Z.L. Brown looked suspiciously at the two elders sitting across the table from him. “Remind me what I’m doing here again?”
Gordon and Thackeray glanced at each other. Gordon said, “He’s your companion.”
“Companion trouble?” queried Brown.
“Not at all. We get along fine.” Thackeray jabbed his thumb sideways at Gordon. “He’s the one looking for a transfer.”
“One of you would like to get transferred?”
“No!” they both blurted out.
“It’s, uh, Taylor,” said Gordon.
Brown looked puzzled. “Taylor Choro didn’t indicate any problems in our last interview.”
“Of course. Well, it’s like this—” Thackeray looked at his district leader for help.
Gordon leaned back in his chair. “Girls,” he declared.
“A girl,” explained Thackeray. “He and this new convert. Kumiko Mizutani. Even the branch president is wise to it.”
“And what makes it worse is that she was my baptism and this guy’s companion is the one corrupting her.”
Thackeray grinned. “He feels slighted.”
“You bet I do.”
Brown was suddenly quite concerned. “How bad?”
“Nothing he could get sent home for.”
Brown relaxed considerably.
“But it’s bad enough. What Taylor needs is a senior who can crack down on him.”
“Thanks a lot,” grumbled Thackeray.
“Is that right, Thackeray?”
“Hey! C’mon, Brown. You’re not the crackdown type either.”
Brown smiled. “Yeah, but—”
“We want him transferred. That’s all.”
“For his own good. It’s nothing personal.”
“Well, it’s not that easy. Transfers don’t come out for two weeks.”
“Fine. It doesn’t have to be right now.”
“We’ll keep an eye on him until September,” said Thackeray. “But we thought you ought to know.”
“You could have said something about this before.”
“I did, and Givans Choro ended up being transferred.”
“So I thought there was a problem with the companionship. You guys have got to communicate.”
Gordon rolled his eyes.
Brown got out a mission roster and Thackeray leaned over the table to get a better look at it. “Right here,” he said, pointing. “Stahler and Matlock. I can’t imagine any junior being too upset about getting transferred away from Stahler.”
“True, true. And he is the crackdown type.”
“Crackdown?” guffawed Gordon. “He’s going to found the first celibate order for Mormons.”
Brown winced at the remark. He underlined Matlock’s name with a red felt-tip pen. “I’ll see what I can do about this. And you two—keep Taylor away from what’s-her-name.” He paused. “You know, I never figured on Taylor.”
“It can happen to the best of us,” said Gordon.
Thackeray stood with his companion in front of the ticket machines at the east entrance to the train station. “This one,” he said, pointing at a glowing button on one of the machines, “Hiratsuka—380 yen.”
“It’s a pretty good place?” Taylor had been asking the question all morning.
“That’s what I hear.” Thackeray had been answering the question all morning. “You even got an ocean view.”
“Stahler Choro was in your zone once?” Taylor slipped coins into the machine and punched the button.
“He’s got good lesson plan. You’ll learn a lot from him.” Thackeray tried to sound sincere.
The first-call bell rang on the train platform. Taylor turned to his senior companion with a look of quiet desperation. As annoyed as Thackeray had become with his junior companion, he couldn’t avoid a brief pang of sympathy. It was, after all, the kid’s first transfer.
“Yeah. That’s your train. C’mon.” He led Taylor to the turnstiles and handed him his luggage.
“Good luck, eh?”
“Yeah.” Taylor pushed through the turnstiles and walked to the train.
Thackeray relaxed, shoved his hands in his trouser pockets and leaned back against the turnstiles. Suddenly, he realized that he was missing something. Waving his arms, he called out, “Taylor! The key!”
Taylor stopped and waved back, smiling. He boarded the train and the doors hissed closed.
“Forget it,” Thackeray said to himself. “Give a junior a little responsibility and he’ll take it with him when he transfers.” Isn’t that what it said in the Senior Companion’s Handbook?
He walked out into the sunlight and sat down on a bench facing the turnstiles. The train from Hiratsuka wouldn’t arrive for forty minutes. He pulled a handful of index cards out of his pocket. Free time was study time. Maybe he could tan a little.
He’d recited the first two discussions to himself when the familiarly-dressed American came through the turnstiles—white shirt, tie, dark blue pants, and suitcases in both hands. No doubt about it.
The American walked over. He looked down at Thackeray, straightened his wire-rim glasses, and with a very straight face and in an overdone English accent said, “Dr. Thackeray, I presume?”
Thackeray replied, after a brief pause, “How you must have suffered—”
“You still have a sense of humor.” Thackeray shook his head. “Incredible.”
A grin split across the missionary’s face. “The Stahl wasn’t that bad. I’m Matlock from Kentucky.”
“Thackeray from New York.” They shook hands. “You don’t sound like you’re from Kentucky.”
“You don’t talk like you’re from New York.”
“I’m from upstate.”
“I suppose there is more to New York than New York City.” Matlock turned around, making an obvious point of taking in his new environment. “So this is Odawara.”
“Welcome to the suburbs.” Thackeray picked up one of Matlock’s suitcases and gestured with his free hand. “We go thataway.” They turned up the street. “It’s a pretty nice apartment. Gordon got the place right before I transferred in.” Thackeray didn’t mention the cabarets. He didn’t think Matlock would notice, and he was right.
“Second down on the second floor.” Thackeray marched up the open staircase and threw open the door to the apartment.
Matlock stood in the genkan as Thackeray paced around the kitchen like a tour guide. “Here we have the head—ceramic flusher, but a squatter. Sorry.” He picked up a fly swatter and pointed out the attractions. “The bathroom. Shower works fine. Refrigerator, cupboards—that one’s yours.”
Matlock wasn’t paying a great deal of attention to his new companion. He had noticed something different, something unique, when he walked in the door.
“Air conditioning?” he said incredulously.
“—and the bedrooms are in there,” Thackeray went on. “Gordon has the tatami, we have the simulated wood tile. You have the closet on the left.”
“No cockroaches. Well, we caught a big mother two weeks ago. Burned it ceremoniously. Haven’t seen any since. Think we scared ’em all away.”
“Where’s the air conditioner?”
Thackeray pointed into Gordon’s room. “Pretty nice, eh? This is one of the best apartments in the mission. The neighbors don’t seem to mind. Even the landlady’s nice.”
Matlock put down the suitcase and walked through the apartment, nodding to himself. The full tour took less than a minute.
“But you’ll have to unpack at lunchtime. We have an intro lesson in thirty minutes. Want it?”
“Sure. Where’s the church?”
“Up the hill, past the station. I don’t know when we’re going to bump into the other two, but Johnson’s the tall one.”
Matlock marched through the intro lesson in fifteen minutes. He was right on time and right by the book.
“Good job,” Thackeray said after the investigator left.
“Did we get a return appointment?”
“I thought that’s what you said.”
Thackeray took his daily planner out of his shirt pocket. “How are you with the D discussion?” he asked, flipping the small notebook open.
“I’m great on pre-existence and mortality.”
“They’re yours. How about the I discussion?”
“That bad, eh? You can run the film strip projector.”
“When are the lessons?”
“Three-thirty and nine o’clock.”
“Nine? That seems a little late.”
“He’s a college student. Commutes to Tokyo every day.”
“What do we do in between?”
“You mean proselyting? Street.”
“Oh,” said Matlock. “Oh, well.”
“You good at streeting?”
“Probably better than me.”
They streeted the rest of the afternoon, and each picked up an intro lesson. They went back to the church after dinner. Matlock was puzzled. “I still haven’t seen the other two.”
“We do usually run into each other at the station,” agreed Thackeray. “Or at least during meal time. Maybe they ate out.”
“Where do they dendo?”
“I really wonder about that sometimes. But I can give you good odds where they are right now. You ever heard of the Odawara arcade king?”
Matlock shook his head, no.
“Also known as Gordon Choro. The man is a genius at the video game. Nobody does it better. Except maybe Longstreet. Here we are—”
Thackeray stopped in front of a small grocery store a half a block past the train station.
“In the basement. Follow the signs.”
A blast of cold air and the clamor of electronic noise greeted the two missionaries when they opened the door and walked down the narrow staircase. The dark room was jammed with tabletop video game machines, each surrounded by a crowd of teenagers.
Gordon was at the controls of the latest version of Space Invaders. A small entourage of junior high school students had gathered around the table. He was playing one of the kids and was beating him soundly. He jammed the joystick from side to side. His starship caromed across the screen as it burped out electronic torpedoes. The alien blips loosed a return salvo. Gordon flicked his wrist to escape the barrage. His fingers slipped off the warm plastic. Kaboom.
“Your turn,” he said to the boy across the table from him. He looked up.
“Hi, Thackeray. You must be Matlock. I’m Gordon,” he said as they shook hands. “This is my companion, Johnson.”
Johnson formed a great white wall along one edge of the table. “Hiya,” he said, and extended his thick, hairy arm across the table.
“Glad to meet you,” said Matlock.
Gordon asked, “What’s up?”
“Orton called,” replied Thackeray. “He wanted to remind you to get pass-off assignments taken care of.”
“I know,” said Gordon. “I’m taking care of that with Brown tonight. Ah! My turn.” He turned back to the video game machine.
“We have a late lesson. We won’t be back until about ten.”
Thackeray turned to Matlock and asked, “Are you any good at these games?”
“Neither am I,” said Thackeray.
The I discussion filmstrip was originally developed for some sort of membership fellowshipping program. It was pretty useless as such. But fast-forwarded to the middle, it provided a great “Life of Christ” summary that tied into the Joseph Smith business very nicely.
Matlock knew enough Japanese to match up the right frame with the right beep. Thackeray leaned back in his chair and watched the dust motes floating above the vent in the top of the projector. He’d gotten a card from his sister two days ago. Beneath a cartoon of a perplexed dromedary she’d written: Happy hump day!
He showed the card to Gordon. “Now you’re on the downside,” Gordon quipped. “You can slide to the finish line.”
Slide to the finish line. That had a nice ring to it.
The film strip was over. Matlock punched the rewind button on the cassette player, turned on the lights and unplugged the projector.
Thackeray scooted his chair up to the table. “Any questions?” he asked. The investigator shrugged. “Well, read those scriptures I showed you and we’ll talk about it next time.”
Matlock gave the closing prayer.
They walked to the front door. “I do have a question,” said the investigator. He asked Thackeray, “Why did you become a missionary?”
“We, uh—” said Thackeray. “We believe the message of our church is so important that the least we can do is volunteer a few years of our lives to help teach it.”
The investigator nodded. “That sounds right.”
“We’ll see you on Sunday.”
After the investigator left Thackeray closed up the church for the night. He ran the sliding glass door home, then leaned against the glass, pressed firmly in and to the right, and heard the lock catch and snap closed.
“Don’t you have a key?” asked his companion. Matlock stood a few yards away at the edge of an embankment that cut down to the railroad tracks, place-kicking rocks over the right-of-way.
“Well, if Taylor’s a good man, he’ll bring mine to zone conference tomorrow.” He yawned and picked up his backpack. He stepped off the curb, waited for a car to pass, and joined Matlock on the other side of the street.
“By the way, how’d you like that answer?”
“I thought you put it pretty good.”
“Actually, I think I went on a mission because the thought of not going on a mission never entered my mind. Why did you?”
“Ditto.” Matlock straightened his glasses and looked out over the city.
The chapel was set into the foothills overlooking the Tokaido line, and beyond, the narrow coastal plain that held the city of Odawara. From where the missionaries were standing, the panorama opened up with an almost majestic grandeur.
“See those lights?” Thackeray pointed east. “The harbor. A mile south is the wholesale fish market that supplies this whole area. I’ll take you down there some morning. It’s quite the sight.”
Matlock smiled. “I think I’m going to like Odawara.”
The neon signs of the Odakyu department store winked out, followed a few moments later by Coca-Cola’s goodnight flicker. Steel wailed on the rails below. The Tokyo Express rumbled into station.
“Ten-oh-four,” said Thackeray. “Let’s get on home.”
It was a mile to the apartment from the church—a well beaten path that paralleled the right-of-way down the hill, then across the tracks and through the station plaza.
After hours, now, the commuter platforms were strangely empty. Trains arrived only twice each hour, overworked businessmen evaporated slowly into the night. A solitary ticket taker guarded the turnstiles. The cops stood in front of the koban watching the world go by.
“Evening,” said Thackeray as they walked by. Matlock saluted. The two policemen nodded in return. Except for Gordon’s Frisbee games, they didn’t mind the missionaries and their odd but mostly innocuous behavior.
The missionaries passed the koban, rounded the corner, and started up the street.
Matlock took a step and froze in midstride. “Hey! Cabarets!”
“It sure lights up at night, doesn’t it?”
During the summer, the streets were washed down to quell the dust and cool the night before the cabarets opened. The wet asphalt reflected the shimmering neon lights and the blinking incandescent bulbs lining the marquees.
“There’s a pretty good cabaret district in Hiratsuka. We used to pass out Law of Chastity pamphlets Sunday nights. Stahler’s idea of a good time.”
“That is kind of funny.”
“The bouncers didn’t think so. I mean, some of those guys were mean.”
“Well, this is the suburbs. They’re polite around here.”
“See that guy over there, the big one?” Thackeray pointed to a portly figure standing under the marquee of the “Blue Dragon” cabaret. “That’s Johnny Naka. A washed-up sumo wrestler. Bounces for the place. Blocks ice at the wharf during the day.”
Thackeray called out, “Hey Johnny!”
“Hello! Good evening,” replied Johnny, exercising half of his English vocabulary.
“How are things going?”
“Going great.” Johnny smiled broadly. Then in Japanese, he said, “Have I got a great deal for you tonight!”
It was an old game on cabaret row—bargaining down the exorbitantly high cover charges as an enticement. Since the missionaries never consented, no deal was unreasonable.
“Maybe some other time.”
“How about your friend?” Johnny grinned at Matlock. “Something special for a new face in town?”
“Uh, no,” stuttered Matlock. The bouncer and his companion were using a vocabulary he hadn’t learned in the MTC.
Johnny shook his head. “Too bad.” A group of college students had drifted by during the conversation and Johnny shifted his attention. He said to the missionaries, “Sorry. Back to work.”
“We’re not going to save the innocents?” Matlock asked, glancing back at the college students. “Stahler considered it his Christian duty.”
“What innocents? Besides, this isn’t our turf.”
Thackeray stopped and looked up, shielding his eyes from the flashing lights. “Evening, Mariko.”
The woman leaned out of a second-story window above the Blue Dragon marquee. “Who’s your friend?”
“We call him Matlock. Matti-san.”
“What happened to Taylor-san?”
“He got transferred to Hiratsuka.”
“But I never got to say goodbye,” she protested. She made a good pretense of being crestfallen.
Matlock nudged his companion with a surprised look. “Did she really mean—”
“Sure,” said Thackeray. “She’s a caring kind of person. A long time ago, I guess some missionary was bent on saving a fallen woman or something like that. And she happened to be around. Too bad she’s only the assistant manager for the place. Not that fallen.”
“Anybody teach her the discussions?”
“Probably. Mostly she’s fun to talk to.”
“Hey! What are you two talking about?”
“Sorry. Nothing important.” Thackeray nudged Matlock. “Give her your two-and-a-half-minute autobiography and we’ll be on our way.
“What do I say?”
“What you always say.” Thackeray took his companion by the shoulders and turned him around. “Pretend she’s an investigator. After all, we’re all investigating something.”
Gordon was at his desk, phone to his ear, when Matlock and Thackeray walked in the door.
“Stats!” he yelled.
“Two intro’s, a D and an I.”
“Not bad. Any baptisms commitments?”
“Two, in two weeks.”
“Say three. It’ll make them happier.”
Behind Gordon, that hunk of a Texan stereotype, Elder Johnson, was slumped back in the armchair, wearing shirt and tie, sans pants. A fan was blowing at his feet. A portable radio, tuned to the American Forces Country Hour, was in his lap. Walkman earphones were wrapped around his head. He ventilated in contented silence.
Gordon turned from the phone.
“Hey, Matlock, what do you want to pass off tomorrow?”
“I didn’t know we had a choice.”
“Brown’s a friend.”
“Oh. How about a C–3?”
“Good enough. Johnson?”
“D–2, all the way.”
“I–1 and 2.”
“Daring. Got that, Brown? Put me down for an H–4 and 6.”
Thackeray emptied his pockets and remembered the key. He said to Gordon, “Did he get the stats from Hiratsuka yet?”
“Just a second—no.”
“When he does, tell him to tell Stahler to tell Taylor to bring my church key to zone conference.”
Thackeray returned to his bedtime preparations. Johnson put his radio away and rolled out his futon. Gordon finished his conversation with Brown and cleared off his desk. Thackeray began undressing.
“Hold it right there!” said Gordon.
“Say what?” said Thackeray. His pants dropped around his ankles.
“Pull your pants up. You’ve got a visitor in five minutes. Kumiko. Did you know Taylor’s birthday is next Tuesday? Me neither. She found out about zone conference and wants us to bring him a present. I figured you were the most qualified.”
“Think nothing of it.” Gordon shrugged. “Anyway, I put you down for a half hour of member fellowship.” He raised an eyebrow and grinned. “But don’t take half an hour.”
Thackeray grimaced the best he could.
Kumiko’s knock came at the door and Thackeray yelled for her to come in.
“Need a chaperon?” asked Matlock.
“No. I’ll scream if she tries anything.”
“On second thought—”
“Ha! Catch the shoji, will you? Don’t want to embarrass the natives.”
Kumiko was waiting in the genkan when Thackeray came into the kitchen. He pulled out a chair for her and they chatted a while across the kitchen table.
“The transfer came so unexpectedly,” she sighed. And Thackeray agreed that these things come right out of the blue, don’t they? Yes, Tayor was doing fine (he assumed), everybody was doing fine. She was doing fine. Finally she gave him the small, colorfully wrapped box and extracted a promise that he would absolutely, positively deliver it to Taylor.
Kumiko left in a cheerful mood. Thackeray had to admit to himself that he enjoyed talking with her. She was cute and she had that way about her, such a warm and gentle voice. It was not hard to understand why Taylor’s heart, as Johnson put it, melted like butter on a Houston sidewalk in July.
Thackeray locked the door and turned out the lights. The apartment was dark. He walked carefully to his room and groped for his futon.
“I laid it out for you,” mumbled Matlock.
“And Gordon said to turn off the air conditioner when you finished. And I said prayers—for both of us.”
Thackeray woke to the clanging of Gordon’s alarm clock. Wisps of an ocean breeze drifted through the open balcony doors.
“What time is it?” groaned Matlock.
“That’s what happens when you move to the suburbs. You have to commute.”
“You’d think the hierarchy would have a little more consideration,” said Matlock. “Like, they should start zone conference at noon.”
“Good idea. A pass-off luncheon. Why don’t you mention it in your next letter to the president?”
“Who’s on shower!?” barked Gordon, peeling himself off his futon. He was his gruff, D.L.-ish best first thing in the morning.
“That’s me.” Matlock stumbled off to start up the water heater.
“Yo.” Thackeray shook himself awake. “Where’s Johnson?” he asked, looking around.
“Exercising on the balcony.”
Thackeray went to the kitchen, got the bowl out of the cupboard, and mixed up a batch of mugi pancakes.
Matlock came dripping out of the bathroom just as Thackeray dumped a cup of mugi flakes into the batter.
“No!” he cried in mock alarm.
“Yes!” said Thackeray with equal bravado. “Roughage! Your G.I. tract will thank you.”
“Another bunch of pancakes perfectly ruined.”
“Don’t insult the cook,” retorted Thackeray. “You’ll eat them.”
By six-thirty, the apartment was vacant. Gordon paused on the sidewalk in front of the apartment building. “Water heater off?” he asked Matlock.
To Johnson: “Air conditioning?”
“Apartment locked? Present for our favorite Choro?”
“So everybody’s fine—? Good. Taking the 6:46 express, we should be at the mission home in a little under two hours.”
Matlock yawned. “I’m sleeping all the way.”
The cabarets were silent and dark. Empty Suntori beer crates were stacked under the dark marquees.
As they walked by, Thackeray paused in his stride, glancing absentmindedly at Johnny Naka’s perch. Back in the shadows stood Mariko. She was wearing a pale blue kimono wrap. Her cheek was pressed against the cool cinder block. She started a bit seeing him.
“Conference,” said Thackeray, explaining the early hour. “In Tokyo.”
“Who’ya talking to?” asked Matlock.
Thackeray stopped and faced his companion. Trying to see who his companion was talking to, Matlock smacked into him head on.
Mariko burst out laughing and quickly covered her mouth with her hand.
“Good move, there, Dode,” said Thackeray.
“Hey! Didn’t see your brake lights. Oh! Hi, Mariko.” Matlock snapped off a half-wave salute.
She smiled in return, softly, it seemed.
Thackeray cornered his ex-companion during lunch break when he was sure neither the president nor his assistants were around.
“This is for you,” he said, taking the small package out of his backpack and handing it to Taylor.
“Oh. Thanks. Who’s it from?”
“Sister Mizutani, dummy.”
“Oh.” Elder Taylor produced a crooked smile.
Thackeray rolled his eyes. Stahler had been more effective than expected. “For your birthday,” he said, “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” said Taylor. He shrugged. “You know how it is with triffs—easy come, easy go.”
“Right.” Thackeray was suddenly very pleased with Taylor’s adolescent flakiness. Kumiko would be better off because of it.
One of the few things Thackeray had positively figured out at this point in his life was that, given a compelling-enough cause and lofty-enough goals and couched in manly-enough terms, there was nothing a nineteen year old couldn’t be convinced to believe in, be it love or religion.
That is, until the next big thing, the next pretty face, came along. Or he just got bored.
Still, there was a big difference between being celibate and being a celibate jerk. Thackeray made a point of avoiding his ex-companion for the rest of the day.