THE UNMASKING OF AUNT TAMMY
The ivory Rolls Royce Phantom crept along the winding road towards the immense structure, which loomed on the horizon.
“Fifteen years.” Amy said. Her perfect, white teeth reflected the shine from her gloss-moistened lips as she smiled.
“What?” The chauffeur peered at Amy through the rearview mirror.
“Fifteen years, Tosu,” Amy answered. “Fifteen years of my fellow Senior Executives’ racist, sexist, bullshit. Fifteen years of the black employees calling me ‘Aunt Tammy’ behind my back. It all ends tonight.”
Tosu’s broad shoulders danced back and forth as he chuckled. “Aunt Tammy?”
“Yes, Aunt Tammy, Amy replied. “A female ‘Uncle Tom’ – and that’s not funny, Tosu!”
“Of course, you are not an ‘Aunt Tammy’, little sister,” Tosu said. “Just because you prefer Frank Sinatra to Fifty-Cent…or because you prefer quinoa to cornbread…or because you prefer Steampunk to Street Lit does not mean you are an Uncle Tom or an Aunt Tammy…It does mean, however, that you have poor taste!”
The driver looked over his shoulder at his little sister. “Today, all that you have endured pays off.”
Amy took a deep breath. “Yes, today it does…for us…”
“And for Malomo,” Tosu whispered, as he fought back the tears that threatened to pour from under his eyelids.
The Rolls Royce Phantom crept into the circular carport on the side of the mansion.
A short, lean, Asian woman – dressed in a blue, silk kimono – opened the door of the Rolls Royce for Amy. “Good afternoon, Ms. Cross,” The Asian woman said, smiling warmly. “My name is Yuriko Sakuraba. Mr. Emilianenko is eager to see you. Follow me please.”
Amy shuffled behind Yuriko, who escorted her to a pair of double doors within the mansion. The doors were carved from heavy African ironwood and inlaid with gold. “This is the dining room,” Yuriko began. “There are a few rules I must go over with you before you enter, but first, a quick search.”
Yuriko perused Amy’s face. Her expression told Amy that the security expert could see the fearlessness in her eyes. Fearlessness…and ferocity. Amy searched Yuriko’s eyes and saw the same.
Yuriko glided her lithe fingers across Amy’s athletic frame. Her skilled hands did not leave even the slightest wrinkle on Amy’s black shark-skin business suit. The search confirmed that Amy was unarmed.
“Now, the rules,” Yuriko began. “First, once you are seated, please remain so, unless you need to go to the restroom. If that is the case, please inform Mr. Emilianenko. He will call me on the radio and I will escort you.”
Amy nodded and Yuriko continued.
“Second, please refrain from any sudden gestures, or talking excessively with your hands.”
Amy smiled and nodded again. Yuriko nodded back at Amy and went on.
“Finally, just remember, I will be right outside this door if any assistance is needed.”
Amy nodded and held her smile. She knew that the final rule was actually a warning that if she tried to harm Mr. Emilianenko, she would have to deal with Yuriko. “I understand.”
Yuriko smiled and then pushed the double doors open. Amy stepped into the huge dining room behind Yuriko. The room was illuminated by a crystal chandelier, which hovered above a ten-foot long, mahogany table, which Amy figured to be over a hundred years old, judging by the hand-carved craftsmanship. Aside from the dining table and chairs, which sat in the middle of the room, the dining room was pretty bare, except for tropical plants, which sat in each corner and gave the room a fresh, pleasant smell that reminded Amy of cantaloupe, sprinkled with black pepper.
At the far end of the table sat Vasiliev Emilianenko, Amy’s boss. CEO of Biochem, Incorporated.
“Please, be seated.” Yuriko whispered.
Amy sat at the end of the table opposite Vasiliev.
Vasiliev waved a well-manicured hand as if swatting flies with the back of it. “You are dismissed, Ms. Sakuraba.”
Yuriko bowed and exited the dining room. Vasiliev turned his gaze toward Amy and grinned. “Good evening, Ms. Cross.”
“Good evening, Mr. Emilianenko.”
Vasiliev shook his head. His curly, black hair bounced slightly as his head moved from side to side. “Please, call me Vasiliev. May I call you Amy?”
Amy nodded. “Of course.”
Vasiliev smiled even wider. “So, Amy, let’s chat while we wait for our meal, yes?”
Vasiliev leaned forward in his chair and placed his arms upon the table. His massive arms strained against the sleeves of his soft, burgundy, silk smoking jacket. “So, you are my Vice President of International Affairs, yes?”
Amy nodded. “Yes.”
“And now, you are here to put in your bid for President, now that Radcliff Delmont has retired, yes?”
Amy swallowed and then nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, Amy, I do not dine with V-Ps…only Presidents.” Vasiliev grinned and the light from the chandelier danced across his perfectly veneered teeth.
Amy patted her chest. “What?! You mean the position is mine?”
“Yes,” Vasiliev said. “You’ve earned it. I would be a fool not to promote the person responsible for a two-hundred and twelve percent increase in our international profits. If I do not promote you, my rivals will steal you away from me.”
“Yes, Vasiliev,” Amy replied. “I’ve been collecting masks from all over Africa for the past two decades.”
“And I hear there has been one mask, in particular, that you desire, but it has eluded you, yes?”
“Yes, it is called ‘Oya’s Beard’. It is a rare Yoruba mask that depicts the Goddess Oya with a conical beard. “It represents women who possess the power of man, as well as woman.”
Vasiliev shoved the box down the table towards Amy. “I see…open the box, please.”
Amy caught the box as it slid over the edge of the table. She opened the box and peeked inside. “Oh, my God! Vasiliev…I don’t know how to thank you!”
Vasiliev pounded his fists on his broad chest. “That is my thanks to you! You have done so much for Biochem. This is just a small token of my appreciation…but, please, tell me…why such a fascination with masks, Amy?”
Amy stared into Vasiliev’s grey eyes. The time had finally come. “Paul Lawrence Dunbar said: ‘We wear the mask that grins and lies.’ I collect masks to remind me that there are many masks that we wear and I must never allow one of them to become my face.”
Vasiliev leaned forward again. “Explain, please.”
“We all wear masks and, many times, we wear them so long and so often that the mask becomes indistinguishable from the person. The mask has become the face. Thankfully, mine has not.”
Vasiliev smiled. “So, what mask do you wear, Amy?”
Amy patted her chest and then ran her hands across her face. “This is my mask. Amy Cross. Conservative…capitalist…loyal to the establishment…an Aunt Tammy.”
Vasiliev’s right hand crept closer to the two-way radio that sat at the corner of the table. “Continue, please.”
“But my face, Vasiliev, is Esusanya Ogunlana. Former operative of the OPC – Ododuwa People’s Congress…aunt of Malomo Ogunlana, who was a victim of the Atlanta Child Murders…remember those!?”
Vasiliev grabbed the two-way radio. Amy hurled the Oya’s Beard mask towards him. The spiked chin of the mask tore through his esophagus, piercing his spine.
The tip of the mask’s chin protruded from the back of Vasiliev’s neck. His shoulders bounced up and down involuntarily and his legs jerked back and forth in a sardonic tap-dance. The two-way radio was frozen in Vasiliev’s right hand. His eyes stared, unblinking, at Amy’s – or Esusanya’s – chest.
Esusanya was a blur as she sprung from her chair and darted across the room until she was directly behind Vasiliev. She placed her full lips to Vasiliev’s ear and whispered: “Within the next ninety seconds, you will be dead, so let’s make this brief. I know you were responsible for the death of my nephew and all those other boys. I know that you had those boys kidnapped and murdered in order to harvest their melanin and sell it to the highest bidder to use in their tanning lotions, sunblockers and contact lenses. I know you, Vasiliev Emilianenko…your mask has been removed!”
Esusanya sauntered to the double doors and placed her hands upon the handles. “I’ll have to soak in Epsom salts after this.”
She then opened the doors to face Yuriko Sakuraba…and a life with no masks.