"Got my allowance," George said gleefully, waving her G.I. Joe lunchbox in the air. "Eighty-seven billion big ones and Daddy says I don't have to do any chores. Carla, what's a chore?"
Carla Rovin looked up at her cousin with a bored expression. She and Nancy News, the cousins' best friend, were sitting in a bedroom of the White House having a slumber party.
"Quiet, George, we're doing homework," said Carla, logging on to the Internet. Her eyes lit up. "Oh, Nancy, look at this Web site:
New Bridge Strategies is a unique company that was created specifically with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
"And, look. You can view a map of Iraq 'By Area' or 'By Opportunity.' Bonus! Wanna play, Nancy?"
Angling one argyle-socked leg over another with arguable agility, Nancy News took her trusty magnifying glass out from under her well-established backside, used it to examine a hairline fracture in her otherwise perfectly polished nails, and then blinked dimly at a bio of CEO John Allbaugh.
"Hmmmm..." Nancy News intoned intimately, as if she were thinking. "John Allbaugh -- wasn't he the national campaign manager for the Bush-Cheney 2000 presidential campaign? Gee, I wonder what's he doing in Iraq?"
Carla Rovin chuckled. "Silly girl, it's called privatization. All the cool cats are doing it. Halliburton has won nearly $2 billion in contracts under Operation First Come First Served."
"And the government doesn't mind?" said Nancy News, applying more AquaNet to her Barbie bouffant and batting her Bambi eyes. "For a minute there I thought I'd gotten a clue. Golly, sometimes I miss investigating mysteries."
"No mysteries here," said Carla Rovin. "Right, George? George! Put that script down. You could hurt yourself trying to read that many words at once."
"Can't," said George mis-, misera--, all pissed off. "I have to give a speech in front of folks I know nothing about."
"You mean, the American people?" Nancy News enabled entrancingly.
"Yes," said George emph-, empha-, real loud. Jumping onto the bed, he grabbed Nancy News' magnifying glass and clutched it like a microphone. "OK, what happens is, a bunch of people ask me a bunch of questions, and then I say, dis-, disingen-, just faking it, 'Leaks are a bad thing. I want to know who the leakers are.' Carla, what's a leak?"
Nancy News sensed ... something ... amiss ... But what? Owlishly ogling George through the vast magnifying lens, Nancy sucked in her minty fresh breath until it ricocheted off the seventh vertebra from the top and hit her in the sternal extremity. Of course! It was all becoming clear! Heaving from the effort of simultaneously breathing and speaking, she gasped, "Gosh, Georgie, you have really big pores."
Carla rattled her jumbo plastic hair curlers to get the attention of the other girls. "Stop chattering and listen to this. I just got an e-mail from ChaoChick@luvyadubya.gov:
Hey Girls, %^}
Today we abolished prohibitions against federal grants for faith-based programs!! This makes it totally hep for, say, fundamentalist groups to hire other evangelicals only. It will also provide them easier access to $28 billion in taxpayer dollars, and strengthen their perfectly harmless mission to give the poor one last chance to become right-wing zealots who vote, or else go to H-e-double-hockey-sticks!! TTFN -- Cheerleading practice calls!!
Something about the message bothered Nancy News. Was it ... could it be ... wrong? Why, if separation of church and state had been abolished, what was next? Fishsticks and Tater Tots on the same plate? Ooh ick, I hate it when foods touch, thought Nancy News, twirling a lock of her long blond hair with one finger and expertly cutting off her circulation.
"What's wrong, Nancy?" said George inqui-, inquisit-, all bug eyed.
"Well," Nancy vocalized vacantly, shuddering inwardly and shilly-shallying outwardly, as each of her limpid blue eyes twinkled to its own rhythm. "What's the use of being a sleuth if there's nothing worth sleuthing?"
"Say it, don't spray it!" said the Bobbsey Triplets in unison -- Colinsey, Condsey, and Rumsey -- as they pirouetted into the room. Their winsome school uniforms were bedecked, bedazzled, and bewitched with the medals they'd won for freestyle contortionism. "Why the long puss, Nance?"
"There's no detective stuff to do anymore," Nancy News pouted pertly, as her pals peered on piteously.
"How about The Mystery of the Missing 3 Million Jobs: Why the president insisted in Ohio, Missouri and Indiana that his tax cuts would create jobs -- the same month that 93,000 more jobs disappeared?"
"Or The Case of the Terrible Tax Cut: Why 400 of America's wealthiest became 10 percent richer the same year that 1.7 million more people joined 32.9 million others below the poverty line?"
"The Phantom of the 43 Million Uninsured: Why even many who work full time can't afford basic healthcare?"
"The Riddle of the Deepening Deficit: Why a $5 trillion surplus is turning into a $5 trillion shortfall?"
"The Strange Silence About Afghanistan: Why press coverage and White House interest have dwindled as Taliban violence intensifies?"
"The Vanishing Veterans' Benefits: Why the White House wants to cut veterans' benefits by $28 billion over the next 10 years?"
"They're OK, I guess," Nancy lied listlessly, her usual lip-glossed glow giving way to unglamorous glumness. Suddenly, her eyes flashed, plunging the entire Eastern seaboard into darkness and shorting out a fake fireplace in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "Look, I don't CARE, all right? Give me something I can sink my teeth into!"
"Perhaps I can help," said Carla quietly, causing everyone to look up, up, up.
How does she do that -- spin herself into a little web and hide up there? Nancy News wondered wincingly, until she remembered that this wasn't science fiction so it didn't matter anyway. Her punctilious pondering put aside, she kidded kirkegaardedly. OK, not. "What's the story?" she cried cryogenically.
"Well, there's this monkey," said Carla. "And it breaks out of a zoo in Boston. It's called Little Joe or Giant Jim or--"
"Or Curious George?" asked George nos-, nosta-, with a big smirk.
"A monkey?? A monkey! Yes, yes! " Nancy exclaimed elatedly. "The Mystery of the Missing Monkey! What made him do it? Why was he found waiting at a bus stop --without exact change? How can millions of American consumers protect themselves from the daily hazards of runaway monkeys? What's the latest trend in runaway monkey fashion? Are you and your runaway monkey compatible? Oh, I love it!"
And with that, Nancy reset the thermostat of her fevered brain, adjusted the rearview mirror of her reupholstered consciousness, and never looked back.
"Goodbye, girls," Nancy News uttered unctuously. "This is the best slumber party I ever--"
But suddenly, before Nancy had a chance to finish her sentence, millions of little-known Americans sat bolt upright in their beds and let out a piercing scream...
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Next chapter: Nancy News solves The Mystery of Celebrity Children's Books: "Why you may have a fatal paper cut and not even know it!"