Incident in Alaska Prefecture
The German-Japanese Axis rules the world with an iron hand. Levi Fischer, one of the last Jews in the Alaska Prefecture, works hard, keeps his head down and hopes the Japanese overseers do not notice him. All is well until a fateful, snowy night when a dying Japanese manager bursts into the small wooden office where Levi is quietly doing his job. Levi is propelled into the center of a plot he would never willingly join.
Fans of the Phillip K. Dick novel The Man in the High Castle will enjoy this visit to a time and a place where a single misstep can cost a life.
Livengood, Alaska Prefecture, February 1967
Levi’s phone rang and he answered while continuing to read the railroad maintenance report.
“Mr. Fischer,” the instantly recognizable voice said, “this is Major Miamatsu. Please board the next bus into Fairbanks and report to my office.”
“Yes, major. I’m not sure what the bus sched–“
“The southbound bus from Yukon Station will be in Livengood in seventeen minutes.”
“Thank you for the information. I will be on it.”
Miamatsu hung up.
Jim Spreter looked up from his work.
“Yeah. I’ve got sixteen minutes to catch the bus.”
“It’s been three days since Suzuki died, I thought maybe they had it all figured out.”
“He didn’t mention Suzuki. He didn’t say why he wants me there.”
“Good luck, Fish.”
He hurried to his cabin and grabbed his travel kit. The waterproof packet contained matches, flint and steel, a small can of sterno, and a chocolate bar. The packet fit easily into his parka pocket, didn’t weigh much, and could literally be a lifesaver.
The bus officially seated 44 people but only six passengers sat scattered about when he boarded. He showed the driver his transport pass and his identification even though he had personally hired the man three years earlier. This was no time to skip protocol. Besides, any one of the other passengers could be a government agent seeking laxity in basic operations and hungering for an opportunity to report someone for ignoring standard security on the bus.
Four of the other passengers were definitely Japanese, another was probably Korean rather than Chinese as he was well dressed, and the sixth man was a Negro. As the driver was an Athabascan, Levi felt conspicuous.
At least they don’t know I am Jewish.
He quickly glanced around to see if anyone registered his thought. He felt appalled that he allowed it to cross his mind. Levi did not personally know any other Jew than himself. At times he was not sure he knew himself; it didn’t seem safe.
The bus made good time on the frozen gravel road and its interior was toasty. In an hour and a half they reached Fox where two people got off the vehicle and three more boarded. He read the bright posters above the bus windows so many times he had them memorized.
All extolled the virtue of labor and the prosperous glory of the Japanese Empire and the Greater Pacific Co-Prosperity Sphere. Half an hour after leaving Fox they pulled into Fairbanks just as the sun was going down. Throughout the trip the bus had passed only two private autos and three Japanese armored patrol cars.
The bus station sat a block from the Kempeitai Headquarters. Levi rucked his parka hood out to maximum length and walked steadily toward the building. A haze of ice fog hung over the town, diffusing the garish, blinking neon signs in Japanese and English advertising alcohol, women, baths, and various other sanctioned vices. Music leaked from some of the establishments giving the scene a surrealistic harmonic background by mixing cowboy music with a lone samishen.
At these temperatures if one breathed too deeply the lining of the lungs would frost and freeze; that promised a painful death. Haste did not pay positive dividends in this climate.
Walk fast enough to stay warm and slow enough not to sweat.
That had been one of the most repeated pieces of advice given him when he approached his first winter in Alaska Prefecture. He used it as a mantra to pace himself when agitated, which accurately described his current mental state.
The first person he saw when he entered Kempeitai headquarters was an armed guard in dress uniform holding a new Type 100 machine-gun. Levi showed his identity card and moved past when the guard nodded.
A slender Japanese man moved forward.
“Mr. Fischer? I am Juro Sendai, Major Miamatsu’s assistant. Would you follow me please?”
Levi followed, wondered why he was being treated so deferentially. The last time he had been here as a witness in the traffic death of a Japanese child, he had been treated rudely, like a criminal. His former memories of this building had built a shell of fear around the experience.
Miamatsu stood inside his office as Sendai motioned Levi forward.
“Have a seat, Mr. Fischer.”
Levi glanced behind him to discover Sendai had vanished. He sat.
Miamatsu carefully sat in the chair on the other side of the desk, leaned back, and regarded Levi.
“Your work has been exemplary, Mr. Fischer. You have served the Emperor well.”
Even though confused, Levi snapped his head forward in a bow he timed at ten seconds. When he looked up again, he thought he detected a thin smile on Miamatsu’s face.
“Therefore you are to be rewarded.”
Levi’s agitation ratcheted up to a higher degree. The Japanese predilection for advancing people past the point of their competence and then destroying them for failure was well known to him. He realized that never before in his life had he been in more danger than at this moment.
“Rewarded for what? I don’t understand.”
Miamatsu’s face betrayed no emotion as his eyes held Levi’s.
“You are now Director of Labor for the Yukon-Fairbanks Railway Project.”
“Why?” he said through a gasp, “I, I mean, thank you. I am greatly honored, but how is it that I warrant such a boon?”
“You have shown diligence in every position you have held. This has been noticed. Furthermore, you have effortlessly picked up the burdens of your late supervisor, Mr. Mathieson, in addition to your own tasks.”
Whitey Matheson had been dead for six weeks. After years of working with the man, handling Whitey’s responsibilities had been as effortless as an afterthought. For this they were promoting him yet again? The decision made no sense to him.
“We realized that you were the perfect person to fill the void left by Mr. Suzuki. Being single and without family, the only hold we have over you is your very life for a perceived failure. On Monday you will present yourself at the headquarters building at Yukon Station for orientation.
“As of this moment you are awarded Lotus clearance, a thirty percent raise in wages, and privileges to be defined at a later date. Here are your official orders.” He handed Levi a thick sheaf of paper, folded but not sealed.
“Congratulations, Mr. Fischer.” Miamatsu stood and Levi scrambled to his feet, immediately giving the man a first-degree bow, frantically searching for a reason to refuse.
“You will now be driven to the station to catch the afternoon train to Livengood. Your furniture and baggage will be moved for you. You will be met at Yukon Station when you exit the morning train on Monday.” Miamatsu motioned him toward the now open office door.
Juro Sendai stood at attention as Levi walked past him and down the long corridor, mind racing, clutching his orders, and trying not to tremble or weep in his defeat.
He reflected that all this had started three days ago with the door to his office bursting open.
Levi Fischer had just laughed at Jim Spreter’s joke when the front office door crashed open and someone stumbled in and fell full length on the floor. Bone numbing cold rushed through the opening; its bitter breath fogged the warm room.
“What the hell?” Jim yelled as he jumped up and slammed the door. The temperature in the office had already dropped over twenty degrees.
Levi hurried around his desk and rolled the person over. The frost bitten face took a moment to identify. The man’s eyes darted aimlessly and his lips moved without sound.
“Mister Suzuki? Can you hear me?” Levi looked up at Jim. “Get a blanket, he’s nearly frozen solid.”
With obvious effort Suzuki focused on Levi’s face and tried to speak.
Levi bent down and put his ear next to the man’s lips.
“…warn them…” came the breathless whisper.
“Warn who, about what?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t understand. Wait until we get you some medical help.”
“No time!” the man gasped and then went slack. All animation ceased.
“Mr. Suzuki? Sir, can you hear me?” Levi looked up as Jim returned with a blanket. “I think he’s dead.”
“Let me see.” Jim knelt down and put two fingers on the man’s throat. “He’s not supposed to be here, dammit!” He shifted his fingers for a moment before rocking back on his heels.
“Yeah, he’s gone. We better call the police.”
Levi dialed the local number for civilian police.
“Prefecture Police Department, Scanlon speaking, sir.”
Despite himself and the situation, Levi had smirked. Corporal Scanlon’s entire department was a small, two-room building on the other side of the train station and he was the only officer.
“Charlie, this is Levi over in personnel. Mr. Suzuki just busted into the office and died.”
“What? Just died?”
“Yeah, can you come over?”
“I’ll be right there.”
Levi hung up the phone and squinted his eyes at Jim. “What did you mean, ‘He’s not supposed to be here!’”
Jim hesitated, then said, “Well hell no! He’s supposed to be up at Yukon Station. What kind of a question is that?”
“Sorry, it just sounded like you knew where he– oh, to hell with it, never mind.”
Three minutes later Corporal Charles Scanlon walked through the door and nearly stepped on Mr. Suzuki’s corpse.
“Shit, you weren’t kidding,” he said staring down. He pushed the door shut behind him and opened his parka. “Tell me what happened.”
“What did he say?” He scratched away at his little notebook. “Tell me that again.”
“He said, ‘warn them, project must stop,’ and ‘no time.’ Then he died. I called you. All of this happened in the last ten minutes.”
Scanlon wrote furiously for nearly another minute. “I don’t dare disturb the body. He’s Japanese and we ain’t. They got some pretty strange laws y’know.” Scanlon looked worried.
“We can’t just leave him here!” Jim said.
Scanlon swept them with his gaze.
“The hell you can’t. I’m securing this as a possible crime scene. You both have to leave until the place has been cleared by the Kempeitai.”
“Crime scene!” Jim shouted. “There was no crime committed here! The man pushed through the door, fell down, and fuckin’ died! How is that a crime?”
“Sorry guys, the Japs will sort it all out. There’s nothing more I can do.”
“Jim,” Levi said in a low tone, “Let it go. He’s right, there’s nothing we can do about this. Take the rest of the day off.”
“Okay, Levi. Thanks.”
“Don’t talk to anyone about this. Where you gonna be? The Kempeitai will want to talk to you” Scanlon said.
“For Christ’s sake, Charlie, we’re in Livengood. I’ll either be at the Roadhouse or in my cabin.”
Jim Spreter stomped out of the door pulling on his parka as he went.
“Call the Kempeitai, Charlie,” Levi said. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
“You’ll have to leave, too,” Charlie said as he stood up.
“That’s not going to happen unless you leave with me and we lock the door.”
“What? I’m a corporal in the Prefecture Police, so you gotta do what I tell you.”
“You are the one who said ‘crime,’ not me. I know I didn’t commit one, and I know Jim didn’t commit one. I’m not leaving you here alone to alter the crime scene.”
A look of shock went over the beefy man’s face.
“You accusing me of something, Fischer?
“Just call the damn Japs, okay? We’re wasting time.”
Glaring, Charlie pushed past him, picked up the receiver and didn’t look down until he started dialing.
“Good afternoon to you, too. This is Corporal Charles Scanlon at the Livengood station. I want to report a dead man.” He stared hard at Levi while he listened. “Yes, I know the man, his name is, uh, was Hiraku Suzuki, works for the railroad out of Yukon Station.”
Levi kept his face blank and his emotions bottled up. If there had been anyone else he could have called, he would have. He suspected the only way Charlie ever made corporal was by volunteering for this one-man station in the middle of a boreal forest.
“Hello, I–, yes, Suzuki. Livengood, on the Elliot Hi–, uh, yes. Yes, major, I will do that. Very go–“ Charlie slammed the receiver onto the cradle. “Son-of-a-bitch hung up on me!”
“What did he say?”
“We gotta write a report, every detail of what happened. They’ll be here within two hours.”
“We have to write a report?” Levi said with a thin smile. “As you so loudly pointed out, you are the police here. I’m just a witness.”
“You type better than I do!”
“If the report doesn’t have at least one misspelled word in every sentence they’ll know you didn’t write it.”
“Why you being such an asshole, Levi?” he said with a pained look.
“It’s an affliction I Just caught. I think there’s something contagious going around. Let’s lock the door and go to your office; you didn’t give them the location of the body anyway.”
“Damn, you’re right! C’mon.”
Charlie was still laboriously pecking at the typewriter with two fingers when the door opened admitting four men and another massive volume of frigid air and attendant fog. They slammed the door behind them. Two of them wore army uniforms and one of the men in civilian clothes looked around the room and then stared down at Charlie.
“Where is the body of Mr. Suzuki?”
“Over at the railroad office, where he died,” Charlie said.
The man looked at Levi with hard eyes. “Who are you?”
“Levi Fischer, Mr., ah–“
“I am Major Miamatsu, Imperial Army Kempeitai. You are head of personnel for this section of the Yukon-Fairbanks Railroad, no?”
“Yes,” Levi said trying to hide the surprise in his voice.
“Were you in the office when Mr. Suzuki died?”
“Show me.” Miamatsu nodded toward the door.
The other man in civilian clothes opened the door while carefully observing Levi’s every action.
Levi pulled on his parka.
Charlie said, “Shouldn’t I come–”
“Finish your report,” the major snapped and motioned Levi out the door.
The cold bit at his face and he wanted to pull his hood forward to create a safe dead-air space. However Miamatsu wore only an overcoat and fur hat with the earflaps snapped up. If the major wanted to show how tough he was Levi would at least match him.
A black Mitsubishi sedan sat in front of the police station, engine running. Behind it a gray Mazda van idled. Red Japanese characters for “law soldier,” what everyone referred to as the Kempeitai or secret police, adorned the side.
At the office Levi stepped to one said and said, “He’s on the floor, just inside the door.”
Miamatsu nodded and said, “Wait here. Hamada, you’re with me.”
The other man in civilian clothes followed the major.
The cold bit at Levi’s face and ears, and his nostrils stuck together when he breathed through his nose. It was far too cold to breathe through his mouth so he pulled his parka hood to full extension. Both of the soldiers flanked him with their parka hoods completely hiding their heads. He wondered how long he was going to have to be out here before this thing was finished.
The door opened and Miamatsu snapped, “In, all of you. Be careful not to step on the body.”
The soldiers waited for Levi to enter before eagerly crowding in behind him. Hamada was busily taking photos of the body and using one of the new electronic flash units for illumination.
Suzuki was still on the floor. However, his parka had been pulled open to better display his conservative suit coat, once-white shirt, and tie. All were saturated with frosted blood.
“Oh my god,” Levi blurted. “We didn’t know he had been injured.”
“Tell me everything,” Miamatsu said.
“Well, Jim Spreter and I were here–“
“There was another person present when this happened?”
“Yes, major. James Spreter, he’s my assistant.”
“Where is Mr. Spreter at this moment?”
“Either at home, or the Roadhouse Bar. I’d wager he’s at the Roadhouse if I were a betting man.”
Major Miamatsu looked up at one of the soldiers in uniform and snapped in Japanese, “Find Spreter; search the bar first.”
The soldier nodded and hurried out the door.
Over the years Levi had picked up enough Japanese to understand the kernel of their conversations. He never tried to speak the language or show any sign of understanding when being spoken to by a Japanese. Since a lot of Americans never bothered to learn more than a few phrases Levi felt it was his secret weapon; if you didn’t offer the information they always assumed you didn’t understand.
Levi had just finished repeating Suzuki’s final words for the second time when Jim walked through the door trailed by the soldier.
“Name?” Miamatsu said, staring up at Jim, who towered over everyone else in the room.
“James Spreter, chief personnel clerk for the Yukon-Fairbanks Railroad, sir.”
Miamatsu wrinkled his nose. “Have you been drinking, Mr. Spreter?”
“Sure,” he said with a shrug. “Levi gave me the rest of the day off so I was enjoying myself.”
“Tell me what happened here today.”
“Didn’t Levi tell–”
“I want to hear your version.”
His story didn’t deviate from Levi’s until the end.
“I didn’t hear what he whispered to Levi, I was too far away. I checked for his pulse and couldn’t find one.” Jim unbuttoned his parka and pulled it off, dropped it on his chair.
“Neither of you thought to open his coat?”
“We thought it best to call the local police,” Levi said. “So we did.”
Miamatsu rolled his eyes and Levi decided the guy had some promise as a human being after all. Hamada’s cheek muscles twitched before they got the order not to smile.
“I understand. Mr. Suzuki has been murdered. Did he have any enemies here?”
“Suzuki?” Jim said with a laugh. “I mean, none I knew of. He was always quiet, straight forward, and all business when he was down here.”
“We didn’t even know he was in the area,” Levi said. “He only comes down here for inspections once a month. We thought he was at the Yukon Station headquarters.”
Miamatsu gave Levi a level look. “Your dossier showed that this is a relatively new position for you, no?”
“I have been acting head of personnel for five weeks.”
“Your predecessor was promoted?”
“No. Mr. Mathieson died. They said it was a heart attack.”
Surprise flashed across Miamatsu’s face for the first time since he arrived.
“There was no mention…” he gave Hamada a beseeching look before turning back to Levi. “Was he perhaps a corpulent man with poor eating habits?”
“Hah,” Jim said. “He and I worked out at the little gym we built. He was in as good of shape as I am.”
Miamatsu glanced over Jim’s muscular physique and frowned. Hamada put a lens cap on the camera hanging around his neck and pulled his parka around it.
“Was an autopsy performed?”
“We don’t know, major,” Levi said. “The army took him away and we never heard any more about it.”
“Did you also witness his demise?”
“No. We found him in his cabin, dead.”
“Why were you at his cabin?”
“We came to work and the door was still locked. He was usually here at least an hour before we would arrive. That morning he wasn’t, so we went to check on him.”
Miamatsu pulled out a small notebook and rapidly wrote Japanese characters in neat, tight lines. He turned to Levi’s desk, picked up the telephone receiver and dialed. He spoke only Japanese and instructed the person on the other end to obtain a copy of Mathieson’s autopsy report by the time he returned to Fairbanks.
Hamada leaned against the wall, one hand loosely holding the other while he watched Levi and Jim with weary eyes.
What is this about? Levi wondered. Whitey’s been dead for over a month. Does this guy think there’s a connection?
Miamatsu hung up the phone and snapped orders to the soldiers to get the litter. They left the office.
“Mr. Fischer, there will be additional questions for you about this matter. It is interesting that the two of you are at the focal point of two deaths. Neither of you are to leave this area until further notice.”
Jim lost his half smile and stood straighter. “Major Miamatsu, my wife and daughters live in Fairbanks. I go home every weekend–“
“That is acceptable, Mr. Spreter. However, do not travel farther than Fairbanks or you will be placed in custody. Do you understand?”
The soldiers returned with a stretcher, placed Suzuki’s corpse on it, covered him with the blanket and carried him out. Corporal Charles Scanlon marched into the office and held out three sheets of paper to Miamatsu.
“Here you are, Major Miamatsu. My report; all typed and correct.” He started to grin but the effort died as soon as he looked into the officer’s face.
Miamatsu looked down at the report and slowly pulled it out of Charlie’s hand. Without reading any of it he handed it to Hamada, and said in Japanese, “This will not be a good example of written English, but search for anything relevant when we get back to the office.”
Hamada accepted the pages and closed his eyes in a long blink.
Miamatsu turned to Levi. “If you think of anything you may have inadvertently omitted, call me immediately.” He gave him a business card.
The two Japanese detectives pushed past Charlie and left the office.
When the door shut Charlie turned to Levi.
“What did you tell them?”
“We told them what happened. What did you think we would say?”
“What about my report? They were supposed to read it here!”
“You might catch them if you hurry,” Spreter said. “You could explain it to them.”
“One of these days I’m going to catch you assholes—“
“Charlie, shut up and go away,” Spreter said, rolling his shoulders.
As soon as the door shut, Levi looked at his friend. “Jim, what is going on?”
Jim Spreter looked back and said, “Anything worth knowing that I know, you already know about, Fish.”
“Why doesn’t that get rid of the doubt in my gut?”
“Because, deep down, you’re a cynic, Fish.”
Levi couldn’t argue with that.
Elliot Highway, Alaska Prefecture
Major Katsu Miamatsu had noted Fischer’s turmoil and wondered at the man’s agitation. He thought back to the night of the murder.
If Fischer is as clean as his record reflects, he might be useful as the replacement, Miamatsu had thought as he stared out the car window, but that is not my giri to decide. The snow-covered forest moved steadily past, opening now and then to reveal a quick glimpse of a moonlit meadow or the mirrored cleft of a frozen creek.
He appreciated the harsh extremes of interior Alaska Prefecture. If one could not embrace and bend with the seasons like the willow then one should seek the heat of more populous places like the slums of San Francisco. Unbidden, Miriam came to mind and he shook his head and forced his thoughts elsewhere.
Still staring out the window, he spoke to Sergeant Hamada.
“Who killed Suzuki, and why?”
“Those are the two questions I have been mulling since we discovered there had been a crime, major.”
“The killing has to be political,” Miamatsu said. “Suzuki still had his purse and identity badge. Of course that may not have been what the assassin sought. What else could it be?”
Sergeant Hamada shrugged. “To silence him, perhaps? Suzuki knew his proper station in life and worked tirelessly for the on he owed the Emperor. Perhaps he had defected to a different han?”
A dimly lit cabin over a hundred meters away from the road surrounded by a large, snow-covered meadow, captured Miamatsu’s attention for a moment. He wondered if it was a farm.
“That is even more troubling,” he said. “We both know Suzuki was a Kempeitai agent and part of our han. Mathieson was not a member of anything. I called Sendai and told him to obtain a copy of Mathieson’s autopsy. His death obviously did not raise the flags it should have.”
“Does that mean someone in the Kempeitai suppressed the potential importance of his death?” Hamada asked.
Miamatsu set the question aside while he contemplated the full meaning of the possibility. In an organization where secrets were common currency it might be easy to hide one for a time, but to what end? The silent tiger in the center of this discussion began to move so close it could no longer be ignored.
“Both murders had something to do with the Project,” he said softly.
“Then we must solve this quickly, major,” Hamada said.
“The copy of Mathieson’s autopsy will be on my desk by the time we return to the office tonight. There may be something there that others missed and once found we can safely push aside fears of a conspiracy.”
“What if we find a conspiracy?” Hamada asked.
“If we do, we have a much larger problem than the death of a functionary. We would be seeking people committing sedition.”
Light flashed past in the dark night. Miamatsu realized they had turned onto the Steese Highway and had just passed through the small mining town of Fox. In fifteen to twenty minutes they would arrive in Fairbanks.
“I need to clear my mind, Norio.”
Katsu Miamatsu relaxed into the soft seat cushions and sought the clarity of nothingness.
“Major Miamatsu, we have arrived,” the driver said, holding the door open.
“Thank you, Yori. You made excellent time.”
The driver made a second degree bow as Miamatsu and Hamada exited.
Miamatsu’s assistant stood at attention in the hallway to his office. When he was within five feet of him, the assistant bent from the waist.
This isn’t good, Miamatsu thought, he thinks he has failed me.
“Juro, is there a problem?”
Juro stood upright. “I could not fulfill your request, Major Miamatsu.”
“For a copy of the Mathieson autopsy report, major.”
“Who refused you a copy?” he said with heat in his tone.
“I was told there is no report, that Mr. Mathieson was not autopsied.”
Miamatsu motioned toward the door with his chin and Juro opened the door and followed him and Hamada into his office.
“Shut the door.”
Miamatsu pulled off his parka and hung it on a peg. Hamada opened his parka and dropped into a chair.
“Did the clerk you spoke with say why procedure had not been followed?”
“No, major. He was as mystified as I was when he discovered the omission.”
“Is Mathieson’s body still in the morgue?” He knew what the answer would be but he still needed to hear it.
“No, major. Mr. Mathieson was cremated two days after his death.”
Despite the outrage he felt, Miamatsu betrayed no emotion. He glanced at the sergeant for a moment.
“Well, it was a thought. I will have to find a different approach to my theory.”
“Is there any other task I may undertake for you, sir?”
“No. It’s after office hours. Go home to your wife and children.”
“Thank you, sir.” Juro gave him a quick bow and left.
He sat at his desk and thought about the ramifications of the lack of an autopsy.
“Either there was an autopsy and the results are secret,” he said to Hamada, “…or no autopsy was performed as they already knew how he died because they had him killed. We’ll work on this tomorrow, Norio. You go get some sleep; I have a report to write. Leave the report the incompetent wrote.”
Sergeant Norio Hamada stood, dropped the report on Miamatsu’s desk, and nodded.
“Thank you, major. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Miamatsu picked up the report and quickly scanned the assembly of deleted words and laborious circular explanation before dropping it on the desk. He moved his chair over to the typing table and rolled a blank official report form into the machine. Avoiding any speculation he put down the facts as related by the witnesses and his own direct observations of Suzuki’s death. In the space reserved for cause of death he typed, “Unknown. To be determined by autopsy.”
He pulled the report out of the typewriter, dated, and signed it. Before walking out the door he checked his reflection in the mirror and used his comb to tidy his appearance. He had to look his best even at this late hour.
Anticipating he would have to leave the report in his supervisor’s attention box he was surprised to see the office door open. He stopped at the door and knocked.
Lieutenant Colonel Akio Toragawa looked up from the report in his hand and acknowledged Miamatsu’s second-degree bow.
“Come in, major, I have been expecting you. Pull the door shut behind you.”
Miamatsu complied and, standing at attention, handed the report to his superior.
“Please, sit. Would you like tea?”
“Thank you, yes.” The light lunch no longer lingered after six hours and his physical hunger nearly matched his mental appetite for information.
The colonel poured tea and sat the pot back on the warming flame. He read the report, laid it on his desk, and stared at Miamatsu.
“Any guesses as to cause of death?”
“He was either shot or stabbed. All of the clothes on the upper body are saturated with blood.”
Toragawa nodded and his eyes hooded further.
“How did this murder compel you to request the autopsy report of a different person?”
“Until apprised by the men in the railroad office, I did not know of the recent death of Mr. Mathieson. Two unnatural deaths within five weeks in a place as small as Livengood seemed unusual to me and I wondered if they were somehow linked.”
“Why do you believe Mr. Mathieson’s death was unusual?”
“I am led to believe the man died of a heart attack.”
“Why do think that is unusual?”
“He was in excellent health, extremely fit, and thirty years old.”
“And your conclusion?”
“I do not yet have one, colonel. I first need to see Mr. Suzuki’s autopsy report and gather what information I can about Mr. Mathieson.”
“Allow me to save you some time and effort, major. There is no link. Mr. Mathieson died of natural causes.”
Miamatsu waited a few breaths for more information.
“Ah, that is good to know. I am grateful to you for the assistance.”
“We all serve the Emperor.”
Miamatsu stood and bowed.
“Thank you for your time and instruction, colonel.”
When he shut the door behind him Katsu Miamatsu allowed himself a small shudder. His earlier casual consideration of a conspiracy had solidified into a certainty, and he had thrown out a hook baited with his career, as well as his life.
Yukon Station, Alaska Prefecture
Captain Hirako Atsumi sat in the train station watching wind driven snow stream sideways past the windows in the gray morning. The flying flakes mesmerized her, pulling her back to her days at Rikugun Yonen Gakko, the military preparatory school in Tokyo. As one of the first ten women admitted to the school, the severe discipline had been even more pronounced due to the misogynistic attitude of the Imperial Army and the Japanese culture as a whole. All ten women were expected to fail.
Hirako not only persevered, she excelled. Two of the women in her class quit during the first month. Before the rest graduated three had taken their own lives, and another three had been cut from the program. Only Moriko Satsumi and Hirako graduated and were permitted to attend the Nakano Intelligence School.
More women had followed their footsteps, of course. In the four years they spent at the academy their determination and industriousness earned the grudging admiration of their male classmates. Her mastery of aikido had saved her from rape and resulted in the attacker being expelled from the military after he mended in the hospital.
The attacker’s resulting act of seppuku absolved him of a dishonorable life. She often wondered if his official punishment had been for the crime of assault on another cadet, or the crime of not being successful at raping a mere woman.
Thereafter Hirako did her best to disguise her feminity and obvious pulchritude. When in uniform she was strictly military and businesslike, only in private did she relax and allow herself to indulge in small vices and pleasures.
She blinked and thought about her current assignment. As honcho for civilian personnel it was her duty to vet top echelon employees. Many Americans had been hired by the military in Alaska for the same reason the military had admitted women into the ranks, the massive loss of young Japanese men during the war.
Last week Mr. Suzuki had died a violent death. In less than a half hour she would welcome his replacement. To her knowledge, Mr. Fischer would be the first Jew she had ever met. The Reich worked diligently at their extermination and had reduced their numbers to a tiny fraction of what they had been in the 1930s.
On one hand she didn’t really care what the round eyes did to each other. On the other hand she understood that Jews were highly intelligent and therefore very useful. She had never understood the German mentality, but she certainly appreciated their technology.
I just wish they would share it with us.
A heavy gust of snow-laden wind howled past the window. The wind also carried the thin wail of the morning train. A quick glance around revealed the terminal filled with people waiting to board the train back to Fairbanks and points south.
The whistle sounded again, much closer this time. She also heard the engine bell announcing entry into the Yukon Station yards. When the massive engine rolled past the window she stood and watched the platform outside as the passenger cars ground to a stop.
The conductor lowered the steps and people streamed out of the coach and hurried through the heart-stopping cold to the station doors. Hirako pulled her parka together and buttoned it as the first gust of chilled air entered along with the arrivals through the second set of doors in the arctic entry. Most of the travellers knew where they were going and in classic Asian single-mindedness proceeded to the next point of their journey.
Finally three men wandered in, looking around and frowning with bewilderment.
“Mister Fischer!” she snapped, as if addressing an underclassman.
He jerked his head around and looked at her, shifting a suitcase from one hand to the other before giving her a third degree bow. She didn’t return it.
“How did you know who I was?”
“I didn’t until you looked at me when I said your name.” She held out her hand in the American manner. “I am Captain Atsumi, your direct supervisor.”
He hesitated, then shook her hand and said, “Pleased to meet you, captain. Thank you for meeting me. I’ve never been north of Livengood before.”
“You are welcome. However I must point out that this is part of my duties. You are here to fill large shoes and it is in my official interest to help you familiarize yourself.”
Fischer glanced around the room as people moved out to board the train. Even without her training she would have perceived that he was distinctly uncomfortable, even fearful.
“Do you have any luggage?”
“Just this. By the time I returned to my cabin in Livengood on Friday all of my possessions had been packed and moved up here. I figured food prices here would be higher than down there so I bought groceries.”
“Good thrifty thinking. Are you ready to go?”
“Of course,” he said in a dubious tone.
She stifled her smirk and led the way to her staff car. The driver stood by the back door and opened it for her. She slid across the seat and beckoned for Fischer to follow.
In moments the driver was maneuvering through the blowing snow and gusting wind.
“May I see your orders?”
He pulled the papers from an inside coat pocket and handed them to her. She glanced through them, and speculated if he read or spoke Japanese.
“I looked at them,” he said, “but since I don’t read or speak Japanese they didn’t reveal very much.”
I wonder if he just read my mind.
“You said you had never before visited the Project. Do you know what is being done here?”
“Not a clue. Until Friday I didn’t have the necessary clearance and since then I’ve not had the means or opportunity to investigate. I spent the week end wondering what lay in store for me up here.”
“If you are as diligent in your labors here as you have been in Livengood, you will be rewarded with enhanced status and pay. We will further discuss the goals and scope of the Project in my office.”
As he listened to her he stared out the side window at the large buildings, the three-meter fencing, and military vehicles. The car stopped at a security point. Captain Atsumi rolled down her window and nodded at the guard. He snapped to attention and saluted as the gate opened and the car moved forward.
The driver pulled up in front of a three-story building. She opened her door and got out, motioning for Fischer to follow. They hurried up the steps and entered the structure. Once through the arctic entry the over-heated air in the building enveloped them.
“My god, but it’s hot in here!” Fischer blurted.
Captain Atsumi didn’t think it politic to point out that the most important person in this building was nearly eighty years old and he intensely disliked cold.
“This way, please.” She nodded to the security guard at the desk inside the door and walked up the steps, carefully not swaying her hips too much. She wasn’t sure why she clenched her jaw, other than it was a coin toss between military attitude and concentration.
Once on the second floor she unlocked her office door and entered.
Fischer followed her in and stopped, glancing around while exuding anxiety and sudden sweat. She noticed he still had the suitcase handle gripped tightly in his left hand.
“Please close the door and sit down, Mr. Fischer.”
He sat the suitcase down next to the closest chair and pulled the door shut.
“Do you want me to lock it?”
“No. Please take off your parka and sit.” Her coat already hung on its hook, and she settled into the chair behind her desk.
He removed his parka and laid it over the suitcase as he sat down.
“So what do they do here?”
“What do you think they do?”
“I really have no idea. My old job was to insure there were adequate laborers and supplies to keep the railroad operational between here and the border of Yukon Station. Beyond that I never asked about, or was told of, the nature of Yukon Station. I didn’t have the security clearance for that information”
She frowned and looked away for a moment.
Where to start?
“Actually it is a very long conversation and there are preparations that must take precedence. Suffice it to say that you will continue to handle personnel procurements and supervision of the entire railway from here to Fairbanks.”
“Couldn’t I have done that from Livengood, captain?”
“Of course, but General Yamashita wished to have you here for his convenience.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Did Major Miamatsu reveal your secondary role?”
“Secondary role? No, he did not mention a secondary role.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest and crossed his legs.
Hirako nearly laughed.
“Mr. Suzuki was also a Kempeitai operative.”
“The secret police?” He actually moaned before he could contain himself.
“Why are you so agitated, Mr. Fischer?”
“I know nothing about police work or investigating!”
“All that is required of you is careful observation. Nothing more.”
He uncrossed his legs but held his arms firm over his chest.
“Observation, of what?”
“Everyone with whom you come into contact. Workers, soldiers, civilians, everybody.”
“What am I watching for with all this observation?”
“Aberration, unusual actions, suspicious behavior, that sort of thing.”
His obvious reticence surprised her. All of the Americans she had previously met were more than eager to accept more power and prestige, no matter what the cost to them or others.
He glanced around the room and refocused on her.
“How would I know if something was unusual or anything? I just got here.”
“I don’t expect you to discover a nest of saboteurs immediately,” she said with a smile. “We want you to be very aware of existing conditions at the beginning of your tour. That way if something odd transpires, you will notice it.”
“Are you Kempeitai?”
Let him figure that out, she thought.
“Allow me to show you your new office.” She stood and he shot to his feet, bent over and grabbed his gear. Captain Atsumi straightened her uniform dress and led him through the door and down the steps.
She thumbed back over her shoulder.
“The third floor holds the offices of Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita and his deputy, Major General Tsuji. To step on that level without an invitation from one of them would mean your death.”
“I understand,” he said.
She stopped in front of a door. “This is your office.” She opened the door and walked through.
A woman straightened to her feet behind the desk and snapped into a first-degree bow.
“This is your secretary, Tomiko Watanabe. She is your gatekeeper and you will find her most valuable.”
Still in a bow, the secretary said, “Welcome, Mr. Fischer.”
“Thank you,” he said and motioned for her to straighten. He glanced around. “And where am I to sit?”
Both women laughed and Watanabe hurried over and opened another door.
“This is your office, sir, much more comfortable, neh?”
“I’ll leave you to Tomiko’s care, Mr. Fischer. Please report to my office at 0900 tomorrow.”
Without waiting for a reply Captain Atsumi left the room.