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, September 30, 2009

Ungoverned and Unguarded

Charles Wu was sitting outside Trader Joe's, eating a tortilla wrap and drinking warm wine straight from the bottle. The Condor was sitting next to him, discussing China's recent oil deals with Iran and Nigeria. Then the Condor asked Wu about the Canadian investigation of a computer virus attack on international journalists working in China in the days leading up to Thursday's anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. Wu shrugged his shoulders ambiguously and ambivalently. A Foggy Bottom yuppie walked past them carrying two floral reusable grocery bags full of yuppy food for herself, her husband, and the mini yuppies trailing behind her. The Condor leaned towards Wu and pressed him on the topic. "What possible difference does it make?" replied Wu. "I can give you more accurate news out of China than Reuters can any day." The Condor did not look convinced, but the next point he made was that oil market decisions were being made on more sources of information than just Wu. Wu nodded cheerfully, but he was bored with oil--whose executives and cheerleaders were the most unimaginative breed of people inhabiting the planet. "The Chinese government doesn't care what outsiders think of it," Wu said, not exactly telling Condor something he didn't already know. "They need internal harmony." A George Washington University hippie walked by carrying two floral reusable grocery bags full of hippie food for himself and his wife, pausing to liberate the bandana-adorned hippie puppies tied to the bicycle stand. Wu was thinking about the announcement that the Yangtze paddlefish had gone extinct--the largest freshwater fish in the world--and the fact that you can't eat crude oil. It doesn't matter how many battles China will win--it will lose the war! The words of his Hong Kong mother floated out of the recesses of his mind: it was something she had said many times about the mainland government when he was little, and again when Taiwan did not renew its United Nations plea for national recognition this year. When the dragon's fire is gone, it will go back to sleep for another thousand years. That one was from Lynnette Wong, his Chinatown herbalist. Wu took a deep breath and handed the wine bottle to the Condor. A West End guppie walked by carrying a floral reusable grocery bag full of gourmet food in one hand and a yellow chrysanthemum plant in the other. "China knows what it is doing," Wu concluded softly, eager to convey some of that knowledge to his British contact but not to the Condor.

A few miles away, Liv Cigemeier was stealing a glimpse at the photo of baby Zeke she kept in her drawer at International Development Machine, wondering if he was OK. She had just spent two hours reading reports that the U.N. World Food Programme needed $6 billion to prevent a billion people from going hungry by the end of the year and the International Food Policy Research Institute was predicting that 25 million children would go malnourished if poor countries did not mitigate climate change effects on their food crops. But governance was what her boss wanted to discuss at their 4 p.m. meeting because governance was something IDM could get government contracts for. Governance. Rule of law. Institution building. Those weren't even buzzwords when she was in graduate school--it was all about sustainable development, gender issues, child and maternal health, housing, agroforestry, fair trade, biodiversity, clean energy. Now it was about teaching people how to rule the right way. Never mind if some of the people quickly figure out that votes can be bought, laws circumvented, institutions corrupted: governance is the great gift we will give them. Never mind if men are illiterate or women scared away from the polls--not our concern. Never mind if girls walk eight miles a day just to collect water, or boys walk ten miles a day just to collect fuelwood: not our problem. She pulled out the governance request for proposal and prepared for the meeting.

"Now why didn't I think of that, Cigemeier?" former Senator Evermore Breadman exclaimed to Liv's husband as he walked into Breadman's office at Prince and Prowling. Breadman was referring to a multinational deal to pay former Reaganista Robert McFarlane to advocate on behalf of the Sudanese government in Khartoum. "Brilliant!" Breadman added. "A National Security Advisor skirting the Sudanese sanctions!"

"McFarlane of Iran-Contra?" the young associate asked. Breadman frowned, and Cigemeier realized his mistake. "That's great!" Cigemeier tried to say enthusiastically, but he was fairly certain it sounded sarcastic to Breadman because the former Senator was still frowning.

"I need your help," Breadman said, changing the subject. "Bridezilla's gone all batty again since the new Supreme Court term began." (He was referring to Bridezilla's dismay that her fiance was neglecting her in favor of his clerkship.) "She's doing decent work for our energy clients, but her health care memos keep veering into bizarre speculations about how unmarried women can afford to have children." In his day, Breadman would have fired the woman years ago, but he had been told that Prince and Prowling did not fire women, ever. "I need you to rework these talking points in the long and the short versions of the PowerPoint." Cigemeier took the printout handed to him, then asked about electronic files. "Just do it from scratch." Breadman did not want Bridezilla to know. "And then I need you to sit in on my meeting with Charles Wu tomorrow about China's trade war." Cigemeier headed back to his office, paused to look at the photo of baby Zeke he kept hidden in his drawer, then turned to his computer.

Not far away, Dubious McGinty was sitting in his bridgeman's quarters reading another article on Obama's visit to the United Nations. "Now is the time!" the not-homeless man exclaimed more than once, in his best Obama voice imitation. "The future!" he added for good measure. The President was a real smarty-pants, which is why it baffled McGinty so much that Obama never said anything in his speeches about the threat from Ardua of the Potomac. A knock on the door heralded the approach of Washington Post "Metro" reporter Perry Winkle, who had come to warn McGinty that he had to temporarily vacate his perch on the 14th Street Bridge. "What's going on?! What is Ardua doing?!" McGinty ran out of his hexagonal tower to peer down at the river below him.

"It's not Ardua," said Winkle, who actually knew all about the demon haunting the war veteran's life. "It's the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities." McGinty looked at Winkle in utter bafflement. "The D.C. government commissioned a public arts project. They're going to install a revolving light and different reflecting panels in each window to create a kaleidoscope of colors beaming out of the tower."

"You think a bunch of colored lights is going to scare away Ardua?!"

"No, it's not about Ardua. They just want to fix up this place. They're going to fix and repair it and spruce it up so the 14th Street Bridge looks better to people entering Washington."

"Are they CRAZY? Why can't they see what's really at stake here?!"

"They just don't. I'm going to borrow my friend's truck on Sunday and come out here to pick up your stuff. You can crash with me until the workers are done here. We need to remove everything you have."

"I can't leave Ardua unguarded!"

Winkle knew he was going to say that. "Dubious, you can check on Ardua from some other bridge."

"They don't have towers like this!"

"I know." Winkle went back inside McGinty's abode and pulled out some sandwiches he had brought up, knowing he was in for a long conversation.

A hundred feet below them, Ardua seethed with irritation: she liked drab concrete and steel, and dreaded the arrival of rainbow colors above her. The pink dolphins who had escaped from the Yangtze River extinction were annoying enough! She reached up and whacked a few ducks, as a raven alit on McGinty's windowsill to tell him where to go.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Getting Away

"People were tossing random objects in the air, and then they became magical and flew away," said Didymus.  His psychiatrist nodded encouragingly.  "So I picked up a stapler and threw it in the air, and it became a rainbow and drifted away.  Then I picked up a tape dispenser and thew it in the air, but it fell back down."  Dr. Ermann Esse furrowed his eyebrows and nodded again.  "So I threw the tape dispenser further into the air, and then it became a bird and flew away.  Then I realized that the whole point was that everybody needed to get away.  It was like an apocalypse or something."  ("Or something?")  "Well, I wasn't in a total panic, but I knew we all had to get away.  So I had to figure out who I was escaping with and what our plan was."  ("And what were you escaping from?")  "They were putting people in a concentration camp or something."  ("Who was doing that?")  "I'm not sure--it was like some college secret society obsessed with politics and a cappella singing."  Dr. Esse tried to mask his disappointment, but asked Didymus if he was sure it wasn't the government.  "NO!  The U.S. government would never put Americans in concentration camps!"  Dr. Esse reminded him that Japanese-Americans and German-Americans were interned during World War II, and before that, American Indian tribes, and most recently, Guantanamo.  "That's completely different!"  ("How?")  "That wasn't random!"  ("And in your dream, it was random?")  Didymus hesitated, trying to remember the moment he ran off without helping anybody else except a couple of his friends.  "THEY were the bad guys--not us!"

Dr. Esse decided to change topics for awhile.  "Do you still think you're Robert McNamara?"  ("Of course I'm Robert McNamara!")  "But you still want me to call you 'Didymus'?"  ("Well, I'm a ghost, and they make you take a ghost name.")  "Tell me why a ghost would be carrying around an article on intelligence spending."  Dr. Esse was referring to a heavily highlighted and marked-up paper on the couch next to Didymus concerning the declassification by the Obama Administration of a 75 billion-dollar budget total for 200,000 intelligence workers in the federal government.  

Didymus snatched it up with agitation.  "It's outrageous!  If I had received that kind of money in Asia, I could have stopped China in Vietnam AND in Korea!"  Dr. Esse said nothing.  "And Cambodia!" Didymus added as an afterthought.  "And 200,000 people?  Hah!  If I had been directing 200,000 people in Asia, I wouldn't have been fighting a war with my hands tied behind my back!"  Dr. Esse pointed out that, even if that sum of people and money had been available in the 1960s, it would not ALL have been for the Secretary of Defense's operations in Asia.  Didymus flung the article back down on the couch and folded his arms across his chest.  "I could have won, I'm telling you!"

"But you DIDN'T!" exclaimed Dr. Esse.  "Never accuse!  Never excuse!"  He leaned in and lowered his voice.  "You need to accept it, or you'll never be able to move on."  Didymus just glared at him and whispered how, in his day, intelligence budgets were nobody else's business.

A few miles to the south, Coast Guard officer Marcos Vasquez was using his day off to do some cleaning at his fiancee's apartment after their discovery that water damage and mold had returned to the back wall of her linen closet for the third time.  He donned a mask, sprayed the blackened walls with mildew remover, scrubbed them down, then tossed the rag into the trash with the other mildew-infested items.  He sprayed more mildew remover all over the wall and in the air, set the A/C on high, then gathered the trash and dirty laundry to head to the basement.  He knew they were never really going to fix the leak, because they never really fixed anything at Southwest Plaza.  As soon as the elevator door opened in the basement, he could already sense the emanation of evil spirit from the real estate demon living in the parking garage.  It's time.  He knew he had to confront Golden Fawn about her failure to destroy it, and tell her it was time to give up--they needed to get married and move out.  In the laundry room, a smelly man was loading bloody sheets and towels into a couple of washing machines and looked up with a start as Vasquez entered.  The man was the CEO of "Nata's Children" (a Satanic cult thinly disguised as a nanny service), and though Vasquez did not see the blood before the washing machine lids shut, Vasquez knew the guy was off.  "Hey," Vasquez said politely, and the evil creep nodded silently back, then left, though Vasquez could sense him standing outside the laundry room door, either listening or watching Vasquez through the glass.  Vasquez really wanted to see what the guy was washing, but shook it off.  It's time.

It was the biggest dog he had ever seen:  Sebastian L'Arche was looking at a pony-sized mixed breed with warm brown fur like a teddy bear.  (In fact, he wasn't entirely certain that the dog was not half-horse.)  L'Arche sat down on the family room carpet of the Hillcrest home and let the dog cheerfully trot over to nuzzle him.  "Very sweet disposition," L'Arche commented.

"Oh, sure!  She'll slobber all over anybody, but she won't do ANYTHING for us!"  The owner proceeded to complain that the dog would not let her children saddle it up to ride, would not pull a cartful of groceries when she harnessed it, and would not carry loads of laundry up and down the stairs when she hung baskets on her back.  "Do you have any idea how much it costs to feed a dog like this?  We're going to send her back to the shelter if she doesn't start pulling her weight around here!"

L'Arche whispered to the dog and listened as the dog barked her reply.  Then L'Arche probed the dog's spine, hips, and leg joints.  "She has severe arthritis," he said.  "She worked on a farm in Maryland for years until the pain got to be too much, then she ran away.  She needs to take mineral supplements and go swimming three times a week.  If you do that for a few weeks, she'll improve; then her pain will be manageable with some anti-inflammatories."  The owner looked aghast.  "But you'll never be able to work her that hard--her working days are over, though I'm sure she would come through in a pinch."  The owner stared blankly at L'Arche.  "For instance, if there were a fire, she would be able to knock down a door and let your child climb on her back and ride to safety.  She just can't do stuff like that every day--she's old."  The dog's owner glared at L'Arche and said she wouldn't pay the dog whisperer for such worthless advice.  "Alright," said L'Arche. Then he whispered to the dog how to find L'Arche if she needed to run away.  "She'd be a great dog to visit nursing homes, or she might even be a successful therapy dog for autistic children," he added on his way out.  The owner shut the door and watched the dog meekly return to her doggie bed in the basement, then kneeled down to check her polished marble foyer for scratch marks.

Several miles to the north, a startled Salvadoran grandmother was hosting an exceedingly old American Indian in her shabby living room, trying to understand what he was saying about where her granddaughter Angela was.  The grandmother insisted in halting English that she was good to Angela, and the Warrior agreed, but explained that the city government had taken her away because of Angela's uncle.  The grandmother protested, and the Warrior could not tell if she was defending her son, or really did not understand what had happened.  The Warrior then told her that Angela was no longer in foster care, but living in a safe place in the woods.  "I am her grandfather now," the Warrior said, and this much the grandmother could understand.  She re-read the hand-written note from Angela, then gathered some clothes, toiletries, and food for the girl, handing them to the Warrior with tears in her eyes.  He promised he would arrange a visit for them next time, then left.  The grandmother walked over to the window to watch as the Warrior exited her building and walked away.  On the ledge, for the first time, the grandmother saw the pink warbler that Angela had told her about so many times.

Over near the river, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Hope waited impatiently for the State Department delegation and President Obama to return to Washington.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Clamping Down

"Look, the bottom line is that this Ming Dung plan is not working!" shouted Henry Samuelson.  "We need a new plan!"  It was an emergency lunchtime meeting of the Heurich Society at the Brewmaster's Castle:  the news that Venezuelan commu-crazy Hugo Chavez had visited Turkmenistan to urge President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to join Chavez in forming a gas-exporting cartel had raised several alarms in the group.  The chair of the Heurich Society countered that a crystalizing of forces like that could prove useful to the Heurich Society.  "You've never even BEEN to Central Asia!" exclaimed Samuelson, the CIA alumni.  "Your theories don't always add up!"  The chair glared at Samuelson, whose motivations seemed murkier every year.  "Things are getting crazier there every WEEK!  Americans are running around disguised in burqas, knocking Taliban and Al Queda men out with chloroform, then implanting them with estrogen patches.  More militants were killed by blowdarts last week than artillery strikes.  And it's NOT the CIA!"  (This, of course, was the most disturbing aspect, as far as Samuelson was concerned.)  "I know it's coming out of State!"

The voice of Condoleezza Rice suddenly emerged from the speaker phone.  "Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India have the highest rates of childhood malnutrition in the world."  The members of the Heurich Society looked around at one another, mystified as to what this had to do with anything.  "I agree with Samuelson:  we need a new plan."  Rice was also alarmed at the secret initiative being run out of the State Department--or, rather, envious.  "We cannot afford any more instability in central Asia:  there is too much at stake.  The demographic data is indicating a number of ticking time bombs."  Now the eye-rolling began--not because the Heurich Society members ignored demographic time bombs, but because nothing was more painful to them than the increasingly academic egg-head lectures coming from Rice since her return to Stanford.  "This is what I propose...."

A couple miles north, Charles Wu grimaced at the words coming through his earpiece:  not only were they considering dismantling the Ming Dung plan he had carefully fed to them, Rice and Samuelson were gunning for Project R.O.D.H.A.M. because of their own petty jealousies.  Wu exhaled deeply, then spooned some more drunken noodles into his mouth, followed by a swallow of vermouth.  Well, he consoled himself, at least I'll earn a bundle passing some of this intel along to the British.  The fighting in Afghanistan had gotten bloodier than ever, and only a couple dozen people in the entire world knew this was because of Project R.O.D.H.A.M.--and some of them had only sketchy details about it.  He jotted down some coded notes, and chuckled to himself, remembering a time when he was simply a double agent for China and the U.K. in Hong Kong.  Things had gotten so complicated in D.C. that he had to keep copious notes reminding himself of what, exactly, he had told whom.  Now the question was, what to tell the Secretary of State...and when?

Over at the Justice Department, Atticus Hawk was reviewing memos recently declassified by the State Department on attempts between 2003 and 2006 to cripple international treaty negotiations for a ban on official "kidnappings" and secret sequestrations.  Despite Hawk's objections that he had never been a legal apologist for the CIA prisons, he could see (just as his boss had told him he would) that his own torture memos had been generously sampled in these writings.  I only did what my boss asked me to do!  For some time, he had been building up resentment at the tremendous sacrifices of time he had given to the cause of Protecting the Fatherland, but being asked to dismantle what he had painstakingly built up--without ever being rewarded politically or financially--was chafing at the purity and resolve of his long-standing ideological principles.  This is totally messed up!  The Obama Administration was actively considering reversing the Bush Administration's opposition to the treaty.  This cannot all have been for naught!  His thoughts turned to a recent invitation he had received to join a group of Bush heritage secret protectors within the federal government.  He looked up at the small (perfunctory) photo of Eric Holder he had hung on the wall and drummed his fingers on the desk.

A couple miles away, former Senator Evermore Breadman was in his Prince and Prowling office, visiting with the ninth federal bureaucrat he had seen in the past two weeks asking for his advice on the legality of joining a group of Bush heritage secret protectors within the federal government, and for the ninth time, his advice was adapt or die.  "Politicians come and go," he said.  "You will have your job as long as you want it."  You're just a paper-pusher, moron:  get over yourself.  "All that would do is imperil your own security.  You just need to lie low and channel your frustrations externally."  Or come out to the real world and get a real job.  "If you want to make a difference politically, a federal bureaucracy is not the place to do it."  Wake up and smell the cheap coffee.  "If you decide you want to look at the private sector, come back and see me."  Now get lost so I can work on more important things--like battling health care reform and gearing up for public hearings on EPA's decision to regulate carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases.  (The former Senator limited these pro bono consultations to a five-minute maximum, but, even so, they added up to a lot of non-billable minutes.)  As the True Believer walked out, Chloe Cleavage walked in to deliver a soy latte and put a smile on Breadman's face.

A couple blocks away, Clio (the HIV-positive White House butler) was clamping down hard on a stubborn paper cut that would not stop bleeding, while Bo was doing his best to impress visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper by barking ferociously at the White House ghosts hovering in the corners.  An embarrassed President Obama tried to heel the earnest Portuguese Water Dog, which, like many Washingtonians, had found its courage at a most inopportune moment.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Home Team

Calico Johnson was pacing the reception room of Caljohn Mgmt. LLC, re-reading a court decision print-out in his hands for the fourth time since yesterday.  "'Glib argument!'  'Eviscerating the statute!'"  This was the second time that Button Samuelson had watched her boss mockingly quote the Superior Court judge's statements in her order granting a preliminary injunction to block the D.C. tax auction scheduled this week.  "Damned Aeon Financial!"  This was the fifth time Samuelson had heard Johnson curse the Chicago company that had sued for an injunction, concerned that the city's decision to auction only properties owing at least $1,200 would allow foreclosed homeowners to sue on constitutional due process grounds.  "Aeon got 35% of it last year, for a measly $4.6 million!  Who are they to come in and tell us how to do real estate in D.C.?!"  This was the third time Samuelson had heard this particular exclamation.  Johnson threw the court order down on the couch, next to where Samuelson was sitting.  "I liquidated assets to come up with this $7 million!"  He was referring to the cash he had on hand to buy up tax liens all over the city.  He sat down next to Samuelson, on top of the court order, and she put her arm around him in a womanly way, even though she knew he loved real estate more than his occasional dalliances with her.  He looked into her eyes, and for a moment she thought she saw something different there, then he looked at his cursed Rolex and announced he had to get going.  "I need to find something else to do with this cash."  As the door shut behind him, she glanced down at the butt-imprinted court order and decided to leave it on the couch just as it lay.

A mile away, Judge Sowell Ame was back in his office after a long vacation, reading another article about Judge Brook Hedge's injunction.  Why can't I ever get the good cases?  I never get in the papers!  It's so unfair!  He shoved it aside and picked up the case folder his senior law clerk had placed on the top of his pile.  Child custody?!  I hate child custody cases!  He tossed aside the request for a hearing on removing Angela de la Paz from child protective services and picked up the second case folder.  Tenant rights?  I hate tenant rights cases!  He tossed aside the request for an emergency hearing on a motion for injunction in Southwest Plaza [whose tenants did not want to wait any longer for a hearing], and started thumbing through the rest of the pile rapidly.  Hmmmm.  He read his junior law clerk's memo recommending a dismissal, tossed the memo in his trash can, and wrote a note for his docket clerk to schedule a hearing on this diplomat's lawsuit complaining that a liquor store's decision to stop carrying his favorite wine from the home country had sabotaged an important embassy dinner.  Now that should get me in the papers!

Several miles away, the Warrior was tidying up an abandoned National Park Service shed in a quiet corner of Rock Creek Park.  Angela was in school right now, where nobody knew she had run away from her second foster home (because the foster mother had been afraid to report it).  Angela was a mystical girl who had asked the Warrior very few questions.  One of the questions had been what his name was, but since she could not pronounce it, she had asked permission to call him "grandfather".  The Warrior had not been called "grandfather" in over 300 years, but he did not tell her that.  She had told him about her own grandmother and how she came to be removed from home and put in foster care, and the Warrior had felt sick inside because he did not understand how a girl child could have neither father, nor brother, nor uncle, nor grandfather, nor cousin to protect her and provide for her.  They had scavenged more clothes for her from a Planet Aid donation box, but it had been difficult for Angela to adjust to washing up in the creek and using the woods as a toilet.  She had not complained about the strange diet of nuts, berries, and venison he was providing her, and had not complained about going to bed when the sun went down because they could not light fires or candles at night.  The Warrior was accustomed to staying on the move, but he had set up this small home for Angela because she needed it.  He had no idea what he was really supposed to do for her after the rescue, except he knew that someday, when she was ready, Angela was destined to fight Ardua of the Potomac.  Every night after dark, he told Angela stories of his past, and he could not see her face, but he was pretty sure she liked the stories.  And sometimes she told him stories of her past, like how she was told that her mother had drowned in the Potomac, but she didn't believe it.  She also told him about the pink warbler.  Mostly she told him that she missed her grandmother, but she knew if she returned to her grandmother, there would be trouble.  A stream of sunlight coming into a crack told him that the rain clouds had passed by, so he went out to collect more food for the child.  

Several miles north, Liv Cigemeier and her husband were sitting in their Silver Spring living room, answering questions from two child protective services agents.  Liv was in tears, and her husband was simultaneously comforting her and answering questions like a lawyer.  Baby Zeke, who could almost sit up on his own now, was nestled in the couch cushions next to Liv, simultaneously chewing on a teething ring and cheerfully shaking a rattle.  Zeke's erstwhile mother had turned out to be a fugitive who had kidnapped Zeke at age one week, just before moving into the apartment next to the Cigemeier household.  She had subsequently fled town to escape a separate legal problem, leaving Zeke with her unsuspecting neighbors.  Satisfied that they would face no criminal investigation themselves, Liv's husband relaxed and turned his full attention toward preparing his wife to release the baby.  Liv had her arm around Zeke, and he had never seen her face full of this kind of despair.  "His parents in Pennsylvania are waiting for him, hon."  Liv asked again how they could be sure this was the right baby--didn't they need a DNA test or something?  The agents sat quietly, having seen this type of scene repeatedly, and allowed Mr. Cigemeier to repeat to Liv how the baby had been kidnapped and ultimately traced, and why there was no doubt after the search of the apartment next door.  Liv said nothing, and her husband squeezed her and said he would gather Zeke's things.  One of the agents got up to assist in that task, while the other agent continued to watch Liv and make sure she didn't make a run for the door.  Liv picked up baby Zeke for the last time to look into his eyes and rub noses with him.  He giggled and shook his rattle at her, not noticing the tears in her eyes.  At last the carrier seat and diaper bag were ready (the agent told them to keep the rest of the baby things), and Liv gave Zeke one last hug before allowing him to be taken from her arms.  Her husband didn't want to look Zeke in the eyes again, but kissed him goodbye because Liv would think him a monster if he didn't.  As the apartment door closed, Liv collapsed into her husband's arms, and he did not tell her "I told you so."

Several miles to the south, former Senator Evermore Breadman was in his Prince and Prowling office, on the phone with South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson, talking him down from his panic attack over losing his temper and shouting out that President Barak Obama was a liar during Obama's address to Congress.  "These things happen," Breadman said reassuringly, though they both knew this was a lie, and no current member or former member of Congress remembered somebody yelling that out during a Presidential speech.  "And your constituents loved it!"  Except for the ones that immediately began donating money to your reelection opponent.  "Obama is used to this sort of thing, and he never takes it personally."  But you're going to be on Rahm Emanuel's shit list 'til the end of time.  "You need to take charge and explain point-by-point how Obama's words were untrue, and why they provoked your outrage--you must be the personification of righteous anger."  Dumbass.  "By next week, nobody in Washington will be talking about this."  But in South Carolina?  Yeah, baby!  First the governor, now you!  You might as well rename the South Carolina G.O.P. "Grand Old Pricks".  "And trust your Press Secretary!"  God help you.  "Call me anytime!"

A couple miles away, Charles Wu entered the PNC deluxe suite at Washington Nationals Stadium.  Che Flaco and Che Gordo were already at the bar, but showed no more than a flicker of recognition.  Wu sat down on a barstool beside them and ordered a gin and tonic.  He looked around at the myriad television screens, white-linened tablecloths, china, crystal, uniformed wait staff, and balcony overlooking the baseball stadium below.  Nobody enjoyed fine dining and liquor more than Charles Wu, but the scene seemed incongruous with the concept of attending a baseball game.  Almost no token of conspicuous consumption was over the top for Charles Wu, but there was something exceedingly unnatural about this place.  "Not a great year for the team," Che Flaco abruptly commented, and the all-day multi-party conversation about China began, hours before America's pastime's first pitch was to be thrown.  "Next year will be better," answered Che Gordo.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Southwest Side Story

Angela de la Paz was in her new foster home at Southwest Plaza.  The pink warbler had found her, but after Angela was seen talking to "herself" on the balcony, her foster mother had chained Angela to the couch she slept on.  (The social worker that placed Angela in the home believed that there was a spare bedroom for Angela because the foster mother had lied about having no children.)  Angela used to love school, but the start of this term had brought her no joy.  She was sitting on the couch, listlessly reading her history textbook again because they had given her no pencil or pen to do her math homework.  Her chain extended as far as the bathroom, but not the kitchen, and she would not be fed again until her foster family returned from their Labor Day outing to Six Flags.  She lay down and curled up in the fetal position, thinking about her grandmother, wondering when she was going to see her.  She stared at the blank television set, the cable box removed and tucked away every time the family went out.  I need to run away.  She could easily run away after she went to school tomorrow, but that's what she did last time, and all they did was move her to another foster home.  This one's better than the last, and maybe the next one will be the worst of all.  

Not far away, Golden Fawn was sitting on her own balcony.  She had dreamt about the pink warbler the night before, and she was meditating in the gentle breeze, trying to understand what it meant.  The raven on her balcony was whispering to her, but she simply could not understand what he was talking about.  Her hair was now long enough to braid, and she was rhythmically braiding and unbraiding it by feel, her eyes closed and focused inward.  It's no use.  She opened her eyes and stared blankly at the raven.  Her mind was on the wedding planning, which was already at an impasse because her future mother-in-law's rheumatoid arthritis would make it "impossible" (or at least difficult) for her to travel to the mainland, and they didn't have the money to fly Golden Fawn's family to Puerto Rico.  Golden Fawn did not really relish the thought of getting married on an Indian reservation anyway, but she also did not share the modern American bride's dream of a big fat wedding powered by overpriced satin and organza, thousands of flowers cut down in their prime, an open bar, and a disk jockey with no taste.  "We need to elope."  There!  She had said it out loud; now she just needed to say it to Marcos.

A mile away, Marcos Vasquez had again taken a Labor Day shift doing U.S. Coast Guard patrol over the Potomac River.  This might be the last one!  After he got married, he wasn't planning to volunteer for any more of these.  It had been a long time since he had seen Ardua face-to-face in the depths of the Potomac River, but he knew she was still there.  Golden Fawn had heightened his senses to the presence of evil...and of good.  It was a mild and overcast day, which had cut down the boat traffic somewhat, but there were still plenty of people out there.  The pilot turned around in a slow arc, and Vasquez methodically scanned the river with his eyes, even though his thoughts were elsewhere--thinking about whether he could talk Golden Fawn into eloping.  He was picturing a small church in a Virginia town on the outskirts of Shenandoah National Park...or maybe an outdoor ceremony at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.  

And JUST LIKE THAT, he saw a powerboat swerve to miss a canoe and a passenger go flying out of the stern.  He tugged at his mouthpiece and alerted the Coast Guard fleet of the approximate location of the man overboard, all the while keeping his eye on the spot as the pilot held the helicopter steady.  (Vasquez would rather be on the boat doing the search and rescue operation himself, but his seniority left him in the sky most of the time now.)  He watched anxiously as the nearest Coast Guard vessel approached, simultaneously with a D.C. Fire Department vessel that had also heard the radio call.  Vasquez frantically redirected the rescuers, sure that the divers were not yet in the correct position to go down.  He could sense Ardua reaching up to grab the human prey even as she struggled madly against the current.  "No, to the left!  YOUR left!  Further to the left.  THERE!"  The current was no longer pulling the woman towards the Chesapeake Bay; Ardua was pulling her straight down.  She lost consciousness moments before the Coast Guard divers spotted her.  They kicked hard with their fins to reach her, then first one, then the other diver grabbed hold of her, then the divers started kicking their way up again, but she was caught on something they could not see.  They looked around for ship lines, fishing nets, or anything else that might have inadvertently tethered her to the river bed, but saw nothing.  

Without a word to the pilot, Marcos Vasquez jumped out of the helicopter and hit the water hard.  He swam hard for the victim, no air tank to weigh him down but also no fins to keep him out of the current.  He could see Ardua's eyes glowing and glaring at him, and he swam straight for them, his fingers extended to gouge them out, but Ardua saw the Nanchotank token that Golden Fawn had tied around his neck that morning, let go of the woman, and swam away.  The Coast Guard divers felt the tension give way, and quickly began pulling the victim to the surface.  In the meantime, a Fire Department diving team had entered the water to retrieve Marcos Vasquez, but he signaled them he was OK, and swam up to the surface without assistance.  Gasping for breath, he then let himself be hoisted onto the Fire Department vessel.  He collapsed on the deck, feeling pain everywhere in his body and wondering if he had fractured any bones.  On the nearby Coast Guard boat, the paramedics began resuscitating the woman as the divers pulled off their masks to look in bewilderment at Vasquez, certain he had done something but uncertain what.  "Maybe he could just see better without a scuba mask on," one diver said to the other.  "Maybe," was the dubious reply.

Back at Southwest Plaza, Angela had picked up an imitation Ming Dynasty Vase purchased for two dollars at a church rummage sale, and was pretending it was a genie bottle.  She could hear that the rats had returned to the silent kitchen and were poking around for crumbs, and she shuddered, but she also envied them.  She closed her eyes and wished hard for the genie to come out, then heard a thud on the balcony.  She looked up and saw the oldest man in the world had rappelled himself onto their balcony.  The Warrior slid open the balcony door and entered the apartment without a word.  "I wish you could rescue me," Angela said.  The Warrior nodded in agreement, relieved that the adolescent was not afraid of him.  He noted her chains with disgust and asked her if there was a tool box in the apartment.  Angela told him it was in the kitchen, and he returned a minute later with a hammer.  She could not believe a man that wrinkled up would have the strength, but he came down hard on the lock and busted it open with one blow.  He told her to gather her things, and a few minutes later he was lowering her and her purple backpack to the ground.  Then he rappelled back down, wondering if she was actually going to wait for him or run off, but she was crouched next to a bush when he landed on the grass.  As he was disconnecting the equipment, he realized a braided woman (Cheyenne? Cree? both?) was leaning over a neighboring balcony watching them.  Their eyes met for a moment, then a raven cawed at her, and she nodded at the Warrior.  Then he remembered where he had seen her before and wanted to talk to her, but there was no time now, so he turned to go.

Golden Fawn watched them trot quickly away, then sat back down on her balcony chair.  She closed her eyes, and now she understood what the raven was telling her--this was her ancestor.  She fingered her medicine bag and tried to understand who the girl was and what the Warrior was doing, but the time had not yet come for her to know.  Instead, she got a bad feeling about Marcos and reached for her cellphone to call him.  When he didn't pick up, she stared again at the raven for awhile, then it flew off.  She took a deep breath, sensing Marcos was OK but certain that something had happened with Ardua of the Potomac.  She stood up, feeling that she should have been there.  She went inside to get dressed, firmly resolved to stop planning their wedding and get back to planning their life.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Misunderstanding

"I had a misunderstanding with my bladder."  Dr. Khalid Mohammad made no reply and continued reviewing the patient's lab results.  "It won't happen again!"  This time the breakage in the patient's voice prompted Dr. Mohammad to look up from the clipboard.  "It was just an accident," the woman whispered, more softly this time.

Dr. Mohammad arose from his chair and approached the patient's bed.  "You're not in trouble for urinating on the bus seat:  you're here because there was blood in your urine."  And because you were raving like a lunatic about the non-stop whine of government death machines in the secret tunnel.  "Where is 'Dupont Down Under'?"  (This is what the George Washington University Hospital intake nurse had recorded as the patient's home address.)  The patient grew paler, now realizing she had given away their secret home.  "Is it somewhere in Dupont Circle, or out in Fort Dupont?"  She nodded yes.  "Which?"  She nodded yes again.  He took a deep breath.  Let the Medicaid collection agent worry about it.  "We need to run some more tests.  I'm concerned about several things."

"Do I have pig flu?" she blurted out, sitting bolt upright in her bed.

He shook his head no, though he had already entered her in the master list of current patients to receive the H1N1 vaccination if it arrived while she was still in the hospital.  "You have troublesome levels of...toxins in your body.  I'm going to recommend a blood transfusion, which will take some time, but I think it will help a lot."  She pulled the sheet up to her chin, remembering a vampire movie she had seen many years ago.  "Then we need to talk about what kinds of food you're eating, what kind of water you're drinking, and what kinds of medications you have been taking."  She shook her head no, having already told him that she was taking no drugs.  "We'll talk about it more tomorrow."  He squeezed her wrist reassuringly, then left the room before smelling that she had incurred another misunderstanding with her bladder.

A few blocks away, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Hope was compiling security briefings into a comprehensive report for the Secretary of State.  August 2009 had turned out to be the deadliest month for U.S. troops in their eight-year engagement in Afghanistan.  "To Hell in a Handbasket!" was the working title of his report--something his mother was constantly saying.  "This will not go well."  These were the other words that kept popping into his mind--something his dentist had said after President Bush had sent the troops in.  (Where was that dentist from anyway?  He had said Iran, but maybe that was a lie?)   He had still learned nothing about Project R.O.D.H.A.M. except that his suddenly secretive girlfriend appeared to be in the midst of it, and the body count in Afghanistan was rising.  Eva Brown was unable to call or email him with daily assurances of her safety, but always made technological excuses for this, insisting she was not involved in anything dangerous.  "Never get involved in a land war in Asia."  He couldn't remember where he had heard that, but figured it was from a book on the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, or maybe the Vietnam War.  (It was actually from "The Princess Bride".)  He took a deep breath and resumed editing the section on the Khyber Pass.

Not far away, Hillary Rodham Clinton was reading another CIA briefing on Afghan tribalism.  "Loyalties lie with the tribe.  It is the tribe that controls food, shelter, religion, childrearing.  It is the tribe that offered protection from the Soviet invaders, and all the invaders that came before.  The concept of a 'nation' is almost meaningless to Afghans outside the major cities. It is all about survival of the tribe."  The tribe of men, she thought.  She picked up the phone and called "C. Coe Phant" to get an update on the plans of the Reserve Officers Deployed to Hunt Armed Misogynists for spiking the Taliban's drinking supply with estrogen.  There's more than one way to get 'em by the balls.

A few miles away, Button Samuelson was in the office of Caljohn Mgmt., LLC, discussing proxy ballots with her boss (and occasional boyfriend) Calico Johnson.  It was the first time she was overseeing a condominium board election, and she didn't understand what he was saying.  "Look," he said, leaning forward in his chair.  "These people are sheep.  They don't know how an apartment building should be managed.  They think everything should look great, and their condo fees should be low.  They don't know the difference between drywall and plaster.  They'll come up with all kinds of stupid ideas, like replacing hallway carpeting with tiles or putting grills on the roof.  They'll bitch if the washing machine cost goes up a single quarter.  They're morons.  They need complete guidance."  Samuelson nodded, still unsure what her boss was getting at.  "You can't let troublemakers get on the board.  We are the ones managing the building."  Samuelson nodded again, slowly.  "Which of the candidates calls you the most to complain?"  He didn't wait for a reply.  "We don't want them on the board, got it?"  Samuelson nodded again, even more slowly.  "It's for the good of the whole--never forget that."  He placed a small paper bag on the desk, which contained several pen erasers.  "It's for the good of the whole," he repeated.  Then he kissed her and walked out.

"The guns, the guns!"  Fiver Bunny was talking in his sleep again.  "OHHHHHH!"  His friend Hazel Bunny gave him a poke.  "The men with the guns are coming.   OHHHHHHH!"  Hazel Bunny poked him again.  Fiver Bunny rolled over onto his back, his eyes open but blank.  "Keep that commotion down!" yelled Bigwig Bunny from another rabbit hole in the heart of Rock Creek Park.  "But when Fiver gets these dreams, it usually means something!" whispered Hazel Bunny.  "It means he's a stark raving loony!" responded Bigwig Bunny.  "Hunting's never been allowed here!"  Not far away, a National Park Service employee was doing a final walkabout before the public hearing tonight on how to cull the deer population in Rock Creek Park.  A bizarre howl came from a small glade, unlike anything he had ever heard before.  He turned around, then heard it again.  A few startled deer bolted for deeper tree cover, feeling their days were numbered, but misunderstanding why.  High up in a sycamore tree, the Warrior watched and listened.