Roppongi, Tokyo, on New Year's Eve

Roppongi, Tokyo, on New Year's Eve
Among other things, I am writing a detective series that takes place in Tokyo. The first novel, "Be Careful What You Ask For," centers on a much-admired Tokyo police inspector being forced to confront his ties to a crime family while investigating a murder in Roppongi.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Detective novel continued 2

Here are a few more scenes from the detective novel I'm writing:
(previous posts can take you back to the beginning. It's worth it!)

        Watching Sato interrogate the two black GIs, Endo was sure they were lying to save their own necks and would incriminate this Jones person who killed Kimi Yamada. Rejected by a beautiful Japanese woman and the little waitress repeating the “No, Charlie, no!” And then the GI fled the scene without talking to his comrades or taking them with him? It was good enough for him, and he looked forward to getting this GI Jones in a room and getting a confession out of him.
        Still, he wanted to know what Sato was thinking. He asked him, “You think he did it?”
        “I don’t know,” Sato said. “But it means contacting the Americans. That means the press, headquarters, all kinds of interference. Such a nuisance. But it must be done.”
        Endo wondered why it made Sato look so unhappy.
        As Nakamura made his way out of the club a tearful, enraged Hayashi cornered him just before he reached the exit, grabbed him and spun him around, her hands like talons reaching out to claw the man’s face.
        “You lied about Jun Fujimori, you ass!” she hissed, furious at feeling she was part of an elaborate lie. She knew the club’s owner hated that Kimi Yamada was involved with a black American GI. She knew he was the son of a yakuza boss, a thug, a skirt chaser, and a man who could not control his temper. But criminal or not, she did not want any part of misleading the police. Hayashi’s fury propelled her words: “You knew he saw Kimi with the GI. And you know he sent a note to the bar. Why didn’t you tell that detective?”
        “Are you kidding?” he whispered, watching Sato talking to the GIs in the other room. Ashen, desperate for the opium he craved, Nakamura hissed, “You want to get killed? I don’t. When he saw her with that black foreigner he was ready to go crazy. It was all I could do to keep him from doing something stupid, the ass. I know he owns the place, but he’s dangerous when he’s angry and he wanted Kimi for himself.”
        Hayashi didn’t care what excuses Nakamura came up with. “That cop is going to find out that a gangster’s kid owns this place and then he’ll back asking all kinds of questions,” she warned Nakamura. “And I’m going to tell him.”
        “You say anything,” the manager said, transforming into something truly reptilian and menacing, “and you will be dead. I don’t want anyone tracing this back to us. Or we’ll both be dead.”
        Hayashi knew Nakamura was right. She slumped onto a chair and moaned, “I don’t want Kimi’s death on my conscience.”
        “You don’t even know how she died,” Nakamura said. “That GI could have done it.”
        Wiping her tears away, she looked at Nakamura. “That GI loved Kimi.
        “You don’t know anything.”
        “I know more than you think I do. And if you don’t tell that officer about him…”
        “Don’t say a word,” Nakamura said, evil in very word, “or you’ll be next.”
        Hayashi felt too drained to move. Nakamura’ menacing scorn filled her mind. She knew the creepy little man was right. Mentioning the club owner’s name could be fatal. And she liked her life, small as it was.
        Poor Kimi.
        Hayashi knew she would never be able to get that girl out of her mind.      

Monday, June 25, 2012

Detective novel continued

Here are a few more scenes from the detective novel I'm writing:
(previous posts can take you back to the beginning. It's worth it!)
     The two Marines had silently watched Abe walk over to a sergeant and two officers, point directly at them and then say something that made the other customers gather their things then stand and leave the club. Then they watched Sato’s interrogation, all the while calculating the odds of their spending the night in a Tokyo jail.
     The taller of the two, Lance Corporal Ty Johnson, was thin for a Marine. He had been a long-distance runner in high school and in the Corps he had the reputation of never fatiguing when the demands of physical exertion and bearing 70-pound gear packs were at its worse. Johnson did not know exactly what was going on, but he could tell Sato was a man you did not mess around with. As he sat and watched Sato he knew his conscience was clear. He had done nothing and had nothing to hide. He was not sure he could convince the cops, though.
     Private Rodney Ballard was not the reflective type. He had waited all week to come up to Tokyo and have a good time. When that waitress came in screaming, stopping the show dead, he knew any hopes he had for a weekend away from the base, from being a Marine, was all gone. Typical Ballard bad luck. And now here were the cops, and one of them spoke English too damn good.
     Johnson didn’t know Ballard well enough to know for certain if he could keep his mouth shut and stay out of trouble. Not knowing gnawed at him.
     Ballard was certain he was going to spend the night in jail. He could barely sit still while Sato was interrogating the staff. He kept muttering “I should have known, I should have known” over and over. “Go out on the town, wind up with the police. Every time. Happens every time.”
     “Shut up,” Johnson hissed. “Shut up and be cool. We didn’t do anything. We don’t know anything. The sooner we’re out of here the better off we’ll be.”
     “How many times you been arrested?”
     “Thought so,” Ballard muttered. He knew from long experience the odds were pretty good that if the police were asking them questions on a Friday night they would be seeing the inside of a jail cell before the night was over.
     The two stopped hissing at each other when Sato walked over, grabbed a tiny black chair and sat directly across from them. Abe and Endo positioned themselves behind Sato. The police sergeant did not move. They all kept an eye on the Marines as Sato flipped to a page in his notebook, click his pen, and said: “My name is Sato. I’m with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Thank you for your cooperation. I have a couple of questions for you. First, do I have your names right? Johnson and Ballard?”
     Suspicious “yes sirs” came forth.
     “Was there another man with you tonight?
     Ballard began to say “no” but Johnson cut him off: “Yes sir, there was one man, Charlie Jones. Another Marine. We’re all Marines.”
     “Ah, Jones,” Sato said, scribbling in his notebook. “Embassy?”
     Neither could hide their surprise at the question. Johnson only said, “No, Yokosuka,” wondering how some Japanese cop knew where Marines were stationed.
     “Here for the night?”
     “We’re staying at the Sanno, sir,” Johnson replied.
     Sato knew the place. It was the American serviceman’s hotel. Of course. It wasn’t so far away. “Is that where your friend is? At the Sanno?”
     The question came out innocently enough, and Ballard didn’t like it. Johnson could tell Ballard was about ready to say something stupid so he kicked his foot. Ballard shot Johnson a dirty look as he reached down to rub the spot that ached so, but he kept his mouth shut.
     Sato ignored it all. “It would take just a phone call to find out if he’s there.”
     “OK!” Ballard said as frustration and contempt overcame him. “We don’t know nothin’. What’s this all about?”

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Writers Roundup

Some good stuff from across the digital spectrum this week:

Rob on Writing: Are You Still Tryign to Sell a Million E-Books?
Read what Rob Guthrie has to say about tenacity.

Writers Digest: 5 Story Mistakes Even Good Writers Make
Find out when to hold back and go for broke.

WriteToDone: Patrick Ross talks about 4 Rewards from Creative Writing Immersion
See what Patrick shared about tapping into creativity.

CheryRiefWrites: How to Pitch Your Book
Linda Rohrbaugh covers the basics of the book pitch

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Friday at the Hotel Bar

 While the detective novel is going through its edits, you're invited to take a look at a short story from my collection ''Still life in the Rear-View Mirror.''

Friday at the Hotel Bar

     Mike Benton knew that so far, it had been a bad day. He just hoped, and prayed, that it wasn't a sign of things to come.
     He really had prayed. From his long-ago Catholic childhood he remembered the prayer to the Virgin Mary. And he wasn't being a smartass when he began saying, "Hell, Mary, full of grace, the lord is with you... ." He wasn't aware of his slip-up. It was just a reflection of his mood.
     He had just been to see where he would be working, the job he took sight unseen, the agreement to take the job a verbal handshake over the phone. What he saw left him shaken. Then he went to the bar of the hotel, at least the only hotel he could find, that had a sign that said 'bar', and to be honest, after an hour or so in town, he really didn't know where he was going. But he knew it was late in the afternoon, his wife and baby boy were at the hotel taking a long, late nap, and there wasn't any reason to go wake them up.
     So he stepped into the bar, attached to hotel that looked like a set for a bad ’70s Western. It had that late afternoon look to it, not quite open, not quite busy, the walls, a blond-colored paneling, faded and probably sticky to the touch, the floor, linoleum with Olympic-sized cracks, whole chunks missing, and the tables and chairs, well, the tables and chairs that shit-brown color and in a state that indicated they were at least secondhand when they found their way here.
     There were fluorescent lights on the ceiling but they weren't turned on. That moment usually came at closing time. A huge swath of late afternoon sun was catching four or five panes of dirty glass and it was amazing at how well lit the room was because of it. There looked what appeared to be heavy velour curtains that, at some point, would be drawn shut. Beyond the far curtain, a funny shade of black with a brown tint, was a small stage, probably big enough for four band mates, but definitely crowded if there was a fifth.
     A bartender and a couple of old-timers at the other end of the bar were the only other people in the place. The old-timers took no notice of Mike, who sat on a stool and ordered the first beer he recognized. Not being from those parts, the beers had different names. When the beer arrived, the bartender put the beer in front of him and then returned to his post in the middle of the bar, half listening to the old timers, half thinking to himself. A short man with wavy brown hair that looked suspiciously like it was dyed that color, the bartender didn't once look at Mike again until Mike asked for another beer. The first beer had taken a painfully slow 15 minutes to drink. A reformed smoker, Mike had nothing to do with his hands except flip over matchbooks and coasters. It was one of three reasons why he didn't go into bars anymore. The second and third reasons were asleep in a motel three blocks away.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Father's Day

For fathers past, present and future, and the people love them. 

A Father's Day

That day the alarm went off at 5 a.m. On a normal day that’d be an hour I’d be going to bed. This wasn’t a normal day, and not just because I wasn’t home. I was home, in a way. I was in the town my son lives in, a city on the Canadian prairie. It’s sort of a second home. I was visiting, and I took a motel room, and we were seeing each other and hanging out and this particular morning we were getting up at five a.m. But it wasn’t a normal day.
A trip to see the lad included a drive up to Sheho, a town of 350 on the Yellowhead Highway between Winnipeg and Edmonton.
There is a church there, and a cemetery, and the grandfather wanted to go to the church that day for it was the church’s feast day and there the priest would come from Brandon. There’d be a service in the tiny church and then there’d be a ceremony in the cemetery next door, where the grandfather’s mother and father were buried. The lad was supposed to be the altar boy. He’s an altar boy at the Orthodox pro-cathedral in town, and he was supposed to assist at this event.
The mother didn’t want the grandfather to drive, and in conversations before my arrival I said I’d be glad to go to Sheho, and that I’d drive if necessary. This was what the mother wanted. She didn’t think her father was up to driving anymore. The day before the trip I saw the grandfather and his new station wagon, and we talked, and we decided he would drive. I didn’t want to insult the man, nor argue his daughter’s case, as it wasn’t mine to argue. I was going to be a passenger. I’d keep an eye on things.
With arrangements made, and the alarm now having performed its duty, it was up to me to shower and shave and get ready to go in a manner to set an example with the youngster. I needn’t bothered. He was up, dressed, and ready long before I’d turned on the hot water tap in the bathroom. He was good at getting up, and getting ready. He was trained well. I needn’t have worried, and by the time I was ready, we were on our way to the grandfather’s, who wanted to leave early so we’d have time for breakfast on the way. That was how it turned out, too. By the time we reached the town of Ituna there was time for breakfast, big and reasonably priced, eaten in an easy manner with the grandfather and father teasing the lad about his entry into the sixth grade the next day and how big he was getting, and how he’d be as big as his dad before long. The boy took it all with a grin. It was clear he loved being with his grandfather and father.
Our small party arrived at the church grounds just as the service was starting. In Orthodox churches, separating the congregation from the altar, there is a great screen decorated with icons and images from the life of Christ and his Apostles. Behind this screen the priest was hearing confession. There wasn’t enough time for the boy to find out if he was needed as an altar boy. The service began soon enough as the priest, finished with confession, walked out wearing his gold vestments and began the opening prayer. It didn’t appear that the boy’s services were required after all. The boy sat next to his grandfather, and as the service began, it was clear that there were going to be more people than there would be room in the small church, even as they took seats in the vestibule of the church. I decided to spend my time outside, listening as the service progressed, listening to the choir respond to the priest’s supplications. The average age of the choir, much like that of the congregation, was about 65 to 70 years old. Even with the Dumanski’s two boys, aged 3 and 18 months, and the boy, it was clearly an older crowd at the church.
Sheho is the Cree word for prairie chicken. When Ukrainian immigrants came to the area at the turn of the last century, when the province was still the Northwest Territory, such creatures lived in the scrub tree thickets and groves, along with the prairie dogs, pheasant and quail and deer. It was tough, dry, cold country. The land needed to be busted up and plowed, grain planted and harvested and be shipped East to the food companies so a nation could be fed. An immigrant’s part in the whole process started with a homestead, 40 acres, a good horse, a mud house, or if you were lucky and had the right type of trees on your land, a house with four strong walls and a roof, raised and set before that first bitter prairie winter set in. And a man knew his best friend was the horse he was tethered to, the two of them busting land that would help the family last another year.
Taking on land in plots close to the Yellowhead Highway meant a man had land close to the road traveled by the characters that typically went back and forth on roads, peddlers and agents and such, people who had news to tell, and so a man didn’t feel so cut off from the world.
A community would build a school and a teacher would come and be paid by funds raised by the families, or in livestock and vegetables. Many of the people standing and sitting and listening to that priest celebrate that feast day in that old church, 97 years after its dedication were students at such schools who lived their lives on such homesteads, educated in a time and place far removed from the new country and a new century they’d not yet gotten used to.
The grandfather had grown up on the hardscrabble land, his father working land here and there, wherever a deal could be made for something better, hedging a bet and working out of bad luck, mostly. Older brothers worked the land, he and a younger sister tended to the animals before school. There were four or five years of that before work became a serious thing.
The service began its second hour, the Orthodox liturgy lingering over the mystery of the Christos. The late August sun began its work in earnest, heating a land with wheat, canola, oats, peas, timothy, alfalfa, ready for the combine, the reaper, the header. The land was hard and thick with grasshoppers. Late-summer rain brought mosquitoes quick on the attack. It was hard to remember they were God’s creatures, even when standing in a church yard.
The after the service the congregation assembled outside and the priest blessed the church, the land and then the procession up the small slope to the cemetery south of the church. The grass was freshly mowed and weeded and some plots had fresh flowers. Despite the walkers and canes the procession was something like a children’s walk, the old men and old women with grandchildren and great-grandchildren of their own visiting the graves of their parents, their aunts and uncles, their brothers and sisters.
Kuzyk, Romaniuk, Melnychuk, Shevchenko, Svoboda, Wiesliu, Dymanski. The graves bore names I didn’t know, and I knew I was a visitor to the place, linked to the land there by the blood of a son who was Ukrainian and a Canadian as well as a German-Irish American.
I stood there, watching the procession, the priest praying the prayers of the living for the souls of the dead. And that’s when I realized these grandfathers and grandmothers were at once aged and at the same time they were children visiting their families. That's what was really going on. It was a special day for the people who loved that church, who had their families buried here. They wanted to be there on a holy day and say hello to mama and papa, and tell them they’re still trying to be good boys and girls, doing what the Bible said, to honor thy father and mother.
I bent over and whispered into my son’s ear, “take a good look at all these grandmas and grandpas. You know who they really are? Children, coming to visit their mothers and fathers. When they come here they are children again.” My son looked at me and laughed a small laugh at the idea. I don’t know if he understood what I said, or whether he laughed at the idea of all these old people being young.
Before heading home, the grandfather wanted to show the boy the house where he grew up. It was only a mile or so from the cemetery, on a gravel lane, behind a grove. The old man and the boy got out of the car and walked across a field of ripening oats. I stayed in the car, and watched the two cross the field.
I knew the grandfather, nearly 80 now, liked these visits with the past. And I could easily see him as a lad no older than my own son, crossing that field after school, or with a pole with a few fish from the stream north of where I stood.
We live solitary lives at our own peril. Some of us are put on Earth lucky enough to know the goodness and the love of parents who bear us, and we try to live our lives as our parents did, and their parents did. Some of us remain single, and some go on to have children who go on to live the lives they are meant to live. And if they are lucky they fondly remember a loved one, and a visit to their resting place seems as natural as the desire to sit and talk once more.
My cousin once said it wasn’t really Christmas until he was with his dad. I know what he means now. My special time of the year is when I’m with my son. It doesn’t matter if we spend the day at a cemetery, or reminisce with an old man. It’s better that way, I think. Some memories are treasures too fine for wrapping paper and bows.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What was Victoria's Secret?

Here's a little something while the editing continues:

Victoria’s Secret

Something seemed out of place in the living room decorated red and green and gold. It didn’t take long to see it was the pale peach bag off to the side of heavily decorated Christmas tree with presents populating the lower reaches.
     It was a pale peach shopping bag, tasteful and eye catching, and even if it did not have the easily identifiable Victoria's Secret script on each broad side it would have stood out among the gifts in shiny lacquered paper with festive bows and ribbons. These gifts dominated the landscape, but once the bag was noticed, it stood out in a decidedly un-Christmas fashion.
     The bag was under the tree in the living room of a predominately female household. Three grown daughters frequently darkened the front door to the hallway and stairway and kitchen of their youth. One, the youngest, may not have even officially left home. But her infrequent presence made her seem more a visitor than a resident. This worked out well for the wayward uncle visiting that particular Christmas. He could stretch out in slumber in her unused room, giving the poor convertible couch in the television room a reasonable retirement.
     In a house with four women it would seem that a pale peach shopping bag from Victoria's Secret would invite some comment.  It didn't. Studiously ignored or embarrassingly avoided, it sat off to the side, on its own.
     In that house, in that year, that particular Christmas was one fashioned for grownups. The presence of the wayward uncle did little to improve the ratio of men to women. Women outnumbered men 4-3. So it can be said: That particular Christmas could be construed as feminine. So a shopping back from Victoria's Secret was not so out of place, even among the holiday decor.
     As it was, the house wasn't quiet, nor still, and the mother and her husband juggled schedules and errands and daughter's schedules and holiday demands. It was how their life was defined.
      The wayward uncle’s payment for renting the space in the house was a cut-glass bowl he filled with wrapped chocolates. His reward was being with family for the holidays. Over the years a lot of his free time was spent at that house, with that sister and her daughters. He felt welcome there. He was close to his sisters and as close to his nieces as most uncles are, or try to be.
     It could be said that the mother and her daughters were close: the upheavals of life certainly had visited them in their lives together in that house. And it's understandable a mother with three daughters wouldn't have the exact same relationship with all three. Even as adults, children don't lose their uniqueness, or their differences, as they are bound to be in different stations and places in their lives. At any moment, a mother keeps in mind these differences, and manages the best she can the needs of those hearts she holds dear.
     This particular Christmas also was unusual not just for the absence of children, but, the ritual of opening gifts in the presence of loved ones was postponed until evening, when all could be together. It made the day calm and steady in a way more typical with adults than with children.
     And so when evening approached, and all the characters assembled, in the usual rush of family and greetings and conversation and food and warm familiar emotions, the Victoria's Secret bag remained anonymous, holding its position, waiting its turn for attention. As everyone assembled, settled, and viewed the scene, its presence was silently noted but uncommented upon. As the unwrapping of gifts came to its conclusion, the Victoria's Secret bag become more noticeable, until, at last, it was the center of attention.
     The oldest daughter reached for it and gave it to her mother, who accepted it with a puzzled but bemused smile.
     "I wonder what's in here?" she asked quietly.
     "It's a surprise," her daughter answered.
     And after lifting a piece of wrapping paper from the top of the items, each one was introduced to the viewers, in silence.
     A baby blanket.
     A rattle.
     A infant's toy.
     A baby book.
     Gasps and murmurs were one.
     Tears fell from the mother's eyes.
     The mother-to-be couldn't contain herself any longer: "We're going to have a baby!"
     Joy and laughter erupted: An entire household, and entire holiday, an entire family was set on its head! The mother-to-be confessed she'd known for months but couldn't, wouldn't say anything until Christmas, and said it was the hardest thing she'd ever done.
     The mother, now a grandmother-to-be, knew that silence, that keeping of a secret, was a gift, for she knew her daughter would tell her anything. Her sacrifice of silence sealed the surprise. The ruse was perfect.
     All eyes fell on those innocent items, and the promise they held.
     And no one every looked at the pale peach Victoria's Secret bag quite the same way afterward.