Beauty Queens


“Okay. No love for the hand. Production’s good. See?” The Dweeb flipped a switch and the factory floor came up on the monitor in grainy black and white. Agents in black shirts stood guard while scientists in lab coats busied themselves over a stainless steel table filled with jars. “Who knew hair remover could also make a cool explosive?”

“Miracles never cease.”

“Oh, hey, wanna see something megacool? I rigged the compound’s override system to respond only to PowerPoint.” Harris cackled.

Agent Jones was stone-faced. “So, in the event of a self-destruct initiation, the only way to stop the sequencing is by making and uploading a full PowerPoint presentation?

“Yeah. Isn’t that awesome?”

“No. Not awesome. Change it back.”

Harris glowered. “Well, I think it’s awesome. I took Advanced PowerPoint last semester. You guys are always misunderestimating me. I’m totally ready to handle the big stuff.”

“The word is underestimate. And when you’ve got a few more years under your belt, then we’ll talk big stuff, Harris.” Agent Jones forced a smile that he hoped passed for benevolent. His performance reviews all praised his skills but said he lacked warmth. He was not someone anyone wanted to have a beer with.

Harris made a face. “Did you just cut one? ’Cause you’re making a face like you did.”

Agent Jones stopped trying to smile. “Briefing in the conference room in five.”

The fortresslike conference room was an interior room with concrete walls, fluorescent lighting, and ergonomically correct leather chairs that cost five thousand a pop. Agent Jones resented the chairs as much as the lack of Hazelnut coffee. Back before the agency had been bought by The Corporation and privatized, they’d had adequate seating but great benefits. Now, they were lucky to get dental.

The room filled with the private security detail — the black shirts, as they were called. The Dweeb took a seat and put his sneakered feet on the Brazilian cherry oblong table.

Agent Jones took a sip of his disappointing coffee. “Kill the lights.”

A black shirt took out his gun.

“Not literally, Agent. I meant turn them off.”

The room dimmed to a hazy gray. Agent Jones pulled down a white screen and plugged in his twenty-five-year-old slide projector. Despite the high-techery available, he preferred the old wheezing machine. He clicked the remote. The fan whirred. On the projection screen was the faded-color image of a short man in a militarized black jumpsuit and huge, blue suede platforms. The man sported oversize sunglasses and a long, fat mustache. He wore an obvious wig, which bore a resemblance to Elvis Presley’s famous pompadour.

“MoMo B. ChaCha, aka The Peacock. Dictator of the Republic of ChaCha and a very creative dresser. Thief. Murderer. Racked up more human rights violations than Genghis Khan20.”

“Who?” the Dweeb asked.

“I thought you went to Yale.”

“I study business, not Chinese.” Harris snorted.

Agent Jones exhaled loudly and clicked to a new slide. “The Republic of ChaCha, or the ROC, is one of the richest countries in the world. Incredible natural resources. But we can’t get to those resources because a) our government has levied sanctions against the ROC, so all Corporation interests would be in violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act and b) MoMo B. ChaCha is certifiably insane. This is a man who is so paranoid, his most trusted advisor is a taxidermied former pet named General Good Times.”

The carousel clicked to a new slide. MoMo B. ChaCha in full military colors inspected his army from a Jeep. Beside him was a stuffed lemur in sunglasses and a general’s hat.

“But didn’t we put MoMo in power in the first place when the ROC elected a socialist president?” one of the black shirts asked.

Agent Jones glared at the man until he began to play with his pencil. “In a few weeks, MoMo B. ChaCha will travel to this very island to make an arms deal with The Corporation. As you know, MoMo is not a fan of our country.”

Agent Jones switched to the big screen and a grainy video of MoMo sitting at his enormous desk, a swivel-hipped Elvis clock ticking behind his bewigged head. “Death to the capitalist pigs! Death to your cinnamon bun–smelling malls! Death to your power walking and automatic car windows and I’m With Stupid T-shirts! The Republic of ChaCha will never bend to your side-of-fries-drive-through-please-oh-would-you-like-ketchup-with-that corruption! MoMo B. ChaCha defies you and all you stand for, and one day, you will crumble into the sea and we will pick up the pieces and make them into sand art.”