05:03

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

I could smell the pancakes Mama was cooking downstairs, the butter that had just started to melt. Maple syrup was on the table. Mick Jagger was on the stereo. “Baby won’t you live with me?” Papa was going through a pile of papers on the kitchen table, tossing the sections on fashion, gardening, travel. He only scanned the news pages of a dozen papers until the books section of The New York Times and sports section of The Observer remained.
“Sleep well, Scoop?”
“No, Papa. Why did you do it? Why did you kill yourself? It doesn’t make sense.”
“You want a coffee? I gotta get coffee, I can barely keep my eyes open.”

***

“What?”
I was sweating but it was cold. It was the same old dream. I always woke up before I got any answers. I opened my eyes. I was sitting in the passenger seat of a tin car just like the one I’d seen get swallowed by the sea on TV. When was that? An hour ago, yesterday, a week ago? Had it been a dream too?
A man in a cowboy hat was sitting in the driving seat next to me. Mr. Blackmore. I hadn’t told him Emi was dead. I hadn’t told him this car wasn’t mine. But he had put his faith in me and was prepared to drive into the tsunami zone for his daughter. Her Mama wasn’t.
That had to mean something.
It was light out, but only just. Half-light in a grey car park.
“This isn’t Ishinomaki,” I said.
“It’s Yamoto highway rest area. We should be 10 km from downtown Ishinomaki. From here on in, who knows what we’ll find? But we are going to get that little girl of mine back.”
I looked away out of the window. There was no one around. Nothing to see.
“Right, that’s what we’re here for,” I said.
I couldn’t bear to tell him what I knew, but I couldn’t bear not to.
“Listen,” I said, “I want you to know that I’m grateful for you sticking with me after what I said in the text message. It means a lot to me you put your faith in me. I’m not used to people sticking with me, but there’s something you should know. It’s difficult, but… it’s Emi… I don’t know how to say this, but…
“…but you think she’s dead, right?”
“Yes. The TV said so.”
“She’s not dead. I have to believe that. God didn’t let us come all this way for that to be true. Text message? Haven’t gotten a signal since the big one. We don’t always know what is happening, we don’t have all the answers. There’s a greater power at work that we can’t see. All we see are the details, we’re not supposed to know how it fits together, we just do what we do. You don’t think we got this far just by chance do you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, don’t sweat the details. I need some coffee, then we find Emi.”
“Right.” I said.
We got out of the car and walked to two vending machines by a toilet block. The coffee was sickly sweet and made my stomach turn. I held the can in my hand to warm my fingers.
“I’ve seen the pictures on TV, Hana. There’s a lot of death and destruction. The country’s under attack, but you can’t believe everything you see on TV. The truth is, there is a girl in Ishinomaki that we have to find. She may not be there. She doesn’t belong here. And we will bring her back. There is no reason for her to be here.”
No reason for an earthquake. No reason why Papa would kill himself on a commuter line on the way to the biggest story of his life. No reason why I was in Ishinomaki and not serving ramen. No reason it was me on the case instead of someone who knew what she was doing.
“Is there a reason for any of this?” I said.
“There can be only one reason… it’s a test.”
“A test?”
He threw his empty can into a recycle bin.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I know this is a test. To find out if we are good people. I failed every test I ever did in school, and I failed in my marriage. But this is one I can’t fail. This is the big one. Please. She’s a 14-year-old girl. You said you know which school she went to, right?”
“Minato Junior High School.”
“Then let’s go there now. And time to waste is a luxury none of us has.”
He turned from me and studied a tourist information map on the wall of the toilet block. There were cartoon children on it, jumping with smiling whales splashing in the sea.
“Route 240 goes by the coast. It’s probably been destroyed. Route 6 is the only other way in, but there is a bridge over the estuary. The school is near by. We’ll go as far as we can. Let’s find her.”
I believed we would. We got back in the car and followed the signs for Route 6.
“What’s that smell?” Mr. Blackmore said.
“Sorry, I brought some natto rice balls for the trip. They’re good for you…”
“No, it’s not that. It’s something worse. Something outside.”
It got worse as we drove on.

***

Start the novel from Chapter 1 here or use the next/previous arrow keys to flip through the book.

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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.

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