After Shirley stepped out of the cab and into the Watergate, taking in tow her heavy smell of Chanel No. 5, Oshi To lay back in the seat and dozed. His reeling brain rolled dream memories into the video monitor inside his head:
In some dark, dreary room, he sat in a corner on a concrete floor and watched a horrid scene. The only light came from a single, unshaded bulb that sent out sixty watts from the middle of the ceiling. He trembled and nibbled his fingernails.
“Arggh, help me!” screamed a thin, gray-haired man lying on a wooden rack. He sweated, and blood ringed his neck. Bloody welts cut festered across his naked back. Above him, a heavy, muscular man spun a black whip in the air, then snapped it before he slammed across the gray-haired man.
Oshi To glanced at his father, who stared ahead as if he saw nothing—no torture, no pain. It was as if he were in a trance or stared at something outside the grim room.
Finally, the gray-haired man passed out, and Oshi To’s father spoke.
“Very good, Ashi,” he said. Then, he yawned. “Now, onward to the Blue Room.”
Ashi dropped the whip, cut the leather bindings that held the gray-haired man to the rack, and heaved the man’s limp body across his back and over the henchman’s thick shoulders.
Oshi To emitted a frail shriek. His father turned to him. “Do not fret son, See what happens when we return in a couple of hours.”
Indeed, Oshi To was surprised when he followed his father back through the underground tunnel to the Universality Church’s complex underneath the city. His father had shed the drab, gray-hooded robe he’d worn during the torture scene and had donned a white tuxedo with white buckskins. This time, his father didn’t lead Oshi To back to the muggy, black torture chamber. Instead, the two of them circumvented it by strolling down long, tiled labyrinths, well-lit by fluorescent lights reflecting in the brass doors more brightly and lighting the hallway more than sunlight streaming into windows on a cloudless day. Each door was spaced about twenty-five feet from the next. They stopped at the one labeled, “Blue Room.”
Oshi To inhaled whiffs of aloe and Patchouli oil, and he scanned the black and white tiles surrounding them while his father fumbled with the keys. Finally, when his father opened the door, Oshi To peered into the room and was amazed. It was huge, immaculate, and it looked as soothing as it smelled. A thick, deep blue carpet stretched to each beige wall, and ornate, gilt-edged Victorian crown molding with carved flowers and grapes edged the ceiling. Along with aloe and Patchouli, the room smelled of irises and appeared to be lit by the sun. But because they were so far underground, Oshi To realized, the lights must have been artificial. Nonetheless, it appeared real because the light sources had been set up behind the simulated, draped windows to the right of the king-sized, canopy bed that dominated the room like a monarch. On that bed, some person thrashed. Oshi To watched comforters and blankets move up and down, and he craned his neck to see the person underneath them. He could not see the person’s face from the doorway.
His father touched one of Oshi To’s forearms. “Follow me.” His father smiled, and his face glowed almost as brilliantly as the artificial light emanating from the windows. While they walked into the room, his father broke open a small vial and doused oil upon his wrists. Then he stopped at an immaculate, antique wash basin. Next to it, a copper bowl held bananas, mangoes, apples, kiwi fruit, cherries, strawberries, and Mandarin oranges. His father slid his palms under the bowl and carried it to the bed.
When they pulled back the canopy, Oshi To gasped. The man whose hair spread across the blue satin pillow case was the same man Oshi To had seen tortured hours earlier.
“Welcome to our world,” whispered his father, who now smelled strongly of iris, lilacs, and Patchouli oil. He smiled and presented the fruit bowl to the gray-haired man.
The man blinked and slowly opened his eyes. Oshi o could see where the pain and tension had cut lines into the man’s face. Nonetheless, he now appeared to be relaxed, refreshed, as if resurrected.
Awkwardly, the man wriggled up to a sitting position and with an awestruck expression, stared at his surroundings. He shook his head.
“Is something out of order?” Oshi To’s father asked. “Does something not please you?”
The man stared at him. “Reverend Ghuune?”
Oshi To’s father bowed. “At your service, Mr. Secretary.”
The Secretary dropped back to the pillow. His forehead wrinkled and he shook his head again. “Well, I . . . I must have had quite a nightmare.”
Oshi To’s father bowed again. “Ah, yes. At night, the powers of darkness attack most fervently. You stay here and rest. We can call in entertainment, all that you desire.” He bowed once more. “We are truly at your service.”
Oshi To said nothing. In fact, he could not speak, but backed slowly away from the bed into an over-stuffed, damask-covered chair. When his head hit the back of the chair, he blinked and was back in the taxi with Mary Margaret.
She rubbed the back of his right hand and when he blinked, she leaned over him kissed his left cheek. “You were crying again, my Dear. Another nightmare?”
Oshi To nodded. “They’ll never end.”
“They will.” She reached for his left hand and drew next to the other. Then she rubbed the backs of both of them. “Healing takes time. These horrid nightmares will help you, even if they’re awful to endure.”
He lifted his eyebrows. “They’re helping me in another way, too. They’re helping me to remember, what I hate to remember but what I must recall.” He sighed. “I wonder who that woman is we are to meet.”
“It’s risky, you know, talking to strangers. I hope it wasn’t one of your father’s spies.”
He shook his head. “No. She’s okay. She doesn’t have that spacy look. And I bet someone she loves has become entangled with the Unis. Otherwise, she wouldn’t care about what I said. Most people don’t. They don’t want to get involved—until something hurts them—or someone they love.”
“You’re probably right.” Mary Margaret gently squeezed his hands. “You are so wise.” Then she smiled. “Even if you’re no longer wealthy—by the world’s terms.”
He frowned, and she squeezed his hands once more. “Hey,” she cooed. “You’re still a rich man. But now you are rich in spirit. And that matters so much more than material goods.”
Oshi To squeezed her delicate fingers, too. Their softness made her seem more ethereal than usual. “You’re right.” He looked into her eyes and smiled. Still, he worried how the two of them would make it through financial storms.