Shirley huffed, wheezed and panted, then wiped her Chanel No. 5-doused wrist across her sweaty forehead. She squeezed through throngs of long-haired youths wrapped in red, gold, and green bandana scarves. March was definitely too hot for mink in D.C., she decided, especially in the crowded park, where heat from the high-energy youths made her feel as if she waded through a steam bath. She looked at the Reflecting Pool for a few minutes, then she searched the platform for Ralph. But among the hordes of men in white tuxedos waiting for the reverend on the stage, she couldn’t pick out Ralph. Shoot, they look like a convention of bleached penguins, she thought, but had no one to quip that image to. Again, she worried about how she’d catch up with Lynette and Sophia. The two women had moved too fast for Shirley, especially when her heels kept sinking in the mud. Now, she could barely see the tops of their heads as they drifted farther and farther away. Part of her wanted to stop and try to join Ralph, but it was also essential for her to stay with Lynette so she could introduce Oshi To. These ambivalent desires and all the frustration of hiking in heels made her again doubt Lynette’s mission again. She began to chide herself for leaving Denver. “Crazy broad,” she muttered aloud, “talks me into this insane scheme.” Nevertheless, her loneliness in Denver also haunted her, still tortured her more than even the rowdy crowd she tried to push through. Finally, though, she could take no more: she broke clear of the moving, sweaty bodies, to a quiet, calm spot just outside the masses. There she slipped off her mink and looped it over an arm.
She sighed, frowned and looked up at the Washington Monument. The structure seemed like a huge watchtower above a churning anthill where nervous insects crawled in every direction. There were the white ones around Ralph, and the colorful ones with red, blue, yellow, and green paisley colors, all moving toward the podium. But these beings didn’t move politely. Pushing, shoving, and butting against each other, they moved more like mosh pit dancers in their rush to the spot where the Reverend Ghunne was to appear, smiling. And no doubt, lying, Shirley thought.
“Mrs. Rosen?” a low voice came from behind. Shirley turned and nearly bumped her nose into Oshi To, who stood there and caught her elbows. Grinning, he withdrew his hands, reached up and flipped back a forelock, then rubbed his nose. “I thought it was you. And I’ve thought about what you told me. Will that friend of yours be here? Perhaps I could meet her earlier than we planned?” He grinned again.
“Well, uh . . . yes.” Shirley felt heat creep up the back of her neck, and she stared in the direction where she’d last seen Lynette and Sophia. She inhaled loudly, then looked left and right. “She’s here somewhere.” She sighed. “It seems I’ve lost track of her.”
Oshi To grinned one more time, then he shrugged. “Easy to do here.” He took her elbow. “Let’s find her. Where did you last see her?”
Shirley pointed and then followed Oshi To’s lanky physique through the madding crowd back toward Pennsylvania Avenue. His broad shoulders and long hair stood above the other heads, so even when she lagged behind each time a heel stuck in the wet earth, she didn’t lose sight of his bobbing head. Plus, he’d slow his pace and glance back at her. She was slightly surprised he’d shown up. Even if he’d railed against his father, she realized she’d taken a risk. It might have been a ruse. She hoped he could be trusted. If not, the entire mission would become a fiasco. They might end up in jail. Or worse yet, in Ghuune’s custody.
Finally, she spotted Lynette and Sophia standing by a strange man in jeans and a red plaid shirt under a grove of cherry trees. “Ohsi To!” she shouted, and when he turned back, she pointed to the grove. Within seconds, he was back by her side.
“Who’s the hick with them?”
“I dunno.” She bit her lip and wrinkled her nose. “I’ve never seen him before. Don’t think he’s a cop, do you? A plainclothes-man?”
Oshi To laughed. “Not in this city. They only go as far as plaid polyester suits. No Barrettas here. At least, not in the Northwest section.”
“I hope they aren’t in trouble.” Shirley wiped her brow again.
Oshi To still grinned but said nothing. She stared at him, and her stomach churned. His mood tonight seemed so different than what she’d seen in the cab. Perhaps he knew the man in the plaid shirt. Perhaps he’d set them up after all. She shouldn’t have said anything in the taxi. Now, it seemed as if it were all a plot. Perhaps the receptionist had sent him after her.
Lynette’s face lit when she saw Shirley, who waddled over to the group. She ran away from Sophia and the others, embraced Shirley, and squeezed one of the heavy woman’s arms. “I’d given up on finding you. I’d hoped you saw Ralph. But I worried that you might have let him see you.”
“No.” Shirley forced a smile and nodded at the man in the plaid shirt. “Who’s that?”
Lynette shrugged. “Some guy who ran into Sophia’s kid on the train. He was running away to be with his mom. We don’t know yet, but he just might help us. He seems enthralled with Sophia.”
Shirley sighed. “That’s a relief. I’m so edgy now, every stranger makes me wary.”
Lynette stared at Oshi To then looked at Shirley. “Speaking of strangers, who is this?”
Shirley smiled and tucked in her chin. Now that it appeared no plot had been planned, she felt smug to have brought in such a ringer to the group. “You won’t believe who he is.” She drew her mink up to her chin.
Lynette stared at her. “Probably not. It’s been a surreal day.” She tilted her head to the left and perched her hands on her hips. Then, staring at Oshi To, she asked. “Who are you?”
“Oshi To.” He rubbed his nose and grinned.
Lynette glared at him, glanced at Shirley, then looked back at the tall, gangly youth. “Hmmphf. I’m a shit-o at times, too. Why did Shirley bring you here?”
Oshi To grinned more broadly now. He tilted his head to the right and puffed out his chest. “Could be.” He stopped, yawned, then continued, “could be because my last name’s Ghunne.”
Lynette gaped. Her face grew ashen. She stared fat Oshi To or a few seconds, then her eyes closed, she reeled and dropped to the ground.
From across the way, Sophia saw Lynette fall and she dashed to her. Then, she lifted Lynette’s head, fell to her knees, grabbed a bottle of Tresor from her purse, shook it onto a handkerchief, and swabbed Lynette’s eyelids. She continued dabbing them while she looked up at Oshi To and Shirley. “Who is he?”
Shirley squatted beside Sophia. She started rubbing the nape of Lynette’s neck. Staring at her fallen friend, she whispered, “He’s Reverend Ghuune’s oldest son.”
“Get him out of here,” Sophia whispered. “Now.”
Shirley glared. “Why? He’s on our side.”
“Then for sure get him out of here. We can’t be seen with him, especially here. We’ll meet with him later—in private.”
Shirley stood and looked at Oshi To, who looked distressed. “Is she okay?” He frowned. “I didn’t mean to scare her.”
Shirley grabbed his arm and tugged him away from the other women. “It’s okay. You just shocked her. This wasn’t such a good idea. It isn’t safe for us to be seen together.”
“Quick, let’s scram now. Give me a number where we can reach you. No cell phones—and nowhere on any of your father’s properties.” Shirley kept pulling him back toward the crowd. “If we are to help your cause, your pop can’t see us with you. We must remain discreet.”
By the time Shirley returned to Lynette, the man in the plaid shirt had squatted by Sophia, who continued to dab Lynette’s face. He pulled out a canteen. “Try this.” He grinned. “Works better.”
Sophia forced a smile and took the canteen. “We’ve got to get her up.” She nodded toward her right. “Look, already, those people over there are starting to stare at us.” She muttered something about Shirley being a “twit.”
“And who are you?” Shirley asked.
“My name’s Jason.” He grinned. “I’m from Kansas.” Then he looked at Sophia. “And you need to cool down. Stuff like this happens all the time. No one will remember your faces. Like Adam says, ’chill out.”
Sophia looked back at him. “Where is Adam?”
Jason smiled. “Out being a kid.” He took back the canteen. “Not far from here. I’ll round him up.”
Then the crowd whooped, whistled, and clapped. A number of people shouted, “Long live Reverend Ghunne, our Blessed Father.” Sophia glanced up at the podium where she saw Francois and Ralph among the other men wrapped in white. All of them followed Ghuune toward the microphone. It appeared for a second as if Ghuune caught her stare. She quickly looked back at Lynette, who’d started to blink open her eyes.
“Are you okay?”
Lynette blinked again and nodded.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” she whispered. “Now.”
Lynette shook her head. “Huh?”
“Ghuune’s spotted us. We can’t hang around.”
Lynette’s eyes widened. “But where’s his kid?”
Shirley led him away from us. She says he’s on our side, that there’s trouble between him and his pop. But I don’t know about that. If he is with us, we can’t let Ghuune see us together. And we can’t draw any more attention to ourselves. We need to hide in the bushes or something.”
Lynette shook her head and started to pull herself up to a sitting position. “The kid’s on the level. That’s what knocked me out. You see, I dreamed about us hitching up with him. So when it actually happened, well, it blew me away. It was like Divine intervention—or at least, some supernatural event.” She smiled. “Now everything will be all right—if we can just avoid Fieldspot.”
She looked around. “Don’t worry about Ghuune seeing us. He’ll think we’re starting to follow him. He’ll figure Francois is making progress with me. And if I’m with you, and if you’re doing that promo story, well, it will look natural for us to be here.” Lynette smiled. “But you’re right. Seeing us with his kid might arouse his suspicion.”
Sophia leaned back on her haunches. “You’re probably right. I’m just nervous about running into his son. I hope Oshi To’s on the level.” Then Sophia chuckled. “What a strange name.” She shook her head. “Those Koreans.”
“I think we can trust him,” Shirley said. “He was in my cab today with his fiancée.”
The two other women looked at her.
Shirley smiled. “She’s a former nun who won’t let The Goon perform their marriage ceremony.”
Lynette and Sophia gaped then looked at each other. Suddenly, each of the women gave each other a high five.
“Why didn’t you tell us this before?” Lynette asked.
“I couldn’t keep up with you.”
“We’ve got to get you some sneakers.” Lynette looked back toward the stage. “And we’ve got to get that slobby Korean.” She dug her nails into the wet grass. “Look at them. They look like albino penguins. How cheesy can one be? It’s time that slime-ball got his just desserts.”