A Twisted Little Corkscrew
"I hate this place," Daria grumbled as she handed over her shawl to the tuxedoed coat check boy. The youth—probably in his twenties, and already on the make, Daria thought—gave her an odd look, but said nothing. She took her claim ticket and gave him a sneer before heading into the main hall.
Once inside, she snagged herself a glass of wine before confronting her fellow members of the Fourth Estate. Thugs, liars, and bootlickers, she thought as she tossed the wine back. Should've brought my flask. She also wished for her old high school uniform—green jacket, combat boots, and all. Instead, she wore a strapless black gown with a high neckline and low skirt. The outfit flattered her curves, but managed to be forbidding at the same time, an effect she'd paid a lot of money for.
"Daria! Daria Morgendorffer!" John Gannon, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times waved her over. With a sigh, Daria returned the acknowledgment and grabbed another glass of wine from a passing waitress. "Hello, John," she said as she approached him warily.
Another man, immaculately clad in a charcoal gray tuxedo, was there as well. Taller than Gannon, who was a six-footer, and thin where Gannon was beefy, the man turned piercing eyes on Daria. "There's a name I've heard before," he said softly. She returned a hard look and took another drink of wine
Gannon, ignoring the undercurrents, gave her a smile. "Daria, this is Representative David Peters from Ohio. He's kindly agreed to grace this little gathering."
And to bankroll your cocktail circuit lifestyle out of his campaign funds, in exchange for constant astroturfing, both in print and online. And as soon as I can prove it, you're both going down. "Thank you, Representative Peters," she said. "I'm impressed that my work has come to the notice of someone as busy as yourself."
"Well," the Congressman said, "your past work has been very influential. You uncovered a great deal of corruption and waste in the National Green Initiatives Foundation. Your Pulitzer was well deserved." He tipped his drink in salute, but his eyes were cold. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've just seen someone I need a word with." He inclined his head and disappeared into the crowd.
Hmm..., I wonder how deeply his hands were in the Green Initiative till. Peters hadn't lied when he said her Pulitzer was earned. Her article had taken down the Secretary of Enegery, three Congressman, a Senator, and countless corrupt underlings. And I probably missed three times as many.
"You really keep 'em on edge, eh Daria?" Gannon chuckled nervously, his eyes following the Congressman's path.
"Whatever. Look, John, I just saw someone else I need to talk to too." The bartender, she added mentally. He didn't try to stop her. They rarely did.
Why can't Slate see I'm not like these people? She signed into another drink, this one Gray Goose vodka on the rocks. She knew the chattering classes feared her, and she returned the fear with hate. But her editor-in-chief still insisted she make the D.C cocktail party scene at least once a month. Win one lousy Pulitzer… No wonder Dorothy Parker was a drunk. She supposed she was well on her way herself, but she didn't care.
As the evening passed, Daria piled up the drinks and the phony congratulations. Most of D.C.'s political writers and talking heads were there, along with a fair number of power brokers: lobbyists and the Congressmen who bought or were owned by them. Peters was hardly the most odious among them. Many of them stopped by for a word or two with her. She did her best to make those words as quick as possible.
It wasn't until a few hours (and quite a number of drinks) had passed when she heard a familiar, sneering voice. "Of course we had a good year. We always have a good year."
"Whores usually do," she said from the bar, where she'd been getting a refill, and turned to find herself face to face with the person she loathed most in the world: Veronica Abbott. Still on the near side of forty, Veronica Abbott was a legend in D.C. circles for taking an obscure webzine to the pinnacle of power and influence. But she'd stepped on or over a lot of people to do it.
"Daria," Veronica said, a cold smile on her face. "Still the tart tongue, I see."
"Veronica." Daria matched the smile with a glare. "Still the total lack of anything resembling morality or human feeling, I see."
"Come, come, Daria. Can't we put childish grudges behind us? After all, without me, you wouldn't have won your Pulitzer."
"Just how do you figure that? I left The Truth before I even started on the Green Initiatives article."
"Exactly," Veronica laughed and sipped her wine. "Without me, you'd still be writing for a backwater webzine if you were lucky. But you left and got the job at Slate, and now The Truth is the biggest political site on the 'net."
"You mispronounced 'house propaganda organ for whoever's in charge this week,' Veronica." Daria took a slug of her drink, noting the crowd slowly forming around them "I'd respect you more if you turned one of the few decent things associated with this cesspool of a city into a piece of partisan hackery."
"I prefer to think of it as making something useless into something useful," the other woman sneered.
"Useless!" Daria shook with rage and drink. "We did real reporting and called both sides on their bullshit. We spoke truth to power! You just parrot whatever line the Administration wants, no matter which side holds the White House."
"And that's why I'm a money maker, while you ran through money like water," Veronica laughed. "This is Washington. Truth doesn't sell here. And there's no Santa Claus either. You should be old enough to know that, Dorothy." She placed two fingers to her mouth and tittered in obvious mockery. "I mean, Daria."
Later, Daria couldn't say why she did it. She knew she'd had a lot to drink, but she didn't feel drunk. But a red tide of anger rose in her, the memory of a thousand deliberate slights designed by Veronica to drive her away from a job she loved and people she respected. She gave in to the rage and hurled her nearly full drink right into Veronica's face.
"You. Bitch." The other woman's voice was a snarl, her above-it-all pose gone. Expensive vodka dripped from her face and her even more expensive cocktail dress. She made as if to slap Daria with the hand holding her wine glass. Daria, whose reflexes weren't that far gone, dodged, and Veronica's wine slopped on a handsome looking couple. The woman recoiled in shock, while the man turned to give Veronica a piece of his mind.
It might have ended there but for the untimely appearance of Veronica's hitherto unseen escort. Daria, a few years into her forties, preferred men her age and intellectual weight. Veronica, a few years younger, had different tastes. She liked her arm candy young and callow, and this one was no exception. Seeing his lady under the eye of an older man, he swung first and asked questions later, landing a haymaker to the side of the other man's head. A straight right to the jaw was his reward, and the fight was on.
As other bystanders were sucked in, Daria made her careful way across the room. At the door, she stopped and surveyed the carnage. At least six men were fighting, with an additional two or three down. Veronica, disheveled with torn dress, was engaged in a hair-pulling contest with a younger woman, who Daria thought she recognized. Not that I'm sticking around to find out.
With a satisfied smirk, she handed in her coat check ticket. "Have fun on the society pages tomorrow," she muttered, earning another look from the same clerk. As she turned to go, he cleared his throat.
"You want a tip, don't you?"
"It is customary."
"Here's one. Get the hell out of here before you lose your soul." With that, she turned and walked out into the D.C. night. It was only later, speeding back to her Georgetown apartment in the back seat of one of the new electric cabs, that she wondered if she'd finally found a way to get out of going to these parties.
Author's Note: This ficlet was inspired by an Iron Chef proposed by The Angst Guy on PPMB, showing Daria as a professional writer: the bitter cynical kind who starts fistfights at cocktail parties. So if you enjoy it, thank TAG.
Disclaimer: Daria and all characters are copyright MTV 1997–2002. I own nothing and am merely along for the ride.