On a blistering 1970 summer day in Hakodate, Japan, Margaret Tyler, the American consulate secretary, buzzed Vice Consul Frank Donovan on her intercom. “The police just called,” she said. “They have an American girl in custody. She’s apparently in her twenties. They said they’re informing us in accordance with the consular agreement.”
Donovan was a tall, somewhat disheveled, young man of twenty-eight, with slightly protruding ears. His crew cut brown hair cried out for trimming, his rep tie for straightening, and his cord suit for pressing. Despite his rumpled appearance, his understanding brown eyes and ready smile gave tangible expression to Donovan’s good heartedness. According to his wife, Madge, the one-time Peace Corps volunteer was too good-hearted. She claimed people took advantage of his kind nature. And, according to his boss, Consul Owen Harley, he was too sympathetic to those undeserving of sympathy. Harley told him he’d missed his calling. “Donovan,” he’d said, “you, should have been a missionary.”
“You tell the boss already?” Donovan asked.
“Yes. And he said to call you. He wants you to visit her at the jail.”
“Did she ask to see a consular officer?” Mopping his brow with an already soggy handkerchief, Donovan fixated on the blades of the ceiling fan above his desk as they labored in maddeningly slow rotation. The hot summer weather wouldn’t last long, but at the moment that realization afforded little consolation.
“I’m not sure. But I don’t think so. Mr. Yamada took the call. He said the policeman who phoned seemed kind of nervous.”
“That sounds odd. What’s the girl’s name?”
“Joyce Morimoto. I already checked for you. She’s not registered with us.”
“When did the cops pick her up?”
“Mr. Yamada said that was also a little odd. They usually call within a few hours. But, apparently they’ve had her in jail for two or three days. Anyway, it’s some kind of drug charge.”
“Really? I wonder why the delay.”
“No idea. By the way, I think you’ve already met her.”
“I have? The name doesn’t ring a bell.”
“You remember those three girls who showed up last week–for the Fourth of July garden party?”
“You mean those strippers from downtown? How could I forget? They were the hit of the party. Was she one of them?”
“I think so? At least, she was with them. I think Consul Harley was pretty embarrassed.”
“Yeah. That’s an understatement.” Donovan smiled, recalling Harley’s discomfiture. “Kind of skimpy outfits, but they weren’t doing anything out of line. Besides, he’s the one who put that ad in the paper inviting any American in town to the party. ”
“I didn’t talk to them. Anyway, I’m pretty sure she was one of them. I assumed she was Japanese. The other two were blondes.”
“Lay on a car for me. I’ll go over to the jail after lunch. Say two o’clock. And please tell Mr. Yamada I’d like him to go with me. I’ll let Owen know I’m going.”
The police liaison officer, a bespectacled man with a clipped mustache and outfitted in a beige summer suit, met them at the headquarters entrance. “How are you today, Mr. Donovan? We have not seen you for many weeks.”
“Yes. I think the last time we were here was about that tourist who broke into a house. Said he thought it was his hotel.” Donovan looked at Yamada for confirmation. Kensuke Yamada, a slight man with a long face and probing eyes, was the consulate’s political advisor. He nodded, and then added, “He was drunk.”
The three-story police headquarters dated from the late 1800s. Constructed of red brick, it looked much like other government buildings in the area, all of them dating from around the turn of the century. The jail cells, housing prisoners being held for interrogation or, in some cases, awaiting trial were located in the rear of the building. A dozen or so cells looked out on an inner courtyard.
The liaison man handed the consulate representatives off to a uniformed guard. He, in turn, guided them through barred doors that groaned open to let them pass and then clanked shut behind them. Although Donovan welcomed the cool air, the creeping dampness caused him to shudder; moreover, the light was dim, the corridor austere, and the mood depressing. It was not a place, he thought, you wanted to be if you could avoid it. It occurred to him that, without exception, Japanese detention facilities seemed grim. Donovan had once visited Otsu Prison south of Tokyo. He’d noted discipline there to be strict, bordering on harsh, the facilities bare-bones. Americans reacted with dismay when locked up in such places.
This wasn’t Otsu, but it was tough enough. The only other prisoners he had visited in this jail were men. He wondered how Joyce Morimoto was faring. It had to be difficult for a young woman, whatever her offense.
The escort led them into a small white walled waiting room. The first time he’d visited a prisoner there, Donovan expected they would be seated across from each other, with some sort of barrier in between. Instead, he had to stand in front of a small grilled opening that revealed little more than his interlocutor’s face. It was, he joked later, a real face-to-face conversation. A warder posted himself nearby to monitor the exchange. Another guard apparently stood behind the prisoner. It was not a relaxed setting.
Donovan and Yamada perched uncomfortably on a small wooden bench for five minutes, until the guard signaled Donovan to step up to the interview window. Donovan peered through the grillwork into the dark eyes of a young Japanese-American woman–and was taken aback. Her hair was cut short; she was round-faced and, so far as Donovan could tell, a bit chubby–no beauty to begin with. But what seized his attention were her injuries. One of her eyes was badly blackened, her lip puffed up, her cheek bruised, and a scab had newly begun to form over a cut on her forehead.
“Hi. They told me you’re from the consulate,” she said. “I guess I don’t look too good.” She had a low, husky voice.
Donovan fought off an inclination to say, what in the world happened to you? Instead, he said, “Right. I’m Frank Donovan, from the American consulate. And you’re Joyce Morimoto.”
Solemn as a Buddhist monk, Donovan assumed his best official demeanor. “One of our jobs is to check on the welfare of Americans in jail, whatever the reason they’re here. We want to make sure you’re being treated fairly and humanely. That’s why I’m here today. I can’t give you any legal advice. But, I have a list of lawyers who are willing to represent Americans, if you want to contact one.”
“Yeah, I understand. I don’t want a lawyer.” She seemed impatient. “Is that your whole spiel?”
Caught off guard by her response, Donovan said, “Yes. I suppose so.” Joyce hardly seemed grateful he’d come to see her. “Can you tell me what happened–to your face?”
“Well, Frank . . . it’s okay if I call you Frank isn’t it?” Not waiting for a reply, she went on. “When the cops busted into the apartment, they kind of roughed me up. That was two or three days ago.” She sounded detached, almost as if describing something she had heard about secondhand.
“Wait a minute. Back up. What apartment? What happened?” Donovan retrieved a small notepad from an inner pocket, uncapped a pen, and began to take notes. It was hard to write standing up.
“There’s not a whole lot to tell. I was hanging out with some Japanese friends. Three nights ago. I guess it was two or three in the morning. Jesus, it was just marijuana.”
“Where was this?”
“How do I know? Some guy’s apartment. I went with a couple of girls from the club.”
“Yeah. Where I work. Oh, I guess I’m not supposed to say that.” She giggled.
“Who was the guy?”
“You’ll have to ask the cops. The guy was a writer or something. I don’t know what the other ones do. Anyway, they were all Japanese, except me.”
“So how did you get hurt?”
“I look Japanese. Right?”
“Yes, but how does that explain . . .?”
“The cops thought I was Japanese. And when I didn’t answer their questions they decided I was being uncooperative. That’s what the interpreter told me yesterday. The fact is I don’t speak a word of Japanese.”
“So, they beat you up?” No wonder the police were nervous, Donovan thought. “But, why would they do that?”
“Oh, I guess I gave them a hard time. Told them to keep their damned hands off me. Guess they didn’t like it when I kicked one of them in the crotch.”
“Yeah. Not likely to make a positive impression,” Donovan said.
Joyce grinned at him. “You got that right.”
“Are they treating you okay now?”
“You bet. Ever since they got a look at my passport and found out that I was an American they’ve been pretty good. I think they got worried . . . about hitting me.”
“I’m sure my boss will make a formal complaint. Has a doctor looked at you?”
“Nah. A nurse put something on the cut. Anyway, I’m doing okay. I’ve met some interesting people in here.”
“Interesting people? In a Japanese jail?” Her nonchalance amazed him. Most prisoners could think of nothing but getting out.
“Yeah. Like there’s this old woman. No idea what she’s in here for. I think she’s a little crazy. Anyway, she has trouble walking, so I kind of help her get around. She’s been showing me how to make stuff by folding paper.”
“That’s the word. How did you know?”
“My daughter learned it at school.”
“And there’s this other girl—about my age. She’s kind of scary, but I’m teaching her a few words of English.”
“I see. But, aren’t you concerned about being tried? Maybe locked up for awhile.”
“Nope?” If there was a tell-tale expression on that battered face, he couldn’t make it out.
“Hey, Frank, we flushed the weed down the toilet before they got in. Besides, I don’t speak Japanese; it’ll be too much trouble for them to prosecute me.”
“I wouldn’t count on it. Anything else?”
“You got any old magazines I can look at? Oh, yeah. Food’s okay here, but I could sure go for a burger.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Anyway, I’ll check back on you in a day or two. Be sure to let me know then if you’re having any problems.”
“Thanks. I’d prefer you don’t complain about me getting roughed up, though. I expect it’ll just piss them off.”
“I’ll tell my boss what you said. It’ll be up to him.”
Although she acted tough, full of confidence, Joyce also seemed pathetic. Did she really think she could pull it off? Simply walk away? Donovan decided she was merely putting up a brave front. He inclined to think that way; she must have some redeeming virtues. He just hadn’t discovered them yet.
Extending the benefit of the doubt to anyone was not the inclination of Owen Harley. The Consul was a sallow-faced man in his mid-forties. He had thinning hair and a penchant for light blue, polyester suits. Up from the clerical ranks, he exuded unhappiness. Humorless and finicky, he regularly complained to Donovan. Donovan knew the litany well. In Harley’s recitations, people were dishonest or stupid or, most frequently, both. His well of compassion had been a dry hole from the outset.
Harley had twice requested assignment to a European capital and had twice been shunted off (his words) to what he considered backwater postings. And now after a third request, here he was again. How, he asked, could you make a name for yourself if all you did was rescue American students who’d overstayed their visas, bail out tourists who’d lost their money, humor missionaries who complained the locals were rude, and, deal with people, like this Morimoto person, who had no business leaving the US in the first place and ended up in trouble with the law?
Convinced of his own superiority, Harley considered himself fitted for a more elevated, if undefined, calling. Consequently, he relied on Donovan to perform what Harley referred to as the scut work.
The day after his encounter with Joyce, Donovan sat before Harley’s oversized desk for their regular morning meeting. Donovan envied the boss his paneled office and its view of the park behind their small compound. His mind wandered. Carefully tended flowers bloomed in the park beneath the needled boughs of pines. Seen from Harley’s office, despite the heat, the park struck Donovan as cool, serene. It made him want to go out there, perhaps claim a spot under one of those trees, and read a book, have a drink—something other than listening to Harley.
Harley’s reedy voice jerked him back from his mental rambling. “Well, Frank, what can you tell me about this little sweetheart you visited yesterday? I don’t know what rock they crawl out from under. But people like her always seem to turn up wherever I’m posted.”
They’re your fellow citizens, Donovan thought. Couldn’t you, at least, give them some understanding, some compassion. Donovan extracted his note pad from an inner pocket of his suit jacket and glanced at it from time to time as he spoke.
“She got pretty well beat up when the cops broke into that apartment. Seems totally unwarranted. Whatever she says, I definitely think we ought to make a protest.”
“Aren’t you jumping the gun, Frank? Let’s hear what the guardians of the law have to say first. You just have her version.”
“I just thought that . . .”
“We’ll worry about protests later on. What else can you tell me?”
Harley hadn’t seen the girl’s face. Despite an urge to pursue it further, Donovan decided, at least for the time being, it was best to drop the idea of a complaint to the police. “Yamada followed up with the police yesterday and again this morning,” Donovan said. “It turns out this isn’t Joyce’s first run-in with the authorities.”
Harley placed his hands behind head, spread his arms, and leaned back in his high-backed leather chair. “Go ahead,” he said in a tone that signaled, I’m listening only because I’m obliged to do so.
Donovan went on. “Joyce is 28 years old and comes from some little town near Fresno. Born in one of those relocation camps during the war; I don’t know which one. Apparently dropped out of a local junior college. She’s been in Japan for about four months. According to the cops, she showed up in April on a tourist visa, chasing after some Air Force enlisted man stationed at the Misawa base.”
“So why did she come up here?”
“As best we can figure, the would-be boy friend dumped her the minute she showed up. He was already shacking up with some local. Joyce worked for a while as a bar hostess, but a Japanese girl ratted her out to the immigration authorities. Not surprising. She’s not easy to like—a real attitude. Personally, though, I suspect it’s a pose. She tried to act tough, nonchalant, like being in jail is nothing more than a walk in the park. My guess is she is probably scared and putting up a front.”
“Spare me the violins, Frank. Get on with it.” Harley leaned forward and began to toy with a paper knife.
“Well, they came after her for working without a proper visa. She was supposed to have a deportation hearing.”
“And–let me guess–she took off before the hearing.”
“You’ve got it. She evaporated. Where she was or when she came up here isn’t clear. But it turns out she was certainly here in time for our Fourth of July party.”
“So Margaret reminded me.” Harley made a face at the recollection as if he had bitten into a piece of spoiled sashimi. “Pretty brazen, if you ask me. We should never have allowed those girls . . .”
“Anyway, in addition to being caught up in this drug bust, apparently she’s been working again, this time as a stripper in a couple of local fishing ports. From what I hear, those places are pretty grubby, really rough. And the people she hangs out with are, to put it mildly, sketchy.”
“Well, the girl made her own choices,” Harley said. “We’ll just have to let justice run its course. But I suppose you should look in on her again. We wouldn’t want her to whine to her Congressman that the Consulate was indifferent or something would we?”
“I’ll swing by tomorrow,” Donovan said.
All he’s worried about is avoiding problems, Donovan thought to himself. It’s our job damn it. We’re supposed to help people. It’s our job.
At home, Donovan savored a before dinner gin and tonic loaded with ice. It was like a summertime elixir at day’s end.
“It would be nice to have air conditioning,” Madge said. Donovan’s wife was a thin woman with a still pretty face. “Everything is so damp. But, I guess they can’t justify it—just for a few weeks a year.”
Donovan mumbled his agreement, and then said, “Sometimes I think it would be impossible to squeeze even a drop of human concern out of Harley. His sympathy meter must be permanently stuck at zip.”
“Oh, he’s a little stern but . . .”
“Anyway, I’m just not sure what to make of Joyce Morimoto.”
“How do you mean, Frank?”
“She seems riddled with contradictions. She’s cunning and naïve, cautious and imprudent, calculating and irrational.”
“My goodness. All that from one meeting?”
“She sure as hell doesn’t fit the piano playing, 4.0, math whiz Asian stereotype,” he said. “Quite the contrary. She’s not well educated. And she’s obviously done some pretty stupid things. But, she’s got some kind of smarts. I guess you’d say she’s streetwise.”
“She hardly seems a reputable character, Frank. Don’t you think she’ll end up in jail?”
“She doesn’t think so. My guess is she’ll get a slap on the wrist, maybe probation; then be sent back to the States.”
“Aren’t they cracking down on drug cases? I thought I read . . .”
“Maybe. I’ll have a better sense of things after I visit the jail again.”
“Just don’t be an old softie. It sounds to me like that girl is trying to manipulate you. Sometimes I think you’ll never learn.”
“From jail? She’s not that smart. Besides, what’s wrong with a little humanity? ”
Yamada was waiting outside Donovan’s house with the consulate’s old Plymouth. The consulate driver lifted an umbrella over Donovan to fend off a thin rain that had been falling since early morning. The sun had shone briefly, but it had turned out to be a dreary, miserable day. The additional moisture rendered the already muggy air especially uncomfortable. They drove to the police headquarters with the air conditioner running full bore.
Once again a liaison official greeted them at the entrance, and once again a guard guided them through damp, gray corridors to the visitors’ room. The air was thick with smells– disinfectant, uncollected garbage, cooking fish–none of them good.
“Hi, Frank,” Joyce said when she appeared at the window. “How’s it going?”
“That’s what I’m supposed to ask you.”
“Okay, I guess. You didn’t bring the burger, did you?”
“I’m afraid not. I did leave you a couple of magazines. And my wife sent along some cookies. The supervisor said they’ll give them to you after they check for contraband.”
“Did they tell you I’m supposed to go before a judge tomorrow? I think they’re just kind of going through the motions. They can’t prove anything. Besides, they’re on thin ice after hitting me and all.”
“We’ve asked for a written report on what happened when you were arrested. Are you sure you don’t want legal representation?”
“Yep.” She seemed as unruffled as Lake Towada on a calm day.
“How about your family? Back in the States. Would you like us to contact them?”
Her mood changed in a flash. “Hell, no. My mom will get all worked up. And my old man, if he’s sober, will just say it proves what he always said about me.”
“What was that, Joyce?”
“That I’m no good. That I’m a big disappointment. That I’m a loser. Last time he said that I told him to shove it.” Then, suddenly pensive, she wiped away a tear, and then another, with her finger. “No,” she said quietly. “Don’t contact anybody.”
“How about money?”
Her voice quavered. “They threw me out. Please. Don’t contact anybody. Okay?”
Once more Donovan asked himself if her toughness disguised an attempt to conceal her vulnerability. Her tears in mind, Donovan concluded that could well be the case.
“I expect by now you probably just want to back to California,” he said.
“You got it wrong, Frank. I kind of like being here in Japan. People weren’t always nice to me back in the good old USA. I’d like to see some more of the country before I leave. You know, like where my grandma came from. Check out my roots.”
“After all your troubles?” What? She wanted to explore her roots? “
“At least, I look like everybody else. Maybe you could put in a word for me.”
“Me? Put in a good word? But, you’ve broken the law–by working and ….” Joyce Morimoto confounded him.
“You won’t do it because you don’t want to do it.” She sounded petulant. “Come on, Frank. I’m not the only one. Besides, maybe we can cut a deal with the immigration people. I’m trying to do the right thing. Okay?”
She waggled a piece of paper at him through the mesh. “It’s a list of names. Including that jerk that told me he loved me back at Travis. They’re names of people down at the base who are flying in drugs and selling them there and out in town. More than just a little weed too.” She began to recite the names, like someone taking roll at a meeting.
He felt as if the exchange was somehow privileged, like that between a lawyer and client; but, of course, no such privilege existed. “Joyce. I have to remind you, I’m a government official,” he said. “I’ll have to pass all this along to the DEA representative in Tokyo and the OSI at Misawa.”
“Be my guest. Guess I’ll see you in court.”
“Actually, you will. I’ll be there as an observer. We do that too.”
Joyce’s demeanor shifted again. Contrition personified, once more she dabbed at her eyes. I guess sometimes I’m kind of a wise ass, but I don’t mean anything by it, Frank. I know I haven’t been very smart. But I’ve learned my lesson. Really.” Her battered countenance and husky voice seemed sincere, overwhelmingly sincere.
Perhaps, Donovan thought, he could, at least, consider an informal suggestion to the immigration authorities that she be allowed to stay a few weeks in Japan after the drug case was resolved and before she was expelled for the visa violations. Could allowing her to see the place from where her grandmother hailed constitute such an outrageous concession? After all, Joyce wanted to be cooperative, seemed to show remorse for her behavior, and complained little about being beaten by the police. On reflection, however, Donovan decided to keep this notion to himself.
Donovan was on the phone talking to the DEA representative at the Embassy. Samuel Washington thanked him for the information but said the Air Force and Misawa police already had acquired the same list of names Joyce had offered up and expected to make arrests soon.
Donovan checked his watch. “Okay, Sam, I just wanted to let you know she seems inclined to be cooperative. If I pick up anything else, I’ll let you know. Right now I have to get going–to the hearing. It starts in about an hour.”
“Thanks again, Frank. We had already heard of Joyce Morimoto here in Tokyo. I expect we’ll want to have a little chat with her when the Japanese are through. More details about some of her pals on the base.”
Donovan put down the phone. Joyce had surely behaved in a thoughtless and stupid way. And Washington seemed unmoved by her willingness to be cooperative. Harley argued she deserved whatever she got; she’d manufactured her problems herself. And, although less condemnatory, Donovan’s wife agreed with Harley. So did Margaret. Even Yamada denounced her as a fraudster, someone not to be trusted.
Yet, Donovan couldn’t help taking into account the fact she’d been dealt a pretty bad hand, and then hadn’t played it very well. It sounded as if her parents were real winners, too. Donovan expected she’d had a hard time of it as a kid. She had probably been one of those kids who had been on the receiving end of a lot of teasing, if not downright bullying, for being Japanese. Easy-peasy-Japanesy. Poor Joyce. Her life struck him as a long, sad story of failures and wrong turns. He knew he shouldn’t, but Frank Donovan felt sorry for her. Admittedly on modest evidence, he’d convinced himself that in her heart she wanted to turn things around–or at least try.
Just as Donovan stood up to leave for the court building, Margaret stepped through his office door. “Frank, that girl, Joyce Morimoto, is on the phone. I’ll transfer the call.”
“Really? Why would she be calling me now?”
He returned to his desk, dropped into his chair, and picked up the phone.
“Joyce? I was just getting ready to leave. What’s happening?”
“Well, Frank, like I thought, they dropped the drug charges, at least for me.”
“I see.” He shook his head. She’d been right all along.
“The problem is that they turned me over to the damned immigration people. Right here in the same building. I’m in an office with two of them right now. They let me call.”
“It’s what you should have expected.” He felt somewhat vindicated.
“Said they’re going to take me down to Tokyo on the train and put me on a plane to Honolulu. They weren’t interested in those names.”
“Doesn’t surprise me.”
“Frank, I’ve got a question for you.”
“Do you think if I service these two guys they might let me go?”
An embarrassed pause, then Donovan said, “What did you say?”
“I said if I go . . .”
“Never mind. I heard you. Not exactly a good idea, Joyce.”
“That’s what I thought you’d say. Well, see you around.” She hung up.
His good-hearted assumptions savaged, Donovan pondered Joyce’s call for a few minutes. Then he phoned Yamada and asked him to check with the immigration office, so he could inform the DEA people when Joyce would arrive in Tokyo. He would brief Harley when he got back from a Rotary Club speech.
A half hour later Donovan’s phone rang. “Mr. Donovan, this is Yamada. I called my immigration contact as you asked. It is very strange. They said some unanticipated administrative circumstances have arisen, and Morimoto will not be leaving immediately. They are giving her a form of parole while they conduct a further investigation of her status. The man I talked to was kind of laughing. It was very puzzling.”
Not as puzzling as it seems, Mr. Yamada, Donovan thought. Poor Joyce. Donovan sighed. Yeah, right. Poor Joyce. Yeah. And poor, gullible Frank. He sighed again. Maybe Harley had it right; maybe Frank had missed his calling.
Minnesota resident Lawrence F. Farrar is a former Foreign Service officer with postings in Japan (multiple tours), Germany, Norway, and Washington, DC. Short term assignments took him to more than 30 countries. He also lived in Japan as a graduate student and as a naval officer. His stories have appeared in nearly 50 lit magazines. Recent examples include: The Chaffin Journal, O-Dark-Thirty, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Oxford Magazine, Hawaii Pacific Review, Zone 3, Big Muddy, Streetlight, Aji Review, Lindenwood Review, and Straylight.