Read December 6 Online

Authors: Martin Cruz Smith

Tags: #Fiction, #Smith, #Attack on, #War & Military, #War, #Pearl Harbor (Hawaii), #War Stories, #1941, #Americans - Japan, #Thriller, #Mystery, #Historical - General, #Tokyo (Japan), #Fiction - Espionage, #Martin Cruz - Prose & Criticism, #Historical, #Thrillers, #World War, #1939-1945 - Japan - Tokyo, #American Mystery & Suspense Fiction, #General, #Suspense Fiction

December 6 (7 page)

BOOK: December 6
11.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Harry knew enough to be silent.

Yoshitaki said, “At the beginning of my career, I was at sea for years at a time, sometimes alone on virtual wrecks, no room for a dog or a cat, but I kept a beetle in a jar. One beetle for four years. Two ships went down under me, and I swam away with that jar each time. A good friend.”

“Did it have a name?” Harry asked.


“A world conqueror of a beetle.”

“I liked to think so. And the name of your beetle?”

“Oishi,” Harry came up with.

“The faithful samurai? Very good.”

Those few words were enough. The sight of a legend like Yoshitaki conversing with Harry Niles in such a familiar manner had an immediate effect. As soon as Yoshitaki departed, other members queued to add their thanks for such an incisive, sympathetic analysis. Bankers who would have crossed the street to avoid him the day before proffered their business cards. Harry bowed, read each card with grave attention, placed it in a lacquered card case, bowed again, mumbling as humbly as possible.

The president of Nippon Air oozed tact and satisfaction, like a maître d’ leading a favored customer to the best table in the house. “As you know, on Monday, Nippon Air is reinstituting international flights to Hong Kong. We think this will help establish a sense of normality and confidence in the region. There will be press and photographers. Just an overnight at the Matsubara Hotel in Hong Kong and then a return. A number of your compatriots are asking to be on that flight, but you can appreciate how important it is that our foreign passengers be truly reliable friends of Japan.”

“I certainly do.” “Reliable” meant that the son of a bitch was smart enough to praise Japan on the way to Hong Kong and dumb enough to come back.

“I think you have alleviated any concerns about your reliability this morning.”

“Thank you.” Harry added a bow and held his breath.

“So,” the president of Nippon Air let his words fall to a whisper of snowflakes, “you might be able to make yourself available on Monday? Haneda Field at noon. We will be flying a new DC-3. No tickets necessary. I, personally, will put you on the passenger list. Does this please you?”

“It pleases me to have earned your trust.” Gone like a greased weasel, Harry thought.

Only when Mr. Nippon Air was done did other guests approach.

“How does it feel,” Beechum asked, “to be the most despised white man in Asia?”

“Pretty good this morning, thanks.”

“Your ‘fellow Americans’? I doubt you’ve been to America for a year in your entire life. A cute performance. That ought to buy the Happy Paris another month’s protection. You’re the sort that in England we would drag through the streets behind a horse.”

“Is that the England of bad food and good canings?”

The smell of Beechum’s bay rum was more intense the warmer he grew. Harry had never seen the man with so much spit and personality before. “You think your friends look so good against coolies. Just watch when the little yellow Johnnies go up against the guns in Singapore.”

“‘Yellow Johnnies’? That doesn’t sound like diplomatic language to me.”

Beechum said, “I for one hope they do give it a go. This entire circus will be over in a week, and then where will you be?”

“The next circus, I suppose.”

“Not when we’re done with you. Because there will come a day,” Beechum promised. “There will come a day.”

Willie motioned that he would wait outside, but Meisinger, the Gestapo chief, shook Harry’s hand and went right to the point. “You didn’t mention Jews.”

“Didn’t I?”

“So-called refugees. You haven’t noticed them?”

“You know the truth? The truth is that in Japan, all Westerners look pretty much alike.”

“Impossible,” Meisinger said.

“Stick around.”

Well, that was probably not appreciated, Harry thought, but if you even pretended to be friendly to someone like Meisinger, you ended up with the Butcher of Warsaw singing the Horst Wessel song in the Happy Paris. Harry didn’t think he was willing to suffer that, and he knew Michiko wouldn’t.

“They’ve got a little list, Harry,” Hooper said as Meisinger marched away. The American attaché was a gangly, brush-cut man with a bow tie and an empathetic smile. “A speech for the Japanese? Are you totally nuts?”

“Who’s got a list?”

“Everyone’s got a list, Russians, British, Germans. We have a list. Not to mention the Japanese. You’ve made enemies everywhere.”

“Just throwing light on the international scene.”

“Fuel on the fire. Harry, what’s going to happen is going to happen. You and I can’t affect anything at this point, and unless you have some way of disappearing magically from the scene, I suggest you pull your head in. You’re still doing asset searches for the Japanese?”

“I might look through a dusty ledger or two.”

“It’s called colluding with the enemy.”

“Hoop, we’re not at war yet.”

“I hate that nickname. Anyway, if things do blow up in your face and you find yourself running for your life, I’m supposed to tell you not to come to the American embassy.”

“Have I ever gone to the embassy?”

“So you know. They don’t consider you American.”

“Hoop, I always knew that.”

Harry was feeling good, feeling great. Once again, his luck had come through. Who would have thought a beetle was the way to Yoshitaki’s heart? But had he transgressed in his speech? Had he crossed a certain unforgivable line? Didn’t matter, Harry was walking on air. By the time he made it to the street, Willie was waiting with DeGeorge, whose taxi wasn’t going anywhere soon. The driver poured fresh charcoal into the top of the furnace and cranked a fan.

“Like riding a fucking hibachi,” DeGeorge said.

“I wish the readers of
The Christian Science Monitor
could hear the language of their illustrious reporter,” Harry said.

“Last-minute plea for peace, my ass.”

“’Japan’s Business Leaders Friendly to America,’ I think that’s your headline right there.”

“A goddamn apology for war. It’s happening, isn’t it? I saw you talking to the head of Nippon Air. Any word about the plane to Hong Kong?”

“Why would he tell me?”

“I don’t know.” DeGeorge turned to Willie. “All I know is that Harry is Mr. Connected and Protected. One day we’re going to look around and Harry will be down the rabbit hole, and that’ll be one day too fucking late for the rest of us.”

“I never know if you use ‘fucking’ as an adverb or an adjective,” Harry said. “I guess that’s why you’re the Pulitzer Prize winner and I’m not.”

“Fuck you. I’m going to meet Beechum. Get the British embassy’s reaction to this defeatist bullshit.” DeGeorge gave his taxi a final glance and turned back to Harry. “Give me a ride?”

could produce days like this, spells of crystalline sunlight and the smell of citrus, smudged this winter by charcoal smoke. Willie sat in front with Harry and rolled down his window as they headed west along the turgid, pea-green moat that wrapped around the imperial castle. All traffic in the center of the city had to go around the palace. No street ran through it, subway under it or air route over it, and no nearby building could even be built high enough to look down on the divine presence, so the city revolved around a powerful absence, a flat green mountain, a hole, the idea of a hidden, undisturbed, jewel-like virtue. Even the castle presented a trick of perspective, the enormous, closely fitted stones made so low by the angle and length of the walls that imperial guards standing at the base, their rifles in white parade socks, looked like toy figures. All that was visible over the walls of the palace itself was a hint of curved eaves and tiled roofs behind a red tracery of maples. The moat was famous for its golden carp. As a boy, Harry would pay ten sen for a paper scoop at a goldfish tank and try to capture as many fish as possible before the paper fell apart, believing this established some sort of connection between himself and the Son of Heaven.

They passed a bus that had slowed so riders could remove their hats and bow in the direction of the emperor.

Willie said, “In spite of China, this seems quite wonderful to me. Serene, as you said.”

“Serene?” DeGeorge had a laugh like the scrape of a shovel. “Hey, they assassinated three prime ministers in sixteen years. Murder, incorporated, doesn’t have a record like the Japs, so ‘serene’ may not be the right word. Things are going to pop, the only question is when. The man who names the day just walks in and picks up that Pulitzer, right, Harry?”

“Could be.”

“They’re holding last-ditch negotiations in Washington that are going nowhere.” DeGeorge leaned forward to Willie’s ear. “Napoleon’s army ran on its stomach, armies today run on their gas tanks. April a year ago, the Japs bought three times their usual amount of oil from the States. Roosevelt made a big show of cutting the Japs off of East Coast oil and sending it to England. Didn’t matter, the Japs just bought all the oil on the West Coast. And aviation fuel? As much as we could sell. Not to mention steel and scrap iron. The Jap navy is built out of old Fords and Frigidaires. All the time, of course, FDR was starting to build three times as many tanks and battleships. Then, this July, we cut them off, no oil, no rubber, no steel, no nothing. There comes a certain point when the Japs are as strong as they’re going to get, and every day from then on they’re weaker. That’s when the shooting starts. I figure we’re there just about now.”

Harry stopped the car at the stone pillars and wrought-iron gates of what looked like a pocket version of BuckinghamPalace, right down to a lion and unicorn in the center of the pediment. The Embassy of His Britannic Majesty had hedges and potted froufrou around the courtyard, where some staff had changed to cricket whites to toss a ball back and forth. Now, there was a stiff upper lip, playing fields of Eton and all that stuff, Harry thought.

DeGeorge swung out of the car and leaned in the window on Harry’s side. “I’d ask you in, Harry, but I don’t think you’d get past the door. I mean, the Japs have a point, everyone has a point. But I’m like you, I have newspapers to sell.”

“So you’re going to write that Beechum says I’m the lowest form of life on earth?”

“Nothing personal. I know you understand. What I’m worried about is Michiko. She reads something like this and she’ll cut my balls off.”

“Michiko is not a faithful reader of the Monitor.” Harry put the Datsun in gear. “She doesn’t even know you’re a reporter, she just thinks you’d paint your ass and screw apes for free sherry.”

“Well, fuck you, Harry,” DeGeorge shouted as the car drove off. “Just fuck you.”

“The Brits love it when you scream obscenities on their driveway,” Harry said to Willie. “They’ll ask DeGeorge back again and again.” He noticed that Willie still seemed unsettled, although they had just visited such a lovely embassy, and on the opposite side of the boulevard, the imperial moat continued along a landscape of maples russet and orange. “Sorry. I told you last night it probably wasn’t such a good idea for you to be seen with me.”

“I understand.”

“It’s not that I don’t enjoy seeing you, and I’m grateful for the warning about Ishigami, but I’m on kind of a schedule. Anyway, all good Germans should be getting out as fast as they can.”

“It’s not as simple as that.”

“What’s the problem? Short of money? Something personal?” Harry waited while Willie cleared his throat, then again: once too often. “Don’t tell me it’s a woman.”

“It is a woman.”

“Don’t tell me it’s a Chinese woman, you’re not that stupid. You know better. Willie, I will take silence as confession.” Harry glanced over. “Oh, boy.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“So far, I’m guessing pretty good. I thought you had a haus and hausfrau back in Berlin.”


“Good old Dresden, where they serve that beer and salted herring you’ve pined for for so long. Don’t complicate things, Willie. If you’re out of China and you’re alive, you’re ahead of the game.”

“She’s a teacher.”

“She could be Madame Curie for all the good that’s going to do either of you. She’s waiting for word from you? She’s safe in Shanghai? Hong Kong? I can get money to her if that’s the problem. You just get yourself back to Germany while you can.”

“I brought her with me.”

“That’s not the answer I hoped for. She has a transit visa?”


“Then how did you bring her? She would have to be family. Willie, Willie, tell me you didn’t do it.”

“We’re married.”

Harry found his flask. “And the little dirndl back in Dresden?”

“She remarried a year ago. She got tired of waiting.”

“Apparently so did you.” Good Scotch was wasted on the headache Harry was developing. He had to get something to eat. “Willie, if you wanted a woman, you could have bought one in Shanghai for five dollars, ten dollars for a Russian. Want to be a saint about it? When you leave the country, you throw in a bonus hundred and you’ve earned your clean good-bye.”

“It’s not like that. She is a teacher. Harry, there are times I could kill you myself.”

“Ishigami’s got the corner on that. You’re going to take the new Mrs. Staub to Germany? I know you’re a fervent Nazi, but have you ever actually read
Mein Kampf?

“Of course I have. I have read all the führer’s works.”

“Did you happen to read the part about Asians being subhuman, or were you stuck with the special Asian edition of the book?”

“I don’t remember any derogatory reference to Asians.” Willie accepted the flask. He had that disappointed look again, Harry thought, the wounded Lohengrin.

“I’m just saying it’s possible that your bride may be a little uncomfortable residing among the master race.”

Willie said, “I came to you for advice because you also have such a relationship and it seems successful.”

“What relationship?”

“You and Michiko.”


“You seem to be together.”

Like two people with drawn knives, Harry thought. “In a sense. But our relationship is based on something more solid than love. It’s based on business, on the Happy Paris. She draws a crowd, I make money, I pay her.”

BOOK: December 6
11.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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