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Authors: Sujata Massey

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BOOK: Girl in a Box
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“Four o'clock, then.” She paused. “We'll see you then. Please be punctual, because others will be waiting.”

I thanked her profusely and rang off. It was too late to go home, by this point; and besides, I had plenty of things to do.

Something soft was tickling my lower back. It was a delicious, sexy feeling, like a cashmere massage. Every nerve ending on my body awoke, slowly and deliciously. I savored the feeling, wondering why I'd been so freaked out by the Korean beauty salon. Whatever Dora and her friends were doing to my back was really nice.

Blearily, I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a nubby beige sofa armrest. I was crashed out on the sofa in the OCI office, and Michael Hendricks was laying his cashmere overcoat over me like a blanket.

“Sorry.” He jumped back, looking guilty. “I didn't mean to wake you. I just thought you might be cold.”

“I meant to take a catnap.” I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “I have so much to do!”

“You never went home?” Michael's expression darkened. “Next time you're going to do something crazy, clear it with me first.”

“I got the interview,” I said.

Michael caught his breath, then said, “When?”

“Friday, which means I have to leave this afternoon or evening, if I'm going to have a day before the meeting. Do you think I'll be able to fly on such short notice?”

“Certainly. I'll drive you to Dulles myself. You go home and get your passport and the rest. I don't know when you're going to have time to look at this file—” He held a manila folder labeled “Farraday,” and I grabbed it.

“I'll do it in the car. Oh, God, I don't know if I can do a whirlwind pack-out like last time—”

“Travel light! Remember, you'll take nothing with you that seems like it was bought outside Japan, from the bag itself down to your socks and underwear.” He reddened slightly after the last sentence, as if he'd forgotten whom he was speaking to.

“I don't wear socks, Michael. I wear stockings.” I stretched out my legs, which happened to be covered in fashionable, flesh-tone fishnet.

“So you'll be able to pack yourself up while I take care of your ticket?” Michael was looking at my legs as if seeing them for the first time.

“Yes, but I don't know what I'm going to do about the apartment and my mail and everything like that.” Now that I was fully awake, the fact that I'd agreed to leave for Japan in a few hours stunned me.

“Don't worry about the apartment, I'll keep the rent payments going. After I get things set with the travel agent, I'll run by the post office and pick up the paperwork to get your mail forwarded to the office. You can sign on the way to the airport.”

“Thank you,” I said to Michael, but he was no longer looking at my legs, or any part of me. He was on his cell phone to the travel agent, asking about a plane to Tokyo.

 

“I wish I could have said good-bye to Taki-san,” I fretted. I was in the passenger seat of Michael's Audi. Blue Merle was crooning “Burning in the Sun” from the Bose speakers, and the sun in fact had come out during our last few minutes on the Dulles Toll Road. I'd finished reading the file on the man everyone called Tyler Farraday, which had struck me as more pathetic than insightful. He'd worked a few places around town as a male model; and on an accessories shoot for Mitsutan, he had attempted to get the photography director to introduce him to the big honchos in corporate. That kind of thing just wasn't done, and as Tyler had made some outrageous attempts to make himself visible to store management, he'd wound up getting cut out of the ad campaign. He'd been doing cocaine in the men's room at Gas Panic the last time anyone had seen him alive. The Tokyo police had ruled his death a drowning, which was the story I'd read in the papers; but a CIA medical officer who'd performed the autopsy, once the body had been returned to Virginia, confirmed that Farraday had received so many physical blows that he was very likely dead before he touched the water.

“Mrs. Taki did give you her best regards by phone. She was very pleased that the application succeeded,” Michael said, bringing me back from the gruesome past to the present.

“It all happened so quickly,” I said. “Everything, from the application to the packing. Thanks for helping me again.”

“No problem,” Michael said. “You've got both passports, right?”

“I double-checked. The American one is in my carry-on and the Japanese one in the suitcase.” The bright red Japanese passport was a forgery, a document giving details of the birth of Rei Shimura on the same day in September that I was born—but seven years later. I also had a new address book in the carry-on, a book that was practically bare but did contain the names of my supposed parents and our family address, an apartment in a good building in the upscale Hiroo section of southwest Tokyo. I'd already memorized the facts about my father: he was an investment banker, frequently out of the country; in fact, he'd brought my mother and me to California for many of my school years. My mother was a housewife who enjoyed making shopping expeditions wherever her husband worked. I'd grown up in a culture of international shopping—which was one of the reasons I'd always wanted to work in a department store.

So many things to remember! I pushed them to the back of my mind as Michael turned into the airport parking lot and started cruising to find a spot.

“Why don't you drop me on the sidewalk outside the terminal? It'll save time.” I was jumpy, because the flight departure time was an hour and a half away, and who knew if the check-in people would pull rank on me for not being on the scene two hours before my international flight? Stranger things had happened to me in airports.

“Okay.” Michael said reluctantly. “I'll say good-bye to you now, and good luck, but I'll meet you at the departure gate.”

“But you don't have a boarding pass. They won't let you through.” I looked at him, utterly confused.

“My name is on a list of people allowed access to the airport, at all times.”

“How convenient.” I stepped out of the passenger seat and around to the car's trunk. He came out to join me. I'd started to lift the suitcase, but he took it right out of my hands.

“Thanks for the help,” I said. “But really, I don't get it. I'm undercover now. I can't be seen hanging around with you. I mean, there's a very slight chance there would be someone on the plane who could notice and might tell the wrong people in Japan—”

“I won't talk to you at the gate,” Michael said tightly. “I just want to see for myself that you get out in a safe and timely fashion.”

“But why would they let you through, without a ticket?”

“I have a special pass issued by TSA. It works in all the American airports.”

“How nice for you. But really, there are better uses for your time,” I said, starting to wheel my suitcase away.

I passed through security easily, and made it to the gate with an hour to spare. As I sat there, restless, I felt a slight pang of guilt. Michael had done so much for me, over the last month, and the last words I'd said to him had been snippy. I regretted them, just as I regretted not having the chance to look into his ice-blue eyes one last time and say a proper good-bye.

 

Michael had urged me to use a taxi from Narita Airport, but the fact was that I'd been too rushed to remember to get some yen before my departure, and at the late hour we arrived, the currency exchange window was closed. Most Japanese taxis didn't take Visa. I was hesitant to take Friendly Limousine, a round-the-city hotel bus that would be likely to stop at more than two dozen places before getting to Hiroo.

My only option was the train. The Keisei Flyer was a bit of a misnomer, because it took over an hour to get from Narita to Ueno-Okamachi Station, from which point I'd have to travel forty minutes on the Hibiya line to wind up at Hiroo, where I would disembark and follow the handwritten map Michael had given me to find the apartment. He'd stayed there before; many other operatives had as well. But it had been waiting vacant for me the last two months.

Usually, I didn't mind getting into a train after a trans-Pacific flight—I was always so excited to be back in Japan, among Japanese people. But this flight had been eight hours longer than the route I typically took from San Francisco, and we'd had to wait on the runway for almost two hours before taking off.

Good going, Rei
, I said to myself. I'd been sick, my suitcase was heavy, and I was heading not toward the bosom of my real Japanese family, but to an unknown apartment belonging to my fake family on a street I could only hope to find.

On the train, there were plenty of seats, given the late hour. I sank into a bench and let the silence surround me. People were busy with their cell phones, clicking them to send text messages. It was impolite to speak on your cell phone on the train, let alone to allow it to ring. Signs all over the train instructed passengers to switch their phones to
mana modo
, an expression that translated literally to “manner mode,” what Americans simply called “ringer off.”

Feeling chastened by the quiet text-messagers, I retrieved my Au phone out of the Japanese carry-on bag. I pushed it into silent mode and scrolled through the menu to check for messages. There was one, from Ms. Aoki, who, owing to scheduling changes, had shifted our interview time to Thursday at five.

Thursday at five? That was hours ago, I thought with panic. I'd missed the interview, but it was too late to cry. Too late to do anything but lug my suitcase up the gargantuan staircase at Ueno past the drunken salarymen, the gravely quiet homeless, and pretty office ladies laughing too loud to the other section of the station, where I took a train to the main Ueno Station, where I caught the subway to Hiroo. And then, up another steep flight of stairs, past a closed bakery and, after the Mitsubishi bank, the next left to a little street where a small stucco apartment house called Ambassador House stood.

I stepped into the empty vestibule and glanced around. No doorman, just an elevator with a keypad next to it. I pressed in the code Michael had taught me, and the doors parted and I rode up to the third floor. The apartment, which looked as if it had been furnished within the last year, was nothing special. But it was clean, and the central heat was on. I made a quick sweep of a bedroom with a double mattress resting on a low teak platform; a study with a fax machine with a short stack of papers lying in the tray before it, and a kitchenette. The fridge held milk, bread, juice, jam, and peanut butter. The thought flashed through me that this might have been Tyler Farraday's food, if he had lived here before. The milk had not been opened; I sniffed it, came away with nothing odious, and decided it was worth risking a good, long drink.

I crawled into bed just as the telephone on the nightstand started ringing. Briefly, I entertained a fantasy of yanking it out of the wall, but reason won out and I picked up, saying a weary
moshi-moshi
.

“You're there.” A male voice speaking English, as clear and crisp as if he were in the next building. Michael had to be on the landline at the office, the one that was supposed to be “secured,” however secure anything really could be.

“Yes, Brooks.” I was never supposed to use Michael's name over the phone with him or anyone else, so I'd created a fitting, private code name—Brooks, as in Brooks Brothers. He'd laughed when I'd christened him, and he'd decided that I would be “Sis.” I suspected that he'd chosen this name because he regarded me as either a little sibling or a girlish coward—neither of which was particularly flattering.

“Why didn't you call me right away? I've been waiting.”

“We came in very late. And then my trip by train took two hours.” I yawned, to emphasize my exhaustion.

“I know you took off late. I'd read all of
Le Figaro
by the time your plane took off, and that's really saying something, because French is not an easy language for me—”

I interrupted. “You mean you were inside the airport?”

“Yes, the next gate over. I wanted to make sure your flight took off okay. Remember, I told you what I was going to do.”

But I'd never seen him. I'd made a thorough visual inspection, and noticed only an elderly man with glasses and a ratty black beret reading a newspaper at the next gate. Now I realized that this had to have been Michael, working in deep disguise.

“Michael, you're amazing,” I said. “Now, can you tell me something? Did the infamous Tyler Farraday live in this apartment? It's got strange vibes.”

“Briefly. He wound up moving to a place in Shibuya that he told us would help him maintain cover.”

“The fridge still has food in it.”

“Stocked earlier in the day by one of our people. Relax, it's all new stuff for you.”

Feeling relieved that I was not living in the land of the dead, I went on to tell Michael about the text message Aoki-san had sent, telling me to come for my interview a whole day earlier.

“A slight derailment,” Michael said, after a pause. “But you'll still go to the personnel department on Friday.”

“How can I show up if the appointment was changed? She's probably got somebody else slotted in for that time—or for all I know, they'll be done with their hiring decisions.”

“I suggest that you play—unaware,” he said, and I suspected he'd been about to say “dumb,” but changed his word. “The personnel director already knows that your phone has some problems, so you could conceivably not have received the message. If you're there in person, dressed to the nines and speaking politely, you'll get the chance to talk to someone.”

“I guess it's my only option.”

“There's never just one option,” Michael said. “An operative always has a plan B, C, and D and even E. If there's anything you take away from this mission, I want it to be this. Let it become so ingrained that you never permit yourself to be defeated.”

“Right, Brooks,” I said, trying to sound more enthusiastic than I felt.

BOOK: Girl in a Box
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