Thackeray pretended he didn’t see Nowland. On any other day, the hovering presence of Longstreet’s junior in his doorway meant the Z.L. had some errand for him to do. But today was P-day.
Thackeray clicked his pen. “You wanted to ask me something?”
“Longstreet Choro wants to know if you want to go to a movie.”
“What’s the occasion?”
“A friend is visiting from Sagamihara.”
“Uh huh. What movie?”
“It’s a Schwarzenegger flick—hey, your companion’s going too.”
He wasn’t surprised Luddy was going. Luddy would go along with anything. Thackeray looked over the letter he was writing. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Nowland getting ready to plead. Nowland was a good pleader. Thackeray could turn down Longstreet, but Nowland still had some youthful innocence left. He put down his pen. He could finish his letter later. His inner resolve had already crumbled and he didn’t want to be begged to.
“Okay,” he said.
“Hurry up or we’ll be late.”
Wasted P-days, Thackeray decided later that afternoon, were felonies.
On the other hand, he kind of liked the movie, the associated guilt notwithstanding. The girl Longstreet brought along shrieked and giggled through the whole thing. She had once been an investigator, he gathered. Big deal. He couldn’t get to worried about Longstreet. Longstreet didn’t kowtow to the rules but he wasn’t stupid. He knew exactly how to avoid getting himself into too much trouble.
He heard Longstreet calling him. Thackeray pulled on his pajamas and walked downstairs to his room and was handed the phone.
He took the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello, Thackeray Choro? Been looking over your stats for last week and they’re a little low.”
Thackeray took a deep breath and shifted his stance.
“You see, Thackeray Choro, I’ve set some goals for my area and there’s no reason why we can’t all meet them.”
“Now, we’ve really got to put our shoulders to the wheel. Twenty new contacts per missionary next week.”
“I know you can do it, Choro.”
“Don’t we have zone conference the day after tomorrow?”
“Can I get a commitment on that, Choro?”
“I don’t want you to try, Choro, I want you to do it.”
“I got faith in you, Choro.”
Jensen hung up.
“You know, Thackeray,” said Longstreet. “You don’t have to be so blasted honest on those reports.”
Thackeray shrugged. It wasn’t because he was so blasted honest. But because it was too hard making stuff up.
“What did you think of the movie?”
“I wouldn’t take my mother to see it.”
Longstreet shrugged. “Whatever.” He picked up a note off his desk. “The mission office is short on Book of Mormons,” he said. “A guy I knew in Sagami, Gordon Choro, just made D.L. down south. Their zone conference is tomorrow. He’d like to stop by and take a few off our hands to tide him over. Spare a few?”
“I could give him twenty.”
“Great. He’ll be by around lunch. Be a good man and wait around for him?”
Gordon showed up the next day at twelve-thirty.
“I’m Gordon from Odawara.”
“I’m Thackeray from New York.”
“Greetings, Thackeray from New York.” Gordon put a hand on his companion’s shoulder. “This is Johnson from Houston.”
“Hullo,” said Johnson, sticking out an enormous hand.
“Johnson is greener than California weed before a DEA bust,” said Gordon. “He’s gonna do fine if doesn’t knock his brains out first.”
Johnson grinned and rubbed his forehead. Gordon stepped into the genkan. He called out to his companion, “Duck!” He pulled out his wallet. “I gots the money. Where’s the books?”
“Upstairs. In my room.”
“Ah. A district leader who watches the kitty closely.” He said to his companion and Lundquist, “If you’ll excuse us, we’ve got business to tend to.”
Thackeray kept the Book of Mormons in a drawer neatly stacked behind his socks. He wrote out a receipt for six thousand yen and handed Gordon fifteen books.
“You’re one careful D.L.”
“Show me a careless D.L. and I’ll show you a snookered senkyoshi.”
“Ha! I like that.”
Thackeray frowned. “Tell me something, Gordon. You knew Longstreet when he was in Sagamihara?”
“So who did he bribe?”
Gordon laughed. “C’mon, Thackeray. He gets lots of baptisms.”
“From junior to zone leader in two months? He takes his girlfriends to movies and spends half his allowance at the arcades. Give me a break, Gordon.”
“Okay, okay.” Gordon set down the books and thought for a moment. “Well, it’s like this. Longstreet got good reviews from Bennett—as a deathbed favor—and made the hot junior list from the start. So he gets transferred to Sagami as Peterson’s companion. Molding the leaders of the future, that kind of crap. Now, he and Peterson do not become bosom buddies. Heck, Longstreet’s a mirfer at heart. That business with Bennett was all an act. When Triptow Choro transferred out, bang! Longstreet goes D.L. Next thing you know, Peterson goes APe. Longstreet pulls a few strings and ends up a zone leader.”
“I think he paid somebody off.”
“With Longstreet running his own show, anything can happen.” Gordon stood up and looked around the room. “So you got this room all to yourself? Tell me, how is the condo life?”
“I don’t know what the mission thought it was buying. It’s way too big for four missionaries. Senzoku was half the size of this barn. We’re wrecking the local property values. Seriously.”
Gordon laughed. “You’re Nipponizing.” He put a friendly arm around Thackeray’s shoulders. “Tell me, are you a man with aspirations?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you have a driving desire to become zone leader, assistant, mission president?”
“Then you can come to my district anytime. It’s on the coast. The most wonderful beach you’ve ever seen. I’ve decided to stay there till I die.”
“You can decide that?”
“Longstreet’s not the only one with connections.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Johnson shouted up the stairs, “What’s taking you guys so long!”
“Coming, Johnny!” Gordon winked at Thackeray. “The big guy gets lonely when I’m not around.”
He dumped the books into his backpack and lugged it to the bottom of the stairs and handed it to Johnson. “I’ll take the flipcharts,” he said.
“Don’t strain yourself.”
“Now, where’s your humble leader?”
“Oh? Well, what arcades does he frequent about this time in the afternoon? A slow day—five getcha ten he’s there.”
In the process of searching for Longstreet for one reason or another, Thackeray had been to most of the arcades within walking distance of the apartment. He knew of only one that opened before the junior high schools let out.
“Yeah, I think I know where he is.”
The video arcade was a five minute walk from the station. Gordon pressed his face against the dark glass and cupped his hands around his eyes. “Let’s see,” he said, “ten video tables, two pinball machines—ah! There’s my main man.” Gordon flung the door open and marched into the arcade.
Longstreet’s head jerked up. He saw Gordon laughing and collapsed over the video table. “Jeez, man, don’t scare me like that. Got your books?”
“How was zone conference?”
“Yours is tomorrow, eh? Why should I spoil the excitement?”
Longstreet rolled his eyes.
“How to get one thousand baptisms next month. The usual bunch of nonsense. Scary thing is, I’m starting to believe we’ll actually pull it off.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Yeah? The same way you pulled off making zone leader. Wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it.”
“No mystery. It’s because I play good Space Invaders.”
Gordon plucked a coin out of his pocket and flipped it onto the glass-topped table.
“You got enough time?” asked Longstreet.
Gordon looked at his watch. “Oh, about thirty minutes. Time enough to beat you.”
The next morning, Longstreet left at seven-thirty to attend the Z.L.’s meeting. Thackeray and Lundquist got there an hour later. It was a “pass off” conference: each missionary had to recite a lesson from a discussion in front of the zone for review and evaluation.
Thackeray had stayed up late studying the night before his first pass off until Chadwick snatched away his discussions and unplugged his light.
“It’s nothing to get worried about,” Chadwick scolded him. “Pass offs are for hot young juniors who want to go senior fast, and hot old seniors who like to show off.”
He made senior, anyway. Gordon said it: “The usual bunch of nonsense.”
The president opened the conference with a talk on: “How to achieve one thousand baptisms a month.” Thackeray didn’t take notes.
The air in the mission office had grown stale by noon. The missionaries ate lunch at a cafeteria across the street, savored the fresh air and prepared for the long haul ahead.
The rest of the day was devoted to pass offs.
Thackeray pressed his cheek against the cool partition wall. The air in the mission office smelled musty and warm, smelled like four hours of white shirts and loose ties and damp underarms. He leaned over his companion’s shoulder. “What discussion is Nowland passing off?” he asked.
Each lesson in the missionary “discussions” was identified in outline format by a letter and a number.
“Oh.” Thackeray looked down at the evaluation sheet in his lap. He clicked his pen several times. A 3.5 for presentation, he said to himself as he marked the form, a 2.5 for language, 3.0 for lesson plan, and a 3.0 overall. He clicked his pen several more times and put it back in his pocket.
Nowland said, “Now, Mr. Tanaka, why do you think it is important for us to have free-agency?”
“Uhh—” replied Elder Okamoto. He played the investigator’s part with little enthusiasm.
“Time!” announced Elder Anderson “Hand your evaluation sheets to Longstreet Choro. I’m giving my second pass-off.”
Longstreet read off the composite scores in a monotone voice. He stapled the papers together and put them in a manila folder under Anderson’s chair. He sat down next to Thackeray and handed him a note.
He read the note—Score Anderson low—and passed it on.
“Why don’t we have someone else be the investigator?” Anderson looked around the room. “Randall Choro, why don’t you take Okamoto Choro’s place?”
Randall slumped into the investigator’s chair and hunched over with his chin in his hands.
“C’mon, Randall,” complained Anderson. “You can do a better job pretending to care.” Randall sighed and straightened. Anderson shook his head in disgust.
Thackeray picked up an evaluation sheet and wrote, Overall: 1.5. He asked Longstreet, “How much time does he get?”
“Five minutes—” Thackeray leaned back farther in his chair. In exactly the right position, the cool air next to the wall flowed down his collar.
Now, what to say to the mission president? Yes, president, I’m doing fine, but my companion—you know, president, I bet you can’t guess what movie we saw last week—
What not to say to the president. He pulled out his train schedule and peered at the tiny numbers. If they left the mission home at four-fourteen—
“Time!” said Longstreet.
Anderson snapped his flipchart closed. “Read off my scores, will you, Longstreet Choro?”
Longstreet shuffled through the papers as they were handed to him. “We got a 3.8 here,” he read, “and a 3.5.”
Anderson nodded. He knew what to expect, being the senior zone leader and all.
“Another 3.8,” continued Longstreet. “A 1.5, 1.2, 1.0, 1.1—”
“Wait a minute!”
Everybody in the room snickered.
“Guess you’ll have to be a junior again,” chortled Elder Furner.
Anderson grabbed at the papers. “Ha, ha,” he said. “Not funny.”
Elder Marchant, the mission secretary, leaned into the room. “Kunitachi district! You’re up for interviews.”
Wasted zone conferences were merely misdemeanors.
Thackeray put a pot of water on the stove and turned on the gas. He was ripping open a package of instant ramen when Longstreet burst into the kitchen.
“Hey! c’mon. Get your companion.”
“Dinner’s at the Curry Shop. On me.”
They walked down to the station plaza. “Why the celebration?” asked Thackeray.
“Transfer of a lifetime,” said Longstreet. “What an interview! I mean, first there was the regular stuff. You know—How’s the finances, Elder Longstreet? How’s your companion, Elder Longstreet? Any girl problems, Elder Longstreet? But then he asks me if there’s anything he can do for me. And I said sure! I put on my humble face. President, I wasn’t a very good missionary in Shizuoka. But when I got transferred to Senzoku, Elder Bennett taught me the true meaning of missionary work—”
“Oh brother,” said Thackeray. “So when were you in Shizuoka?”
“No, listen,” Longstreet went on. “So I said that what I’d really like to do is go back to Shizuoka and show the members there that I can really do the work.”
“And he said, Well, Elder Longstreet, I think we could arrange that. It was great.”
“I’m happy for you.”
The matron of the Curry Shop called out “Irasshai!” when they walked in. The missionaries sat at the counter and ordered. A waitress set out glasses of water, and a few minutes later brought out the steaming bowls of curry from the kitchen.
Longstreet glanced around the room and said under his breath, “So what did you tell the mission president in your interview?”
“Longstreet was suddenly suspicious. “You weren’t struck with some kind of guilty conscience, were you?”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Ask for anything?”
“Asked to—” Thackeray lowered his voice. “Asked to get Luddy transferred.”
“Really?” Longstreet grinned. “What did he say?”
“He said that I’ve been with Elder Lundquist longer than any other elder in the mission.”
Longstreet laughed. When Nowland and Lundquist looked at him, he laughed again.