Washington Horror Blog

SEMI-FICTIONAL CHRONICLE of the EVIL THAT INFECTS WASHINGTON, D.C. To read Prologue and Character Guide, please see www.washingtonhorrorblog.com, updated 6/6//2017. Follow Washington Water Woman on Twitter @HorrorDC ....

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Everyday Living - Not

Bridezilla was sitting on her chartreuse Martha Stewart Everyday Living patio chair, staring blankly at the oak tree next to her balcony. She had been wearing her Ralph Lauren wedding dress for over 24 hours now, and it was starting to smell a little, but she didn't notice. She ate another forkful of ginger wedding cake with apple martini frosting, and washed it down with chocolate milk. Her parents and sister had gone to morning church services to pray fervently for her deliverance from this funk, and she was alone. A pair of nesting sparrows alit on her bamboo table, watched for a reaction, hopped a little closer, watched again for a reaction, then boldly hopped up to the cake. Bridezilla regarded them placidly, and they began pecking at the cake. She leaned back ever so slightly in her chair, content to fill her thoughts with this scene for as long as it played out. Croatia. In the end, this is what it had boiled down to. You want to take me on a honeymoon to CROATIA?! (There's a Mediterranean coastline there that's GORGEOUS! It's not trendy yet, and I rented an entire house with maid service AND a powerboat.) It's CROATIA! You used to BOMB people there! (Not THERE.) You honestly think I want to spend my honeymoon in the former Yugoslavia? (Eric Bana is half Croatian--you loved him in "Troy", remember?) Is Eric Bana going to be driving the powerboat? And then the conversation had gotten REALLY ugly. She had accused him of choosing Croatia because he was cheap and probably trying to sneak in a business trip for Weapons 'R Us, and he had accused her of being an unreasonable control freak who could not even trust him with choosing a beautiful and unusual honeymoon spot (demonstrated by the brochures he showed her), and he had told her his first choice had been Eritrea, which he had passed up on because he was a considerate fiance and knew it would make her nervous being there, and nothing he did ever seemed to be good enough....The sparrows chirped a happy little song as they continued munching on the unusual taste sensation until they remembered they needed to bring some to their babes in the nest, then they began the arduous task of flying back and forth between the balcony and the oak tree with crumbs of cake in their beaks. Birds can mate and have a family in a month, Bridezilla thought, wanting to fly away.

Across the Potomac River, Italian economist Luciano Talaverdi was running forecast models in his Federal Reserve Board office. He was not the only one in the office today, but it was very quiet except for his Andrea Bocelli cd playing quietly and the occasional roar of a motorcycle outside. (He was still uncertain what motorcycles and black t-shirts had to do with a military remembrance day, but apparently it was all part of something called "Rolling Thunder" in which aging Vietnam veterans and their women roamed around the vicinity of the Vietnam Memorial in plus-sized blue jeans, looking like the oldest and least frightening motorcycle gang of all time.) Talaverdi was plugging in unofficial economic indicators passed along to him by Charles Wu, who had told Talaverdi that they came from "Project Eliminati" (and that was all he could say). He sat back and waited for the graph to map out, then he overlaid it with the population graph. He tweaked the forecast again, this time including a 75% collapse for the Gulf fisheries, to see what what would happen to food prices and Gulf real estate. He sat back, waiting for a series of mathematical formulas to reset. Before meeting Charles Wu, the only initiative he had ever taken at the Fed was leading the rebellion demanding the return of the frozen soft-serve yogurt machine to the cafeteria (with the sprinkles on the side!); now he was seriously toying with the idea of pioneering a dramatically different economic theory and presenting it to the most important economic decision-makers in Washington (if not the world). The charts regenerated, and he ran the overlay again, then sat back to contemplate the stunning results before him. A chill ran down his spine.

Several miles to the east, Sebastian L'Arche was in the second day of his first-ever Memorial Day weekend pet-a-thon. This was not just any pet adoption marathon, but one focused on matching Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with pets; vets would get their pets for free, and everybody else would pay $30. In truth, he was starting to regret it, since it was exhausting taking care of all the animals on his roster for Memorial Day petsitting in-between hours of displaying caged pets on his front lawn with a big sign reading "Free Pets for Vets!". Plus he took it all very seriously, and would listen to what the pets had to say about prospective owners before agreeing to any matches: he knew better than anybody that a military veteran had to be in the right place psychologically for this to work, and a careless match could lead to pet abuse or worse. He ran inside to get himself another cold beer, and when he got back outside, found a homeless man passed out next to a caged Rotweiler. A yuppie couple from Eastern Market stepped over the recumbent figure (a veteran of the U.S. bombing campaign in Yugoslavia) to look more closely at the homeless dog, a lethal beauty.

Over in the Southwest CVS, Glenn Michael Beckmann opened up his new prescription, but he could not read the instructions because the font they were printed in was so small. "How am I supposed to read this?!" he barked at the pharmacist's assistant. "Is this a joke?!" ("No, sir.") "Well, I can't read it!" ("Do you need glasses, sir?") "WHAT?!" The pharmacist rushed over to the counter, took a quick glance at the anti-psychotic prescription, then apologized to the customer for the tiny print, explaining that many customers had complained about it, and some people were buying magnifying reading glasses to read increasing amounts of fine print in their daily lives. Beckmann looked in disbelief at the price tag on the magnifying reading glasses display she had pointed to, then looked back at the pharmacist. "Gimme my money back!" he shouted. ("Your money?") He threw the prescription bag down on the counter. "I'm not buying no drugstore glasses to read drugstore fine print: it's all a conspiracy to take my money, more money, more money, always more money." The pharmacist offered to try to make an enlarged photocopy of the drug instructions, but Beckmann yelled that he wanted his money back, so she finally voided the sale. He took the money and decided to go buy some marijuana, since that worked better anyway. Beckmann could not remember much of what he had done during the past week, but he did remember where he had smelled somebody smoking pot at Southwest Plaza, and he would start there...and if that didn't work, he'd go down to the Vietnam Memorial because those crybabies were always passing out weed.

Several miles north, Angela de la Paz sat in the front pew of Sacred Heart church and listened to the funeral homily for her mother. Beside her sat her grandmother and cousins, and behind her sat Dr. Devi Rajatala and some kids from the Friendship Garden program at the National Arboretum. On the other side of the aisle sat the kids from school, and coworkers her mother had gotten to know while working for the U.S. Census Bureau as a bilingual enumerator. Her mom's supervisor had sent Angela a very nice card, and purchased lots of flowers for the church. It was the first time a Washington enumerator had been killed by a sniper bullet, and nobody knew if it was a personal attack or a politically motivated one--anything was possible in this town, in this neighborhood. With the police investigation, it had all come out that Angela had been sheltered by Dr. Raj to keep her out of foster care, but Dr. Raj wasn't going to get in trouble, though it was still undecided where Angela was going to live. Dr. Raj wanted Angela and abuela to move into her house, but that was going to be hard after what she had done. For now, Angela was staying at a schoolmate's house, and abuela was staying with Angela's cousin, but in and out of the hospital. Angela had cried almost non-stop for two days, and she had no more tears left. She tried to listen to the words of the sermon, but could focus on none of them. The pianist began playing a song, but Angela did not hear that either. In the back of the church, the Warrior sat in the last pew, knowing he had failed her.

Back in Virginia, Bridezilla watched in horror as a flock of starlings chased off the nesting sparrows to eat the wedding cake for themselves. She picked up a floral seat cushion to shoo the starlings away, but it was too late: the sparrows were afraid to come back now. She stood up, picked up the remains of the wedding cake, and threw it off the balcony. She leaned over to watch it crash in the grass below, then heard a startled stream of profanity coming from the patio on the ground floor of the apartment building. A man walked away from his grill, past the cake, turned around, and looked up to see who had thrown the cake. Bridezilla gazed down at the man like a deranged princess locked in a tower, white satin and lace cascading around her, locks of hair poking out in every direction from her $300 braided up-do hairstyle. Their eyes met, and birds began singing. (Some more sparrows had discovered the cake.)

Over in the Potomac, Ardua breathed in deeply of the tourist and veteran throngs. Even that pesky Marcos Vazquez was not bothering her today, since he had gotten the holiday weekend off from the Coast Guard to move himself and his wife to their new condo. All across the city, mortals remembered the dead and plotted still more wars. Up above her on the drawbridge, Dubious McGinty raised a toast to all the veterans he had known who were now dead, amazed he was still alive himself. Then he hurled the glass into the river below and cursed the demon who lurked there still.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Re-education

Charles Wu knew about "re-education" camps in China--where citizens brainwashed against the communist government would re-learn everything until their thinking and behavior were aligned with the mandated political and social order--but he never expected to be subjected to such a thing himself. His father smiled at Charles as he popped in another DVD before heading out to see his other son, still in the hospital. "The hills are alive...with the sound of muuuuuuu-sic...." (Is this Hell?) Wu had carefully locked up everything he did not want his father to see before going into the hospital for the bone marrow transplant--with the result being that his father thought him a paranoid international businessman with an excess of locked filing cabinets, subscriptions to "The Economist" and "Businessweek", soulless black and white photography and contemporary artwork on the walls, and a CD collection comprised mostly of classical pianists and celloists (usually beautiful young women photographed in sleeveless ball gowns). The kitchen held little more than salt, soy sauce, crackers, and dried apricots since Wu ate almost every meal out, though the (unlocked!) liquor cabinet indicated a large amount of entertaining or a serious drinking habit. The only signs of emotional life on display were the photo of Wu with his mother on the living room end table, and the childhood photo of Wu with his mother on the bedroom nightstand. Wu had politely declined to give his father passwords to check his voicemail or email boxes while laid up, and his father had no knowledge of any of Wu's relationships until Lynnette Wong had arrived unannounced one day and rung the building's callbox. Wu had been asleep at the time, and Wong had told his father they were business partners in a herb shop in Chinatown...and, no, he had not told her about the bone marrow transplant. (He would have if he had thought any of her herbal remedies would help; it had never occurred to him that she would simply become worried about him after not hearing from him for weeks--though she had suspected his spy life might have been a source of harm, not a bone marrow transplant to save a brother's life.) Wu's father went out smiling: he had given Wong an extra apartment key so that she could bring by some tonics later, the robotic Wu would be enveloped in the emotional world of "The Sound of Music" for hours, his other son was recuperating well, and family and civilization were far more hopeful social constructs today than they had been in quite some time. Next week they could start talking about his sons' mother. It all seemed like destiny to Charles Wilkinson Montgomery now. Wu watched the door close behind his father, then turned his gaze back to the absurd woman in raggedy clothing singing in the middle of the Austrian Alps.

Several miles away, former Senator Evermore Breadman was in his Prince and Prowling office, still devastated by the Senate passage of the ‘‘Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010’’--not because he thought it was the end of Wall Street, but because he had a lot of angry clients who had paid him a lot of money to lobby Senators against it all week. Though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was being more than a bit melodramatic (not to mention, disingenuous) in decrying the imminent withdrawal of capital from the United States, he did have some clients who felt legitimately threatened by the tightening of investment regulations. It was now time to try to gut the provisions during the House/Senate bill reconciliation sessions, and he did have a few tricks up his sleeve for that, but he suspected it would soon be time to steer his clients toward Plan B: stacking the consumer protection division to be set up inside the Federal Reserve Board. He knew that Charles Wu had made an interesting connection among the FRB economists there, but they had been playing phone tag for days. It was time for Breadman to invite General Counsel Scott Alvarez out to lunch--a straight arrow more likely to be seen in the FRB cafeteria than the K Street corridor. This was new territory for Breadman, and another one of those pesky thoughts started creeping around the back of his mind: I'm getting too old for this. Then the thoughts would creep down into his bowels, causing cramps and contractions until he reached for the bottom drawer of herbs from Lynnette Wong's Chinatown shop and washed down ounces of them with a cheerfully decorated bottle of green tea. Change simply means new ways for smart people to make money. At least, that's what he always told his clients. But sometimes change was simply...tiresome. He didn't like losing battles on Capitalism Hill, and he was feeling very uninspired. Then Chloe Cleavage walked in and announced she had brought him a piece of home-made strawberry pie. (She was bored out of her mind, with most of the contract attorneys currently exiled to Silver Spring.) She sat on the edge of his desk, cut the slice with a fork, and held it up to glide it into the former Senator's mouth. Breadman began salivating quickly, and closed his mouth firmly around the forkful of sweet stuff while he glanced down into her plunging neckline (doused in perfume)...and then at her bare legs uncrossed beneath her short skirt, forgetting all his clients and worries.

A block away, Sebastian L'Arche was back at the White House residence despite his continued protests that there was no known cure for canine narcolepsy. Bo's latest trigger was the term "BP oil spill", which would cause him to pass out on the spot, no matter what he was doing. The words "Supreme Court nominee" had also proven problematic, but the White House staff knew that would only be a temporary issue. Bo had also fallen asleep upon meeting the President of Mexico--who had made the mistake of joking that the Portuguese water dog might be arrested as an obvious foreigner if he ever visited the state of Arizona. "What did I tell you about meeting new people? Just ignore everything they say, look at the cameras, and wag your tail. That's all you have to do!" Bo laid down and put his head between L'Arche's feet. "I know, I know," said L'Arche, sitting down to put his arms around the dog. "You're not even afraid of the White House ghosts anymore! You've come very, very far, and I'm proud of you." Hiding in a closet, preschoolers Ferguson and Regina listened intently. They were tired of all the attention Bo was getting and were determined to do something about it.

Back at Charles Wu's apartment, Lynnette Wong had arrived just in time to see the Von Trapp family flee from the Nazis and head to the Alps, where they hoped to cross safely into Switzerland. Wu explained to her that he was only watching it to please his father and have something to talk about at dinnertime, but she thought she detected a little more than that in his intent regard of the television screen. He slowly sipped the hot herbal tea she prepared in his own kitchen, and gave no indication that she should leave, so she sat silently with him for some time, stealing glances at the pile of DVDs lined up on a shelf, most or all of which she was fairly certain Wu had not picked out for himself: "Pride and Prejudice", "Brideshead Revisited", "La Cage Aux Folles", "Life is Beautiful", "Hard Day's Night", "Bend it Like Beckham", "Gandhi", and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". The movie credits began to roll, and Wu stated quietly that he had not known he had a brother. "He's lucky to have you," she said. She got up to remove the DVD and asked if he wanted to watch anything else, but he closed his eyes, shook his head, and sank back into the couch cushions. She walked over to the CD player, inserted a compilation of piano sonatas, thought about going into the kitchen to cook something, then decided just to sit beside him for a little while.

Over in the Potomac, Ardua was feeling tired and uninspired herself--then she remembered another human holiday was coming up, which meant more people flocking to the river and the tidal basin. "I will start planning my feast today," thought the demon, "and this time, it will be spectacular!"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

(YES, I STOLE THE TITLE FROM PEDRO ALMODOVAR! EXCELLENT MOVIE, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED....)

Liv Cigemeier was breathing heavily as they exited the Silver Spring church. (She had insisted they go to church regularly after she had found out she was pregnant, though it was hard to say whether this was superstition, gratitude, or a New Age desire to be surrounded by spirits seeking enlightenment. It may even have been a combination of those things, along with a touch of true faith.) It had been an especially stressful week at work: one of her coworkers had kept removing her pre-natal vitamins from the top of the corner filing cabinet and taking her soy smoothies out of the fridge and dumping them in the garbage. When she had told her husband about this, he had been fairly certain she was (a) paranoid or (b) hormonally challenged--especially when she had voiced her suspicions that it was Momzilla, who could barely tolerate another coworker being pregnant at the same time. But then it had turned out to be another character altogether, the one she had once gotten in trouble for calling an asshole. An anonymous tip about his stealth attacks on her belongings got him abruptly fired, whereupon a cache of disturbing articles were removed from his desk--including a pamphlet about spreading defective condoms in the Third World in order to accelerate the spread of AIDS among undesirable populations, a stash of 600,000 paper clips and 800,000 staples, a manifesto for Maryland to secede from the United States of America, a diatribe about how hip hop millionaires were secretly controlling the National Football League, and a crude drawing of Cigemeier giving birth to a lizard. "Can you believe a sociopath that like that was working at International Development Machine?" Liv had said rhetorically and repeatedly to her husband all weekend. But she wasn't entirely sure things were going to get better, since it was Momzilla who had thrown the fainting spell after the incident, then declared she could not work under that kind of stress and would stay home until her doctor felt the office was a safe environment for her unborn child. So Momzilla (secretly furious that she was not the target and center of attention) left three projects unfinished--all of which were then assigned to Liv Cigemeier. Then her boss had transferred the sociopath's projects to Liv as well. She had expected pregnancy to be hard, but not like this. She exhaled deeply, subsequently forcing her lungs to take in an extra large quantity of air, but it was no use--she knew the doctor would say her blood pressure was up this week. Just relax, her husband said, for the upteenth time this weekend. Everything will be fine. And every time he said that, she kept waiting for him to suggest she quit her job and let him support her with his big Prince and Prowling salary, but instead, he would point out that her boss was praising her work and giving her added responsibility, and he was very proud of her! And then her breathing would get strained again.

"Breathe slowly, one-two-three, exhale, one-two-three-four, inhale and hold." Bridezilla was at her pre-marital yoga workshop in Ballston, but it wasn't working. "Lift mother-in-law with left leg then drive her behind you, one-two-three." She had learned a lot of lesser known yoga positions--such as radiant bride bridge, lotus floral arrangement, groom groove, love lunge, and first dance forever--but none of them made her feel better. What really worried her was when the instructor would tell them to close their eyes and focus on their safe-happy place, and she couldn't think of one except when she was a small child falling asleep with a puppy. He's a stranger. The little voice kept coming out of nowhere. He's the rebound guy. She tried to swat it down, because her fiance was a handsome, brilliant, successful, affectionate, patriotic war hero who would do anything for her--except drive her to the yoga workshop, because he had some last minute Weapons 'R Us projects he had to wrap up before their honeymoon. "If you're too stressed to drive, just take a cab, babe!" he had said, and handed her a hundred-dollar bill, but if her husband would not drive her around when she was stressed out, why was she getting married? "Arch your back and hold, one-two-three." She ignored the instruction and curled up in the fetal position on her yoga mat. The instructor shook her head sadly--usually a third of the brides taking this workshop ended up not getting married. (Of course, the other two-thirds ended up entering the marital union with a healthier Center, as well as Inner Peace.)

Back in Silver Spring, Laura Moreno was shocked to see the junior partner from Prince and Prowling show up at the rented office space she had been supervising all week. He walked into her office without knocking, did not sit down, and blurted out, "What are you doing?!" She hesitated for a moment, then told him she was doing a second review of the contract attorney work. "I've been getting emails and phone calls all week about how you're telling other attorneys how to do their work, and telling some of them to re-do their work! You can't do that! Why are you doing that?!" She swallowed hard and told him that the senior partner had told her to. "WHAT?!" She repeated herself, starting to feel faint. He sat down in a huff, whipped out his smart phone, and dialed the senior partner. Moreno wasn't sure if she should keep looking at him in respectful attention, avert her gaze in deference, or get back to doing the work the junior partner had yelled at her for doing. She settled for staring at a desk lamp. She could hear only one side of the conversation, but she knew that the other side involved a discussion of how Chloe Clevage--for legal liability purposes related to a previous sexual harassment lawsuit against her--could not have been let loose in Silver Spring to do the supervising, and how none of the associates wanted to truck to Silver Spring to do it, and the senior partner had decided Moreno should do it. "Uh-huh," he concluded the conversation with, dramatically shoved the smart phone in his belt holster, and crossed his arms across his chest. "Fine," he said, but she did not know what that meant. He leaned forward in the chair. "I don't want to hear any more complaints." She asked quietly how he wanted her to proceed, and he said, "come on." He got up abruptly, and she took this to mean she should follow him. They walked out to the larger office space where rows of contract attorneys were spread out on their computers. "Laura is no better than the rest of you," he said. "You're all contract attorneys--the same." He looked pointedly at her. "However, she has been at Prince and Prowling longer, so the senior partner asked her to review your work. If she asks you to do something differently, you should listen to her. However, if you disagree with what she says, bring it to the attention of the senior partner. He's the one who wants her supervising your work," he concluded snidely. A hand shot up, followed by a query as to who the senior partner was and how to reach him. The junior partner gave the information, then started to walk out, then paused to add one more thing. "She IS in charge of timesheets--she's the one who will sign off on your time." He gave Laura Moreno one more pointed look, which she could not decipher at all, then left. She asked the group quietly if there were any questions, but nobody said anything, and they all turned back to their computers.

Laura Moreno walked back to her office, feeling sick. In the next few minutes, several emails would be sent to the senior partner questioning Moreno's judgment, and he would answer them from his sailboat (on his Blackberry) with extreme irritation and tell them to defer to Moreno because she had been working for the client a long time and knew what she was doing, and lawyer-by-lawyer, her control of the project would return to her, but she would never know this, even though the senior partner would angrily call the junior partner to ask why they were all emailing him, and the junior partner would claim that Moreno must have told them to, and the senior partner would doubt this but not want to spend any more time on it, and so it would all be brushed under the rug. And so Moreno continued in her confusion, not certain if this was a promotion or a demotion, a step up or a step down, her big break where the senior partner had singled her out for excellence and professionalism or the trap she had been lured into to crash and burn.

Several miles away, the sociopath was lying to his wife about quitting his job and preparing to move onto something better. She protested that she was already working two jobs to pay off his graduate school loans, why did he quit again?, the kids would need new shoes and back-to-school clothes soon, she was going crazy and could no longer take not knowing from month to month if they could even pay the mortgage, what was his plan?, maybe they should sell the house and find something smaller, she never had time to clean this big house anyway, and--. He abruptly stood up, pulled a butcher knife out of the chopping block on the counter, pointed it at his wife and told her he was going out to prune the bushes. But, instead, he went into his study and shut the door, stabbed a potted plant with the knife, then sat down at his computer to chat with people who understood him. Back in the kitchen, his wife sat trembling for several minutes, then called her sister.

In the Potomac River running between Maryland and Virginia, it was just another day for Ardua, the demon.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Something Has to Be Done

Laura Moreno stepped out of her apartment building to find the entire front garden ripped out--except for the dogwood trees, which had been diseased for years. The beautiful--and healthy--lilies, daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, boxwoods, azaleas and clematis vines were all gone. Empty flower pots and swaths of dirt and mulch remained. The diseased dogwoods swayed in the breeze like the mutant survivors of nuclear armageddon. Workmen on tall ladders were painting the white building dark gray. She stepped closer to the street and turned around again to take this in. Yes, they have turned my cheerful little art deco building into a prison. Why, dear God, why? She walked slowly away from the prison of home on her way to the prison of work.

A couple of miles away at Prince and Prowling, former Senator Evermore Breadman had left his pristine and cheerful blue colonial home in the suburbs to spend the rest of the day at his elegant and tastefully appointed Prince and Prowling office. He had begun by rearranging his photographs on the Wall of Me that led to his corner office: he moved the photo with President Obama down and to the left, the governor of Arizona down and to the right, and the Mayor of New York up and to the right. He added a photo of himself with Betty White in the top center. He temporarily removed his photos with the CEO of BP, the Fab Four of Goldman Sachs, and the outgoing British prime minister altogether. Crazy week. Satisfied, he walked back to his office, grateful that his practice was hopping enough to get away with merely a church service and brunch with his wife for Mother's Day. He unlocked the filing cabinet labeled "E.V." and resumed reviewing the files on how he had delayed and was continuing to delay full payment by Exxon for all the damages caused by the Valdez oil spill in Alaska so many years ago. It was late in Breadman's career, and there was a part of him that hesitated to take B.P. as a (long-term) client. There was another part of him that thought this might be an opportunity to make a lasting legacy if he could effectively articulate his idea for turning the entire Gulf into a petroleum extraction reserve in exchange for declaring the Pacific and Atlantic coasts drill-free nature preserves. Why even bother trying to clean up the Gulf oil spill? Cheaper not to. Pay to relocate the fishing fleets. Let an oil slick be the final hand of God leaving New Orleans trashed and below sea level forever. Breadman had already purchased beachfront property on the Atlantic side of Florida, knowing its value would jump dramatically as Florida's Gulf beaches succumbed one by one to the advancing oil slick. Still, he wasn't sure he had the energy to push his radical vision. Just the thought of writing an Op-Ed for the Washington Post or Wall Street Journal made his intestines twist in agony. He reached into his bottom drawer to see what herbal remedies he had left from Lynnette Wong's Chinatown shop, then dug into the file labeled "Class Action: initial filings".

A few miles away, the Heurich Society also considered it quite a "hopping" week. True, a couple members had insisted they needed to be somewhere for Mother's Day, but most of the members arrived early at the Brewmaster's Castle, and were downing doughnuts at an alarming rate. The levels of blood sugar and political agitation were equally high when the meeting finally was called to order. Henry Samuelson quickly motioned for the chairman to add "Moscow" to the top of the agenda. "This is intolerable!" he shouted, holding up a photograph of British soldiers marching through Red Square to help Russia commemorate Victory Day. "What are we going to do about this!?" he shouted, holding up a photograph of American soldiers also helping Russia commemorate their defeat of the Nazi army in 1945. Samuelson--who had a Polish grandfather and East German grandmother--had been among the Allied troops pushing eastward through Germany, distributing chocolate bars along the way, while their Russian counterparts had pushed westward, raping and pillaging and (eventually) spreading communism. "Angela Merkel?!" he shouted, holding up a photograph of Angela Merkel watching the parade in Moscow. "France and China?!" he shouted, holding up his final photograph. The chairman looked around the table for a minute, then declared the motion had not been seconded and was tabled. (He had more important things to discuss--like the next Supreme Court nominee, Project Eliminati, and Iran.) Samuelson leaned back in stunned silence. I'm not sure I know these people anymore. He knew Dick Cheney would have backed him up, if the Chairman had let him rejoin. Even Condoleezza Rice would have backed him up--because it definitely had something to do with the unholy alliance of President Obama, nuclear disarmament freaks, Interpol, and the United Nations peacekeeping program--if she were not off doing some sentimental Mother's Day thing. His thoughts wandered to Charles Wu, whom he knew was in the hospital recovering from a bone marrow transplant for a brother from England. Nothing is making sense.

Back at Prince and Prowling, Laura Moreno arrived to find caution tape across the workroom doorway and a yellow post-it note stuck to her computer monitor: "call me". It was unsigned, but the handwriting was clearly Chloe Cleavage's. Moreno wrinkled her nose at the return of the dead rodent smell, sat down at the workroom table, and dialed Cleavage's number. A couple minutes later, Moreno hung up the phone, stunned but not exactly amazed: seems somebody had tipped off the Fire Marshal, who had raided Prince and Prowling Saturday afternoon and shut down the Sweatshop for being over its allowed occupancy. Moreno took the walk to the Sweatshop, where she found three remaining privilege reviewers; the rest of the crew and computers in the process of being relocated to a hastily rented office in Silver Spring. The reviewers did not notice her, and Moreno left without saying anything. She headed back to the workroom--which the fire marshal had declared a fire hazard because of the overflow of boxed files--and logged into the computer to work on the priority documents. Tomorrow she would have to go to Silver Spring to supervise; when she had asked Cleavage how long that would be, "don't know" had been the response. Am I being punished? Do they think I was the one that called? Maybe it will be better there. Moreno had spent the previous weekend tricked into editing a legal brief as part of an interview process for another law firm, only to have the hiring attorney suddenly stop returning her emails and phone calls. If I'm going to Silver Spring, does that count as not going nowhere?

Over on the Potomac River, Calico Johnson was on his speedboat, giving a single mother a Mother's Day to remember. The child would soon be taking his afternoon nap, and Johnson would have the woman all to himself for an hour or two. It was a beautiful day! He still had some mixed feelings about tipping off the Fire Marshal about that sweatshop at Prince and Prowling, but, ultimately, it was better for the law firm in the long run...and Johnson was right there to suggest to Chloe Cleavage the perfect office space they could rent from him in Silver Spring. Things were definitely looking different since he had joined Sense of Entitlement Anonymous, and he was looking forward to doing the right thing more often.

Beneath the wake of his speedboat, Ardua of the Potomac splashed around in a gay mood, giddy from so much political turmoil and personal angst in one week. Then Angela de la Paz arrived at Hain's Point for a special Mother's Day picnic with her mother, and Ardua tensed up. Something has to be done.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Unclear

"UNCLEAR!"

Bridezilla flinched at the unexpected shout emitted by the receptionist walking in front of her to escort her to her fiance's office.

"UNCLEAR!"

Bridezilla flinched again as various employees of Weapons 'R Us made a pretense of covering up files on their desks--part of the protocol of allowing in a visitor with only a partial security clearance. There were more people working here on a Sunday than she had ever seen at Prince and Prowling.

"UNCLEAR!"

Bridezilla did not flinch this time, and they finally exited the cubicle area and entered a long hallway leading to her fiance's walled office.

"Third door on the left," said the receptionist.

Bridezilla knocked on the door. She could see from her peripheral vision that the receptionist continued watching her until after her fiance's voice had summoned her into the room. He had a phone earpiece on and was typing on his computer as he talked, interrupting himself for only a brief nod to Bridezilla. She sat in the guest chair for what seemed like fifteen minutes, until he finally sent the email and got off the phone. "What a lovely surprise!" he said at last, though she was not certain his eyes were echoing his lips. "You're a sight for sore eyes!" he added after she had smiled wanly but said nothing.

"We're not ready for the wedding," she said quietly. What she meant was: I have knocked myself out planning this wedding, and you have not even done the paltry list of things that were your responsibility.

"Everything's gonna be fine!" he said, finally getting up from his chair to walk around his desk and give her a kiss. "Look: I know I've been insanely busy at work, but my two weeks' vacation for the honeymoon are locked in. You got the church, the hall, the dress, the flowers, the RSVPs, the caterer. Nothing else is important."

"Nothing else is important?!" Bridezilla had spent three weeks evaluating floral arrangements, and two months taste-testing caterers. She had tried on fifty wedding gowns before finally finding one she liked on a weekend trip to New York. She had been planning the song list since she was ten years old. "We don't even have a band! And I still don't know what to pack for the honeymoon because you haven't even told me what the temperature will be wherever we're going!

"Whoa, whoa! What is all this? Sweetheart, all that matters is we'll be together." (Will we? she thought.) "My brother's getting a D.J., and it will be bikini weather where we're going, OK?" Actually, he had forgotten to ask his brother to find the D.J., but he would call him as soon as Bridezilla left. Then he had to get online and find a Caribbean package--any island would do. "We're gonna be married!" he added. "The wedding is just a key that turns on the ignition. We're getting in the car for the trip: that's what matters!" She smiled wanly at the decidedly unromantic metaphor, which would have bombed completely except his deep voice and handsome face made everything he said seem at least a little bit heroic. "Now let me get back to work so I can come have dinner with you tonight, OK? I just need to get some shipments pointed towards Asia before I leave." He took her by the elbow and led her back to the hallway, and into the cubicle area. "Unclear," he said half-heartedly, confident she didn't have the slightest interest in stealing glances at anybody's desk papers. The receptionist looked up in surprise at Bridezilla's quick return to the lobby. "I'll call you in a few hours, OK?" Another quick kiss, and he was gone. Bridezilla walked out the door, feeling the stare of the receptionist following her up until the last second.

Several miles away, former Senator Evermore Breadman was one man that wanted to be spending the afternoon with Bridezilla. What a week! Convincing Lindsay Graham to jettison his support of the energy bill, porn-surfing SEC employees trying to hire him to save their jobs, BP oil executives already planning to tie up oil spill reparations in court longer than Exxon managed to do after the Valdez trashed Alaska, Goldman Sachs executives seeking his advice before testifying on the Hill, and the specter of financial reform legislation giving him and his clients nightmares. Where is everybody in this office?! Cigemeier was out dealing with his wife's morning sickness (for crying out loud!), Bridezilla was getting ready for her wedding (was his memory going, or hadn't she been getting ready for her wedding for three or four years already?!), and even Chloe Cleavage was copping to spring fever and insisting she could not possibly come in on a weekend like this. He had seen that one particular person come in--the one with the sensible shoes and messy hair who inhabited the strange, smelly workroom near the front door. She had let him in a few times [in truth, dozens of times] after he had forgotten his key on the way to the restroom, but he did not really know what else she did. Desperate for help pulling information off the web, he strolled tentatively down to her workroom. There was no nameplate near the door, though this was not an essential piece of information for the transaction to occur. He could hear music wafting from the room--"Dancing Queen"? He frowned in disgust: this is a silly girl. He turned to continue wandering the hallway to see if anybody more professional was around to help him defend corporate robber barons from regulatory excess.

Over at George Washington University Hospital, Charles Wu--for the first time since he was a child--had no interest in affairs of state, economy, business, or war. He was recovering from a bone marrow transplant--something he had not told a single soul about. Who could he tell? He was a spy, and nobody could know who his father was...or his brother. And he could not tell his mother. Wu, who had scarcely been ill his entire life, was unused to feeling like hell, and a bone marrow transplant was the most horrific experience of his life. His father (Charles Wilkinson Montgomery) flitted back and forth between the beds of his two sons--together in one room for the first time in decades. Phillip Montgomery was still in a coma, unaware of the presence of his brother. Wu's eyes were staring blankly at the ceiling as his father read aloud to him from an Audubon guide to songbirds of Virginia. (Wu had requested The Economist earlier, but fell asleep every time his father had attempted an article from it.) "I haven't seen many of these, Charles," his father said, momentarily looking up from the book. "The city is overrun with starlings and other transplants. I suppose I would find these songbirds out in the forested areas?" Wu did not reply, having little interest in wildlife of any sort, though he had to confess, he would not have minded the sound of a bird singing just now. "I'll make it up to you, Charles. I don't know how, but I will. I love you more than you can imagine." Wu had no idea what this meant now, or what it would mean in the future. His father resumed reading from the bird book, and Wu stole a sideways glance at his comatose brother--who could not have been stranger to him had he been a wild bird plucked from a tree. Wu looked at his father's face, imagining what it would have been like to be a ten-year-old boy with a father taking him out on birdwatching expeditions. When his father's eyes lifted from the page, Wu quickly redirected his gaze to the ceiling, feeling sick in every possible way.

Outside in Washington Circle, a homeless man pulled a half-eaten sandwich out of a trash can. He chewed on the inner portions for a few minutes, then tore up the crusts and threw them into the grass for the birds. A few pigeon doves began pecking at the crusts until a flock of starlings arrived to outnumber them and chase them off. Up in the trees, a few of The Shackled hovered to discuss the lives and souls hanging in the balance inside the hospital: too many things remained unclear.