Washington Horror Blog

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

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Task That Lay Ahead

Dubious McGinty was watching Rolling Thunder from a perch atop the drawbridge. Every year it amazed him to think he had lived another year to see it again. He liked watching it from a distance, and could never understand how military veterans could tolerate the loud noise of motorcycles...but maybe they had never lived through the kind of combat Dubious had seen in Vietnam. A distant creaking noise signalled him that somebody was making his way up, and a minute later he heard Perry Winkle calling out to him. They exchanged a few words and sat down to drink beer and eat subs. Winkle had given up on the idea of writing about Dubious for The Washington Post, but he was still writing about Dubious...maybe for a book someday. He wanted to take Dubious to Arlington Cemetery tomorrow to visit graves, but Dubious said he had to keep a close watch on Ardua. Winkle promised Dubious he would lay wreathes at the tombstones (he already had the platoon list from Dubious), then asked Dubious how Ardua was doing. Dubious shook his head. "That Chinese lady comes out sometimes and throws things in the water, and that shakes up Ardua pretty good, but only for awhile. Same thing with that Indian princess and her chanting. It never lasts." Winkle asked about the pink dolphins. "They're still there, and she don't like 'em. They keep helping the birds run away." He was talking about the ducks, gulls and terns that were fleeing from the Potomac to the city parks in increasingly large numbers (they almost outnumbered the pigeons in McPherson Square now). They waddled around eating crumbs, but the mallards did not know where to lay their eggs and the seabirds were weak from not eating fish. "I mean, they ain't fighters--that's what we need down here." He was referring to the birds again. "If those dolphins get busy, maybe in a few years...." He meant, if they multiply; Dubious had run out of ideas for fighting Ardua.

A few miles to the east, Laura Moreno was doing a rare Sunday at Prince and Prowling, desperate not to be replaced by an attorney from the new batch of temps hired for the latest surge in the sweatshop. She pulled her gloves off and massaged her aching hands as she made her way to the conference room upstairs for a project meeting with Chloe Cleavage and the Paralegal-from-Hell. Two-dozen bleary-eyed lawyers approaching 80 hours for the week shuffled in; some had to sit on the floor because PFH had not bothered finding a large enough conference room. "Somebody's been stealing spoons from the 5th floor kitchen." Laura looked up in surprise at PFH, who had just uttered this declaration. "We know it's somebody in this group, so y'all need to return the spoons by 9 a.m. tomorrow, or there's gonna be a major problem." Laura looked at Chloe, but Chloe was texting on her Blackberry. "That's it." PFH turned around on her spike heels and left the room. Chloe stopped clicking mid-sentence and asked if anybody had any questions about the project, but nobody said a word, and that was the end of the meeting. Chloe walked out, and the attorneys looked around at each other for a few seconds, then shuffled back to the sweatshop...all except--it seemed somebody was missing, but Laura could not figure out whom until she paused to look out the conference room window at the bright sunny day she had sacrificed to the Almighty Dollar and saw the one named Lisa walking out to the curb carrying a box and a bag. Lisa turned back one more time to look at the security guard who had escorted her out of Prince and Prowling, but Laura could not see the expression on the guard's face. Later she would find out that PFH had discovered Lisa was homeless and sleeping in the gym locker room in the basement. (Her stuff had been searched for the missing spoons to no avail--because the spoons had been accidentally thrown in the garbage after the ice cream happy hour thrown for the new summer associates on Friday.) Laura walked uneasily back to her workroom, popped some pain killers, pulled her gloves on, and got back to work.

Several miles north, Charles Wu pulled his gloves back on and got back to work ripping up Chinese wisteria and Chinese honeysuckle in Rock Creek Park. He was extremely good at spotting Chinese things out of place--a skill that was now proving useful as he tried to impress the female target who had invited him along on this invasive-species-removal outing. It felt good to rip living things out of the forest, and his speed and acumen were, in fact, impressing her. However, he was scarcely thinking about her, thinking instead about the earthquake aftershock in China. He had already seen and learned more than he had wanted to about the victims there, and yet his clients continued to ask for more intel on the situation, and he distrusted all their motives for asking. He was sick of thinking about death, and resented people who forced him to do so. He caught sight of her looking at him--admiring his sweaty physique, no doubt--and winked at her, then frowned after she looked away.

A couple of miles to the east, Angela de la Paz waved to her grandmother through the window of their Adams Morgan apartment. Angela was outside planting some cuttings that Dr. Raj had given her from the National Arboretum. They had not asked permission from the landlord, but she figured he would never notice them anyway. On a tree branch above, a pair of pink warblers were singing to her; soon, she would be old enough and ready for the task that lay ahead.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Taken In

Charles Wu was sipping his Ceylon tea at the Silver Spring Panera, looking out on the Chinese Film Festival patrons traipsing back to the Metro station. It was a little embarassing to meet a contact at such a shameless imitation of a European cafe, but it certainly qualified as under the radar, and the gray threat of drizzle lent a serious tone to the afternoon's rendez-vous. In truth, Wu usually did not get much useful information from this man, but even the solid steel veneer of the Chinese government could not avoid suffering a few stress fractures of its own after the recent earthquake in China, and interesting tidbits of intelligence were bound to have leaked out as far as this man. Wu lowered the tea to the table and joined his fingertips in the intellectual deep-thinking position he had picked up at Cambridge all those years ago. He was thinking about the films he had seen at the American Film Institute cinema over the weekend, especially that one love story....It reminded him of the unhappy history of his aunt, who had found a lover almost as star-crossed as Wu's own father had been. And then a funny thing happened: for the first time in his life, it suddenly occurred to Wu that his mother might have lied to him about his father. What was the real story? The man had seen Wu a half-dozen times perhaps, had provided for him, had sent him to university in England (where Wu had sworn off his English relatives after the uneasy--and only--Christmas holiday he had spent with them in Yorkshire). What was the real story? Suddenly, it bothered him tremendously to think that he might not really know it. His father was dead (or was he?), and Wu had already asked his mother for more information than she had been willing to give. (Just being born a bastard, you learn early on that you've already caused enough trouble for one mother's lifetime.) The food shortages in Asia, the death toll in Myanmar, the people buried alive in China--somehow, he kept all those thoughts at bay and pondered, instead, the meaning of his own birth in Hong Kong, and the meaning of the Chinese love story he had seen this weekend. He didn't know what his contact would tell him today, but it couldn't possibly be of more interest to him than what he needed to ask his mother.

Several miles south, Sebastian L'Arche was dog-walking across Lafayette Park, thankful that the rain was holding off, when a bomb-sniffing canine started barking loudly at him and pulling her master's leash in L'Arche's direction. L'Arche tensed with apprehension, uncertain of what was coming next but certain it was not going to be good. He heeled his three charges abruptly and froze in place well before the White House security officers arrived to yell at him. He looked down suspiciously at his newest charge--the Labradoodle owned by a French businessman who was going to be out of town a lot for his new employer--and wondered what exactly it was that the French businessman did. "Sir! Put your hands in the air!" L'Arche complied in silence, knowing his V.A. insurance card was placed in the wallet to be the first thing any arresting officer would see after frisking him. However, the frisk never happened because the bomb-sniffing canine abruptly lay down in front of the old Korean woman's German shepherd and began rolling around playfully because it was her mother. As the two dogs affectionately nipped at each other, the officers looked around in embarassment as a large number of teenage girls from Wisconsin began taking camera pictures and emitting a large number of oohs and ahs.

In an alley two blocks away, a former White House security officer lay down some fresh newspaper on the wet concrete porch he called home. He took off his shoes and socks and started slapping at the imaginary ants crawling all over his feet. He did that for a few minutes, then picked up the bags of half-eaten hot dogs and pretzels discarded by a bunch of teenage girls from Wisconsin. He chewed methodically, but stopped several times to swat away imaginary beetles that were crawling on his face. He had not had a bath in a very long time, but this was not what was making him itch. He yelled out "shut up!" several times, finished the food, then lay down under a blanket to sleep for a couple of hours next to an emergency fire exit door that had not been opened in three years. Tomorrow the noisy Shred-it truck would return to the alley to pick up the legal refuse of the office building, window-washers and electricians would park their cars and trucks alongside the building, and a catbird would try again to whisper Ardua's bidding into his ear--but the ghost that lived inside of him had been a crazy denizen of the White House staff long before she even became a ghost herself, and the battle for control of this man was far from over. As he drifted off to sleep, the sun peeked out of the clouds, but he was too deep in the alley's shadows to feel it. Soon an angel dressed like a scarecrow was telling him he was covered with lice and would have to be shaved. A few minutes later, he was as pink as a shorn sheep and breathed deeply for several minutes until the scarecrow came back for a second pass to shave his arm and leg hairs down to the follicle roots, causing small blood vessels to erupt all over his limbs until, at last, he was covered in blood, and woke up screaming. A hundred feet above him, an attorney taking a break from her computer screen watched this from her office window and wondered how bad the mentally ill had to get in this town before the city would take them in.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

Clio was just returning to her White House quarters after a visit to her cousin's place in Hyattsville. The twins had been fairly well-behaved, other than that incident with the Ovaltine and the bird feeder. Regina and Ferguson still spoke predominantly in their secret twin language, but they had managed a few words of comprehensible English during the day. Clio planted them in a warm bath and went to check her email--which proved to be stoked with a large number of contraband Secret Service photos from the Jenna Bush wedding in Texas. Dubyah with cake frosting on his face, Neil leering at a woman in a red dress, George Sr. nodding off in his chair, Barbara the Younger getting funky to the dance music...then there was the PhotoShop version of the bridal party, in which each bridesmaid was standing not in front of a groomsman but in front of a different (six-foot!) beer bottle. She lingered over a photo of the happy couple standing with the President and First Lady--she didn't see anything funny in it, but she suddenly got nostalgic thinking about her own wedding day. Getting cards and hand-made gifts and heartfelt cuddles from Reggie and Fergie made it all worthwhile, but she always felt a little bittersweet on days like Mother's Day--now that her own mother was gone, and her husband had not stuck around to raise these unusual children. She went back to get the twins and found them making Barney and Tickle-Me-Elmo drink the bathwater, into which they had somehow smuggled a residual amount of Ovaltine contraband. They were laughing hysterically, and for a moment, she just let it be.

Several miles away, Atticus Hawk had been trying to get away from Jai Alai's Hyattsville home all afternoon, to no avail. Apparently, in some kind of Friday-night happy-hour moment of insanity, he had agreed to go to Jai's for Mother's Day. It was insane! They had barely started dating, barely knew each other--and yet, here he was, trapped by the rain inside a house stuffed with so many children he could hardly remember which one was Jai's. And the look on Jai's mother's face! (The look on everybody's face!) He had never felt so white. She seemed to have relatives (by blood or by marriage) from three continents and every racial category other than his. In fact, he was starting to wonder what exactly she was. Then it happened: somebody cornered him near the beer cooler on the back porch, and he suddenly learned that Jai's last boyfriend was in prison...for killing her other child. Why didn't I google her??!! He got a sick feeling in his stomach, the feeling he got whenever he suddenly realized that he was not where he should be or not doing what he should be doing--compounded by the Mother's Day spread that they had all been eating seemingly non-stop for five hours. He put back the beer without opening it and timed himself to leave when he was 30 minutes more sober. She had been so interested in the fact that he was an attorney...and so disappointed when he had told her that he could say nothing about his work. If he had told her, she would have learned that some of the things her old boyfriend had done to her kids were also things that the interrogators had done to the Guantanamo prisoners--the prisoners which had built Hawk's career at the Justice Department and had never given him a stomach ache, dead or alive.

A few miles to the northwest, Liv Cigemeier was gloomily settling in for her last couple of hours of weekend. Her husband had said nothing about Mother's Day...all day long. The last time she had tried to bring up the baby thing, he had said they needed to save up more money. Nonetheless, he had just booked a $5,000 summer vacation in Canada. What she didn't know was that the senior partners above him at Prince and Prowling had just been sacked: after 29 and 30 years respectively, they had been shown the door because they were not bringing in enough new business. Liv curled up on the couch next to her husband, who put his arm around her and thought about telling her that he was being transferred to a different practice group, but he hated shattering her sense of security. He knew she was happy in her little nonprofit making peanuts, so he kept silent.

Not far away, the Shackled continued to roam the attics and basements and crawlspaces of the D.C. netherworld, trying to comfort the motherly ghosts howling for their children.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

Judge Sowell Lame was in his chamber reading the memorandum his law clerk had written about the Interim Attorney General's lawsuits against over a dozen landlords in D.C. Apparently this Peter Nickless fellow was some kind of a crusader --he actually used words like "slumlord" and "justice" when he talked to the press. The man was even appearing as a featured guest at the next meeting of the Tenants Advocacy Coalition. Lame finished reading the memo, swallowed some more coffee, and pulled out his already highlighted copy of the recent Washington Post article on the failure of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to use a designated fund for the repair of problem properties. "From fiscal 2005 to 2007, DCRA had about $16.5 million in its repair fund." "But only a fraction of the fund has gone to decrepit apartment buildings, even as tenants across the city have reported dangerous conditions. In the past three years, the city has spent nearly three times more on repairs for single-family houses than for apartments." He flipped back to the part about how many citations had been issued by inspectors. Lame had not been in D.C. long, but he had been warned that DCRA was already undergoing its second major shake-up in four years. Apparently this Nickless fellow did not want to wait for the bureaucratic revolution. Lame couldn't stand it when lawyers tried to make judges do the things that politicians lacked the courage to--and this was a lawyer who did not even want to wait on his own administration to act! Half of Lame's civil docket could be summed up in a few words: tenants refusing to pay rent to "slumlords" and landlords refusing to make repairs for "deadbeats". Lame was sick to death of it. He stuffed the memo and the article into the jacket of the filing and shoved it all into his purple drawer--purple for "pending"; he would not do anything until every single defendant filed an answer, and he was not going to enforce any deadlines for that. Still.... He was starting to hear whispers and rumors that his court schedule seemed a lot lighter than most of the judges--he knew he needed to schedule more hearings. Outside his window, a catbird alit on the windowsill and began imitating the chirps of the migrating blue jays. Lame reached into his yellow drawer--yellow for "yucky"--and randomly pulled out five jackets. Top of the pile: that vexing pro bono case filed by Laura Moreno.

Downstairs, another crusader was filing a lawsuit of his own--a class action claiming that hundreds of Adams Morgan tenants had been cheated out of their right to purchase their rental units under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. Two months later, the baffled grandmother of Angela de la Paz would be asking a pro bono attorney what was going on in her apartment building as her neighbors descended into an assortment of squabbling factions screaming for their share of the real estate wealth they had been entitled to, unable to provide a united front against the landlord. Twelve years from now, the entire building would be razed and the plot labeled a hazardous waste site; seventeen years from now, twenty percent of today's residents would be dead from cancer.

A couple of miles west, Laura Moreno was in a Prince and Prowling conference room organizing witness binders for a trial that would never happen because it was all an elaborate game of bluffs and poker bids. She was redoing the index again because Chloe Cleavage had again changed her mind about how to organize things. Laura could hear the familiar screech of "Wince" emanating from Bridezilla's nearby office, but the rest of the telephone conversation was new to Laura: apparently Bridezilla was still not a member of the D.C. Bar! "It's my secretary's fault!!!", Bridezilla was hissing into the phone. "We're going to have to postpone the wedding!" This would be the third postponement, though Laura thought it was only the second. A minute later, Bridezilla's voice was even louder: "I want the newspaper announcement to say "D.C. attorney"!!!" A few minutes later, Bridezilla was cutting through the conference room on wobbly high heels, stopping only momentarily to glower at Laura for putting so many boxes in her path. Laura (who had been a member of the D.C. Bar for several years now) went back to the workroom to print out new labels; Bridezilla headed to court with a senior partner for the sole purpose of wearing another court-appearance red dress in front of Judge "Leer" as he heard the Prince and Prowling oral argument for summary judgment in defense of a land owner sued for dumping dry cleaning solvent and refrigeration PCBs into a Mount Pleasant creek a couple miles north of Adams Morgan.

A few miles north, Button Samuelson was at an outdoor cafe having lunch with her downstairs neighbor. Button thought this was about the noise from her new power yoga workout, but her neighbor handed Button a thick file. "What's this?", Button asked in surprise. She got a mumble in response and proceeded to open up the file, which consisted of three photocopied pleadings. Ten minutes later, Button understood: the condo association had sued three former members of the board for gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, those three unit owners had counter-sued the condominium association (along with the current board members added as individual defendants) for misappropriation of condo association dues, and a class action had been filed on behalf of all owners who had purchased since 2003 under "fradulently inflated" prices and "deliberately misleading" subprime terms. The chickens have come home to roost. Button suddenly recalled her father saying that frequently....He never explained where the chickens had been before. "What are you going to do?", Button asked her downstairs neighbor, who, in turn, arched her eyebrows at Button--who was, after all, a real estate agent. Button had probably seen a billion dollars worth of real estate change hands in the last four years, but she let the real estate attorneys worry about stuff like that. With a sinking feeling, Button realized that their fees were going to have to go way up to cover the condo association litigation costs, and if she sold out now, she would probably lose $150,000 on her investment. And she had no idea what to tell her downstairs neighbor. A flock of starlings inched their way closer to Button's table, but the two ladies had failed to drop any crumbs on the ground, so the birds moved on--all except for one, who suddenly pecked Button sharply on her ankle. Button cried out in surprise and kicked the bird away, as a few drops of blood began escaping her skin on their way to soaking into the aquifer draining into Rock Creek and the Potomac.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Dr. Ermann Esse was captivated by the deep neurosis gripping his 10 a.m. Saturday appointment, White House staffer #4. (Dr. Esse was up to nine White House staffers now, though he was uncertain as to how many of them knew about each other's psychiatric treatments.) #4 had been up all night, utterly unable to sleep after the news had broken that President Bush had shattered the modern historical record for most unpopular President. "More unpopular than Richard Nixon!", #4 kept wailing. #4 was taking it very, very, very personally. Dr. Esse asked him why this disapproval of Bush upset him so. "It's my fault!!", #4 shouted, incredulous that Dr. Esse could not see this. (Dr. Esse did not understand the chain of command in the White House Administration, but it did seem to him there was an excessive amount of people who thought it was all their own fault.) Dr. Esse asked #4 if he thought that 71% of the American public specifically disapproved of #4. "They would if they knew it was me that...." Dr. Esse carefully took notes on yet another explanation of who had advised whom to do what and when.

"Do you believe that the President is right?" #4 immediately responded in the affirmative. "Would you rather be right or popular?" #4 hesitated--he had seen this question on the White House personnel assessment form, and had always thought it was a trap. "Do you think the President would rather be right or popular?" #4 said, "right". "Well, then," Dr. Esse continued, "the President should be satisfied. If you are serving the President, and he is satisfied, then you have done a good job. After all, the President does not have an unfavorable approval rating of you, does he?" #4 was very confused now. "Well, does he?" #4 shook his head in the negative. Dr. Esse leaned in closer. "Well, then, that leaves us with two possibilities [for this neurosis, but he did not say that part out loud]: either you have an unfavorable approval rating of your own for the President, or you have decided that you are the servant of the people in the opinion poll. Since you have already said that you believe the President is right, this [neurosis!] must mean that you subconsciously have decided that you are supposed to be serving the public instead." Dr. Esse leaned back in his chair, pleased with himself. "You must reconcile your actions with your thoughts, you must live the life you think." #4 nodded like a zombie, though he had no idea what Dr. Esse was telling him to do. "Alright, go home and think about this, and we will discuss it again next Saturday." #4 strolled out into the bright sunshine and for a few moments forgot he needed to go into the office today. When he got to his car, he saw a catbird throwing himself repeatedly against its own reflection in the rear-view mirror.

A few blocks away, Atticus Hawk was whistling as he walked into his Justice Department office. He had met a girl! Well, a woman who was already a mother, but...he liked her. Last night had been their first "Date Lab" date, set up by The Washington Post. He had told nobody he knew about it, and most of them still did not know because it would be awhile before they would be profiled in The Washington Post Magazine. Actually, most of his friends only read The Washington Times, and might never know! He didn't want them to know: she was obviously a lower class native Washingtonian with no education, and his friends would all look down on her. They had no idea why "Date Lab" had matched them--all they had come up with was that they had both spent most of their childhood in South Carolina, both missed fried okra, and both detested the summer tourist season. A genealogist could have told them that they shared a common ancestor (a rice plantation owner who had raped a young slave girl two centuries ago), but neither they nor "Date Lab" had figured that out. Why do I like her? Hawk was still puzzling over that question, which he felt he might have to answer sooner or later to somebody. Mostly it was because she was awe-struck by his intelligence, good manners, and southern gentleman charm, but he was incapable of perceiving that his fondness of her was related to her nascent adoration of him. Well, she's very pretty. He had never before thought himself capable of thinking that. He opened up his email and started printing out the items he needed to work on today. She's...different. He was bored with dating Stepford Wives-in-training, truth be known. She's appreciative. She was obviously not a regular patron of nice restaurants, and actually showed genuine gratitude for and pleasure in the meal they shared at Le Paradou. She's--his phone rang. He took a deep breath, but it turned out to be his boss, not another reporter asking why it took six years to determine the innocence of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj and release him from Guantanamo. "I know," Hawk answered. "I'm on it." A determination of "innocence" was not what had happened, but that's how the press was reporting it. Innocence--you can never really prove innocence. He picked up his red pen to start marking up the draft memo he had written the afternoon before, not realizing that his subconscious had a theory that Jai Alai was an Innocent.

Several miles north, Charles Wu was dreaming that he was walking on a colossal scaffold girding Earth. He had to walk all the way around the planet, and the scaffold was not that wide. Gravity had been suspended, so if he fell off the scaffold, he would fall into space and float away. Up in the distance, he could now make out the moon--which appeared a thousand times larger than he remembered it to be. He was looking at the bottom of it, wondering if it, too, had lost its gravity, and if people were walking on the bottom of the moon and falling off. He was terrified, and woke up. Halfway around the world, forensic accountants had started to trace the trail of the depleted $29.8 million Singapore bank account once controlled by Ching Chi-Ju for the purpose of luring Singapore to give diplomatic recognition to Taiwan in exchange for an infusion of economic development aid. Wu didn't really believe they would ever succeed in tracing even one dollar of it to his own Swiss bank account, so he made no connection between his nightmare and the breaking scandal in Taiwan. He stared at the ceiling for a moment, vaguely recollecting that he used to have nightmares about the moon when he was a child, then got up to make a mimosa and turn on his computer to see the Olympic torch ceremonies in Hong Kong.

Over in Chinatown, Lynnette Wong was glued to her backroom computer, relegating shop sales to the high school student who occasionally came in on Saturday mornings: the Dalai Lama representatives were meeting with Beijing officials today, and she did not want to miss a minute of breaking news on it. China had already sentenced thirty Tibetans to prison for the monk-led uprising, which China blamed for 22 Tibetan deaths; the Dalai Lama's camp had put the death toll at more than 200. "We all look at the same moon each night," her mother had been fond of saying when Wong's father had talked about Chinese politics and Chinese dissenters. Her father had always responded--pointedly in Cantonese instead of Mandarin--"so do the deer and the tiger".

Lynnette heard her name called and walked into the store, where she found a new client asking for help with the cracked and blistering skin on his left hand. She pushed up his sleeve to examine it and saw it--the Rolex. She shook her head in frustration and told him he needed to get rid of it. "It's a Rolex!" he cried. "What are you talking about? Am I allergic to platinum" She hesitated between telling the truth and telling a lie, then agreed with him that he was allergic to platinum. She made him sit down in the back of the shop and remove the watch while she prepared an ointment for his left hand. A couple minutes later, he was closing his eyes and relaxing as she massaged what looked, felt, and smelt like vanilla buttercream frosting into every nook and cranny of the hand. She propped a small box under his forearm and instructed him to keep his hand in the air for a quarter hour, and then he could put a cotton glove on--he should use the ointment every four hours until the hand healed, and never put on the Rolex again. "Thank you!" he replied, already having decided to get the Rolex lined with something else. She instructed her helper how much to charge the man for the ointment and gloves, then returned to the back of the store. Some day I am going to have to have a serious talk with Breadman.

Hovering outside the store, a few of the Shackled discussed the newest owner of the cursed Rolex as a flock of starlings crowded out a family of sparrows from the crumbs dropped to the sideway by the cafe patrons next door.