"Know what?" Harry said. "We should have a party. We're too tense, everyone is. We'll have a few friends over. A couple of the old reporters, artists, movie people."
"That's like the club every night."
"Okay, Michiko, what would make you happy? I'm not going anywhere, I promise. The entire Japanese Empire has marshaled its forces to keep me here. I'm blocked by land and sea and air. Even if I went to the States, what would I be, what would I do? My talent is speaking more Japanese than most Americans, and more English than most Japanese. Big deal. And I know how to buy yen and sell a movie and read a corporate ledger."
"Harry, you're a con man."
"I'm a philosopher. My philosophy is, give the people what they want."
"Do you give women what they want?"
Michiko was capable of retroactive jealousy. She had nothing in common with the mousy Japanese wife or mincing geisha. Harry slipped behind her and picked his words as carefully as a man choosing what could be a necktie or a rope. "I try."
"With all women?"
"No, but with interesting women I try hard. You are interesting."
He slid a hand around her. "The worst."
"Too big, too busty, too blond. Just awful."
She took a deep drag, and her cigarette flared. "I should burn you every time you lie. They're really awful?"
"There won't be a war?"
"Not with the United States. Just war talk."
"You won't leave?"
"No, I'll be right here. Here and here and here." He put his lips to the beauty marks on her back. "And do the things I really might."
"So you're staying?"
"As long as you want. I'm telling you true..." He dug his fingers in her hair, soft and thick as water.
He whispered, "If I could be with you."
"Okay, okay, Harry." Michiko let her head loll in his hand. She stubbed out her cigarette and pulled off her socks. "You win."
The Happy Paris had originally been a tearoom. Harry had transformed it with saloon tables, a bar stocked with Scotch instead of sake and a red neon sign of the Eiffel Tower that sizzled over the door. Half the clientele were foreign correspondents who had been blithely assigned by the AP, UPI or Reuters without a word of Japanese. Some were mere children sent directly from the Missouri School of Journalism. Harry took mercy on them as if he were their pastor and they were his flock, translating for them the gospel of Domei, the Japanese news agency. The other regulars were Japanese reporters, who parked motorcycles outside the club for a quick getaway in case war broke out, and Japanese businessmen who had traveled the world, liked American music and knew one Dorsey brother from the other. The closer war seemed, the more people packed the Happy Paris and all of Tokyo's bars and theaters, peep shows and brothels.
They didn't come for geishas. Geishas were a luxury reserved for financial big shots and the military elite. But if it was a rare man who could afford a geisha, a couple of yen could buy even a poor man the attentions of a café waitress. Waitresses came in all varieties, sweet or acid, shy or sharp, wrapped in kimonos or little more than a skirt and garter.
Many came for Michiko. Michiko was the Record Girl for the Happy Paris. Her task was simply to stand in a sequined jacket by a Capehart jukebox as tall as she was and, at her own mysterious whim, push the buttons for music -- "Begin the Beguine" followed by Basie followed by Peggy Lee. Seventy-eights changed in slow motion from tone arm to turntable under an illuminated canopy of milk-blue glass, and dropped down the spindle with an audible sigh. Michiko did virtually nothing. The waitresses, Kimi and Haruko, circulated in short tricolor skirts. Haruko patterned herself from her hair to her toes on Michiko, but her legs were sausages in contrast to Michiko's in their silky hose. While Haruko and Kimi had actually been geishas and could simper and giggle with the best, Michiko cut customers dead. She played only records of her choice, a balance of swing and blues, closing her eyes and swaying so subtly to a song that she sometimes seemed asleep. The year before, there had been a fan magazine devoted to her -- "The Sultry Queen of Jazz: Her Music, Her Hobbies, Her Weaknesses!" -- totally fabricated, of course, with some snapshots. What made Michiko stand out most, Harry thought, was that even in the middle of a crowded club, with a dozen tables and booths full of voices, food and drinks shuttling back and forth on trays, she could have been alone. Michiko maintained a lack of self-consciousness that, added to a complete lack of morality, lent her a feline independence. She replaced "My Heart Stood Still" with "Any Old Time," Shaw's clarinet made lush with a saxophone reed.
Copyright © 2002 by Titanic Productions
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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