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 (8 page)

BOOK: December 6
4.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“It looks like much more than that.”

“That’s because you’re a romantic. You see things through rose-colored glasses. You think I live with Madame Butterfly and that the führer is a Boy Scout leader.”

“You seem to have a high opinion of the Japanese. I heard your speech. Today you said many good things about the Japanese people.”

“They’re not people,” Harry said, “they’re customers. Big difference.”

The palace grounds finally passed behind them, succeeded by an avenue of restaurants and souvenir shops that sold the military flag of a rising sun with sixteen rays. Over the trees to the left stood the cross-beams of an enormous torii gate.

“I’d like you to meet Iris,” Willie said.

“The Chinese schoolmistress Iris? No, thanks. The nicer she is, the less I want to meet her.”

“We’re staying at the Imperial Hotel. Colonel Meisinger says they have a good British tea there in the afternoon. Perhaps we could get together today. With Iris, that is, not Meisinger.”

“I’m a little busy.” If nothing else, Harry had an appointment in Yokohama on a project for the navy. “Were you listening to DeGeorge? There could be a war here before the end of the year.”

“Or maybe not. The British seem to think the Japanese will back down.”

“Beechum told you that?”

“He didn’t have to, I can see for myself. I know you think I am naive, but I was a plant manager in China for five years, and I understand industry. When I see cars and trucks running on charcoal, I know Japan is in no condition to wage war against a country with such a huge industrial base as the United States. The Japanese must understand that.”

“Sounds logical.”

“I hope so.”

Harry decided he had the time to pull over. “You need to see something else.”

The two got out of the car, and Harry led Willie on foot across the road and through a screen of evergreens toward the torii gate they had glimpsed before. No proportions were simpler than the two upright and two horizontal beams, especially those of a giant gate covered in a dull glow of bronze. Around the gate, yellow ginkgo leaves drifted to the ground. On the far side gleamed the gilded eaves of a large shrine, its interior obscured by a white banner with the royal sixteen-petal chrysanthemum design draped above the stairs. The banner breathed like a sail in a light breeze. White doves swooped in and out.

“The Yasukuni Shrine,” Harry said.

“What religion is this?”

“This is Japan. This is the heart. A friend and I used to pick pockets on the subway, then we’d come here and he’d dump his share in the offering box. One day we talked about what we were going to do when we grew up. I was going to be rich. He said what he wanted was to become a soldier so he could die for the emperor. And he got his wish. If you’re captured or surrender, you’re worse than dead, and you shame your family: but if you die fighting, you become a kind of a god, and this is your shrine, along with all the other loyal Japanese who died for their emperors. Since the fighting in China started, there are a hundred thousand new gods here. It used to be fun. There were wrestlers, jugglers, puppets, snake charmers.”

“It still seems popular.”

“Oh, it’s that.”

The shrine provided worship and entertainment. Farm couples reverently arrived in their best clothes and clogs to pray for dead sons, but the path was lined with stalls selling love charms, toy tanks, peanuts, waffles, paper cutouts of cranes, chrysanthemums, yin and yang. Students in uniforms and girls in sailor blouses snaked through the crowd. Soldiers hardly older than schoolboys gorged on sweet potatoes hot from a grill. What caught Willie’s eye were women circulating with white sashes.

“Why is there so much excitement about sashes?”

“Thousand-stitch belts. You get one red stitch each from a thousand women. A soldier who wears one thinks he’s invulnerable, despite all evidence to the contrary. Pilots wear them, which saves a hundred pounds in armor plating.”

“Your friend had such a belt?”

“A big belt. His brother was a sumo.” Harry stopped at a stone basin, scooped the cold water to his lips and dropped coins into the alms box for a joss stick that he lit and planted in the brazier’s sand, pausing to let smoke envelop him. He clapped his hands, lowered his head and maintained a bow. When he straightened up, he asked Willie, “Would you want to fight people like this?”

Harry became aware of a dozen army officers in field uniforms with handguns and full-size samurai swords who had focused on him. Bodyguards, China vets with dark faces and narrow eyes. Usually this sort of scrutiny didn’t bother him, but just the reminder that Ishigami was in Tokyo made Harry feel the impulse to flee. Finally, the officers shifted their gaze and scanned the throng. Guarding whom? Children on their fathers’ shoulders were the first to point to a figure emerging from under the shrine’s billowing sheet. He wore white gloves and army drab, had three stars on his collar and carried his cap in his hands. A row of priests in white miters escorted him, but he had the stride of a man who knew the address of the gods perfectly well by himself.

“General Tojo,” Harry whispered.

“The prime minister?” Willie asked.

“Prime minister
minister of war, a tough parley to beat. He pays his respects most days. Well, he sent a lot of heroes here, he should show up.”

With his bowed legs, shaved head, mustache and spectacles, Tojo fit the bill of a cartoon Japanese. Harry remembered him from the geisha houses in Asakusa as a loudmouth with a big cigar. In fact, what always struck Harry was how un-Japanese Tojo was. Most Japanese strove so hard for modesty they could be virtually inarticulate, while the general had a paranoid’s talent for public ranting. On the other hand, his paranoia was well deserved. There were army officers ready to shoot Tojo because they thought he wasn’t warlike enough. No wonder he had bodyguards.

“A bad sign he’s here?” Willie asked.

“No, it’s normal. A bad sign would be Tojo playing Santa, that would be scary.”

“Do you think he was praying for peace?”

Harry gave the question consideration. “I think he was praying for oil.”


to save a nation of sixty million souls. The Japanese let in few missionaries, including only twenty Southern Baptists, and those with the proviso that they accommodate the state by proving useful as teachers or doctors. They lived in Western houses, ate Western food, learned just enough Japanese to limp through a hymn. They performed good deeds and played bridge and waited for mail from home. All year they looked forward to summer, to well-earned vacations in the cool of the mountains, backgammon on the lawn, rowing on highland lakes, and over time the fiery evangelism they had brought to Japan seemed more and more like some outmoded, slightly ridiculous apparel.

Not Roger and Harriet Niles. To them, evangelism was the pure and ardent task of preaching the Word of God. That was their calling, the reason they had come halfway around the world, and they refused to dilute their time by spending it in a classroom or vaccinating the poor. People derided them as “railroad preachers.” They traveled the country from Kagoshima in the south to snowbound Hokkaido, and anytime Roger could corner a group on a ferry or train, he would bring out his Bible and Harriet would translate his message in her halting Japanese. They even moved Harry and his uncle Orin from the safe embrace of the Methodists’ compound to the rough streets of Asakusa to be more authentic and closer to the population they were trying to reach.

Still, for all their sacrifices, preaching to the Japanese was like trying to cleave water. The Japanese would smile, bow and say anything to move a gaijin along. Or would accept Jesus as a mere backup to Buddha. The truth was that for all their efforts, while Christian missions gathered converts by the millions in China and Korea, missions in Japan were a failure. Not just Baptists, all missions. It was for Roger, however, a personal failure, a crown of thorns sharp with mockery. He and Harriet would return to Tokyo exhausted only to see Orin wasted by drink, and their son Harry a sort of amphibian, neither honest nor stupid, neither adult nor innocent, neither American nor Japanese.

Harry found his parents’ visits like sharing quarters with the hounds of hell. It was embarrassingly clear when the family attended services how little of Harry the congregation had seen. Harry had the Bible down, though. The wild-eyed revelations of Saint John the Divine were Scripture Harry had memorized as an insurance policy for whenever his father examined him about the condition of his soul or the imminence of Judgment Day. All the same, Harry’s every word and move were followed by eyes quick to catch any deviation from a norm that was alien to him. He didn’t remind Roger and Harriet of themselves. He preferred sandals to shoes, samurai to cowboys, raw fish to red meat. Harry didn’t bring home tow-haired friends to play with; he didn’t bring friends at all, because he wasn’t going to expose his parents to a gang that included the unwashed Kaga twins or a criminal-in-training like Tetsu. So Roger and Harriet were only too happy to accept an invitation to Fourth of July celebrations at the American embassy. The entire American community would be there. It would be like going home.

Came the Glorious Fourth, and the embassy garden was decorated with bunting and paper lanterns in red, white and blue. On the terraces, Japanese staff in kimonos with American-eagle crests set out tables of tea sandwiches, deviled eggs, cucumber salad, sweet pickles, angel food cake and lemonade. Adults followed a path edged in azaleas to join a champagne reception in the ambassador’s residence, a white clapboard house and porch that could have been found in Ohio. Outside, children were entertained by blindman’s buff and potato-sack races across the lawn.

“This is actually American territory, Harry,” Harriet said.

“We’re in Japan.”

“Yes,” Roger Niles said, “but legally an embassy is the territory of the country of the ambassador. The American ambassador runs things here.”

“The emperor rules all Japan.”

“Not here,” Roger said.

Harriet said, “You’re in America just as if you were standing at the Washington Monument. And look, American kids.”

Harry was miserable. All the other American children in Tokyo went to the AmericanSchool. He didn’t know them and he didn’t want to know them. Dressed in a new suit and oxfords, he felt as if he were in disguise. Also, it was embarrassing to see how pleased his mother was to visit the embassy. She believed that the special events in life were like a sachet in a suitcase, it sweetened the clothes and didn’t make the luggage one bit heavier. Besides, after a year of traveling among strangers, it was a relief for her to be patriotic, to be an American among Americans. She squinted up to admire how the Stars and Stripes basked in the rays of descending sun. There were supposed to be fireworks in the evening and skits performed by the kids. What Harry was going to do, he wouldn’t say.

Except for Episcopalians, who were practically Catholic anyway, missionaries abstained from champagne and stayed outside by the lemonade. Baptist families joined a circle of Synod of Christ, Dutch Reformed and Methodists.

Roger Niles took the opportunity to ask the group, “You know what makes me sick?”

There was an uneasy pause. Niles had a reputation for zeal.

“What makes you sick, dear?” Harriet asked.

“The holier-than-thou act the China missions always pull. As if we were in league with the devil just because our call is in Japan.”

“True,” a Methodist minister named Hooper allowed. “We get it, too.”

“Well, I wouldn’t trade today for anything in China,” Harriet said. “What about you, Harry?”

“China is old and backward. Japan can help China back on its feet.” Harry had learned that at school.

“America can help China back on its feet,” Hooper said softly.

“Sometimes I think what Harry needs is a trip back home,” Roger said. “Would you like that, Harry, a good, long visit back home?”

“I am home.” Harry didn’t know much about Louisville, but he doubted that it measured up to Tokyo.

“Your real home,” Harriet said.

“Our folks have never seen Harry,” Roger told the others. “Harry, you have a lot of cousins you don’t even know.”

Harry had seen snapshots of them. The boys, slouching, buttoned to the neck, were always arrayed in ascending height before signs like


. The girls had round eyes and dull, stringy hair just like the girls at the embassy.

A line of elderly Japanese guests cut through to reach the refreshments. Roger Niles said, “Look, they don’t even beg your pardon. Typical.”

Because they know you can’t speak Japanese, Harry thought, surprised by his own scorn. He’d heard his parents try.

“Maybe Harry needs to get out there and mix,” Hooper suggested. “My son would be happy to introduce him to the other boys.”

What Harry had planned to do was go along the river with Gen and catch fireflies they could sell to geisha houses at ten sen apiece for firefly lamps. It had rained in the morning, and a clear night after wet weather made fireflies rise so thick that a good catcher could fill a paper sack, both hands and his mouth with captive flies. Instead, a shorter boy in a baseball cap was leading him to a game of tug-of-war being refereed by two embassy clerks.

The boy gave Harry a skeptical examination. “My name is Roy, but my friends call me Hoop. What’s your name?”

“Oishi,” Harry said.

“Oishi? That doesn’t sound American.”

“Who said it was?” Still, Harry was amazed. “You never heard of the Forty-seven Ronin?”

“No. I’m going to recite ‘Casey at the Bat’ for entertainment. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to disappear.”

The clerks each had fat cheeks and shiny, lubricated hair. They arranged tug-of-war teams on either side of the embassy’s reflecting pool, smaller boys to the middle of the rope, larger boys at the ends. When one side had the advantage, the other side was dragged into the water. Almost immediately Roy Hooper lost his baseball cap in the pool, and Harry’s oxfords were soaked. By his third time in the water, Harry saw by the smirks on their faces that the larger boys on each side were having fun pulling and giving way by turns, staying dry while boys in front got drenched. The same poorly concealed smile spread through the clerks, a collusion of the strong against the weak. Harry found the cap, filled it with scummy water, marched to the last on the rope, a robust boy in a Hawaiian shirt with a patch of beard on his chin, and stuffed the cap over his head. The boy hit Harry so hard he collapsed like an accordion, but he hung on to the boy’s arm and dragged him to the ground. When the boy got on top, Harry head-butted him and bit his nose.

“Fight fair!” The clerks pulled the two up.

The bigger boy swung at Harry who ducked under the punch, grabbed him by the shirt and threw him down to the ground. It was what Harry had trained to do at school for years.

“Dirty fighter, are you?” someone said as Harry was pulled off again, but he broke free and ran for the trees and azaleas that screened the lawn from the street. The clerks got a late jump, and by the time they reached the trees, Harry was halfway up a pine and out of their sight. Their footsteps tramped around the needles.

“A missionary kid, can you believe that?”

“Almost bit his nose off, Jesus!”

“Probably went over the wall, the little son of a bitch.”

Roger Niles’s voice joined in. “Do you know where my son went?”

“No, sir. But it’s getting dark and he could be anywhere now.”

“Harry? Harry?”

“I wouldn’t worry, sir. An American boy in Tokyo, where’s he going to go?”


“Got to go set up the fireworks, sir.”

“Kind of a wild boy there, sir.”

Two pairs of footsteps retreated. Roger Niles tramped back and forth calling Harry’s name for another minute before he left. Harry heard one more set of steps slip between the trees, then his mother’s voice. “Harry, I know we don’t see you as much as we would like, but I do feel you are a special child, that you are protected like Moses was protected even in a frail cradle of reeds. That an angel watches over you and that you may seem a prince of Egypt when you are truly something even better. Could you come out now, Harry, wherever you are? For the love of your mother, could you do that, Harry?”

But Harry noticed that one branch of the tree he was in reached over the embassy wall to the garden next door, a rich man’s garden banked with willows and maples, fountains of artfully worn stones and, over a pool, a haze of flickering yellow-green lights. As soon as his mother was gone, Harry climbed out on the branch and dropped into the garden.

The back of the house was a long balcony of summer screens made of threaded reeds, none lit from within that Harry could see. He slid a panel open and automatically slipped off his wet shoes before moving onto the mats of a richly spare room with a painted scroll hanging by a cedar post. Red lacquered sake cups seemed to float on a low table as black as ink.

“What are you doing here?”

Harry jumped, but it was only Roy Hooper at the open panel. Harry was surprised but turned the question around. “What are you doing here?”

“Following you.”

“Then take off your shoes.”

Harry moved from room to room. The owner had to be very rich judging by the screens of gold leaf and shelves of fine china that glowed in the shadows. Harry rummaged until he found a large glass jar with a perforated lid in the kitchen and black cotton cloth in a linen drawer.

“Are you stealing?” Roy Hooper asked.

“Don’t be stupid. Just taking what I need.”

By the time they returned to the garden, they heard the machine-gun report of firecrackers from the embassy and saw the occasional rocket zip high enough to be seen above the wall, followed by homesick renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Down by the Old Mill Stream.” Meanwhile, Harry and Roy Hooper caught fireflies.

Around the pond were maples, dwarf pines and pillows of moss where fireflies swarmed in luminescent clouds. The darker the evening grew, the easier they were to see. Fireflies spread like a pulsating carpet over the damp grass, congregated under a drooping mulberry, spangled the water. Roy Hooper would hold the jar while Harry caught a firefly with both hands and gently blew it through the mouth of the jar. Brooms were another good way to carry fireflies, and a broom could look like a jeweled fan but wouldn’t serve for this instance. Caught, fireflies flashed brighter in distress. Crushed, they emitted a burning green. In half an hour the glass jar was a glowing ball of captives, at least ten yen’s worth at a geisha house, and Harry wrapped it in the black cloth to carry back over the wall.

The entertainment had just concluded when Harry and Roy Hooper returned. A couple hundred guests were still gathered on the lawn in the red, white and blue illumination of lanterns. The diplomatic corps sat in chairs that had begun to settle and list in the soft turf. Babies slept in their fathers’ arms. A whiff of sulfur hung in the air.

“The prodigal sons,” announced the clerk functioning as master of ceremonies. “Too bad they missed out on all the fun.”

“They had sparklers,” Harriet told Harry. “You know how you love sparklers.”

“What have you got there?” Roger Niles asked. In the dark, despite its black cover, a faint halo surrounded the jar.


“It’s something worth making fools of us,” his father said. “Let’s see.”

“Let’s all see,” the clerk picked up.

Roy Hooper’s knees went soft as he felt the clamp of his father’s hand.

“I’m disappointed in you,” Reverend Hooper hissed.

“Or I’ll send you home to Louisville,” Roger told Harry under his breath. “I swear it.”

“It’s for the entertainment,” Harry said.

“The entertainment is over,” Roger said.

The clerk said, “One more act, that’s fine with us. Isn’t that fine, folks? This is a very different boy here. I bet he’s got real different entertainment.”

There was scattered applause in general, a snigger from the boy with a bandage on his nose. It was getting late. Most people wanted to go home. The ambassador yawned and fell into an expression of such boredom he could have been watching from the moon.

BOOK: December 6
4.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Good Neighbor by A. J. Banner
Hillerman, Tony by The Great Taos Bank Robbery (rtf)
Caveman by Andrian, V.
The Renegade Merchant by Sarah Woodbury
Term Limits by Vince Flynn
The Blackmailed Bride by Kim Lawrence
Fire In the Kitchen by Donna Allen