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, October 26, 2014

Washington's secret haunted house party!

It was Joey Bent Oak who had first said something about using his haunted house as a Halloween attraction, but after some consideration, Angela de la Paz had come up with a new plan for exorcising the wicked ghosts unwilling to depart upper Georgetown for the Afterlife.  Joey's adoptive parents, Golden Fawn and Marcos Vazquez, were extremely resistant to the idea for some time, but Angela's supernatural powers had kept them safe this long, so at last they had consented to turning their haunted house into a Halloween haunted house party--for ghosts.  Joey was disappointed he would have to miss it--since it was his idea!--but he was still just a child, and Angela insisted on his parents taking him away during the event.  So here she was, now, entering the Dreamtime, to summon all the ghosts she knew in D.C. to come on over.

Ghost Henry was the first to arrive, since he was always happy to win brownie points with Angela, his one-time Project Cinderella.  Then Ferguson and Regina showed up from the White House, with Ghost Dennis not far behind.  Then a large contingent of The Shackled showed up, followed by Ghost Pippin.

"Fergie!  Reggie!"  Ghost Dennis was already trying to rein in the twin pre-schoolers from running amok, but Angela told him to let the imps run wild.  Soon they were overturning chairs, swinging on the dining room chandelier, and chasing Ghost Pippin (a deceased cat) while making loud barking noises.

Just as Angela had anticipated, the resident ghosts became enraged at this invasion of their home, and came flying out of the attic in a fury--only to be met by the stern admonitions of the Shackled that it was time for those ghosts to go seek atonement for all the evil they had perpetuated in this house.

What Angela had not anticipated was that Joey had broken his promise not to tell anybody at school that they were going to have the craziest Halloween haunted house party ever held in D.C., much less anticipated how rapidly this news would spread.  The first surprise guest to arrive was real estate tycoon Calico Johnson, with a date from N.U.T.T.Y. (Nannies United to Take Y-chromosomes).  They were dressed as Antony and Cleopatra.

"Are you sure this is the right place, Cal?"

"Yes!  They said it was a secret, so I guess that's why they don't have any decorations outside."

"It's a lovely house!" his date replied, and they went inside to discover Angela de la Paz lying down on the living room sofa in a trance.

"Well, that's kind of creepy," said Cal.  And then Regina and Ferguson shoved the coffee table into has shins, and his date screamed.

The next guest to arrive was Slow Man, dressed up as a yellow banana.  "It's so quiet in here!" he exclaimed, hoping there would be karaoke.  The ghost of Henry Samuelson recognized him immediately as a spy, and began interrogating Slow Man about his Kurdish contacts in Turkey, which to Slow Man sounded like faint whisperings in his ears.  Slow Man had no peripheral vision in the banana suit, and kept spinning around trying to figure out who was talking to him.  Ghost Pippin took advantage of Ghost Henry's distraction to urinate ghost pee on Ghost Henry, who screamed and threw the cat across the room.

Then Judge Sowell Ame arrived, with his 10-year-old niece in tow.  (She was dressed in some type of "Frozen" costume which he didn't understand, and she had insisted her uncle wear his chamber robe, carry her magic wand, and pretend to be a Hogwarts wizardry professor.)  Now Judge Ame did not live very far away, and he had his own (not too troublesome) ghosts--which had followed him to this party, and were quickly accosted by the resident ghosts trying to evict them.

At this point, Giuliana Sunstream showed up to take notes, because she would be having a FABULOUS Halloween party of her own in NoMA the following weekend.  She and her toy Maltese "Vegas" were both dressed as snow leopards, and Ghost Pippin immediately hissed and jumped up at Vegas with her little ghost claws out.  Vegas started barking furiously, leaped out of Sunstream's arms, and landed--with his own claws out--on Yellow Man's banana suit, which started peeling downward.

It was at this point that television reporter Holly Gonightly arrived, cameraman in tow, to film D.C.'s most secretive and amazing haunted house party.  Angela de la Paz, who had remained in the Dreamtime up until this point, now jumped up from the couch--because she had to destroy the camera before it captured any ghost images.  She used her telekinetic powers to hurl the camera against a wall, shattering it into a hundred pieces, and Calico Johnson's N.U.T.T.Y. date screamed.

"Did you see that?" hollered Gonightly to nobody in particular, as her cameraman debated whether to retrieve his camera or not.

Meanwhile, the resident ghosts were fed up with all the chaos, and somebody had to die!  They grabbed the little "Frozen" girl (ghosts aren't very strong, and she was the smallest), and tried to fling her through the dining room window, but Angela stopped her in mid-air and deposited her safely on the floor.  Then they jumped onto Calico Johnson's shoulders and screamed at him to kill his girlfriend  before she killed him--which sounded to Johnson like the eeriest whisper he had ever heard.  He reached out his hands to choke his date, but Angela telekinetically tossed Johnson onto the sofa.

"You will never kill another soul here!" screamed Angela, and the guests all jumped back, not seeing whom she was screaming at.  The resident ghosts howled in fury, and flew into the living room windows, shattering them.  "You belong in Purgatory!" she yelled even louder, and then she telekinetically started a fire in the fireplace.  "Now!" she screamed at the top of her lungs, and commanded them with her hands to go into the fire.  Ghost Henry, Ghost Pippin, Ghost Dennis, Regina, Ferguson, and The Shackled surrounded the resident ghosts and started crowding them towards the fire.  "Now!" Angela screamed again, with a clap of her hands, and with that, the resident ghosts flew into the fire, which immediately died out.  The guests and other ghosts were now silent.

Angela exhaled deeply, walked over to the recliner and sank into it.  "You can all go now," she said quietly to the ghosts, momentarily forgetting there were still people present until Slow Man exclaimed how brilliant it all was and began clapping.  Angela got back up from the recliner and looked at the other people, who were all clapping now, though some of them with very shell-shocked looks on their faces.  "Thank you," she said.

"What do we owe you?" asked Judge Sowell Ame, reaching for his wallet.  "That was really scary, and I don't scare easily!"  (His niece had peed in her panties, but he didn't know that.)

"Twenty bucks," said Angela, who saw there was a lot of house damage to repair.

"What about my camera?!" exclaimed the cameraman.

"The insurance will cover it, son," said Judge Ame.  "And you should know better than to try to film a secret haunted house party!"

"Are there any refreshments?" asked Giuliana Sunstream, who was slowly recovering, and knew she could never outdo these special effects, but had a plan for amazingly frightening bowls of Jello.

Ten minutes later, Angela was finally alone in the house...except for the ghost of Henry Samuelson.  She lay down on the sofa and closed her eyes, but that didn't stop him.

"So you sent a couple of evil ghosts to Purgatory--you could be doing more!  You should be in Syria or Hong Kong or--"

"Don't start with me," replied Angela.

"You could be saving a lot more lives!"

"By killing, you mean?"

"It's a lesser evil," insisted Ghost Henry.

"I like doing NO evil," insisted Angela.  "Go back to the CIA."

"Why didn't you try to make the rest of us leave?"

"You're not murderous," said Angela.

"But I was in purgatory," said Ghost Henry.

"I know," said Angela.

"So why didn't you send me back?"

"I haven't had a vision to."

Ghost Henry laughed, shook his head, and flew away without another word.

Angela lay back down on the sofa, listening to the wind whistle through the broken glass.  She had a colossal headache, but the house was finally free.

COMING UP:  Leeches.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Prize

Luciano Talaverdi was on a mission.  He had been up all night with insomnia, fretting about his life in America.  All the blood, sweat and tears he had put into becoming a leading economist had led him to this fork in the road.  Working his way through Sapienza University in Rome, winning the Rhodes Scholarship to the London School of Economics, doing the post-doc back in Rome at the Food and Agriculture Organization, publishing his first book at age 27, coming to work at the Federal Reserve Board....

This is no good.

He walked out, rushing to the next place.  It was useless!  After rising and rising and rising in the field of economics, he had to admit that he was completely stalled. The Washington Post had rejected his latest op-ed ("Why a warming world needs a World Bank of Water"), Slate said he was too liberal, Salon said he was too conservative, and USA Today said his ideas for writing a weekly column on economics were not a good fit for their (ignoramus!) audience.  And to add insult to injury, that Germanic "stand-up economist", Yoram Bauman, was stealing Talaverdi's best Italian jokes!  Now he would never be able to publish "Mamma mia, that's a spicy margin!"   Talaverdi had to do something desperate if he wanted to escape the rank and file economics cadre of the FRB and become a game-changer.  He checked his phone again, then made a sharp right.  He was running out of time!  The U.S. elections were coming, and he would have another chance to influence an impressionable batch of political ignoramuses with his monetary and fiscal brilliance--but only if he could manage to be in the right place at the right time!

And there it was--he had found it!  He rushed in.  All that glitters is not gold....The choice of a lifetime....

A few miles away, Talaverdi's girlfriend, Helen Yellen, was dropping off Petro Pig for another mid-day stroll with Sebastian L'Arche (AKA the Dog Whisperer of DC), after his morning celebrity appearance (and live-tweeting) at "Opportunities for Curbing Methane Pollution", hosted by the Center for American Progress.  Her pot-bellied pig had become very attached to L'Arche during that long weekend when Yellen was away, so she liked to hire L'Arche a few times a week.  And Yellen knew that everything people said about the Dog Whisperer was true, because when he dropped to his knees and whispered in Petro Pig's ear, Petro Pig would quietly snort and wiggle his tail.  Her boyfriend could barely tolerate petting the pig at all, but L'Arche would do Eskimo kisses and everything!

Petro Pig whispered to L'Arche that Talaverdi was completely mistaken about Peak Oil, but L'Arche was fairly certain that everybody was mistaken about Peak Oil, so he just nodded sympathetically.  Then Petro Pig whispered that Talaverdi's ambition was darkening his soul, but L'Arche didn't want to be too alarming to Yellen.  "Petro Pig says Luciano has been very tense lately."

"Yes!  Oh, my God, that is so true!  Ever since they announced the Nobel Prize in Economics, he's been so jealous and depressed!  I keep trying to tell him that goes to older people who've been at it much longer, but he wants so much."

With that, Yellen set off to meet Talaverdi at the Inter-American Development Bank art exhibit, "Flow".  He rarely left the Federal Reserve Board palace at lunch time, but he had surprised her by agreeing to this--because it was at a humongous bank, she figured.  She got on the little Vespa he had bought her and started zipping her way downtown.

Meanwhile, Talaverdi was almost ready.  He had phoned his mother in Italy to be certain she was on board with the whole idea, and now he was yammering on the cellphone with his psychiatrist, Dr. Ermann Esse in the back of an Ethiopian's taxi.  "Yes, but that's...alright...I see....Is it normal to feel hope and terror at the same time?  OK."  He finally hung up, and the driver caught his eyes in the mirror.

"I remember that feeling," he laughed, shaking his head, but Talaverdi was fairly certain it was not the same feeling.

 A few minutes later, the two sweethearts were kissing in front of a very disturbing painting that Talaverdi could just glimpse out of the corner of his eye.  "How's the exhibit?" he asked her.

"A lot of wild stuff!  Come and see this!" exclaimed Yellen, taking him by the hand.

Raised on a diet of Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci, Talaverdi was not a natural aficionado of Caribbean art, but the Italian economist had not expected to see the Inter-American Development Bank exhibiting films of naked women being marked by a plastic surgeon or pouring makeup over themselves.  "Is this...feminist?" he asked.

Yellen just laughed and pulled him along.  After he had seen everything, he realized this was not the appropriate place he had hoped for, but his heart was pounding out of his chest, and he couldn't wait another minute.  He pulled his sweetheart back to the exhibit with the beaded sneakers on the floor, knelt down in front of her, and pulled out the engagement ring.

The security guard shook his head, puzzled that they always picked the sneakers.  He carefully took a cellphone photo to add to his collection, which he was eventually going to exhibit as "Tying the Knot".

Three stories above them, a Brazilian economist finished reading another report about Amazonian deforestation, wrote down some notes for the Nobel Prize-winning work he was planning to publish next year, and headed out for lunch.

A hundred feet above him, a flock of Baltimore orioles passed over Washington on their way back to the Caribbean, accelerating their pace as they sensed a flock of evil starlings trying to chase them out to Ardua of the Potomac.

COMING UP:  Washington's secret haunted house party!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

From Russia, with love!

Glenn Michael Beckmann was living proof that just because you're paranoid does not mean nobody is following you.  Despite his best efforts to keep his subversive (but patriotic!) activities undetected by the federal agents who had kept him under surveillance since publication of his blog entry threatening fatal harm to the Federal Reserve Board ("Serial creditor, serial predator!"), the feds were well aware that a Ukrainian woman had started living with him at Southwest Plaza.  They were also aware of something he was not--that she was actually from Russia.  What they could not figure out was why she spent so much time cooking.

"I swear, Darja, your cooking smells so good that you're attracting all the roaches from the floor into our apartment!" exclaimed Beckmann, neglecting his business affairs yet again to enter the kitchen and give her a squeeze.

Darja was very happy to spend all her time in the kitchen.  First of all, it was a large kitchen she did not have to share with a quarrelsome mother and a deaf grandmother.  Secondly, the leader of the Heurich Society (Henrietta "Button" Samuelson) had instructed her to keep Beckmann well-fed with soup, bread, and lies about Ukraine.  Thirdly, the food helped decrease his voracious appetite in bed.  But most importantly of all, Darja was slowly going insane from the influence of the Southwest Plaza real estate demon, and believed the roaches were her special friends.  "Putin is withdrawing the Russian troops from Ukraine!" she declared joyously, even though she knew full-well it was another lie.  "In a few months, maybe I take you to Ukraine, meet my family!"

"I still don't understand why we can't go now!" Beckmann pouted.  "I'd love to be helping your freedom fighters and pounding it to those Russkies!"  (He embellished this with finger-gun flourishes.)

"No, no!  Too dangerous!  We go at Christmas, maybe."  She shoved a spoonful of potato into his mouth to fend off another beer-breath kiss.  "Maybe I have baby bump by then, no?" she teased him.

Beckmann was still not sure how this mail-order bride thing worked, and didn't even remember ordering Darja [he didn't], but he had fleeting memories of a son living somewhere else, and thoughts of parenthood troubled him.  "I thought you were taking those Ukrainian herbs so you wouldn't get pregnant?"

"Da, da, but sometimes they don't work."  [They were parsley, actually, and never worked--but she was on the pill, anyway.]  "You might be too much of a man for my little herbs, ha ha!"  Beckmann could not help but feel an ego stroke at that, having no idea that she was dreaming of a large, beautiful cockroach growing in her belly.  (Soon, she would be crazier than he was.)

Over in Dupont Circle, Samuelson was trying to get ready for the Heurich Society meeting, but the former CIA agent had shown up early, trying to make out with her.  "Not now!" she kept protesting, but the man did not like giving up easily (except with Angela Merkel).

"You look so hot today!" he purred, trying to take off her leather jacket.

"Don't, I'm cold!" she said, tossing him off.  (Her father had warned her never to date men from the CIA, and she was tired of this guy trying to turn it into more than a fling.)

He finally sat down and pretended to look at his phone.  "How's that Ukrainian-Russian plot going?" he asked, nonchalantly.

"Perfect!" she lied.  The reports she was getting from Darja were getting more and more peculiar, and she was on the verge of scuttling the secret plan.  "But today we can move onto something more pressing."

"The Islamic State?" he asked, looking up.

"I know what's happening in North Korea," she said, winking.

A mile away, Charles Wu was making the same claim, and in his case, it was actually based on accurate intelligence.  "My Russian source told me," he whispered to Slow Man over whiskey sours in their private karaoke room at Musette.

"Not yet--I'm not in the mood, yet!" protested Slow Man, putting down his little terrier to sing a song by When In Rome.  Wu smiled obligingly, though he was not in the mood to kill a whole hour indulging Slow Man's fetish for singing-before-snitching.  Slow Man caressed his own yellow suit jacket repeatedly during the song, expressing emotions that had nothing to do with the lyrics.  Wu hated him and his little dog, too.  Wu had paid big bucks to get this information from a Russian spy, and was in a hurry to get something from Slow Man in return, but, as usual, Slow Man was not in a hurry to do anything.  Wu stole a gulp from Slow Man's drink while he was spinning, burped loudly, and thought about killing the dog but making it look like an accident.

Over in Foggy Bottom, Camisole Silk and Apricot Lily were delivering other important information from the same Russian spy, but they were insisting on speaking directly with John Kerry.

"The Secretary of State is very busy today," said C. Coe Phant, "and asked me to take the Project R.O.D.H.A.M. meeting."

Camisole Silk knew this was a lie and Phant was just trying to get lucky with the beautiful Chinese spies.  "This is top-level information, and we can only deliver it directly."

Phant tapped his beer glass impatiently on the sticky Froggy Bottom table.  "Do you actually know what's happening in North Korea?"

"Yes, we actually know!" said Apricot Lily,

"And we actually know the next step in Ukraine!" added Camisole Silk.

"We may even actually know that Moscow is using Islamist State targets in Syria to train new Russian agents in search-and-destroy tactics," said Apricot Lily.

"Check, please!" shouted Phant, reaching for his Blackberry to contact John Kerry.

A few miles to the east, Sebastian L'Arche had discovered his own Russian mole--or, rather, Russian dog--who had sneaked into his house.  The Samoyed was curled up asleep in the basement, next to the hot water heater.  The Samoyed was a beautiful creature covered in white fluff, but the Dog Whisperer knew something wasn't quite right.  "You're not a dog," he whispered, and the Samoyed opened his eyes without arguing the point.  L'Arche reached out his hand and found actual fur to stroke.  "Who are you?"  The Samoyed, in fact, was the ghost of a Russian diplomat named Anatoly Malenkov, who had died of mysterious circumstances a year earlier.  "Men don't get reincarnated as dogs," said L'Arche, still petting the dog, and the dog made no argument about it since he was still finding the whole ghost thing very confusing.  "Ghosts don't have fur," said L'Arche, rethinking his own sanity.

Then the pot-bellied pig which L'Arche was keeping over the holiday weekend (Petro Pig!) sauntered over to have a sniff, grunted approvingly at the Russian creature, and turned to L'Arche.  "That's Anatoly Malenkov," grunted Petro Pig.  "He likes it here."

Back at the Heurich Society meeting, Condoleezza Rice was crackling over the speaker phone, casting serious doubt on Samuelson's North Korean source.  "Believe me," Rice crackled, "my Russians will tell me as soon as there's anything we need to know about Korea."

"Of course," said Samuelson, rolling her eyes at the former CIA agent, who smiled and winked at her.  "Anything else."

"It's time for us to revisit Operation Cajun Rice," crackled Rice over the speaker phone.

Samuelson had never seen anything about Operation Cajun Rice in the official records, nor in her late father's records; she looked around for a clue, and saw that most of the men in the room were groaning.

"The NFL is a doomed enterprise if it doesn't get new leadership," continued Rice.  "The media is turning on the owners like rabid dogs, slamming them with political correctness which amounts to nothing more than re-branded Southern plantation concepts of gentility.  With my, that is, our leadership, the NFL will be rife with opportunities for serious financial gain, as well as additional influence in business and political circles."  ("She wants to be NFL Commissioner," said the note passed to Samuelson from the investment banker.  "She has a void in her heart ever since Pippin her cat died," said the note passed to Samuelson from the former U.S. Congressman.  "She just likes seeing men slaughtering each other," said the note passed to Samuelson from the international arms dealer.)  "This goes perfectly with our mission statement:  maximize wealth, power, and freedom.  I've already taken the liberty of launching steps one through four, but I'll need help with steps five through ten," said Rice.

"But the Buffalo Bills will NEVER win a Super Bowl, right?" asked a former FBI agent from New Jersey.

"Of course not!" crackled Rice over the speaker phone.

A mile away, the White House butler began putting up Halloween decorations, and the White House ghosts started going into overdrive.

COMING UP:  Luciano Talaverdi, economist extraordinaire.

Sunday, October 05, 2014


Buffy Cordelia Wu nodded approvingly as her governess, Mrs. Prudence Higgety-Cheshire, pointed to party decorations on display at the D.C. Target.  "Winnie the Pooh?"  ("Yes!")  "Oh, here's the Little Mermaid."  ("Yes!")  "What's this?  What on God's green Earth are Transformers?"  ("Yes!")  "Well, we can't choose them all, now can we?"  ("Yes!")  "It's not easy planning a joint birthday party for a 3-year-old AND a young lady of 20, is it?"  ("Yes!")

Most toddlers were masters of the word "no", but little Delia was a big fan of the word "yes".  She was also a big fan of Angela de la Paz, who shared October as her birthday month, and it was Mrs. Higgety-Cheshire's idea to surprise Angela when she showed up for Delia's party.  Angela might be a spy with mystical powers of clairvoyance, but she was also a motherless girl, like little Delia, and Mrs. Higgety-Cheshire was determined that she feel celebrated just as much as Charles Wu's little princess.  "Alright, we'll do yellow balloons with pink streamers, Winnie the Pooh plates for you, and a piƱata for Angela."  ("Angela!")  "Let's hope your father finds her a nice gift at that fancy mall."

Charles Wu had, in fact, stalled in the dress department of Lord and Taylor's.  This was normally the part where he asked the most attractive sales clerk he could find to model the dresses for him, but he was sitting in the bored-husband chair, instead, staring at the pile of dresses in his lap.  Angela had dropped the baby weight and was ready for her current employer to clothe her in the luxurious spy wardrobe the Heurich Society had skimped on, but Wu could not stop thinking about Delia's mother.  He had never even known who she really was...until three days ago.

Isabelle Maria Sousa de Almeida was born a quarter century before, in Paris, to a French mother and Brazilian diplomat father.  If Wu had seen her clearly that night, he would have known she was the most beautiful woman he had ever known, but he didn't.  She had dyed her hair purple, painted her lips neon blue, added a phony beauty mark, and sported far too many earrings.  With her black leather dress but no tattoos, she looked like a pretty young ingenue recently toying with a Goth or punk look.  She was, in fact, working for British intelligence, and Wu was her mark that night in the smoky Singapore bar.

"Sir?" asked a sales clerk.  "Shall I take those inside to--?"  She waited for Wu to answer "my wife" or "my girlfriend", but he didn't.

"No, I'll take them all now," he said, handing the surprised clerk the whole pile of dresses.  She took them to the cash register, and then realized, with disappointment, a handsome man like this with such exquisitely manicured nails might be a cross-dresser.  "Cash or charge?"

A few minutes later, Wu was in the jewelry department.  It was a silly notion, but he was thinking he might get Angela and Delia matching necklaces.  What am I going to do about Angela?  He walked past the diamonds, rubies, and sapphires, then paused at the emeralds.  Wu didn't even remember Delia's mother--he had been trying to turn Angela into the next Camisole Silk or Apricot Lily.  Angela will never be like them.  He asked the clerk to take out some of the emerald pieces.  She's more like Delia's mother--orphaned young, gave up her own baby.

Isabelle Maria Sousa de Almeida had followed a tortuous path before becoming a British intelligence agent--runway model, sheik's concubine, polo player's girlfriend.  Then she had spent two months in India working at the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center--trying to find peace, selflessness, and love.  Somehow an Englishman talked her into going to Hong Kong with him, and then talked her into becoming a British spy.  And after Isabelle showed some talent at it, he talked her into spying on the half-British, half-Chinese Charles Wu--a double agent of theirs they had some suspicions about.  The night she seduced him, she was supposed to search his hotel room, but instead she had fallen asleep in his arms and woken up pregnant--not that she knew it, exactly, but she didn't feel quite right.  She had crept out early and told her handlers it was a bust.  A year later, she had decided that there was nothing wrong with Wu and plenty wrong with her, so she had found the intermediaries to take baby Delia to her father, Wu.  A year after that she was dead.


"What?" asked Wu, then he remembered what he was doing.  "Do you have two of these?"

The clerk looked at him in surprise.  "Two of these necklaces?"  (He nodded.)  She had heard about men who bought the same jewelry for their wife and mistress, but this man did not even have a wedding ring on.  "Yes, we do!" she smiled.

"Make it three," he said.  She looked up in surprise again, but nodded.  I'll give one to Mrs. H-C, he thought.  He had never given Delia's mother a damned thing because he had never seen her again.  He always thought she would show up again someday--tell him she had gotten through whatever she needed to get through emotionally and wanted her daughter back.  He always dreaded that day and the nightmare of joint custody he would have to work out, but he never deluded himself that a girl could grow up motherless and turn out just fine.  And now he knew.  "How dare they try to end this beauty," he sang out loud without realizing it.  (The clerk looked up at him, but he was staring into space.)  Isabelle Maria Sousa de Almeida had gotten killed by another British agent in a botched spy operation:  that's what the planted listening device had finally gleaned from inside the car of British special agents Nigel ("Prickly") Blackthorne and Richard ("The Third") Mollington.  "Actually, do you have four of those necklaces?" he asked the startled sales clerk.

Wu took the bagged jewelry boxes and headed out to the parking garage.  He still had to hire a musician and get the moon-bounce, but who was going to be Delia's mother?  Mrs. H-C already had her own (grown) children, and Angela had given up her own because she was still too young.  He dialed the number of Lynnette Wong, which made no sense at all, but he needed to invite her to the birthday party, anyway.  (Then he needed to give the damned British agents more faulty intelligence about the civil unrest in Hong Kong....)

Out in the darkening river, Ardua of the Potomac felt the shift in Charles Wu's heart--the perfect balance was gone, and he had toppled over to the dark side.  "Ah," cooed the demon, "what atrocities men are capable of committing in the name of their children!"  She reached up through the darkness to breathe onto the face of a troubled soul driving his two young sons out of the city on the Key Bridge.

The man abruptly pulled his car over, told the oldest son to get out of his car seat, picked up the youngest son from the other car seat, and walked them to the edge of the bridge.  "Mommy's evil--this is the only way to save you."

"What does 'evil' mean, Daddy?" asked the eldest just before seeing his little brother tossed over the railing into the river below.  "Justin!" he screamed.  Then his father picked him up and tossed him over, as well.  Then the cold wind hit the man, and he thought about how the water might be very cold.  He jumped over to find his little sons and take them somewhere else--somewhere, but he couldn't remember where.

COMING UP:  From Russia, with love!