“Follow me,” I said, “I’ll take you to Abiko’s best traditional Japanese inn.”
We left the karaoke bar and cut through the empty car park to an unlit side street just wide enough for us to walk side by side.
“Do people ever make fun of your ethnicity, Miss Walker?”
“Do people ever call you bad words, Miss Walker?”
His breath made clouds in the air.
“Oh. Ainoko? It happens. But there are worse things than words.”
“There surely are, there surely are.”
We were standing outside under a wooden sign with peeling paint. Ryokan Tomimasu.
“This is Abiko’s best traditional inn?”
“It’s Abiko’s only traditional inn.”
We climbed a steep hill to the entrance. I pushed open the stubborn wooden sliding front door as silently as I could.
“It’s unlocked?” Mr. Blackmore said in a high voice.
“Japan’s a safe country.”
We stepped in to the sunken genkan entrance hall, a sea of pebbles cemented into the floor. Waiting a step above this on the wooden floor were two pairs of green plastic slippers.
“Welcome to Ryokan Tomimasu.”
A man as tall as Mr. Blackmore waited by the stairs.
“I’m so sorry to arrive so late, and thank you for answering my last-minute call,” I said in Japanese.
“No problem, Walker-san. It’s my job and I am happy to do it. Any other night I might have been asleep. But tonight we are honoured to have the Crown Prince’s brother, Prince Akishino staying for the National Bird Festival tomorrow.”
“A prince? Wow.”
“So, I’m afraid the honoured guest will have to stay in the room down the hall, next to the toilets.”
He looked at Mr. Blackmore and bowed.
“What did he say, Miss Walker?”
“Umm, he said he’s sorry but he put you next to the toilets.”
Mr. Blackmore bowed awkwardly, with his hands together like he was in Thailand.
“Tell him, whatever, as long as there’re pancakes for breakfast and none of that raw egg and little white, black-eyed fish. And definitely none of that rotten bean curd natto that Tomoko used to eat for breakfast.”
“It’s good for you, you know. I bet if you tried it, you’d like it.” He wrinkled his nose.
“The guest would love to have a full Japanese breakfast with natto rice,” I said in Japanese.
“Tell the honoured guest we will give him an extra helping.”
“He’d like that,” I said.
“What did he say?”
“He’ll give you an extra helping.”
“Thanks, Miss Walker, you’re a real lifesaver.”
I looked at my feet, rather than meet Mr. Blackmore’s eyes.
We followed the owner up creaking wooden stairs to the room. It was a mini-version of the downstairs entrance hall. A sliding door with another pebble-floor entrance hall. The straw from the six tatami mats in the room smelled like a field of rice. I showed Mr. Blackmore where to leave his slippers. I didn’t need to unroll the futon for him, Master-san had done it already. He poured some green tea from the pump flask into handle-less cups for us both on a knee-high wooden square table, bowed and left.
I sat on the floor and sipped the tea with both hands, enjoying the warmth.
Mr. Blackmore looked around the room.
“No where to sit, huh?”
He lowered himself to the ground and pushed his legs out. I picked the cup up before his knees hit the table, shaking everything on it. I handed him his cup.
“Thanks, Miss Walker. But tell me, what of your folks? Do you live with them? Aren’t they worried about you out this late with a stranger?”
“I’m used to strangers since Mama died.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“And your dad?”
I breathed in the smell of the tatami mats.
“Papa was a freelance Japan correspondent. That’s what it said on his business card. He said he just wanted ‘Hack’ on his tombstone. But he was hit by a train.
“It was three years ago. Papa used to call me Scoop on account of he reckoned I would have made a great newspaper reporter. That’s the best thing to be in the world, Mr. Blackmore.”
He looked me in the eye.
“I’m not always the most pious man, Miss Walker, but there are some things I’ve come to believe. One of those is that we were put on this Earth to make an effort. Sometimes there is just a moment, a time that is yours, to do the right thing and make everything fall into place. This is your time. This is your moment.”
We were silent.
But a new question bothered me.
“Why don’t you just go to the police?”
He looked up at the ceiling.
“To the Japanese, Tomoko hasn’t broken any laws. She is Japanese, she is the mother. Her daughter is here. I’m the alien. American law holds no sway here. Japan has not signed the Hague Convention. So it doesn’t matter a bit that I’m Emi’s, um, Papa. All she has to do is lie to the courts that I’m some kind of wife-beater.
“To the Japanese, she is a hero for saving her daughter from a foreigner. Never mind that she is breaking U.S. law. Never mind that she took the only thing in this whole world that I ever did right.
“I have three days to find Emi. I have two tickets in my back pocket. One for me. One for her.”
Now I got it.
“You’re asking me to help you kidnap a girl?”
“No. Much more than that. I’m asking you to save my daughter from a fate that’s not hers.”
I had to think this through. And quick. Mr. Blackmore’s eyes were fixed on me. Intense. Confused. Begging. What would Papa do if I were Emi, and he were Mr. Blackmore?
I knew what he would do.
“Mr. Blackmore, I get forgetful and confused. Aunt Tanaka says I don’t know life. But I know what it’s like to have no Papa. And if I can help another girl like me be with hers, I’ll do everything I can to help, but I’m just a girl and I’m only half-Japanese and…”
Mr. Blackmore lifted my chin up and held my face in front of his.
“You are not half of anything,” he said, “you are double, two wholes–Japanese and Western, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You are the way God meant you to be.”
“Thank you. I don’t know about God,” I said, “but I do have a good contact.”
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.