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 ....

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rescue Me

"U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"

Bridezilla listened in rapture as her fiance recounted the cheers of Haitians every time an American search and rescue team had pulled a survivor from the rubble.

"I tell you, I haven't heard something like that in a long time--ANYwhere! Makes a man proud."

"Were you helping the search and rescue teams?" Bridezilla asked in perplexity.

"Well, umm, no, not directly. We were here and there, making ourselves useful." (By "making ourselves useful", the Weapons 'R Us employee meant "selling arms to anybody that had cash to buy them", but he could not tell Bridezilla that.) "I told you: it was classified. I can't really talk about it." And that much was true: he had gone down there at the invitation of the U.S. Marines, whose mandate was to hold the Haitians in place and docile. "We were with the Marines. I can't say more than that." They had made a fair amount of quick cash (and quick booty, so to speak) selling weapons on the spot to Haitians who had something to protect, and had made a careful assessment for weapons orders they would be shipping to the Marines for the next three weeks. It didn't bother him that these weapons might end up at cross-purposes sometime in the near future. (Guns don't kill people: people kill people!) The truth was, the whole atmosphere had given the former Marine an adrenaline rush he had not experienced in some time. "I'm so hot for you!"

Bridezilla tried not to recoil, a little taken aback by his sudden advance while she was still picturing German shepherds leading rescue workers to bloody, half-dead people buried under rubble. "Do you want another latte?" She jumped up to return to the cappucino machine in the kitchen.

"We sold a lot of those Jesus-scope rifles you like!" he called out after her, a little sheepishly. "The ones with the Bible verses etched in the sights!"

Over at the Justice Department, Atticus Hawk was meeting clandestinely with a representative from the FBI's Witness Protection Program. "It doesn't quite work like that," the FBI agent said, a little sheepishly. They were seated in a small coffeebreak room--the agent in plain clothes and Hawk adorned with a wig, sunglasses, and a false mustache. "See, you would have to testify to a U.S. Attorney first, THEN they would decide if you merit protection. You can't just come and ask us to set you up with a new life. You have to cut a deal first."

"Yeah, yeah, I know all that," Hawk said quietly, his foot tapping erratically on the linoleum floor. "But I have to be in a safe place BEFORE I testify. Look, I'm gonna have a lot of enemies in this town when I testify--a lot of POWERFUL enemies. I wanna know that my girlfriend and her son are provided for--I mean, safe--that we're all safe."

The FBI agent sipped his coffee, and some of it wet his (very real) mustache. (Hawk's mustache, in contrast, seemed to wick away moisture.) "All I can tell you is how it works AFTER the U.S. Attorney gives the greenlight."

"I'm asking as a favor, one Justice employee to another: just get us somewhere that the CIA can't find us, THEN I'll tell everything I know."

The FBI agent exhaled slowly. "Alright." He had actually done this a couple of times before. "You tell your girlfriend and her boy that you're going to a brunch party tomorrow at this address." He wrote down his own address in Silver Spring. "The U.S. Attorney will be there." He would have his sister-in-law come to brunch, and she could question the guy. (She normally did tax evasion prosecutions and loved it when he set her up for these whistleblowers.) "Don't tell anybody where you're going. Take the Metro to the station, then take a taxi, but get out two blocks away and walk the rest of the way." He would pick up some danishes at the grocery store and ask his wife to make an egg casserole. "I'll see you then." He swallowed down the rest of his bagel and left.

Several miles away, Charles Wu was staring out his apartment window in disgust. (The Hong Kong native could never get used to snow.) He was on the phone with former Senator Evermore Breadman, assuring him that the $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan was not a mistake. "Beijing HAS to say these things for the domestic audience." ("China suspended military exchanges with the United States and threatened sanctions against American defense companies! My clients!") "Look: it will blow over. China won't stop importing American weapons because that's the easiest--" (He stopped himself: he had been about to say that was the easiest way that Beijing could examine American weapons. Sometimes he had to remind himself that both he and Breadman were walking a narrow line.) "Look: Beijing has to crow against Taiwan for the domestic audience, but they don't REALLY care. They know the weapons are defensive primarily. Nobody in their right mind is actually afraid that Taiwan is going to attack the mainland. It's just about national pride--it's all for show. Your clients make money, the Pentagon sends a signal to Beijing that the U.S. is not afraid to ruffle Chinese feathers, the Chinese score points on the domestic front by getting indignant--everybody wins. Then things calm down a couple months later. Don't worry." ("What about the sanctions?") "It's just a cost of doing business in China." ("A big one! It's gonna cut into my clients' profits!") "Look: you've got the Prince and Prowling office in Beijing now. Let THEM get to work on minimizing these sanctions. They've got influence, too, you know." Breadman finally ended the call with Wu (Breadman needed to prepare his oil company clients' testimony for the February 2nd EPA hearing concerning tightening up allowable ozone standards), and Wu put down the phone. He really did not feel like working today, but it would be really difficult to go out in this weather and find a girl to have sex with. He wasn't sure there was anybody left in the building that he wanted to seduce, though it was the end of the month, and new women might be moving in. He decided to take his New York Times and Washington Post down to the lobby to monitor the situation.

Back in downtown Washington, psychiatrist Ermann Esse was just closing up his office when Didymus arrived. "I really need to close up, Didymus. The snow is piling up, and I need to get home." Didymus pleaded for just a half-hour of his time, then sprawled out on the couch to tell Dr. Esse about the dream he had last night.

"It was the 1930s, and Shirley Temple's studio was determined to create her own version of 'The Wizard of Oz'. But it was dark--really dark. Somebody was constantly chasing Shirley, and she was trying to escape on a magic giraffe. ("That doesn't sound so dark.") The giraffe could run very fast, but the movement was rather awkward for Shirley, and I kept thinking she was going to fall off. There were a lot of dead mice everywhere, and it all seemed so real--not like a movie at all. And she was trying to overthrow a government or something. There were real assassins after her! Shirley Temple! Can you imagine?!"

"No, I can't imagine it at all. Very unique. Have you been troubled about Haiti?" (No.) China? (No.) The State of the Union Address? (No.) President Obama's summit with Republicans? (No.) That man in the pimp-like fur coat who installed bugs in the Louisiana Senator's office phone line for some sort of right wing sting operation?"

"Yes! YES! Why are crazy people leading the Republican Party?!"

"Robert McNamara was not a Republican." (Didymus claimed to be the ghost of Robert McNamara.) "I think you are focusing on issues that are distracting you from the more important issues in your life."

"What are the more important issues in my life?"

"You tell me." Didymus remained silent. "How about your finances. You've never paid me for any of these sessions. Why aren't you paying me?"

"Because I'm a ghost! We don't have money! What am I supposed to do? Take it up with St. Peter--it was his idea!"

"Hmmm." Dr. Esse was trying to picture little Shirley Temple riding a giraffe like a horse, trying to save a mythical kingdom from dead mice and mysterious assassins. I suppose I could write a book about this fellow and make some money that way.

Out on the snow-covered window ledge, a pair of pigeon doves were staring at the psychiatrist, who was talking animatedly to an empty couch. Then they flew off to look for shelter from the storm.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In Search Of

Chloe Cleavage had been living in her penthouse apartment at Southwest Plaza for two months now, and she was starting to think maybe Calico Johnson had not done her such a great favor setting her up here. While it was true that she had never lived in an apartment this big, it seemed puny after spending a few days living in his Potomac Manors mansion. And though not having to pay rent had enabled her to make substantial investments in her career wardrobe, she was eating every single meal out because the kitchen cockroach problem seemed unfixable. And that was just as well, because the trash chutes were closed, and she couldn't stand taking her trash down eight floors to the basement trash room, which was too disgusting for words, so she had to take it out in tiny bags that she dumped in the lobby trash receptacle. (Though she did make the effort to take her fern plant all the way to the trash room after she had discovered mysterious white bug babies writhing in the dirt--grodie to the max!) Then there were the nightmares she had about a monster living in the parking garage beneath the building, but she couldn't tell Calico about that because he would think she was crazy. Actually, she was afraid to tell him any of these complaints because he was letting her live here for free, and when she had asked that one teensy thing--which was that she didn't like the view of the freeway, was it possible to move to a penthouse on the other side of the building?--he had looked at her with a look that almost (but this was impossible!) looked like malevolence. But how was it possible he was running the management company in this building and yet didn't know all these things before he put her in here? She decided to put him (and the ubiquitous tenant association meeting flyers) out of her mind and spend a very focused two hours surfing her dating websites.

Over at the White House West Wing, the Rahm Emanuel wannabe was also trolling the dating websites--not for a date, but because he was desperate to discover undiscovered talent for the Obama Administration. He was sick to death of looking at resumes passed along from Obama's campaign staff (who kept giving him the same two-hundred resumes month after month after month), and had decided to look for people in a different way. So far he had found a female ski instructor who belonged to an investment circle and a book club, a male restaurant owner who cooked at a soup kitchen once a week and coached his daughter's soccer team, and a female professor who taught African-American literature and liked to restore antique furniture on weekends. He was considering them, respectively, for the Federal Reserve, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Labor. And this time, when Emanuel asked him why they deserved to work for the Administration, he was going to muster the courage to say, "Because the American people deserve an Administration that's not riddled with vacant political appointments after a year in office!" If only I could persuade Oprah to take Ben Bernanke's job....

Over at the State Department, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Hope was also spending a Sunday afternoon at the office musing on how they could lure Oprah to their team after her show went off the air. And wouldn't my girlfriend love it! Things had gotten more than a little peculiar after Eva Brown had returned from her top secret (Project R.O.D.H.A.M.) deployment in China (and Pakistan, and Afghanistan) with an adopted "Chinese" daughter (almost certainly a Tajik, in actuality). The Administrator had proposed on New Year's Eve, saying he wanted them all to be a family together, but Brown had said she loved him too much to tie him down when she would almost certainly be returning to China after she graduated law school. Loves me too much. He smiled sardonically, absentmindedly scratching the allergic rash he was not supposed to be scratching. (The doctor had said that he was allergic to his glasses because the rash was only around his eyes and the back of his ears, but it was all part of the adrenal fatigue and autoimmune collapse which gave him one new symptom after another.) Sometimes Eva spoke to the little girl in what she claimed was a western dialect of Chinese, but he was pretty sure it wasn't. I used to keep secrets from Eva because I loved her too much. He turned back to the Beijing embassy dossier on fallout in China from Clinton's internet freedom speech about how the Information Curtain was like the Iron Curtain: the Chinese authorities were saying "ideological imposition", "internet as a weapon to achieve worldwide hegemony", and "unfettered internet equals information imperialism" because developing countries could not compete with the content juggernaut from the West. But China was estimated to have 384 million internet users--the most in the world--and its "netizens" were getting fed up with the Great Firewall. They knew that the government's dispute with Google was not "commercial", as the government claimed...but that didn't necessarily mean they were ready to believe Hillary's view of the world.

A few miles to the east, at the National Arboretum, The Warrior was perched high in a loblolly pine tree, staring down at the reunion of Angela de la Paz with her long missing mother--the crazy one, the unstable one, the one they had told Angela had fallen into the Potomac River and drowned. He listened as the mother tried to explain to Angela that she had drowned, but then had been rescued and resuscitated, but then she had amnesia, and then..., and then..., and then....Angela looked at various moments incredulous, deliriously happy, confused, angry, dazed, and blissful. Dr. Devi Rajatala continued hacking invasive English ivy in suspicious silence, not ready to release the girl into this woman's custody. Angela was young enough to still need a mother, but old enough to feel the risk of looking to this woman to be it. Then there was the more practical concern, which was that Angela's mother had no money and was staying with Angela's grandmother, but if Angela returned there, they might toss her back in foster care because of the danger posed by other relatives. Angela tried to explain to her mother that she needed to get an apartment and a job--that was the only way she could get custody of Angela back--and it had to be an apartment big enough for Angela, and her mother, and her grandmother. Angela's mother looked up at the gathering rain clouds, gripped with despair; she had thought it would all be easier than this. "I could take you to Los Angeles," her mother said at last. "I know people there." Angela asked what kind of people. "You know, people." Angela looked at Dr. Raj, but Dr. Raj pursed her lips and said nothing. Angela asked her mother if abuela could go to Los Angeles, too. "Well, she's very old--I don't think she could take a long move like that." The Warrior knew that Angela's destiny was here, in battle against Ardua of the Potomac, but he was going to need Dr. Raj to deal with all this--The Warrior was clueless about how modern families could get so messed up.

"Here's the deal," Dr. Raj suddenly said, throwing her small hacksaw a little too forcefully to the ground. "It costs money to move cross-country, and you don't have any. You're not going to take her anywhere until you prove you have money. And you better get it legally! And you better show me you have enough for your own apartment, because you're not taking her to live with 'people', because that's how adolescent girls end up getting abused. If you had real friends in Los Angeles, they would send you money to take care of your daughter, and would help you get a job."

"Wait a min--"

"And if you really wanted what's best for her, you'd keep Angela here! She loves school, she loves her grandmother, she loves working in the National Arboretum--all she needs is a safe home. And right now, I'm the one giving it to her."

"She's living in your office, which is not much better than a shed! How dare you speak to me like this! I'm the victim! I've been through sufferings you cannot imagine!"

"Yes, I can imagine them! And I want to keep Angela as far from them as possible! So can you get a job or not?"

This was not how Angela had always dreamed her maternal reunion would go. She had never believed her mother was really dead, but she realized now she could barely remember her mother and didn't know what to expect from her.

The Warrior jumped down from the pine tree, and Angela's mother jumped back in fright. (He could see they were all crying now, and sometimes a man needed to take charge of the womenfolk.) Angela embraced The Warrior, and then Angela's mother realized he was the man that abuela had told her about. "The girl is staying here," he said solemnly. "She is safe here, and loved. When you have a job, you can get her. She will help you get a job." He was pointing at Dr. Raj, who had never done anything but study trees and become an arborist, and she had no idea how to get any other kind of job. "Don't worry," he said to Angela, "everything will be alright." With that, he left them as abruptly as he had joined them. Rani the donkey filled the sudden silence with a bray, then walked over to nuzzle Angela.

"You can help me here for now," said Dr. Raj, handing Angela's mother a rake. She could only pay her out of her own paycheck, and this would make it twice as hard to keep Angela hidden. "Tomorrow we'll talk about your finding a real job." With that, the women turned to the task at hand and toiled in silence, and a flock of starlings flew off to report to Ardua.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Other Caribbean Corpses

A few hours ago, Atticus Hawk was celebrating Martin Luther King Day for the first time in his life. He had cleaned up a Southeast park with his girlfriend, Jai Alai, then they had attended a memorial service before heading over to spend the rest of the day with her family. He felt like a different person in a different life. The future held unimaginable experiences and adventures that had once been outside his orbit. Then his boss had called. Now he was the Justice Department torture expert again. Now he was the Guantanamo apologist again. Now he was...sick. "This is the man you put in charge of investigating CIA crimes?" A suit that Hawk did not recognize was pointing at Hawk and waiting for Hawk's boss to answer in the affirmative. Then the suit just shook his head. They were not even at the Justice Department: they were thirteen men and two women crammed into a bungalow living room in Tenleytown. (Hawk didn't even know the address because a car had been sent to pick him up.) "Now which of you legal geniuses is going to explain this?" He was pointing to a printout of the Harper's expose on murders covered up at Guantanamo:

http://harpers.org/archive/2010/01/hbc-90006368,

which had made Hawk so ill while reading it during the car ride that they had pulled over three times for him to barf. (He had told the driver he wasn't used to reading in a car.) "HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?"

Hawk wasn't sure if "this" was a reference to the article or something in the article, and he looked to his boss for guidance, but his boss remained silent. I did exactly what my country asked me to do. Hawk wanted to cry. I controlled the investigation. Hawk was thinking about Jai Alai, wondering how he could talk her into eloping tonight...somewhere outside of the U.S. Does her son have a passport? Will they put a hold on my passport? Maybe I'm already on the Do Not Fly list. The room was so silent they could hear the sound of Hawk's boss scratching his fingernails on a chair arm.

Hawk cleared his throat. "Well, the fact that this is being published by Harper's indicates that the testimony was not credible enough for serious journalists to publish."

"I don't give a rat's ass if it's being published in Soap Opera Digest! I want an explanation!"

Hawk cleared his throat again. "This news is going to be completely lost in the midst of the saturation of Haiti coverage."

"They are publishing the full story in March, you moron! This story is not disappearing! Now explain--"

"OK, certain elements within the military saw the election of Obama--"

"PRESIDENT Obama!"

"--President Obama as an opportunity to rewrite military history. We at Justice are still ruled by the laws of evidence and--"

"They are reporting that the CIA has a secret prison on Guantanamo where they torture people to death! Then they pretend it's suicide! We're the freaking Gulag now! How the Hell...."

Not far away, Henry Samuelson was staring out his study window after his third reading of the article. He knew exactly which CIA head was going to roll for this screw-up, and it was about time. Never send a boy to do a man's job. Nobody had ever questioned a suicide on Samuelson's watch...ever. If the CIA can't get its act together, we're going to have to take action. He fingered the Heurich Society tie clip he wore daily (even on days like this, when he stayed inside all day long) and tapped his foot angrily on the floor.

Back at the Tenleytown bungalow, another Washington insider felt the icy grip from the Potomac settling deep into his dying soul.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Quakes

"It's a waste of money: we need to do something about it!" The Chair of the Heurich Society was grim-faced and resolute. "We are looking at potentially billions of dollars diverted to Haiti--and for what purpose? The country is not viable, the women and children were already going to the Dominican Republic as slaves, there's nothing there to rebuild, their only legacy is violence and voodoo." The group remained silent. "They barely have a tree standing, for crying out loud! It was already a United Nations basket case before the earthquake hit! Every dollar going there could be better spent somewhere else! We need to take action."

"Honorable Chairman," Condoleezza Rice's voice sounded like a hiss over the speakerphone). "...even the poorest of the poor don't lie down and die as quietly and complacently as you would like."

"I'm not the one that drafted Project Eliminati!" he barked back.

"Honorable Chairman," Rice's voice was more grating this time. "...security and stability are imperative. If these people are not taken care of, there will be a mass refugee flow towards the United States. It's simply too risky. And if they stampede towards the Dominican Republic, they will be mowed down mercilessly. It's simply a situation that is untenable in a civilized world order. And need I remind you, it is imperative that the United States lead this effort because NOBODY--not Venezuela, not China, not anyone--can be perceived as the savior here except the United States. Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson may be happy to see over 200,000 Haitians die, but this situation is not going to help Project Eliminati, and it's not going to help us!"

In the corner, Henry Samuelson chewed his raspberry danish slowly. He had made three trips to Haiti as a CIA officer--two of them for assassination attempts. He remembered flying in each time and seeing the pronounced advance of deforestation because the people had no option but to keep cutting firewood. It was a cursed country--Robertson was right about that, just wrong in thinking the curse was from God. Only a few thousand people died on 9/11, but it triggered an unrelated war in Iraq that cost $2 billion/week for years. Two-hundred thousand or more dead Haitians might trigger 5-10 billion dollars, maybe not even that much. "Look," Samuelson interjected at last. "We couldn't stop most of the money even if we tried." He looked pointedly at the Chair. "We need to go where the money is going, as we always do."

"What are you proposing?" said the Chair.

"Neo-colonialism is what Dr. Rice would call it, I believe."

A couple miles to the south, Charles Wu (who would listen to the tape of the Heurich Society meeting later) was discussing Haiti with former Senator Evermore Breadman in his Prince and Prowling office. "It's a real tragedy," Breadman was saying somberly. He had already rearranged his Wall of Me photos outside his office to centralize the photograph of him and a Haitian president (though he couldn't remember which one, or when the photo was taken). Breadman looked down at the $250,000 blank check Wu had written for Breadman to forward to whatever charity Breadman thought best, and he tried to motivate himself to write in a charity name quickly, but the blank line was calling out to him like a siren. "A real tragedy," he repeated softly.

Wu had a strong loathing of earthquakes: as a man who prided himself on making a fortune through the careful collection and exchange of information, it offended his sense of fairness that anybody should suffer anything in a surprise attack. Still, he had written the check, and he disliked dwelling on human suffering because it raised philosophical, emotional, and spiritual questions he found unsettling. "I know you'll find the best use of the money, Evermore." (Breadman had told Wu to call him "Evermore", because he could never get the Chinaman to understand that he should be addressed as "Senator", and not "Former Senator".) "But you asked me here today to talk about what happened with China and Google. Basically, the Chinese got a little sloppy, to be frank." (Frankly, Wu was embarrassed that the Chinese government still thought it could run repeated cyber attacks against the most brilliant cyber minds in the world.) "It's one thing for an American company to do business with the communist party, but it's another to do business with the Chinese equivalent of the KGB. From Google's point of view, Google had to draw the line somewhere. It's a lose-lose for Google and China."

"We need to get this back on track, Charles!"

"I understand, Evermore, but Google is a proud corporation which has decided it has an international educational mission, so to speak. The Chinese government attacked both the pride and the mission, leaving Google no choice. It's going to take time to work on the Chinese government from the inside--help them understand that it's in their vital interest to fix this relationship."

"So you do think China will want to fix this?"

"No, but they need to fix this. Right now, the Chinese government still thinks it can dictate the rules, and if Microsoft and Yahoo! keep playing by them, it will write off Google. But the Chinese people are not going to accept the disappearance of Google any more than the American people would. Even with censorship controls, Google was too valuable to the Chinese people. The Chinese people, like the American people, notice restrictions on cyber power much more quickly than they notice restrictions on civil rights."

Breadman had always preached that you could make money anywhere, no matter what government was in control, but when companies with silly names like "Google" and "Yahoo!" could make a major totalitarian government nervous, he sometimes wondered if he still had a grasp on true power and control in the modern world. Maybe I'm getting too old for this? "Well, do keep me posted, Charles!" Breadman said, as he rose and extended his hand. I don't even know how to talk to my clients about this. "I don't know what I would do without you!"

I know you don't, thought Charles Wu, with a smile.

Down the hall, Bridezilla was in her office, on the phone with her fiance. "I don't know what I'll do without you!" She had not spent more than a day apart from him since their engagement. "I still don't understand why Weapons 'R Us is sending you to Haiti!" He had told her repeatedly that it was a classified project. (Sometimes he wondered if she was deliberately obtuse. Wasn't it obvious that looting would lead to rioting, and rioting would lead to civil war?) He reminded her he would back in less than a week, and she shouldn't worry, but his plane was taking off, and he had to go.) She hung up the phone, and that alone feeling settled all over her again--just like when her former fiance Wince would spend weekends toiling for Supreme Court Justice Prissy Face. Her new fiance had never shut her out like this. Why can't I find a nice doctor? Her eyes grew wide in surprise at her own blasphemous thought about her war hero fiance. She logged onto the Red Cross website to make a ten dollar donation for Haiti, then felt better.

Over in Southwest, Golden Fawn Vazquez had just finished her own goodbye phone call as her husband Marcos was preparing to redeploy on a Coast Guard mission to Haiti. She hung up the phone and stared out the window, not knowing when she would see him again. Out on the balcony, a flock of starlings stared at her until she threw a pillow at the glass; then they flew away. She shuddered, wondering what kind of demon could kill over 200,000 people in one attack. A demon that had been feeding and preparing for a long, long time.

Over in the Potomac, a jealous Ardua bided her time.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Ice Water

The uneven sheets and rafts of ice covering the Potomac gleamed with an unusual green sheen that left Golden Fawn Vazquez a little disconcerted. She was staring out the window of a Southwest co-op at the frozen river while her husband Marcos Vazquez inspected the apartment itself. The real estate agent again praised the river view--something unimportant to Marcos, who saw the river all the time as a Coast Guard officer, but important to Golden Fawn, who knew she needed to renew her fight against Ardua this year. "It's too small," Marcos pronounced simply, and when Golden Fawn made no reply, he knew that her instincts were also telling her it was the wrong one. "Let's go see the next one."

"Yeah, I know him, so what?" said Dizzy defensively. He didn't like reporters, and he wished he had been over at Urine Park on Wednesday night instead of Lafayette. Washington Post "Metro" reporter Perry Winkle tossed another dollar in Dizzy's basket, prompting Dizzy to give him an are-you-kidding-me? sneer; then Winkle tossed in a fiver. Dizzy put down his trumpet and warmed his hands in his pockets. "It was the ducks--it's ALWAYS the ducks! I keep telling you people, but nobody ever believes me!" (That guy ran up to the White House fence naked because of the ducks?) "They get in your HEAD, man! They're like zombies--all dead and controlled by that evil she-devil in the river!" (But why would the ducks make a man take off his clothes in frigid weather and run up to the White House fence?) "Why do zombies do ANYthing? It's just EVIL on the prowl--don't need to make sense. The Secret Service needs to kill ALL the ducks!" Up on the nearby White House roof, two different snipers had Dizzy and Winkle in their sights (respectively), and a ghost was whispering to them to pull the trigger. One of the Shackled descended on the roof to plead with the White House ghost to cease and desist, and then the two ghosts set in on each other. During the struggle, the Shackled reached out to push one of the sniper's guns to the right (where it would have taken out a duck had the sniper then pulled the trigger), and the sniper shivered and looked wildly around himself. Must have been the wind. (The White House snipers were always telling themselves that.)

Forty feet below, Sasha and Malia brought Bo into President Obama's study to summon him to lunch. Bo took one look at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt bobblehead (a Christmas gift from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner) and launched himself into the air to knock it off the desk. "BO!" It was too late: Bo had pinned the bobblehead body down with his paws, ripped off FDR's head, and was preparing to swallow it after a couple more chews. (Bo didn't hate FDR; Bo just hated bobbleheads.) "BO!" (Gulp.) A grim-faced, resigned President Obama told the girls he needed to work through his lunch, and they dejectedly took the dog out. President Obama chewed on his Clif's Builder Bar, stared silently for a moment at the headless FDR corpse on the carpet, then turned back to his Treasury Department explanation of why the "Christmas Eve massacre of the U.S. taxpayer" stories filling up the internet were not true. (See, e.g., http://www.benzinga.com/77007/wsj-the-treasury-department-s-christmas-eve-massacre-of-the-us-taxpayer, and http://www.taxpayer.net/search_by_category.php?action=view&proj_id=3108&category=Wastebasket&type=Project.)

Even now, Obama knew that most Americans had no idea what had happened Christmas Eve, and that the alarmists were ringing their taxpayer bell so shriekingly loudly that the only reasonable response was for people to plug their ears. A gnawing anxiety tugged at his gut, and it wasn't the protein bar stomach irritation the White House physician had warned him about: does Geithner know what he's doing? Geithner had more power than FDR had ever dreamed of. Then a more frightening thought occurred to Obama: what if Geithner DOES know what he's doing...and I don't? President Obama put down the Treasury Department briefing and again picked up the International Monetary Fund report, "A Fistful of Dollars: Lobbying and the Financial Crisis". Powerful American banks spending lavishly on lobbying are more likely to engage in high-risk lending, and their shares have performed worse than others....Lobbying by the finance, insurance and real estate sector outstrips any other lobbying activity in the U.S. economy....Firms who spend more on buying access to politicians are more likely to engage in risky securitization of their loan books, and have poorer share performance and larger loan defaults. Obama--who thought he had put the smartest guys in the room at Treasury--was losing faith.

A block away, former Senator Evermore Breadman was enjoying another fruit and sausage basket sent by a grateful bank CEO. (The idea for the Christmas Eve Secret Santa giveaway of bonuses and guarantees was not directly traceable to Breadman, but insiders knew.) Of course, some would say that the Secret Santa giveaway simply gave more ammunition to Barney Frank's Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act of 2009 (H.R.3126), but a grateful banking community was now rich enough to pay Breadman even higher fees for his 2010 services. (You never want to totally solve your clients' problems!) But first he had to telephone Charles Wu to congratulate him on his improved visa status, thanks to the cool million Wu had dropped into the regional business investment center Breadman had set up for the sole purpose of meeting the statutory requirements for foreigners to buy their way to an EB-5 visa. (Breadman hated to admit this, but the Chinese-British mongrel was becoming his favorite client.)

A couples miles away, Angela de la Paz's mother (whose path to U.S. citizenship had been much cheaper, but more difficult) was shivering on the Washington shore of the cold yet mesmerizing Potomac, trying to understand why the arduous journey that had started with her near-drowning in this wretched river had not yet led her back to her daughter.

Back at the White House, Bo whined to go outside, then promptly vomited up FDR's head.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Year of the Shark

"There were a bunch of hammerhead sharks lined up in the shallow water, right on the edge of the shore. People were tossing food to them like they were ducks or something. It was very wrong." Psychiatrist Ermann Esse nodded in encouragement. "Then there was one shark that had been stuffed into a sleeping bag and forced to stand up vertically, like a mummy." Dr. Esse frowned. "I told them, 'This is wrong! It's suffocating! You have to put it back in the water!' So they finally undid the sleeping bag, and it was just a baby shark, and I was angry. Then it swam away." Bridezilla leaned back in the sofa cushion, bracing for a diagnosis that she had gone stark raving mad.

"Well," began Dr. Esse. (He was charging $500 for this emergency New Year's Day session--he loved the health insurance plan Bridezilla had at Prince and Prowling.) "Is it possible that the baby shark is really you?" Bridezilla's jaw dropped in shock and awe. "Perhaps you know that you have not yet learned to swim with the sharks, so to speak. And the people supposedly helping you are not helping at all." Esse did not usually tell people what their dreams meant, but this one seemed too obvious, and his patient too obtuse to figure it out herself. "Tell me: do you still feel you are on partner track?" Bridezilla had not given this the slightest thought since she broke up with Wince and found her new fiance, but January was the time the hiring partner would sit down with associates to talk about their progress in the law firm. A gnawing anxiety started creeping out of the nerve endings in her abdomen.

Meanwhile, Laura Moreno--who had toiled in obscurity at Prince and Prowling for years with no health insurance--sat down to add up her medical expenses from 2009 to see if they were high enough to bankrupt her without being high enough to deduct on her taxes. She had developed three types of medical problems in her hands from the constant mouse clicking, chronic sinusitis from the bad air in the workroom, and recurrent shoulder and back pains since they had told her "only attorneys" were allowed to request wheeled carts to move document boxes around. (And Moreno--who was, in fact, an attorney--was ratted out by the paralegal-from-Hell every time she got caught wheeling document boxes around on office chairs.) The more overtime she did, the more her health deteriorated; then her doctor bills and medicine bills went up, and she had to do more overtime again. She had applied for a thousand other jobs since she started at Prince and Prowling, but apparently nobody else was interested in the unique skills she had learned here: redacting Social Security numbers with black Sharpies, stamping "CONFIDENTIAL" on thousands of pages per day, typing up a privilege log in the patented Prince and Prowling style (commas, commas, and more commas--the senior partner would go apoplectic if he saw parentheses on a privilege log, though he did not mind seeing them in blogs), telling new associates what this client's legal problems were all about....Moreno summed up the medical expenses and plugged them into Turbo Tax. She had read more of the client's documents than everybody else at Prince and Prowling put together, but nobody was interested in her assessment of the facts. Turbo Tax spat back the answer, and she sighed: a few hundred more dollars would have put her over the top. I guess I should have gone to a psychiatrist to talk about my nightmares since that contract attorney stabbed himself in the chest.

Over at the George Washington University Hospital emergency room, Golden Fawn was waiting patiently for an x-ray of her hip, which she had crash-landed on after stepping into a puddle on a Metro platform New Year's Eve. She smiled sweetly at her husband Marcos Vazquez. She hadn't even wanted to go out on New Year's Eve, but he did, and so they went to Bar Pilar, and since they were newlyweds, it was all good. They were staring into each other's eyes, and with the ice pack on her hip, Golden Fawn scarcely knew how miserable she was, but their cocoon of love and warmth was causing nausea and consternation among everybody around them. They were supposed to be looking at condos all weekend, but the hip injury was going to delay that. Vazquez didn't want to tell his bride, but he was nervous about things: first the building fire, now this. He was her husband now, and he was supposed to keep her safe, and he was in the Coast Guard, and he was supposed to keep Washington safe, and somehow, even if he spent every waking minute thinking about keeping people safe, things happened. "This town is CRAZY!" The newlyweds turned to look at an old man with what appeared to be blue mold growing in his right ear. "Two NBA basketball players pulling guns on each other in their locker room!" he said to nobody in particular. "Can't the sissies in this town just throw a punch no more?! I'm gonna move back to Chicago--people still punch each other there!"

Over on the Virginia shore of the Potomac, Ann Bishis (who was thrilled to be in Washington now, not Chicago) was tossing her New Year's Day pelican amulet into the river. It had been an exciting year working for Congressman Herrmark [whose reign as 2008 Upper Class Twit of the Year had just come to an end with the announcement that Kanye West was voted the 2009 Upper Class Twit of the Year], but she still had lots of goals for this town--lots and lots. She prayed to Hera and Glaucos--eyes closed, arms stretched out to the sky--as other members of the Poseidon Auxiliary of the Old Dominion Boat Club sipped hot coffee from their Poseidon Auxiliary thermoses and whispered about her. Their president declared it was time to board the boat, and they climbed onto the dock to repeat the traditional New Year's Day Greek voyage from Alexandria, VA, to Athens, MD. As the boat pulled away from the shore, Bishis dropped 365 pennies into the water's wake one by one.

Several miles away, Angela de la Paz's grandmother opened her apartment door and nearly fainted at the sight of Angela's mother--who rushed inside calling Angela's name. The grandmother muttered in confusion about how they thought she had drowned in the Potomac years before. "I did," she said quietly. "Where is Angela?" The grandmother shook her head and sat down on the couch.

A few miles to the south, the Heurich Society began its first meeting of 2010 with black-eyed peas and a progress report on Project Eliminati. (In short: there will be blood.) Up in the corner, one of the hovering Shackled shivered and shook: ghosts couldn't bleed, but he knew what Project Eliminati was doing. There will be blood.