Beauty Queens

13,087
05.03.2019

MoMo searched his closet for the perfect outfit. He settled on the Elvis in Hawaii bedazzled white jumpsuit. In place of the sequined eagles on the sleeves, MoMo had commissioned ruby replicas of the ROC’s emblem, a fistful of feathers. He added the Elvis wig, the sunglasses, and the blue suede platform shoes, which brought his height up to a full five feet five inches.

In the mirror, MoMo snarled and flipped up his collar. “Get ready, world. I am your Heartbreak Hotel.”

MoMo called for his bodyguard.

“Sir?” the man said.

“What do you make of this arrangement we are negotiating?” MoMo asked, steely-eyed.

The bodyguard looked nervous. “Permission to speak honestly, sir?”

MoMo spread his arms wide. “Of course.”

“This seems like a setup, Ser Peacock.”

“You think so?”

“Yes, Ser. I do.”

“Huh.” MoMo thought for a moment. Then he reached into the gold-plated soap dispenser, pulled out a gun, and shot the guard dead. He pressed the intercom. “I am to need a cleanup on aisle nine, please.”

MoMo didn’t like feeling suspicious. But you didn’t get to have your own country named after you for being a tool. Insurance. Mutually assured destruction. MoMo found the DVD and looked for a place to hide it. He uploaded it to his laptop and labeled the file Yacht Systems.

Nameless guards started dragging away the body of the unfortunate guard. MoMo stepped over the dead man on his way out. The yacht slipped into the secret docking cave. Flanked by a contingent of black shirts, Agent Jones waited to greet the dictator.

“Ser Peacock,” Agent Jones said, bowing slightly. “An honor.”

“You do not acknowledge my advisor, Agent Jones?”

The stuffed lemur sat on The Peacock’s shoulder.

“Welcome, General Good Times.”

A black shirt approached Agent Jones. “Sir, corporate can’t make a decision: Should we go with blue one or blue two on the lights?”

Agent Jones’s eye twitched. “I don’t care.”

“Blue one is sort of a cerulean, and blue two is more of a sapphire.”

“What is going on?” MoMo demanded.

“It’s nothing. Just a beauty pageant.” Agent Jones glared at the black shirt.

“A beauty pageant? Here? On the island?”

“Miss Teen Dream,” the black shirt answered.

MoMo let out a cry of happiness. “Ladybird Hope was Miss Teen Dream. Most famous pageant. General Good Times and I accept commission as judges.”

Agent Jones mopped at his brow with a handkerchief. “MoMo — I mean, Ser Peacock. You can’t be seen. You understand the nature of our deal is private.”

MoMo waved Agent Jones off with his fingers. He took a back seat in the Jeep beside the lemur. “The general and I will be very quiet. No one will to notice us in the back. I love the pageants. So much sparkle. Like Elvis. And explosives.”

“But the weapons, Ser Peacock.”

“Weapons later. First, pretty girls. Drive, Agent Jones. Before I lose my patience.”

Reluctantly, Agent Jones climbed behind the wheel and gunned the engine. He was already regretting not filling out the early retirement form.

46Your Blood Is, Like, So Hot, the premium cable TV series about small-town predatory hemophiliacs who lie around looking anemic and sexy while trying not to bruise. Based on the French drama Le Monde C’est La Mienne (rough translation: Life is pain. Here is some soft cheese).

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

Back at the camp, the girls rushed around, pasting sequins on their faces, sewing palm fronds into gowns like plumage, making last-minute touch-ups. They welcomed the old routine, the surge of adrenaline associated with pageant nights. But tonight, there was a little something extra.

Adina made it back just as the cameras were put in place. The black shirts had torn down another hut to make way for a sound booth. They’d rigged the stage area with lights, the wires feeding into a generator mounted on a rusty Jeep.

“I was starting to worry,” Nicole said. “Taylor?”

Adina shook her head. “She’s too far gone. We’ll have to do it without her.” She shimmied out of her shorts and tank and into her official pageant dress, a blue cocktail number with a poufy skirt. If Adina did die, she hoped to God it wouldn’t be in this tulle-and-lace monstrosity.

“Remember the plan: Jen, you and Shanti are throwing the race. As soon as they announce Top Five, whoever’s not named needs to make a break for the volcano and the control room and let the world know what’s really going on. During the musical number, the rest of you peel off and head for the boat. The minute they announce the winner, we’ve got to run like hell. Mary Lou and Tane should have the yacht ready to go.”