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Authors: Sujata Massey

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BOOK: Girl in a Box
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“They'll call,” Michael repeated. “I'm sure.”

Michael was right. The application traveled to Japan on a Wednesday and was mailed to the store from the Hiroo post office on Friday. By Tuesday of the next week, a message was tucked into voice mail on my Au cell phone. Mrs. Taki helped me retrieve it and cheered when she heard the words. The deputy director of personnel, Ms. Aoki, wanted to know if I was still available for employment, and if so, asked me to please call to schedule an interview.

“Oh my God,” I said to Mrs. Taki. “This is really it!”

“You need coaching,” Taki-san fretted. “We need you to rehearse a good explanation of what you've been doing with yourself while waiting for this job of a lifetime. Michael-san, please you go out and give us some peace and quiet. We have much work.”

“I have much work, too,” Michael said drily. “I need to get Rei some kind of flight fast. Supposing the recruiter wants to see you as soon as Friday?”

“Friday here is Saturday there,” I pointed out. “So that would be impossible. And why shouldn't I ask to have my interview next week?”

“You'd better call her immediately to find out when she wants to see you,” Michael said. “I don't want you losing the job because another applicant was quicker on the draw.”

“Right. Well”—I looked up at the wall of clocks—“right now it's midnight in Tokyo. I'd say I have a few hours to kill before Aoki-san gets to work.”

“No time for killing. Time for practicing!” said Mrs. Taki. So we did.

Since I wanted to make sure the call was perfectly clear, I was going to use the landline at the office, from which it was possible to dial without revealing the number of origin—a necessity, since I was supposed to be living in Tokyo, not Arlington, Virginia. I knew the time I wanted to make my call—ten in the morning in Japan. That meant eight in the evening EST. I'd stay a bit later than usual—no problem with the guard outside. Michael had offered to stay as well, but I'd turned this offer down flat—although I'd happily accepted his offer to run out and get me dinner at seven. I hadn't asked for anything in particular, and he came back with spinach cannelloni, a mini-bottle of red wine, and tiramisu for dessert.

“Smells good,” I said, opening the plastic container and taking a whiff. “I'm a little surprised about the wine, though.”

“It's nonalcoholic. I don't know whether you normally drink wine with dinner or not, but since you're staying late, I thought you might as well have something to perk up the evening.” Michael twisted the paper bag, then let it drop into the trash. “You're still sure you don't want me to stay? It could be late when you get out.”

“No, thanks. And whatever the time, I'll call a cab,” I said after I'd swallowed my first bite. The pasta was as good as it looked.

“Save your receipt,” Michael said. “And will you promise me you'll really do it?”

“I won't even go downstairs until they've honked.”

Michael stood silently for a minute, and I imagined he was thinking about what had happened to me last spring in Washington, when I'd taken a chance at night. I hadn't been working for him then, but he knew my personal history. He'd made it his business to know everything, before he even approached me for the tryout job in the fall.

“What if the cab doesn't show up?” he asked. “What will you do then?”

“Then I'll stay put and phone you,” I said. “But if I do all this, there's one thing I have to ask of you. Actually, I've been wanting to ask it for a while.”

“Go ahead.” His face flushed, and I realized he thought I was going to ask him out again.

Crisply, I said, “I want to see the file on Tyler Farraday.”

“What?” Michael responded as if my question had caught him off guard.

“I want the daily report of what he was doing, and whom he was seeing, before he was killed. For my own information, so I don't end up in the same bad place.”

After a long pause, Michael nodded. “I understand your point. The problem is that it's not an OCI file. It's CIA. I certainly don't have it here—I don't have it at all.”

“Well, can you get it for me?”

Michael nodded again. “I'll do my best.”

 

After Michael left, there were twenty minutes till call time. I placed the call promptly at 8:01, and an assistant answered, saying in elaborately polite language that the store was in the process of opening, so Aoki-san wasn't at her desk. Suddenly, I remembered that department stores opened at ten, and that the opening itself was an elaborate ritual with store managers lining the aisles bowing to the first incoming customers. I apologized for causing trouble, and told the assistant I was a job applicant returning Aoki-san's call. Could she kindly take a message for me? Her voice was slightly less polite, probably because she realized that I was the lowest of the low—a future sales trainee. Still, she agreed to take my name and the number of the Japanese cell phone.

I was worried about having to leave a callback number. Although the Au phone had international calling ability, I'd found through some experimental phone calls I'd made to my aunt in Yokohama that the quality of reception was poor.

I adjusted the cell phone's ringer volume to high and set it down on the coffee table. I curled up where Michael used to sit, and decided to open the bottle of mock Chianti. Of course there were no wineglasses in the office; I had to make do with a paper cup left over from the day's Japanese lunch. I sipped the wine, deciding that it wasn't bad, though I'd harbored no great expectations. As I drank, I leafed through the latest dossier of documents that had been sent to me; it was a flowchart of the management structure at Mitsutan. A store that had 2,000 employees in the Ginza location alone had plenty of managers—more than 100. I needed to be able to match the names and faces of the executives Michael was most interested in—and there were twenty-five of those, all men save for three. Some of the documents had been translated by Taki-san, some not. At least the office was totally quiet and I could concentrate.

I began my work at the top of the pyramid: the Mitsuyama family who owned the store. Masahiro Mitsuyama, age eighty, was the patriarch of the family and chairman of the board of directors. He would be easy to recognize because he was completely bald, with thick glasses, and his suits looked as if they had been bought back in the 1980s. Well, he didn't have to dress to impress. His son, Enobu, was fifty-five, still had hair, and wore better-looking glasses than his father. Enobu had studied accounting at my supposed alma mater, Waseda University. He'd started his career at the store in the accounting department, and had risen in responsibility to ultimately oversee the credit division. He'd been appointed in 2003 as the
shacho,
or chief operating officer, of the five stores that made up the Mitsutan chain. In that year, 2003, the profits had started to climb. Although he visited all stores at least once a week, his headquarters were at the Ginza location.

What did that mean, exactly: Ginza location? I flipped through my folder until I found the brochure with a full store map. Mitsutan had eight floors, but nowhere was there any marking of administrative areas. I hoped the executive offices were in the store itself; if they were in a different building in the Ginza, I'd have to go through all kinds of hell to get inside and plant my bug. Of course, the personnel department might be in that building, and it could be my excuse to get in.

The phone rang, startling me. But it wasn't the Japanese cell phone, it was the landline on my desk. I picked it up and heard Michael's voice.

“You're still in the office.” He sounded accusatory.

“Ms. Aoki wasn't in when I called. I'm waiting for her to call back.”

“You could do that at home. It's nine o'clock. And by the way, tomorrow morning I'll have what you asked me for. Though you can't keep it around. You're going to have to return it to me—”

“I understand. Thanks. And, well, the reason I'm here is that I'm working on memorizing the names and faces of Mitsutan executives. And I know you don't want me to take those papers out of the office.”

“That's fine, but you have a full day tomorrow. Do you realize that?”

“Of course I do. That's why I've got to get this done.” I tried to hide my irritation. “You're very nice to encourage me to go home, but I'm sorry, I'd rather kill two birds with one stone—handle the phone call here and get the paperwork finished.”

After I hung up, I decided to check the messages on the Japanese cell phone, just in case there was something. I bit my lip when I saw that a call had come in from Mitsutan. My phone had let me down, not even ringing.

I shook my head and used the cell phone to dial Mitsuan's personnel office, where I spoke to Ms. Aoki's assistant. She told me Aoki-san had gone into a training meeting and wouldn't be available until six o'clock that evening.

I scrunched my eyes shut. Damn, but I'd screwed up. Now I would have to wait until four in the morning to call.

The next call I made was to Michael, at home. “I can't call for a few more hours. Aoki-san's at a training conference. Also, it turns out that my Japanese phone won't even ring here—I can call out on it, and it'll take voice mail, but I can't just answer it.”

“Could there be a chance you just have the ringer off?”

“Nope. I checked already.”

“Damn it,” Michael said. “So did you leave them the exchange for the landline?”

“Of course not! That would be an overseas call, which not only would confuse them but would simply cost too much for them to call. I think I'll just keep calling, trying to get lucky.”

“Hmm. Do you want to grab a quick nap and have me give you a wake-up call in a few hours?”

The last thing I wanted Michael to know was that I planned to hang out in the office all night. “No, thank you. My watch has its own alarm. I'll be fine. Good night, and sorry for the trouble.”

 

I had learned everything about the Mitsuyama family by midnight. By one o'clock, I could spell the names and match them to the faces of two-thirds of the executive board. But I was tired. I tested the alarm on the inexpensive Timex that I'd recently bought for its stopwatch feature, to help time my cycling and running sprints—and then set it for three forty-five. I wasn't going to let Aoki-san slip by me this time—even if it meant phoning the personnel office every five minutes. And I'd start early, because I wasn't sure if the assistant had meant that Aoki-san would come back at six, pick up her coat, and leave—or settle in for a final hour or two of work. Women in Japan didn't typically work as long as the men did—women's usual time for leaving was somewhere between six and eight in the evening, whereas men often were in the office until ten, unless they had to go out for a company drinking party.

I was having a nonalcoholic after-work drinking party of one, and it was no fun at all. I chucked the empty mini-bottle into the trash, then turned on my computer, fiddling around with the sound until I got an alternative rock radio station from Towson, Maryland, that I liked. I double-checked the door and the locks on the office's few windows, because I still had some residual nervousness about the break-in. Everything was set. Then I settled down on the love seat, arranging my pleated wool skirt like a blanket over my calves. Tracy Chapman's voice washed over me like a lullaby, and I closed my eyes.

The buzzing sound in my ear made me jump. I opened my eyes, shut them again, and squinted at my watch. Yes, three forty-five. I was on schedule for my call.

I drank a glass of water to get rid of the early-morning croak in my voice and dialed. It was five minutes to six. Of course, Aoki-san wasn't there.

“She says your cell phone isn't working,” said the assistant. “She called it again during her lunch break.”

Damn it, but I was going to lose the job. I knew it. I was not only unreachable but lax in checking my phone messages.

“Is there another number where she can reach you?” the assistant asked.

“Not really, I'm so terribly sorry to cause all this trouble—”

“Just a minute. She's walked in.”

Miss Aoki came on the line. “Aoki here. Who is it, please?”

“Shimura Rei,” I said, croaking a bit as I gave my name in the proper backward sequence.

“Who is it? I cannot hear you—” Her voice was curt.

“Shimura Rei,” I repeated, pitching my voice in the correct, high register that I'd worked on, ceaselessly, with Mrs. Taki. “Excuse me for not returning your earlier calls promptly. The circumstances were difficult.”

“I saw your résumé,” Ms. Aoki said. “The fact is our regular positions are full.”

Regular positions full. To think she'd called me just to turn me down—what a disappointment.

“Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. I was really, really hoping.” My voice broke off. I wanted to cry.

“What we can offer girls with your experience, these days, is contract work. It's on a six-month basis and doesn't include benefits, outside the shopping discount.”

“Oh! But I'm interested in that!” I said, stumbling over my Japanese in excitement.

“Do you really think so?” Ms. Aoki sounded doubtful. “Well, I suppose you should come in for an interview, though I should warn you there is a group of fifty we're looking at, and only five positions, at least for the Ginza store.”

“I'd be honored to interview. Is there anything I should bring with me, please?”

“We have your application, so there's really nothing more needed. We just want to see and talk to you. Friday is our scheduled day. What hour are you available to come in?”

“Afternoon. Late afternoon, if you don't mind.” I prayed that this wouldn't make me sound slothful, but flights from the United States typically arrived at noon or later. If I couldn't get a flight on Wednesday night and had to go on Thursday, I'd still have a few hours' cushion to reach the store, but I didn't like to take chances.

BOOK: Girl in a Box
8.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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