I’d had earthquake drills every month as a kid. All those years of earthquake drills, preparations for the Big One, and this was it. What was I supposed to do again? Run a bath? Hide under a table? Put a cushion on my head? Go to the school-yard.
How was Emi? Where was she? She must be somewhere far from here. Maybe far from the earthquake. Wherever she was, she would be at school now.
“Come on,” I said to Mr. Blackmore.
“We are going to school. In a disaster, you head to the nearest school-yard.”
I linked arms with Aunt Tanaka, but she pulled away from me.
“Follow the path of the stream to the school. I have to check my shop.”
“It’s everything I have. Take the American. Go now.”
We hurried along the main road away from the station to the gates of Kashiwa Junior High School. Outside the gates a handful of men were smoking. Inside the gates a thousand children lined up by classes in the brown dirt school-yard. Mothers were arriving now with questions about their children at school and husbands at work, trying to get answers on their mobile phones. There were teachers with clipboards, but they didn’t look like they had any more answers than I did.
What had happened? What do we do next? When do we get the all-clear? Who has any answers?
A crack as wide as my hand snaked through the ground in the centre of the school-yard. Mr. Blackmore walked over to it and ran his hands through the dirt.
Then I heard someone shuffling up beside me.
“You two found her yet, Shitpants?”
The hairs on the back of my neck bristled.
Ono was by my side.
“Arai Takahiro, the president, is not happy.”
He cocked his head, then took a black wallet from his shirt pocket and placed a business card on it, with the name facing me.
There was nothing else on the card.
“I give up. Shachou? President? Should I call him Mr. President?”
“You don’t call him anything. He calls you. And he’s pissed off. You are in so much trouble. You don’t trash his car and ignore his orders and get away with it.”
“Have you been following me? Is this all part of your plan?”
“Why can’t you foreigners just do as you’re told?” He grabbed the card from me and scribbled a telephone number on the back.
“Listen up: When you find that girl, you call me. If you find that girl and don’t call me, well…” He cocked his head to one side and patted himself, “…I shouldn’t have to show you this.”
He lifted his shirt. He had a big belly.
“No, you probably shouldn’t show that to anyone.”
He glared at me and sucked it in. Tucked between the gut folds was a gun. A really mean-looking gun.
“Retaliation is the highest form of mourning, baby” he said.
But all I could say was: “Suntory Premium Malts is the highest calorie beer.”
“Shachou said you were a smart ass just like your dad. You have his golden hair. You have to dye it to look Japanese.”
“I am Japanese.”
He grabbed my arm, his fingers brushing my breast as he did. I tried to cower from his touch, but couldn’t pull away. And something else kept me there.
“What do you know about Papa?”
“I don’t know anything. But Shachou knows. He said your dad could never keep his mouth shut.”
“He was a journalist. His job was to tell the truth.”
“Whatever. You’ve got a debt to pay. You’ve got to deliver the girl and bring the $100,000. And you owe me. We didn’t finish what we started last night.”
He was looking over my body. His grip tightened.
The ground started shaking again. Concrete rattled, children screamed.
“Aftershock!” I looked for Mr. Blackmore. Ono’s grip loosened.
I didn’t need a second chance to know there was only one thing to do.
I ran like hell.
Ono lunged after me. But I was free of him, through a crowd of mothers and into the school building before he could catch up to me. All the doors were pinned open, so I ran past the great banks of wooden shoe cubbyholes. I didn’t stop to take off my wooden geta sandals.
“Hey get out of there!” a clipboard-teacher lady yelled, “The building could fall at any moment!”
I clattered through the entrance, jumped over the step into the no-shoe zone, and darted down the dusty corridor looking for a way out. Chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling. I stopped to catch my breath at the end of a corridor. No lights. Cupboard doors banged open and shut and open again from the aftershock. Footsteps came fast behind me. Someone else was wearing shoes. Dust and flecks of paint fell from the ceiling. I couldn’t tell if I was moving or the ground was. Half in control, half out of it.
Half-life, half-death. Which way? Which way out?
I saw natural light through frosted glass, so I pushed the door open. The doorway led to the girls’ toilet. I went in and crouched behind a stall half-door and locked it. Then I thought better of it and unlocked it. It swung open and I climbed onto the toilet seat. If anyone came in and looked under the door, they’d see an unlocked stall with no one inside. No children were here, but I still heard footsteps come up the corridor to the toilet room. The main door opened. I held my breath.
A ceiling tile fell to the floor. The door closed and the footsteps moved on. There was a slim frosted window along the top edge of the ceiling, but it was sealed shut. Another ceiling tile fell.
I was trapped.
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.