What most pissed Aphra off about the “gatekeepers” and guardians you had to go through to talk to powerful people was that they always thought they were the ones who had the power. They are always more arrogant and self-important than the people they were supposedly guarding from whoever they thought was trying to crash the party.

She’d worked her way up to this jerk, Mr. IvyLeaguer DonWannabe trying to talk down to her and pretending not to be eye-fucking her in the process. And he was playing everything close to his tailored chest, trying to string her out. Carefully avoiding saying anything of substance, much less definite. Not even, Get lost. Only thing he’d made clear was that she wasn’t talking to The Senator unless she told him exactly what she had to sell. And she’d been just as definite that she wasn’t laying out the goods for anybody except The Man.

“A bit of a misconception, I’m afraid,” he was droning on. “The whole idea that any Senator from the South, especially one who made the wise move to our party from the Democrats…”

“Do people still say ‘Dixiecrats’?” Aphra asked innocently.

“I suppose. Not around here, anyway.” First smile out this stiff. About as sincere as his artlessly displayed PhiBate key.

“Oh, that’s right, it’s the Republicans who’re the Jim Crow bloc these days, isn’t it?” Aphra wrinkled her brow in thought, “I guess ‘Dixlicans” doesn’t have that ring.”

“Well, huh, huh…” Okay now, was that the phoniest chuckle she’d heard even around Washington? Tough competition, but it had the legs. “That’s the sort of misconception I was talking about. Actually the Senator’s record on issues relating to African Americans is…”

“I beg your pardon?” Aphra’s first use of her Drop Dead Voice froze the aide in mid-sentence. “Do I seem deficient in English?”

“Your English? No, not at all.”

“Perhaps I still haven’t entirely shaken that nagging Ebonics accent?”

“Uh… why do you ask?”

“Well you seem to think I’m from Africa. I hope that isn’t about the whole ‘descended from apes thing’. And what makes you think I’m American? Rather than Canadian or Bahaman or something?”

“No, of course not. I meant, you know… your…”

“Oh my ‘heritage’? Is that what you meant?”

“Well, look I just meant, black people…”

Aphra stuck her arm close to his so aggressively he flinched. She said, “Your sleeve there is black. Am I that color?”

He got more flustered, then suddenly drew a breath and leaned back in his chair. “How about you tell me?” he said. “Make sure I got the right password for this week.”

“I prefer to be referred to as a ‘nigger’, if you don’t mind.” That restored his level of fluster in a hot minute. She shrugged. “Call a spade a spade, don’t you think? Cut out the bullshit. And wipe out the cheapest insult in history.”

He stared, giving her a chance for a chuckle and rimshot, but she was serious as a process server. He steepled his fingers and looked over them at her. “Taking the ‘queer folk’ model on, are you?”

“They copped our licks, we’re copping theirs.”

“Well it sounds like a lot of fun, actually, I wish you luck on it. I’m dying to hear Diane Sawyer or Hillary Clinton drop that one on television.”

She gave him a sly smile. She’d like to see that herself.

“Meanwhile,” he said. “I assume you’re just as prickly about your sex as your color. Have chicks retro-ed to wanting to be called ‘bitches’ as well?”

“If the shoe fits,” she drawled, crossing her legs and dangling an Italian minimalist piece of footwear in his view. Mostly just luscious leather sole and the blatant hint of two straps. “I’ll wear it.”

Fifteen minutes later she was sitting across from The Man, pitching Her Plan. It’s all in how you talk to honkies, she thought. Just enunciate clearly and speak slowly.

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“Now mind, I can stare at a graph and look owlish as well as the next peanut down the road, but damned if I see what you’re drivin’ at, honey.”

Yeah, sure you can’t, Aphra was thinking. And if you weren’t a Senator who can make me richer than Jesus, I’d “honey” your fat cornpone ass for you. I’m slinging him some major ‘tel here and he’s thinking I look like a tasty poke chop. You know… for a Nigra girl. What she said was, “Over at the left side.”

While he was pretending to puzzle it out, she checked out the only Senate office she’d ever invited herself into: the maze of flags and talismans on the wall, pictures hamming it up with a half-century’s worth of Rich and Infamous, the Dogpatch bricbrac, the incredible clutter. Place could use some maid service, she thought. Another minute he’ll be wanting me to tie a Jemima bandana around my nappies and grab a broom.

“You mean where all these different cycles sort of bottom out at once? Minds me of my ex-wife’s checking account.”

“Hyper-cycles, really. Composites of all that crop yield, stock values, incidence of conflict, major indicator kind of shit.”

He leaned his considerable bulk back in the sturdy old walnut swivel chair that looked like it should be hauled up to a checkers barrel in some general store in Hootin’ Holler and regarded Aphra. Mighty fine for a colored gal, he was thinking. And just sashayed right on in here with her little printout of dyn-no-mite. Sometimes life’s just a bowl of chocolate-covered dog dooky.

“Now if I was playing the market I’d be out there getting right short, right now.” Instead of getting right long from looking at them Hershey Kiss titties there. “But being a simple Ways and Means senator…”

“Who just happens to head up the Committee to Steal the Presidency Back From the Jigaboo.”

She thought his laugh was going to blow all her data off the cluttered old walnut clerk’s desk. His wattles shook like the old bowlful and he threw back his head to give a cheap tour of the thicket of silver nostril fur inside his julepblossom nose.

“For a smart, educated gal you got a bit of mouth on you.” Lord help us all, she does. Big, soft and red as the Harlot of Babylon. Damn. “But yeah, we could call it that, here among us people of color.”

She stared at him, then caught the hidden smile. “Black face and red neck,huh? We could be an anarchy vaudeville team.”

He let the smile out, almost charming with his good-ole-boy manner and white TV preacher pompadour. And moved on in. “So you’ve run your pretty little head over the… you know… implications here? Ramifications and whatall?”

“Know what? That’s kind of why I came up here. I’ve got a plenty good job with Oracon, and could get fifteen minutes of media buzz with this, but here I am bringing it to Massa. Cause yeah, I think there’s more play in predicting history’s biggest economic collapse than just selling you short.”

Damn, she did have a mouth, no two ways aboutin it. He had a fleeting vision of lying around in bed on Sunday afternoon with some sippin’ whiskey, his newspapers, and this gorgeous, overbuilt Afamercan and being more interested in the conversation than crawlin’ her too-tall frame. “The printout runs too long to make out the time frame too close. Down at the business end over here. In the, omigosh, election year. Think it might make a nice October sprize for somebody?”

She shook her head, the retro-Angela ‘fro wiping the air like a brillo eraser. “Sorry. December. December 21, actually.”

“Whuthehell, you got it nailed right down to the day? Got financial armeggedon zeroed right to Eastern Standard Time? Think I’d kinda like to pencil that in to my DayRunner.”

“It’s bigger than that, by the way.” That wiped the chitlins grin off him for a second.

He leaned back and stared for a full minute. “Bigger than what looks from here like the entire world economy going down like a hungry whore? I’m too long in the tooth to think that far out of the crokersack, sugar.”

Yet you manage to spend your dotage as one of the dozen most powerful men in Washington. “A lot bigger, maybe. And I think I can find out what the whole thing’s all about. Maybe how to cope with it.”

“Given the right motivation? Am I peekin’ up the right skirt there?”

“If you’ll just turn your attention to the other document I handed you.”

He picked up her proposed compensation package with two fingers like it was longdead bigmouth bass. “Well now, that kind of money sort of holds my attention despite distractions like the Bear Buggerin’ the Bull to Perdition. Not to mention the below the line stuff. Are you just trying to be paid more than that chimp over in the Formerly White House, or get proof you’ve got bigger balls than Hillary?”

“Well, everybody seems to think you Republicans have more money and business sense than the Dim-ocrats. But I haven’t tried them yet.”

He gave her a long scan that might do a nerve number on anybody less of a stone-cold Holdem player than Aphra , then reached for his old rotary-dial phone. “Hey, it’s Lijah.”

He held the black bakelite receiver out and stared at it in incredulous scorn then treated it to a brimstone thunder, “Elijah Whompin’ Weatherwax, Senior Senator From Crackertown, you dumbass hebe! How many Lijahs got this number?”

He rolled his eyes at Aphra, momentary inducting her into the tiny in-group of people with a clue in a sea of struggling nitwits, then toned down to his karo syrup drawl. “I’m sending this little girl over there. Right this minute. BetsyAnn’ll send you the paperwork. What there is of it on this one, if you catch my drift.”

He awaited confirmation that the drift had been caught. Wow, I’m crypto-funded, Aphra was thinking. Took a redneck Dixieland pol to finally put me in a black bag.

“Give her a place to sit, one a them Ain’tMe Visa cards, whatever she needs. Hear that? Any lil ole thing she needs.” He paused, smiled, and ran a lascivious leer over Aphra. “Oh, definitely. But just wait’ll you lay eyes on her.”

He hung up and heaved himself out of his chair. He leaned forward with hands on the desk that suddenly turned back into one of the oldest surviving power consoles in the Free World. He gave her a look nothing like the Sen. Fogbound clown show she’d been treated to so far.

Whoo, gettin’ face from Stone Mountain, Georgia, she thought. Coldassed ofay will be done, face. She stood up to face him, but he turned to stare out the window at the Mall.

“All done,” he muttered over his shoulder. “Now get your succulent black ass out there and earn it.”

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