Archive for Washington D.C.

Out of Options

Posted in In Harm's Way, Private Thoughts with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2010 by Author Jennifer Quail

Hey, Dad,

Please don’t show this to Mom. If she asks, you didn’t get an e-mail from me. You know what she’s like and I’ll never hear the end of it.

I appreciate your both wanted me to have a vacation to someplace I’d like and where I could relax, and I am trying, I really am. I’ve visited museums and I saw Arlington Cemetery and tomorrow I’m going to go look at the World War II and Korea memorials and depending on how my leg feels, the Vietnam Wall. I also visited the Navy Yard, and I did make calls to the Academy and the War College in Newport, and I visited both our Senators and our Rep. Tomorrow I’m going to see if I can get in touch with Pete Congreve at Pax River and find out how things stand with the brass there, if there’s someone who’ll listen.

I know what you said. I know what the doctors at Bethesda and in Ann Arbor have all said. I realize that I don’t HAVE to have my commission and active duty status to work for the Navy in some capacity. But if I want to fly, I need them back. If I can’t have them back, I can’t fly, and if I can’t fly, I won’t be in flight test operations. I have thought this through and I am prefectly rational. The entire point of all the operations was so I could live a normal life, wasn’t it? All that therapy and PT and everything is supposed to let me be normal, right? Well, normal is flying. Normal is creating the best planes and the best pilots and going higher and faster and farther. If I can’t do that I’m not normal and they didn’t fix anything. I would understand if they’d cut my leg off (and after how my hip felt walking around Arlington I almost cut it off myself) or if I were in a wheelchair or I’d lost an eye, but they’ll let me drive a car. My anthropometrics are the same. I can still see, hear, think, react but they won’t let me do it in a plane. If I get more no’s I’m ready to ask the Russians or the Chinese if they’re less picky. (I know, I know. Don’t work for Russians or Baba Helena will never speak to me again.)

Don’t tell me I’m supposed to relax. I can’t relax when people tell me to relax.

I suppose I should write to Mom, too. I’ll do it later. There’s a sushi place up the street from the hotel I want to try. Remind me to tell her, though, stay out of my closet. And my dress blues aren’t missing, I have them here.

Love,
Elaine

PS-If you’re only doing tourist things, it’s not odd to see the same person on more than one day in different places, right?

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Absit Omen

Posted in On Guard, Private Thoughts with tags , , , , , , , on July 8, 2010 by Author Jennifer Quail

For clarification: I am not stalking this woman (her name is Elaine, I’ve determined.) I’m simply curious.

I don’t have special senses, you see. At least not beyond what you’d expect, all things considered. Nadia is the psychic of the family, prone to dreams and visions and those portentous feelings. I’ve suggested more than once she start paying better attention to the flocks of sparrows and doves that are common to any city park, as I’m sure an auguries she drew from them would be far more accurate than those of the political, paid-off priests were. I don’t have any abilities in that regard. I don’t sense things like power, either, and I’m not even all that subject to sudden drafts, which is why that moment in the galleries is utterly nonsensical.

This Elaine isn’t especially pretty. A bit of work with the computer shows she’s Navy, graduated near the top of her class at the Academy, aviator, test engineer, decorated with some very high honors for reasons kept behind encryptions even I can’t break, and discharged for medical reasons with a small service pension. Her family is what I would call middle class–all self-made money and only recent Americans. More than comfortable, even if their eldest chose a university that paid her and committed her to a career the upper classes of today have come to look down on. Not that the army was any great honor in my day, but even among my sort a commission was nothing to be ashamed of. Unmarried, no children, no paramour in evidence, traveling alone with no apparent schedule and wandering past the normal tourist traps as if she doesn’t even see them. Exactly as the cliche says, no visible means of support.

The only surprise thus far is, besides wandering in cemeteries, she seems to have a taste for Asian art. After Arlington, she went back to the Freer and Sackler Galleries and this time spent an inordinate amount of time in the Peacock Room. It’s the entirely too-ostentatious dining room from Charles Freer’s home, paneled floor to ceiling in peacock green-blues and gold filigrees. She’s a very pale person, this Elaine Gates, but to my eye in that room something about her seemed to glow.

Every instinct I have says to follow her. Not in any perverted sense (again, I’m quite a contented man in carnal matters) but since I saw her, so soon after Sophia’s book told me someone is coming, I’ve felt as if I’ve been given a message. This is the one. The one who is coming. Prepare. Protect her. From what, I don’t know, though in the bowels of the Sackler (one of one only Mall museums that’s in fact underground) I thought I saw a shadow, though whether it was attached to her or to me I can’t say. It’s not a good thing. Our lives have a bit dull, I suppose, and if it’s her, if I’m not all who’s following, then it’s starting again and it will not be dull. We’ll be back to worrying again and that nagging sense every parting is a final one. Some part of me hopes I’m wrong.

But some part of me very much hopes I’m right. Danger or not, there’ll be a purpose. All of a sudden, after all these years, I have a job again.

Of course, the book said venitias. Plural.

I suppose I’ll have to ask Nadia where she’s been all day.

The Walls Have Ears (and Eyes, Too)

Posted in Notes From The Hill, Private Thoughts with tags , , , on July 2, 2010 by Author Jennifer Quail

I should write this down, because if it turns out not to be nothing, I should probably have a record of it. We aren’t security, but we are supposed to be on alert for anything unusual. Of course, I’m also admitting that instead of going straight from the Senate-side meeting room where I had been sitting in on a pensions subcomittee meeting with the Senator (being chosen for that was still a thrill) I took a detour through the Rotunda. It may be one of the places in the Capitol I could always visit anyway, without needing the I.D. badge that lets me into parts previously unknown. But it’s the most . . . Capitol-like part of the Capitol, if that makes any sense. When I go in there, I feel as if I’m really working at the heart of everything. Much more than in my little cubbyhole at the Hart Building, anyway.

So I detoured there today. Being a weekday and not quite tourist season yet the crowds weren’t as bad as all that, so I could stand craning my neck at Brumidi’s Apotheosis of Washington without attracting too much attention. It’s my second-favorite piece of art in the Rotunda. I go through the Brumidi Corridor often enough I’ve sort of stopped seeing it, but the Apotheosis I have to make a special trip to look at. It’s like I imagine standing in a cathedral must be for people who believe in that sort of thing. Though now if an artist were designing it, I would hope they’d put in a scene, with the Science, Marine, Commerce and all, for History.

I said second favorite. My favorite piece of art in the Rotunda probably should be one of the sculptures from the Statuary Hall collection, or at least Trumbull’s The Declaration of Independence. It’s not. My favorite is another Trumbull, General George Washington Resigning His Commission. Washington is standing before the Continental Congress in Annapolis, bathed in a shaft of sunlight, with his lieutenants behind him and civilians looking on. It’s like the entire concept of civilian control of the military and a leader who willingly surrenders power to become a citizen again, like Cincinnatus, all distilled into one painting.

That was a little bit history geek, wasn’t it.

Anyway, I was standing in front of that painting, and the sun was just right from the windows up in the dome to light up the (huge) canvas. I was standing back for a better view, when I had the strangest feeling someone was staring at me. My first thought was someone from the staff had found me playing tourist. Or worse, a Member. Not the boss, she was still in the meeting, but there were plenty of members who’d know where I worked and that wandering around in what was technically the House’s territory wasn’t really in my job description. The next-least-appealing option was another Member’s staffer. Any of the Republicans and a few of my own side would have loved to get me in trouble for gawking. A quick cell phone picture and I’m on everyone’s Twitpic feed as the Senate Slacker. Or the tourist noob, which would be worse.

But as far as I could see, there was no one I knew or who’d know me. There were tours, there were Capitol Police being unobtrusively obtrusive, but no one appeared to be giving me a second glance.

Until I turned back to the painting, and once again felt like lasers were drilling twin holes in my neck.

I spun around, and this time I could have sworn I saw a shadow of . . . something . . . ducking behind the statue of Ronald Reagan (of all the people my native state could decide to honor . . . but I’m digressing again.) I took a step towards the statue but a tour group crossed between me and it, and when they cleared the center of the Rotunda that cranny appeared to be empty of anything except the bronze Gipper. After squinting in a way that probably made the tourists think I was visually impaired, I turned, slowly, back to the painting.

This time the eyes were somewhere to my left.

All I could see was the tour group, and none of them were looking my way. They were all staring up at the relief of the History of America that circles above the paintings and doors, and no one seemed at all interested in what anyone outside the group was doing. Yet I still had the increasingly deep conviction that somewhere in the Rotunda, someone was watching me. The feeling had gone from lasers to the hairs on my neck standing on end, and I was starting to think of all the ghost stories people tell about this building. Of course none of them were set in broad daylight in the middle of the Rotunda, but there’s a first time for everything, right?

I started across the Rotunda towards the Senate-side doors. Whoever found me so interesting was unlikely to have the kind of ID that would allow them to follow me into the not-so-public areas of the Capitol, let alone the exits they weren’t even supposed to know about. Despite the increasing feeling of being stared at intently, sending nervous tremors through my gut, I couldn’t help pausing one more time to peer up at the Apotheosis. When I did, the sun must have come out from behind a cloud or I’d stepped just where it was about to hit, because for an instant I was completely blinded by the warm, gold-white light. I had to close my eyes, and when I opened them again the sun must have gone behind a cloud because the light wasn’t in my eyes any more and I had the oddest feeling I was no longer being watched, either.

The weirdest part is I know whoever was watching me hadn’t left. But for some reason, something they’d seen, made them feel like they had to look away.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I’m more scared of the eyes, or what it was they’re looking at.

My Partner Has Taken Up Lurking

Posted in Enthralled, Private Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on June 29, 2010 by Author Jennifer Quail

I know that I mentioned there are odd things going on in the shop. And that my partner has developed an unusal taste for walking. I think I prefer books taking themselves off the shelves to yesterday afternoon, though. Odd behavior in inanimate objects is one thing. Odd behavior in someone as set in his ways as Val is quite another.

Yesterday evening I went upstairs after closing, and Val was gone. I have lived with his habits for a while now, and disappearing in the middle of the day is not one of them. Especially not in the scalding weather we have here–even on overcast days it’s usually too bright for his eyes and too humid for anyone’s tolerance. (And if the next time I mention that to Val I hear one more time about Octobers in Rome . . . well, I don’t know what I’ll do but it will probably involve his sleeping in the storage room.)

As I didn’t sense any danger or other reasons to worry, I decided to make myself dinner and wait for a bit. True to form, he returned as if he routinely took midday strolls and I ought to feel sorry for him being tired and stressed by the sun!

And of course when I asked where he’d been for so long, he decided today was a day for non sequiturs.

“Did you know,” he said, “for it not being summer yet, there are quite a few tourists around?”

“It’s Washington,” I said, ignoring the space he left for me beside him on the chaise. “There are always tourists, or hadn’t you noticed by now? In any case, what are you doing stalking tourists? Bored with me already?”

“Never, honey-sweet.” He’s disgustingly sincere when he wants to be. “But I was taking a turn around the Mall–”

“No wonder you’re sun-parched.”

“–and I had an unusually strong urge to step into the Freer Gallery.” He was lucky he hadn’t fallen on the steps, given how blind the day’s sun should have rendered him, glasses or not. “Tell me, love . . . have you given any thought to who ‘they’ that are coming might be?”

I had. None of it good. There were too many “theys” in our past that might be less than welcome visitors now. “A little.”

He didn’t say anything for a moment, but I didn’t rise to the bait and ask for his thoughts. “There was a woman in the Japanese gallery looking at the screens. Well, superficially. She was on one of the benches looking at a screen of a storm at sea, or pretending to. Now, I realize that I am not the one here who has any line on the future, but . . . Nadia, if you’d only seen her.”

In spite of myself, he had my attention. I settled beside him (standing for this could be disorienting) and said, “Show me?”

I recognized the gallery, with its frosted skylights and muted gray walls. The glass cases down the long walls held painted screens, not unlike one I had in the back room of the shop, but in far better condition. I didn’t recognize the particular screens on display, but the museum rotates its displays often to protect the delicate materials. The focus of Val’s memory was an eight-panel screen I would guess dated to the seventeenth or eighteenth century and it depicted a long, multi-panel scene of a storm at sea. It had obviously been well-preserved; even in the half-light of memory the blues and golds of the water and the colored tunics of the tiny fishermen being tossed by the waves were still brilliant. Val was standing back from it, though, I suspected making an effort to be inconspicuous, and his attention was on the woman on the bench. If she knew she was being watched, she gave no indication. In fact beyond the rise and fall of her chest and the flexing of her fingers around the grip of her cane.

Cane?

Look at her face, Val told me. Not the scars. See what I saw.

Not the scars? It was hard to ignore the right side of her face and neck, crazed with white and red scars. Val, though, was focused on her eyes. They were dark, made more so by her pale features, but the look in them . . . I had seen eyes like that in the war. Mostly on those who’d been in it too long and seen far too many terrible things. She wasn’t nearly old enough to have been there; her parents probably weren’t, either. And there was something else there, beyond pain or disinterest.

Whoever she was and whatever had burned her, she hadn’t quite given up yet.

I felt a cold rush down my spine and in my gut and the gooseflesh came out on my skin. A blink and I was looking at Val again, and realized . . . . “That was you? You felt that?”

“Strange, isn’t it?” Considering he usually didn’t feel chills of any kind, more than strange.

“You think she is one of . . . ‘they’? Whoever is coming?” The strange-sick feeling was subsiding, but I still could feel the hairs of my neck on end. “Who is she?”

“A tourist, as far as I could tell. I followed her to a hotel here in Alexandria.”

“Now you’ve taken to stalking other women? I’m hurt.” My heart wasn’t in the teasing. “Do you think–could she have power? Even untapped?”

“I wouldn’t know, remember?” he said dryly. “And since that was my memory I assume you couldn’t tell anything.”

I couldn’t. I could only see what he’d seen, and even that was more than it should have been. “If we could ask someone . . . .”

“Even I can’t speak to spirits, love.”

He was right. And gentler than he needed to be. “How can we tell, then?”

Val smiled. “I thought tomorrow, when she sets off for the day, I might follow after.”

And of course, I didn’t have any better suggestions. In fairness, he is, as a rule, right about these things.

Later that night when I went to check the locks I found another message in the shop. This time, our old photos and postcards of Washington were scattered across my counter. The most disturbed seemed to be pictures of the Capitol dome. What’s so exciting about that, I don’t know. But perhaps while Val is out lurking in doorways and stalking our lady with the cane, I’ll take a walk of my own.

Take a Memo

Posted in Notes From The Hill, Private Thoughts with tags , , , , on June 28, 2010 by Author Jennifer Quail

To: Savita Dash, Senior Legislative Assistant to Senator Cannon
From: Alan Graves, Legislative Assistant to same

Vita,

Sorry about ducking out early on happy hour Friday. I’m not trying to be anti-social, I just couldn’t take being indoors any longer. The crowds were awful at the Hawk n’ Dove–I think they must advertise as the place to go to hear staff dish on their members. And anyway, and don’t tell Iain this or I’ll never hear the end of it and the whole Hill will know, the truth is I don’t drink. You probably notice I never really know what to order and I never finish it. Or even start it, really, that’s why I always sit by a potted plant if one’s around.

I might give it a pass this week anyway. For some reason I just need to get outside these days. You know I walked halfway home? As far as the Metro at Arlington Cemetery at least. The Mall’s not so bad in the evening. And I’m still star-struck enough I love looking at the Capitol lit up after sundown. I know, I sound like I fell off the turnip truck, but I still can’t quite believe I really made it. It’s a long way from Sacramento. A long way from the redwoods or the high desert or the Rockies, too, though. I haven’t really found any place to run or hike that doesn’t feel like city.

I know, I’m running off at the mouth again. I’m a lawyer, not a speechwriter. Anyway I just didn’t want you to think I was letting down the side or didn’t want to be social. Oh and let you know I did finish drafting a memo for herself about S. 426. I’ll need to get with someone from De Soto or Myers’s staffs before I send it up, though please if you set it up, not Barbara. I know she’s on our side, but that doesn’t mean I like being reminded that I’m still part of the white male patriarchy every five minutes. Not to mention all the Facebook invites to rallies I’m not going to attend and suggestions I become of fan of groups like Transgendered Tree Lovers Against Bovine Growth Hormone. Not that I have a problem with GLBT, environmentalists, or organic dairy farmers, but who has time to be upset about it all at once? I don’t even have time to sleep.

See you at work,
Alan

Damn the torpedoes

Posted in In Harm's Way, Private Thoughts with tags , , on June 25, 2010 by Author Jennifer Quail

Hello, all,

No torpedoes, sorry Admiral Farragut.  Full speed is a lot slower than it used to be, too.  Amtrak’s still better than trusting some commercial college kid to fly me, though.  Train was a little late from Lansing to Chic and there’s nothing to do in the station, so I’m on their computer in the first class lounge.  Yes, mother, I’ll try and do something on this vacation besides complain, I know that’s why you suggested it in the first place.  Yes, I will go and see museums besides Air and Space.  Don’t know how much walking I’ll do, the heat is supposed to be pretty bad even for spring and I remember what that’s like.  Humidity and you have to watch for storm fronts.   If I can’t I’ll hit the gym in the hotel and try to remember my PT.

No, Mom, I’m not going to Bethesda, not even for a “quick checkup” and I know you really mean the shrinks.  They don’t need to see me and I don’t need to see them.  I might get up to Annapolis, though.  I haven’t seen  Capt Shepard in a while.  They know I’m out but doubt they saw pictures.  The cane’ll surprise them, wont it?  Never mind my face. 

I’ll have a look around Old Town while I’m there.  Supposed to be lots of antique stores and used books and stuff like that.  Probably mostly tourist crap.  Dad–want me to say hi to anyone at the Supreme Court for you?  LOL. 

They’re calling our train.  I’ll call you when I’m in D.C. 

Love,

Elaine