourselves, right?!"  Atticus Hawk's thoughts turned to Jai Alai and her son.  Maybe they could run away to a little town down south...or out west.  He could do real estate law or drunk drivers...or not even be a lawyer at all...open a little gift shop like the one Jai Alai worked at in the National Arboretum.  "Anyway, who cares if we can't go to Europe without being arrested?  Damned socialist lame-o wussies!  Who needs 'em?  My last vacation was to Thailand and Hong Kong--it doesn't get better than that!"

Back at Prince and Prowling, the managing partner had arrived at Bridezilla's office.  "Give me your gun!" the managing partner whispered menacingly, after closing her office door behind himself.

"Look," the startled associate said, "I know it's not totally legal yet, but my fiancee insists that I protect myself, and--"

"Give me your gun!" he barked loudly.  Bridezilla unlocked her bottom drawer, pulled out the monogrammed revolver, and handed it silently to the managing partner, who promptly put it into his mouth and pulled the trigger.  Bridezilla gasped as he crumpled to the floor.  She hesitated for a moment, then picked up the revolver and wiped off the fingerprints with a napkin.  She then scooped out some dirt in her bougainvillea pot and shoved the revolver deep beneath the tropical bloomer.  She wiped the dirt off her hands, then pumped out some rose-scented hand sanitizer while staring at the managing partner lying motionless on the taupe-colored carpeting.  She tried to visualize the pool of blood that would be spreading around him if the gun had actually been loaded, but it wasn't, and she had no idea what to do with the man lying in a dead faint next to her desk.  She picked up the phone to call Wince.

Several miles away, Charles Wu desperately needed to get back to monitoring Project R.O.D.H.A.M., but he could not get off the phone with his mother in Hong Kong.  "This is the 21st century, ma!  Nobody believes those superstitions anymore!"  He was speaking to her in his crisp British accent, which he always did when her Chinese-ness was driving him up the wall.  "On the mainland, they were celebrating the total solar eclipse!"  This incensed her even more.  "Nothing bad happened yesterday!"  She reminded him of the woman trampled to death in India.  "One person out of millions dies, and you blame this on a solar eclipse?  In any case, you were indoors the whole time, and nobody trampled you!"  She insisted that bad things were now on the rise, and he was her only son, and he needed to come home to protect her.  He clenched his free fist in frustration:  there was no way he wanted to go to China right now before getting the long-promised meeting with the Secretary of State.  He looked around his apartment, feeling the crippling effect of the kryptonite which was his mother.  "Fine.  Fine!  I'll book a flight and come home."  He ended the phone call, stomped over to the kitchen, and made himself a bowl of Rice Crispies and gin.  The truth was that he believed a lot of superstitious things his mother had taught him--and they had served him well.  The thought of going back to China now made him uncharacteristically nervous.  Outside his window, a flock of starlings darkened the sky, and the sunlight vanished from his home.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Three Truths and One Lie

Momzilla was basking in the glow of her International Development Machine office baby shower.  Her baby registries were at Saks Fifth Avenue, FAO Schwarz, and Elegant Child of Beverly Hills.  Since her coworkers' average salary was $35,000/year, they had only scrimped together enough to join in on one small gift from each of those three extravagant stores.  The party-planning committee had tried to make up for that shortfall by using scrap paper to generate some two-hundred hand-colored decorations (in the baby's theme, Disney Princesses) and hand-icing two-dozen box-mix cupcakes (with the baby's colors, pink and gold), but this was only serving to elevate Momzilla's excitement to a dizzying level from which it was bound to crash.  Liv Cigemeier--who had unsuccessfully suggested skipping the registries altogether and purchasing handmade baby clothing and toys from one of their village pilot programs in Afghanistan--was relaxing with a cup of hot chocolate, full of both pity and disgust for the unborn child.  The much-talked-about-but-never-before-seen husband of Momzilla had actually taken a break from his so-called "high-powered" job at the White House to attend this shower, under the very mistaken idea that his devotion and brawniness would be essential for getting loads of baby booty home.  So few gifts were present, in fact, that the party-planning committee had been forced to cancel the traditional game of baby gift bingo and, instead, was passing out newborn-sized diapers for everyone to write inspirational messages on--the kind of messages that would make a mother laugh out loud when she reached for the diaper at 3 a.m.  Cigemeier used her purple magic marker to write (anonymously) "shut the blinds--I'm naked!", an inside "joke" not intended in any way to make Momzilla laugh, but which caused Momzilla's husband to burst out laughing when he saw it, and wonder why Momzilla loathed this woman among all other coworkers.  A few minutes later, Momzilla opened her first gift--an FAO Schwarz box containing exactly one silver-plated rattle--and mustered a wan smile.

A mile away, Atticus Hawk was sitting at his Justice Department desk, reviewing his portion of his boss's legal memo advising Attorney General Eric Holder not to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate whether Vice President Dick Cheney had illegally orchestrated the CIA's use of torture.  Hawk used to introduce himself at parties as the torture expert, but that now seemed a long time ago.  President Obama himself had said that he wanted to look forward and not backward, but he had also disingenuously declared it would be Eric Holder's decision, ultimately.  Hawk--who had once written the legal authorization for awarding quarterly cash bonuses to outstanding Guantanamo interrogators (the "Highly Useful Soldier Honorarium" program, AKA "H.U.S.H. Money") was reading his paragraph on the high cost of mounting a Special Prosecutor investigation (after all, Special Prosecutors had a financially vested interest in keeping the investigations going as long as possible).  On the other hand, the longer the Democrats kept investigating Bush-era torture allegations, the longer Hawk's services would be vital to DOJ--after all, you do need somebody to tell you where the bodies are buried (figuratively speaking).  He looked up at the framed photo of himself with Jai Alai and her son (a photo taken on the Chesapeake Bay at twilight, leaving the skin color match-up of the three ambiguous to the viewer) and wondered if he would ever have a job he could tell her about.

A few miles north, Button Samuelson was showing Calico Johnson the peeling walls in an Adams Morgan apartment building, and explaining why they had to be stripped before repainting.  "Well, first of all, there are some patches of mold that need to be remediated.  Secondly, they were painted in oil, so we need to strip them before we can repaint in acrylic."  He asked what was wrong with repainting in oil, and Samuelson (surprised) explained that oil-based paint fumes were too toxic to use in poorly ventilated hallways.  Johnson's eyes narrowed in the way that always made Samuelson uncomfortable.  "So," she continued, "the costs will be 60% higher than originally budgeted."  Johnson asked if it was actually illegal to repaint in oil, and Samuelson replied that she wasn't sure, but it was standard management practice not to.  Johnson's eyes narrowed even further.  When did Button become such a know-it-all about building management?  Caljohn Mgmt. LLC isn't gonna make money for me if she starts worrying about standard building management!  He smiled patronizingly at her and advised her to postpone the hallway renovations until he could find more experienced contractors.  Then he checked the time on his (haunted) Rolex and said he had to go.  From the other side of one of the peepholes, Angela de la Paz's decrepit grandmother stared out at the two suits, wishing her granddaughter were there to tell her what they were saying.

Over at the State Department, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Hope was reviewing CIA reports on whether Al-Qaida cells were really poised to strike against Chinese investment projects in North Africa in retaliation for the death of Muslim Uighurs in Urumqi...and whether this would be a good or bad thing for U.S. interests in the region.  He had recently been reading some curious blog postings on this subject (not knowing they were from Condoleezza Rice), but he hesitated to pass anonymous opinions to Secretary of State Clinton.  The funny thing was he had no idea what U.S. interests in that region really were.  Things seemed to be getting murkier all the time--or was it him?  He looked at the framed photo of himself and Eva Brown, wishing he had proposed before she went to Afghanistan.  Then he picked up the report authored by two people code-named "Camisole Silk" and "Apricot Lily", and read three truths and one lie.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Appropriate Barking

Perry Winkle was reviewing his notes on the recent arrest of Marion Barry on stalking charges.  The City Council member and former Mayor had incurred his fair share of legal trouble over the years, but this appeared to be a new one.  Winkle had asked his Washington Post "Metro" editor for permission to do a larger piece on why Ward 8 could not find a better person to represent them on the Council, but the editor had shot him down with the comment "just the facts".  But what were the facts?  It wasn't the sort of thing that had a lot of eyewitnesses.  

One eyewitness was Sebastian L'Arche, but he hadn't commented on it to anybody except a cat named Lyndon (for Larouche, not Baines Johns0n), and Lyndon had only yawned, so that was that.  L'Arche was taking advantage of the Obama family's trip abroad to spend more time at the White House training Bo.  Today's lesson:  Introduction to Appropriate Barking.  Now this was the type of lesson you do not want to do when the dog's owner is present, or anywhere in the immediate vicinity, though the Obama clan would have to be incorporated into the intermediate and advanced lessons later.  Today, the participants were Clio (the White House butler), several Secret Service agents (who were eager to get Bo to stop letting out inappropriate howls and yelps), The Gipper (a particularly effective rat terrier), and Lucky Charm (a very special helping dog).  Only half of these participants understood that Bo's "inappropriate" barking was actually directed at the White House ghosts, so the training was going to be a delicate affair, indeed.  L'Arche could not see, feel, or hear the ghosts himself, but the Dog Whisperer knew from The Gipper and Lucky Charm whenever they were present in any particular White House room--and it was quite often, in the East Wing.  "Alright, let's begin."

A few blocks away, Dr. Ermann Esse was seeing a new patient, who would give no name except "Didymus".  At first Didymus had told the psychiatrist that he was the ghost of recently deceased Robert McNamara, but when Dr. Esse had expressed incredulity at this, Didymus had downgraded this statement to include "metaphorically speaking".  Didymus was preoccupied with regrets about Ford, the "McNamarization" of the Justice Department, and his tenure at the World Bank--but most of all, Didymus was preoccupied with regrets about his legacy of Defense Department lies regarding Vietnam.  "Many men in this town are carrying that monkey on their backs," Dr. Esse assured him.  "The important thing is, what have you learned from Vietnam?  How can you do things better in the future, and without lies?"  Didymus said it was too late, his career was over, he would never be at peace.  "Nonsense!" Dr. Esse exclaimed.  "In the 21st century, people can reinvent their careers as often as they like.  And you already wrote a book confessing much of this!  You are well on your way!  Why don't we start with something small:  tell me about one of the small, tiny regrets about Vietnam, something you still think needs to be rectified."  Outside his office window, a scaffold was lowered to his level and a Mohawk window-washer took aim at Dr. Esse's window panes.  As the glass cleared up, the Mohawk could see a bespectacled and bearded old man in a gray suit talking and gesticulating to an empty couch.

Several miles to the west, Charles Wu was ordering Belgian pastries and coffee from a scarf-covered maiden at Le Pain Quotidienne in Georgetown.  He couldn't stand to see a woman's crowning glory covered in anything, least of all a black scarf--which some would say was invented precisely because of lustful eyes like his, but that was a lie.  After all, it was invented in a place where every woman had the same black hair.  If they really wanted to hide a woman, they would cover up her eyes, the windows to her soul!  He handed her a twenty and told her to keep the change--which prompted a flicker of happy dilation in her pupils--then he headed out to the rear patio to meet "C. Coe Phant".  The State Department functionary was completely freaking out about the onslaught of Moslem Uighurs in violent battle with ethnic Chinese Han in the western region of Xinjiang.  It was not a coincidence that this was occurring so close to the Chinese base of Project RODHAM, but it was not directly related, either.  Wu had both mixed feelings about the bloody crackdown by Chinese soldiers and mixed feelings about how much to enlighten Phant about the situation.  Wu sat down at the usual table, used one of his napkins to wipe some bird droppings off the wood, looked up at the tree branches to scan for immediate danger, then slowly added sugar to his coffee.  This was going to be a tough one, and he wasn't even getting paid for it.

A few miles to the east, former Senator Evermore Breadman was staring out his Prince and Prowling window, yawning through another phone call from former Senator Mark Sanford.  "I can't tell you anything I haven't told you before."  The writing's on the wall, moron.  "You got busted doing something you said other politicians should resign for."  Nothing's harder to sell than hypocrisy.  "You need a major act of redemption, and even that might not be enough."  You better dedicate the rest of your life to fixing up South Carolina's "corridor of shame" public schools.  "If you can get better advice than mine, take it, but that's all I've got for you."  You went AWOL from being Governor of South Carolina--how hard is it to be Governor of South Carolina?!  Breadman usually liked ding-dong clients because they needed him the most, but he wasn't even getting paid for this.  Outside his window, a disappointed catbird screeched at him, and he tapped at the pane to make it go away.

Friday, July 03, 2009

New Traditions

Golden Fawn yawned as she reviewed the report.  The trash trucks had been doing their deed at 6:00 am the past two weeks, and complaining to Southwest Plaza management was as useless as complaining to City Hall.  With a commute of a 15-minute walk, Golden Fawn hardly needed to be up at 6:00 am for her job at the National Museum of the American Indian.  Her doctor had told her to sleep until 8 am every day, but doctors always give a lot of idealistic advice like that.  She yawned again and glanced at the clock:  two more hours before Native Skate Jam.  She fingered her hair without realizing it; whites would see in it no trace of chemotherapy, but here at NMAI, her comrades still recognized it as much shorter than it had been...traditionally.  Traditionally.  She highlighted the paragraph on tradition.  She was glad about Native Skate Jam:  a living culture creates new traditions.  She yawned again and stood up to pace back and forth while she finished reading the report.  Her fiancee would be working all weekend, since it was tradition for the single ones to pull Coast Guard duty on holiday weekends.  When we're married, we'll finally be able to start our own holiday traditions.

A couple miles away, former Senator Evermore Breadman was on the phone with one of his Prince and Prowling clients--an association executive fearful that the University of Illinois corruption scandal was breathing down his neck.  "Nobody cares whether you deserved to get into law school or not."  You're just a two-bit player in this town.  "Stories like this blow over with surprising speed, and only the most high-profile connections get tainted."  No reporter's gonna waste even two sentences on you.  "You're just not going to be a story--trust me."  You've never even practiced law, moron.  "There just isn't that much interest in middle-tier law schools."  Who cares what a Chicago newspaper prints?  He hung up the phone and looked over at his Ivy League law school diploma, worth every dollar his father had paid for it.  

Over in the workroom, the human resources drone was demanding that Laura Moreno surrender her "purloined" keycard.  "This is a guest keycard--you took it without authorization."  Baffled, Moreno explained that she was given this keycard the first day she started working at Prince and Prowling, and had worn it like a dork around her neck every day for almost three years so that she would never lose it.  "No, you were given keycard number 8305830, which is missing.  The keycard you have is 8305380.  You lost the keycard you were given and took this one without authorization."  Moreno (who had, in fact, like a dork, worn the same keycard hanging from her neck for nearly three years) meekly suggested that perhaps somebody had written the number down incorrectly.  "You need to turn it in, and give me ten dollars for the lost keycard."  Moreno protested again that she had never lost a keycard, that this was the only keycard she had ever had, and pointed out the post-it note tucked into the card holder that had names and phone extensions she had written down her very first day.  "I don't like your attitude."  Moreno looked at the drone in horror.  Unbelievable.  If she makes me pay this ten dollars, I'm just going to tack it onto my timesheet--doesn't she know that?!  Moreno looked at the grim-faced drone and suddenly wondered if the drone was being blamed for something her own boss had done.  Moreno silently took the lanyard off her neck and reached into the keycard holder to pull out the ancient keycard--stuck to the plastic by a mixture of humidity and bread crumbs.  The drone shifted her weight from foot to foot, impatiently waiting for Moreno to liberate the keycard from its confines.  At last, the keycard was free, and the drone snatched it out of Moreno's hands.  "Go down to the basement and get a photo ID keycard," she said as she walked out the door, seeming to forget about the ten dollars. A photo ID keycard?  Does this mean they're finally going to hire me, as the senior partner promised?

Across the river, Cedric was seated in Dr. Schwartz's office, scratching at his neck again--which had been afflicted with an itchy insect bite for two weeks now.  Melinda had been certain it was a vampire bite, but Theresa had said, no, werewolf--wait and see at the next full moon!  Cedric knew that the Arlington group home for the mentally challenged psychologist was not a real doctor or he would have taken Cedric's diagnosis seriously.  "I'm telling you:  it was a mosquito escapee from the biological warfare lab at Fort Detrick!  You need to take me there for treatment!"  Dr. Schwartz continued to proffer the tube of anti-itch ointment and told Cedric to stop scratching it.  "I know what I'm talking about!  I could be dead in 48 hours!"  (Cedric had already said this three times in the past fortnight.)  Dr. Schwartz assured Cedric that they would take him to a clinic if the itching did not go away in 48 hours.  "That will be too late!"  Cedric stormed out without the ointment, marched to the shared computer, and shoved Larry out of the way so that he could send an urgent email to Henry Samuelson.  

Back on the D.C. side of the Potomac, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Hope was reading an email from his girlfriend Eva Brown, who was supposedly working at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, but the Administrator was starting to have his doubts.  For one thing, his other contacts at that embassy had only vague ideas about where her office was and what she was doing.  Then there was the fact that her emails never included any reference to the usual social life and pastimes of the American ex-pats there.  But most of all, her explanation of what she was actually doing at the embassy did not make a whole lot of sense.  The Administrator was not a jealous man, and his distrust was of a professional nature, so he decided it was time to find out how deep into the State Department's human resources database he could get with his fairly high-level security codes.  A few minutes later, the database informed him that Eva Brown did not exist.  He leaned back in his chair, a mixed wave of anxiety and pride washing over him.  What are you up to over there?

Nearby, Ardua gleefully welcomed the swelling crowds of people approaching her river for the human holiday.