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 31, 2009

Getting Better

"What do you mean you got suspended for calling him an asshole?"  

Liv Cigemeier looked anxiously at her husband, who had just returned to Silver Spring from his trip to Ohio to take depositions for a pharmaceutical lawsuit being defended by Prince and Prowling; she was not detecting sympathy in his eyes.  "That guy's a creep!  I told you he was always looking at photos of girls on the internet.  Last week I had to listen to him talk about his dog watching him in bed with his girlfriend--and the guy's married to somebody else!  He goofs off half the day, every day, he lied about being fluent in Arabic--"

"What happened on Friday?"

Liv took a deep breath.  "He started screaming at me because I had lowered some blinds.  Then it escalated.  The whole thing was over in five minutes.  He told me I was insane, and I called him an asshole.  Momzilla corroborated that I had called him an asshole, but she pretended she didn't hear anything he had said, or even that he was screaming at me.  And they don't believe me about the girly photos."  She took another deep breath, but her husband said nothing.  "It's just an excuse for them not to pay me for a couple of weeks.  Two of our foundation grants dried up, they can't fire Momzilla because she's pregnant, and they won't fire that asshole because he threatened to bring a hostile workplace lawsuit."

"You need to stop calling him an asshole."

"Well, he is!"

"Do you know how many assholes I work with at Prince and Prowling?  It's like everybody should list "Member of the Asshole Bar" in their bio on the website!"

"People at Prince and Prowling swear all the time!  You told me your own secretary calls that paralegal-from-Hell a 'bitch and a half' at least once a week, and nothing happens to her.  I lose my temper for five minutes, and I get crucified?!  They conspired against me because they know I'm doing twice as much work as the two of them combined.  And you know Momzilla was pissed off that I attended that State Department meeting during her dental appointment instead of rescheduling it for her, so she saw a good excuse to get her revenge on me.  And International Development Machine isn't going to fire me because they need me to do the work!  So I just get suspended for two weeks until more grant money is released, and then they'll expect me to work day and night to meet the July 1st deadline on the Afghanistan program report because, believe me, Momzilla and that asshole are going to procrastinate it until I'm back in the office."

She took another deep breath, and her husband walked over to the kitchen counter to thumb through the mail that had piled up for him while he was out of town.  The optimistic young woman that wanted to save the world was no longer the person married to him.  He stared blankly at a small stain on the wall, thinking about the bitter and cynical person sitting on the couch, waiting for him to comfort her and take her side.  Then he thought about who he was when she married him, and how he would have defended her and comforted her instead of telling her to suck it up.  That guy is an asshole.  He remembered meeting the asshole at the holiday party and seeing him take a champagne bottle and stuff it into his duffel bag.  And what kind of an asshole throws a hissy fit for being called an asshole?  He thought about what he would have done if he had been there, and he had to admit to himself he probably would have punched the guy out for screaming at Liv.  He looked down at the pile of bills.  We have enough money.  He returned to the couch and put his arm around Liv.  He could see the tears in her eyes.  "It's OK," he said, and he meant it now.  "I can probably take a few days off--not the whole week, but we can probably leave on Wednesday or Thursday and go get a beachhouse.  And you're right:  in a couple weeks, your boss is going to see how much he needs you, and that he has bigger problems, and that you're his best employee, because you are."  Liv looked into her husband's eyes, and she knew he meant what he was saying.  He pulled her close and kissed her hair and made it better.

Many miles to the west, across the Potomac River, the Chair of the Heurich Society was paying a visit to former Vice President Dick Cheney--who had purchased a home in McLean instead of returning to Wyoming.  Cheney wanted to rejoin the Heurich Society, but the membership was sharply divided.  He can give us additional intelligence.  He's a loose cannon!  He can expand our contacts overseas.  He's courting media attention instead of avoiding it!  The two were seated on the cheesiest patio furniture the Chair had ever seen.  The Chair was nibbling disappointedly at the lame food Lynn Cheney had prepared for them, while Cheney was throwing breadcrumbs to a flock of starlings in the grass.  The guy's had multiple heart attacks, and he still doesn't want to retire to Wyoming for his golden years?  Henry Samuelson had said that Cheney was a certifiable megalomaniac, and it was very possible that Samuelson would challenge him for the Chairmanship if Cheney were brought back in.  "What is it, exactly, you would like to do as a member of the Heurich Society, if you were to return?" 

Cheney turned away from the starlings and looked at the Chair with shiny eyes, his heart racing with excitement.  "I want to make things better."  He could feel a surge of energy as Ardua of the Potomac called out to him from just below the surface of the water flowing past McLean on its way to the sea.  Cheney felt like a new man.  Feeding the birds made him feel connected to the land itself--made him feel a part of the natural history of the world, not just the manmade history.  "There's so much left to do."  The Chair took another sip of generic cola and recrossed his legs.

Meanwhile, over in the city, Laura Moreno was looking over Angela de la Paz's shoulder, guiding her through the internet research she had to do if she did not want to flunk her grade.  Sometimes, Laura wondered if simple things like this weren't worth far more than the hundreds of hours of legal pro bono work she had done for the family (which almost seemed pointless now).  The girl had been in tears when she told Laura over the phone how difficult it was for her to complete her homework assignments this semester without access to the internet at home and with her grandmother's strictness about how late Angela could stay out at the library (which had computer waiting lines and time limits, anyway).  Laura watched the destitute girl clicking away on Laura's home computer with the high-speed connection, opening up window after window of the knowledge she needed to access to complete the extra-credit assignments that would pull her grades back up from the sudden nosedive of 2009.  Angela had always loved school and done well at it, but Laura knew what an uphill battle remained for Angela to become the scientist she dreamed of being.  "We're going to do this more regularly next semester, OK?  School will be better next year!"

Several miles to the east, Charles Wu was in Lynnette Wong's herb shop in Chinatown.  She wanted to know how Senator Pelosi and the rest of the delegation had been received by the Beijing government last week.  "It didn't have much effect, as far as I know," he said.  "They're more interested in Secretary Geithner's upcoming visit to discuss all the money the U.S. owes Beijing."  Lynnette shook her head in disgust, and Wu knew she had been hoping to hear that Pelosi's presence had generated some real improvements in human rights.  Wu could not really understand people like Wong, who seemed to formulate their beliefs in an alternate reality where things like money had no relevance.  As she handed him his bag, he handed her the cash plus a large tip.  She nodded her thanks, but it bothered him that her eyes expressed no real happiness or gratitude.  "Things are better there than a few years ago," he said before heading out.  "It's a ship with over a billion passengers:  it can only change course slowly."  She shook her head, amazed that such an intelligent man could espouse such an absurd viewpoint.  A catbird outside her window began imitating the sound of a police siren, and she went outside with the vinegar spray to make her one small blow against evil for the day.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Remember This

Jai Alai was pecking at her blueberry pancake, wondering what her boyfriend was thinking.  Her son (the growing boy!) put down his plate and headed back to the waffle bar for another round.  I should have suggested Applebees.  She looked at her white boyfriend (well, fairly red today after two days on the Chesapeake Bay), afraid to ask him if he was uncomfortable that there were only a couple other white people in the Old Country Buffet of Forestville, MD, but he looked contented enough as he shoveled grits into his mouth.  She thought after all this time together that they would have spent the weekend in Rehobeth or Ocean City renting a big house with his friends, but it was clear to her now she was never going to meet his friends.  She would never know what he did on his job, and she scarcely knew anything he did when he wasn't with her:  his time with me is apparently a vacation from his life.  He looked up and smiled at her because he had thoroughly enjoyed the weekend of teaching her son how to sail and kayak, and it was way better than it would have been to spend a weekend on the outer shore with Wince and Bridezilla drinking made-in-America beer and lying on the beach under an umbrella talking politics for three days.  Jai smiled back at Atticus as her happy boy returned with another plate.

Several miles into the city, Laura Moreno was dropping a completed witness binder on Bridezilla's desk.  She paused to look at the pink lace curtain Bridezilla had hung on her office window and wondered if the woman's nesting instinct and repeatedly postponed wedding were combining to drive her insane.  First there was the incident in which Bridezilla had put lavender potpourri sachets in all the boxes of documents going to the SEC.  Then there was Bridezilla's declaration that one could now wear white after Easter and not have to wait until Memorial Day, followed by her wearing snow white suits and white satin pumps to work every day of the week until the Senior Partner begged her to wear something dark for her court appearances.  Then Bridezilla had gone on a rampage of denouncing "cluttered and untidy" workstations, resulting in a written warning to Moreno from the paralegal-from-Hell that Moreno needed to clean up her desk.  Moreno stole a Godiva chocolate from the silver candy dish on Bridezilla's spotless desk, then turned to head back to the workroom where she somehow needed to clean up everything on her desk without the benefit of filing cabinets, drawers, or bookshelves.  

She walked past former Senator Evermore Breadman's Wall of Me (currently featuring his photo with Barak Obama front and center--Mother Theresa and George W. Bush having both been shoved to the corners of the exhibit), past the quiet offices of the vacationing associates, past the kitchen, and back to the workroom carpeted with never-vacuumed gray pile, walled with shelf upon shelf of document boxes, and overhung with a patchwork of dropped panels, exposed wires, and (again) a reeking rodent decomposing somewhere in the ductwork.  Moreno looked at the suit jackets hanging from the shelves, the row of shoe boxes on the floor, the pile of toiletries to the left, the pile of snacks to the right, the pile of pain killers and wrist bandages piled behind her computer, and the workpapers she had spread over the center table (after the departure of The Braggart)--and she pondered what to do.  She went to the supply room to retrieve empty boxes, then proceeded to bury every trace of her existence in neatly labeled cardboard cubes:  "sh" for her shoes, "sn" for her snacks, "to" for her toiletries, "ha" for her hand first aid kit, and "fi" for her files.  She hesitated for a moment over the suit jackets, then rolled each one and placed them in a box as well.  She stacked the boxes neatly under her table, then took down her rainforest pictures and human rights calendar and shoved them in the trash.  The only evidence of human life still visible on the table was a kleenex box, a water bottle, and a pen resting atop a yellow legal pad.  She had been planning to work several hours today, but the stench of the rodent was overpowering without the a/c on, so she grabbed her bag and headed out of Prince and Prowling.

Several miles to the west, Judge Sowell Ame was hosting a garden party at his upper Georgetown home.  He had scored three second-tier Congressmen (currently discussing the stimulus package in front of his stunted forsythia bush), two law professors (currently discussing the constitutionality of campaign ad regulations in front of the open bar and hired server), one Cabinet Under-Secretary (currently playing "Great Balls of Fire" in a funeral march tempo on the spinet piano just inside the screen door), and two women basketball players (one wearing high-heeled sandals that left her standing taller than every man at the party, and the other wearing orthotic shoes and explaining to a drunk dentist how she had recently discovered that her foot bones were actually deformed and how that was the reason she had never been able to run fast enough to play soccer).  In Ame's upstairs office sat the briefs on the Southwest Plaza litigation (still unread despite his every intention to do so this weekend) and two house ghosts hanging out the windows to look out on the guests below.  The ghosts exchanged a few words, then one of them spit unholy saliva onto the cherry cobbler, brownies, and key lime pie spread out on the table below, and the other flew over to the grill to lay a curse on it.  Suddenly a couple members of the Shackled arrived to scold the house ghosts, but it was too late:  before the week was out, four of the party guests would be in the hospital, one would start drinking heavily and not be able to stop, two would fire employees for no good reason, one would lie under oath, and two would abandon their spouses.  Judge Sowell Ame gazed contentedly at the crowd, knowing that next year he would have even more people and even bigger names because he was becoming a Mover and Shaker in this town.

A couple of miles away, Dubious McGinty was making his way back to his bridge home above the Potomac after a rare foray to Arlington National Cemetery, where he had watched President Obama do the same wreath and speech thing McGinty had seen every other President do on Memorial Day.  Dubious had brought some signs about Ardua of the Potomac and had blown his whistle to get Obama's attention, but the Secret Service had hustled him out lickety split before he could get the message to Obama:  everything in Washington will fail unless you kill Ardua of the Potomac!  

Deep in the water, Ardua gloated over McGinty's failure.  The veterans belong to me!  The widows belong to me!  The orphans belong to me!  A half-mile away, Iraq veteran Sebastian L'Arche was heading towards the river with a picnic cooler and Lucky Charm because he had decided to celebrate Memorial Day by letting the Irish setter run loose on Roosevelt Island trying to bark and growl Ardua to death.  On the other side of the river, the timeless Warrior sat chewing berries and contemplating the hot sunlight glinting off the shimmery Potomac surface.  Then he sensed Ardua tensing up, and he waited to see whom the next foot soldier would be to take her on.  He swallowed hard, wondering how he could bring them all together for the war he could not win alone.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Turning Up the Heat

Dubious McGinty was leaning over the catwalk railing high on his drawbridge, watching the Dragon Boat Festival.  Last year he had thought they were real dragons, but he was completely lucid today.  He could sense Ardua of the Potomac pulsating beneath the surface of the chilly Potomac--trying to capsize boats and eat people--but these boaters were good.  As the pink dolphins cavorted (unseen by most) between the brightly colored skiffs, McGinty could almost declare that life on the Potomac was sweet and beautiful and fun...almost.  A Coast Guard helicopter took another observational pass over the festival, and Marcos Vasquez tried to make out the pink splashes in his binoculars.

A couple miles to the east, Golden Fawn was missing Vasquez.  She wanted to tell him that her follow-up mammogram was clear.  She wanted to talk to him about the latest tenant association flyer on their class action TOPA lawsuit.  She wanted to...talk about the future.  She closed the kitchen trash bag and headed down the hallway (over the newly installed cockroach-camouflage-color carpeting) to the trash chute room, where she opened the door to a plume of smoke:  the Southwest Plaza arsonist had struck again.  She ran back to her apartment to call 911, then ran back out of her apartment again to pull the fire alarm and head for the stairwell with her fire alarm survival kit.  (It wasn't that she was really afraid of a trash chute fire, but sometimes the arsonist lit multiple fires at the same time and the firefighters would want them out of the building for a couple of hours.)  Outside, the arsonist was sitting calmly in the grass, a big smile on his face, a flock of starlings pecking at weed seeds all around him.  A few minutes later, Golden Fawn was opening her folding chair and settling in with a newspaper and a book in the shade of the walkway.  A raven alit beside her to tell her who the arsonist was, and she looked up in surprise:  it was "John Doe", who had been suffering from temporal lobe epileptic attacks since being savagely beaten in a gang initiation a couple years back.  He smiled back at her, pleased with himself:  he knew someday he would succeed in burning up that demon living beneath the building.

Over on the Arlington side of the river, Charles Wu was stepping into the shower in the secondary bathroom of his Pentagon City luxury hotel suite.  He turned on the hot tap, and then the cold, and waited until the flow reached the temperature he desired, and then redirected the flow to the shower head.  During the moment of transition, when no water flowed into the tub, he looked up expectantly at the shower head.  He loved the mystery of hotel showers--how they all felt different, how you didn't know what the water pressure or streams would feel like until the water made first contact on your shoulders.  Then the blast hit him hard:  he was on the 11th floor, and the water pressure was overwhelming.  He turned around to let the water pound his neck for a few minutes, then reached down to reduce the flow before reaching for the soap.  When he was alone, he liked to sing in the shower, but he knew that the heavily jetlagged "Camisole Silk" and "Apricot Lily" were resting in the main bedroom, and it would be very uncool if they heard him singing.  He smiled at the thought of their both having visited him separately in the night, each sleeping through the other's separate foray.  Then he frowned as he thought about their upcoming meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss their involvement in Project RODHAM.  Wu had always been an information agent, not an operations agent.  The stakes were getting high on China's far western border, and he wasn't sure these women were the right choice...but they were the best he could get.  He didn't trust them enough to show them where he lived after they flew in from China last night, so how could he trust them with Project RODHAM?  Then again, he never showed anybody where he lived.  

A few minutes later, a freshly shaved and fragrant Wu was sitting in his complimentary Ritz Carlton bathrobe on the couch, an expresso machine beverage on the coffee table and a Washington Post spread out over his lap.  None of the articles were piquing his interest, and his thoughts wandered to the FBI's arraignment of amateur spy James Fondren, Jr.--a fool who thought he was feeding reports to Taiwan, but they were actually going to China.  Maximum five years in prison.   If it had been a Chinese citizen accidentally sending reports to the U.S., he would already have been executed by now.  Wu picked up his steaming drink, not confident that he really knew where Project RODHAM was heading.  The Pakistani government had abruptly launched a major military offensive in the mountains bordering Afghanistan--something Wu did not think Hillary Clinton had anticipated--but her strategy for that area might be better in the long run.  If only he could understand the changes that the Heurich Society had made to the Ming Dung plan...and why they had gotten Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., the Utah governor, selected to be the next U.S. Ambassador to China.

A few miles away, Sebastian L'Arche had figured out a way to get The Gipper and Lucky Charm into the White House:  he had given them temporarily to Clio, the White House butler.  She had gotten them into the White House under the guise of needing a healthy hobby for Regina and Ferguson, and nobody on the White House staff disagreed that the unruly twins needed a new approach of some sort.  So while L'Arche was being escorted to the designated training room for his session with Bo, Reggie and Fergie were running all over the East Wing with the rat terrier and the Irish setter on not-so-tightly held leashes.  And then the ghosts started flying:  here, there, everywhere, the ghosts were rooted out by the dogs and took to flight.  Reggie and Fergie squealed in delight at the supernatural spectacle, and laughed as the ghosts told them to take the dogs away.  Now they were in the bowling alley, now they were running through the basement corridor, now they were in the movie screening room--and then the exasperated sous-chef was chasing them out into the backyard.  The twins burst outside, laughing uproriously as the dogs pulled on their leashes to get back in.  Inside the training room, L'Arche sat quietly on the rug, nose-to-nose with the Portuguese water dog, whispering to Bo to be brave.  "It won't be long now, Bo," L'Arche whispered, staring intently into Bo's eyes.  But L'Arche didn't understand that stirring up ghosts was one thing--vanquishing them was something else.  Bo lay down on his stomach and put his head in L'Arche's lap, his paws over his ears so as not to hear the howls of the White House ghosts.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Calling

It was the most difficult urban guerrilla field trip yet:  getting the teens into the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital.  Reporter Perry Winkle and several secondary school teachers had pushed for months to get the permissions, and even so, it was not granted for Saturday night, which was what they had really wanted.  Their dream of showing the kids what happened at the other end of a Saturday night "senseless violence" ambulance trip was not to be, but the leaders still had some hopes for teachable moments.  For one thing, there was still a holdover from a 3 am shooting because he had already received three operations and was now on his fourth.  All the kids were permitted to see from a distance was a tight cluster of doctors and nurses hemmed in around the operating table.  "This is what it means to cherish life," said the oldest teacher, a 53-year-old woman who had grown up in the city.  "None of these people even know him, but they've been working non-stop to save his life."  Somebody muttered under his breath that they were "getting paid" to do it because it was their job.  "Getting paid to do it?!  Do you really think they're doing this for money?  You're crazy!  You go do boob jobs in Beverly Hills if you're doing this for the money!  These people are here to save lives!"  Winkle was silent, merely running a discreet tape recorder in his pocket and jotting down some supplementary notes on his steno pad for an article he was going to write for the "Metro" section of The Washington Post.  The hospital handler moved them along to the next patient:  a six-year-old gasping wildly for air in the midst of an acute asthma attack.  (This brush with death only merited one resident and one e.r. nurse.)  The next patient was a cyclist grimacing in pain, waiting for results from the x-rays taken after the red-light-runner ran her over on M Street.  (Nobody was attending to her at all, except her college roommate.)  

Finally, they saw a 37-year-old tripper from Dupont Down Under thrashing impotently against the straps binding him to the gurney.  "Where's the damned psycho?!" hollered Dr. Khalid Mohammad.  This translated as, "Why haven't you found the attending psychiatrist yet?", and one of the attending nurses ran back to the nurses' station to page her again.  The remaining nurse (Consuela Arroyo) handed the doctor another sedative-loaded syringe, and he plunged it into the patient's thigh.  Dr. Mohammad knew the psycho was going to chastise him for sedating the man before a thorough drug screening was done, but the pulse rate was way too high to wait.  Also, Dr. Mohammad had seen the man before and knew the hallucinations were a constant, no matter what drugs might or might not be in his system.  "The rats used to be on our side, but they turned against us!  Everybody turned against us!"  The patient fell silent after this last outburst, and his spasms moderated to mere twitches.  Dr. Mohammad took a deep breath and stood back; it was then he noticed Angela de la Paz and the other teens staring at him.  He rarely remembered patients' family members, but he remembered Angela--she always seemed to glow, even when she was sad.  The hospital handler roughly pushed the field trip group on their way out of the emergency room, making sure they didn't see the two dozen ill and injured in the emergency room waiting room (one dozen of which were people thinking their hay fever was H1N1 influenza.)  They headed towards the cafeteria to eat and tell the reporter their thoughts on what they had just seen.

A few blocks away, Lynnette Wong was making her way down to the shore of the Potomac, ten amulets in her hand.  She always closed her Chinatown herb shop on Mother's Day--not for herself, but for others.  Lynnette was very young when her mother had died in childbirth in an overcrowded New York city emergency room.  Then Lynnette's father had packed her up and relocated to Washington.  She used to think he was a superstitious fool, mixing dried powders to cure everything from warts to smoking addictions, and then she had thought he was genuinely insane when he had started talking about a demon living in the river.  Now, here she was, living the same life he had led.  She tossed the amulets one by one, aiming as close to the center of the river as she could.  She felt Ardua shudder at the impact of each one.  Ardua ordered The Beaver to swallow the amulets and take them far away, but he refused.  Then some frankenfish arrived to eat them, but Ardua knew they would just poop them out again tomorrow.  Lynnette turned to walk away, but then she noticed what a beautiful day it was and how the sunlight danced upon the water, so she stayed.  Then the pink dolphins returned to the call of the amulets, but nobody could see them playing in the water except Lynnette and the Warrior on the other side.

"She's an embarrassment!  It's time to expel her once and for all!"  Henry Samuelson was railing at the Chair of the Heurich Society, who had reluctantly agreed to meet with Samuelson an hour earlier than the official meeting.  "For God's sake--she can't even handle a torture question from a kindergartener!  It's embarrassing."  The Chair did not bother reminding Samuelson that the question to Condoleezza Rice had come from an older elementary school student, but he did point out to Samuelson that their society was secret, so nothing a member did publicly could embarrass the Heurich Society.  "Her convictions are suspect," Samuelson continued.  "Her arguments are disingenuous.  Her legacy is falling apart.  Her usefulness to us has passed."   The Chair sidestepped the argument, reminding Samuelson that it was Samuelson who had always said to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.  "She's not close to us!" yelled Samuelson.  "That's what I'm saying!  She used us for her own agenda.  She's just a professor now and can give us nothing!"  The Chair drummed his fingers on the table, not entirely disagreeing with Samuelson, and yet uncertain that Rice had outlived her usefulness to them.  For one thing, they still needed to learn more about Project RODHAM out of the State Department, and Rice might still have loyal contacts there.  The Chair convinced Samuelson to put off the topic until after the next meeting, when Rice was safely back in California.  Samuelson nodded grumpily and picked up a raspberry danish.

Back on the river, the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Hope was rowing girlfriend Eva Brown in a canoe.  This time, he was sure he would get the proposal right!  She had just finished her law school exams, she was relaxed and happy, it was a beautiful day, and he was ready to bank the canoe on Roosevelt Island before pulling out the engagement ring--to be sure he didn't drop it in the water.  He jumped out of the canoe, tugged the canoe snugly into the sand, then let her jump into his arms so he could keep her dry as her carried her to the shore.  Eva pulled out the stemware and strawberries while the Administrator worked on uncorking the champagne bottle.  Eva thought this was just a celebration of another law term under her belt and didn't know there was an engagement ring in the pocket that the Administrator was fingering.  She decided to get it over with fast:  "I'm taking a year off from law school.  I'm going to intern in the embassy in Kabul."  The color drained from the Administrator's face, and he let the ring pouch fall back to the bottom of the pocket.  "Maybe you can come, too?" she said with only moderate hope.  It wasn't that she thought he was too cowardly to take a State Department assignment in Afghanistan:  it was just that his position in D.C. sounded too important.  Neither of them knew that Eva had been recruited to be deployed not to Kabul but to a new U.S. consulate in the far western corner of China:  she was going to be an undercover agent in Project RODHAM.

Above them on the Roosevelt Bridge, Charles Wu was in a taxi on the way to catch his flight to China.  The money had come through, the connections had come through, and everything was going smoothly so far.  He was one of only a handful of people that knew the dangerous game the Secretary of State was preparing to play in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Wu was jotting cryptic notes as his Pakistani driver game him additional information on the recent assault on the Pakistani Taliban.  "Are the nukes safe?"  The driver shrugged his shoulders and answered, "For now."  As Wu left the driver with a $500 bill, he wondered if he was being paid enough for this mission.  He caught a glimpse of a beautiful actress on her way to catch a flight back to Los Angeles after attending the White House Correspondents' Dinner last night, and Wu smiled because he knew they would both be in First Class.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Gainfully Employed

Ardua of the Potomac was happy after a full week.  First, there was the 11-year-old boy who drowned in the river after slipping off some rocks near Chain Bridge.  Then there was the attorney who blew his brains out in his law firm office after being laid off.  And now there was another Supreme Court Justice to name, and she loved being involved in that.  As her evil glee swelled up, another duck family took flight to leave the river behind forever, but it was too late for most of them.

Why can't it be Justice Prissy Face?  Nobody was more disappointed about Justice Souter's retirement than Bridezilla--not because she had any tears to shed about his departure, but because she was jealous that it had not been Justice Prissy Face.  Her fiance was going to be clerking for Justice Prissy Face at least one more year, and she would surely be an old maid before they ever got married.  She was staring out the window of her office at Prince and Prowling, trying to motivate herself to write a kick-ass brief.  For the first time in her life, she was starting to be a little concerned about her future...her professional future, her personal future, any future....Though Prince and Prowling had lied to abovethelaw.com about not having laid off any legal staff during the downturn, she knew that both associates and staff attorneys had been laid off.  She kept her billable hours high, but she wasn't exactly swimming in praise from her superiors, and she was starting to fear what would happen if she fell off the partner track.  She sat down at her computer and stared at the first sentence she had composed for the brief:  "The facts are clear."  Sure, that'll convince 'em.

Not far away, one of the staff attorneys who had miraculously escaped the firing round was Chloe Cleavage.  Despite the fact that three different sexual harassment lawsuits had been filed against Prince and Prowling because of her behavior, the only thing that had happened to her was her transfer to a small private office where she would no longer be "supervising" anybody else.  Now she spent most of her workdays editing her Facebook page, where she had developed quite a cult following for her sadomasochism section--"I've always been attracted to bad boys, and they love it when I whip them."  Dozens of people at Prince and Prowling knew about the Facebook page (and knew that most of it was phony, but not all of it!), but Chloe had become untouchable.  There were rumors that she had incriminating photos of senior partners receiving her services in their offices, but those photos were not posted on the Facebook page and remained simply rumors.

Over in the workroom, the Braggart was chewing off his cuticles and spitting them in his trash can while he explained to Laura Moreno that if you keep starting new LLM programs but never finish them, you can defer your student loans forever.  Laura made no response to Skippy as she tried to focus on redacting the document pile in front of her.  "You haven't done electronic document review in awhile, have you?"  Laura nodded affirmatively without looking up.  "How come?"  Laura--who had her hands bandaged tightly like a mummy after having performed 20,000 "tag events" in eight weeks (according to the new computer software counter installed in March!)--told Skippy that her new supervisor (not Chloe Cleavage!) was going to try to keep Laura doing other work because of her hand problems.  "Wow, you are so lucky!"  I am permanently disabled, and you think I'm lucky?!  As Laura's three different medical problems continued throbbing in her hands, she wondered if she would ever have a job without overtime again, or a job that used her brain more than her hands, or a job without--.  "Well, I won't be doing this forever!  Someday I'm going to be an honorarium speaker," said The Braggart.  The man who never shut up was actually dreaming that someday people would pay to hear him talk.  Laura rolled her eyes, not suspecting that tonight the new supervisor would telephone the temp. agency to tell them to come collect Skippy's things in the morning:  he was done at Prince and Prowling.

A couple of blocks away, Sebastian L'Arche was dangerously close to the chopping block at the White House--not that he needed the gig, because he had plenty of other gigs, but this might be his most important gig ever, and he didn't want to blow it.  The First Family was not impressed with the Dog Whisperer's [lack of] progress with Bo, and did not understand why he was trying to talk them into letting him bring two other dogs in to work with Bo.  He toyed with telling them the truth--that Bo was freaked out about ghosts in the White House--but it had taken him a long time to believe in ghosts and demons himself, and he knew it was the sort of thing you had to see for yourself.  "I don't want to alarm anybody, but I believe that there is a rodent problem here.  If I bring in my rat terrier, he can flush them out.  I also have an Irish setter who's kind of like a helping dog, and she can be a good training influence on Bo."  What he really meant was that The Gipper would find the ghosts, Lucky Charm would go after them, and Bo would then calm down--at least, that's how he thought it would work--but he didn't say that.  The First Family had little expertise on dogs, but this highly recommended Dog Whisperer seemed a little too unorthodox.  They told him they would have the White House exterminator make a sweep for rodents themselves, and he should just focus on the Portuguese water dog.  After L'Arche was left alone with Bo, he whispered to Bo not to give up.  "Look, the ghosts haven't even hurt yout, have they?  They're probably more afraid of you than you are of them!"  Bo looked at L'Arche dubiously, then buried his face in L'Arche's chest.

Charles Wu was looking at C. Coe Phant dubiously as the two downed croissants and coffee at the West End Bread and Chocolate.  "You're telling me that Project RODHAM had something to do with the 8-year-old's winning her divorce in Saudi Arabia AND Karzai's back-peddling on the wife legislation in Afghanistan?" Phant said he could say no more on those subjects until he knew if Wu was in or out.  More than a few women were sneaking sidelong glances at the finely toned Wu in the cherry red bicycle shorts and canary yellow tank top he had worn for their recent bicycle polo match near Rock Creek Park.  Wu did not like being the least knowledgeable member of any group of people, but this might be a risk he would have to take to get an in with the new Secretary of State.  He winked at a particularly attractive redhead, then turned back to Phant.  "Alright, I will tell you what the Chinese are prepared to do at this time, but it's going to cost her."

Outside, a flock of sparrows were picking up croissant crumbs under the rain-spattered tables until a flock of starlings alighted and chased them away.