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 ....

Friday, April 29, 2011

Tall Tales from Texas

“Did you break up with that pedophile?”

Sebastian L'Arche looked up to see who had made the wildly disturbing comment, then looked back at his posse of dogs peeing in a small garden. He hated hanging out where people were walking towards the courthouses, but sometimes he was on a very tight schedule in walking his client's dogs. He heard the woman say yes and then ask her companion how he expected to do in his probation hearing this afternoon. “I need to go to AA and attend anger management," he said. "The judge warned me not to let her back in after she serves her three months, but I know she’s gonna want to live with me.” ("Ain't she a hoarder?") "You tellin' ME! AND she leaves sour milk and moldy food all over my kitchen and calls it a COMPOST pile!" ("But she's good in bed?") "Hell, yeah! Better than your damn pedophile!" ("I didn't KNOW he was a pedophile! Anyway, did you hear that my cousin Lisa ran off with her boyfriend? Lisa's only 15, and her boyfriend is 22!")

They were finally out of earshot, and L'Arche resolved to start attending his Iraq War veterans support group again--not for himself, but because he spent too much time helping animals and not enough helping people.

Several blocks away, in the city's other world of justice, Atticus Hawk awoke with a start from the nightmare he was having while nodding off at his desk. The dreams were getting worse--not worse, but more vivid and believable--every time. First he's driving up to the entrance gate at Guantanamo; then he shows his Justice Department ID badge, and the guard reads aloud "Torture Specialist" and waves him in; then he's taken to an isolated cell where he finds a naked man being waterboarded; he sees electrical burn marks on the man's groin, and dog bites on the man's legs; the torturers stop pouring water for a moment and scream at the prisoner, "Where's Bin Laden?!"; the prisoner whispers that he doesn't know; Hawk recognizes the voice and pulls the wet cloth off the prisoner's face; then George W. Bush looks up at Hawk and asks, "Why did Obama label me an enemy combatant? I wanna go back to Texas!"; then Hawk says, "because he could". Because I said the President of the United States could. Hawk looked down again at the memo from Attorney General Eric Holder explaining why Guantanamo had not yet been shut down, then absent-mindedly used his tie to wipe the cold perspiration off his forehead.

"Hot tamale?"

Hawk looked up with a start, because he didn't know any women who knew that code name; it was Ava Kahdo Green, the pretty U.S. Attorney with a crush on him.

"Pepe's, around the corner--I feel like getting tamales for lunch. You wanna go?"

He said OK because he could not think of any reason to say no, even though he never wanted to eat any of the weird things she was always getting for lunch. He started laughing, and she asked what was so funny, but he could not tell her that he suddenly found it absurd that he had used a code name for years whose meaning he did not even know. (What is a tamale? Why is it hot?) Then he frowned because he realized she probably thought the laugh was flirtation. (For her part, she thought he might be bi-polar, but this only added to his mysterious allure.)

A few blocks away, psychiatrist Ermann Esse was listening to a hypnotized John Boehner talk about a recent dream. "Thor Bunny came from outer space. Thor Bunny is more powerful than any bunny in the world, and can shoot lightning and poop jelly beans. Thor Bunny entered the home of the richest woman in the world, who had built a house as big as 100,000 elephants. Thor Bunny pooped an enormous-sized jelly bean because the woman's easter basket was as big as one elephant. Then the woman got up and ate the gigantic jelly bean, which made her have a gigantic fart. The gigantic fart made her house stink so bad that she had to sell it, and she sold it for $20." Dr. Esse shook his head dubiously, disbelieving that Boehner could have come up with this on his own, and brought him out of hypnosis.

"Congressman," asked Dr. Esse, "did you say you had a nephew from Texas visiting you for Easter?"


"Did the nephew from Texas tell any tall tales?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact--something about the Easter bunny--I didn't pay much attention to it." Dr. Esse scribbled on his notepad: patient has no clue where the ideas come from which implant themselves in his psyche.

A few blocks away, law firm Lye, Cheit and Steele was wooing a smart young associate from Prince and Prowling. "Mr. Cigemeier, have you ever tried Chilean champagne?" The managing partner popped the cork and poured out a glass. They were standing on the roofdeck, looking out on a picture-perfect day in Washington. "We always have champagne lunches on Fridays," he said nonchalantly, but he saw Cigemeier's dubious facial expression in the reflection of his champagne glass. (Smart--he knows champagne can be purchased inexpensively.) "Once a month we have a special Friday happy-hour with a different theme on each floor of the firm." (This got Cigemeier to turn attentively.) "One floor is always a European country, one is a tropical island, one is something Asian, and the top floor is always Texas--that's where our founder is from, David Bowie Lye." (Darn, he looks dubious again! Why doesn't anybody believe our founder's name was David Bowie Lye? Better get straight to the good stuff.) "We have an extremely efficient operation with very little overhead, so our profit margins are three-to-four times the average." (Downstairs at this very moment, in fact, a new associate was asking what the administrative billing code was, and his supervising partner was looking at him blankly and asking, "what's an administrative billing code? Bill everything to a client!") "You'll find it easy to meet billable requirements here, and you will be making more money to boot! We've thought of everything at Lye, Cheit and Steele."

(Everything but my conscientious wife, thought Cigemeier, who knew if he ever sank that low his wife's gaze would sear into his soul and find him out. Just telling her he went for this recruitment lunch would freak her out: she had enough doubts about the integrity of Prince and Prowling, and he knew there was even more bad press out there about Lye, Cheit and Steele.)

The managing partner nodded to a stunningly beautiful young woman who had come out to light a cigarette, then checked Cigemeier's reaction: nothing. (Either Cigemeier can't stand smokers, or the rumors of marital problems are untrue. Dammit, I got nothin'! This guy's slipping through my fingers.) He watched Cigemeier down the last of his champagne and decided not to offer him any more.

Back near Judiciary Square, Becky Hartley was taking a break from her day job at the insurance company to have lunch with her friend and sometime boss, Sebastian L'Arche. They were sitting outside munching on wraps while the dogs lay contentedly at their feet. "My daddy had a private party at his country club in Dallas." (Hartley was telling L'Arche about her Easer visit home.) "And this guy was there from Washington, Calico Johnson. And he was a TOTAL player! He took his Rolex off his wrist and tried to give it to me ten minutes after he met me!" L'Arche felt an unexpected twinge of jealousy. "People like him are the reason I LEFT Texas! A big ole hunkin' Rolex!" L'Arche wasn't certain if she was complaining that it was a large-sized man's watch or that it was an excessive gesture. "THEN, when he found out I was living in Washington, he tried to get me to fly back here in his private plane!" L'Arche felt another twinge of jealousy, and he didn't even like her--he hated it when his caveman instincts came out. "Like I'm gonna get in a private plane with God-knows-what-pilot and this crazy, horny, egotistical rich guy who thinks he's God's gift to women! PUH-LEEZE!" She took a sip of lemonade. "So I told him I was thinking of moving full-time into pet services, and his eyes glazed over in no time flat! It was like I had told him I was planning to work in a barn or something. Hi-LAR-ious!" L'Arche finally found himself chuckling; he was glad she was back.

Out in the river, the sluggishly pregnant Ardua of the Potomac sensed the imminent return of Angela de la Paz...but was uncertain what this meant.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Trials and Tribulations

After a bout of phlegmatic heaves, twenty minutes with the neti pot, and a box of tissues, Clio had finally finished hacking up mucous. The HIV-positive White House butler cleaned herself up and set to work getting her twin pre-schoolers dressed for church with their auntie. It was actually better this way since they would sit quietly through the service when their auntie took them--something their mother had yet to see in their lifetime. "Reggie, sit still," she said quietly, in a husky voice to her daughter, Regina, as she tied the pink ribbon in her hair. "Fergie, don't put on those shoes," she said to her son, Ferguson. "The other ones," she said, pointing to the closet, and he went to get them. They had talked a few times about her serious illness, but she knew they didn't understand it very well--they were still too little. She didn't know that Regina and Ferguson discussed it frequently with the White House ghosts, who told them repeatedly that their mother would be better off dead because ghosts didn't cough or get headaches or throw up. Sometimes Regina and Ferguson would try to discuss this by themselves out in the back yard, but then some ghost would always come along to try to influence the conversation. Once they told the gardener Bridge what the ghosts were saying about their mother, and he told them the ghosts were wicked and they needed to ignore them. But they knew sometimes things the ghosts said were true, like how there had never been a President who didn't at least one time get angry and smash a glass or coffee mug against the Oval Office wall. (President Nixon had done it the most times--at least once a week.) And they knew sometimes the things their mother told them were not true--like how she told them their father was dead, but they knew he wasn't. "It's Palm Sunday," said Clio, with a final assessment of her children from head to toe. "Pay attention and mind your auntie." They might or might not pay attention, but they would certainly mind their auntie because if they didn't, they would have to eat pickled beets and flax seeds for lunch. (If they acted right, doughnuts!) "It's almost Easter," Clio said in a low, husky voice, little more than a whisper. "Easter," she said again, the fever gripping her. She repeated it several more times until her sister arrived to pick up the kids.

"It's almost Easter!" shouted Glenn Michael Beckmann; then he turned to hack up some more phlegm and spit it out. Undercover reporter Holly Gonightly suppressed her gag impulse and tried to stay focused on today's meeting of the Hunter-Gatherer Society on Kingman Island. (She had once tried explaining to him that the city should stop planting males trees, which produce pollen, and only plant female trees, which produce seeds, because this would reduce hay fever and provide more food for birds. That had ended with his calling her a stupid cow and proclaiming women the root of all evil; then he had muttered something about catching a cold from a "damn liberal" in the laundry room at Southwest Plaza.) "It's almost Easter!" repeated Beckmann. "Palm Sunday!" He took a Burger King crown he had turned inside-out and placed it upside-down on his head. "We are all wearing the crown of thorns!" There was some confusion in the crowd, and somebody asked if they shouldn't be doing the procession of palms first. "We're not here to recreate the whole namby-pamby church thing! THIS is what's important!" He pointed to the gray cardboard crown on his head. "The Once and Future King!" There was more confusion and whispering now as to whether he was referring to himself or Christ. Some of the members of the Hunter-Gatherer Society worshipped only the sun and the moon, and felt the whole religion thing was a tool invented to emasculate the world's natural-born leaders (the strongest and wiliest), but they never said so in front of Beckmann, who was rumored to have killed a man in Arizona for saying religion was the opiate of the masses. "Now we're going to hunt rabbits!" Beckmann shouted. The men fanned out into the thick brush, with Holly Gonightly and the only other woman there bringing up the rear, both pulling little red wagons full of starter fluid, plastic plates, and cans of Red Bull for the feast to come. Propped up on a tripod in Gonightly's wagon was also a video camera to capture everything to upload to the internet later--except the best parts, which she would craftily edit out for her own director's cut, not to be revealed until she was ready to report on her undercover reporting. The Warrior looked back and smiled at her because he knew she was up to something. She had never seen him smile before, though she did suspect he had struggled to keep a straight face as the others had compared their rabbit-hunting weapons: bb guns, blow darts, and miniature cross bows. (The Warrior had just brought a carrot and a net; after catching a rabbit, he would simply bash its head against a tree--though he hated to do so in front of the women, who had not been raised in a hunter-gatherer culture.) Gonightly smiled back, and the other woman frowned in disgust that Gonightly would choose that old Indian man out of all these guys to flirt with.

Several miles away, Congressman Herrmark was out on his deck, reading the Sunday papers while listening to Richard Wagner (opera gave the activity the gravitas it deserved). It was regrettable that Mia had to stay inside on a lovely spring day, but other people would simply not understand what a humanitarian gesture he had made in bringing her here from the Marianas Islands. After the boys were back from church (four hours they had asked off today! these Greeks really took church too seriously!), they could smuggle her out in the mini-van and take her to see the azaleas at the National Arboretum. He glanced through the screen door at the girl, who was carrying the last of the brunch plates into the kitchen. It was going to be hard staying home so much. His chief of staff was already bugging him about heading back to his home district for more fundraisers, and he really needed to see his parents for Easter. But he couldn't very well travel without his bodyguards, and he couldn't leave her here by herself! Or maybe he could? What's the worst that could happen? I just need to take her passport...and I can set the house alarm to go off if she tries to leave--for her own good, of course. He frowned and turned back to the newspapers.

Downtown, former Senator Evermore Breadman was well past the newspapers, the emails, the voicemails, and the text messages. He was now watching internet videos from the PowerShift 2011 conference--a bunch of young people and bleeding heart liberals acting like civil rights martyrs in their quest to rid the country of fossil fuels. This sort of thing made some of his energy company clients antsy (especially when people like Al Gore showed up to rally the masses), and it was hard for the Prince and Prowling partner to explain to them that all that mattered was where the Congressional leadership stood. (And they stood waist-deep in fossil fuel campaign contributions!) But he couldn't help feeling there was a threat from within--and his name was Congressman Herrmark. The news of his parents' summer home getting blown to pieces because of hydrofracking gone bad was now well-known in Washington, but the rumors about what the Congressman would do about it were all over the map. I need to know more about this guy, Breadman fretted. He hesitated for a few more moments, debating whether to just hire a run-of-the-mill private detective, then decided to call Charles Wu.

Several miles away, the D.C. Chapter of Sense of Entitlement Anonymous was meeting at the upper Georgetown home of Judge Sowell Ame. Prince and Prowling attorney Bridezilla talked about how she just did not want to do Palm Sunday this year. "I think I suffer enough, frankly!" she declared. (Most people's voices would sound fairly muddled through a breathing mask like the one she had on, but her shrill voice could penetrate anything.) Dick Cheney nodded in agreement, and started talking about his heart surgeries again. Real estate agent Calico Johnson tried to change the subject to Earth Day and how sick he was of tenants calling on him to put in green roofs and rain barrels and solar water heaters and weather stripping. "They're renters, for God's sake!" he said. "Where do they get off making these demands?!" Judge Sowell Ame agreed: "Renters have more sense of entitlement in this town than anybody else I see in my courtroom! They think they should live roach-free for a measly $1,000/month rent? Ha!" "Exactly!" echoed Johnson. "How am I supposed to make a decent profit if I need to keep every building as clean as a hospital AND reduce the carbon footprint!" (By "decent profit" he meant 30-50% return.) "Well, I disagree!" interjected Bridezilla. "Everybody has to rent until they're ready to buy a house, and we shouldn't have to live in filth!" (She had been lobbying unsuccessfully for her apartment to install individual HVAC units so that she did not have to deal with the forced air system recycling air from God-only-knows who's units.) Johnson knew she was one of those women who would never purchase a home no matter how much money she saved because she believed that a man should buy it for her, and he desperately wanted to tell her to stop dumping fiances, but instead he reached for another shot of pink lemonade and whiskey and glanced at the time on his [cursed] Rolex.

On the limb of the tulip tree in the back yard, a raven watched nervously, sensing that the Rolex with the evil curse on it was soon heading for somebody else's arm. But who?


Washington Water Woman will be traveling next weekend and expects to return to blogging in two weeks.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Mighty

How far the mighty have fallen! Cedric was reading the Washington Post editorials and laughing at Henry Kissinger's plea for military intervention. Give it up, old man! You don't have any more armies to command! You don't have any more CIA assassins at your beck and call! You can't control ANYTHING! Then social worker Hue Nguyen came by to give him his meds, and he recalled that he was living at the Arlington Group Home for the Mentally Challenged. How did I get here?

Across the river at the Heurich Society meeting, Henry Samuelson knew full well how Cedric had ended up there, but Samuelson didn't think too much about Cedric these days. He examined his cupcake critically but said nothing about his preference for good old-fashioned doughnuts because the last time he had complained about how cupcakes were taking over Washington his daughter had told him he sounded like an old coot. The doctor had told him to start mega doses of vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin!) and he would start perking up, but it was hard to deny he was getting older. This morning he had nodded off right in the middle of the phone call with Angela de la Paz briefing him on the latest schisms within the Egyptian military ranks. All in all, Project Prometheus and Project Cinderella were both going very well, but it was a lot of balls to keep in the air. He had thought by now the world would be more the way he wanted it and he could enjoy a peaceful retirement, but things just kept getting more complicated. The other day his daughter had commented on how the world's population would hit nine billion this year, and you just couldn't control that many people no matter what you did--but then, how was he to live in such a chaotic world? Samuelson felt old and...weak.

A couple miles away, Golden Fawn's grandmother was also feeling old and weak. They were picnicking on Theodore Roosevelt Island after using her strongest medicine to counteract Ardua's evil influence, but she had already admitted to Golden Fawn that she now believed the Warrior was right--it was somebody else's destiny to fight this demon in the Potomac, as well as her spawn Eeteebsse. She hated to leave her granddaughter like this, but she needed to go home where she could do some good. "Help the girl," she told her granddaughter, "together there is hope."

Back in the city, Dr. Ermann Esse was evaluating his newest patient, Congressman John Boehner. When Boehner had heard about the radical psychiatrist who did not pander to sissies by prescribing drugs, he hadn't known that the psychiatrist also considered cigarette smoking a drug addiction. Boehner was sitting on the edge of the couch, tapping his foot furiously on the oriental carpet and squeezing stress balls in both hands. "I thought people would respect and love me in this position!" Boehner sighed. "But I can't make anybody happy! Nothing I do is good enough for anybody! Tell me, how do you deal with Tea Party members yelling 'cut it or shut it!' on the one hand and four-dozen Representatives on the other who are demanding earmarks? Every option is lose-lose, I tell you!" It felt good to admit that to somebody: carrying around the bravura had become exhausting to Boehner.

"Tell me," asked Dr. Esse, "when did your mother stop kissing you?"

"What the hell are you talking about?!" replied Boehner, getting redder in the face than usual.

"It is a crucial period in every man's life and of fundamental importance to understanding their psychological maturation process," said Dr. Esse. Actually he was not entirely certain of that, but he was working on a book about it, so he needed to keep collecting responses. If only he could attach the real-life names to the responses! Still, he thought it would be a good book anyway. He had already collected "after I accidentally dropped the dog out of the upstairs window" from Henry Samuelson, "after I refused to continue piano lessons" from Didymus (the ghost of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara), "after I told her I would rather wear a potato sack than wear the neon pink polyester Easter dress she had bought me" from Bridezilla, "after she saw me staring at Mrs. Hardy's cleavage" from the SEC attorney fired for downloading porn on his office computer, "after I refused refunds for neighbors complaining there were flies in the lemonade I was selling them" from the Prince and Prowling partner, and "after I denounced her asparagus casserole as a communist conspiracy" from the White House staffer in the last Administration.

"Well," said Boehner, pausing to think back. "I suppose it was after I hit that Little League game-winning RBI, and she tried to give me a congratulatory kiss after the game, but I wouldn't let her kiss me in front of the guys." He looked at the psychiatrist with hope that this courageous and raw admission would be the breakthrough necessary to get himself back on track.

How utterly ordinary and uninteresting, thought Dr. Esse while jotting down the statement. I may have to put this one under hypnosis to find out what's really going on in there.

"What's going on in there?" Over at the Federal Reserve Board, members of the Camelot Society were waiting inpatiently for Luciano Talaverdi and his secret lover ("Obi Wan woman") to come out of the Governor's office with the special files for the meeting, but just the sight of that large smooth Governor's desk where they had first made love had already sent them into a spasm of making out until the shout reminded them what they were doing. Talaverdi picked up the files as his secret lover smoothed out her hair, then they walked out to join the others in saving the world of liquidity as they knew it.

Over in the Tidal Basin, the Beaver quietly watched the continuing throngs of tourists gazing at the cherry blossom trees and wondered about the times to come.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Not Exactly

Liv Cigemeier and her husband posed under the cherry blossom tree as an obliging tourist took their photo for them--a social reciprocity being repeated all around the tidal basin. It scarcely counted as a lovely spring day, but they would take what they could get. Liv was over the moon because her boss had told her on Friday that they had just received a $5,000,000 project for International Development Machine to work with women in Afghanistan. The donor was anonymous because of the danger of the project, and Liv imagined it was Angelina Jolie or perhaps the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (She couldn't have been further from the truth.) Her husband was also in a good mood because he was being courted by another law firm and getting ready to play hardball with Prince and Prowling.

A few miles away, the managing partner of Prince and Prowling was reviewing the situation. It was bad enough that half the senior partners had been through his office during the past two weeks to ask if what happened at Howrey could happen here! (Of course not!) Then there were the multiple sexual harassment suits they had settled because of Chloe Cleavage and her leverage against former Senator Evermore Breadman. Bridezilla--once the eye candy that every partner wanted to bring to depositions--now spent all of her time holed up in her office with four air purifier machines, a private printer and fax machine so she never had to touch one that anybody else had touched, and a gallon-sized jug of hand sanitizer on her desk. Then there was "temporary" workhorse Laura Moreno, who was the most profitable attorney at the firm (defending three class actions on sub-prime mortgage lenders virtually herself!), but if he ever hired her she would probably go out on disability straight away; as it is, her health was not going to support her much longer and he was going to lose her one way or another. But the biggest problem of all was the new law firm courting his practice groups: Lye, Cheit, and Steele. He was certain Cigemeier would need a raise to stay at Prince and Prowling, maybe even an early bump onto the partner track. The others were still a toss-up. He put aside the personnel files to take a break and peruse the recommendations of the interior decorator for how to make the law firm's aesthetic more universally appealing. The illustrated portfolio included a photo of an 300-pound elderly woman with a big toothless smile, a decaying tobacco barn photographed from three different angles, several self-portraits of African-Americans from the east side of town, a painting of coal miners with soot on their faces, a photo of a factory floor circa 1900 with women and children working on machines, a needlepointed American flag in a red frame, a photograph of American fighter planes over Pakistan, a bust of George Washington, and a double-portrait of founding partners Prince and Prowling depicted as Tragedy and Comedy. He closed the portfolio, walked out of his office in search of Laura Moreno, found her in the workroom as usual, handed her the portfolio, and asked her to decide what Prince and Prowling should purchase. "I'll send a note to the partner that I had an emergency this morning and you were the only one around--take your time." Moreno took off her arthritis gloves and started paging through the appalling portfolio trying to figure out if this was a joke or a trick.

A couple of blocks away, Charles Wu was staring at the Tree of Peace in the foyer of the Organization of American States. It was only a century old, but apparently in the context of a young country, this was considered quite an old tree. Had there ever been a year since 1492 when guns were not being fired somewhere in the Americas? His eyes looked up as Eva Brown continued the small tour, showing her young, adopted, "Chinese" (Tajik) daughter the flora sections for the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and then North America--where Wu stood by the Tree of Peace. Wu had not seen her since they were in western China together, but he was not surprised that the Secretary of State had sent her today. "Did you finish law school?" Wu asked politely, though he already knew the answer and she knew that he already knew the answer. She shook her head and started talking about Libya as her daughter wandered off, waving a fairy wand randomly and bopping her head to a song she was quietly humming to herself. Wu's second small-talk question was going to be about the young girl, but the moment had already passed.

Back at the Tidal Basin, Golden Fawn and her grandmother were also braving the chilly breeze--not to view the cherry blossoms, but to keep an eye on Ardua of the Potomac. Golden Fawn's grandmother had made her decision: they needed to kill Eeteebsee in the womb, because if he was born, he would be a more powerful and terrible demon than his other mother had ever been, In all her years as an Elder of her people, she had never had to make such a decision--it was like making a deal with the devil. It didn't help that when Golden Fawn had introduced her grandmother to The Warrior that he had disagreed completely, saying that he had seen prophecies come and go, and trying to prevent a prophecy always had unforeseen consequences. He had also told them that becoming a killer would change them forever, and they would need powerful medicine to withstand the danger to their own souls. Finally, he had asked them to await the return of the girl, Angela de la Paz, because he believed it was her destiny to destroy Ardua. "The cancer is thinking about coming back," said Golden Fawn's grandmother, who had very unscientific ideas about why Golden Fawn had gone through a breast cancer fight a few years back. Golden Fawn looked at her grandmother, but she said nothing more; it had always been this way, with her grandmother saying something plain and simple and expecting Golden Fawn to understand a hundred other things from it. It had been good preparation for marriage, Golden Fawn thought, and a smile briefly crossed her lips, and then another cool breeze stung her eyes, and she recalled the problem at hand. Are we strong enough to kill this baby? she wondered. Maybe we will have no choice but to wait for Angela to return. "It's going to rain," her grandmother said, but they did not get up to leave.

Several miles away, Mia wiped her hands on the cherry blossom apron Congressman Herrmark had given her (in a brief fit of guilt about not taking her to see the cherry blossoms in person), then picked up the plate of chopped vegetables to dump into the skillet, where she would stir fry them with ginger and soy sauce. The first few days she had been here, he had tried to give her an American cookbook and show her how to use the microwave oven, but had quickly given up on it--he didn't have time to teach her every little thing. So it was his bodyguards Nick and Costas who taught her to use the washing machine and the ice maker and the toaster. She still would not use the dryer, and the men continued to find wet clothes hanging all over the house, but they were patient with her, since she was probably only 14 or 15, and very far from home. Congressman Herrmark had told his bodyguards she was a maid from the Philippines, but they knew he was lying. He had picked her up on his trip to the Marianas, and she was probably from Laos or Cambodia. When they had told their cousin Ann Bishis about it, she had hesitated for a minute, then said, "well, I'm sure this is a better life than she had in the Marianas". The girl slept in the bedroom of Congressman Herrmark, though once when he was in the shower, his bodyguards saw her curled up asleep in the wing chair, so they really were not sure what was going on in there. She didn't have any bruises, so they couldn't exactly say there was anything wrong...not exactly. Nick got out the plates while Costas poured another cup of coffee for Congressman Herrmark, who was catching up on his hydrofracking reading in the dining room and thinking how delicious lunch was smelling. Outside the dining room window, a raven watched him intensely until Congressman Herrmark noticed it, got aggravated, and threw a pencil at the window to shoo it away.