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, July 31, 2011

Girl Power

Lynnette Wong was ringing up another customer at her Chinatown herb shop. She had to admit that business had really improved after Charles Wu became her "partner". Aside from the immediate cash infusion, he had steadily been spreading her business cards all over Washington, and she was selling herbs to the kind of customers she had never dreamt of--chefs working for ambassadors, lawyers working for Senators, personal trainers working for hedge fund millionaires, Foreign Service officers preparing to head overseas, generals, spies, and celebrities. The hardest part was selling to the Chinese embassy, but Wu picked up those herbs himself so the Taiwanese Wong never had to deal with her arch-enemy. Well, that was the hardest part until this week--when Wu had delivered her the young girl from Southeast Asia for safekeeping. Wong had argued vociferously that the girl needed to be returned to her family, but Wu had insisted she did not want to go home. Wong closed the cash register and stole a glance at Mia, who was sitting in a chair in the back room embroidering. The girl's Chinese was barely better than her English, so it was not really possible to have a heart-to-heart with her. Mia had told Wong she was 18, and that's what her fake Chinese passport said, but this was indubitably a lie. The girl was too scared to look anybody in the eye, and Wong feared it would be weeks, if not months, before they could have a real conversation. But her sleep was improving, along with her appetite, and for the timebeing, Wu was leaving her in peace. Wong, in fact, knew everything about her that Wu did--everything except what leverage Wu was going to get out of this human trafficking rescue, and when. But Wu was in China right now and had promised Wong that nobody would come looking for Mia.

"Hello," said Holly Gonightly, as she entered the herb shop. (Gonightly had been monitoring Mia from a slight distance ever since she had heard the police scanner report of a young girl picked up in Congressman Herrmark's petunia bed. She was at the GWU emergency room when Charles Wu had walked out of there with the girl in tow and had followed the two to Chinatown, where the girl had been deposited at this herb shop. She had sent friends into the shop every day for the last week to try to figure out what was happening to the girl, but there were no signs of a sweatshop, let alone a brothel. Gonightly had been researching Charles Wu, a wealthy businessman from Hong Kong who was co-owner of this shop, but she could not determine his connection to Congressman Herrmark. But she knew there was a big story here, and today she was making her move.) "Do you have any lucky bamboo?" asked Gonightly, who didn't know the slightest thing about Chinese herb shops. Behind her the television cameraman entered the store separately, a hidden camera tucked into his fanny pack.

Several miles away, Congressman Herrmark was sitting in the Jacuzzi in his man cave, the tub filled with cold water, and the bubble machine turned off. He was sniffing an apron balled up in his hands above the water level, the only thing he had left that smelled like Mia--well, it smelled like the dumplings she used to make him, anyway. His bodyguards had burned every piece of Mia's clothing in the fireplace the day she had been ripped out of his life. They still wouldn't tell him where she was--only that she was in a safe and happy place, and it was for Herrmark's own protection that he not know anything else. She was in a safe and happy place here! He sniffed. I rescued her from the Marianas Islands--I didn't do anything wrong! (Sniff.) He took the balled-up apron and slowly lowered it into the water, then released it to open up and float on top of the water. It could have all gone down much worse--worse for me, worse for her. (Sniff.) She was the only pure and sweet thing I had in this city! (Sniff.) He grabbed the scrub brush and started working furiously on the heels of his feet, fretting about how his chief of staff was letting Ann Bishis and her cousins (his bodyguards) take more and more control of his operation. They're too young, he fretted, and inexperienced. And yet he knew they had saved his ass last week...and what that meant.

Downtown, most Congressional Representatives and Senators were actually still focused on the debt ceiling negotiations. Across the street from the White House, former Senator Evermore Breadman had been forced to move his operation into a large conference room--where five attorneys, seven legal assistants, two lobbyists, one secretary and four couriers were working non-stop to produce, analyze, and share information back and forth from the White House across the street. Breadman's hardball and blackmail tactics had taken a good one-hundred Representatives (including that maverick Congressman Herrmark!) and thirty Senators out of the mix, and his strategy to build up Mitch McConnell's role above John Boehner's appeared to be working. He had Charles Wu at the Prince and Prowling office in China now, poised to handle any Chinese awkwardness that might arise. But, but, but--he took another swig of iced tea laced with bourbon and herbs from Lynnette Wong in a desperate bid to make every synapse in his brain keep operating at peak performance without a breakdown in his vital organs--when did this get so hard?

"I've got an idea," said Bridezilla as she abruptly entered the conference room out of nowhere. She was drenched in sweat, having just jogged all the way from her apartment in Virginia downtown to Prince and Prowling. "Sorry about the perspiration, y'all!" (She sniffed her own armpits and made a funny face.) "I know I need a shower, but I just had the best idea about all this!" (Her personal trainer, Armando, was standing in the doorway counting his own pulse and admiring his newest prodigy: he had promised her that he could strengthen her immune system, but even he was amazed at the progress she had made in nutrition, stamina, and strength. He also thought she was the sexiest kickboxer he had ever coached!) "I got some contacts over on the Hill, and this is what I think we should do." She turned over the page on the flipchart in the corner, picked up a Sharpie, and started outlining her key points. ("Isn't she the one that said Sharpies emitted chemicals that entered the nasal passages and disrupted the endocrine system?" "Shut up! This is good!" "She just sniffed her own armpit!" "Shut up!") Former Senator Evermore held a handkerchief over his nose, too overcome with nausea to interrupt the brazen woman who had once told him he should lobby for a bill to require public restrooms to have security cameras with monitors making sure that everybody leaving a toilet washed their hands.

Back in Chinatown, Holly Gonightly was asking Lynnette Wong to explain various herbal remedies on display, but Wong kept glancing back at the other customer browsing the store--and getting closer and closer to the back room doorway. "What are you doing?" Wong suddenly shouted at him.

"She's here!" the television cameraman said.

"It's the girl from Congressman Herrmark's house!" Gonightly said. "Who is she? Why are you hiding her here?"

Wong ran into the back room and put her arms around Mia. "Why can't you leave her in peace?!"

"How many other girls are you trafficking here?" snarled Gonightly.

"I am trafficking nobody!" shouted Wong. "This girl is safe here! She will go home when she is ready!" Wu had told her not to discuss Mia with anybody, and she was fairly certain that these were reporters, but she didn't know what to do.

"How old is she?" asked Gonightly.

"I eighteen," said Mia, who knew that part cold. "I clean Hermmark house one time only. Now here." Her hair was washed and neatly braided. She had no make-up on, and a long cotton dress that revealed nothing. There were no dark circles under her eyes, and she smiled at the strangers. "You on TV!" she added, suddenly recognizing the television reporter who was rarely featured on air because she was TFFT (too fat for television). Mia smiled again.

Gonightly hesitated briefly. At last she pulled out her business cards and handed one to each woman. "Yes, I'm Holly Gonightly. If you ever want to tell your story, please contact me." With that, she signaled to the cameraman to go, and they departed.

Mia leaned into Wong for an embrace. "OK," Mia said. "No worry. Nice lady!" (Mia remembered seeing Gonightly the day before, playing with puppies and kittens in a segment about pet adoptions.) Wong exhaled deeply.

Over at the White House, Glenn Michael Beckmann scanned the crowd of tourists. He had been trying for two weeks to plan a revenge attack for the debt ceiling crisis, but he still could not quite wrap his brain around it, and his blog postings on the subject were, admittedly, not his best. Of course, it was clearly President Obama's fault...mostly. But there are other people involved in this evil, and they all must pay! And Beckmann was not going to do anything as sloppy as that amateur in Norway, who actually thought getting arrested and becoming a martyr was a wonderful thing! NO! It was vital to live to fight another day. Beckmann looked back and forth nervously between the crowd and the sharpshooters on the roof, feeling the call of destiny to intervene in this CRISIS...but how?

In a nearby cherry tree, a catbird suddenly began imitating the machine-gun-like sound of a toddler's rapid-fire giggle, and Beckmann pivoted in agitation, reaching for his holster. A flock of starlings flew off to report to Ardua of the Potomac, while the White House ghosts continued to fly in and out, giddy and high from weeks of feasting on the slow nervous breakdown in the Washington balance of power.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On Life Support

Congressman Herrmark was slaving away at his office despite the heat, despite everything. He smelled blood in the House waters, weakness in the waves, and opportunity in the air. This was a time when the nation cried out for new ideas and new leadership, and anybody with math skills and a vision could float an idea to save the country. Therefore his staffer with math skills was hard at work, and his staffer with vision was also hard at work. Meanwhile, Congressman Herrmark was in his office with staffer Ann Bishis working on the speech he would make whenever his debt plan was ready. "Where's the part about hydrofracking and the Halliburton loophole?" he asked, and Bishis pointed to the second page. (The only requirement he had given his staffers was that the budget plan include funding for hydrofracking clean-up in his home state--but if they could also slip in earmarks for veterinarians, convenience store owners, greyhound racing, commodities brokers, and t-shirt vendors, all the better.) Then his cellphone rang. "WHAT?!" He dropped the papers from his hand and clutched the edge of his desk, the cellphone still pressed against his ear. At the sound of Herrmark's shout, his bodyguards rushed into his office. "She's at GW on life support!" he gasped.

A couple miles away, Congressman John Boehner was also flat on his back, his psyche flatlining. He had four pieces of Nicorette gum in his mouth and a large sheet of bubble wrap spread out over his stomach so that he could pop the bubbles one-by-one. Dr. Ermann Esse was charging three times the usual rate because of having to risk overheating his Mercedes Benz by driving it downtown on a sweltering Saturday, but he had to admit to himself that this was great fun. "What happens if I don't show up at the White House?" Boehner asked his psychiatrist. "What if somebody else has a breakthrough when I'm not there? Will my constituents understand? I mean, I promised them we would not raise taxes. I'm a man of my word!" He briefly pulled the bubble wrap sheet to his face to wipe some sweat off his brow. "It's a matter of principle!"

"If the debt ceiling is not raised, will Congressmen still get their salaries?" asked Dr. Esse, who was pondering whether the Nicorette gum actually undermined his stern rules about no prescription drugs for his patients. A real-live nervous breakdown might be what this man needs.

"Is that supposed to be funny?!" shouted Boehner, but Dr. Esse shook his head no and professed his ignorance about these things. "Spending has to be cut!" shouted Boehner, and Dr. Esse nodded sympathetically. (He had written many letters to Medicare about why they should stop reimbursing for psychotropic pharmaceuticals, but nobody ever responded to him.)

"Tell me some more about the dream you had with the Marquis de Lafayette, where he said that the U.S. has a long history of not repaying national debts to France and other countries, and that economic growth depends on cheap immigrant labor, and--"

"That wasn't a dream! It was a nightmare!" (Pop, pop, pop.) "How am I supposed to walk into the White House and tell them we need to flip the bird to China, and then tell my constituents we need to open the Mexican border? How!?"

"Perhaps the answer lies with the Marquis de Lafayette. Why do you think he is the one that appeared to you in the dream?"

"Because Lafayette Park is next to the White House, and I've been there a dozen times in the past month! I'm having nightmares about it! You've gotta help me!"

Dr. Esse had forgotten that was the name of the park next to the White House, and he was bitterly disappointed to realize that Boehner's subconscious was not, in fact, reaching deep into his pedagogical formation to draw timeless lessons from the past. He discreetly drew a big X over his notes and turned the page.

Not far away, former Senator Evermore Breadman was also busy drawing X's over his note pad in his Prince and Prowling office across the street from the White House. He had barely allowed himself five minutes out of his schedule to celebrate the opening of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week with no director and a laughable budget--there were simply too many other things going on. How do you tell Rupert Murdoch's secretary you don't have time to return his calls when you've done $700,000 worth of lobbying for his corporations in the past two years alone? ("Tell him the pie and the hot Chinese wife boosted his public relations more this week than anything I could have dreamt up!") How do you tell Charles Wu--who gave you a fecal transplant!--that you could not possibly spare him to leave Washington right now unless it was to head to the Prince and Prowling office in Beijing? He had punted Harry Thomas Jr.'s final negotiations to Cigemeier, and the D.C. Council member was not happy about having to repay the city $300,000 for funds diverted from youth programs to pay for luxury cars and personal vacations, but there were only so many hours in a day for Breadman! And then Michael Bloomberg had announced on Thursday he was giving $50 million to the Sierra Club to take coal-fired power plants out of America's cities, causing Breadman's energy clients to blow a fuse (so to speak).

And still--still!--the budget negotiations dragged on. Breadman had faxes and printed emails spread out over every surface in his office, and more taped to the walls. He had fielded over 500 phone calls from clients this week about what was going to be axed in the budget, and another 200 from Wall Street financiers about the impact of a debt default. His personal assistant had been back and forth to the White House negotiations four times already today, and the boy looked like he was having a heat stroke when he rushed in with another folder of hand-written notes from across the street. "Sometimes I envy those authoritarian bastards in China!" Breadman said cheerfully, motioning his assistant to his own private frigobar (stocked with cold beer and wine coolers). The assistant loosened his tie, but it was too late--he crumpled to the carpet in a dead faint.

A mile away, a girl listed only as "Mia" was finally stabilizing at George Washington University Hospital. Dr. Khalid Mohammad was writing notes on her chart while nurse Consuela Arroyo continued to adjust ice bags and monitor vital signs. The neighbor who had called 911 had seen the girl stumbling around Congressman Herrmark's front yard before collapsing in a petunia bed at noon. Body temperature brought down from 105 to 101. Pulse raised from 25 to 53. Dr. Mohammad scratched his head. Authorities had entered Congressman Herrmark's open front door to discover that the air conditioning was broken. Though the neighbor had never seen the girl before, he said that the Congressman initially seemed quite distraught when the neighbor phoned to tell him an ambulance had picked her up from his front lawn. Now the Congressman was saying he had never met her before today--that she was an agency cleaning woman he had let into the house before heading to the office this morning. But the girl had no uniform on--only a short cotton nightgown. Dr. Mohammad was hoping she could say more than "I'm Mia" in a little while, but she was asleep for now.

Out in the emergency room waiting area, Charles Wu approached the admissions desk in a crisp white linen suit and opened his briefcase to present his credentials as an officer of the Chinese embassy, as well as the fake Chinese passport he had put together for the girl after Congressman Herrmark's bodyguards had emailed him her photo. Her passport listed Charles Wu as her emergency contact, and Wu indicated he would take charge of the girl after her discharge. The nurse checked on the girl's status and told Wu it would probably be awhile. He asked to see her, and was ushered into her room. He fondled her head tenderly, discreetly placing a small herbal patch behind her ear, and she woke up ten minutes later. Wu smiled reassuringly at her, confident he would have her out of here in two hours. He spoke a few simple words of Chinese to her, guessing correctly that she would understand them as a second language, and she nodded. He would take her to Lynnette Wong, where the girl would be safe and well-cared for. And then I'll decide about Congressman Herrmark!

Back on Capitalism Hill, Ann Bishis reentered Congressman Herrmark's office to tell him that the bodyguards' friend had phoned to let them know that everything was taken care of. "Who is this Charles Wu? What's he gonna do with her?"

"He's with the Chinese embassy," Bishis said. "The press will get nothing on this. It's over." The numbers-cruncher and vision guy meekly approached the open door to bring their debt proposal to Herrmark, but Bishis waved them off. "I think the proposal is almost ready," she said, as Herrmark took another swallow of whiskey. "I'll bring it in shortly." And with that, she left him alone to pull himself together, told the staffers to leave the proposal with her and go to lunch, and sat down to talk to her Greek cousins about the amazing Charles Wu.

A mile away, another overheated duck landed in the center of the river in search of a spot of cool water, only to find the fires of hell rising up all around Ardua of the Potomac.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Live and Let Die

"Light as a feather, stiff as a board," the twins chanted in unison, as they tried to levitate Bo in the White House gardening shed. "Bo!" Bo was rolling on his back, trying to work the kinks out of his spine. "This is serious, Bo!" said Regina, putting her hands on her hips. "Sit still!" said Ferguson, as he tried to force Bo back onto his stomach. A fly buzzed around the pre-schoolers momentarily, then flew back out into the sunshine. "Light as a feather, stiff as a board," the twins chanted in unison, sticking their fingers under Bo and trying to lift him up.

"Reggie! Fergie! WHAT are you doing?!" It was Bridge, who had a pretty good idea what they were doing. The twins said nothing as Bo leapt up to greet the White House gardener. "Well?" he said, petting the dog.

"They said Ronald Reagan was rolling over in his grave," said Regina.

"We thought if he came back, it would help," said Ferguson.

Bridge squatted down to give them a hard look. "We got enough damn ghosts around here without you two conjurin' up more! You let that man rest in peace! Gonna take a lot more than Cantor and Boehner and that political coward McConnell to make Mr. Reagan roll over in his grave. No sir! That man didn't care 'bout budgets, I'll tell you that much. You wanna help President Obama, you bring that dog back to the West Wing--he needs a friend in there."

Two miles to the north, Charles Wu was seated at the base of the Meridian Hill waterfall. The ducklings were nowhere in sight--probably all grown up now. He sipped green tea as he listened to Apricot Lily and Camisole Silk report on Afghanistan. "Cinderella was at Karzai's funeral," said Lily, just loudly enough for Wu and nobody else to hear, "but I don't think she was involved." "I think he shook down one too many people one too many times," said Silk, with her compact out to powder over the dark circles under her jet-lagged eyes. "It was only a matter of time before somebody decided it was cheaper and smarter to pay off a bodyguard," added Lily.

"And President Karzai?", asked Wu.

"President Karzai is genuinely shaken up," said Silk. "Nobody's happy in Afghanistan," said Lily, "so there is no alliance, no ally that can be trusted completely." "I don't know how anybody lives in that place," said Silk, putting away her makeup. "Men full of hate, women full of fear, maybe the babies are happy for a few months of their lives."

"Could we ever understand?"

"Maybe not, but Project R.O.D.H.A.M. is doing well there," said Lily. "They move carefully from village to village, striking quickly, in and out."

"How well?"

"It's not enough, of course," said Silk, "but they believe they are laying the foundation for women to mount a sustained self-defense." "And it appears that Angela de la Paz is trailing Project R.O.D.H.A.M.," said Lily. "As soon as tribal elders mount a retaliatory witch hunt and sentence somebody, the elders die in mysterious circumstances." "Always looks like an animal attack," said Silk, "but people KNOW it's no regular animal."

"What is she doing?"

"It's a mystery," said Lily, "but people think it's a demon--well, the men think it's a demon."

"What am I supposed to tell Clinton?"

"Whatever Cinderella's doing, it's way beyond what Henry Samuelson could have taught her," said Silk.

"If they really think it's a demon, that will only strengthen the religious nut jobs," said Wu. "They'll crack down harder, and they'll look for more scapegoats to stone to death."

"I don't think so," said Silk. "It's giving hope to the women." "But," said Lily, "I don't think she should be recruited for Project R.O.D.H.A.M. She's plenty effective as a solo agent, and there's probably nothing to gain on either side." "In any case," said Silk, "I have a feeling she was heading to Pakistan to look for the Mumbai plotters."

The Asian spies espied their limo and got up to go, apologizing that they didn't have more time. Wu could not ask them why because he was rarely able to keep them on his payroll these days, bogged down as he was in Arab affairs and Prince and Prowling assignments. He moved into the shade and slowly sipped his green tea, awaiting the next arrival.

A couple miles to the east, Bridezilla was bogged down in her own Prince and Prowling assignment: representing another foggy-memoried accountant in yet another SEC deposition. Sometimes she wished these guys would just freak out and start pleading the Fifth Amendment on every question so that she could totally space out or read a magazine hidden in a manila folder, but, no, if that were the case they would have hired a criminal defense firm, not Prince and Prowling, and so she had to sit through the tedium of accounting questions, followed by the tedium of halting, rambling, vague answers that satisfied nobody. She could barely stay awake, and sometimes just interjected with "objection" in case it was necessary. After a few puzzled looks from the SEC attorney, she started winking at him and playing with her hair to discombobulate him, but her flirting had no effect on him, so she had to conclude he was gay. "Can we take a break?" the witness suddenly asked, planning to phone the partner at Prince and Prowling to request somebody else be sent over ASAP. Bridezilla did not even wait for the SEC attorney to agree--she was already on her way out the door to get some fresh air, since SEC's offices had none.

Meanwhile, Liv Cigemeier was also craving some fresh air after being handed her new assignment at International Development Machine: writing a call center grant proposal for Afghanistan. "This 5G consulting is revolutionary stuff," Augustus Bush had told her after two days of presentations from Bo-Oz, the division of Booz Hamilton that Cigemeier had thought was defunct after the criminal investigation about human egg harvesting that had driven out the former president of IDM and resulted in the hiring of Bush. "Women can do this with their burka-things on, no men in the room, earning one dollar an hour, the kids can be there, everybody wins." Cigemeier had tried to point out that few Afghan women spoke English, but Bush would hear none of it. "Aw, everybody speaks English, young lady! This'll be a good job for them!" There was no way USAID would fund it, or any reputable foundation--Cigemeier was going to have to find some small foundation for the seed money. She felt sick to her stomach--she knew the only way to get out of this was to propose an alternate location...or quit. There was no way she could submit a grant proposal for this with her name on it--she would be tainted forever.

"The original idea was refugee camps," said Momzilla, abruptly entering Cigemeier's cubicle. "Bo-Oz suggested setting up customer service call centers in Pakistani refugee camps because they speak English. Nobody else was helping those refugees after the floods because everybody hates Pakistan now, and Bo-Oz said this was a way to bring Pakistan back into civilized society." (Momzilla had set the conference room phone on speaker phone and dialed into it for the entire meeting Bush and Bo-Oz had conducted. "Input: Pakistani refugee labor, marginal cost, no bargaining rights, three thousand men taken out of Taliban recruitment field, win-win-win.") "But Augustus hates Pakistan," added Momzilla. (Cigemeier nodded, not sure what to say.) "I think you should propose Tunisia instead," said Momzilla. "There are Libyan refugees there who know Arabic and English, and they could take customer service calls for the Arab world as well as Anglo-speaking customers. I think they would do it for a dollar a day--it's either that or risk death on a boat to Italy."

"Would you like to take over this assignment?" asked Cigemeier.

"Sure!" said Momzilla. (Cigemeier rejoiced, and yet wondered if her days at International Development Machine were numbered.)

A few miles to the west, Luciano Talaverdi also had Bo-Oz's 5G consulting on his mind. He was eating lunch on the Federal Reserve Board balcony, listening to fired economist Fen Do Ping in his Bluetooth telling him how great life was at Booz Hamilton, how much money he was making, how interesting the projects were. (Ping had squealed on several co-workers during the IDM egg-harvesting investigation, and felt a personal obligation to recruit some replacement staff.) Still, moving to Bo-Oz would mean no more meetings of the Camelot Society around the round table, no more leading the free world, no more glowing articles in the Washington Post praising the Fed for smart lending and raising up to $100 billion in revenue for Treasury to fight the deficit, and no more late night trysts with Obi Wan woman in the lower stacks of the law library. "Maybe next year," said Talaverdi at last; it was good to know there were options out there.

Not far away, Ardua of the Potomac awoke from her mid-day nap and contemplated whom she would feast on this afternoon.

****************
Coming up: a twist of fate for Congressman Herrmark.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Sticky Matters

Liv Cigemeier sat down at the long table in the conference room of International Development Machine for the first full-staff meeting with their new president, Augustus Bush, who hailed from the little-known U.S. Virgin Islands branch of the Bush family tree. Counted in the small number of people who did know about Augustus Bush was Liv Cigemeier--because Bush's first wife had been Cigemeier's graduate thesis advisor. Cigemeier--unlike her coworkers--therefore knew that Bush was a pothead libertarian poser who had raised campaign money for George W. Bush by smuggling drugs from the Caribbean into Miami, and she knew that Bush's children all worked undercover for the CIA (something their mother had learned by spying on them herself), and she knew that Bush's second wife was a Cuban emigre (and "probably a Fidel Castro double-agent", according to her advisor), and she knew that the United Kingdom had tried to extradite him to the British Virgin Islands on charges he had murdered British Nationals (alleged al Qaeda operatives) but the extradition had failed, and she knew that he believed white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were destined to bring order to the world. What Cigemeier did not know was why he got offered this job or why he took it. He was currently rambling about the failures of the Peace Corps, UNICEF, Oxfam, Save the Children, CARE, and Catholic Relief Services to deliver "value on their investments". He stood up with a blue marker to write on the board, but he didn't write any words--he just drew a star. (Momzilla was staring in amazement at his Bermuda shorts and gray hairy legs until he sat down abruptly and she thought she had missed something.)

"One star," he said in a peculiar accent. "That's all IDM gets today." A few people around the table nodded sycophantically even though they had no idea what he was talking about. "Liv?" He gestured to Cigemeier, and she opened the box he had given her to pass around the table--a box of small American flags on little sticks. "Everybody take two." He waited until everybody had them, then asked how many stars were on the flags. Nobody answered at first, afraid that this simple question was some sort of trick question. "COME ON!" ("Fifty?") "WRONG! Forty-nine! These flags were made before Hawaii became a state. THAT was the beginning of the great American decline! Hawaii wasn't fit to be a state--it's a Third World island that to this day would be producing nothing of value if the British and Americans hadn't colonized it." (Momzilla, a Chinese-Brazilian-American, was staring at him with her mouth wide open.) "International Development Machine could be making a difference in the lives of many inferior peoples, but YOU have to set your mind to it." (More mouths were agape now.) "Every time I see that IDM has improved its operations, I'm gonna walk in here and draw another star on the board. Every time we win a grant or a contract, another star. But every time we lose a bid, I'm gonna take a star away. You're lucky I'm starting you out with one, because some would say I should have started you out with a negative number, but that's not the kinda boss I am. When that board has 49 stars on it, I'll pass the torch. Now take off your shoes." He followed this by kicking off his own docksiders and bringing his bare feet up onto the table. "What do you need: an engraved invitation?!" He motioned to the stunned audience, and they dutifully began removing shoes and stockings until he saw an array of bare feet propped up on the table. (He did find the bad aroma an unfortunate byproduct of the exercise, but it would be over soon enough.) "Now take your flags and clean your feet." He proceeded to pick up one small flag and rub it a few times over his left foot, then took his other small flag and rubbed it a few times over his right foot, then tossed them both down on the floor. "It's OK!" he hollered. "They're old flags--there's nothing illegal about using them to clean feet!" Momzilla was the first to do it, thinking she was going to pass out if she had to keep smelling all the feet--she wiped her sticky feet rapidly, then returned her feet to the floor under the table; others followed. A few minutes later, it was all over, and Augustus Bush was nodding. "That's what happens when Americans do charity work in ungrateful territories. No more!" With that, he got up and left.

A few miles away, mouths were also agape around a conference table at Prince and Prowling, where a dozen people had just been handed new legal agreements and biological sample kits. "It's very simple," said the paralegal-from-Hell who had been tasked with explaining the biological sample kits. "I am going to walk around the table right now and cut hair samples at the base of your neck, and those will go in the red bag [she held one up]. Directly after this meeting, I will escort the women into the ladies room to take their urine samples [she held up a yellow cup], and Ben will escort the men for the same purpose." She pointed superfluously at Ben, who smiled wanly. "You will also need to do a stool sample [she held up a brown package], and you will simply have to notify us when that is convenient so that we can escort you into the bathroom for that, too. So go ahead and sign the form, and then we can get started." Bridezilla--who was feeling nauseous at the thought of dust mites, hair lice, and fecal bacteria being transported willy nilly around the law firm--could not believe what she was reading. Prince and Prowling's newest partner--Liv Cigemeier's husband--could not believe what he was reading. Chloe Cleavage--who had done her faire share of tests for pregnancy and communicable diseases--could not believe what she was reading. Laura Moreno--who had suffered a number of affronts and indignities over the years as a contract attorney at Prince and Prowling--could not believe that there were actually other people being ordered to do this.

"Forget it!" Bridezilla snapped. "For a goddam oil company? Are you OUT of your mind?!" Bridezilla was not glaring at the paralegal-from-Hell, whom she was fairly certain knew how to kill people with a staple gun and make it look like an accident; no, Bridezilla was staring at the senior partner on the case, whose eyes popped open at the outburst. (After three failed engagements and being passed over for partner again, Bridezilla was widely known to be on the edge, but she had never attacked a partner before.) "They should be thanking GOD that a reputable law firm is willing to represent them at ALL! Take a DRUG test for a goddam OIL company? And sign an agreement that they can share our personal information with whomever they NEED to? I'm not giving this goddam OIL company my DNA so they can start cloning me and God knows what else!"

"This is not an OPTION!" warned the senior partner. "Start cutting the hair," he said to the paralegal-from-Hell, and she immediately walked over to Laura Moreno, whom she was certain would submit. As she reached up one hand to tilt Moreno's head forward, she was surprised by Cigemeier on her right, who abruptly ripped the scissors out of her hand and stabbed them into the wall.

"Not without a full partners' meeting," Cigemeier said. "And if we have to do it, EVERYBODY in the firm has to do it!"

"It's just for people working with this client--"

"Then everybody's working with this client, or nobody's working with this client," snarled Cigemeier.

"I voted against your making partner," the senior partner said.

'You could always do the whole oil company assignment by yourself--then take the rest of the year off," said Cigemeier.

With that, the senior partner stormed out, and Bridezilla burst out laughing. She had not laughed this hard in a very, very, very long time. "I never liked that oil company," she said, wiping tears from her eyes. "They have the dirtiest restrooms on Earth."

"That is so true!" said Chloe Cleavage.

And they have the worst oil spill record in the world, thought Laura Moreno, but she said nothing except a quiet "thanks" to Cigemeier, then exited the conference room.

A block away, the White House butler was making preliminary preparations in the conference room that would host Sunday's budget summit with Congressional leaders: she plugged in the electric air freshener discreetly behind the credenza, pulled two short vases out of the credenza and placed them at either end of the table to await the flowers that Bridge would cut from the White House garden Sunday morning, dry-polished the silver candlesticks and damp-polished the wood, and then signaled her twin pre-schoolers that they could start the vacuuming. She sat down to rest for a few minutes while Ferguson and Regina chased the Rumba robot around the room, shouting, "Go, Rumba, go!" (The Rumba had been purchased to make the HIV-positive butler's job a little easier.) Clio closed her eyes and leaned her head back into the corner chair, her feet tucked under her so that Rumba could get under her chair as well. Just the namecards left--no, they said no namecards this time....She was trying to go through her task list mentally, but it was no use--she would have to return to her office to look at the written list again because she had forgotten to put it in her pocket. Meanwhile, the twins saw their opportunity and seized it: they had heard President Obama say he wished he could nail those Representatives to their chairs until they reached an agreement, so they were going to squirt Gorilla Glue all over the chairs while their mother's eyes were closed.

Then Rumba sucked up a large binder clip and burped loudly, causing Clio to open her eyes. "Reggie! Fergie!" She jumped to her feet and ran over to collect the glue bottles from the twins. "What do you think you're doing?!" She looked down at the puddles of Gorilla Glue in dismay, knowing there was no way to get it off the chairs cleanly. "It will dry clear, I suppose," she said softly to herself. "It won't have any stickiness left by Sunday." She glared at the twins, who had lined themselves against the wall like prisoners awaiting the firing squad, and she wagged her fingers at them. "I can't let you be for two minutes!" she railed. "You'll be the death of me!" She turned off Rumba, announced they were finished, and pointed them to head for the door.

"She doesn't understand the importance," whispered a White House ghost to Regina.

"We'll come back Saturday night," whispered another White House ghost to Ferguson.

Then Bo arrived out of nowhere to bark at the White House ghosts until they got annoyed and fled back to the Oval Office to do some more whispering in there.

A few miles away, Congressman Herrmark was miffed (again) that he had not been invited to the budget summit on Sunday. He just did not understand why his party's leadership could not see that he was a rising star with brilliant ideas and the steely resolve to see them through. He knew Congressman Issa had it in for him, but he had demonstrated his budget patriotism by abandoning his quest for an earmark to clean up his home state from the hydrofracking damage (specifically, his parents' vacation home), and he should be rewarded for that! What was the point of acting like a statesman if nobody was going to give him statesman powers? True, his bodyguards had mistakenly roughed up some tourists from Ohio whom they had mistaken as Halliburton spies (assassins), but nobody could blame his bodyguards for being cautious, and if Boehner was holding that against him, well, screw him! Herrmark was starting to think he should have taken the back-scratching deal offered a month ago, but it looked like a trap and it was too late now--the moment had passed. He sighed, and wished he could phone Mia and hear her soft voice, but he had ordered her never to answer the telephone, so he couldn't. Well, at least I can spend the weekend with her, he thought, since I won't have something more important to do. And maybe I'll have the boys take her to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for a couple hours, get her out of the house. He smiled at his own benevolence and signaled his bodyguards he was ready to go down to the cafeteria to eat lunch, then he frowned remembering who had canceled a lunch appointment with him.

Back at Prince and Prowling, Laura Moreno had just finished reviewing 200 documents loaded by Chloe Cleavage into the database: thirty of them were copies of correspondence between the partner and opposing counsel, two of them were memos Cleavage had written about a different database, ten were images of CD-ROMs, 150 of them were twenty years old and completely irrelevant, and the rest had only one important document. (Cleavage had loaded them into the database while on speakerphone with her cousin Chloris Cleavage, a Hollywood actress who had just been shortlisted to play Anthony Wiener's sexting partner number four.) And now Moreno had to write in detail what had been accomplished with the ten hours she had spent in this database in a way that the senior partner deemed acceptable for billing to the client or Moreno was not going to get paid. Suddenly the paralegal-from-Hell came into the workroom with the hair scissors and everything else. "It's time," she said, like the nurse from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".

"You wave those scissors at me one more time, and I'll call the police to report a violent assault," Moreno said quietly, playing the only possible trump card she could--she might be the lowliest lawyer at Prince and Prowling, but she knew that the paralegal-from-Hell did not know the legal definition of criminal assault and would keep the scissors out of her face until somebody was consulted on it. The paralegal-from-Hell retreated without saying a word, hatred gleaming in her eyes, and Moreno knew there was a 50-50 chance she would end up fired over the weekend, but that no longer seemed the worst fate in the world.

A couple miles away, Glenn Michael Beckmann was casing the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for a possible Saturday bombing, but most of the other people on the Mall were having a lovely time--most.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

One if by Land, Two if by S.E.A.

Dick Cheney rarely opened up his house to outsiders, but he knew that nobody else in Sense of Entitlement Anonymous would do justice to a 4th of July weekend meeting, so there they were, all seated on Martha Stewart Living chairs in his backyard, surrounded by red roses, white petunias and blue bonnets (planted Memorial Day weekend by the Mexican day laborers he had picked up outside the Home Depot), sipping Wyoming iced tea (sweetened with high-mountain honey, ground-up cheatgrass, and cherry liqueur), and eating an endless parade of snacks carried from the kitchen to the backyard by Lynn Cheney. (She had wanted to go out of town for the holiday weekend, but the doctor had ordered him and his heart not to fly.) Red, white, and blue balloons danced in the background, tied to his gnome-sized statues of George Washington, General Patton, and Henry Kissinger. A Marine band CD was playing from the boom box at the center of the antique rifle crate they were using as a table at the center of their gathering. A cherry incense stick was burning next to it because cherry was an American smell. Steaks were sizzling on the grill, and several Al Qaeda leader pinatas were hanging from the nearby oak tree for target practice later.

Congressman John Boehner looked around in puzzlement that there were so many nobodies here, and felt very disappointed. On the other hand (and this thought cheered him up), since he and Cheney were the only important people here, he would get a lot of respect. (He didn't recognize former Senator Evermore Breadman, who had happily stayed out of the limelight since his Congressional days long ago.) Boehner gulped his tea and waited for somebody to begin the meeting.

"I lost my Rolex!" blurted out Calico Johnson at last. "Nobody's reported it to the police! What kind of world is this where people will not come forward and admit they found somebody else's Rolex?" (He had forgotten by now that he had also come to own it accidentally.) "You try to have a little faith in your fellow man, but NOOOOO!" (He had been in terrible withdrawal ever since losing the cursed Rolex, waking up repeatedly in the night in a cold sweat from conscience-driven dreams about the hundreds of evictions he had made on houses he had picked up at foreclosure auctions.) "It's probably been sold already to some scumbag drug dealer! (Sometimes the nightmares were about the people he had evicted from the 13,000 rental units he owned around the Washington region.) "It's enough to make you want to give up on the human race!" (His right eye had started twitching again, and the cramps in his toes were driving him insane.) "And people say, 'Just buy another one, Cal! That was an old one, anyway, Cal! Treat yourself to a newer model, Cal! You could buy the one that Donald Trump has, Cal!' But mine was SPECIAL!" (He looked at the pale, flaccid swath of skin on the trembling wrist where his demonic Rolex used to lay, then he sighed.)

John Boehner was impressed by the smooth and organic manner in which the man had managed to insert his own name into his discourse repeatedly, and made a mental note to attempt this strategy in his next floor speech in the House of Representatives. (He was under a lot of pressure to put together a rebuttal to the economic diatribe Senator Bernie Sanders had unleashed on June 28th. He started drafting something in his head: And people say, "John, we can't balance the budget on the backs of the poor, sick, and elderly!" And people say, "John, we can't let our country turn into a banana republic where one percent of the population control 80% of the country's wealth!" And people say, "John, we can't give more tax breaks to the super wealthy while the middle class sinks into poverty." And I say to myself, "John, you cannot let people be pulled into class warfare! The truth is--")

"Nobody's gonna have Rolexes if we don't restore liquidity in this country!" It was new S.E.A. member Luciano Talaverdi, and everybody's eyes popped open wide at the sound of his foreign accent. (Personally, he thought Rolexes were overpriced bangles, and wouldn't be caught dead in anything but a luxurious Versace watch housing a Swiss timepiece, but the Federal Reserve Board economist was trying to make a point.) "Why are Americans so ignorant about this?" (A lot of eyes now narrowed at this.) "Nothing happens without investment, investment does not happen without liquidity, liquidity does not happen without strong monetary policy, strong monetary policy does not happen without fiscal responsibility, fiscal responsibility does not happen without deference to authoritarian mandates of the highest order!" (Dick Cheney was holding a Cheese-Whiz covered biscuit an inch from his agape mouth, wondering if he had a real, live, Italian fascist sitting in his backyard.) "You people have NOOOO idea!" (Talaverdi was whispering now, and Bridezilla's heart was melting at his sexy accent and compelling charisma.) "Corporations are the lifeblood of the world, and we have to keep the vampires away!" (Judge Sowell Ame tuned out at that point, as he always did when conversation turned to vampires or werewolves or zombies.) "Liquidity! We are entitled to liquidity!"

Former Senator Evermore Breadman discreetly glanced down at the tape recorder tucked in his polo shirt pocket to make sure it was running. (He was here to check out the organization for a high-profile client who had heard about the group from Bridezilla and was interested in joining but wanted to get a second opinion on it first.) Maybe I can triple-bill this. (He was thinking about a couple new clients that came in yesterday--one who wanted to set up a SuperPac just like Stephen Colbert's and the other who wanted to set up a SuperPac to destroy Stephen Colbert.) The flow of money. Breadman was cracking pistachios and throwing the shells down on the patio. Citizens United. He spit a bit of shell onto the patio. Money equals free speech. Liquidity equals money. Liquidity equals free speech. Constitutional right to liquidity. FEC advisory opinion means corporations have a right to lobby Congress on fiscal policy because fiscal policy affects monetary policy and monetary policy affects liquidity and liquidity equals free speech. Breadman smiled in euphoria at his brilliant legal analysis, wondering if he would remember it or if he needed to break his cool and pull out a pen to write it down.

Meanwhile, John Boehner was mystified by Talaverdi's remarks and decided it was time for him to change the subject and speak up for the first time at Sense of Entitlement Anonymous. "We are also entitled to energy! Why are there so many people in Washington trying to send us back to the stone age, like the Taliban?!" (Oops! I forgot to use my name.) "People are telling me, 'John, the Federal Trade Commission has started investigating the oil and gas industry for price manipulation and other anti-competitive activity! John, what are you going to do about it?' And I tell myself, 'John, the oil and gas industry has already been attacked by the EPA and by the White House and by those communist ecological syndicates and by the Department of Energy, and you, John, have got to put a stop to this once and for all!'" He saw several nodding heads around him, and felt a warm glow roll over his nicotined body. (Sweet, thought former Senator Evermore Breadman, I can bill this to fifteen more clients now!) "The oil and gas industry has suffered enough!" said Boehner. "We are entitled to freedom, just like everybody else!" (Boehner was startled to see Lynn Cheney winking at him just then, but nothing turned her on like politicians' defending the oil and gas industry.)

A few miles away, Atticus Hawk looked down at the Potomac River as his taxi crossed the bridge: he was heading to the airport for a long vacation after the conclusion of the Justice Department's two-year special investigation of possible criminal abuses at Guantanamo. Hawk (the formerly self-proclaimed torture specialist) had successfully steered John Durham away from most of the torture evidence, and the Attorney General was only going to proceed with criminal probes on two detainee deaths. Hawk knew he was not entirely out of the woods yet, but he was on the edge and could see a meadow full of sunshine within reach. Deep below him, Ardua of the Potomac grinned mischievously and reached up to give him a demonic poke in the gut, just enough to keep him uneasy until his return to Washington.