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THE TIGER'S DEN
A Novel for American Audiences
By T. JACK LEWIS
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 T. Jack Lewis
All rights reserved.
Santa Barbara California April 15th 2013
"Mom! Mom, where are you?"
"What? I can't hear you ..."
"Telephone ... someone from Japan!"
"Yeah, someone speaking Japanese ... I can't understand it."
"Okay, I'm coming ... just a sec."
Keiko Vincent leaves her laundry and picks up the phone in the kitchen.
"(Japanese) Hello, this is Keiko."
"(Japanese) Keiko san, this is Yamashiro Yuko, your Aunt. Calling from Japan. How are you?"
"Aunt Yuko, yes, I am fine. How are you?"
"I am well, thank you for asking. How is your family?"
"We are also doing quite well. The boys are getting so big. I sent a picture to Akemi's email, did you see it?"
"Yes, she did show me, they are wonderful looking boys; and you look very well also."
"Keiko ... I am notifying everyone in the family of the death of your grandfather, Masaharu."
"Oh, no! Grandfather has passed?"
"Yes, he has. Your Uncle Kenji found him in his bed. It seems that his heart stopped in his sleep. He was 96 years old."
"Oh, Auntie, I am sorry to hear that. He was a wonderful father and grandfather."
"Yes, we will miss him greatly. Keiko san, there is something else ..."
"It has to do with your husband ... Will ..."
"William. Yes, what is it?"
"Grandfather Masa has a storage shed out at the garden, you remember?"
"The garden? Yes, I remember."
"Inside, he kept many old things; from the war."
"Grandfather left a document. A paper telling us what to do, when he was ... after."
"This document; he wants you ... and Will to help. The storage building has his Navy ... memories. He wants you to read something to the family."
"Me? But, what could I ..."
"It's Will, and you. It seems that after the war, no one in the family ever asked Grandfather about his experiences until he met your husband."
"Well, I know they talked about it, I helped to translate some of it. Will was just learning Japanese back then."
"Grandfather was very fond of Will. Both military ... both flyers. They had something in common that was beyond what we, the family, could relate to."
"Grandfather left a sealed box and instructions that it be opened before the family. He wanted all to gather in his garden. He wanted Will to help... to explain some of these old things, Navy things ... to the family."
"And I am to help, too?"
"Well yes, but there is supposed to be a paper inside the box that he wanted you to read. I mean read to all the family. Kind of a public statement or something. We don't know what that is.
Well, that is my request, Keiko; on behalf of your late grandfather. I know what an imposition this is, but as you know, Grandfather Masa was the patriarch of a very large family. We are counting on you, Keiko, to help fulfill an old man's last wish."
"I understand. It is my honor to assist in any way I can. I will talk to William tonight when he comes home from work. I will telephone you tomorrow, Auntie."
"Thank you, Keiko chan. I will wait for your call. Goodbye."
"Honey, I'm home!" William Vincent drops his car keys on the foyer table and walks into the family room. "Kay! I'm home, what's for dinner, I'm starved."
Keiko Vincent comes in from the kitchen and embraces her husband of 15 years.
"Hey, what's all this? Are you alright?"
"Will ... Grandfather Masa passed away."
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. He was a great old man. Was it ... I mean, how ..."
"In his sleep."
"Oh, that's good. I am glad he didn't suffer."
"No, he didn't suffer." Keiko looked into her husband's eyes. "Will, they want us to go there."
"Oh, yes, of course. We'll go and pay our respects. I'll call Bob at home and let him know what's happened. I shouldn't have any trouble handing off the Barker case to Steve. I am sure he can take it and run with it ... new guy and all. He will love it ... There's something else?"
"Well, yes. We are going to be part of an interesting family meeting."
Will stretches as best he can in the uncomfortable airliner seat.
"Dear, why don't you get up and walk around a bit? The boys are both sleeping."
"Maybe I should. My legs are really cramping up. How long till we land in Osaka?"
"Ha, ha, only another six hours."
"Geez, I had forgotten how annoying these long flights are. Ouch! My aching butt ..."
"There is a movie on, you want to watch?"
"Oh, no, I don't feel like it. I just keep thinking about Grandfather Masa. You know, in America, we call the men that fought in World War Two, "Our Greatest Generation." My own grandfather was in England then. He never saw any combat; well, other than the German bombers coming over. He used to say, he spent the war in a bunker in Kent. He was a mechanic that worked on the bombers."
"I remember you telling me about the ... B-17s?"
"Right. B-17 bombers. See, the thing is ... back in 1943, they didn't know who was going to win the war. The issue was in doubt. The Germans were conquering Europe and the Japanese were occupying East Asia. No one knew what was going to happen. The men of all the countries came to their Armies and Navies and ... did things that they had to do. Not just to win, but to survive. That is why we call them our greatest generation. They fought; they risked their lives and saved the world from oppression, then came back home and started businesses and industry. They put the United States on a path of growth that was unparalleled in our times. Quite a generation!
I can see a similar generation in Japan. Grandfather Masa was part of that too. Men called to duty by a revered Emperor. Even though they had a different reason to fight, their loyalty to their country was no different than Americans that volunteered, or the Canadians or anyone else. They fought for their countries. And they knew they had to fight for their very way of life.
It wasn't like that for me. When I was in the Corps, in Desert Storm, we knew that we were not going to lose. America was not under attack. Our way of life was not threatened, and most of the people back home didn't even know much about it until after it was over."
Keiko glances back to her sleeping twin sons and a shudder goes through her.
Will notices. "Right. Just look at what we have now. These boys have never seen times of trouble and God willing, they never will. They are so innocent, so perfect the way they are. Your grandfather was like that too. He told me a lot about his life with his father and his fishing boat."
"Grandfather Masa? It seems impossible. He always impressed me as being so tough, so military. Like a ... what do you call it? A stereotype? The strong Japanese warrior defending his family ..."
"Yes, he did seem that way if you didn't know better."
"... And with the glass eye and scars and the limp. His appearance was so ... indestructible. How could he have been like Mikey and Tom?"
"Well you know, people are not born warriors, they are made."
"Oh, yeah, I guess so, but Grandfather Masa? What did he tell you, Will?"
"Oh, boy, where do I begin ...???"
Kaminoseki, Nagashima Island June 1933
"Masa! Masaharu! What are you gawking at? There is work to be done!"
"Father, look! There!" (Pointing skyward)
"An airplane? We see those all the time. From the Iwakuni base."
"But it is diving and then climbing again ..."
"Hmmph! Get over here and help me with this net. Come on now! It's going to be dark soon."
"I wonder what it's like to fly up there in the dark?"
"Masa, stop daydreaming and help me. You think you are going to end up flying one of those things? You need to concentrate on learning fishing. Besides, I heard that the Army is sending more troops to Manchukuo. The way things are going, we are not the only ones that are going to need large amounts of fish."
"I know, father, I am coming ..."
The sun makes its way into the bedroom. Kenda, Masaharu rubs his eyes. He can hear his mother in the kitchen. Time to get up. Masa's father, Isamu, is already out in the garden. Isamu loved to tend his bonsai trees in the morning. On days that he was not fishing, he was in his garden. It was his retreat. And it was beautiful. A fresh water well was the centerpiece. Flowers of all colors surrounded the old stone well. Red tiles lined the path from the house entry to the well, winding around the shrubs and the pond ending up at the Torii at the rear gate.
Isamu hears his son's footsteps coming out to the garden. He throws the last of the food for the carp into the pond. He turns to his only son.
"Masa, today I have a surprise for you."
"I can come fishing with you?"
"No, even better than that. I have purchased two tickets for the train."
"For us? Where are we going?"
"Ah, you must be patient. It is a surprise. But we must not delay, so go get ready. Wear something nice. And those new shoes, too. Today, we are like royalty."
"Wow! I am going ..."
Isamu watched his son's happy anticipation. He thinks to himself: What a wonderful boy I have. What did I do to be rewarded with this son of mine? And my lovely wife. How could there be anything wrong in a world that produces such persons? I am so happy ...
"Okay, this is our stop, Iwakuni station."
"Wow, father, why are we here?"
"Well, son, I went to the telephone office last Monday and made a call to an old friend of mine. We are going to meet him here today. Ah, here he comes now."
A shiny new automobile pulls up and a gentleman dressed in a gray suit exits. The man smiles broadly and approaches. The two men bow to each other, then they shake hands. Masa stays behind his father as the two men exchange pleasantries. Finally, his father turns and addresses him.
"And this is the young man I told you about." Isamu places his hand on Masaharu's shoulder.
"Good day to you, Masaharu-san. I am an old friend of your father. I am Kata, Yojiro. Your father and I went to school together in Yanai when we were no older than you are now."
"I am honored to meet you, sir."
"Ah, the honor is mine. I have not seen my old friend in almost 20 years, and we have not been so far apart, have we, Isa?"
"That is true, and I beg your forgiveness, Yoji. It is sad that true friends do not find time for one another. We are always so busy with our own little piece of this life."
"Ha, ha, you have not lost your silver tongue, old friend. Come, it is time. I am sure Masa is anxious to get started."
"Me? What ... where are we going?"
"To the base!"
Masa's face lights up with excitement. The base! Am I dreaming? I might even get close enough to see an airplane. Oh, this is truly my day!
Isamu and Masa get into the back seat of the car. Kata gets in the driver's seat and they speed away from the crowded area around the station. Only ten minutes later, they pull up to the gate at the Iwakuni Navy Airfield.
The sentry is dressed all in white and carries a pistol on his hip. He speaks with Kata briefly and waves his hand.
The sedan moves forward and they enter the base.
The two older men speak of old times as they drive; Kata pulling the car up next to a building with a metal roof on it. Inside, men are working on very large, very dirty metal parts on many work benches. The men wear shorts and no shirts and seem to be covered in greasy dirt.
"Come out Masa, this is the first stop."
Masaharu gets out and follows Kata inside. Isamu follows.
"This is the engine shop. These men are trained on repairing the Nakajima radial engine used on the trainer airplanes.
Men! Allow me to interrupt you for a moment. This is a special guest today. Greet master Kenda, Masaharu."
"Good day, Master Kenda." One of the men speaks. Several other men stop their work and bow slightly.
"Wow, this is amazing ..."
"Yes, each of these engine parts will be repaired or replaced and then reassembled into a working engine."
The mechanic steps forward and speaks to Masa. He begins telling him of the operation of the engines and how the other men repair them.
Masaharu absorbing it all ...
After a quick lecture, the men leave the engine shop and the tour continues. The tire shop. The metal fabrication shop. The fabric shop; and finally, the airplane hangars! The large hangars are lined up. Inside the first are several airplanes undergoing some type of maintenance. Men scurry about, carrying tools and crawling over the machines.
One of the airplanes has a boat hull on the bottom.
"I have seen this type flying down by Kaminoseki."
"Ah yes, made to land on water. It has a valuable function. If any airplane goes down in water, the pilot will be very happy to see one of these on the horizon."
All of the airplanes have an upper wing and a lower wing. The side of each of the airplanes is boldly marked with a large red Hinomaru; the symbolic emblem of the rising sun.
Kata-san jumps up on the wing.
"Masa, climb up here."
"Could I ...?" Masa looks to his father.
Isamu gives a nod.
"Just step there, then here."
Masa climbs up, grinning from ear to ear. He peers into the cockpit at the gauges and switches.
"Now just stick your foot in here and climb in."
Masa settles into the seat of the great plane. The control stick is between his knees and he places his hand on it. Kata shows him the function of the stick and switches, then the engine controls. A strange feeling comes over Masaharu as Kata is instructing him on the readings of the gauges. He feels like this is so ... right. So perfectly normal; like he had done this before ... a strange feeling indeed.
On the train ride back to Kaminoseki, Isamu regards his tired 16 year old son, now falling asleep with his belly full after lunching at the officer's mess with Kata. He wonders if he has done the right thing in bringing him to the Iwakuni base. Isamu's vision of a life for his son is similar to that of his own life. He wants Masa to learn the fishing business, marry a local girl and get himself a bigger, better fishing boat and continue to ply that trade. Now, he wonders.
"Who is Kata-san? I know you are old friends, but who is he now?"
"Well, let me start at the beginning. Yoji and I were friends in elementary school ... and on through high school. After we graduated, he joined the Navy. I started working on a fishing boat. We went our different ways. I fished, and met your mother and had a family. Yoji went to Kure. He graduated from the Naval Academy and became an operations officer.
In 1913, gasoline engines were still very new and so were airplanes. Yoji was assigned to an office that studied the possibility of making airplanes a more important part of naval strategy. It seems that he impressed his superior officers because he was promoted quickly and he helped acquire the funding for our first aircraft carriers. Ah, he went on to serve; oh, twenty, twenty two years in the Navy. He became the commanding officer of the Iwakuni base before he retired from there a couple of years ago. He continues his service to his community as mayor of Iwakuni city."
"Wow, he is the mayor?"
"He sure is. And, as you can see, he is still an important person to the Navy men here at the base.
But, sadly, my old friend never married. He never had any children to carry on his family name. He was an only child and when it is his time, his family name will end with him."
"That is sad."
"Yes, especially since he is such an accomplished man. He has done much for Japan. His contributions must be remembered somehow ..."
Isamu listens to the rhythmic sounds of the train tracks.
The proud father notices his son's eyelids starting to get heavy. Quite a day for a young fellow. He cannot help but smile as his son drifts off to sleep; the slow train gently jostling them. 1933 has been a good year so far. The fishing business is good. Weather has been excellent. Isamu is happy with his life. He had not been a famous Navy officer and he had not been mayor of a town, but the young man next to him made all those things unnecessary. This bond between father and son is unique. No father had a greater affection for his family. He put his arm around his son and the two happily, lazily, enjoyed the long ride home together.
Keiko is enthralled by Will's story. "How could you understand all that in Japanese?"
"Well, don't forget, I had been speaking for a while when I met Grandfather, remember? And, he spoke just enough English to get the message across. Plus, I always had my handy-dandy little translator dictionary with me. Some of the things he said were beyond my understanding, but I managed to break the code one way or another. I got the gist of it."
"It sounds like Grandfather had a very happy childhood."
"Yes, he told me that one of his first memories was of that well in the garden. He told me that his father, Isamu, would pretend to be a monster and chase him around the well."
Excerpted from THE TIGER'S DEN by T. JACK LEWIS. Copyright © 2013 T. Jack Lewis. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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