She Don’t Stoop To Concur

Aphra sat up with her back straight as any finishing school girl, Pollini-encased toe markedly not tapping the floor in impatience, while The Right Honorable Elijah Weatherwax scanned an eleven by fourteen high-contrast print on Oriental Seagull paper with a slight touch of selenium toner to render it about as black and white as any photograph ever gets. He grunted a few times as he scanned what he had already seen, already read a stack of reports on, already bounced around various think tanks and academic lairs. Finally he cut his pinkish eyes toward her and said, “That’s one beauty of a picture, honeysuckle.”

“Thanks, Mr. Chairman. A retired Navy darkroom tech I’ve been using for years. A real artisan.”

“And if nobody else has said it, I’m saying it now: you did one bang-up job. If half of your report can be believed, it was one hell of a grab.”

“Thanks again. So it sounds like payday for lil ol Aphra.”

“Weeeeeell,” he drew it out and chewed on it until she expected him to hawk a chaw into a spittoon for emphasis. “Yes and no.”

Well, thanks and no thanks, you pus-gut cracker, Aphra thought. But played a deuce on it. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Wall,” he leaned over the desk and flicked the print to her, “Just read that thing to me.”

Uh, oh. She slipped the print back towards him and said, “Sorry, I snuck out smoking the day they had the Maya cartoon spelling bee. But that’s not really my job description here, is it?”

“It’s not? Did you contract to bring us an artisan-quality picture of Sammy Skull spouting little high-roglyphics? Or intelligence regarding proceedings on the dates in question?”

Shit. Shit, fuck, piss in your granny’s ears. Try for the high hand, only way she could see to play it. Either that or see if they’ve got some kind of Berlitz course in MayaToon. “So you’re sitting here at this desk, Senate Office Building, ready to go chair one of the heaviest committees in the galaxy…and you can’t get some egghead, tell you what that shit’s trying to say?”

“Couldn’ta put it better myself. Seems this is some very old version of a very regional kinda, you know, whatever it is. Only a couple of people could translate it. Only one we can get a definite name for.”

Oh double fuck-shit-piss, Aphra almost wailed. Just let me guess. About five seven, cute as a baby duck, of the Buddha-head persuasion? All she said was, “Let me guess.”

“You got it, sweets. Any idea where the good Doctor Chiang is these days? Because we can’t find her. And apparently it wouldn’t be a good idea for her to go back to Mexico, where she’s working. Seattle University said she called in sick for a couple of
months.”

“Doesn’t matter. She wouldn’t give me the time, not even the finger. She’s sure to be pissed off solid from about the time she powered that camera up and found it was empty.”

“Ironic, ain’t it? But there’s an original out there, right? Or did you get that shot up?”

Aphra stared at him silently. So I can either find and win over a disappeared chinagirl in company of a guy who got her out of that dragnet in Mexico and is probably ready to brain my ass. Or I can take on Señor Kingpin wherever the hell his wandering yacht has got to. Let me get back to you on that one. I shoulda just sold this shit to Popular Archeologist and got shet of it.

She stood up and gave a cool look at Sen. Weatherwax, who knew exactly her dilemma and was watching wolfishly for her reaction.

“I’m all over it, Senator. You’ll be hearing from me.”

Weatherwax turned his full-candlepower rum-flushed beam on her. “Damn! I like your style, woman. No whining, just get back out there and kick ass. Tell you what, I’m gonna cut you a partial because like I said, you done it up real fine. Not so big an advance you don’t wanna go get me that translation, though. You ever thought of going into politics your own self?”

“Senator,” Aphra said, rising elegantly and gripping her Vuitton clutch chastely in front of her. “I have been a liar and thief, a spy with no allegiance or scruples, a traitor, and a whore.”

She walked to the door, opened it and turned to face Weatherwax, who was waiting for it. “But there’s still a few depths of scumbucketry I just can’t stoop to.”

She closed the door on his fervent applause and started making new plans.

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