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, April 27, 2008

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Charles Wu rolled out of bed, a wee bit hungover from the White House Correspondents' Association dinner and the three after-parties he had attended. He had too many secrets in his brain to drink to real excess, but he had let himself go a bit far last night. He was fairly certain he had made out with Pamela Anderson, though he also recalled Martha Stewart making a pass at him (after Colin Powell had turned her down). Miss America had been a bust, but he had passed his business card to several other women--some because they were hot, and others because they were connected. He sat down in his silk boxers to eat a dryly toasted English muffin and jot down notes about the people he had met the night before.

A few miles away, Henry Samuelson was waiting for the Heurich Society meeting to begin. He was shuffling through the photos he had taken of every person Wu had shaken hands with the night before, but he detected no particular pattern. He put the photos away as the Chair called the meeting to order at the sight of Condoleezza Rice's arrival. First item on the agenda: rising food prices. After considerable discussion, the Society concluded that the media's analysis of the root causes was sufficiently inaccurate not to require correction. And with an 88% rise in grain prices over the past 12 months, the Moon Township Plan was going even better than they had hoped. They were a little surprised about some of the countries showing the first signs of regime collapse, but they were optimistic that the correct repercussions would continue to accelerate--all except Samuelson, that is, who said nothing and sat quietly with his arms folded over his chest.

A few miles south, Golden Fawn opened her Southwest Plaza door to let in her neighbor from across the hall. She had let her in a couple of times before, and Golden Fawn thought this was going to be another one of those times--the call to 911 about the beating from the boyfriend, the three hours of drama, then the decision not to press charges after the man calmed down and apologized for "getting a little out of hand" from "drinking". But this was different--the woman asked in an unsteady voice if Golden Fawn could spare her a couple of dollars to buy some bread. The gaunt woman was swaying and looked extremely weak, but whether the cause was skyrocketing grocery prices or drugs was not exactly obvious. Golden Fawn opened the freezer and pulled out a loaf of frozen bread, telling her neighbor she didn't have any cash on her. The woman mumbled something about needing a special kind of bread and walked out without taking the bread with her.

A couple miles to the north, former Senator Evermore Breadman was in his office at Prince and Prowling, still hungover from the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, irritated that he had to field Sunday phone calls from over a dozen corporate counsel for the members of Breadman's secret client, the American Plastics Council. "I warned you that Congress would catch up on the issue this year," he repeated for the fourth time. "You better have photos of all your top executives feeding their babies with plastic baby bottles." He continued thumbing through his notes from the locked file cabinet, including the minutes of some of the FDA oversight hearings he had chaired. "You know how irrational the American consumer is--they'll stop using toilet paper if somebody tells them it's potentially carcinogenic." After giving a few more words of advice, Breadman hung up and made another billing notation--it wasn't his fault the Council members were collectively making him repeat himself. A spasm in his colon prompted him to open up his bottom drawer of herbs. He reached for the yellow mix and swallowed down a dry mouthful of it with a grape juice chaser. He closed his eyes for a moment, suddenly remembering something Lynnette Wong had once said to him in her Chinatown shop: there is only one carcinogenic--everything else is just an apostate.

About a mile east, Atticus Hawk was downing an energy drink from a #7 BPA plastic bottle and furiously typing up talking points for Monday's meeting about yesterday's media release of the Benczkowski letters and the accompanying statement from Senator Wyden's office that the Justice Department's and CIA's claim that the Geneva Conventions could be selectively applied on a "sliding scale" was "stunning". Hawk's boss was not satisfied with the lack of CIA response, nor was his boss's boss, nor was the big boss. Talking Point 4: there is no binding legal authority on what constitutes "outrages against personal dignity". Inside Hawk's stomach, a few more molecules of BPA leached out into his half-digested McMuffin and began making their way into his bloodstream...ready for activation at any time.

Several miles to the east, Jai Alai received an email telling her she had been selected for a blind date set up by The Washington Post's "Date Lab". She typed up her acceptance of the Terms and Conditions and sent the email out of her clunky old computer into her slow dial-up connection. She leaned back and exhaled for a minute as she waited for the "sent" confirmation, wondering if she was really ready to start dating again. In the background, her child chattered out loud to the array of toys on the floor, but Jai Alai could only hear the voice of her other child--the one that had been killed by him.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Chinese Silk Worms

Dr. Devi Rajatala sat down for a rest on the bench at Forsythia Hill. She pulled out her pen and added some more notes to her spiral notebook, then looked out at the "wild" woods on the other side of the fence from the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks. She had been surprised when her boss sent her out on this consulting assignment, but apparently it was going to generate revenue for the National Arboretum, and he was desperate to do anything to help the budget. She re-read her notes from the beginning, most of which were about the threat that non-native species (the Japanese wisteria, the English ivy, the Chinese honeysuckle, and so on) would spread to the nearby parkland and strangle out native Chesapeake flora. She was also concerned about the luxuriantly large lawns they had, and how many chemicals they must be applying there which were undoubtedly ending up washed down into Rock Creek. She had made notes about the items she wanted to collect samples on (insects on the Japanese and European trees, algae in Lovers' Lane Pool, pesticide residue in the rose garden and lawns...), but she still had to meet with the head gardener to ask him some questions, and she was going to have to come back next week to finish up. What a beautiful place. She sighed, dreading the technical portion of the consultation, since she doubted that the Harvard trustees were going to go organic or remove all the non-native species, but, then again, it was Dumbarton Oaks which had requested and paid for this consultation. She knew that they would be bound by the terms of the bequeathal, and that the gardens had been expressly designed to show a variety of European and Asian garden styles. And it's beautiful here. It was always hard to fault American gardeners for being taken in by exotic beauties.

About 50 feet away, Charles Wu was making out with a Californian tourist under the crabapple trees. She was a little too athletic for his taste, and he could not entirely rule out the possibility that she was taking steroids because her face was a little stubbly, but if he kept his head buried in her neck (or below!), it was pleasant enough. He had really and truly intended to spend a couple of hours meditating on the trees and flowers (some of which even had a nostalgic effect on him), but somehow this had happened. He had also really and truly intended to devote more time to building up his legitimate business enterprises, but somehow the weather was simply too nice to stay indoors--and it was always good to scout out new locations for secret meetings.

Another 50 feet away, Henry Samuelson was standing at the foot of the North Vista watching the couple making out on Crabapple Hill. He still had not gotten a good look at the woman that was the object of this tryst with Charles Wu, and he again adjusted his binoculars. Finally! She came clearly into focus. His thoughts faltered for a moment, then he knew who she was--that FBI agent from Los Angeles! Is that possible? Is the FBI following him? Are they going to get the glory? Samuelson pulled out his camera to take some photos, just in case he was wrong about the woman. He put the camera away and leaned against the wall. What if she's not really on our side? Some days he got really aggravated about his mandatory retirement from the CIA--he knew his mind was as sharp as ever, and he knew that Charles Wu was up to no good.

A few miles east, Laura Moreno was wishing her retirement was not decades away. She climbed into the taxi, took off the painful shoes, took off the perspiration-threatened blazer, and let out another post-interview sigh. Nine dollars there and nine dollars back because it was too warm for her interview suit. Two hours of lost wages. A five-minute interview by a woman that was interviewing so many attorneys that she had a set of identical photocopied questions to ask each one--and none of them were about her studies or any important job she had ever held. Maybe I should have worn the green suit so she would remember me better. Her brown silk suit was now ten years old--she only wore it for court appearances and interviews, and it didn't have a stain on it. The driver thought it was a very nice suit. Laura reached into the Coach briefcase (a gift that was kept in plastic in the closet except on interview days) to pull out the cab fare. The driver thought she was a rich lawyer or businesswoman, and felt she should have given him a twenty.

A couple blocks away, Liv Cigemeier had actually gotten out of the International Development Machine office at 5 on a Friday and was heading to a bookstore to kill some time before her husband could leave work and meet her for dinner. She was thinking about the dream she had the night before--how she was Hermione, and the Headmaster told her on graduation day that they had cast a spell on her during her entire schooling because she was actually more powerful than anybody else. "We did not want you to be able to use your full powers until your training was complete." She was more powerful than the teachers, she was more powerful than Harry Potter, she could suddenly do a million things she couldn't before--including FLY! She had flown up to the roof of Hogwarts, hundreds of feet above everybody else, and she had known she was going to do wonderful things with her life.... She paused at a funky clothing shop display window and admired the Chinese silk scarves--the kind of thing that her husband used to adore when they were in school, but now frowned on as "unbusinesslike". She toyed with the idea of buying one to put on before her Friday night dinner date, but decided she would rather stop at the bookstore and buy something for him.

Further to the east, in Chinatown, Lynnette Wong sealed the carry-out container tightly and told the customer to eat the silk worms immediately after boiling them. She didn't tell him that they were live (smuggled illegally from China), but he was Chinese and probably knew that already. It was a drastic cure, but for some people, the only one that worked. It was a shame to kill something that gave such beauty and grace to the world, but some things were more important than silk.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Edge

Marcos Vasquez and Golden Fawn were cuddled up on the couch looking out on the gray day. It was the first full weekend Vasquez had enjoyed off from work in a long time, though he had found out too late for them to go out of town. Yesterday they had been out kayaking and incanting on the river, but today was going to be an indoors day. At this moment, they had finished talking about what had happened with Ardua yesterday and were now comparing the letters each had received from the Southwest Plaza management company. Golden Fawn's letter warned her to remove her broom from the balcony or she would be evicted; Vasquez's letter warned him to recertify his income level or be evicted. "That's the broom I use to sweep up pigeon poop," she said, though he already knew that. "I don't want that inside!" She glanced down at his letter again. "What are they talking about-- 'recertify'?" He told her that a couple of years ago, his Coast Guard income was low enough to qualify for some sort of certification that he thought would reduce his rent, but it did not reduce his rent at all; his salary was now higher, and he no longer qualified, which he had already told them three times. "What's the point of certifying or recertifying?" He speculated that Southwest Plaza was claiming tax breaks because they had a certain percentage of renters whose salaries were below the median income level. "You're talking about this place like it's public housing or something!" Golden Fawn had lived in her share of public housing for Indians and subsidized dorms for scholarship students--this was her first "real" apartment. He shrugged, remembering the public housing police car he had seen earlier in the week but had not told her about. He stroked her now-shoulder-length hair and told her to keep her broom flat on the balcony so that nobody would see it. He wanted to marry her and buy a house where they could both live, but he was worried that the Coast Guard was going to transfer him and that she would not want to go with him. Vasquez did not know what else he could do if he left the Coast Guard, and he did not know what else Golden Fawn could do if she left the Museum of the American Indian. These were the insecurities that Ardua fed into Vasquez because she knew that he made Golden Fawn stronger. He got up to close the blinds against the gray sky and turn on the Himalayan salt crystal lamp to cast a warm orange glow on the room. He pulled her off the couch to slow-dance to the flute music playing on the stereo.

Several miles north, Charles Wu was playing back the Pippin tape from the last couple of hours before Condoleezza Rice made her secret flight to Iraq. He heard her discussing with the cat what reading material she should pack for the flight, and which clothes. Then he heard her tell Pippin she was logging into her blog analytics to see how it was doing, followed by an exclamation of astonishment that she had acquired readers in both Beijing and Shanghai. She mused that they had undoubtedly found her blog because of her postings on Tibet, but Wu knew that the Shanghai reader had been an accidental drop-and-bounce, and that the Beijing reader was a government internet screener alerted to the blog by Wu himself (a screener who, in truth, had spent half an hour with an English-Chinese dictionary but was still undecided whether or not to unblock Rice's postings on Tibet). Then Wu heard Rice take a final sip of her smoothie and put down the Los Angeles Rams glass. Then Wu heard her exclaim on another analytics page that she now had readers in New York, Illinois, California, and Florida! "Finally--I'm reaching real leaders in the important states!" (If she had examined the analytics more carefully, she would have realized that they were all bounces except for a Mormon in Oakland and a Moonie in Sarasota, but neither she nor Wu knew that.) Then Wu heard her log out and walk over to her red leather recliner, where she curled up and picked up the remote to turn on her harp cd. Wu heard Pippin jump into Rice's lap and slurp the red drops from Rice's lips before curling up for a nap. Wu heard no more sounds except the harp, as Rice had stroked the cat absent-mindedly and thought about where she would be a year from now. She had always said she would leave Washington, but sometimes she really liked being here. She had stared out at the gray river in a reverie that bordered on cultish, as Ardua floated serenely beneath the surface of the Potomac.

Several miles south of Wu, Laura Moreno keyed herself into Prince and Prowling. There were only a few hours of authorized weekend work she could do to make up for the mid-week lock-out fiasco, but first she was determined to write another pleading for her pro bono case. She spent half an hour in the law library, then logged onto her computer to troll for templates. Prince and Prowling, in its infinite wisdom, had decided that all but the most confidential documents would now be uploaded to the network for any and all P&P employees to access, so Laura was racking her brains to think of some type of legal case that P&P might have had which would have produced a pleading similar to what she needed to file with Judge Sowell Lame. The P&P pro bono files touched on political asylum (for a Liberian gun-runner, in truth), school vouchers (for a religious school that taught its pupils the evils of racial mixing), defense of a flag-burning ban in Oklahoma, and defense of a gun lobby PAC accused of illegal fundraising tactics. She also found defense of a Louisiana insurance company that did not want to pay Katrina claims, but then she realized that was neither relevant nor pro bono. She trolled some more, using as many search terms as she could, and came up with one FOIA request that she could copy and a couple of possibly useful pleadings involving a lawsuit against the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. She downloaded the files to her diskette and packed the diskette into her bag. It had been over a year since she had started this pro bono case, and it had swallowed up almost every weekend since then...and still the family suffered. She went back to look at the Louisiana insurance case. If I could just find one case that I could stand, one wealthy client I could take on with gritted teeth, just one representation I could tolerate enough to line my pockets, then I would have the money I need to do all those things to help--

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the suite door. Laura walked out to let in (of course) former Senator Evermore Breadman. He apologized (again) for forgetting his keycard, and walked briskly down the hall to his office. He had finally gotten the call: Alberto Gonzales was having trouble finding a suitable job in the private sector. Breadman rifled through his files in the fourth cabinet, pulling out a couple along the way. The guy was too damned picky. He's asking for too much money for too little value. Breadman had seen it before: people who had a delusion that the revolving door would land them right back in the private sector wherever they wanted to be. This wasn't the first time he would have to tell somebody to get down from his high horse and start shoveling manure for a living--for a really good living. Could Gonzales still be an ideologue after all this time? He settled on the second folder as the best possibility, and picked up the phone to start telephoning the board members of the New Texas Association.

Not too far away, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Anti-Fecklessness was swallowing his adrenal fatigue pills while frantically trying to complete the pile of work that the Secretary of State had dumped on his desk Friday at 5:45 p.m., to be completed by Monday morning, Baghdad time. He looked at the clock, knowing that if he called his girlfriend to cancel the double-date cribbage match with the blind law student and his Braille playing cards, she would accuse him of being afraid of socializing with differently abled people. He suddenly lurched for the trash can and upchucked his special sandwich and all the pills he had swallowed with it. He wiped his mouth with an inter-office envelope, then lay down on the carpet on his back and passed out. Overhead, a couple of the Shackled hovered uncertainly--they had been working for awhile on the State Department ghosts goading this fellow, but they had not wished for this drastic result. They shrugged and headed off to Southeast, where the foul weather was sending another Iraq War veteran over the edge.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Us and Them

Perry Winkle had never been inside a Catholic church in his entire life, so it seemed more than odd to be attending his first mass inside a baseball stadium. The Washington Post had eight press passes for the Papal mass, and Winkle had been surprised to be assigned one of them. He had already heard about ten different languages spoken, but the crowd had only cheered in English and Spanish. Winkle was thinking about the polygamous cult in Texas, and trying to figure out the difference between faith and brainwashing. There were over 40,000 people in the stands; Winkle surveyed the crowd, wondering how many of those people were evil. He already had a dozen up-close-and-personal interviews in the can for his upcoming "Metro" article about the worshippers, but somehow he could not put his finger on what this was all about--they all seeemd to have come for different reasons.

Several miles west, Ardua was aggravated that she still had not gotten a clear shot at the Pope, though several of her lackeys were still working on it. The starling report on the Pope's meeting with President Bush was inconclusive, but there would still be other opportunities, she hoped. She took some small comfort knowing that her Supreme Court justices had come through with a resounding endorsement of the death penalty this week. And then there was the federal budget analysis--what great news that was!

A couple of miles to the northeast, Liv Cigemeier was at her International Development Machine desk, examining the newly released federal budget analysis. $.42 of each dollar goes to military spending. She read it again. $.42 of each dollar goes to military spending. It was bad before the Iraq war, but now it was $2 billion per week just for Iraq alone. Almost half of her taxes--almost half of everybody's taxes--went to military spending. Everybody who wanted their taxes to go to a peaceful activity had to claw each other's eyes out to get their hands on any money at all. Their grant proposals had increased 200% since 2006 with scarcely a bump in their operating budget, their individual donations were down, their bookkeeper was constantly trolling the postings on Freecycle in a desperate attempt to reduce office expenses, and the president of IDM was frantic to win a large USAID contract--any large USAID contract. Everything Liv had studied in graduate school, all her research trips. her overseas work--none of it mattered anymore. International development was dead...or in a coma. A large peal of laughter interrupted her thoughts--it was Momzilla, telling another story about her gargantuan appetite on her way back from the downstairs coffeeshop. Liv turned back to the draft proposal on her computer screen.

A couple miles to the west, Condoleezza Rice was reading Foreign Service blogs discussing the State Department's recent announcement exhorting officers to serve in Iraq. More than a few bloggers had already declared that they had been "personally offended" that Rice had deemed herself "personally offended" the year before when Foreign Service officers had complained about being forced into a potential death sentence. She was tired of these whiny babies who felt a sense of entitlement to a glamorous jet-set life just because they had passed the Foreign Service Exam. Only one Foreign Service Officer had died in Iraq!!! What's the big deal??!! Sometimes she could not understand the cowardice of average people.

On the other side of the Potomac River, the top budget analyst at the Pentagon was reviewing the final budget memoranda from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. "We need more money!" "The enemy is everywhere!" "Our ports are vulnerable!" "Our silos are vulnerable!" "We're running out of time!" "The American way of life is in jeopardy!" "We need more intelligence!" The man exhaled deeply. His son had been killed a year ago in a college classroom by a mentally ill teenager with an assault rifle; if his son had graduated and finished ROTC, he would have been in Iraq or Afghanistan by now. Mental health services at the university had suffered budget cutbacks for three years in a row, but that was neither here nor there. The nation was at war. A mile away, the whine of helicopters signalled the start of the Pope's exit procession from the stadium, but the Pentagon's top budget analyst couldn't hear it because neither sound nor light could penetrate the rebuilt fortress walls around him.

Monday, April 14, 2008

One of Those Weeks

Regina and Ferguson were quietly playing with their Barbara and Jenna action figures on the floor of the White House butler’s office. Their mother was looking at the updated itinerary for the Pope’s visit to Washington until her pager went off and she departed. The twins stood up to peek at the itinerary on the computer screen, then began discussing it in their secret twin language. Their discussion soon turned to bickering as they argued over who would come out stronger after this encounter—President Bush or the Pope. By the time that Clio returned, Barbara had been dunked head-first into a cup of coffee and Jenna’s head had been ripped off and speared with a sharp pencil. Clio exhaled deeply, folded her arms, and stood in the doorway silently until Reggie and Fergie were again playing quietly on the floor. It’s gonna be one of those weeks.

A mile to the west, Dr. Khalid Mohammad was sedating a homeless trumpeter listed on the chart only as “Dizzy”. The man was still trying to rip his left ear off as the orderlies struggled to get his arms into the restraints. Dr. Mohammad handed the syringe back to the emergency room nurse, Consuela Arroyo, and reached for Dizzy’s chart (which still had almost no information on it). Dr. Mohammad asked Dizzy again if he was on any medication or had taken any drugs or alcohol. “I’m telling you, it’s the ducks! They put bagpipes in my ear while I was sleeping! They know I hate bagpipe music more than anything!” Dr. Mohammad tossed the George Washington University Hospital chart aside without writing anything down. Arroyo asked if he wanted them to take specimens down to the lab, but he waved her off and indicated he would examine the ear as soon as Dizzy stopped thrashing: he suspected that Dizzy had slept too long in one position and had incurred a blood clot in the ear. Arroyo said nothing, but this wasn’t the first time she had heard the Urine Park ducks slandered at this hospital. As Dizzy quieted down, Dr. Mohammad explained to Dizzy that he was going to examine the ear to ascertain the best way to remove the bagpipes. The physician’s assistant tasked with holding Dizzy’s head still rolled his eyes to nobody in particular. It’s gonna be one of those weeks.

A couple of miles away, Dr. Ermann Esse was seeing his third psychiatry appointment of the day—a nervous White House staffer. Dr. Esse had tried hypnosis, family history, scream therapy, a number of visualization techniques, and a host of other interventions, but the man was simply paralyzed by fears he could not explain. Dr. Esse was even beginning to doubt his previous decision not to recommend drug therapy for the man, who might not be able to function within a month at the rate his psyche was deteriorating. “I had the strangest dream last night,” the staffer said, as he lay down on the couch and curled up in the fetal position. “I stumbled into a secret meeting of a league of superhero artists.” Dr. Esse raised his eyebrows to indicate a need for further explanation. “I don’t know what their powers were, but they were definitely superheroes. And they were immortal—I mean, everybody was there, from Michelangelo and Rembrandt to Picasso and Warhol. All the greats. Something really big was happening, and they had to do something about it. But I didn’t know what it was, or what they were going to do about it!” Dr. Esse wrote this all down, but did not sense any deeper meaning in the dream. It’s gonna be one of those weeks. “Then President Bush walked in and warned them not to interfere with the Moon Township plan. I mean, why would the President care what a bunch of artists were doing?” Dr. Esse paused, pen in mid-air. Moon Township? Some other patient had also been talking about that….

A few miles south, Laura Moreno was still wrinkling her nose at the heavy smell of margaritas and daiquiris emanating from the workroom trash can, where Chloe Cleavage and her posse had deposited the remnants of their weekend “work” far from the inquisitive eyes, noses, or hands of the partners and associates. It was not the first time the client had been billed for fifty hours of weekend overtime pay while Chloe’s crew got hammered, and it wouldn’t be the last time that the evidence would be dumped in the workroom where Laura lived like Harry Potter under the staircase. It’s gonna be one of those weeks. Not far away, former Senator Evermore Breadman was telephoning VIPs to come over to Prince and Prowling on Wednesday to take advantage of its bird’s eye view of the Papal motorcade which would be departing the White House. Of course, since Laura Moreno did not really exist at Prince and Prowling, she would not be put on the authorized occupant list for the building on Wednesday, and would end up turned away by security guards at the door and briefly put into the custody of the Capitol Police—not to mention, losing all of Wednesday’s pay—but she did not know any of that yet. She dug into the first box of documents “reviewed” over the weekend and began adding the hundreds of flags that Chloe’s crew had somehow missed.

Across the street at Urine Park, the ducks were gloating over their eviction of Dizzy and preparing for the upcoming Papal motorcade as the Shackled flew overhead to scout out the route.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Dubious McGinty had his satellite dish tuned to C-Span, and he was ready to watch General David Petraeus get questioned by the Senate Armed Services Committee. It was a chilly morning on the drawbridge, but McGinty was feeling hot because he had been having flashbacks of Vietnam all night--triggered when he had heard Senator John McCain say that the United States is "no longer staring into the abyss of defeat" in Iraq. McCain was on this committee, and so were the other Presidential candidates that Perry Winkle had told him about. McGinty had voted in a couple of Presidential elections when he was younger, but he had no memory of them, and Winkle was trying to persuade McGinty to register to vote this year. McGinty found it hard to believe that voting would make any difference. A couple sparrows were hopping around his feet, foraging for sticky bun crumbs, but he had only a vague awareness of their chirping presence, and it would be hours before he opened the door and they saw the sky again. McGinty stared at McCain, trying to picture Condoleeza Rice as his running mate; it gave him chills, and he took a gulp of his Irish coffee.

Several miles away, in Adams Morgan, a teacher was sipping Dunkin Donuts coffee and talking to her class about the Olympic torch relay, and why it was being disrupted by anti-Chinese protesters around the world. Angela de la Paz did not know anything about Tibet, and she was staring out the window at a couple of pink warblers singing for her. She was thinking about the horses that Dr. Raj had taken her and a few other students to see on Sunday. They were retired racehorses, and very beautiful. The students got to feed carrots to the horses and pet them, and one of them had nuzzled Angela like a large dog licking her face. Dr. Raj had explained to them that horses don't like racing--they are literally whipped into a frenzy of fear that propels them as a herd to execute a flight response. Sometimes, horses can't take it anymore and simply refuse to run anymore. The horses' new home was so simple--just an old barn and some grassy fields to graze in--but the horses had looked so content. Dr. Raj had explained to them that there was a federal budget freeze at the National Arboretum, and the Friendship Garden program was probably not going to happen this year, but she would try to find other things for them to do. Dr. Raj had spent $100 for a rented van, and her whole afternoon, to pick up the kids and drive them out to rural Maryland to see this place, but she was really not sure what she could or should do for the rest of the year.

Angela's thoughts turned to the second farm they had seen, where wild horses rescued from armed Nevada ranchers had been brought to roam free--a pinto stallion and his small harem of beautiful mares. The herd galloped around just for the fun of it, until the mustangs spotted some horses brought out for dressage practice at the farm next door. Then the wild horses--who had never been ridden- had lined up at the fence in amazement to watch what the other horses were doing prancing around with people on their backs and things tied around their mouths. Angela didn't know that horses could have such different lives. The girl seated at the desk next to her began to cry, and Angela shifted her focus back to the classroom, where the teacher was saying they had spent enough time talking about Tibet.

Several miles south, Charles Wu was eating baklava at Overtime Cafe, reading newspaper reports about the anti-Tibet protests dogging the Olympic torch relay around the world. He really didn't see how China was any worse than the U.S. had been to the American indigenous, the British had been to the subcontinent's indigenous, the Spanish had been to the Caribbean indigenous, or the French had been to the African indigenous. He didn't like it when China was held to such high standards by people that had such disgusting human rights records of their own. And yet.... He frowned, admitting to himself that most people in China did not even have newspapers or any other source telling them what was going on in Tibet. But Westerners are worse, because they know what their governments are doing but let their governments keep doing it. The waiter brought Wu another Chinese beer and told him that the new karaoke machine would be delivered this weekend. Wu smiled and nodded at the waiter as Han Li came in and sat down across the chess game that Wu was teaching him as they got to know each other better. Li ordered some pizza and began telling Wu some of the strange things he had heard coming from the Heurich Society meeting this week--for instance, how furious they were that Condoleezza Rice was being talked about as a Vice Presidential candidate, and how one of the members had kept shouting, "I told you! I told you! I told you she had her own agenda! We can't trust her anymore!" Li's English had gotten a lot better.

A few miles away, Ardua brooded in the Potomac, frustrated that Bush, Cheney, and Rice were all out of town at the same time. She lashed out at George Washington Hospital, killing a young woman in childbirth and a car accident victim in the emergency room, but it wasn't enough for her.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Former Senator Evermore Breadman was a little concerned about his meeting with Alphonso Jackson, the recently resigned Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Though he had assured Jackson that there would be no trouble finding him a soft landing, Breadman was concerned that Jackson's expectations of a golden parachute were a little unrealistic. After all, the man had no current business skills, and had already demonstrated a serious lack of political circumspection. It would be hard for him to go back into public housing administration after overseeing the Republican gutting of the whole genre for so many years: in short, his street cred was long gone. If the real estate market were hotter, it would be easy to find him a good landing in the private sector, but timing was not ideal. Breadman frowned and swallowed down the rest of his Wie Chinese herbal tonic. He was going to have to think outside the box, and it was not really his specialty. And that infernal racket! It was a nearby crane, a crane with the loudest mechanical squeal he had ever heard in his life. He toyed with the idea of postponing the meeting, but he knew Jackson was eager to take a vacation away from Washington, so it was better to get it over with. Maybe Jackson can head a special commission to...prove that minorities were not disproportionately hit by the subprime mortgage disaster....

A dozen yards away, Chloe Cleavage was trolling www.sugardaddies.com, wondering if she was still young enough and pretty enough. Last night, the latest flock of emergency contract attorneys had been let go after just 2-1/2 days of work, which even she thought was unnecessarily cruel. She had read Cosmo and Elle during their orientation, and had perused real estate foreclosures while overseeing them in the sweatshop downstairs, but she had occasionally actually looked at them (because you never know if one of them is going to present serious beefcake!), and even she had been unsettled by the emotionless, shell-shocked visages hovering listlessly in front of computer screens full of the most financially and technologically obtuse jargon she had ever, herself, seen in a lawsuit. But there it was--they had schlepped through enough documents to get the team past the deadline crisis, and so they were gone. Chloe had a fairly streamlined approach to doing second review, and was going to have no trouble getting through the folders in a couple of days. Cornelius Hadley Birchmere VI? Very good looking, but just how long-lived are these guys? And would he make me name my son "Cornelius"? She read a little further. What if I have a daughter? Would she be known as the laxative heiress? She clicked through a few more entries. There are millionnaires in Mexico? Who knew?! She was very prejudiced against mustaches, or so she told herself as she continued clicking. A Swiss lawyer and banker? Hmmm.... Would he want to marry a lawyer? Probably not. Of course, I don't have to tell him I'm a lawyer! It's not as if he will find out by Googling me. And so she sent a message to a man who specialized in secret Swiss bank accounts (ever since he had inherited several "abandoned" Jewish ones from his parents) while several partners up on the penthouse floor looked on approvingly as the Nintendo Wii station was installed in the partners-only lounge.

A couple of miles away, Liv Cigemeier was trying to talk her boss into contacting Al Gore about his new "We" campaign, and was getting his "Are you out of your mind?" look. She continued, pumped up on liquid courage (an organic dark chocolate chai latte). "This is exactly what International Development Machine should be about! Finding solutions that sustain life on this planet! Huge hydro-electric dams are just providing short-term solutions while destroying the very Third World ecosystems needed to sustain the populations! The world is about to see the largest mass extinction in millions of years, and the largest mass migration of human beings ever recorded in civilized history! There are thousands of programs and projects we could be doing that will provide real jobs to the poor, and communities that will be sustainable for generations to come. This is a moment to seize!" The President of I.D.M. put his glasses back on and turned back to his computer screen, reminding her he wanted the USAID police-training proposal ready by 4 p.m. On her way back to her desk, Liv could see Momzilla just arriving at the office--she somehow seemed to have two OB-GYN appointments/week now, even though she always raved about how healthy she was. Liv would be lucky to get even two paragraphs out of her for the proposal.

"How are we feeling today?" Dr. Ermann Esse was an old-fashioned psychiatrist who had his patients lie down on a couch for each session, addressed them as "we", and refused to prescribe pharmaceuticals of any sort. This resulted in his receiving an enormous number of top government officials with security clearances, as well as some lower officials subject to random drug testing. He was not without pity for the hapless souls that truly suffered from chemical imbalances, but he made those types of diagnoses very quickly and referred them out for treatment by a different M.D. in the building. No, what he liked were the classic personality disorders associated with men (and, on rare occasion, women) who spent their lives thinking they were controlling the world. Henry Samuelson kicked off his shoes, lay down on the couch, ignored the question, and immediately began to tell Dr. Esse about the dream he had of trying to sell a semi-junky car to a band of hippies who proffered him a $979 bill with a portrait of Ben Franklin on it. "A $979 bill?" Dr. Esse repeated, in his old-fashioned way. Samuelson explained that, in his dream, he believed at first that the bill was counterfeit because it seemed really odd that the U.S. Treasury would be issuing $979 bills, but the more he looked at it, the more real it seemed. But that wasn't even the strangest thing about the dream! The strangest thing was that I was really thinking of giving those hippies the car without authenticating the currency. Of all people, those were surely the type of people I should have trusted the least! "The least?" Dr. Esse repeated. Samuelson reflected a moment, and admitted that there were others he trusted less--such as Arabs, Russians, Africans, Frenchmen, Paraguayans, Canadians, Norwegians, Australians, and Celts--but he rarely encontered them since he had retired from the CIA. But the U.S. still has hippies! "The U.S. still has hippies?" Dr. Esse repeated. Then Samuelson began ranting about hippies, punks, peaceniks, feminists, and vegans; then he commented that he was worried his own children might have fallen into one or more of these categories. "Your own children?" Dr. Esse repeated, suppressing a smile because he knew it was a major breakthough. "We are worried about our children?"

"Wheeeeeeeeeee!" A few miles to the south, a tourist from Canada was swinging his daughter around beneath the exuberant cherry blossoms, under a bright blue sky, next to the Tidal Basin. An infected duck couple swam past, their shell-shocked visages gliding listlessly above the shimmering water, as they led their ducklings back to the more plentiful food of the Potomac River. Nearby, Ardua had rebounded from the weekend vomiting, and had resumed consuming hapless tourists, as the Shackled watched in helpless frustration.