Beauty Queens


“We’re helping ourselves to their boat.”

“Good point.”

“Let’s hope it’s got plenty of fuel and can get us all out of here.”

They crept down a spiral staircase to the main deck and the bridge.

“Wow, it’s even got windshield wipers,” Tane said.

The fog was rolling in, but Mary Lou could still see that the black water seemed to stretch forever. She felt a swell of excitement that had nothing to do with the urgency of their circumstances. “It’s so beautiful. And vast.”

“What’s that?” Tane asked. He was trying to figure out the control panel.

“The world.” She ran her fingers over the boat’s wheel. It felt good and right. “Bet you could see a lot of the world from one of these. Did you know that when the sun sets on this one particular part of the Indian countryside, it turns everything this amazing golden color?”

Tane gave her a quizzical look.

“I’d like to see it for myself. I want to go to the old churches in Prague. Stand on the edge of California under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge like the beat poets. Learn to drive a race car or swim with dolphins. Play the ukulele. I want to do all those things.”

“You should, then.”

“And if I wanted you to come with me? What would you say?”

“I’d say yes.”

Mary Lou grinned. “Really?”

“Really. Never seen the Golden Gate Bridge, and I like the ukulele,” Tane said. “But first, we’ve got to figure out how to work this thing. I know a little about boats, but nothing about yachts. See if you can find anything — a manual, an instructional video, computer tutorial, anything.”

“Got it!” Mary Lou said. “Hey, Tane?”



“For what, mate?”

She shrugged. “For being you.” She took the stairs two at a time to the lower deck and raced through the opulent yacht, marveling at its wonders. She passed a gold-plated bathroom and one room dedicated to Elvis jumpsuits.

“Whoa,” she said, opening the last door. The bedroom had been wallpapered with pictures of Ladybird Hope. In a corner was a

Ladybird Hope doll47 in a glass case on a pedestal. “‘Kay. Not creepy. Not at all.”

On a desk in the center of the room was a large, framed picture of Ladybird Hope sitting on MoMo’s lap in a Ladybird Hope Factory that was clearly not in America, featuring young girls working the looms. The laptop was open, and there on the desktop was a file marked Yacht Systems.

“Easy peasy,” she said and waited for the video to load. It was not about yachts. Not even remotely. MoMo B. ChaCha and Ladybird Hope sat in a heart-shaped bubble bath hot tub, rifles in their hands, champagne glasses nearby.


Ladybird, you are a hunka hunka burnin’ love. When will you and The Corporation give me my weapons, my little dove?


Now, don’t get your peacock feathers all in a ruffle, MoMo. We have to be careful. Nobody can know we’re doing this.

Remember, we’ve got sanctions against you.


I know. And it makes MoMo sad. Oh, pretty gazelle!

The Peacock took the swift animal down with one shot. Mary Lou flinched. “Meat is murder,” she whispered. “Bastards.”


Nice shot, Peacock! Bag it and tag it.


Oh, Ladybird. All this killing and talk of weapons has made The Peacock amorous. A little less conversation and a little more action, please.

Ladybird and MoMo kissed and Ladybird ruffled the dictator’s hair.


You let Ladybird and The Corporation set up shop in the ROC, you get your weapons. I’ll arrange everything.


Oh, Ladybird. Love me tender.

Mary Lou’s eyes widened. Her mouth hung open. About three seconds too late, she hit stop. “Ew. That was like watching your parents have sex. Your creepy, dysfunctional parents.” She grabbed the laptop and ran back to the bridge.

“You’ll never believe what I … what’s that?” The yacht’s radar blipped and beeped. A large green dot could be seen moving in their direction.

At the helm, Tane frowned. “Gotta be another ship.”

Mary Lou squinted out at the fog, but it was too thick to see anything. “Do you think it’s friendly?”

As if in answer, the other ship fired.

47Ladybird Hope doll, from the Ladybird Hope Destiny Dolls collection. But you should not put anything on a pedestal, least of all dolls who watch you while you sleep, waiting to suck the breath from your lungs.