Urge to Converge
One’s moving away from you on a road that only leads one place, the other one you’ve been chasing for weeks is coming toward you. Which signal do you follow? Eenie, meenie, mo, catch a negress by the toe.
No decision at all, Aphra decided. She’d felt the slight buzz of her tracker and pulled it out for a look. Ought to keep the thing tucked in my thong, she thought, let that vibration do some good. She read the little touchscreen, frowning, then broke into a shit-scarfing grin. Her little sender was heading straight towards her, and at a really good rate of speed, sending steadily now, not the little dribbles it had doled out to her for day after hair-tearing day.
Almost as frustrating as trying to vet that ditzoid Curtsy on what happened to her raid. Goldilocks in the back seat now, you could almost smell her brain burning while she tried to put her junque back together. Or as together as she ever had it. And her pet MayaBoy just sitting there, staring out the window like he’d never been in a car before. She almost thought of Ganzo’s take on travel as “like a little boy”, but not quite: there was that solemn gravity about him. But pretty well just along for the ride.
All she really had was that the boat was long gone, there were pictures of the jade skull but God knew where they were, and that MeiMei was last seen being dragged off naked by some goons. Well, that little chinadoll could take care of herself.
And since the sender in the camera seemed to be coming out of the cold, she evidentially had. Unless somebody else had it now. In which case they would have to be spoken to. The slim Detonix .380 she’d brought incountry inside a lead-lined radio/clock had been under her seat all the way and she was almost wishing there would be somebody to shoot up. She was fed up with this whole gig. She took one more look at the screen, the green dot coming right toward the Chetumal lagoon, and grinned again. “Yeah, baby. Come on to Mama.”
The Navy chopper zoomed in low over the lagoon and hovered over the military pier for two minutes before skipping sideways to set down beside the municipal dock, where several fishermen gave it dirty looks and unappreciative hand gestures. Aphra stood at the edge of the dock, looking for all the world like a tourist, one hand in her stylish Biaggio purse–handy to the grip of the pistol and a few other devices she lumped into the “rotten surprises” category–the other holding up a little digital camera, taking pictures of the nifty little helicopter sitting on pontoons in the middle of a self-created storm like a tempest in a washing machine. She moved the camera away from her eye to admire her shot, thus scanning the read-out identifying its position in the Mexican armed forces and Jane’s abstracts… and a taint of DEA. Hmmph, she sniffed as she resumed “shooting” to conceal her face behind the camera: honkies in the woodpile.
The slick white MacDouglas popped back up and skittered sideways to land on the city pier. And she saw why it had hit the water first, the big, finned, black pod she’d seen between the floats was now revealed as a kayak, bobbing in the water with a guy paddling it in towards the boarding float. He had a hat brim to big to see his face, but looked Mexican. And she got a piece of the picture, right there. Her cute little transponder had been paddling south for three weeks! She just hated these third world scenes.
But wait, who’s crawling out of the helicopter now? Well, on the side toward her, some clown wearing a trench coat. Seriously, a trenchcoat in the tropics. And a Bogart hat to go with it. Now handing out a cute little señorita… whoa, there! What was her name? Yullia or something. Worked in the damn museum. Aphra was getting that feeling.
Looking under the aircraft, she could see a man’s legs on the other side, then a pair of female calves. Something familiar about them, too. Got a feeling…
Then the aircraft just hopped straight up in the air, but leaned towards her a little. She saw the pilot giving her the eye, and a thumbs-up of approval. So glad I pass your checklist, sucker. Then she looked down at the passengers and couldn’t decide whether to do some sitcom double-take or whip out the pistol. MeiMei fucking Chiang and Townsend fucking Hardley, standing there staring at her!
She pointed the camera and took advantage of the fact that it could actually take a picture when it wanted to. This was a keeper moment, for absolutely sure.
She wanted to hold a cool pose until her quarry and nemesis walked up to her, but she heard the door of the Bora fly open like there’d been a bomb inside and the pitter patter of feet running toward her. No need to make the obvious guess: Ms. Mayflower also started running toward her, and now both deserters from her crack commando team were yelling and squealing like sorority girls at homecoming.
But she was paying attention only to Townsend Hardley, stalking up the pier towards her like a gunslinger coming after the blackhat and not amused. She had her gun and whatnot, but Christ only knew what he was packing. Probably some button he could push and she’d get taken out by a hotty-seeking missile fired from an NSA death star. She stood and waited for him, while Lluvia and Denny’s eyes were ponging back and forth from the laughing/crying/hugging girls to the classic showdown poses of their mysterious coffeehouse chum and the Grace Jones lookalike over there. Who also drew the incurious gaze of Ganzo, sliding out of the car and taking it all in.
Not to mention Tuan, who had tied up the kayak and come up the ladder to see the two spies stop and eye each other with a palpable truculence. What went through his head was; Draw, podnah. He saw a simmer that was quite likely to get ugly and realized who Aphra must be. He looked at MeiMei, jerked his head toward the embattled beeatch in question, and got a confirmatory nod. Combined with a touch of trepidation. He knew she had the camera, snapped into one of his waterproof gadget boxes, in the little kangaroo pouch around her waist. And that she’d been pretty clear about not surrendering it to anybody at all. He walked over to the two snoops and tipped his floppy sunhat.
“Hi. I’m Tuan, but you can call me OB. Hope everything’s okay here?”
Town ignored him, but Aphra pulled her dagger-stare away and actually smiled at him. “Oh, yeah, the Flipster. I think I got it now. She made it back to you, you grabbed your canoe there and headed south. I’m not as clear on how you hitched a ride here, but we got time, right? Glad to see the Doc’s OK, by the way. We were worried about her.”
Tuan nodded empathetically and she could read his unspoken attitude even through the semi-Asian inscrutability. Along the lines of: Yeah, sure, you lying niggah ho who obviously had a bug on her all this time and is just interested in getting your hands on the jade. It was nice to be understood sometimes.
Meanwhile, the lying, etc. had been doing some fast thinking. Along the lines of: Gonna be a bitch getting into Belize with Curtsy not having identification and Ganzo, near as I can tell, not even having an identity. But here’s my main man with a chauffeured government helicopter. She looked back at Townsend, who was obviously pissed, hostile, and–whether he knew it or not–hurt. Kind of touching, actually. Despite all the weirdness, and him being on the wrong side of the sexual fence, she had a hard time not feeling a certain fondness for the guy. She looked him right in the eye, spread her hands in a disarming/apologetic way, and said, “Look, we should get along.”
He stared at her, apparently entertaining mixed emotions, and she motioned for him to walk beside her as she strolled towards the far side of the pier. He fought it out, then followed her. Whatever the hell else she was, she was still The Key.
She topped at the edge of the dock, peered down into the murky water. Said, “Hear me out, okay? I know where it is. The skull.”
She took in Town’s netural expression saw it wasn’t just a studied mask: he really didn’t know, did he? He had MeiMei, but didn’t know what it was all about. “What you’re after, right? What we’re both playing for.”
“If you say so.”
She smirked knowingly. “Fine, play it that way. But you got any questions, ask the good “Doctora” there, would she like to hook back up with the talking skull.”
Townsend turned on his heel, went and did just that. When he came back to Aphra he had to turn twice to motion MeiMei to wait where she was and not run after him.
“Okay. You know where it is.”
“That’s right. I got a trace on it.” She pulled out her receiver and held it up. “‘HomerBoy’ here’s all over it. And you didn’t get to sneak in and diddle this one.”
“Didn’t have to. I tumbled the one you’re holding. All cc direct to me.”
“Nice try, whiteboy. We all virgin on this end, dig. So you wanna play? Or you want me to go cop the real goodies on my own?”
Townsend seemed to have frozen up, running the parameters and trying to rule out his own feelings. She stepped closer to him, gave him a little of the eyes. “Listen here. She trusts me. Well, more than she trusts you, anyway. Maybe we can both get what the fuck we’re after and look good, huh? Or maybe one of us can get well and leave the other one SOL. All’s fair, and all that shamizzle. But why can’t we be buddies?”
She looked up at him, a portrait of inner conflict and incredulity. She laughed and tapped his upper arm with her open palm. “Look, I figured out you didn’t know about my mama and your daddy. So that’s all cool. Sorry to kick you out of bed. Oh, and I did the math.”
She left it hanging, but could see he knew what she meant.
“There’s almost no chance we’re related.”
“Great,” he finally said. “Peachy keen. I feel better already.”
“But look ahere. Maybe whoever put you on this knew about our folks? Didn’t happen to mention it to you?”
Townsend glared at her some more, then looked away down the lagoon. He seemed to suddenly unclench, looked back at her and said, “Oh, it’s even more humiliating than that. My old man says they probably picked me for my looks and my way with women.”
She stared at him and broke into a big, wide laugh. “Way with women? So much for their grade of intelligence. And you think that’s humiliating? Listen, I got looks and have my way with women. And the last thing I feel about it is humiliated.”
“Well good for you.”
Aphra waved it off, smiling at him earnestly. “I just think we could be friends. Who knows what sides we’ll be on for the next gig? Meanwhile, I got off on talking with you. We should do lunch.”
“You mean we can still be friends?”
“Oh, no.” She got it then, and almost felt like patting his cheek, giving him a hug. “I get it. Well, that’s extremely flattering. But it wouldn’t work out. We have some pretty big differences. I mean, you’re Baptist and I’m Rastafarian.”
She saw a trace of smile and stepped closer to him. “Let me tell you something else, sugar. I like you. And I liked you even when you were dicking me. Not a common occurrence. So maybe you can take a little ego from the fact that a stone cold dyke finds you attractive.”
“Whoopee. Can you send me a letter for my commendation file?” He stopped and looked down, kicked a scuzzy lead weight into the water. “But yeah. Buddies. Let’s do lunch. I’ll buy.”
She beamed at him, and meant it. “We’ll dutch it. I don’t have many men friends.” Don’t have many friends, period, come to that. “But first let’s scamper up there to the Godfather’s and see can we get to the bottom of this shit.”
He thought it over, then nodded, He stuck out his hand for a truce shake, but when she reached for it, he jerked his hand up and smoothed his hair.
She laughed and moved past him, towards the helicopter. “Too little, too late, homeboy. That copticopter got your hair so blown out, you might need to borrow my pick.”
The pilot had wound down the big Pratt Whitney turboshaft and stood beside the cockpit door, staring blissfully at this little gathering of international pulchritude. When Town asked him about heading for inland Belize he grinned and said, “Totally illegal and a violation of international law and airspace sovereignty. When do you want to leave?”
“As soon as I can herd all these cats. Mind lifting us all?”
“Of course not, I can’t stand being in small spaces packed full of beautiful women.” He seemed reluctant to add, “But we won’t all fit. I’d suggest leaving all the men here.”
“Don’t count me,” Denny said. “I got paid as soon as Ms. Chiang made that phone call.”
He moved off towards the land end of the dock, where a fairly large crowd had gathered; fishermen scowling, joggers ogling, and tourists snapping pictures. Aphra noted the way Lluvia had brightened when he said he wasn’t leaving (and that he was getting paid) and the way she held his elbow as they said adios and walked away. When the Mexican girl passed her she winked broadly and said, “Did I say you could do better than that Luis fool, or didn’t I?”
She slinked up to the helicopter, whose rotors were starting a slow, lazy rotation, and nodded at Tuan when he offered her a hand into the cabin. He’d heard most of Curtsy’s blurted and fragmentary tale and smiled as he handed her up over the pontoons to the deck. “Why are you the only one of these Angels that doesn’t show up naked?”
“Oh, she does naked when it suits her,” Townsend griped from inside. “She’s just not as upfront about it.”
The pilot looked over his shoulder and got a better load of Aphra. “Does she want to sit up front?” he asked innocently. “Much better view.”