Cult Following

It wasn’t easy sorting it out, and Aphra was about to give up when one of those thunderbolts of luck hit. Most people in espionage had an almost superstitious belief that all success came from hard work, training and, well… superior intelligence. But she’d always seen a heavy streak of crap-shoot in it all and felt like you won most if you were ready to go with the roll. Which was good, because she was getting absolutely nowhere trying to get into the blonde’s scrambled head.

“So you saw the jade thing?”

“Yeah, yeah. And all these heads and gold and coralcaturas…”

And off she went, babbling to her beach hunk about coral. Aphra shook her head and knocked back some more brandy. She looked around the Paraiso and scowled. It was going to be a long night, and it looked like it would be right here in this beachbum dive. Where the seashell-wailing chick had split and now their idea of fun was some wispy hippy playing drums and this retro-hip/goth/vamp redhead spinning fireballs around. In a place with a thatch roof. Fairly foxy redhead, though.

She tried once again to corral Curtsy’s exploded attention. “Did you see a skull on the jade?”

“Yeah. How’d you know? MeiMei took pictures…” Then she plummeted off the re-recognition buzz into another weeping fit. “MeiMei. They… those fuckers! They…”

“When did you last see MeiMei?” Two steps forward, one step back.

“They stripped us, then they dragged her off. The guy, the yacht guy… Oh, man is he an asshole. He was going to rape us!” She touched her head and went ballistic over another memory fragment. “He shot me! He must have thrown me in the water. Those assholes!”

She was practically screaming at that point, and her boyfriend didn’t try to calm her down, just watched her like she was a circus act. Aphra tried to think of how to play her, then she veered off again, California smile breaking out through the tears. “But they came for me! They saved my life. It was so beautiful.”

“Not the same ‘they’ as the assholes who shot you?”

“Of course not!” The very idea offended her. She smiled and simpered like a middle-schooler in love. “The guys. My guys came and got me and brought me home. Oh, wait, I fucked that up, though.”

“Your guys?” Aphra didn’t mind admitting to being totally lost at this point and was starting to wonder if the head injuries Curtsy had apparently been piling up over the past week had done permanent damage. Hard to tell, though. How do blonde brain cells die? Alone.

“Yeah. Bongo and Bruto and Pinoccio and Caruso and Mayab. Well, Mayab isn’t a ‘guy’, really, but she’s cool and…”

God only knew what that rant was all about. What she had to show for this whole fuckup was that MeiMei had seen the skull, had gotten pictures, last seen in captivity by some guys who didn’t mind raping and shooting girls who took pictures of their skull collection. And she just couldn’t think of any further ways to pursue questioning without the blonde’s wackness getting contagious. She took another sip of brandy and went rigid when there was one of those sudden lulls in bar chatter and she heard somebody at the table behind her say something that snagged her attention like a number ten triple-snelled fishhook.

Kenny had done nothing but bitch ever since they came in the place–quelle surprise–and was starting to get on everybody’s nerves. “This hovel is deader than those ruins,” he whined loudly. “I thought you said the beach scene here was, you know, active.”

“Meaning, of course, cruisy,” Gareth replied. “Look it’s a cheap place to kill two days until the workshop starts. And there are some lovely women here, get a load of the table behind me.”

Kenny’s petulant gaze skittered past the knockout ebony/ivory pair and lit on Ganzo. “Not bad, I guess,” he pouted. “But he’s just…”

Loris, who’d been watching Copper’s fire-spinning with interest, turned to him and said, “We’re here, Kenny. Who could be more interesting than that?”

Kenny, confused, stopped to sort it out, and shot yet another covetous glance at Bannock, who had tuned him out. Xchab couldn’t even understand English and she was ready to slap him silly if he didn’t shut up.

“Okay, let’s talk about this trip to Jungleville,” he bitched to Gareth. “What are we really going to accomplish?”

“Maybe get greenlighted for a real feature, not another one of these dorkploitation reels.”

“But how? is what I’m asking.” His voice raised as the real source of his recent vapors came to the surface. “What we waltz in there with a stone skull and tell him it can talk to us? If it would really talk instead of all this stone innuendo, we could at least figure out where the bottom line is. Get a picture of the ending. Get a budget. Take out insurance.”

Which affected Aphra in the manner already mentioned. She turned slowly as if scoping out the scene and took a look. Two flitty-looking chipmunks in resort wear, very tasty-looking white girl in a white linen shift, DeNiro-looking cat coulda been the collection department for a loan shark, possibly yummy lil Injun gal, and a sixties burnout. Quite the crew, all right. And she remembered now that they’d come in with the little drummer boy and his tres lappable redhead fire-thrower.

She excused herself, walked past the washrooms that she wouldn’t have set foot in on a bet, and eased into the crushed shell lot where she’d parked. Didn’t take a rocket surgeon to spot the white passenger van with rental plates so she sashayed over, slipping one of her new tracers out of her purse. One-day Fed-Ex to Cancun, cost somebody bucks, delayed her a day to pick them up, but she didn’t see any way Hardley or the White House was going to have their numbers. She squatted quickly to click the sender under the fender of the van. As she walked back into the Paraiso, she did a quick check on her receiver. It lit up, tossed blips and digits around it’s touch screen, and basically told her, “Follow that car.” Don’t mean shit getting a wild break unless you’ve got it together to follow your shots.

Curtsy stood in the dark parking area fidgeting and chewing a fingernail. First they follow a yacht, now Aphra wants to follow a van. She’d been seeing Ganzo as provider and protector ever since she could remember. But now she could remember a whole lot more, and he suddenly seemed inadequate to the task. Aphra could swing about anything like magic. On the other hand, her last trick had played out pretty ugly.

Finally Aphra leaned over. pushed the door open and patted the seat. “Come on, girlfriend? Where else you got to go?”

Curtsy dithered a few seconds more then jerked the back door open, prodded Ganzo into the tiny back seat, and slid in after him. She looked at Aphra in the rearview mirror and said, “Okay, what the hell? Get us out of here.”

Aphra bobbed her head as she turned the ignition. “Oh, yowsuh, right away Miss Daisy.

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