Thackeray was feeling optimistic. The investigator’s cellophane spirit made it through the war in heaven (who’s going to argue against free-agency?), got born (stick the piece of cellophane onto a cardboard facsimile of the Japanese everyman), grew up in the perfect family, and decided (hypothetically, for the time being) to join the church and get baptized.
It was time to wrap up mortality. Cellophane and cardboard poised on the brink of—
“And since our bodies are imperfect, we must all die at some time.” Thackeray liked to finish up his half of the discussion with that matter-of-fact statement. He turned to his companion. “Take it away, Michaels.”
During the last paragraph of his companion’s delivery, Michaels had quickly sorted through the glossy prints in his flipchart he planned on using. He closed the notebook, saving his place with his fingers, and looked the investigator in the eye.
“Now, Mr. Tanaka—”
A knock came at the door.
Like most missionaries attached to Tokyo/Yokohama ward units, Thackeray and Michaels taught the single investigators in a classroom in the church building.
The door cracked open a few inches. “D.L.-sama,” called out Sister Yoshida. Michaels got up and went to the door, leaving the investigator in perdition.
“What is it?”
“Our beloved zone leader is on the phone.”
“What in the world could Danbury want?” Michaels leaned back into the room and said, “Thack, get Mr. Tanaka out of the telestial kingdom. This shouldn’t take long.”
Thackeray was polishing off the celestial glories when his companion returned.
“What kind of schedule do we have this afternoon?” whispered Michaels as Tanaka searched for a scripture in the Book of Mormon.
“Tanigawa at one o’clock.”
“He’s our really hot H discussion?”
“Yep. And then a brand new C at two, and a maybe at two thirty.”
“I thought so,” Michaels mumbled to himself, and left again.
Thackeray finished the lesson by himself and walked out to the foyer with Mr. Tanaka.
“Gee, Mr. Tanaka,” said Michaels, hanging up the phone, “I’m sorry about running out on you like that, but I had an important phone call.”
“That’s okay,” said Mr. Tanaka.
“Will we be seeing you on Sunday?”
“I think so.”
“Great!” Michaels shook Mr. Tanaka’s hand vigorously. “Have a nice day and we’ll see you on Sunday,” they said together.
After he left, Michaels asked, “How did the rest of the lesson go?”
“Oh, pretty good. I’ll get my hopes up if he comes Sunday. What did Danbury want?”
“You’re not going to believe this.”
“If Danbury said it, I can believe it.”
“Well, first he gave me his latest motivation speech.”
“And then he asked for a baptism interview.”
Michaels looked at his watch. “Half-an-hour.”
“One of his shotgun baptisms, eh? He’ll have to get Gibby or Kotter to do it.”
“Kotter’s too far away. And City district left their answering machine on. Again.”
“So that leaves us—”
“With a companion split.”
“Oh.” Thackeray thought for a moment. “Nothing wrong with that.”
“Only Kondo can’t split. Danbury’s doubled up on discussions.”
“So, a companion split. Companion, I’m splitting.” Michaels got out his subway schedule. “Let’s see, how much is it to Kamata?”
“Uh—wait a minute,” said Thackeray. He waited for the punch line. It didn’t come. “That’s crazy!”
His companion shrugged. “Orders are orders.”
“He can’t authorize that!”
“Well, he has. And I’m not one to mock the great Danbury.”
“But what about the H discussion?”
“Teach it with Yoshida. She’s great with the commandments. But you have the C discussion all to yourself. Williams Shimai says they have a lesson at two, and you know that she can’t do jack alone.”
“This is nuts.”
“This is going to be fun.” Michaels grinned. “It feels so—so sinful.”
Thackeray watched in disbelief as his companion walked out the door.
“Hey!” Yoshida called down the hall. “Lunch is ready!”
“You’re not gonna believe this,” Thackeray said, walking into the kitchen.
“Won’t believe what?” asked Williams, examining the rice cooker.
“Danbury called for a baptism interview.”
“The curse of being close and available,” sighed Yoshida. She said to Thackeray, “When are you leaving?”
“He already left.”
“Huh? Hey, where’s Michael’s Choro?” Williams peered around the kitchen through steamed-up glasses.”
“Oh—” Yoshida’s eyes widened. “It finally happened. He’s doubled up and couldn’t get Gibby.”
“That’s what it looks like.”
“But don’t you have a lesson at one?”
“Michaels said to teach it with you. It’s an H discussion.”
“Thanks for asking—”
Thackeray shrugged. “That’s the way it goes. What half do you want to teach?”
“First five. I’m not interested in the improprieties of men.”
Williams unplugged the rice cooker and deposited in on the table next to a steaming pot of curry. “Who’s gonna bless it?”
The lesson went fine, which was about the best Thackeray ever expected when it came to spelling out the commandments. His solo effort after that fit more into the “interested” category. Had it been “confused” (as they often were), there probably wouldn’t have been a return commitment. But Thackeray was pleased with both. If the “maybe” showed up, it’d make his day. He went into the clerks office and scooted a cushioned armchair out into the foyer.
Williams and Yoshida came down the hall talking with their investigator. Thackeray guessed her age at nineteen, though he couldn’t be too sure. It was hard to tell with Japanese girls.
“Hi, there,” he said, trying to be conservatively charming.
The girl smiled and whispered something to Sister Yoshida. Yoshida shook her head. “No, this is Thackeray Choro. Michaels Choro had an errand in Kamata today.”
Thackeray felt a tinge of envy. There must have been talk of a baptism interview.
“Oh,” said the girl, quite satisfied with the explanation. “But when will I meet Michaels-san?”
“Probably this Sunday,” answered Yoshida.
“Okay,” she said brightly, “I’ll see you then. Bye-bye.”
The three of them watched the girl walk down the church steps. Thackeray said, “You two have a strong expectation to report in tonight, eh?”
Williams beamed. “We set up an interview for Sunday afternoon.”
The front doors swung open and Michaels sauntered into the foyer. Thackeray glanced over his shoulder. “Ah, the prodigal son returns,” he said.
“Yessir, pilgrim. After braving the Mongol hordes all by hisself.” Michaels slapped his companion on the back. He said to Williams and Yoshida, “I met your investigator at the train station. I’m pretty impressed.”
“She’s a good girl,” Yoshida agreed. But before she left, she said to Michaels, “Let’s forget to tell Danbury about it, okay?”
Michaels finished calling in the daily district statistics to Danbury and was writing in his journal. The sliding glass windows were open. A slight breeze drifted through the apartment. Two futons were laid out on the tatami. A mosquito coil smoldered in a jar lid. Thackeray leaned his chair back against the window sill and listened to the sounds of the outside world floating in the night air. The gurgling of an open storm drain, cicadas buzzing in the shrubbery along the roadside.
Michaels picked up an envelope off his desk and threw it across the room to Thackeray. “If you haven’t anything to do, read me the weekly stat report.”
Thackeray tore off one end of the envelope, taking off half of the mission logo and the stamped return address.
“Is Kunitachi still in the ditch?”
Thackeray studied the two page report. It was divided into three sections, according to mission assistant areas, and subdivided again into zones, districts and missionaries in each district. Next to the listings were six columns, filled with numbers indicating baptisms for the week, baptisms for the month, consecutive weeks with baptisms, consecutive months with baptisms, and new convert activity per week and per month.
“Yep. Scraping by in last place. Three baptisms and 24 percent new convert activity last month.”
“At least they’re up.”
“Yeah. If you want to look at it that way. The whole thing’s a bad joke.”
“Look up the week Longstreet transferred out of the district. That would be—let’s see—June twenty-first.”
Michaels got out an accordion folder and flipped through some of the papers. “He was a zone leader, right?”
“In my district at the time.”
“Ah, here we go. The week ending June twenty-first: two baptisms with 64 percent new convert activity. Impressive. But the town always comes out when a missionary transfers.
“Especially for Longstreet. But look at the week before.”
“Two with 44.”
“That’s a normal week,” said Thackeray, rolling his eyes. “Now, look at the week after.”
“Well, you’ve got to take it for granted that missionaries don’t get baptisms on a transfer week unless they’re set up.” Michaels looked back at the report. “Zero with fourteen!” He whistled softly. “I didn’t know their activity went down the drain that fast.”
“Yep. Kempner Choro shows up in town on Wednesday, goes to church Sunday morning, calls in Sunday night with 14 percent activity and catches it in the fan.”
“What for? The worst missionary alive couldn’t take out an activity base that fast. Who was the APe? Jensen, right?” Michaels laughed cynically.
“And Longstreet can thank his lucky stars Kempner took a liking to him when they were down south together. Anyone else would have squawked.”
“With friends like that—”
“Kempner is apathetic enough about the hierarchy, and you’d have to know Longstreet. Ever since he made zone leader, he’s concocted this incredible personality that keeps on shining through, no matter what.”
“Rather like Gibby, huh?”
Thackeray looked back to the report. “Let’s see—Elder Gibbons: three with 53 percent last week.”
Michaels closed his journal and turned around. “You can’t fake baptisms,” he said. “But I was there when the man said he padded activity to keep the APes off his back.” He stretched and yawned. “Let’s see the second page of that.”
Thackeray handed him the sheet. Michaels looked at it with casual interest.
“Here’s something.” Michaels pointed to a name at the top of the page. “Matthews: four with 65 percent last week.”
“Now, that’s a number I can trust,” replied Thackeray. “Matthews is a good man. He was my zone leader once.”
“So it can be done? High numbers and high percentages.”
“Problem is, saying it can be done doesn’t mean everyone can do it. Or that it will last.”
“Speaking of which—how’s our fearless leader doing?”
Thackeray scanned his page of the report. “Danbury: four with 21 percent last week; twelve with 34 percent for the month.”
“At least he’s mostly honest,” said Michaels.
“A mostly honest megalomaniac.”
“A productive one as well.”
Thackeray shook his head. “Not with those percentages.”
“Come, come,” scolded Michaels. “Don’t you remember that zone conference six months ago when we decided to leave all those nasty percentage points behind and put our shoulders to the wheels of grosses and sum totals?”
“Look at it this way,” said Michaels, thumbing through the reports, “Danbury averages eleven baptisms per month over the last two months with a weekly new convert activity of 26 percent, four week average at 34 percent. Now, we two merry men come in at 4.5 baptisms per month with 60 percent activity over four weeks.”
Michaels got out a calculator and punched the black plastic buttons. “That gives Danbury a base of 3.7 new convert bodies at church every month, compared to 2.7 for us. Ergo, Danbury wins by a whole one point.”
“So, it’s like the president says: sacrifice a few percentage points, get the big numbers and come out ahead in the end.”
“Unless you’re the membership clerk.”
“Or the home teachers.” Michaels shrugged. “But with the mission taking up the slack—”
“If the mission does take up the slack.” Thackeray turned off his desk lamp and lay down on his futon. “I don’t know,” he mused. “I can’t get into the numbers thing. Maybe I have the wrong mindset. I even get the urge now and then to house.”
“Take a cold shower. That’ll knock some sense into you.” Michaels filed the papers away and turned off his light. “Your turn to say prayers, ol’ ancient of days—”
The phone rang during breakfast.
“Who was it?” called out Thackeray, banging about the kitchen with the pots and pans.
Michaels came to the doorway. “Who else? We’ve been summoned for an interview.”
Danbury was at the kitchen table coaching his investigator when they arrived. Good coaching meant good interviews. Danbury was a good coach.
Before disappearing into his room after a final Ganbatte! Danbury said to Thackeray, “Kondo’s got an intro lesson in the other room. Give him a hand.”
Kondo didn’t possess the same ferocity as Danbury, but he taught with a magnetic sense of conviction. The investigator—a young college student—was swept along in the flow of words and images. Thackeray did his best to offer reassuring smiles at the proper times. After Kondo committed the new investigator to a return appointment, he decided to see how his companion was doing.
The interview was over. Thackeray pulled up a chair and looked over the interview/recommend book while Michaels and the investigator chatted about nothing in particular. There was finally a lull in the conversation.
“I’ve got to talk to Danbury,” Michaels replied.
He reached back and rapped on the door to Danbury’s room. Danbury bounced into the kitchen, smiling broadly at his investigator. He clamped his hands on Michael’s shoulders and spoke quietly in English.
“How’d he go?”
“Fine, except for this Sunday business.”
“Ah, yes. Well, don’t worry about—”
“He can’t come to church for six months?”
Danbury shook his head and thumped Michaels’ shoulders impatiently. “You know how it is with college entrance exams. Don’t worry about it. I have it all taken care of.”
“What about permission? He’s under eighteen.”
Danbury shrugged the question off without answering. Thackeray and Michaels glanced at each other and shrugged in turn.
“Okay,” said Michaels, “I’ll hold you to your word.” He took the interview book from Thackeray and signed a blank form. “Here you go.”
“Stay for the baptism?”
Another Danbury rush order, thought Thackeray.
“No can do,” said Michaels, putting on his suit coat, “we have appointments.”
“What appointments?” said Thackeray.
“Oh. Of course. Thanks for reminding me.”
A few minutes later, at the station, Thackeray said, “Tanigawa’s not till this evening.”
“I know. But when it comes to Danbury, I get more and more like Gibby every day.”
“C’mon. You’re not that bad. Besides, we don’t have an answering machine to leave on all day.”
“Well, what about that interview I just did?”
Thackeray kicked at the anti-skid grooves cut into the edge of the platform. He said, “I wouldn’t worry about it. You never know. Maybe he’ll become a stake president some day.”
“Maybe. But I still feel incompetent.”
“If you are, we all are,” said Thackeray. He laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Oh, everything. Like that interview book of Danbury’s. I was flipping through it. Kondo’s signed some of the forms. For their own investigators.”
“Oh—well, the way they teach, the right hand doesn’t know what the left is up to anyway.”
“I don’t think that qualifies as a separation of interests.”
“The mission office must have said something.”
“I’m sure they considered it another sign of Danbury’s superior motivation.”
Sunday, Danbury struck again. Brother Honda poked his head into the classroom and whispered that Michaels Choro was wanted on the phone. The class was almost over, so Michaels waited in the foyer until his companion walked out with Mr. Tanaka.
“Guess what!” said Michaels.
“Oh, no!” said Thackeray, in mock horror.
“Oh, yes,” replied Michaels. “Right now.”
“Well, don’t let too many members see you on the way down. They’re wise to missionary protocols, you know.”
“I’ll softly and silently vanish away—”
Michaels returned after Sacrament Meeting. Relief Society had convened in the kitchen, so he found his companion down in the sisters’ apartment.
“You’re just in time for lunch, Dode”
“Hi, there, Michaels Choro,” chirped Williams. “How was it?”
“Oh, pretty good.”
“They’re always pretty good,” said Yoshino.
“How about Tanaka?”
“Better than I expected. I set up an I discussion on Thursday.”
“Only day he could make it. At seven-thirty.”
Thursday morning, Michaels and Thackeray skipped gospel study and left for church after breakfast.
“You don’t mind teaching on P-day, do you?” asked Michaels as they walked into the foyer.
“Heck, no. Proselyting on the off-hours gives me a great feeling of self-righteousness.”
“Maybe we should do it more often.”
“One shouldn’t get too holy.”
“Right. I’ve got to get stats from the sisters.” He had started down the hall when the foyer phone rang.
“It’s for Yoshida,” Thackeray called to his companion. “One of her housewives.”
“I’ll get her.”
Thackeray went into the clerks office and settled down in his favorite swivel chair. After Yoshida finished with the call, he scooted back into the foyer.
“How is she?” he asked.
“She’ll do okay as long as her husband doesn’t get too uptight about it. Damn!”
Startled at this unexpected exclamation, Thackeray looked up. Danbury and the Junior Z.L., Joe Kotter, were coming up the steps of the church.
“Hiya there,” said Danbury, pushing the front doors wide open. Kotter, at his left shoulder, looked quite uncomfortable. “As I thought—you weren’t at home, so you must have a lesson. Decided to drop by on our way to the Z.L. conference. What is it?”
“An I discussion.”
“An I discussion? Seems a little late in the game for an I. You know, we could stick around a few minutes and get him through an interview.”
“I’d like to teach him the I discussion first.”
“C’mon, Thackeray, where’s the spirit? I ought to give that D.L. of yours another talking to. Where is he, anyway?” He looked around the foyer. Thackeray didn’t say anything. Kotter shrugged. Danbury turned back to Thackeray, maintaining the fake aura of familiarity: “Yep. Get ’em into an I and they’re already wet up to their knees. That’s what I say.” He punched Thackeray in the shoulder.
Yoshida said, “If they haven’t already drowned.”
Danbury’s face twitched. “Yes,” he continued, “I think I need to talk to that D.L. of yours.”
“Well, thanks anyway,” said Thackeray, “but—”
Danbury interrupted, “I don’t think you guys know what you’re supposed to be doing here—”
“We know what we’re doing. Not so sure about you.”
The two missionaries glared at each other. Kotter tried to fade through the nearest wall.
Yoshida said in Japanese. “Be on your way. Please.”
Thackeray had heard the expression before, and associated it more with epithets of a four-letter variety, despite the gilded honorific she’d cleverly tagged onto the end.
“Yeah. Let’s go,” said Kotter, making a break for the door. Danbury turned away and Kotter gave Thackeray a sympathetic roll of the eyes as they left.
“Fireworks, eh?” Michaels walked up behind Thackeray and Yoshida.
“Yeah. But it would have been worse if Tanaka showed up.”
“When I heard Danbury come in, I went out in front and waited for him. He’s in the teaching room right now.”
Thackeray turned to Yoshida and smiled. “Do we have a brilliant D.L. or what?”
Michaels held the weekly district meeting every P-day afternoon promptly at five o’clock. But Yoshida was delayed with a phone call. Michaels, Thackeray and Williams gathered around the table in the clerks office and discussed the latest chatter on the mission grapevine while they waited for her. The gossip had turned to the subject of Danbury when she walked in.
Michaels was saying, “Well, it’s like Thack and I were talking about the other night. Danbury may not have the percentages but he sure has the numbers. I guess it all averages out in the end. I may wonder about people like Longstreet and Gibby—you know, out and out cheating—but if the powers that be say that Danbury’s a better missionary—”
“You should disagree,” Yoshida said. “Danbury doesn’t love the Japanese people. He baptizes to get a lot of glory. He’s not a good missionary, and I—”
The room fell into an uncomfortable silence.
“—don’t like him,” she said, suddenly self-conscious. She hurriedly sat down next to Sister Williams and spread some papers out on the table.
The room was still again. Michaels rustled through his D.L. folder for an itinerary. He pulled a sheet of paper out and began writing on it.
“Well, uh, shall we begin?”
Thackeray looked up as Yoshida turned around, and for a moment, their eyes met. There were tears in her eyes.
Michaels said, “Um, could someone pick an opening song?”
That night, after prayers, Thackeray said, “That was a most interesting district meeting, Michaels.”
“Yoshida surprised me.”
Thackeray nodded. “Really caught me off guard.
“I think she was ticked about the way Danbury raked you over this morning.
“I think she just doesn’t like him.”
“That’s for sure.” Michaels paused. “Say, Thack. When you were in Kunitachi with Longstreet—to put it bluntly—did you ever think about ratting him out?”
Thackeray didn’t say anything for a while. He lay on his back on his futon and stared at the ceiling.
“I thought about it a lot of times. Every time I got pissed off at the world. Problem was, Longstreet’s too easy to like. And we go back—we were juniors together in Senzoku. Well, during one of those mission president interviews, I tried bringing it up—being real subtle and cautious. Except the president made everything I said sound like it was my problem. Like I was inferring these things because of my bad attitude.”
He paused to organize his thoughts. “The thing is, I really did have a bad attitude. Acting all self-righteous didn’t make up for it. So there I was, rambling on and on, and suddenly I said to myself, What’s Longstreet got to do with me? Why should I care? He may be bending the rules, but he didn’t make them up. Ever since then, I figured it was better to live and let live.” He breathed deeply. The air was still.
“Just wondering,” Michaels said.
“Planning on taking the offensive?”
“If it was only about you and me—” He didn’t finish the rest of the sentence.
Hakuraku district didn’t hear from or see Danbury for a whole week. When the stat reports came in the mail on Wednesday, though, there were three more baptisms next to Danbury’s name.
“He must have given up on us and called out the dogs on City district,” said Michaels.
P-day was equally uneventful. During district meeting, the phone rang. Thackeray answered it.
“This is Danbury.”
Thackeray steeled himself for the unexpected.
“Uh—” said Danbury, clearly discomfited. “Uh, I have to apologize to you guys.”
Thackeray stumbled for a reply.
“It’s about those one-man splits,” Danbury went on. “The mission president found out and told me to apologize to everyone in the district and, uh, not to do it anymore.”
“Oh—okay.” Thackeray tried thinking up a caustic rejoinder, but his mind went blank. He told Danbury to hold on while he got the rest of the district.
Thackeray walked down the hall with deliberate steps. He wanted to feel some vindictive delight in Danbury’s forced apology. But there wasn’t anything there. Schadenfreude made for shallow pleasure. And it wouldn’t change anything in the long run anyway.
Two months later, the reign of Lake-the-APe ended. Danbury filled his place as Assistant to the President.