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Authors: Sujata Massey

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Girl in a Box

BOOK: Girl in a Box
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Girl in a Box
Sujata Massey

Contents

1

It's taken me almost a whole lifetime to become a…

2

It was all about a store—a Japanese department store,…

3

I thought about Michael's words in the long hours after…

4

Arlington in late winter was chilly, but it was less…

5

I read the emergency communication a second time, with a…

6

I didn't go out for a drink after all. Drinking…

7

Michael was right. The application traveled to Japan on a…

8

Something soft was tickling my lower back. It was a…

9

My journey had been long and hard enough that I…

10

I straightened my back as I went down the alley,…

11

Later on, I was to think that this weekend marked…

12

Beyond the rules: this was the situation that my government…

13

“So, you're the English-speaking one. Welcome, Shimoda-san. I am glad…

14

By Thursday morning, I couldn't remember why I had ever…

15

The rest of the week sped by. I'd never worked…

16

Saturday morning, I awoke a few minutes before my five…

17

The problem with long-term surveillance comes down to one thing:…

18

Mrs. Okuma wasn't in the women's dressing room. A brief…

19

It was midnight now, ten in the morning in Washington.

20

“Where were you? What happened? I was worried!” Mrs. Okuma…

21

Tuesday morning—my first genuinely free day since starting at…

22

On the way home from Asakusa, I found myself shivering…

23

While putting on my black uniform jacket the next morning,…

24

I had never met a woman like Melanie Kravitz before.

25

Michael had been on my case about keeping up with…

26

WR R U? H2O.

27

“Where are you going, the beatnik coffeehouse?” Miyo asked.

28

It was almost ten when I finally was released from…

29

I had trouble getting to sleep, although Michael had assured…

30

Michael and I had worked out a variety of codes…

31

“So, what did you do for lunch?” Miyo asked when…

32

The ride from Ginza to Roppongi on the Hibiya line…

33

I could barely keep my eyes open when I rolled…

34

“Hungover?” Miyo whispered when we saw each other in the…

35

“You recruited me, back when I was down and out.

36

The party broke up around one—early by my usualhellip;

37

Michael was kissing me, but this time, not my mouth.

38

Once you've gone Japanese, it's hard to go back.

39

I was still in the hotel a day later—and…

40

Michael had made me promise to refrain from going outside,…

41

The display windows at Mitsutan had changed. The Valentine's Day…

42

They were high up enough not to hear me, so…

43

A day later, I was biting my lip, looking for…

R
EI
S
HIMURA
, a young Japanese-American woman working as a special informant to the Organization for Cultural Intelligence (OCI), an elite governmental spy agency.

M
ICHAEL
H
ENDRICKS,
chief of OCI's Japan bureau.

M
RS.
I
KUKO
T
AKI,
a native Japanese translator working for OCI.

N
ORIE
S
HIMURA,
Rei's beloved aunt, who lives in Yokohama with her banker husband, H
IROSHI;
son, D
R.
T
SUTOMU
“T
OM™
S
HIMURA;
and daughter, C
HIKA,
a recent college graduate.

M
ASAHIRO
M
ITSUYAMA,
elderly chairman of Mitsutan, Japan's most successful department store, founded and still owned by the Mitsuyama family. His son, E
NOBU
M
ITSUYAMA,
is general manager of the Ginza flagship store.

M
S.
A
OKI,
director of personnel at the store; her assistant is M
S.
S
EIKO
Y
AMADA
.

M
RS.
O
KUMA,
head of Mitsutan's K Team foreign shoppers assistance program; her assistant is M
IYO
H
AN,
a young woman of Korean ethnic heritage.

M
R.
F
UJIWARA,
director of customer service at Mitsutan.

M
R.
Y
OSHINO,
director of Accessories.

M
R.
K
ITAGAWA,
director of Young Fashion.

M
RS.
O
NO,
director of Alterations.

W
ARREN
K
RAVITZ,
head of investment banking in Japan for the famous American firm Winston Brothers. His wife, M
ELANIE,
makes his life run smoothly in Tokyo. Among his employees are two young bankers: A
RCHIE
W
EINSTOCK
and R
AVI
S
HAH.

J
IMMY
D
E
L
ONE,
American retail magnate and owner of Supermart, a giant national chain of discount warehouses.

B
RIAN
J
ONES,
a trusted aide of Michael Hendricks.

Also: shop clerks and shopping addicts, friends, soldiers, and spies.

It's taken me almost a whole lifetime to become a decent liar.

I still endure stabs of good-girl guilt about it, even though lying has started a brilliant second career for me. I tell stories easily, rarely missing a step as I switch between English and Japanese. But I often wonder how I ever got to this crazy place in life, and where I will go next.

This day had been like all the others: a cool winter day in Monterey, with eight hours of classes at the Defense Language Institute, followed by my usual routine—a run out to Lover of Jesus Point in Pacific Grove. On days like this one, I felt that the Pacific was my constant friend. The water was the divider between me and Japan, between my old life and the new one. I'd have to cross it to go home.

It was odd that I felt this way, I thought as I ran along the dirt trail that paralleled the coast. California was my birthplace—San Francisco, to be exact, about two hours to the north, where my parents still lived. But Japan, where I'd lived so briefly but happily teaching English and selling antiques, always beckoned. The sensation had been stronger on this day than at any time so far in the two months I'd been studying at DLI, preparing for the kind of career in which you couldn't tell anyone what you did, but that could get me back to Japan.

Good things are worth waiting for. I reminded myself of this truth as I ran, dressed for the winter in a long-sleeved black shirt really meant for bikers, and shorts, because I was too vain to wear sensible running tights. The wind on my legs didn't bother me; but on my way back, my knee started throbbing, and I thought about how much I wanted to replace the Nike Airs. In Monterey, there were a few places to buy running shoes, but nothing with the vast array of choices that a thirty-year-old with fading knees required. Of course, I could go up to San Francisco and easily get my favorite Asics style, but I wasn't in the mood. I'd been there at my family home for Christmas and New Year's, a time when I found myself fending off a combination of unhealthy foods and intrusive questions. As much as I loved my parents, I couldn't tell them about the Organization for Cultural Intelligence—OCI—the supersecret spy agency where I'd been hired as a special informant. I also couldn't explain why Hugh Glendinning, the man to whom I'd once been semi-engaged, had thrown me out of his life and Washington, D.C., apartment forever. But I wouldn't lie to my parents—that would be completely against my internal code. So I chose not to talk.

I actually liked the solitude of the Monterey coast, with its jagged rocks set against the turbulent, frigid Pacific: home of sardines, surfers, seals, and whales. Now I glanced toward the ocean, just to make sure I wasn't going to miss the sunset. Another great blessing of my posting in Monterey was my proximity to sunsets over the Pacific: performance art in vivid shades of red, orange, and purple, each sunset unique, like the kanji characters I was studying.

The sun took its leisurely time slipping down to the horizon, but as closely as I looked, I missed the green flash. I always seemed to miss it, even on the days when I'd been with Hugh, vacationing in beautiful parts of Japan and Thailand, and he took pains to point it out. I never saw the same things he did. Perhaps that had been the problem.

I shifted my gaze forward in the direction I was running, coming close to the Hopkins Marine Station, a research outpost connected to Stanford University. It had a beautiful rocky lookout point, but I'd never gone out because the station had a high wire fence and many signs saying “keep out.” I was getting quite used to barriers, fences, and warning signs; usually, the Department of Defense identification card that I carried would get me in most places, but I had no business at the station.

Someone else did, though; a solitary sightseer, who was out on the rocks with field glasses close to his face.

I had noticed the same man half an hour earlier, because of what he was wearing: a business suit, which was a rarity in Monterey. I assumed he had to be some muckety-muck, though in my experience, marine scientists were more likely to wear jeans than gray flannel. Not that I could tell what the suit was made of: I was much too far away to make out those details, let alone the guy's face. I imagined for a minute that he was a spy, watching the coast for his contact to come in. He was probably an out-of-control tourist who just wanted to take pictures—though why he wasn't looking seaward rather than at the recreation trail didn't make sense.

It took me a couple of minutes to pass the rocky outcropping, then the rest of the fenced station, and then its exit. My knee was really bothering me, so I moved to the side and tightened my shoelaces—anything for more support. As I finished tying the knot, I turned around to look for bikers, always a liability on the trail, and I was stunned to see the man in the business suit running out of the marine station's parking lot. Now I knew that what I'd sensed earlier had been correct; the field glasses had been trained on me, not on any form of sea life.

I was fairly breathless because I'd already been running for about half an hour, but I mustered an extra bit of power and began running toward the American Tin Cannery Outlets. The first place I saw was a Reebok outlet, but I ran on, figuring I wouldn't get much sympathy there when I was wearing Nikes. I also passed by Isotoner and Geoffrey Beene, on the assumption that these were not brands that would draw a young, fit crowd ready to aid in my defense. The students at DLI, mostly young enlisted men, were certainly buff enough to help me out against an assailant, but I was the last woman they'd want to help. I don't know whether I'd ticked them off by screwing up the academic curve, or because I'd refused any and all romantic propositions. It was impossible to know—and actually of no consequence at a time like this.

Damn
, I thought, after glancing backward. He was gaining on me, and the glasses were now hanging around his neck, hitting his chest as he ran. No normal jogger ran in a business suit; he was a lunatic. I broke into a full-throttle sprint. He was still so far away that I couldn't see his face, but from what I'd seen, he had gray hair. This fact—that he was significantly older than I—should have made me calm down, but did not.

There was a little restaurant at the end of the outlet strip brightly painted red, white, and blue, probably in an attempt to cater to both Monterey's military population and foreign tourists. I jogged up the steps and burst inside, finding the place absolutely empty; of course, it was before the dinner hour.

At the far end of the room, a couple of young men in T-shirts and jeans were sitting together conversing in Spanish. They looked at the runner in their restaurant and said nothing. I didn't know if it was because I looked so disheveled, or because there was a language barrier.

“I have a problem. Can you call the police?” I said between heavy breaths.

The two men hesitated a moment, glancing each other. Then they ran back through the kitchen.

“It's a misunderstanding, I didn't mean—” I called out, wishing I had spoken in Spanish the first time. Spanish was the first language of Monterey, I should have thought to speak it right away and not use a trigger word like “police.”

A banging sound told me they'd gone out the back door. Now I was all alone. I quickly threaded my way through the restaurant, looking for a telephone. The man had obviously seen me go in; there was no point in hiding. I'd just be on the phone with the cops when my stalker arrived.

I found a phone at last, and as I pressed “talk,” I finally got a close-up view of my pursuer through the window. And shakily I put the phone down. I had been right when I'd briefly daydreamed about the figure on the rocks. He was a spy—a spymaster, to be exact. The man I'd run from was the chief of OCI's Japan desk: Michael Hendricks, my boss of the last three months.

“Michael! What a surprise,” I said, striving for normality as he stepped through the door.

Michael Hendricks must have become extremely bored with his duties in Washington, because he'd been e-mailing me jokes almost daily, silly lightbulb riddles like
How many spies does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
Answer:
Twenty. One to do it, and nineteen to develop a distraction.

However, in Michael's numerous e-mails, he'd never once mentioned that he was planning a cross-country trip to California.

“Why were you running away?” Michael was breathing hard and pulling his tie out of his shirt collar as he spoke. Michael was not a conventionally handsome man; he was too thin, and although his features may have started out patrician, he looked as if he'd had his nose broken somewhere along the line. But his salt-and-pepper hair was cut well, in a classic military buzz, and his ice-blue eyes were so appealing that I often had to look away.

I decided to answer honestly. “I was scared. Wouldn't you be, if someone watched you with field glasses and then started running after you?”

“I was looking for you.” His breath was gradually slowing. “When I made the positive ID, I decided to catch up with you. By the way, did you know that you pronate when you run?”

“Yes. The shoes make it worse.” I flushed, embarrassed that I'd been seen not only running away, but running away with bad form.

“You mentioned once that you ran in this area, so that's why I came, after I found you weren't at your apartment. I picked that point, on the rocks, just to make sure I'd see you before you went home, or into town, or wherever.” Michael tugged off his suit jacket. I looked for huge sweat stains on his oxford shirt, but it was crisp and dry. Either he was a very cool customer or he wore an undershirt.

Michael spoke again. “Actually, I've been trying to catch up with you all day. There's something we have to discuss, as soon as possible.”

“What could it be?” I asked grimly, because I was sure I knew. He had learned the results of my embarrassing polygraph test a few days earlier, and come to tell me that my very short career in government intelligence was over.

“It looks like there's nobody here to take an order, so let's talk about it back at your apartment.” Michael reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a car key with a rental company tag. “There's plenty of room in the Impala they gave me.”

A Chevy Impala? “No, thanks. I'd prefer to finish my run. It's barely a half mile back to the apartment. And then I've got to shower.”

“Of course,” Michael said smoothly. “Hey, I'll get us some take-out food, and meet you over there. That'll give you enough time, I hope.”

 

An Impala was a ridiculous car for a man not yet forty to be driving, I thought as I jogged up Spaghetti Hill to my apartment. I had a feeling that Michael was going to beat me in the car, but I needed the time to clear my head.

But he wasn't there after all. I unlocked the back door to the Spanish-style bungalow on Larkin Street with the key I'd tucked into the inner pocket of my shorts. I went immediately into the small bathroom, took a superfast shower, and dressed, this time in a pair of jeans and a silk kurta I'd bought in one of the little boutiques downtown. I decided against putting on makeup and blow-drying my hair—I rarely bothered with those things these days—but I did attempt to straighten up the apartment a bit before he arrived. The apartment had been converted out of the back end of a modest two-bedroom bungalow built in the twenties. At one time it must have been lovely, but now the stucco walls were crumbling, and the landlord had covered the old terra-cotta tiles with vinyl and had provided only cheap wicker garden furniture. I was rearranging the cushions on the love seat and chairs that made up my living room suite when I heard a knock on the door. I checked the peephole, identified Michael, and opened up.

He was carrying a bag from the Paris Bakery, one of my favorite haunts, and two cups of coffee. But behind him, lying against the small porch railing, were more than a dozen large, flat cardboard boxes—moving boxes, I realized with a start. After handing the food to me, he began hauling the boxes into the room.

“You brought—cookies? What kind of a dinner is that?” I asked as I looked at the enticing mixture of checkerboard cookies and raspberry butter cookies. I was trying to figure out both the meal and the moving boxes.

“There's not enough time for a sit-down meal. But I thought the sugar could carry us both through what we need to do tonight.” Michael cleared his throat. “You're probably wondering why I came all the way to see you.”

“Yes, I'd say Monterey is a little out of the way from D.C.,” I said.

“I took a military hop. Nonstop, on a Learjet. Really a pleasure.”

“So it's urgent.” I sipped the coffee and winced. He had added plenty of sugar, but no milk.

“You wanted milk?” Michael's gaze was keen.

“Yes. A latte with just two sugars would have been perfect, but you'll know that for next time.” I caught myself. “Actually, I guess there won't be a next time, from the boxes you've brought. Something's wrong, isn't it?”

“I wouldn't say wrong.” Michael paused. “And I am sorry to pull you out before the academic course is over. Your instructor told me that you were doing really well, the top of the class.”

“Little else to do around here except study.” But I was secretly pleased that he'd heard how well I'd done.

“Well, maybe you can come back to Monterey later in the year.” He paused. “I need you in D.C. I came out to explain the situation personally, because you have the option to accept or decline.”

Obviously he expected me to accept, because he'd brought moving boxes. Carefully I asked, “Do you mean it's an OCI job?”

He nodded. “We have about a month to prepare for the mission. Then it's back to Tokyo for you.”

“Excellent.” My spirits rose for the first time in weeks. I didn't mind leaving Monterey if it was for Japan. I knew where I was going to find my replacement running shoes—in Shinjuku!

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