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Excerpt

Excerpt

December 6

Letter from
Tokyo

JAPAN APPEARS CALM AT BRINK OF WAR

British Protest "Defeatist Speech" by American

By Al DeGeorge

Special to The Christian Science Monitor

TOKYO,DEC.5 —While last-minute negotiations to avert war
between the United States and Japan approached their deadline in
Washington, the average citizen of Tokyo basked in unusually
pleasant December weather. This month is traditionally given to New
Year's preparations and 1941 is no exception. Residents are
sprucing up their houses, restuffing quilts and setting out new
tatamis, the grass mats that cover the floor of every Japanese
home. When Tokyoites meet, they discuss not matters of state but
how, despite food rationing, to secure the oranges and lobsters
that no New Year's celebration would be complete without. Even
decorative pine boughs are in short supply, since the American
embargo on oil has put most civilian trucks on blocks. One way or
another, residents find ingenious solutions to problems caused by
the embargo's sweeping ban on everything from steel and rubber to
aviation fuel. In the case of oil, most taxis now run on charcoal
burned by a stove in the trunk. Cars may not have the old oomph,
but passengers in Tokyo have learned to be patient.

In a country where the emperor is worshiped, there is no doubt
about Japan's position in the negotiations, that Japan has fairly
won China and deserves to have the embargo lifted. The American
position, that Japan must withdraw its troops first, is considered
hypocritical or misguided. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and
Secretary of War Henry Stimson are regarded here as unfriendly, but
the Japanese people have great faith in President Franklin
Roosevelt as a more sympathetic ear. A Ginza noodle vendor gave his
appraisal of the high-level stalemate: "It is the same with all
negotiations. At the last moment, resolution!" In fact, one of the
most anticipated events is the release of the censor's list of new
films from Hollywood. There is no embargo on American movies. They
.ll the theaters, and stars like Bette Davis and Cary Grant grace
the covers of fan magazines here. The older generation may sit
still for Kabuki, but the younger set is wild for the silver
screen. The only frayed nerves visible showed in a speech delivered
today at the Chrysanthemum Club, the meeting place for Tokyo's
banking and industrial elite. American businessman Harry Niles
declared that Japan had just as much right to interfere in China as
America did to "send the marines into Mexico or Cuba. "Niles
described the American embargo as an effort to "starve the
hardworking people of Japan. "He also attacked Great Britain for
"sucking the life's blood of half the world and calling it a
Christian duty."

British Embassy First Secretary Sir Arnold Beechum said that
Niles's words were "out-and-out defeatist. The French and the Danes
fell through the treasonous activities of collaborationists just
like Niles. We are seriously considering a protest to the American
embassy over the activities of their national. "The American
embassy refused to comment, although one official suggested that
Niles had stood outside embassy control for a long time. The
official, who preferred anonymity, said the club's choice of Niles
as its speaker was telling. "It's a strong suggestion of Japanese
impatience with the talks in Washington, an ominous indication, I'm
afraid."
Otherwise, the city went about its business in its usual brisk
fashion, squirreling away treats for the New Year, perhaps lighting
an extra stick of incense to pray with, but apparently confident
that no
final rupture will break Japan's amiable relationship with the
United
States.

1922

1

FIVE
SAMURAI crept forward with a scuffle of sandals, eyes lit like
opals by a late setting sun. A bloody haze flooded the alley,
tinting street banners red, soaking drab wooden shops and houses in
a crimson wash.
The
story was tragic, true, profoundly satisfying. Lord Asano had been
taunted by the unscrupulous Lord Kira into drawing a sword in the
shogun's presence, an act punishable by death. He was beheaded, his
estate confiscated and his retainers dispersed as ronin, wandering
samurai with neither home nor allegiance. Although the evil Kira
went unpunished, he watched the samurai, especially their captain,
Oishi, for the slightest sign that they plotted revenge. And when,
after two years, Kira's vigilance finally relaxed, on a snowy
December night, Oishi gathered the forty-six other ronin he trusted
most, scaled the walls of Kira's palace, hacked the guards to
pieces, hauled Kira himself from his hiding place and cut off his
head, which they carried to the grave of their dead Lord
Asano.
Gen,
the strongest and fastest boy, played Oishi, his leadership marked
by the aviator's goggles he set high on his head. Hajime, second in
command, had a face round as a pie pan and wore a baseball
catcher's quilted vest as his suit of armor. Tetsu wrapped muslin
around his waist, the style of a criminal in training. The Kaga
twins, Taro and Jiro, were rotund boys in raveled sweaters. Both
were ready to eat nails for Gen if he asked. Each of the five boys
swung a bamboo rod for a sword, and each was deadly
serious.
Gen
motioned Hajime to look around the ragpicker's cart, Tetsu to
search among the sacks stacked outside the rice shop, the twins to
block any escape from a side alley of brothels and inns.
Prostitutes watched from their latticed windows. It was summer, the
peak of a warm afternoon, with neither clouds nor customers in
sight, shabbiness plain, the city's poor clapboard houses huddled
like a hundred thousand boats battered and driven by storm from the
bay to founder along rivers, canals and filthy sluices, here and
there a glint of gilded shrines, at all levels laundry rigged on
poles, and everywhere the scurrying of children like rats on a
deck.
"Kira!" Gen called out. "Lord Kira, we know you're here!" A
whore with a face painted white as plaster hissed at Tetsu and
nodded through her bars to a pile of empty sake tubs at the alley's
end. Gen approached with wide-apart legs, his bamboo sword held
high over his head with both hands. As he brought it down, the tubs
thumped like drums. His second stroke was a thrust. The tubs rolled
away and Harry squirmed out, his ear pouring blood.
Tetsu jabbed at Harry. The twins joined in until Harry swung
his own rod and drove them back. Harry wore two layers of woolen
sweaters, shorts and sneakers. He could take a blow or two.
"Submit, submit," Tetsu screamed, whipping up his courage and
raining down blows that Harry had no problem deflecting. Gen swung
his pole like a baseball bat across Harry's leg, dropping him to
one knee. The twins synchronized their blows on Harry's sword until
he threw a tub at their heads and bolted by Tetsu.
"The
gaijin," Hajime shouted. "The gaijin is getting away." This always
happened. No one wanted to be the vile Lord Kira. Harry was Kira
because he was a gaijin, a foreigner, not Japanese at all. As soon
as the hunt began in earnest, the fact that he was a gaijin was
reason enough for the chase. Harry's hair was as closely cropped as
the other boys'. He went to school with them, dressed and moved
exactly like them. Didn't matter.
Down
the street, a storyteller in a dirty jacket had gathered smaller
kids around his paper slide show of the Golden Bat, champion of
justice, a grotesque hero who wore a skull mask, white tights and a
scarlet cloak. Harry slipped between them and the cart of an
orange-ice vendor. "It's going for the wagon," Hajime said. A
gaijin was always "it." Harry ducked around the ragpicker's
teetering wagon and between the legs of the wagon's swaybacked
horse, tipping a sack at the rice shop and pausing only long enough
to whack Tetsu's shin. The twins weren't fast, but they understood
commands, and Gen ordered them to block the doorway to a peep show
called the Museum of Curiosities. Hajime threw his rod like a spear
to catch Harry in the back. Harry stumbled and felt a hot, damp
stab of blood.
"Submit, submit!" Tetsu hopped on one leg because the muslin
had started unwrapping from his stomach from the effort of the
chase. "Got it!" Hajime tripped Harry, sending him rolling over the
ground and through an open door into the dark yeasty interior of a
bar. A workman drinking beer at the counter stood, measured his
boot and kicked Harry back out.
The
action had drawn the twins from the peep-show door, and Harry raced
for it. The peep show itself was a gallery of muted lights,
"mermaids" that were papier-mâché monsters stitched to
fish and "exotic nudes" that were plaster statues. Harry backed up
the stairs past the peep-show entrance, where constricted space
meant he faced only one attacker at a time. The twins squeezed
forward, falling over each other to reach Harry. Gen took their
place, goggles over his eyes to show he meant business. Harry took
a stiff jab in the stomach, another on his knee, gave a short chop
on Gen's shoulder in return but knew that, step by step, he was
losing ground, and the stairway ended on the second floor at a door
with a sign that said NO ENTRANCE. THIS DOOR IS
LOCKED AT ALL TIMES
.
Blood ran down Harry's neck and inside his sweater. At school
their one-armed military instructor, Sergeant Sato, gave all the
boys bayonet practice with bamboo poles. He would march them onto
the baseball diamond dressed in padded vests and wicker helmets to
train them in thrust and parry. Gen excelled in attack. Since
Harry, the only gaijin in school, was always chosen as a target, he
had become adept at self-defense.
Hajime launched his spear again. Its tip raked the crown of
Harry's head and bounced off the door. Gen broke Harry's pole with
one stroke and, with another, hit Harry's shoulder so hard his arm
went numb. Pressed against the door, Harry tried to defend himself
with the halves of the pole, but the blows came faster, while Gen
demanded over and over, "Submit! Submit!"
Magically, the door opened. Harry rolled backward over a pile
of shoes and sandals and found himself on a reed mat looking up at
a gaunt man in a black suit and French beret and a circle of women
in short satin skirts and cardboard crowns. Cigarettes dangled from
expressions of surprise. The air was thick with smoke, talcum, the
fumes of mosquito coils and the heavily perfumed sweat of chorus
girls. The man carried an ivory cigarette holder in fingers painted
red, blue and black. He tipped his chair to count Gen, Hajime,
Tetsu and the Kaga twins gathered at the top of the stairs. "Hey,
what are you trying to do, kill him? And five against one? What
kind of fair fight is that?"
"We
were just playing," Gen said. "The poor boy is covered with blood."
One of the women knelt to lift Harry's head and wiped his face with
a wet cloth. He noticed that she had painted her eyebrows as
perfect half-moons. "He's not even Japanese," Hajime said over
Gen's shoulder. The woman reacted with such shock that Harry was
afraid she would drop him like a spider. "Look at that, he's
right." "It's the missionary boy," another woman said. "He's always
running through the street with this gang."
A
man in a straw boater heaved into view. "Well"—he
laughed—"it looks like the gang has turned on
him."
"We
were only playing," Harry said.
"He
defends them?" the man in the beret said. "That's loyalty for
you."
"It
speaks Japanese?" Someone pressed forward to observe Harry more
carefully.
"It
speaks a little," Gen said.
The
woman with the cloth said, "Well, your victim isn't going anyplace
until he stops bleeding."
Harry's head stung, but he didn't find it unbearable to be in
the gentle hands of a chorus girl with half-moon eyes, bare white
shoulders and a paper crown, or to have his shoes removed by
another chorus girl as if he were a soldier honorably wounded and
carried from a field of battle. He took in the narrow room of
vanity mirrors, screens, costumes glittering on racks, the
photographs of movie stars pinned to the walls. The floor mats were
covered with peanut shells and orange rinds, paper fortunes and
cigarette butts.
"Achilles stays here." The man in the beret smiled as if he had
read Harry's mind. "The rest of you can scram. This is a theater.
Can't you see you're in a women's changing room? This is a private
area."
"You're here," Gen said."That's different," the man with the boater said. "He's an
artist, and I'm a manager. Go ahead, get out of here."
"We'll be waiting outside," Hajime threatened. From farther
down the stairs, the twins rattled their poles with
menace.
Harry looked up at the woman with the cloth. "What is your
name?"
"Oharu.""Oharu, can my friend stay, too?" Harry pointed to
Gen.
"That's what you call a friend?" Oharu asked."See, that's Japanese spirit, what we call Yamato spirit," the
artist said. "Loyal to the bitter, irrational end."
"But
he's not Japanese," the manager said.
"Japanese is as Japanese does." The artist laughed through
yellowed teeth.
"Can
he stay?" Harry asked.
Oharu shrugged. "Okay. Your friend can wait to take you home.
But only him, no one else."
"Forget him," Hajime said into Gen's ear. "We'll get him
later."
Gen
wavered on the threshold. He pulled the goggles from his eyes as if
seeing for the first time the women amid their cushions and
mirrors, the packs of gold-tipped Westminster cigarettes, tissues
and powder puffs, the sardonic men angled in their chairs under a
blue cloud of cigarette smoke and mosquito coils stirred languidly
by an overhead fan. Gen looked back at the stairway of boys, then
handed his bamboo pole to Hajime, slipped off his clogs to step
inside and closed the door behind him.
"How
is it you speak Japanese?" the artist asked Harry.
"I
go to school."
"Japanese school?""Yes.""And
bow every day to the emperor's portrait?"
"Yes.""Extraordinary. Where are your parents?""They're missionaries, they're traveling.""Saving Japanese souls?""I
guess so."
"Remarkable. Well, fair is fair. We will try to do something
for your soul while you are here."
Harry's position as the center of attention was short-lived. A
music hall might offer thirty comic skits and musical numbers and
as many dancers and singers. Performers shuttled in and out,
admitting a brief gasp of orchestra music before the door to the
stage slammed shut again. Costume changes from, say, Little Bo Peep
to a sailor suit were done on the run, Bo Peep's hoop skirts tossed
in all directions for the wardrobe mistress to retrieve. Three or
four women shared a single mirror. While Oharu removed Harry's
sweaters to wipe blood from his chest, he watched a dancer hardly
older than himself slip behind a screen to strip and pull on a
ballerina's tutu. In the mirror he could see all of her.
Harry's experience with women was mixed, because his mother was
on the road so often as partner to his father's ministry. Since
Harry had been a sickly child, he had stayed in Tokyo with his
nurse, who knew no better than to treat him like a Japanese. So he
had grown up in a world of indulgent warmth and mixed baths, a
Japanese boy who pretended to be an American son when his parents
visited. But still a boy who had only speculated about the painted
faces that stared from the windows of the brothels a few blocks
from his home. There was something ancient and still and hooded
about the whores in their kimonos. Now he was surrounded by an
entirely different kind of woman, casually undressed and full of
modern life, and in the space of a few minutes he had fallen in
love first with Oharu and her half-moon brows and powdered
shoulders, and then with the ballerina. If pain was the price of a
sight like this, he could bear it. Sitting up, with the blood wiped
off, he was small and skinny with a collection of welts and
scratches, but his features were almost as uniform and his eyes
nearly as dark as a Japanese boy's.
The
artist offered Gen and Harry cigarettes.
"You
shouldn't do that," Oharu said. "They don't smoke."
"Don't be silly, these are Tokyo boys, not farm boys from your
rice paddy. Besides, cigarettes cut the pain."
"All
the same, when the gaijin feels better, they have to go. I have
work to do," the manager announced, although Harry hadn't seen him
budge. "Anyway, it's too crowded in here. Hot, too."
"Damn." The artist felt his jacket pockets. "Now I'm out of
fags."
Harry thought for a second. "What kind of cigarettes? We can
get them for you. If you're thirsty, we can get beer,
too."
"You'll just take the money and run," the manager
said.
"I'll stay. Gen can go."Gen
had been dignified and watchful. He gave Harry a narrow look that
asked when he had started giving orders.
"Next time," Harry said, "I'll go and Gen can stay."It
was a matter of adapting to the situation, and Harry's point of
view had altered in the last ten minutes. A new reality had
revealed itself, with more possibilities in this second-floor
music-hall changing room than he'd ever imagined. Much better than
playing samurai.
"It
would be nice for the girls if we had someone willing to run for
drinks and cigarettes," Oharu said. "Instead of men who just sit
around and make comments about our legs."
The
manager was unconvinced. He picked his collar from the sweat on his
neck and gave Harry a closer scrutiny. "Your father really is a
missionary?"
"Yes.""Well, missionaries don't smoke or drink. So how would you even
know where to go?"
Harry could have told the manager about his uncle Orin, a
missionary who had come from Louisville to Tokyo's pleasure quarter
and fallen from grace like a high diver hitting the water. Instead,
Harry lit his cigarette and released an O of smoke. It rose and
unraveled in the fan.
"For
free?" the manager asked.
"Yes.""Both of you?"Harry looked over to Gen, who still held back, sensitive about
the prerogatives of leadership. The door to the stage flew open for
a change of acts, singers dressed in graduation gowns rushing out
as ballet dancers poured in. The ballerina Harry had seen before
didn't even bother with the privacy of a screen to strip to her
skin, towel herself off and pull on a majorette costume with a
rising sun on the front. To Harry, her change of costumes suggested
a wide range of talents and many facets of personality. Gen had
been watching, too.
"Yes," said Gen. "I'm with him.""You
should be. Look at him, a minute ago he was about to lose his head,
and now he's in Oharu's lap. That is a lucky boy."
Was
it only luck, Harry wondered? The way the fight had unfolded, the
stumbling upstairs into the theater's roost, encountering Oharu and
the artist, the transition of him and Gen from would-be samurai to
men of the world all had a dreamlike quality, as if he had stepped
through a looking glass to see a subtly altered, more defined image
from the other side. Otherwise, nothing changed. The following day
he and Gen were at school again. They marched onto the baseball
field in the afternoon and had the usual bayonet drill with
Sergeant Sato. Harry put on his padded vest and wicker helmet so
that, one after the other, Jiro and Taro, Tetsu and Hajime could
take turns pummeling the gaijin. Gen beat Harry into the ground
more viciously than ever.
At
the end of the drill, the sergeant asked what their ambition in
life was and, to a boy, they shouted. "To die for the
emperor!"
No
one shouted more fervently than Harry.

1941

2

HARRY AND MICHIKO were dancing barefoot to the Artie Shaw
version of "Begin the Beguine," the Latin sap taken out of the
music and replaced by jungle drums.
There was room to dance because Harry didn't own much, he
wasn't a collector of Oriental knickknacks—netsuke or
swords—like a lot of expatriates in Tokyo. Only a low table,
oil heater, gramophone and records, armoire for Western clothes and
a wall hanging of Fuji. An oval mirror reflected the red of a neon
sign outside.
An
erotic zone for the Japanese was the nape of the neck. Harry
slipped behind Michiko and put his lips to the bump at the top of
her spine, between her shoulder blades, and ran a finger up to the
dark V where her hair began, black and sleek, cut short to show off
the delicate ivory whorl of her ears. She was skinny and her
breasts were small, but her very smoothness was sensual. At the
base of her neck where it pulsed were three pinpoint moles, like
drops of ink on rice paper. Michiko took his hand and slid it down
her stomach while he shifted behind her. When a Japanese said yes
and meant it, the word "Hai!" came directly from the chest. It was
the way she said "Harry" over and over. In Japanese prints, the
courtesan bit a sash to keep from crying out in passion. Not
Michiko. Sex with Michiko was like mating with a cat; Harry was
surprised sometimes afterward that his ear wasn't notched. But she
did possess him, she claimed all of him with a backward
glance.
How
old was she, twenty? He was thirty, old enough to know that her
heart-shaped face was offered as innocently as the ace of spades.
And if Saint Peter asked him at the Pearly Gates, "Why did you do
it?" Harry admitted that the only honest answer would be "Because
it fit." Before lovers leaped into the red-hot mouth of a volcano,
did they pause to reconsider? When two addicts decided to share the
same ball of opium, did they ask, "Is this a good idea?" His sole
defense was that no one fit him like Michiko, and each time was
different.
"Harry," she said, "did I tell you that you were the first man
I kissed? I saw kissing in Western movies. I never did
it."
"Do
you like it?"
"Not
really," she said and bit his lip, and he let go.
"Jesus, what is this about?""You're leaving me, aren't you, Harry. I can tell.""Christ." It was amazing how women could turn it off, Harry
thought. Like a golden faucet. He felt his lip. "Damn it, Michiko.
You could leave scars."
"I
wish."
Michiko plumped herself down on a tatami and pulled on white
socks with split toes. As if those were enough wardrobe in
themselves, she sat cross-legged, not knees forward like a woman
should, and took a cigarette and her own matches. She was the only
Japanese woman he knew who made love naked. Polite Japanese women
pitched their voices high when talking to men. Michiko talked to
men, women, dogs all the same.
"I
can't leave. There are no ships going to sea, there haven't been
for weeks."
"You
could fly."
"If
I could get to Hong Kong or Manila, I could catch the Clipper, but
I can't get to Hong Kong or Manila. They won't even let me leave
Tokyo."
"You
go all the time to see your Western women."
"That's different.""Tell me, are they fat German fraus or Englishwomen with faces
like horses? It's the Englishwoman you're always calling, that
cow."
"A
horse or a cow, which is it?"
She
sucked on her cigarette hard enough to light her eyes. "Westerners
smell of butter. Rancid butter. The only good thing I can say for
you, Harry, is that for an American, you don't smell so
bad."
"There's a lovely compliment." Harry pulled on pants for
dignity's sake and fumbled for cigarettes. Michiko had a physical
horror of Western women, their color, size, everything. They did
seem a little gross next to the fineness of her hands, the
sharpness of her brows, the inky curls at the base of her white
stomach. But, call it a breadth of taste, he liked Western women,
too. "Michiko, I hate to remind you, but we're not
married."
"I
don't want to be married to you."
"Good." She was an independent free-love Communist, after all,
and he was grateful for any dry rock he could stand on when talking
to her. "So what the hell are you talking about?"
She
had the kind of gaze that penetrated the dark. Harry sensed there
was some sort of silent conversation going on, a test of wills that
he was losing. Michiko was complicated. She might be Japanese, but
she was from Osaka, and Osaka women didn't mince words or back
down. She was a doctrinaire Red who kept stacks of Vogue
under a Shinto shrine in a corner of the room. She was a feminist
and, at the same time, was a great admirer of a Tokyo woman who,
denied her lover's attention, had famously strangled him and sliced
off his privates to carry close to her heart. What frightened Harry
was that he knew Michiko regarded a double suicide of lovers as a
happy ending, but she'd be willing to settle for a murder-suicide
if need be. It seemed to him that the safest possible course was to
deny they were lovers at all.
"You're never jealous, are you, Harry?""How
do I answer a question like that? Should I be?"
"Yes. You should be sick with it. That's love.""No," Harry said, "that's nuts.""Maybe you just wanted a Japanese girl?""I
think I could have found an easier one."
Some
Americans did take up with Japanese women for the exoticism. Harry,
though, had been raised in Japan. A corn-fed girl from Kansas was
stranger to him.
Michiko's long look continued, as if she were sending out small
invisible scouts to test his defenses.
"The
Western woman, is she married? If she's here, she must be
married."
"I
had no idea when I found you on the street and took you in like a
wet stray that you were going to be so suspicious."
Suspicion was in season. Harry moved to the side of the window
to look down on the street, at the flow of figures in dark winter
kimonos.
The
evening was balmy for December. The warble of a street
vendor's
flute floated up, and at the corner a customer in a black suit
shoveled
noodles from a box into his mouth. In front of a teahouse at
the
other end of the block, a taller man nibbled a bun.
Plainclothesmen
had
always watched missionaries, too. It was as if he'd inherited a
pair
of
shadows.
"I
saw them," Michiko said. "Are you in trouble?"
"No.
Harry Niles is the safest man in Japan."
"You've done nothing wrong?""Right or wrong doesn't matter." He remembered his father, a
Bible thumper with never a doubt in his righteousness. Harry's
confidence was in his unrighteousness, his ability to dodge the
consequences.
"So,
are you going to leave?" Michiko asked. She took a long draw on her
cigarette and rearranged her limbs, leaning back on her hands, legs
forward, ankles crossed. He could just make out her eyes, the dark
caps of her breasts. "You can tell me. I'm used to men who
disappoint."
"What about the men in the Party, your local
Lenins?"
"The
men in the Party talked all day about the oppression of the working
class, but every night they headed to the brothels. You know why I
chose you, Harry? Because with an American, I had no expectations.
I couldn't be disappointed."
Harry didn't know quite what she meant. The big problem with
Michiko was that she acknowledged no rational position, only
emotion in the extreme, whereas Harry regarded himself as pure
reason.
"Do
you want us to burn down, Harry?"
It
took him a moment to notice his cigarette carried an ash an inch
long. People who lived on straw mats had a ready supply of
ashtrays. The one he picked up was ceramic and said PACIFIC FLEET
OFFICERS CLUB— PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII around a gilded anchor.
Hawaii sounded good. Sunday would be the pre-Christmas party at
Pearl, the same as at all U.S. Navy officers clubs around the
world.
"Know what?" Harry said. "We should have a party. We're too
tense, everyone is. We'll have a few friends over. A couple of the
old reporters, artists, movie people."
"That's like the club every night.""Okay, Michiko, what would make you happy? I'm not going
anywhere, I promise. The entire Japanese Empire has marshaled its
forces to keep me here. I'm blocked by land and sea and air. Even
if I went to the States, what would I be, what would I do? My
talent is speaking more Japanese than most Americans, and more
English than most Japanese. Big deal. And I know how to buy yen and
sell a movie and read a corporate ledger."
"Harry, you're a con man.""I'm
a philosopher. My philosophy is, give the people what they
want."
"Do
you give women what they want?"
Michiko was capable of retroactive jealousy. She had nothing in
common with the mousy Japanese wife or mincing geisha. Harry
slipped behind her and picked his words as carefully as a man
choosing what could be a necktie or a rope. "I try."
"With all women?""No,
but with interesting women I try hard. You are
interesting."
"Other women?""Boring.""Western women?"He
slid a hand around her. "The worst."
"How?""Too
big, too busty, too blond. Just awful."
She
took a deep drag, and her cigarette flared. "I should burn you
every time you lie. They're really awful?"
"Unbearable.""There won't be a war?""Not
with the United States. Just war talk."
"You
won't leave?"
"No,
I'll be right here. Here and here and here." He put his lips to the
beauty marks on her back. "And do the things I really
might
."
"So
you're staying?"
"As
long as you want. I'm telling you true..." He dug his
fingers in her hair, soft and thick as water.
"You
swear?"
He
whispered, "If I could be with you."
"Okay, okay, Harry." Michiko let her head loll in his hand. She
stubbed out her cigarette and pulled off her socks. "You
win."
THE
HAPPY PARIS had originally been a tearoom. Harry had transformed it
with saloon tables, a bar stocked with Scotch instead of sake and a
red neon sign of the Eiffel Tower that sizzled over the door. Half
the clientele were foreign correspondents who had been blithely
assigned by the AP, UPI or Reuters without a word of Japanese. Some
were mere children sent directly from the Missouri School of
Journalism.
Harry took mercy on them as if he were their pastor and they
were his flock, translating for them the gospel of Domei, the
Japanese news agency. The other regulars were Japanese reporters,
who parked motorcycles outside the club for a quick getaway in case
war broke out, and Japanese businessmen who had traveled the world,
liked American music and knew one Dorsey brother from the other.
The closer war seemed, the more people packed the Happy Paris and
all of Tokyo's bars and theaters, peep shows and
brothels.
They
didn't come for geishas. Geishas were a luxury reserved for
financial big shots and the military elite. But if it was a rare
man who could afford a geisha, a couple of yen could buy even a
poor man the attentions of a café waitress. Waitresses came in
all varieties, sweet or acid, shy or sharp, wrapped in kimonos or
little more than a skirt and garter.
Many
came for Michiko. Michiko was the Record Girl for the Happy Paris.
Her task was simply to stand in a sequined jacket by a Capehart
jukebox as tall as she was and, at her own mysterious
whim,
push
the buttons for music—"Begin the Beguine" followed by Basie
followed by Peggy Lee. Seventy-eights changed in slow motion from
tone arm to turntable under an illuminated canopy of milk-blue
glass, and dropped down the spindle with an audible sigh. Michiko
did virtually nothing. The waitresses, Kimi and Haruko, circulated
in short tricolor skirts. Haruko patterned herself from her hair to
her toes on Michiko, but her legs were sausages in contrast to
Michiko's in their silky hose. While Haruko and Kimi had actually
been geishas and could simper and giggle with the best, Michiko cut
customers dead. She played only records of her choice, a balance of
swing and blues, closing her eyes and swaying so subtly to a song
that she sometimes seemed asleep. The year before, there had been a
fan magazine devoted to her—"The Sultry Queen of Jazz: Her
Music, Her Hobbies, Her Weaknesses!"—totally fabricated, of
course, with some snapshots. What made Michiko stand out most,
Harry thought, was that even in the middle of a crowded club, with
a dozen tables and booths full of voices, food and drinks shuttling
back and forth on trays, she could have been alone. Michiko
maintained a lack of self-consciousness that, added to a complete
lack of morality, lent her a feline independence. She replaced "My
Heart Stood Still" with "Any Old Time," Shaw's clarinet made lush
with a saxophone reed.
Harry turned away to deal with Willie and DeGeorge. Al DeGeorge
was the correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor and
as stir-crazy as a zoo bear. Willie Staub was a young German
businessman headed home from China via Japan and looked like an
innocent among thieves.
DeGeorge was saying, "Harry runs a pool on when war will start
between America and Japan, Tokyo time. Say there's even military
action. The Philippines are on our side of the dateline, Hawaii's a
day behind, doesn't matter, has to be Tokyo time. There's got to be
at least ten thousand yen in there now. Of course, the
house—that's Harry— takes five percent. Harry would
take five percent on the apocalypse. Today's the fifth. Hell,
Willie, you've still got most of December. I got Christmas
Day."
"You're a sentimentalist," said Harry."The
only problem," DeGeorge said, "is that if we're still here when the
war begins, we're fucked. No way out." He directed a baleful gaze
at Harry. "Rumor is, they're going to get Nippon Air flying again.
Put on a show with champagne, cute air hostesses and photographers,
and fly some foreign bigwigs to Hong Kong as if everything is
absolutely normal. My question is, who gets on that plane?" He
turned to Willie. "The embassy sent special-delivery letters
telling all Americans to leave. But no, we waited to see what Harry
would do. We figured the boat Harry takes, that's the last boat
out. Now all the boats are gone and we're down to a single
plane."
"I
don't know anything about this," Willie said. "I just got
here."
"The
Nazis must have told you to stay away from Harry."
"I
am a Nazi."
"Willie thinks he's a Nazi," Harry told DeGeorge.
"Anyway, don't you have a job to do? Didn't you tell me that the
first man who calls the war can pick up a Pulitzer?"
"There's no point in staying if I can't do my job. No one will
be interviewed by an American. I can't even get them on the
telephone because the Japs say all calls have to be in Japanese.
Who speaks Japanese?"
Willie told Harry, "My embassy said you were engaged in sharp
practices and I should stay away from you."
"Good advice," said Harry."But
they don't want me, either. I told them about my China
report."
"What report?" DeGeorge asked.Harry said, "Willie was factory manager for Deutsche-Fon in
China. He saw a lot."
DeGeorge lowered his voice. "Jap atrocities? Rape of
Nanking?"
"Exactly," Willie said."Old
news."
"Not
in Berlin. Germans should know these things."
"It was just one of those things ..." Michiko hugged
herself as if holding someone tight, her face conveying a private
reverie that men in the Happy Paris yearned to join. The noise
level was high because the Japanese loved to drink and got drunk
fast and flirted with the waitresses even as they craved Michiko.
Kimi batted her eyes at Willie, who had the golden looks of Gary
Cooper and displayed a wounded Cooperish look when people
disappointed him.
"I
don't think the German people are interested in
atrocities,"
Harry said. "There's been a lot going on there that you haven't
heard about in the hinterlands of Asia."
"But
Germany is winning the war."
"Maybe. You should probably keep your nose clean and stay away
from me."
"You're the only person I know in Tokyo. Also I had to show you
something." Willie pulled a folded newspaper from his jacket, but
Harry was distracted by a customer who grabbed Haruko and planted
her on his lap while she squirmed like a satin worm. This wasn't a
rare occurrence; she had many admirers.
Harry joined them. "Haruko, go wait on tables. Matsu, let her
go."
"He's just playful," Haruko said."He's drunk.""That, too."Matsu released her and let his head roll sloppily. He had an
artistic beard and wore a viewfinder around his neck, in case
anyone forgot his calling.
"It was just one of those nights," Matsu sang
along.
"You're pissed."Matsu inhaled deeply and broke into a grin. "Yesss, I think so.
I hope so. Harry, do you remember Watching Cherry Blossoms
Fall
?"
"A
sensitive film."
"My
film, thank you. Do you think, afterward, that people will remember
that film when they think of the director Matsu?"
"After what?"Matsu lifted the viewfinder to his eye and scanned the room.
"This is beautiful. Not Paris, I'm sorry, but still beautiful.
Because the only time you'll know the soul of another man is when
he's drunk. And a
man
can tell things to a waitress that he will never tell his wife.
This is
a
happy place."
"That's very profound. How is the new film?""Just starting.""A
love story?"
"No
lovers. Many planes."
"You're still with Toho Studios?""No." Matsu laughed, and somewhere in the laugh was a
moan.
"Not
anymore."
Harry finally grasped the other man's despair. "They called you
up."
"I
will serve the emperor." Matsu tucked in his chin.
"What are you going to do in the army? You're a
moviemaker."
"I'll still be making films. I'm going in the morning, but I
wanted to see Michiko one more time. That is the image I want to
carry with me, the unattainable Michiko. Unless you think perhaps I
can attain her."
"You
can't afford her."
"But
I'm rich," Matsu said. "Tonight I'm rich." From an envelope he
pulled a stack of crisp, light green bills that said JAPANESE
GOVERNMENT in English. Matsu stuffed the bills back into the
envelope. "For my new assignment. There will be many planes, many
tanks. No cherry blossoms."
"A trip to the moon on gossamer wings ..." Michiko
mouthed the words as if each rested momentarily on her lips. Not
that she understood English.
Harry returned to his table. "Sorry. A conversation about the
arts."
"This is what I have to show you." Willie unfolded a newspaper
to a picture of soldiers in winter coats raising their rifles as
they walked down the gangway of a transport ship. He passed it to
Harry. "I saw it at the German embassy today. I can't read it, but
I know you can."
The
photo caption read, WELCOME HOME. Hero Returns from China to
Well-Deserved Honors." Although the page was smudged—
newspapers hadn't had decent paper stock for years—Harry saw
that the man on the ramp was a colonel with the deep-set eyes of a
fasting monk. A long sword in a utilitarian sheath hung from his
belt.
"Ishigami. How about that?""That's what I thought," Willie said."Who
is it?" DeGeorge asked.
"A
long-lost friend," Harry said. "I ought to read the newspapers more
thoroughly."
DeGeorge asked Harry, "What day is left in the pool for
Willie?"
"The
eighth. That's Monday. War in three days is cutting it a little
close."
"I
don't bet," Willie said.
"A
social bet," said DeGeorge. "Could happen."
Harry shook his head. "Ninety new American films have just
arrived. Too Hot to Handle, Tarzan Escapes, One Hundred Men and
a Girl
. Who on earth would go to war when there's entertainment
like that?"
"What do you do here, Harry?" Willie asked.DeGeorge said, "Ostensibly, he's a movie rep. He does something
else, I've just never been able to figure out what the fuck it is.
Is it true, Harry, you're actually giving a speech at the
Chrysanthemum Club tomorrow? You, at the Chrysanthemum
Club?"
"I'm
virtually respectable."
Willie returned to the picture in the newspaper. "Can Ishigami
find you?"
"You
did," Harry said. He didn't want to look at the picture, as if the
image might sense his attention and look up from the
page.
"If we'd thought a bit, of the end of it ..." Michiko
whispered with the song. Sometimes she seemed to know every nuance
of the lyrics, Harry thought, sometimes she might have been
repeating nonsense. He couldn't tell anymore.
"So,
really and truly, Harry, is it going up?" DeGeorge
asked.
"What?""The
big balloon. War. Everyone's reading about last-minute negotiations
in Washington. What do I tell the readers of The Christian
Science Monitor
and Reader's Digest and The Saturday
Evening Post
while they drink their warm Postum and listen to
Amos 'n Andy and Fibber McGee,what do I tell Mr. and
Mrs. America about the glorious Japanese Empire?"
"Tell them that the Japanese have only the purest of
intentions. As exemplified by their actions in China, right,
Willie?"
Willie kept his mouth shut."Weren't you in China?" DeGeorge asked Harry."Not
for long."
"What are you going to do?" Willie asked Harry."I
don't know. No good deed goes unpunished, right?"
"You
must leave Japan."
"How? Americans can't even leave town. Maybe Ishigami just
wants to say hello." Harry tried to hoist a smile for Willie's
sake.
"Maybe this whole war scare will just blow over.""You
think so?" asked Willie.
Not
a chance, Harry thought. He had performed one decent act in his
life, and something so out of character was bound to catch up.
Michiko followed Artie Shaw with Benny Goodman, clarinets for the
ages. Goodman was the complete musician: he could cover registers
high and low. In comparison, Shaw was all flash, living at the
higher register, poised for a crash. Harry figured he was more like
Shaw. When he looked at the picture of Ishigami, he was back in
Nanking all over again. Ten Chinese prisoners knelt in the light of
torches, hands tied behind their backs. A corporal ladled water
from a bucket over Ishigami's sword. Ishigami took a practice swing
and left a shining fan of water in the air.
Kimi
shook Harry's shoulder to get his attention. "There's a soldier at
the door."
The
blood left Harry's face as he rose from his chair, expecting the
worst, but it was only a sergeant with a gun, shouting, "Come out,
Lord Kira, wherever you are!"

Excerpted from DECEMBER 6 © Copyright 2002 by Titanic
Productions. Reprinted with permission by Pocket Star, an imprint
of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved, including the right
of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

December 6
by by Martin Cruz Smith

  • Genres: Fiction, World War II Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • ISBN-10: 0671775928
  • ISBN-13: 9780671775926