Room 212 was stencilled in gold in flowery handwriting on the Plexiglas door. The room was small but there was just enough space for a plastic sofa, table and TV screen. But no window.
Welcome to the Grande Palace Abiko.
A knock at the door. The waiter was not much older than me, in red coat and tails. “Excuse me… here’s the man you were waiting for,” he said, bowed and backed away. A foreigner filled the door frame.
He was wearing a black cowboy hat.
“You didn’t tell me the Grande Palace was a karaoke joint,” he said. He smiled and stepped in. He had to turn to fit his shoulders into the room.
“You’re Mr. Blackmore?”
“Nice cowboy hat. But it looks kind of out of place.”
He took his hat off and held it in front of his belly, running his fingers around the brim. He looked me over, then he smiled.
“If you don’t mind me saying, miss, you look kind of out of place yourself.”
“Aunt Tanaka says hot pants are good to bring in customers, but I…”
“It’s not that. You remind me of my daughter, is all.”
I fiddled with the karaoke remote control.
“Please, don’t make me sing, Miss Walker.”
“Is that what I should call you? Miss Walker?”
“Most people call me Hana-chan. My Dad called me Scoop. You’re the first person to call me Miss Walker.”
“Then Miss Walker it is. I guess they didn’t tell you much about me at your company, huh?” he said.
“I’m just supposed to pass on messages. Tell the Japanese man at the end of the phone what the American man said.”
He laughed again.
“OK, message girl. Tell the Japanese man this: I need to be on the JAL flight to Seattle this Sunday at 6:30 p.m., with my daughter by my side, or there is no deal.”
“OK. I’m sorry, what’s the deal?”
He turned the hat brim round in his fingers.
“I’ve got to be in Arizona State family court by Monday at 9 a.m. or I lose custody of Emi.”
“Could you tell me the whole story, Mr. Blackmore? I can get a bit confused.”
“No problem,” he said. He sat back and ran a hand through his hair, scraping his knuckles on the wall.
“It was all my fault. I met Tomoko. She was over on a month’s home stay with some neighbours. It was August 1996. She needed help with her English, and I was happy to oblige. Well, truth be told, I’d never seen a girl as cute as her. And I can’t resist a damsel in distress.”
He smiled at me.
“When it was time for her to go home, I just couldn’t stand to see her leave. So I proposed to her right there at the airport. It was a crazy thing to do, but she said yes. She went back home to get her parents’ blessing, but they never gave it. Weren’t too keen on their only daughter marrying a foreigner. One month later she showed up on my doorstep. She’d run away.
“One thing led to another and, well, we were blessed with Emi’s arrival in May of ’97. But it was a mixed blessing. Tomoko never understood how to live in America, and I didn’t notice until it was too late. She never warmed to my friends and family. She bought into the American Dream, but never made the down-payments, you know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t.”
“No, well, she didn’t either. Your head can be in two places, but your body has to be in one. By the time I noticed it wasn’t working, it was too late, way too late to fix. This was years after Emi was born, of course. And by that time, she was shacked up with a Korean fellow she’d known since her home stay.”
I made a note in my head not to choose any Korean pop music if he changed his mind about singing.
“That was grounds for divorce right there, but that was the last thing I wanted, for Emi’s sake. But she insisted. So it went through and the custody hearing was all set. I was prepared to share custody of Emi, but I guess she wasn’t. She ran, which seems to be what she’s good at. Only next thing I know, my daughter didn’t come home from school.
“I spent all night driving around. I called the cops, and they did what one Arizona state trooper for every 300 miles could do—nothing. I was frantic, losing it. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t function. The whole time I had this headache and sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach: She’d taken Emi from me and only the Lord knew where she was.
“Then four days later I heard Emi’s voice on my voice mail. It’s right here.”
He pulled out his phone and held it like a business card in both hands, head bowed. He played the message.
A girl’s tinny voice spoke: “Daddy, don’t worry, I’m on vacation with mommy. We’re going to learn Japanese. Sorry, you can’t come with us. It’s a secret place. I’m going to be studying very hard and then I’m going to fly back home. Love you Daddy, and I… Mommy says we’ve got to go now.”
Mr. Blackmore put the phone in his shirt pocket and toyed with his hat some more.
“Miss Walker. I’m desperate. Please help me. You are my only hope. I can’t do this alone.”
I rubbed my eyes. I had to think what to do. What was the common sense thing?
You could hear screeching coming from the room next door.
“What’s up with them?”
“It’s only Kara.”
“Is it contagious?”
“No, it’s Korean pop music.”
He stuck his eyebrows together.
“Let’s go Mr. Blackmore. Follow me.”
Start the novel from Chapter 1 here or use the next/previous arrow keys to flip through the book.
That was a chapter of Half Life: A Hana Walker Mystery. I’m publishing a chapter a day in sequence on this blog to promote the book. You can buy HALF LIFE as a paperback from Create Space here or as a Kindle download from any Amazon site including links to the book here at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.co.jp.
The sequel, Prime Life, is coming out in the New Year.