The Red Envelope was a red pagoda stuck in between a Burger King and a Hungry Hippo Pizzeria. A golden carp statue clung to the highest part of the roof with its teeth. Its tail arced up to the sky.
The front door was black lacquered.
Ambrose took a deep breath. I can do this.
He pushed the front door open and entered the dimly lit building.
Ginger and soy sauce spiced the air.
“Hello.” A waitress with smooth black hair and a short brocade dress smiled flawlessly at him. “Are you Ambrose Smith?”
“Very good. Your party is waiting for you. Follow me.”
She led him down a long black carpeted hall. Red paper lanterns hung from the black ceiling. Red rice paper rectangles lined black framed doors. Ambrose noticed the rooms were spaced a polite distance from each other. That worried him.
“I’ve never been here before.”
“I know. I remember all of my customers.”
“All of them? Is that even possible?”
“It is.” She gave him a lazily flirtatious glance. “I will remember you, Mr. Smith.”
“What sort of place is this?”
She smiled. “What do you think it is?”
Ambrose thought it over. “A restaurant, I guess. Am I wrong?”
“No. And here’s your room.” She gently slid the door open and led him inside.
Barbara sat on the floor at a square low-set table. She looked up at Ambrose and smiled bright. “You made it.”
“Please take off your shoes, Mr. Smith, and have a seat.”
“Would you like anything to drink?”
“Yeah. Hot water. Hot. Not cold, lukewarm, or warm. Hot. Burn your fingers hot.”
“I understand.” She winked at him and left.
He sat down across from Barbara. “What do you think?”
“I think this place is amazing! How did you hear about it?”
“I didn’t. I noticed it on the way to Sammy’s and it intrigued me.” He smiled. “I will admit I was worried that this place would turn out to be a brothel or harem or some other hedonistic place that you would not enjoy.”
“But you would?”
“No.” He thought about it. “Maybe I would. Maybe I would enjoy it too much and I would hurt everyone around me.”
She held up her index finger and waved it in a tsking gesture. “We had a deal, Ambrose. No serious talk. Just fluff. Harmless, empty fluff.”
“I don’t know if this is the right place for it, though.”
“That is true. There’s so much red and black seriousness. You can almost feel it in the air.” She rested her arms on the table, which was a lot more awkward than she’d expected, and leaned forward. “I say we lighten the atmosphere. Let that hall out there ring with our laughter.”
“All right. You start.”
“Mmm. Nope. You get to go first.”
She shrugged. “No reason. Ready? Set? Go!”