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 27, 2008

Hold On to Your Dreams

Atticus Hawk was sitting at the 30-year-old formica table reviewing paperwork while Jai Alai cooked dinner and periodically looked out the kitchen window at her son playing in the brown backyard with the new tenant from the basement apartment. Hawk was reviewing the mortgage program papers Jai had picked up earlier in the week at NACA's "Save the Dream of Homeownership Event". He had promised to go with her, but when he had seen the line stretching out of the Capital Hilton and down K Street, he had bailed out on her and gone back to the office. He had also spent most of the weekend at the Justice Department with the legal team preparing for the start of Hamdan's trial, but she had never complained--she just said she knew he was doing important work and would help her with the paperwork when he had a chance. She had no idea what work he did, and most of the time he was glad not to be able to tell her. He knew his boss would summon him back to the office soon enough, but he really wanted to do this. Until he had started dating Jai, he had not held any sympathy for the idiots who had taken out sub-prime mortgages, but he felt differently about it now that he knew her story--the former boyfriend in on the down payment, the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend realtor, the promise that house equity would keep rising (even in this drab and uninviting suburban Maryland neighborhood), the former boyfriend's cousin who had rented out the basement apartment for only three months before accidentally (or unaccidentally) burning it up the week before he was arrested and sent to prison, the many long months with no renter, the transfer of her mortgage to another mortgage company which had started tacking on mysterious fees and jacking up her escrow payment far beyond what was necessary for the taxes, and so forth and so on.

And Hawk suspected there was even more to the story, which was true, since he still did not know the full horror story which was the story of the former boyfriend. Right now, she was earning $45,000/year, had a mortgage of $1,600/month, and had exhausted her savings during the period before the basement was fixed up and re-rented. She really needs this program. Hawk read more about the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America and found himself liking it--far from being some bleeding-heart liberal charity, it was actually providing a service that made sense. He made some calculations, then started filling out paperwork for her. She placed a steaming bowl of corn-on-the-cob at the other end of the table and smiled at him when he looked up. "I think this program can get you down to a fixed 6.5% mortgage--maybe even 6%," he said, smiling up at her. She had taken out the previous mortgage with the boyfriend now in prison for murdering her daughter, and had barely understood what she was doing. This time, she was determined to understand everything and had read all the paperwork several times, but it still perplexed and scared her. He put down his pen and clasped her wrist reassuringly. "It'll be alright." All this time, she had been thinking that she could not keep this sad little house unless she found another boyfriend to move in, but Hawk...well, this was different....It was like he wanted her to get back on her feet by herself. This was new, and seemed a good thing, but she couldn't help but wonder if he ever would want to....He drew her hand up to his lips, kissed it, and told her the corn smelled great. He gathered up the paperwork and headed to the backyard to get her son.

Several miles south, Golden Fawn lit another pile of sage to smoke out the dozens of black flies infesting her boyfriend's Southwest Plaza apartment. Marcos Vasquez hung up the phone and shook his head in horror as Golden Fawn looked at him quizzically. "The guy in the apartment below me died a week ago." She put down the lighter and walked over to where he was sitting on the couch. "They just cleared the body out, so the flies have scattered through the passive air vents looking for fresh meat." He regretted the choice of words as soon as he saw her wince. He stood up to walk out on the balcony with her, their dinner safely tucked into the fridge. They sat down to munch on pretzels and drink chilled white wine, watching the thunderstorm growing in the distance. It's always something. She rested her head on his shoulder, wondering why they could never relax in this building. He was going to give her an update on the sexual harassment lawsuit at work but decided to put it off. A raven landed on the railing and made a loud address to Golden Fawn, who nodded at it before it flew off again. It was updating her about the real estate demon living in the basement--something she had postponed telling Marcos about because, well, she wasn't entirely sure it was real. She knew Ardua was real because her grandmother had warned her about it and Marcos and some others had seen it, but this was something new and different and strange, and she couldn't very well tell Marcos that ravens were speaking to her when she was not, in fact, sure that they were. But it makes sense....This building is cursed, surely. She took another sip of wine, her neck growing warm and sweaty from lying on his shoulder out in the heat and humidity. He kissed the top of her head, and they sat in silence.

A few miles north, Han Li was watching the Olympic Village Opening Ceremony over the internet in the little cramped office next to the kitchen at the Brewmaster Castle. He could see the smog and haze and knew that the Chinese government would feel shame over the fact that the "Birdnest" could barely be seen in the international broadcasts. The report on the internet said that the Chinese government was blaming it on the "weather", but the weather had never been like that when Li was a boy. His pager went off, and he poured out a fresh pitcher of ice water and a fresh pitcher of sweet tea to bring to the upper conference room, where the Heurich Society was meeting. He entered the room quietly and began refilling empty glasses around the table as Henry Samuelson was vehemently ridiculing Barak Obama's Berlin call for a world without nuclear arms. Li brushed a few drops of water off his tuxedo and picked up the box of donuts to walk it around the table as the Chair assured Samuelson that it was never going to happen. Condoleezza Rice waved off the donut box and took another sip of the stawberry/aioli/flax seed smoothie she had brought in; she had already been here an hour without saying a word and was getting tired of all the boy talk. Finally the Chair said it was time for Rice's report on the Moon Township plan, and everyone's eyes turned to Li, signalling him that it was time to buzz off. He exited the room, shut the door, then went downstairs to resume surfing the internet. He knew that the Moon Township plan was of great interest to Charles Wu, but Li would wait until they were gone to retrieve the listening device that Wu had shown him how to use. Li was fairly certain that his English had gotten rather good, but Wu had become more and more incredulous about Li's reports on the Heurich Society, so this was better. Li pulled up a report on Dr. Edgar Mitchell's declaration that NASA was covering up visits from outer space, wondering if this was being reported in China. A pang of homesickness suddenly erupted in his gut. He had come to Washington to build the new Chinese embassy, but now he really did not know why he was here. He missed his family. Sometimes he found himself wondering if defecting was the right choice. He had learned a lot, but it was all painful. He pulled the website link up to listen again to Barak Obama's speech in Berlin. He watched the crowd in amazement--again--understanding that many people around the world believed that the occupant of the White House made a huge difference. Li was not so sure.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Million Dollar Question

Bridge opened the freezer door in the staff kitchen to get some ice. "What's that?" both twins asked in unison. Bridge closed the door quickly, telling them it was nothing. Regina and Ferguson looked at each other dubiously and sat down to drink their lemonade. Bridge had actually suspected the twins when he first heard about the "IM" peaches collected by the Secret Service along the White House fence, then he had suspected the ghosts, but after studying the purloined peach in his freezer for a couple weeks, he was resigning himself to the fact that it had probably just been another kooky protester. "Mommy's tired," Regina announced quietly. Their mother was tired often enough that it usually went without comment, but when Bridge was asked to babysit for an entire Sunday, he knew it was bad. He asked them what they thought was making her tired. They conversed quietly in their secret twin language, then Ferguson said to Bridge, "Not everybody likes her." Bridge took a slow swallow of lemonade without taking his eyes off the boy, who was fidgeting as he waited for Bridge's reply.

Bridge set the glass down slowly on the formica tabletop and shook his head in the negative. "Uh-uh. They can't make people tired; they can only make people crazy." He let this sink in for a moment, watching the twins exchange sidelong glances. "Now, crazy people might be making your mother tired, or even people acting crazy might be making your mother tired--but not them." Regina didn't like where this line of thought was leading and said she wanted to go outside to play. "Uh-uh," said Bridge. "It's too hot today. Now we're gonna have a long talk about them, and if you answer all my questions truthfully, maybe I'll sneak you back into the President's swimming pool." This made their eyes grow big because they had not been there in a long time, but the ghosts had explicitly warned them not to repeat anything to Bridge--who could always hear them but rarely understand them. "Now Reggie, Fergie, you'd better start by telling me about the ones that don't like your mother." Ferguson's lips trembled as he fought back sudden tears, and Regina dug her nails into the palms of her hands. Far off in another room, the undiagnosed HIV viruses were merrily attacking their mother's immune system as the pro-Clio and anti-Clio ghosts tried to whisper in her ear something that her sleeping mind could hear.

Up in Adams Morgan, Angela de la Paz was making tortillas for dinner as her grandmother dozed on the couch. Abuela had burnt herself at the stove last night, and Angela had decided it was time for her to take over in the kitchen. After the ingredients were all laid out, Angela washed her hands again for the whole duration of "Happy Birthday" sung in her head (as the attorney had taught her), turned the faucet off with her elbows (ditto), then dried her hands on a paper towel (as the attorney had also taught her)--then she sat down to knead the dough together. The worst of the hepatitis-A was over, and it wasn't the worst thing that had ever happened to Angela, but it had sure bothered that attorney. Angela smiled again, happy that her grandmother had won the court case--even though the attorney had explained that it was probably too late for it to help. It was just so rare that she felt like they were winning, and she and abuela had waited so very long for this. Angela glanced up at the sound of a new song coming from the pink warbler perched on the windowsill--things were going to get better.

Several miles south, Laura Moreno had just exited Prince and Prowling, where she had been using her Sunday afternoon to make up for the hours spent at the courthouse earlier in the week--the day when she had returned to the office to find herself included on a 1 p.m. Human Resources email to a dozen attorneys indicating that "your services are no longer required", followed by a 2:30 p.m. email asking why she had not yet turned in her key and badge, followed by Chloe Cleavage entering the workroom at 3:30 p.m. to exclaim, 'Oh, good, you're still here! They accidentally fired too many." This, naturally, had been followed by the dumping of a pile of documents on Laura's desk. Laura's nose wrinkled up as she walked past Urine Park in the 95-degree heat, then gave up and hailed a taxi. As the sound of Dizzy's trumpet faded in the background, Laura was still thinking about her pro bono case, knowing it was not really over...and thinking about her job, knowing she was just treading water.

A few miles to the east, Charles Wu got out of the taxi from the Prince and Prowling office, entered the Old Post Office Pavilion, and proceeded over to the elevator for the tower. He stopped at the bell level, and walked slowly around to the west side, where his contact was feigning interest in reading historical data about the bells. "It's about the FDA satellite office opening in Beijing," said Wu. His contact made no reply. "Prince and Prowling have decided to open an office in Beijing." His contact let out a low whistle. It would not be the first foreign law firm to open an office in Beijing, nor the last, but this was different, and he knew it. "I need to know about how the FDA is going to operate in Beijing." He hung his caned umbrella on the railing, then closed with some platitudes about how Beiiing did not need to worry about Al Gore's speech this week--because 'every bit of it' was not going to change. Wu walked slowly away, leaving behind the umbrella with $100,000 hidden neatly in its folds, knowing he would either get the answer he sought for Prince and Prowling or something else of equal value. Wu climbed the final staircase to the observation deck and looked out on the Capitol, pondering his upcoming meeting with the Englishman--who would be expecting an answer as to when China was going to stop lending money to the U.S. I wish I knew....That's the million dollar question.

About a mile away, Judge Sowell Ame was paying Dr. Ermann Esse the $300/hour Sunday appointment rate to tell him about the recurrent dream he was having about that family. "I'm shrunken, I'm in a pot on the stove, the grandmother is stirring some sliced peppers and tomatoes into the pot with me, then the oil hisses and burns the grandmother, then the girl grabs the pot and dumps it out the window into the Potomac River." Dr. Esse jotted down a few notes, then asked what comes next. "I start drowning, I can't breathe, but then something touches me and I'm happy--at least I think I'm happy--but I think it's a trick. Then I wake up. I never know if I'm going to live or die!"

"But nobody knows that," Dr. Esse said quietly. "That is not what you're really worried about--you're worried that somebody is tricking you. Who do you think is tricking you?" Judge Ame just stared at Dr. Esse, unable to answer. That's the question.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Out of Washington

Eva Brown was scrubbing toilets while the other crew members emptied garbage cans and restocked soap and paper towels. The others were chatting away amiably, but Eva was fighting back the tears in her eyes because she had not yet adjusted to refugee life in El Salvador. The others had accepted that they were never going back to the U.S., but Eva could not believe that she and all these other Americans were going to be stuck in El Salvador for the rest of their lives. She lived with five other Americans in a shabby one-bedroom apartment in a seedy part of San Salvador now known as Gringo Town. Sometimes you could get Frosted Flakes or Jif Peanut Butter, but mostly they had to eat beans and tortillas. If the antenna was enjoying a clear night, they could occasionally watch tv programs from up north, but mostly they were stuck with a cacophony of Spanish voices embedded in soccer games and soap operas. A good day was when the boss got drunk and sent them home a little early--then she could read a little bit before falling asleep.

Eva woke up abruptly to the sound of shouting children in the hallway outside her apartment door. Disoriented and disturbed for a moment, she finally realized it had all been a dream. She telephoned her boyfriend to tell him that they needed to do more for Central American refugees, but the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Anti-Fecklessness told her he was too busy working on the Mideast peace process. "There's never going to be peace in the Mideast! Why can't you people work on something that would actually make a difference in people's lives!?" He had no idea where this latest outburst had come from, and hoped she could not detect the eye-rolling in his voice as he promised her he would call her back in a few hours. As he hung up the phone, he paused over the thought that he could not remember the Secretary of State ever giving him an assignment about Central America.

Over in Adams Morgan, Angela de la Paz was talking to her grandmother about the upcoming court hearing this week--what they were going to wear, how they would get to the court building, what the attorney said would happen there. It had been years since they had met the attorney, and it seemed unreal to be going to court now after all this time. In fact, Angela was old enough to understand that this hearing was too little and too late to solve the original problem, but the attorney had said they may as well go through with it because it might help them in the future. Abuela was not feeling too well these days, her frailty no match for the oppressive heat. Angela's biggest fear was that abuela would end up back in the hospital, and she prayed about that all the time. She sat down with a banana peel to shine her grandmother's best shoes as the pink warbler on the windowsill watched over her from outside.

Several miles to the south, Marcos Vasquez was lolling in the Southwest Plaza swimming pool with Golden Fawn. He had patrolled the Potomac for the entire 4th of July weekend, and before that he had spent two weeks in Puerto Rico helping his mother through a nightmarish flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis. Golden Fawn's hair was now down to her shoulders, and the chemotherapy seemed a very distant thing, but she still looked tired to him. He scooped her up in his arms and twirled her around in the water, wishing he had been here to take her up the stairs when all the elevators had been broken again. She smiled broadly at him, her eyes squinting a little from the sun, her toes skimming the surface of the water. "They finally replaced my fridge!" she said, referring to the defective unit that the management company had neglected for two months. Sometimes it was a lot of small talk, and yet they fretted that everything was fraught with deeper implications--like, maybe it's time to move out of this crazy building, get a place of our own, get married.... Sometimes the small talk meant they were tired of talking about Ardua. Then Marcos told her about the sexual discrimination suit that had just been filed against his unit--everybody in the unit, including him. He stopped twirling her as he saw the alarm growing in her eyes. He felt silly saying it, but he then told her he was innocent. "I know," she said, but now the new fear had taken root--would the Coast Guard transfer him out of Washington?

Meanwhile, north of Washington, Calico Johnson was sitting on his balcony surfing his financial page bookmarks on the laptop computer open in front of him. Fifty feet below him, the real estate demon was sprawled out under the front porch smiling about the pummeling of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the Potomac River brightly shimmering nearby. Some nauseated ducks took off to look for other waters, their escape aided by the pink dolphins which blocked Ardua from dragging them back. A catbird perched on a riverside beech tree started making motorboat sounds as Ardua slunk back down to the depths.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Yagruma and Peaches

Lynnette Wong handed the construction crew foreman the usual weekly order of herbs for the imported peasants building the Chinese embassy. He was a Beijing man himself and found all this nonsense amusing, but it was a small amount of money to keep those superstitious yokels content in their monotonous rounds between the motel rooms and the construction site. He knew Lynnette was from Taiwan and asked if her family would be taking advantage of the new flights between the island and the mainland. He smiled with the haughtiness she had come to know very well, and a complete ignorance of the ideology that had fueled the civil war in the first place. He was another one of the new breed--the ones that cared only about making money. He told her he would be flying back to Beijing for a two-week vacation and would have VIP seats at many Olympic events. She nodded and smiled with the restraint he had come to know well. As he walked out, he told her he would see President Bush at the Opening Ceremonies. She closed up the shop and closed out the register, fuming with impotent rage. I can't even import Yagruma from Cuba because it is such a communist threat to the U.S., but President Bush is going to China, a country that won't let its embassy construction workers have cable tv in their motel rooms! She pulled a box off the back counter and slammed it on the floor. It was a stupid comparison, and she knew it. Her relatives had died a long time ago; Taiwan had lost. It didn't matter what abuses were happening in China--it was simply too large and powerful for anybody to take them on...she knew that. She kicked the box. But he doesnt have to go! America doesn't stand for freedom anymore--only the free flow of money to Bush and his friends! She picked up a Sharpie and sat down on the floor next to the box.

A few miles to the west, Charles Wu was on his way to Prince and Prowling to drop off Olympic Opening Ceremonies tickets to former Senator Evermore Breadman. Now that President Bush had finally announced he was going, the junket race had officially begun, and Breadman could not have been more delighted to hear the news. Breadman had been working hard with the National Association of Saturday Night Special Sellers (and almost no other client since the Supreme Court ruling), and he was actually looking forward to Wu's visit and a reason to focus on something else. He put away the news articles and editorials (chuckling a second time over the one lamenting that D.C. citizens did not have a constitutional right to a vote in Congress, but they did have a right to carry guns), and pulled out his China files. He had toyed briefly with the idea of going to Beijing himself, but he was getting old and this devil of a colon was not really something he wanted to try transporting over the Pacific again. I should give those tickets to-- Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a pair of crows land on his window sill. He had heard that their numbers in Lafayette Park were skyrocketing, but he didn't know why scavenger birds would come way up here to a barren ledge. He eyed them suspiciously, his subconscious mind remembering snatches of a song about the ravens and the London Tower. He reached down to his bottom drawer for some more herbs from Lynnette Wong.

A mile further west, Dr. Khalid Mohammad was rechecking the IV for the fourth time. He had never actually seen somebody come so close to slipping into a diabetic coma before, and today they had seen two in the George Washington University Hospital E.R. Consuela Arroyo handed Dr. Mohammad the updated chart and shooed him away from the patient. Dr. Mohammad glanced down at the half-empty form. "Is this all you have, still?" The nurse explained that the man had been rushed to the hospital from an office, and so far the E.R. staff only had information from his co-workers, and they had only known him a couple of weeks. Dr. Mohammad read the notes: "complaining of fatigue and dizziness; heavy consumption of coffee; worked twelve days straight for 13 hours/day; mostly ate sweet and sour pork; Prince and Prowling--". Dr. Mohammad frowned and looked over to Nurse Arroyo. "This is the other patient's chart--the one that came from Prince and Prowling! For God's sake!" Nurse Arroyo told him there was no mix-up: both of the diabetics had come from Prince and Prowling. Dr. Mohammad pushed aside the curtain and walked briskly over to the other diabetic clinging to mechanical life. "Let me see that chart!" he said curtly to the startled nurse. Different names, different races, one obese and one thin, different home addresses...both admitted by Chloe Cleavage, their supervisor at Prince and Prowling. The attending resident stepped back in with blood tests, and Dr. Mohammad held up for him both charts. "They both came from the same law firm!" Dr. Mohammad left without another word, and after a day of treating fireworks burns and half-drowned children, the resident was a little too task-oriented to have any clue what Dr. Mohammad was getting at.

A couple miles away, Perry Winkle and his photographer were in front of the White House wrapping up another day of covering the holiday weekend for the "Metro" section of the Washington Post. He signalled the photographer to take a picture of the tattoo-covered, mohawk-sporting veteran wearing the plain gray t-shirt emblazoned "Ski Afghanistan". He looked around one final time at the crowd dwindling against the gray drizzle and darkening sky when something caught his eye just on the other side of the fence. "Turn your flash on over here." It was a large peach just on the inside of the fence...no two, no...it was a whole line of peaches dropped along the inside of the White House fence. Funny! Then he saw her--a Chinese woman surreptitiously dropping them one-by-one as she walked quickly along the fence. "Quick, take a picture! The guard's coming this way!" The photographer got in a couple of quick clicks, then they moved quickly into a group of Belgians walking towards the bicycle rickshaws at the Treasury Department, but the Chinese woman had disappeared faster than they had. Under a lamplight, Winkle stopped to look at the digital camera display. "Can you zoom that? I think there's something written on that peach!" The photographer zoomed the view, and they found themselves looking at dark black lettering saying simply "IM" in the peach.