Part the Sixth—
“Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all”
—“Say Something,” Justin Timberlake
It had been a small white vitamin pill, which was new to her daily regimen, that John had given to her with her morning orange juice. The cramping had started within the hour and she had to cancel her bridge game with some of the other prominent ladies in the neighborhood. Rose put her to bed with chocolate and even brought in the radio so she could listen to Brahms.
Juliana knew what had happened. Her third child had been lost.
Thomas wasn’t feeling well and John was keeping something from her. Juliana would sometimes watch the boy but she could only catch bouts of tiredness and the occasional time he would become clumsy. She really didn’t understand medicine and she thought the doctor should have picked it up, but apparently he hadn’t.
She had been dull since she had lost the child. Rose had been ordered to return all gifts to the Imperial Embassy. Sometimes Juliana hadn’t even known that they had come. When her birthday came and went without any form of a phone call or a letter, she snuck out of the house at night and went to the train station.
A Japanese man in a suit immediately approached and bowed to her, offering her a bouquet of roses.
“Why didn’t you come to the house?” she asked in Japanese, her confusion obvious. Taking the roses, she saw that there was a note with one word on it: scita.
“We are not welcome there, Misaki-san,” he answered coolly. “The Chief Inspector wanted to remember your birthday.”
Yes, she was twenty-five with three children lost. “Could you tell him something for me? I would write, it’s only.”
“Of course, Misaki-san.”
She paused and thought for a moment. “The first to a bomb. The second to a doctor. The third to a Nazi pill.” Her blue eyes flashed up. “I would be most appreciative.”
The man looked at her for a long time and then reached into his jacket pocket and produced a little notepad where he took notes. “I understand. He will know by lunch tomorrow in the Japanese Pacific States.”
She nodded to him and smelled her roses. Takeshi knew how much she loved roses. They reminded her of the first time he had sought her out. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Juliana desperately wanted to be back in the Pacific States.
Stepping forward, she whispered, “Most honorable one, I do not know your position, but if I should need to defect again, would the Japanese government let me? I was advised to defect for my safety and I realize it is still in danger—”
“We are aware you are wanted by the Resistance though not why,” he stated calmly. “The kempeitai are not always candid. We know you are a race traitor, but we know this is a title of honor among us, Misaki-san.”
Juliana looked at him in surprise. “I don’t understand. I never knew—”
“Perhaps not here.”
She had been surprised when she was taken to quite a nice restaurant. She was dressed as a Japanese woman with a Japanese man—in the American Reich, which was a bit peculiar. The man, who had yet to identify himself, told the waiter that it was the lady’s birthday and he wished to order champagne from France, courtesy of the Imperial Embassy. He was referred to as “your excellency.”
“Surely you are not the ambassador,” she opened with as they waited, their menus discard. “Even an admiral would not send you on such an errand.”
“It was not my understanding that an admiral had.”
She looked down at her perfectly manicured fingers. “Perhaps not, excellency. Still, I admit myself perplexed. Will you please clarify the matter?”
“I am the junior ambassador. The individual in question is an old wartime comrade. I personally took the commission because I understand the importance. You understand he is a widower now.”
Her breath sucked in. “Thank you for informing me, excellency. I hope his son is well, although I understand he is in Japan.”
“Akihito is in the care of his aunt. I understand he mourns though he knew this was an eventuality.”
Juliana nodded and waited when the champagne arrived and was presented to them. When it was poured with great ceremony and she ordered the halibut, she took a sip and breathed out through her nose. “It is kind of you to celebrate my birthday, excellency. I told Obergruppenfuhrer Smith I wanted little fuss but that was because I am in a strange country and I miss home. I want rice and salted fish and sake, the sound of Japanese singing in the background. I have none of my old phonographs.”
“The last I can rectify,” he promised, after taking a sip of his own champagne. “Although you probably already know, the Obergruppenfuhrer will be displeased. I am surprised he has not destroyed your Japanese dresses.”
“I expect it daily,” she admitted. “However, they were a gift from our mutual friend.”
He nodded. “It is important that our women embody the ideals of the Empire. There are many who believe while the upper echelons of society, the nobility, our imperial family, for instance, will remain pure of blood, that is not necessarily the same for the military or our foreign service. We live among the white man, we see the strength of them along with their weaknesses. There is a certain beauty to you that some of us can see. You are a perfect example, Misaki-san. You willingly took a Japanese name until you were compelled to take a white man’s name again. You adopted our dress, our food, I understood you worked for a high level official, you were discrete in the ways of a Japanese woman, and your eyes could inspire songs.”
She blushed and lowered her head in submission.
“And I understand you studied aikido to great personal gain. You felled your opponents in every match. Do not think our mutual friend did not have your sensei make reports on your progress.”
Taking another sip of her wine, she confessed, “I was learning to play the shamisen and sing. It was to be a surprise for our mutual friend. I cannot practice here, of course, and there will probably not be a chance for me to display any skill I might gain. You must understand that I did everything to make him comfortable in my home.”
“Everything but give your cat a Japanese name,” the junior ambassador noted.
Juliana laughed. “I had thought of ‘Ayase’,” she admitted, “but then the veterinarian told me the poor creature was a female and I was rather caught off guard. I decided to name the cat after a great emperor. I thought it might be fitting.”
He inclined his head to her.
“We are being observed.”
She did not move her gaze from him. “Then we are most likely being recorded. It is best to pretend we don’t notice. They’ll know when they replay the tapes that we are entirely aware, excellency. We can speak of pleasantries, of our mutual friend in the broadest of terms, of Japan even, and celebrate my birthday.”
“May I ask, Misaki-san,” he questioned as their meals were served, “how many years have you?”
She laughed again as she picked up her fork, wishing for chopsticks. “Twenty-five. It’s quite horrible. I should be married with children. I almost had children, but it was impossible given the situation, junior ambassador.”
“Perhaps not in the future,” he suggested as a complimentary bottle of soy sauce was placed on the table to Juliana’s delight. “I do not know your name here in the American Reich. I was given your Japanese name, your address, your general movements, and a photograph of you drinking tea with our mutual friend.”
Juliana smiled to herself. “I am quite fond of that photograph. I have a copy of it here in my room at Obergruppenfuhrer Smith’s house. I paid a member of my aikido class to take it for me. I am Alexa Smith. Alexa for the cat our mutual friend gave me for an earlier birthday. The Obergruppenfuhrer was kind enough to give me his name when he accepted me into his household.”
“Perhaps he wishes it to be permanent?” he suggested. He played with his rice. The junior ambassador had also ordered the fish, which came on a bed of rice. “Or, perhaps, he wishes to make a beneficial alliance through marriage and you have become the only marriageable daughter in his family.”
She chewed her food for several long moments, thinking of her answer. “He accepted my past for what it was, but he is not tolerant of my continued association with Japanese officials, especially our mutual friend.”
“That is unfortunate,” the junior ambassador returned. “You could be an asset.”
Juliana glanced at him. He was younger than Takeshi, perhaps not by much, and his face was certainly not as harsh, but there was a firmness to him. He was pleasant enough to be a diplomat, but certainly not one to cross.
“I was in the employ of a high-ranking official in the Nippon Building before I defected. I was the face of the white man. My duties were to greet Nazi officials so that they would feel more comfortable in the Pacific States, as well as serve them. It was not an arduous position, but it was important.”
He paused and put down his fork, looking at her. “You must have found the dichotomy of your life interesting. Outside of your work, you were encouraged to be as Japanese as possible, and yet at the Nippon Building you were to be the embodiment of the white man.”
She grimaced. “The irony was not lost on me. However, my employer was a good and spiritual man. I held a great respect for him. I still hold a great respect for him. I regret leaving his employ without giving an explanation or informing him of my gratitude. I am certain he—knew—of my life outside of the Nippon Building, but he treated me as an autonomous individual, on my own merits, and I appreciated that.”
The junior ambassador regarded her and then returned to his food. “I would offer my services but it would perhaps be prudent that he know nothing other than that you disappeared.”
“Yes,” she agreed, sipping her champagne. “It is perhaps wise. Sometimes I think I will see him in an official capacity but I think that his position is not likely to bring me into contact with him.” She smiled. “He would most likely address me incorrectly and say something about how his I-Ching told him that we would meet again.”
“I-Ching,” the junior ambassador mused. “Yes, there are many who practice that particular art. I myself am a practitioner.”
“Indeed,” she murmured as she finished her meal. “I myself have never learned its secrets. I did not wish to know the future perhaps before it came to pass. Perhaps I would still be in my apartment with my cat if I had followed its wise teachings.”
“Perhaps you would,” the junior ambassador concurred, “but then I would not have the pleasure of your company on your birthday.”
Juliana leaned in. “Is it true there are geisha clubs with women of the white man in the Pacific States? Our mutual friend wouldn’t tell me. He would go to business meetings and come back smelling of perfume and in an infernally bad mood.”
This finally brought a laugh to the junior ambassador, rich and full and deep. “Misaki-san, you surprise me. There are geisha houses that employ women of the white man. They are there for conversation. They sing in your American way, which I find most unpleasurable. I find them most tedious with their conversation. At least they usually know when to be silent and when to pour our whiskey and sake. I have known our mutual friend since the war. He has always been an honorable and loyal man. I doubt he likes the attention of a woman trying to speak to him unless he is interrogating her across a table in a darkly lit room.”
Raising her eyebrows, Juliana chuckled.
“You being a notable exception, of course, Misaki-san. I can tell from this short conversation that it is engaging, even if we are being recorded and are sticking to a script by necessity.—Indulge the junior ambassador to the American Reich. However did you meet?”
“Are you certain this should be recorded?”
“Did he bring you in for questioning?” he asked seriously and she laughed.
“Hardly.” The waiter came and refreshed their glasses and she took another sip. “It was simple really. My mother favors this particular Japanese tea, which must be imported. Our soil can’t grow one of the ingredients. There is this small little tea importer that sells it. I stopped in one day in hopes that they had a new shipment, and they had just enough left for about ten pots. I was just about to make the purchase when our mutual friend entered. Given his status in the Pacific States, my transaction was suspended in his favor, and he requested the same tea.
“I immediately yielded it to him as he said it reminded him of home and his mother always made it before she died.
“A few days later he sought me out with the tea. I believe there had been another shipment. I invited him to stay for a cup, so that we might enjoy it together—and then he sought me out again, this time after my aikido lesson and he invited me to a tea shop to try another blend he had enjoyed as a boy. That’s how it began: with tea.” She smiled at the memory.
The junior ambassador paused. “I had not thought our mutual friend a sentimental man.”
“There is an American phrase, which I think fits our mutual friend: still waters run deep.”
The junior ambassador assessed her for a long moment. Then he took out his notepad and ripped a page from it, handing it to her. She looked down and saw the name of an individual on it and the address of the Imperial Embassy.
“I was worried,” he stated, sipping his champagne, “that our mutual friend was enamored, and that you were taking advantage of his kindness and truly believed in Aryan superiority. I know if I ask you straight out, you will espouse such ideals. Of course, you would. You are a citizen of the American Reich and it is expected. We are also being recorded and I have no doubt that you are so convincing that there is little doubt that people will be unable to prove you do not believe exactly what you say.
“However, Misaki-san, I believe you could be a great asset to diplomacy between the Reich and the Japanese Empire. There is great honor in the position you will be given if you present yourself to this individual tomorrow. I will state that Alexa Smith has passed both her preliminary and in depth interviews.”
She stared at him. “Are you saying, excellency, that my birthday dinner was a job interview for, well, I’m not certain what?” She took a deep breath. “Can I trust you to honor the words I said at the train station?”
“I will honor the words,” he promised. “The one, the two, and the three.” He drained his glass and signaled the waiter.
Juliana was surprised when a bottle of sake, on ice, was brought out and her eyes widened.
“Now we celebrate.” Two short glasses were brought out and the junior ambassador poured two glasses and they lifted them up and shot them back.
She gasped at the smooth taste and put down her glass.
“Tell me, Misaki-san, what do you do with your days?”
“It started with shopping for proper clothing, seeing a Nazi doctor. I found that highly unpleasant. There was a great deal of concern about my fertility. Now I spend my days riding the trains and going to Central Park or playing bridge with other Nazi ladies. There’s the Nazi Women’s League, of course, and I help Thomas—Obergruppenfuhrer Smith’s son—with his homework, not that I understand most of it.”
“Our sources say you spend the evenings in the Smith home or the Obergruppenfuhrer takes you to dinner or events. Was I correct in saying that he wishes to make you his wife?”
“Are you suggesting I should accept despite our entire previous conversation?” Juliana’s voice held a sliver of hostility in it although it was otherwise pleasant.
The junior ambassador, nonetheless, seemed to understand. “On the contrary.—May I see your wrist? I have heard that this particular bracelet saved your life.”
She smiled at the memory and brought her wrist up to her face, where she touched the Japanese sun, before extending it.
Reaching for it, the junior ambassador turned it in his hand until he saw the white medallion hidden between the links, the red dot of the Japanese sun with the outstretched rays. “It is beautifully crafted, Misaki-san.” He turned it over and his eyes rose. “You are aware there is an inscription.”
She smiled. Juliana had noticed it barely a week after the bombing. In Japanese characters it read: Takeshi.
“I am well aware,” she returned. “I have always believed it to be entirely appropriate. Do you not agree, junior ambassador?”
“I find I do, Misaki-san. It is a thoughtful gift and a warning, of course.” To other men, he meant.
“I doubt it is seen as such in the American Reich, if it’s noticed at all. No one has commented on it, though they may now.”
The junior ambassador looked at her. “Not a warning, perhaps, but they’ll certainly get the message once they do notice it. I trust you will go to the address if you are able tomorrow, Misaki-san.” He poured another glass of sake.
“We should have had this with dinner,” she mused happily as they saluted each other and drank down their glasses before slamming them back down on the tables. “I haven’t done this in an age.”
“Well,” the junior minister commented, “we must ensure you can walk at the end of this.”
“Did you notice, junior minister?” she laughed. “I’m wearing these bizarre contraptions known as go-go boots. It will be easier to walk than if I were in heels. Keep them coming. A girl’s only twenty-five once.”
And he poured them another glass.
The roses appeared on the dining table before John made it down to breakfast. He had been up almost all night. He had heard movement in the house at about eleven o’clock. John believed that Alexa was just restless as it was her birthday. She hadn’t said exactly how old she was, but she had not been herself since she had lost her child—since she had been forced to have an abortion.
She didn’t want any wine. She didn’t want a cake. She didn’t want a special meal. She just wanted an ordinary day.
John hadn’t even told Thomas it was Alexa’s birthday. Now, she was moving about and when she disappeared in her coat and go-go boots, this strange fashion that had come out of the former British Empire, he thought she had gone for a walk. When two hours passed, he called Erich and had her followed.
He waited until four in the morning when she finally arrived home, swaying on her feet, roses in her hands.
He was only grateful when the tapes arrived after she had gone to bed in that horrible Japanese dress, that it appeared she had only gone out to dinner with the Japanese Junior Ambassador. He listened to the tapes in horror. He knew she was unhappy, but not to this extent. Now she seemed to have gotten herself a position at the Embassy and she was passing secret love notes to the Chief Inspector.
The seemingly innocent bracelet on her wrist was also not quite so innocent.
He breathed in deeply and waited for Rose to serve them.
Alexa did turn up in a Japanese dress, her hair down around her shoulders, thin slipper shoes on her feet. She looked a little worse for wear.
“You look,” Thomas began as he was eating his cereal, “Why are you dressed like that, Alexa?”
“I was invited to the Imperial Embassy, Thomas,” she said with a tired smile. “Oh, good, coffee.”
“It must have been all the sake you were drinking,” John stated pleasantly. “It gives you the worst headaches, I understand.”
Alexa didn’t look remotely surprised, she simply poured herself a black cup and then drank it down thirstily. She didn’t touch food. It would probably turn her stomach, John thought to himself. It sounded like she had quite a bit to drink on the tapes and her speech was even a bit slurred at the end. At least the junior ambassador had offered to get her a cab. The yellow monkey was at least aping the manners of Aryan gentlemen.
“Where are the flowers from?” Thomas now asked.
“The Japanese,” John answered before Alexa could. “Yesterday was Alexa’s birthday. She chose not to celebrate it here in the Smith household, although that seemed not to be the case when she went out last night.”
“I did not plan to celebrate my birthday, John,” she told him plainly. “However, when a high-ranking diplomat offers you roses at the train station and then suggests dinner, you tend not to refuse. I’m programmed to agree to anything a Japanese official requests—usually within reason. Sometimes outside of reason when force is threatened, but that’s why you keep your head down.”
“Did you keep your head down?” Thomas asked. “Something must have happened if you defected.”
“I served the Japanese government diligently,” she told Thomas kindly as she started in on her second cup of coffee and then smiled at Rose when she gave her a poached egg and bacon. “It was the Resistance that caused the problem.”
“The Resistance has been quashed in the American Reich.”
Alexa exchanged a look with John. They both knew that wasn’t quite true. “So I understand,” she answered instead. “It is definitely safer for me here. No one’s trying to assassinate me.”
Thomas seemed happy with this answer.
“This job position,” John began, “are you going to take it?”
“I don’t know what it is,” she admitted. “I’ve only been given a name. Perhaps my duties will be similar as they were in the Pacific States. I will be the face of the white man.” She shrugged. “I honestly don’t know.”
He put down his knife and fork. “I don’t like it.”
“I don’t like playing ‘housewife’,” she argued. “I prefer being useful.”
John looked at her. “If you prefer being useful, I can get you a job at the Reich Library perhaps or as a teacher’s aide. Give me a few days and I will find something suitable. I know you are a young woman who is used to keeping busy. I respect that, Alexa. Aryan women weren’t allowed to be housewives in the Pacific States as is their proper place. Until we are married—”
This was the wrong thing to say.
Thomas dropped his spoon and Juliana stilled, just staring at him.
“When you’re feeling better, of course,” he tried to amend, “after your ordeal.” That was one way to speak of a forced abortion.
She set down her coffee cup. “John, that was a very unromantic proposal.”
“Are you waiting for whatever is around your wrist?” he asked instead, just as calmly, chewing his sausage. His blue eyes held hers, but then she glanced down at her wrist, fingering the bracelet.
She didn’t answer. Instead she simply blotted her lips and went up the stairs. She came down two minutes later, her lips that strange color red, and she put on her green coat with a swastika pinned on the lapel. Without looking back, she walked out the door, turning in the direction of the train station.
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