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, January 30, 2011

Wow!

Bridezilla was in her apartment kitchen rearranging the plates that Liv Cigemeier had put in the dishwasher. Liv picked up the orange juice pitcher and slowly moved to put it in the fridge, waiting for Bridezilla to give her instructions about where exactly to place it, but Bridezilla let this one slide since she was actually planning to dump it down the sink after everybody left (people could have exhaled germs into it). Their husbands were in the living room setting up the "Rock Band" video game that Bridezilla's boyfriend had brought over--it was his idea that Bridezilla might advance her career at Prince and Prowling by socializing more with her coworkers, and she had decided to invite over the Cigemeiers since Liv and her associate husband had been the only ones at the law firm's holiday party that she hadn't caught double-dipping or committing other germ infractions. Bridezilla washed her hands, moisturized them, then put on another pair of surgical gloves before the ladies headed out to the living room. "What's wrong?" asked Bridezilla as soon as she saw her boyfriend packing up the video game.

"It got corrupted--I'm not sure what happened. We'll have to do it some other time after I get my back-up CD. Why don't we have a bottle of wine and--"

"Noooooo!" wailed Bridezilla. "I've been looking forward to this all week!" Bridezilla had become obsessed with playing "Rock Band"--it was psychologically therapeutic for her to scream revolutionary lyrics (and occasional obscenities) at the top of her lungs while pressing the colored buttons on the fake guitar.

"Well, we can watch a DVD--"

"Noooooo!" wailed Bridezilla. "I need to sing! You know what a horrible week I've had!"

"Well, maybe we could find a karaoke place--"

"Noooooo!" wailed Bridezilla. "I'd have to re-do my whole outfit and hair, and change my make-up, and I don't want to sing in public! Why can't you fix it?" Her boyfriend was an extremely successful software developer, and she expected him to be able to take care of technical glitches immediately.

"Well," he said, looking abashedly at the Cigemeier's (who were pretending to examine and discuss Bridezilla's coffee table book on Nancy Reagan's housekeeping secrets), "I could go to my place to get the back-up copy--"

"Noooooo!" wailed Bridezilla. The round-trip would take ninety minutes, and there was no way she was taking a Prince and Prowling associate over to an apartment with pictures of Hindu deities on the wall and aromas of Indian spices permeating the atmosphere. "It's no use! I'm too stressed out! This is the only thing that can help me! I'm not good company right now! I'm sorry, but you're going to have to leave!" With that, she burst into tears and fled into the bedroom.

The Cigemeier's hesitated for a moment, unsure what to say and waiting for Bridezilla's boyfriend to go after her. "Well...." he said sheepishly, knowing it was now too late to suggest to Bridezilla he run to Best Buy and pick up a whole new system. "I'm sorry: she had a bad week. I should have brought the back-up copy with me." The Cigemeier's expressed their sympathies, got their coats, and headed out.

"Wow!" said Liv. ("Wow!" echoed her husband.) Liv had never exhibited that type of nervous breakdown (not even after the miscarriage), and her husband had actually experienced the exact same work stress that Bridezilla had experienced at Prince and Prowling this week. "Well," added Liv, "we already set aside a couple hours for this--let's find a karaoke bar!" Her husband smiled and kissed her.

Across the river, one Prince and Prowling employee who had never tried "Rock Band" was still toiling away: former Senator Evermore Breadman. Convinced that Charles Wu's fecal transplant had made him a new man, Breadman was determined to make more money in 2011 than he had ever made before. He already had eleven new clients lined up simply because of the Special Counsel investigation released earlier in the week reporting on Hatch Act violations by the Bush Administration prior to the 2006 mid-term elections. Not only had Republican National Committee operatives moved into the White House to coordinate campaigns, seven Cabinet secretaries were now accused of lying about the purpose of official business trips during that time period. Three former Secretaries seeking my counsel in the same week! He was well on his way.

A block away, President Obama was wearily letting go of another less than restful weekend and turning his thoughts back to...work. His poll numbers were up, his Arizona speech had enthralled the nation, and his State of the Union speech was well-received--but, like the snow patches that refused to melt in the White House backyard, cares and worries continued to pollute his view. Tunisia was fine, but Egypt? Nobody could tell him what to do: not the Egyptians chanting outside the White House, not the CIA reports, not the State Department briefings, not the Pentagon blowhards, and not the Facebook activists. The U.S. was responsible for a paltry $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt (one week of Iraqi war spending!), but somehow the U.S. was supposed to have the leverage to solve this? He stared out the window at the butler's pre-schoolers' throwing their last snowballs before being called into supper by their mother. He had relatives in Kenya who had never seen snow, but he was the President of the United States and was supposed to have seen it all.

Over at the Federal Reserve Board, the Camelot Society was meeting in the Research Library to discuss the report released earlier in the week by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. The media had barely seemed to notice it, though maybe that was because its conclusions had been forewhadowed by "60 Minutes", the documentary "Inside Job", Andrew Cuomo, the Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, and every other reasonable Wall Street investigation between the summer of 2008 and the close of 2010. But what all the other inquiries had failed to do, the FCIC's would: make somebody pay. (Right? RIGHT?) And the Camelot Society was determined that the Federal Reserve Board would pay as little as possible. (Because it wasn't their fault! Sheesh, the Fed may have been the "one entity empowered" to set "prudent mortgage-lending standards", but the Fed did not invent all those derivatives and collateralized debt obligations, and the Fed did not bribe ratings companies to gold-star that crap, and the Fed did not tell investment banks to borrow forty-to-one against assets, and the Fed was not controlling the SEC when it decided during the Bush Administration that the free market did not need the SEC to police Wall Street, and the Fed did not bankrupt Greece, and the Fed did not throw a hundred poinsettias into the trash without making any attempt to compost them!) (OK, the Fed DID throw out SOME poinsettias, but that was AFTER they emailed employees that they could come pick them up for rescue....) "AHEM." It was Obi Wan woman, and economist Luciano Talaverdi felt a warm glow wash all over him as she proceeded to outline how the Fed would restore its tarnished image, put its brilliant intellectual stamp on the financial reform regulations, survive all the subpoenas Congressman Issa and Senator Paul could hurl their way, and lead America--nay, the WORLD!--to a brighter economic future.

"What's the point of liquidity?" asked Chinese economist Fen Do Ping. Several gasps escaped around the table. "No, no...." He assured them he knew what liquidity was: he was just wondering, should the Fed continue to be value-neutral on what people borrow money for? Should factories be built for any old purpose? Should jobs be created for any old task? What if you created 600,000 jobs by building enough boats and fishing lines to pull every sea creature from the sea, and then there was never any more sea creatures in the sea? What if you borrowed 20 billion dollars to hire one million lumberjacks and cut down every forest from Oregon to California, and then built one million new dream houses? But then the forests were gone? "And what if--"

"I think he has the flu!" exclaimed Talaverdi, as he slammed Ping's laptop shut and pulled his colleague to his feet. "I'll take him to the hospital right away!" When they were not quite out of earshot (but Talaverdi thought they were), Obi Wan woman could heard Talaverdi exclaiming, "What is wrong with you? You wanna be a communist again?"

Several miles to the east, a flock of starlings gathered outside the Library of Congress to mourn their two brethren sacrificed earlier in the week to catch the stupid young hawk that had gotten itself trapped inside the dome. We would have taken over this city by now if humans did not keep helping out those that Nature had chosen to kill!




(With kudos to photographer Abby Brack, AP, and Library of Congress.)


Deep in the Potomac, Ardua heard the starlings' cries and nodded her demon head in agreement.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hearts and Minds

It was the first meeting of 2011 for the Washington chapter of Sense of Entitlement Anonymous. (They had all shared a tacit understanding that self-control and sacrifice were contrary to the spirit of the holiday season.) Dick Cheney had offered to host this time, knowing that his heart was in such bad shape that his wife Lynn would feel obliged to see to the housecleaning and refreshments. He was explaining how he didn't want a pig heart transplant: "Am I wrong to think that a man who has done as much public service as I have should be at the top of the list for a human donor?"

"You should go to Iraq," said Bridezilla, who had taken to wearing surgical gloves to avoid touching germs and, on occasions like this, white silk gloves on top of those. "I'm sure you would be on the top of the list for human donors there: what U.S. soldier would not die happy knowing his heart was going to you?" She smiled smugly because she was the first person to think of this obvious solution. Calico Johnson agreed this was a great idea and, more importantly, stated it was not an excessive sense of entitlement for the former Vice President to feel he deserved a human heart transplant.

A couple others nodded, but some members remained silent, including Judge Sowell Ame: he had seen his fair share of humanity's pathos parade through his court, and while he let most of it float over his own walled-off heart, he could imagine quite a few of society's ailing masses that could make better use of a human heart transplant than an elderly, retired politician. (Ame was also feeling a tad guilty about the news that a 45-year-old Justice Department attorney had keeled over and died from a heart attack brought on by the shock of Ame's ruling for the Old Dominion Boat Club and against the U.S. Government in a lawsuit that had languished in various stages of appeal for 50 years until the Ghost of Christmas Future had visited Ame in a dream and showed him the evil that would befall the U.S. Government if it actually won the case. Ame would not be feeling so guilty about the Justice Department attorney's death if Ame had not placed a $10,000 bet with Justice Prissy Face that the Justice Department would finally give up, and not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.) "I think we should talk about people's sense of entitlement in the court system--like that stupid British woman who sued Simon Cowell for insulting her singing on television."

"We're not here to talk about other people's sense of entitlement!" scowled Cheney, who was aggravated that nobody seemed very concerned about the condition of his heart.

"Well, aren't I and other judges entitled not to have to hear stupid lawsuits from people with a false sense of entitlement?"

"Sure," said Calico Johnson, who had been sued dozens of times since becoming a real estate mogul. "Let's go back to letting people settle their grievances through violence!"

"Really, Judge Ame," said Bridezilla, "judges have nobody to blame but themselves--you have the power to toss lawsuits as frivolous!" (Bridezilla had filed about 300 motions to have lawsuits dismissed as frivolous, but the Prince and Prowling attorney had only prevailed on one--and she was fairly certain that the senior attorney had bribed the judge in that instance.)

At that point, Lynn Cheney floated into the room in a red velvet and leather full-length ball gown she had gotten marked down from $1,700 to $300 at Filene's basement, and she handed out steaming cups of Irish coffee from the antique silver tea service she had bought for $22 at the Christ Child consignment shop in Georgetown. She had smoothed plenty of ruffles over the years with her special recipe (hint: Nyquil and a pinch of chewing tobacco), and she always seemed to know the precise moment to appear. (The beverage was well-received; her outfit, not so much.)

Across the river, the Heurich Society was having its own meeting, but these members were in a fairly happy mood. First of all, Angela de la Paz had succeeded in her first mission--taking Baby Doc Duvalier from France back to Haiti. Secondly, Angela de la Paz had already opened up new channels of communication in both Egypt and Syria, and the Heurich Society was sitting on the pulse of the repercussions of the revolution in Tunisia. Finally, the state visit from China turned out to be a non-event. "It's time to refocus on Project Prometheus and Project Cinderella," Henry Samuelson reminded the chair, who resented not being allowed even ten minutes to drink champagne and revel with his comrades over a heady week.

A couple blocks away, Congressman Herrmark was brunching with Congressman Issa, who was explaining to Herrmark how his AIG subpoena on the Federal Reserve Board was just the beginning of his ten-step plan to eviscerate the Fed and save the world. Herrmark's new bodyguards, Nick and Costas, stood back-to-back behind his chair, jointly performing a repetitive 360-degree scan of the restaurant--though more than one lovely lady did cause them occasional distractions. (Several patrons tried to guess who this V.I.P. was that needed two muscular bodyguards who looked like they had just stepped out of a Greek casting call for "Troy", and one patron thought he looked like the 2008 Upper Class Twit of the Year, though grayer.) "Is the Fed really so bad?" asked Congressman Herrmark, whose fortune was safely in the hands of the Fed's favorite investment bankers at JP Morgan Chase--except for the three million that had quintupled in a hedge fund.

"Wake up! Do you know how long we've been off the gold standard? And that's just the beginning! I'm telling you, we need to rehab the Fed from top to bottom. AIG!" And then he snorted.

"Hmmm," said Congressman Herrmark, "you know, I'd be happy to give you my support on that if I could get your support against hydrofracking."

Congressman Issa stabbed his sausage so hard that a fork prong broke off onto the china plate. "You better figure out whose side you're on, Herrmark!" The hostility in his voice took Herrmark aback, and even prompted concerned looks from Nick and Costas. Two tables away, a Halliburton lobbyist took a cellphone photo of the Congressmen, then wrote some notes on his hand.

Over at George Washington University Hospital, Dr. Khalid Mohammad had thought he saw it all until two-dozen copycats with self-inflicted stabbing wounds went through the emergency room within 24 hours of internet news aggregators' blasting the story about tripping on bath salts. Despite the chilling stories about people who had hallucinated so maniacally that they had slashed themselves with knives (some to death), the atttendant mention of three-day binges of salts-sniffing had sounded intriguing enough to attract the attention of two residents of the Arlington group home for the mentally challenged, five residents of Dupont Down Under, and an entire girl scout troop from McLean. Now he was on his fifth case of hypothermia caused by copycat polar plungers who had read about yesterday's jump into the Potomac River to raise attention to global warming and decided to try it for themselves today--without, unfortunately, the warming station that had been set up the day before at the pre-planned event. If triage were done for stupidity, it would be a very different emergency room.

A couple miles away, the Coast Guard's Marcos Vazquez had just pulled another man from the icy Potomac waters, and, like the ones before him, he wasn't ranting about the cold--he was ranting that something had tried to pull him down to the bottom. (Vazquez knew it was Ardua but said nothing to his partner or to the chattering men they were treating.) Scanning the area for more copycats, they spotted a fully naked Charles Wu heading in for a dip at National Harbor, but by the time they got their boat over there, he was already back on shore and inside a battery-warmed sleeping bag drying off. Wu's father waved off the Coast Guard boat, and as it sped away, Charles Wilkinson Montgomery marveled at the physical specimen his son had grown into--a man who could have been an accomplished athlete in a dozen different sports had he not been more drawn to intellectual and commercial pursuits. There was no doubt he had been born with the most robust, healthy, unbeatable DNA of the family, while his recently departed brother had been cursed with the weakest, sickliest, most doomed DNA imaginable. What was scary about the past week was that the more his remaining son seemed to vent his rage and grief in extreme physical activity, the more agitated Wu became. Montgomery really had no idea how to comfort his son...or his recently reconciled wife. In fact, none of them knew how to comfort each other. It took three days of conflict before the three had finally agreed that Phillip should be flown back to England and buried where he had grown up--where his friends and colleagues all lived. While the men were asleep this morning, Wu's mother Ha Ling had left a goodbye note for them and snuck outside to hail a taxi to the airport to fly back to Hong Kong. Tonight, Wu and his father would accompany Phillip on his final worldly journey without the mother Phillip had only known in the final months of his life. Wu emerged from the sleeping bag fully clothed, thanked his father for handing him the thermos of hot tea, and the two walked in silence away from the river.

Deep in the Potomac, Ardua was seething: her morning sickness had made her too ill to pull down even the weakest humans in shock, let alone lay a single tentacle on Charles Wu. And yesterday, the Beaver had told her that his investigation of the Prophecy was still rather fuzzy, but the Prophecy apparently said that Ardua would conceive of a demon even greater than herself and would die in childbirth bringing it into the world--but that progeny would then succeed in plunging the entire Potomac area into an evil darkness unimaginable even to Ardua herself. "I will die for nobody," vowed Ardua to herself, "least of all this child of him." She slunk over to the Tidal Basin where she could glare across the water and the Mall at the White House--where President Obama's bitterest of hopelessness tears had washed down the shower drain, survived the journey through the wastewater treatment plant, and then wound its way through the Potomac River to the womb that Ardua had never known she possessed. Deep inside her, the bitterest of dying hopes--which should have filled her with glee--fed upon her own acridity and grew larger and stronger every day. And the angrier Ardua became about it, the stronger the baby grew. "This cannot stand," she said to nobody but herself, for she knew nobody could (or would) help her: she would have to deal with it on her own.

Monday, January 17, 2011

They Had a (Nightmare)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was taking notes on a legal pad as Charles Wu continued to debrief her on his trip to China. (He had still been in Switzerland attending to former Senator Evermore Breadman after the fecal transplant when the call came from C. Coe Phant: Clinton needed Wu to gather some information in Beijing before Hu Jintao arrived in Washington this week. Wu had then leased a private jet so that Breadman could recline comfortably on the journey since, of course, Breadman had wanted to go with Wu but was still using special butt pillows.) Wu carefully recrossed his legs, finding the State Plaza Suites chair uncomfortable after the long flight from China, then decided to stand up and stretch his legs. He walked slowly and deliberately in gentle semi-circles, the way his university professors had done, frequently turning back to look Clinton warmly in the eye. He was wearing an English wool suit, tailored perfectly but not too expensive looking, freshly pressed by the hotel staff immediately after he had checked into this hotel near the State Department. The tie was a modern paisley in understated mixed tones of blue. (Breadman had been tempted to come to the meeting as well to discuss the high-level investment conversations that had occurred in Prince and Prowling's Beijing office, but he was still too uncomfortable and did not want to make a bad impression on the Secretary of State.) Wu had covered the Chinese communist party leaders, the growing Chinese middle class, the growing strength of environmentalists and human rights activists in China, and China's true views on regional security. There was only one topic left: Project R.O.D.H.A.M. "I want you to report straight to me now, Charles," said Clinton. Wu knew this was because of Wikileaks, but a momentary wave of exultation rolled over him anyway. He pulled his chair closer to hers, then sat back down at the table. Wu noticed Clinton was wearing the same perfume as his mother, and he suddenly realized he missed his family, whom he had not seen in weeks but would see soon.

Several miles to the north, Charles Wu's recently reunited parents were sitting quietly in his apartment. Charles Wilkinson Montgomery was sipping Scotch slowly while Ha Ling Wu was embroidering. They had not spoken a word since Wu had phoned them from the airport to say he needed to meet with the Secretary of State right away, but would return home later this afternoon. They had not told him that his sickly and crippled brother Phillip had suffered a heart attack and kidney failure ten hours earlier and was pronounced dead during the ambulance ride to the hospital. They now sat on opposite sides of the couch, a framed photo of Phillip facing them from the coffee table, and waited for their remaining son to return to them.

Back in Foggy Bottom, Phillip Montgomery's corpse lay in the George Washington Hospital morgue, a couple blocks away from the unknowing brother, Charles Wu. All of the organs--even the eyes--had been deemed too unhealthy for transplant. Their father had raised the possibility of leaving Phillip for medical research, but this thought was more than Ha Ling could bear, and she had protested (irrationally) that he had kept Phillip from her for decades and now wanted to separate him from his mother forever. Charles Wilkinson Montgomery had told the staff they needed to consult with their other son before making arrangements, and then they had left in silence. Their healthy, handsome, and successful son still lived, but they could feel the light and love of the family draining away in the death of the unhealthy, deformed, and handicapped son.

A few floors above, Ann Bishis was posing as Congressman Herrmark's daughter, since only immediate family members were allowed in the Cardiac Care Unit. The doctors were fairly certain that his heart palpitations had been anxiety-driven, but they had decided to run additional tests since his cholesterol and blood pressure were quite high. Congressman Herrmark had received his fair share of death threats in the past few years, but none had fazed him until the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. Though most of his previous threats had been from "left-wing nut jobs", his suddenly announced opposition to hydrofracking in his home state had led to threats from people who, he was quite certain, were much more heavily armed. "I should have known better than to stand up to the fossil fuel industry," he said weakly, and Bishis just nodded because he had been saying this repeatedly for two days. "But what was I to do? They blew up my parents' vacation home on Lake Kuffanoobee!" She nodded again. "If not regulating them means they're going around blowing up people's vacation homes, then we need to regulate them!" ("And poisoning water supplies," Bishis added, though this struck Herrmark as going too far--even though it was actually the water table which had been contaminated with gas and caught on fire under his parents' vacation home.) "Have you found a bodyguard for me yet?" ("Yes," Bishis said, "they're on their way.") She had hired her twin cousins, Nick and Costas, the problematic thugs of the family whom her aunt was only too happy to ship out of Greece (where they could not find work "because of the economy").

A few miles away, the first meeting of the Hunter-Gatherer Society was underway, chaired by Glenn Michael Beckmann. (The turnout was bigger than expected, and they were fortunate to have a member who opened up his house for the meeting.) First order of business: formally creating the Hunter-Gatherer Society. This engendered a spirited debate about whether they should actually be called the "Hunter-Gatherer Nation" since they envisioned spreading the group across the country, but Beckmann won out with his argument that they recognized no national boundary or authority, and no national law or constitution. Thus, the 48 people present voted unaminously on the formal statement: "We are the Hunter-Gatherer Society. We have existed from the beginning and will exist to the end. Nobody can stop our right to hunt and gather." Second order of business: pass a resolution praising Jared Loughner for striking back at "THEM". (This included no "whereas" statements or anything remotely explaining who "THEM" was.) Television reporter Holly Gonightly (undercover in a dark wig and glasses) voted "yea", along with the others, after no debate was raised. Third order of business: passing a resolution declaring Sarah Palin the president of the Hunter-Gatherer Society. After Beckmann played an interestingly edited clip of Palin videos, the group concluded that she had accepted the nomination for this position, and so it was another unanimous vote. Gonightly committed everything to memory so as to arouse no suspicions by taking notes or photos--she was onto something big! (She felt like Jon Voight in "The Odessa File"...mixed with Erin Brockavich.)

Deep in the river, Ardua of the Potomac jolted awake after having a nightmare...again. She never used to sleep like this, let alone be vulnerable to nightmares. This time the dream was about The Prophecy, whose rumors had been troubling her greatly. Until her minions got her more information on The Prophecy, she had to face her pregnancy in ignorance and fear--two feelings that filled her with fury.

Still to come: Congressman Issa attacks the Federal Reserve Board to save the world!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Dreams Past, Dreams Future

Angela de la Paz walked slowly past her old school, Bell Multicultural, as if she were in a dream. She was wearing a state-of-the-art GoreTex winter parka, but she could still feel the cold wind hitting her face. She remembered the first boy she had a crush on--the one who would always jump in front of her during dodgeball to make sure she never got hit. She remembered the last boy she had a crush on--the one who gave her his Gameboy after her mother's funeral to cheer her up. She remembered the boy she didn't like who had a crush on her and told her they should run away together to Las Vegas. She remembered her best friend--who stopped being her best friend after she started living in hiding with her mother. She remembered her favorite teacher--the one who submitted her poem about the pink warbler to a teen literary journal and got it published. She remembered the teacher she hated--the one who had told her to stop tapping her feet in class, and how she then vigorously swung them under the desk to generate any warmth she could as she hugged herself with her arms, and he complained again, and she said she wasn't making any noise, but he said her legs were still a distraction to him, and she asked, "Why are you looking at my legs anyway?", and his face turned beet red before he wrote her up for subordination and sent her to the principal's office where she had to explain she was just cold. The Warrior took her by the hand; they both knew she was no little girl anymore, but she let him. He also knew they had turned her into a warrior, but it was for all the wrong reasons. Dr. Rajatala did not even recognize her at abuela's funeral until The Warrior quietly brought her over. Dr. Raj then tried to talk Angela out of the whole thing, but she couldn't. "This too shall pass," The Warrior had whispered to Dr. Raj before they headed back to the National Arboretum where The Warrior would perform a cleansing ceremony for the girl, and then try to prepare her for her first kill. She told him that they had trained in Kansas by hunting and killing wild pigs (which were enormous, heavy, and super smart), and she had killed pigs in dozens of different ways. "Pigs aren't people," The Warrior said. "You're not ready for that, not spiritually." (He wasn't sure how to prepare her spiritually without knowing when, if, or how she might end up killing somebody, but he had to do his best.) Pigs aren't people, echoed in Angela's mind, but she also remembered her mother once saying that almost any human folly could be explained with the simple expression, people are pigs. "Everyone has to die one day," said The Warrior, himself over 400 years old, "but not everyone has to kill. There is a always a choice."

Several miles to the west, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Hope was tapping his own feet furiously on the rug beneath his State Department desk, partially to keep warm and partially because of the four cups of hot coffee he had already downed to warm himself up. He still had a photo of Eva Brown on his desk, but it was all over: when he had proposed at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, she had told him she was shocked that he would think her capable of entering such an archaic and sexually oppressive legal structure after all the conversations they had shared about her time in "China" [actually Afghanistan, though she had never admitted that]. "You don't understand me at all!" she had wailed before telling him at 12:03 am, 2011, that she wanted to go home. "The daughter I adopted is going to grow up knowing that women can be totally free of male oppression!" she had declared, as they headed out into the chilly night. He protested and asked what he had ever done which was oppressive to her or her daughter or any other woman, and she said if he wanted to lock them into the institution of marriage, he was subconsciously a slave to the shackles of the male-dominated paradigm. All further attempts to protest her assessment were futile, and he was alone. I didn't want to oppress you, he thought for the thousandth time as he gazed at her picture. He was fairly certain he could never win her back, but he did harbor one hope, which was that some day he would commit a revolutionary act to smash female oppression loudly and soundly enough to win her admiration...and love. And he suspected his best bet was joining the mysterious Project R.O.D.H.A.M., which was why that was on the top of his New Year's Resolutions.

A couple miles away, social worker Hue Nguyen was off to a good start with her New Year's resolution, which was more culture and art field trips for the residents of the Arlington group home for the mentally challenged. Her charges were delighting in the vivid colors and larger-than-life imagery of the Alexis Rockman exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (National Portrait Gallery). Nguyen was leading group discussions of the explanation of each painting--what inspired it and what the depictions suggested about the future our society is heading for. Helping dog Millie gently prodded back anyone that pressed too close (Nguyen had no idea how she learned to do that), but most of the enormous paintings needed to be taken in from several steps back, anyway. Former spy mastermind Cedric was furiously scribbling in his notebook about secrets that Rockman must have had access to--how else would he have known about the super chickens being genetically engineered at Fort Mead, or the drug-hunting amphibians taking over the Amazon River? Melinda and Buckner insisted that Manhattan was already covered in water the last time they saw it, and Larry said the same thing about Mount Rushmore. Theresa just kept whispering the names of colors over and over again, like they were precious jewels: "green, blue, yellow, purple, red, white, orange", until she ran out of colors to say, and then Larry started showing off by calling off fancy color names like "chartreuse" and "periwinkle". And Freddy Ritchings (AKA Brother Divine of the International Peace Movement) was rendered uncharacteristically speechless by the eye candy feast spread out before him because he could not come up with words that rhymed with "mesmerizing" or "spectacular". And so a fine (and fairly lucid) time was had by all until Nguyen's charges wandered over to the gay art exhibit, prompting all sorts of loud and inappropriate commentary as Nguyen tried unsuccessfully to talk them into going downstairs to the gift shop.

Not far away, Liv Cigemeier was writing up an article on the pros and cons of genetically engineering agricultural crops for the website of International Development Machine. Their boss insisted that Momzilla be listed as co-author because Momzilla had told the boss the article was her idea (lie) and she would have written it herself (lie) if she had not been at home pregnant with the twins (lie). Cigemeier had irrefutable proof that Momzilla only had one baby and had adopted the other illegally to continue the lie she had simply made up to outdo Cigemeier's own pregnancy. (She had also made up a lie about one twin needing heart transplant surgery in the seventh month in utero after the sympathy poured out for Cigemeier after her miscarriage). Cigemeier's husband repeatedly told his wife she should feel sorry for Momzilla because she's a nutcase, but Cigemeier didn't see her that way--she was born to connive, and cared nothing about international development or human rights--or genetic engineering, for that matter. Cigemeier's last article had received 200,000 hits from around the world, and her boss was pleased that she was drawing more attention to the expertise of their organization. He didn't like it when she wrote articles about desperate refugee camps in Haiti or flooding in Pakistan. "People don't give money to hopeless situations," he constantly reminded her. "They want to see development." The donors were drying up, the foundations were still reeling from the recession, and the Republican-controlled Congress was about to slash the international development budget, but her boss said, "don't worry--I've lined up a new project for us". It was a secret project with a $3 million deposit into their bank account from an intermediary who said he could not name where the money came from. And for the timebeing, only the boss knew what it was for.

Not far away, White House butler Clio was dozing away the last day of her vacation as their train headed for Union Station. The train tickets to North Carolina and pre-paid hotel reservation had arrived in an envelope stuck under her door on Christmas Eve, and she still didn't know who had paid for it all. She was dreaming about the loblolly pines and the bluebirds and the wall of fog on Jordan Lake and her twin pre-schoolers actually being nice to an animal after their cousin showed them how to brush the long winter coat of Mr. Highfalutin', one of the horses she took care of as a barn manager in Fuquay Varina. Regina and Ferguson had run around in the last traces of the Christmas snow, fed carrots to Red, Blue, Pokey, Butterball and a dozen other horses, and proudly ridden the Shetland ponies around the ring three times. Sometime after Richmond, the car's heat had been turned off, and the gradual cooling down of the train was slowly rousing Clio now. She had scarcely recognized her sweet, angelic, vacation children, but when she opened her eyes, the gift jars from Southern Season and Mama Dip's had all been opened up, their contents currently in the process of being smeared by the twins all over each other, the seats, and the table. "Reggie! Fergie!" They were back in Washington.

Deep in the river, Ardua of the Potomac had morning sickness, and when a demon has morning sickness, it's epically bad. She knew the so-called father of her baby would be back in Washington soon, and her hatred continued to grow.