Cherry-chan (snoozing_kitten) wrote in reel_johnny,
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The Third Man 1/7

Title: The Third Man
Movie: The Third Man (1949)
Author: astrangerenters
Rating: R for language, violence, adult content
Summary: Japan 1946. A country with a storied past, a troubled present, and an all too uncertain future. One man returns to a home he doesn't recognize. Sho-centric with Sho/Jun and Nino. If you spot any other pairing hints, it's intentional.
Warning: This story is set in post WWII Japan. It makes mention of the war and its aftermath as well as the Japanese internment camps in the United States. I've done my best to remain historically accurate, but just be aware of the time period and setting and what that entails.
Notes: If not otherwise noted, the main storyline takes place in February 1946. The original movie was set in post World War II Vienna. It might be a little slow for some, but it's a beautifully shot film full of intrigue. Essentially, the movie is all about the choices that people make and what consequences they have. It's also a story about friendship.



1946

Yokohama in 1946 was not the Yokohama he remembered leaving in 1933.

As he made his way down the gangplank, American soldiers jostled him aside. They laughed, and he could understand more than they probably imagined. His father's money had gotten him from the coast to Hawaii, and his editor's had gotten him the rest of the way. Thirteen years and a long, awful war, and Sakurai Sho wasn't sure if this was home or if it ever had been.

The American ship had been cramped and full of troops on their way to occupy the land where Sho was born. Money bought Sho a spot in the underbelly of the ship, far from crew quarters, and he was grateful to no longer be sandwiched between crates of food and supplies. He thought that breathing Japanese air again would have been sweeter than anything, welcoming even. He found it distasteful as the salt of Tokyo Bay mingled with the smell of ruin.

He gripped his suitcase tighter. His editor would like that line, he thought bitterly. The docks were swarming with soldiers in crisp uniforms. They stopped him and asked for his papers five times before he got to the train station. It could be worse, he realized. They could stop him and not let him go.

He'd been in America since he was sixteen, when his father's company sent them to Los Angeles. When the family left Yokohama, it had been on a luxury liner. Sho had not known hardship. They'd gone from a fine home in central Tokyo to a fine home in the hills, not far from the movie stars. He'd attended good schools and a reputable American university. He'd started writing fiction then, though his father had found a way to get him in with the Los Angeles Times. A member of the Sakurai family had to make an honest living, his father had argued. He'd even pondered citizenship.

Then 1941 had ended.

"Which way are you going?"

Sho nearly barreled over the frail man, almost apologizing in English out of habit. He caught himself though, inclining his head in an almost unfamiliar way. America didn't bow to anyone. "I'm very sorry."

"You come from an American ship? You one of them? You a soldier?"

He shook his head, seeing the train station entrance only steps away. "No. I'm Japanese. I was away."

"Away?" The old man smiled, and half his teeth were gone, only darkened gums remaining. "Whatever you say, boy. I've got a taxi. You need a taxi? I'll bring you anywhere you want to go." The man gestured over his shoulder to an old black sedan, motor sputtering.

"My destination is Tokyo," he said as businessmen, soldiers, women holding screaming babies walked around them. Why the hell had he agreed to come back? "I'm very sorry."

"You were on an American ship," the taxi driver accused him, voice taking on a darker tone. "You were away, huh?"

Sho felt the accusation like a knife at his throat. "I'm very sorry, please excuse me."

He walked away, heart beating faster. You're not welcome here, the old man had implied. You're with the Americans, with the people who have won. I'm not with them, Sho wanted to say as he used the only Japanese money he had with him to buy a train ticket north to Tokyo.

I'm not with them, Sho thought. They didn't want me either.

--

1933

"I don't think I'm going to high school."

Sho turned, watching his friend stare out across the river. "Why the hell not?" Sho asked him. "Do you hate school that much?"

His friend just laughed, scratching the side of his face. "It's not about love or hate when it comes to school, Sho-chan. It's about necessity."

Sho frowned. "I don't get you."

"I don't have to go to high school if I don't want to. It's not like I'd get into a school that could get me to Koshien. There's work. I think I'll find work. My grandfather's not going to leave the business to my mother or anything. My sister's getting married. Who else is going to do it?"

He shook his head. "But education is important."

"It's important for people like you, Sho-chan. People like me? We just need to get by."

"Nino..."

His friend punched him lightly in the shoulder. "Sometimes I wonder if you understand how the world really works. At least for people who aren't like you."

"Like me?"

Nino got up, kicking up a bit of dirt from the riverbank as he reached for his baseball bat. Sho wanted him to stay. He hadn't been able to tell Nino yet: about his father's transfer, about America, about everything that was going to change. He wanted to tell Nino everything.

"I better get home. My mom's making miso soup and rice. What is your family having?" Nino asked pointedly, though not unkindly.

Sho said nothing. His family was having a lot more than miso and rice.

Nino deliberately dragged the bat across the grass, poking Sho in the back with it. He knew it was going to leave a stain on the back of Sho's uniform jacket. Of course, the family had hired help to get it clean in time for school the following day.

"I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Nino headed back up the bank incline, finding the footpath that took him west to his own neighborhood. The houses there were closely packed together and small. They didn't have lawns and gardens like Sho's did. It didn't make Sho think any less of Nino. He sat a while longer, watching a few small fishing boats head down the river.

--

The train from Yokohama to Tokyo only ran a few times a day. Parts of the track had been destroyed during all the last air raids, so it was slow going over the sections that remained. The view was pockmarked. As the train lurched along, he saw a row of buildings in perfect condition. But they ended abruptly, starting a new row of nothing but rubble. Heaps of concrete that hadn't been cleared away. Downed power lines, the wooden poles blown over or burnt from American bombs. He didn't want to think of the people that might yet lay undiscovered beneath them.

It was a crowded train, and he was seated beside a young man about his brother's age, just about starting high school. The young man's left leg was a shoddy wooden replacement, and Sho directed his attention to his lap instead. Whether he looked out the train window or beside him, Japan was defeated, and it made Sho's stomach turn. He was almost glad his father was back in Los Angeles. Sho was fairly certain the views would give the old man a heart attack.

As soon as he'd returned from Manzanar, Sho's editor at the Times had been keen on the idea. "We only get to see what MacArthur wants us to see about what's going on over there," his editor had said. Japan, the all too recent enemy, had been reduced to nothing more than "over there" now. Then again, Sho had been surprised to still have a job waiting for him.

Sho had only been back in Los Angeles for a few months. But now he had an assignment, and even with three years away from the typewriter, he hadn't really lost interest in reporting. He was to be the Times' eyes and ears in Tokyo, documenting the occupation for the next few weeks or until the money wired over ran out, whichever happened first. Who better to send than someone who had grown up "over there," was still a citizen, and still spoke the language?

There'd been no apology, no mention of his lost three years. He'd been given a friendly American pat on the back and the necessary papers. But now that he was in Japan, he wondered just how qualified he was to write about what he was seeing.

Instead of worrying about his assignment any further, he pulled the letter out from his jacket pocket, unfolding the neat creases to see the tiny handwriting. He almost hadn't expected to get a reply. After all, it had been more than ten years without any contact, and he hadn't known if the address would still have been current. Or still in existence with the way Tokyo had been bombed.

It was asking a lot, too. He scanned the words, imagining the small hand he remembered scratching them onto the paper.

"...would have thought you would be the President of America by now. A newspaper reporter? You'll have to tell me what your father thought of that career path. I hope he and your family remain alive and well. As for my recommendations on where to stay, I insist that you stay with me. I have a spare room so you can take all the money your American employer sends and use it to buy whatever you'd like at my bar. I own a bar now. See, those of us without a high school education can still make it pretty far in the world.

I've enclosed my current address, as my sister and her husband are the only ones still living at this one. I'm living in Kagurazaka now. It's been a long thirteen years, I think you'll see. Receiving letters is a tricky business, but if you let me know your expected arrival date, I'll ensure that I am ready to receive you. I may even treat you to your first drink at my establishment. (Don't get your hopes up.)

I look forward to seeing you again.

Ninomiya Kazunari"


He had nothing but suffering and the occupation of a defeated people, his people, to document. At the very least, maybe staying with an old friend would ease the burden of his assignment. Sho had to admit that the thought of Nino owning and operating a bar wasn't what he expected, but what right did he have to put expectations on Nino in the first place? When they'd parted, Nino had only been fourteen.

He got off the train at Iidabashi Station and found a taxi cab with a driver who couldn't know that he'd just arrived from the United States. One less person to pass judgment on him that day. "I need to get to Bar Ryusei," he said, handing the scrawled Nino directions to the man.

"Yes, sir."

--

1943

In their barracks, the Sakurai family was not well-liked. As far as Sho understood, the majority of those living at Manzanar were American citizens whose families had immigrated to the United States a few decades earlier. Unlike Sho and his family, many of them had been born in America and considered themselves as American as John and Jane Smith in the house next door, even if their last name was Yamada or Ito. If anything, it was the Sakurai family who should have been locked up. It was the Sakurai family who was probably still loyal to the Emperor and to the Rising Sun.

Even with their arrival in Los Angeles a decade earlier, Sho's father behaved as though he was merely a Japanese in exile, serving his company and his country in a foreign land. His father had made little effort to adjust to American life, and Sho, with his refusal to attend a Japanese university or seek employment back home, was nothing but a disappointment and a disgrace, especially of a first son and heir.

But no matter what efforts Sho had made to be as American as John Smith next door, he, his parents, his brother and sister, and thousands of other Yamadas and Itos on the west coast had been shipped off to places like Manzanar. No matter how much money his father had, it hadn't been enough. Even with war looming, the family hadn't returned to Japan. It seemed that his father preferred martyrdom.

The family of five lived together in a room the size of their dining room back at the Los Angeles house, separated from their new neighbors with cloth strung on wire to give the illusion rather than the guarantee of privacy. The four bathrooms they'd been used to had been reduced to latrines without partitions.

But his father remained the head of the family, sitting with his newspaper as proudly as he could with the curtain drawn. Of course, the newspaper was usually a few weeks old and in English, which he could only halfway understand even after ten years. He refused to read the newspaper the camp residents put out, even though Sho had authored a good share of the articles.

"U.S. Steel is up, as expected," his father remarked one morning, perusing a month old stock table. As though he was about to leave for the office as he always had.

"I'm getting breakfast," Sho remarked, brushing dust off of his clothes as he left.

Dust was everywhere - Manzanar was in the middle of nowhere, a nowhere covered in blowing dirt. He shuffled along in the breakfast line, waiting for his morning rations outside the mess hall. He stood behind a farmer who had lost everything. He stood in front of a schoolteacher who had probably led the Pledge of Allegiance every morning with a bit more pride than she did behind barbed wire.

He'd left Japan at sixteen to call America his new home, but he'd always intended to go back at some point. It was times like these, standing out in the meal line and covering his face with a cloth to avoid the dust, that he thought of Tokyo and the friends he'd had there. Would it be any better back home?

--

According to the address from Nino and the driver's estimates, Bar Ryusei was just down this street, although the way was blocked. A condemned building had recently been imploded by a municipal works team, but there hadn't been enough money to clear the debris away yet. Sho waved off the driver's offer to try and get him there another way. This was the real Tokyo now, and Sho wanted to experience it firsthand.

He paid with his remaining American money, which the driver had no problem taking even though Sho apologized. He carefully walked around the hastily roped off concrete mess, searching for the sign for Bar Ryusei. His family had lived in a different part of Tokyo, and of course it had been several years ago, but Sho couldn't help but notice how quiet the neighborhood was.

There were people in the streets since it was still light out, but there was simply a difference in the way people conducted themselves than Sho remembered. People darted in and out of buildings, kept to the edges of the sidewalk, looked at their feet. It hadn't yet been half a year since the surrender. Everyone was keeping to themselves and doing their best to avoid attention. He recognized the same fear and confusion from his three years in Manzanar.

Bar Ryusei was tucked between a tailor's shop and an out of business dry goods store. It was a modern two-story brick building with a relatively plain facade. This part of Kagurazaka had largely escaped bombing, and despite the imploded building down the block and an out of luck neighbor, Bar Ryusei appeared to be operational. The windows were fairly new and scrubbed clean with the bar's name imprinted in simple lettering. He didn't really know the Nino now, but the Nino back then hadn't really been much for fancy, showy things. At least not for himself. It was a simple, straightforward neighborhood drinking spot.

It was late afternoon, but there were no lights on inside, and the door was locked. Sho knocked and waited patiently, but there was no answer even after ten minutes. He frowned, checking the address one last time. He couldn't imagine there being more than one Bar Ryusei in Kagurazaka. Maybe Nino hadn't received his letter with his arrival date? The tailor was closing up shop for the day, and Sho left his suitcase at the bar entrance and waved down the man.

"Excuse me? I'm sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you knew the hours for Bar Ryusei here?" he asked, almost thankful his father had insisted on using Japanese and only Japanese at home. He hadn't forgotten his native tongue, even after so many years abroad.

The tailor was startled, almost dropping the keys to his door. "Oh goodness, you haven't heard? You're not one of the regulars?"

Sho felt a chill run down his spine at the man's words. "I'm afraid I'm new to the area. My friend is the master here, Ninomiya Kazunari-san? I'll be staying with him while I'm in town."

The tailor looked around, as though he was looking for someone else to relay the information he was holding. He twisted his watch around his wrist nervously. "Ninomiya-san...oh dear, you really haven't been told..."

"No, I've only just arrived today." Was Bar Ryusei shut down? Was Nino sick?

The tailor looked down the street before hurrying to Sho's side and grabbing hold of his coat sleeve. "Ninomiya-san...it only just happened, right here in front of the store."

Sho had been so distracted with finding the bar and avoiding the rubble behind him that he hadn't seen the heavy, black tire marks in the middle of the road, as though a vehicle had come to a sudden stop. He felt suddenly lightheaded.

The tailor tightened his grip on Sho's arm. "It was a truck, coming to haul things away from the dry goods store I believe. I was in my shop, of course. In the back, I mean to say. It was all over when I came out. I....I..."

"Sir, please..."

"Ninomiya-san was killed, right here. Not even five days ago."

--

1933

"I saw it. With my own two eyes, I saw it," Nino insisted as he dragged Sho through the shopping district, past carts nearly overflowing with fruits and vegetables. The streets and passages here were narrow, almost like a maze, but Nino knew it like the back of his hand.

"Slow down," Sho protested, trying to tuck his bookbag tightly against his side before he knocked anything over. "What's the big hurry?"

"Well, when it comes to these things you can't trust anybody else. Something like this is bound to go fast. We have to get to it before it's gone."

They passed a butcher shop, breaking through a line of bored housewives. Nino didn't even look back, and Sho threw half a dozen apologies back over his shoulder. "Nino, this can't be that interesting."

"Says you," Nino declared. He suddenly skidded to a halt, and Sho nearly ran into him. "This way."

They continued down an alleyway, and Sho wrinkled his nose at the smell of garbage and food waste from the various residents of the neighborhood. He wasn't sure why he was humoring Nino. After all, he was supposed to start packing up his books and his room. The family was leaving at the end of the month, and his father wanted everything ready to be shipped across the ocean to their new house sooner rather than later.

Then again, he didn't know how many more opportunities he'd have to follow Nino on another one of his schemes. If Nino was taking the news about Sho moving hard, he wasn't showing it. He'd only nodded and said "if that's your father's job, then that's what you have to do." It hadn't even come up in conversation between them again, even with the move coming up so soon.

Finally, Nino dragged him down an even narrower passageway, crouching down beside a pile of ragged cloth discarded from a kimono shop. Sho hunkered down beside him. "Alright, what am I looking at here?"

Nino shoved aside a few bits of fabric, revealing a torn, yellowed magazine. He picked it up gingerly as though it was something precious. He opened the first page to reveal a cartoon of a voluptuous naked woman with large breasts. Sho's eyes widened.

"Told you it was worth it." Nino flipped through a few more pages, revealing a few more drawings of women in various states of undress. "But it's mine, I found it, so you can look but not touch."

Sho didn't feel all that jealous of Nino's cartoon pornography. "What are you going to do with it?"

Nino shrugged, opening his bag and sliding the magazine inside. "Don't know. Maybe I'll sell it."

"You didn't draw it."

"That's not the point," Nino explained, as though Sho was a moron. He had a look in his eyes that Sho had seen before, but had never really understood. It was an old look, as though Nino had lived far longer than his fourteen years. "Pornography has value. Everything has a value, everything has a price."

--

The tailor, Tanaka, hadn't had too many details to offer. He hadn't known Nino well enough to have asked about the arrangements, only overhearing bits and pieces from neighbors. The funeral was being held that day, though Tanaka suspected it might have already ended. Sho could only stand there, dumbfounded, listening to the man apologize.

"Think there was a family plot in Aoyama. Shimura-san's wife told me something like that. I don't know much else. Bar's had police in and out a few times, but otherwise I can't say. I'm very sorry about your friend."

Sho couldn't believe it. He'd only gotten the letter back from Nino two weeks prior. He'd made his final travel preparations, and now Nino was dead? He was just so tired from the long journey at sea, from the trip from Yokohama, that he wasn't sure if he was hearing the tailor correctly. Maybe he had the wrong address after all. Maybe there was another Ninomiya in Kagurazaka who'd been run down by an out of control truck.

"You said Aoyama Cemetery?"

The tailor nodded. "It's a big park, I mean, I don't know where they might have..."

Sho nodded. "Aoyama, I know where it is." He walked back with heavy steps to the entrance of Bar Ryusei, hoisting his suitcase.

"You do? Are you from Tokyo?"

He ignored the man's question and looked down the street at the debris from the destroyed building. "That way's south?"

"Yes." Tanaka grabbed hold of his arm. "Wait, it'll be dark soon. You're not walking there? That'll take you an hour!"

He slipped out of the man's grasp, adjusting the brim of his hat. "Thank you for letting me know."

The man called after him for a while, but he was eventually out of earshot as Sho made his way south. His feet hurt, he was sore all over, but the tailor had said Aoyama. Nino's family had a plot in Aoyama. It wasn't as cold in winter here as it could get at Manzanar, and he had a far better coat now. Tanaka was right - it would be dark soon, but he wasn't going to sit on the stoop at Bar Ryusei like a stray cat, not without seeing it for himself.

Once he left Nino's neighborhood, it didn't get much louder. The occasional car sped around, but the streets were largely empty. Entire city blocks were roped off, waiting for someone to clear away debris and make the area livable again. Who knew how much destruction lay beyond that, where Sho couldn't see from ground level? He'd only read about the bombings in Tokyo through the press. Seeing the devastation first hand was another thing entirely. He was just glad his editor hadn't thought it a good idea to send him south to the cities that had seen the atomic bomb.

The more he walked and the more of Tokyo he took in, the less he wanted to think about Nino living here. Of course, he only remembered fourteen year old Nino who played baseball, was too embarrassed to join Sho's family on a holiday, and always said what he was thinking. Nino was twenty-seven now and a businessman. Had Nino fought for the Japanese? What had it been like to see Tokyo under the siege of bombs? What had it been like to hear the Emperor's voice over the radio, announcing the surrender?

The cemetery gates were still open when Sho arrived, suitcase in hand. He'd spent the entire journey across the Pacific hoping to get that drink Nino had promised. Now he was steps away from the final resting places of several generations. Graves of marble and stone were tightly packed on either side of the path. How had Nino's family been able to afford a family plot here? A lot had changed since he'd been gone.

He came to a halt under leafless trees, branches burdened with a thin layer of ice that was beginning to melt. Two policemen were coming down the path, heading Sho's way. One was tall with long limbs, the other was short with a long knitted scarf bundled around his neck. They noticed Sho immediately, and the taller officer was the first to speak.

"Cemetery gates are closing in half an hour. Can we direct you to your hotel? Are you lost?" he asked, the most kindness Sho had heard all day, maybe the most in three years.

He probably did look rather strange wandering through a cemetery at sunset with a suitcase in tow. The other officer said nothing, merely looking at him curiously. Sho looked from one officer to the other. "I'm staying in town, but I was supposed to be lodging with a friend. But they said he died, had his ashes interred here just today."

The officers exchanged a look. The taller one seemed to be waiting for the other man to say something - maybe the shorter fellow was the superior. Sho shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.

"Are you looking for Ninomiya?" the shorter officer asked suddenly, startling Sho.

He nodded. "Yes. Yes, that's my friend. Ninomiya Kazunari. He hasn't really been killed, has he?"

The two officers exchanged another look. This time the taller one spoke again, his breaths visible in the waning light. "Why don't you come with us?"

--

1942

The hired help were running from room to room in a daze as Sho came home, setting down his briefcase and suitcases in the hall. He still thought of the house in the Hollywood Hills as home, even though he'd finally gotten a small, modest place of his own closer to the Times' offices downtown. It appeared that his change of address hadn't been registered or there'd been some sort of mix-up.

His sister was all dolled up, standing at the top of the spiral stairs in the hall looking forlorn. "Sho, you're home."

"Mai," he acknowledged her, watching the chaos unfolding as one of the maids hurried past him with her arms full of the family's fine china. "You're going dressed like that?"

Her fingers drummed the bannister as her heeled shoes clicked on each step on the way down to greet him. "If they think I'm a spy, let them think I'm a beautiful, exotic spy they're locking away."

He sighed, smelling the perfume wafting off of her. "We're going on a train, you know. You're going to suffocate us all. Unless that was your dastardly plan, given to you by the Emperor himself to snuff us out."

Mai leaned forward, gripping his wrist. "Don't joke. Papa's home. He'll hear you."

"Let him hear me," he said, shaking her off and heading for the stairs. "Is mother upstairs?"

"She's at the bank," Mai related. "Putting all the jewelry in a safe deposit box."

One of the maids passed him on the steps, arms loaded with some of the first-edition books his parents kept on the shelves in their bedroom. Most of the furniture had already been sold off, the money put in the bank to allow them to start again whenever this foolish evacuation ended.

"All Japanese persons, both alien and non-alien, will be evacuated..." the notices said. The preparations were near completion. Sho was still listed as a member of his father's household, and the five of them would go together. He hadn't been on friendly terms with his father in some time, but it didn't much matter. They were stuck now.

"Sho!" Mai called as soon as he reached the top of the staircase. He looked over, and despite her makeup and form-fitting dress and curled hair, she was still his younger sister. And she was scared.

"What is it?" he asked, gentler than before.

"It's going to be alright, isn't it? It's just a temporary relocation?"

Sho had still been in the newsroom when word of the Executive Order came over the wire. He gave his sister what he thought was his most convincing smile. "Of course. I'm sure it will all be over soon."

--

Instead of taking Sho to the Ninomiya family grave, the officers ushered him to the local police station and let him sit for a while in one of the interrogation rooms for privacy. The taller officer, Aiba, brought him a hot cup of tea.

"Wait," Sho said as Aiba turned to leave. "You don't have to leave me alone."

Aiba looked slightly uncomfortable, but he sat down. It seemed as though Nino's funeral had been the event of the day, at least in this area of Tokyo. Aiba and his superior, Ohno in the scarf, had been asked to keep an eye on the proceedings. Grave looting had been a worry for a while, especially with wealthier graves. Ornamentation and decorative accents on gravestones had been stolen and melted down or sold on the black market. Everyone was looking for a way to make money since the war machine was no longer mobilized. It seemed that funerals were a good distraction for the criminals.

"Luckily it was a very quiet affair today. We didn't see anyone suspicious," Aiba related to him. He scratched his neck. "I am sorry though. I mean, you came all this way to reunite with your friend and he's..."

Sho nodded. There was no mistake. Ninomiya Kazunari, the owner of Bar Ryusei in Kagurazaka, had been struck and killed. It was almost too hard to believe. He and Nino had been close as kids, but after Sho had moved, he'd neglected to write. He'd been too concerned with his own life and his own advancement. He'd all but abandoned his friendship with Nino, forging ahead and trying to Americanize himself.

"Ohno-san checked our records, and our department did a cursory examination of Ninomiya's establishment. You know, looking for a will, any personal effects to go to the family." Aiba still looked uncomfortable, taking out a small envelope and sliding it across the table. "One of Ninomiya-san's waitresses said he was expecting a guest from America. He had a separate key made for the apartment above the bar. He was living there, and I guess you were to stay there too?"

Sho opened the envelope, taking the cool metal key from within. He ran his fingertip over each little jagged edge. Nino hadn't seen or heard from him in over a dozen years, and yet he was willing to let Sho stay with him, free of charge. Sho couldn't even thank him now. His fist closed around the key, and he shut his eyes, saying a silent prayer for his friend.

Aiba cleared his throat a few moments later. "How long will you be staying in Tokyo, Sakurai-san? I mean, we checked and we couldn't find a will for your friend. We're not sure how ownership of his bar will transfer, but if you have no other place to stay..."

It would feel strange staying in Nino's place, surrounded by all the things Nino had acquired in all the years they'd been separated. It would be like staying in a stranger's home, made all the more uncomfortable because said stranger was deceased. But he'd spent his last few coins, both Japanese and American, on his transportation. He had no other place to go since he'd counted on Nino to put him up.

"I'm a newspaper reporter with the Los Angeles Times. I'm here on assignment. I was planning to stay with Ninomiya-san until they called me back."

Aiba nodded. "Well, I can recommend places in the area where you could stay instead. I'm sure Ninomiya-san's lawyer or business partners will be in and out of there, and they might not have been aware of your arrangement and may not honor it."

Sho nodded. "I appreciate that, thank you."

Aiba stood, fumbling with the buttons on his uniform jacket to avoid looking Sho straight on. "I'm on the night beat up near Waseda, so I can give you a lift back to Kagurazaka."

Sho finished the weak tea, realizing it was the only thing he'd had all day aside from a cup of coffee on the Yokohama train. He stood, retrieving his bag, and followed Aiba from the room. The squad room was half empty, and Sho had a suspicion that there weren't really enough policemen available. Not everyone had come back from the war.

They passed by Aiba's superior's desk, and Ohno stood, looking solemn. "If there's anything you require while you're here in Tokyo, Sakurai-san, don't hesitate to call." He handed back Sho's papers. "Had to call the occupation administration office. I'm sorry. Just needed to verify your reason for being here."

Sho nodded, taking back his travel documents and sliding them into his bag. "That's not a problem."

"How well did you know Ninomiya-san?" Ohno asked, expression unchanged. It was an odd question, Sho thought, and why did he owe him an answer? Why did the police care what his relationship had been like with Nino? It hadn't been asked in Aiba's concerned tone - it was asked with something else behind it. As if Nino had done something wrong.

"He was my friend," Sho explained anyhow, not wishing to quarrel after all they'd done to help him. "My childhood friend. I haven't...I hadn't seen him since I was sixteen."

Ohno sat back down, reaching for another file folder full of paperwork. "I see. Very sorry for your loss. I hope you're able to accomplish what you set out to do here."

Aiba jingled his car keys a bit, getting Sho's attention. "Come on, I'm sure you want to get settled. It's been a long day."

The officer said little as he weaved the car through the streets, occasionally smacking the malfunctioning heater as they headed back to Kagurazaka. He came through a different way, approaching Bar Ryusei from the north to avoid the destroyed building.

Aiba pulled over to the curb, putting the car in park. Sho had his fingers around the door handle when the officer stopped him with a hand to his shoulder. "Sakurai-san, you're a newspaper man?"

"Yes?"

Aiba looked slightly embarrassed, even in the relative darkness. "Ohno-san didn't know how to ask, since he, you know, had to run your papers. It's just that information can be hard to come by now. And since you're from the United States, you might have a perspective we don't get here, aside from dealing with the occupation forces..."

Sho looked out at the darkened street, at how lonely Bar Ryusei looked. "I'm not sure what kind of information you're talking about. I'm not a spy, and for the record, I don't even know much myself. I was..." He wasn't sure Aiba needed to know about Manzanar. Sho didn't need to give the officer his entire life story.

Aiba let him go. "I understand, I'm really sorry. I didn't ask to try and trick you. It's just that Ohno-san, some of the other officers, well, we have to do what the American government dictates now. I guess you could say we're nothing more than tools for them. No offense, since you've been over there..."

"None taken," Sho said immediately. He had no great love for America after three years locked away.

The officer nodded. "Well, we're having a meeting in a week or so. Some police, some local folks. Concerned folks. Um, it's not exactly common knowledge, but we'd love for you to come speak with us. The meetings are pretty informal."

Sho considered it. Having allies on the police force would possibly make his time in Japan go smoother, especially if he needed access to places to help him write articles. It wouldn't do to snub the police now. "Sure," he said slowly. "I'd be happy to attend. I could interview you, if you'd agree to that?"

"You mean people in America could read about me? About Officer Aiba Masaki, Tokyo Police?" The man's earlier embarrassment seemed to vanish at the thought of some small amount of fame. "Oh, do come, Sakurai-san! We'd be thrilled to have you. It would be so interesting to get another perspective."

He finally opened the door, retrieving his suitcase from the back seat. "Well, you know where I'll be," he said, gesturing behind him to the bar. "Second floor."

Aiba nodded, taking the car back out of park. "You take care now. And if you notice anything suspicious in the neighborhood, please let us know. We're doing our best to cut down on vice, black market business, that sort of thing."

"Of course."

"Have a good night."

Sho watched the car's red tail lights disappear, leaving him completely alone. He could see candlelight in a few windows around the block, electric ones behind some curtains, but none whatsoever on at Bar Ryusei. What had happened with Nino had yet to truly sink in, and Sho was about to fall asleep standing up.

He took the key Nino had specially made for him. It didn't fit the bar's front entrance, and there was no gangway between the tailor's or the empty dry goods store. Aiba hadn't thought of that. But no matter, Sho thought, walking back down the block and around, finding a narrow alleyway behind the buildings. It was rather overgrown with weeds peeking through the sidewalk cement, mostly shriveled and dead from the winter chill.

There was a cement block wall extending all the way down, interrupted only by rusted metal gates for each building. The one for Bar Ryusei was worn, but not in terrible condition. It creaked only a little as Sho pushed it open, closing it again behind him. There was a small yard behind the building, no grass. Only more concrete, the same as the shops on either side. It was merely an alternate entrance for owners and employees.

The back door opened instantly with the key, leading to a rather steep wooden staircase and a ground floor path that most likely led to storage rooms and the bar's rear entrance. The steps creaked as Sho trudged up them, gripping the hand rail. Moonlight poured through the windows as Sho made it upstairs to a well-furnished sitting room, and he flipped the switch on the wall at the top of the stairs. Nino's electricity was paid for.

Despite the humble entrance and steep staircase, Nino was living well. Very well. He slipped off his shoes, leaving them at the top step. The main room had a plush sofa and loveseat with a glass coffee table. Papers were strewn here and there, most likely from the police rummaging. It had a very Western feel overall. Bookcases and even a grandfather clock that was still keeping good time lined the walls. There was a small kitchen beyond, and a hallway running along the northern wall.

Three doors to the hall. The first was a washroom with a toilet and tub, again Western style. The next door was a bedroom with an unmade bed and a rather expensive looking armoire. The baseball bat mounted on a wall rack was the best indication that this had been Nino's room. He shut the door almost silently, wishing he hadn't disturbed it in the first place. The final room had to be his guest room.

This room alone had a Japanese feel. Unlike the wood floors and rugs in the other rooms, this room had tatami mats from wall to wall, a simple dresser, and a low table. He set down his bag and slid open the cabinets to find clean bedding. Of course the futon hadn't been set up and waiting for him. Nino had been killed before he'd gotten a chance, Sho thought darkly.

He didn't bother taking out pajamas from his suitcase, stripping down to his underwear and slipping into the futon. He was asleep within minutes of his head touching the pillow.

He only awoke when the bedroom door opened hours later, revealing a man's shadow in the hall.

"You must be Sakurai-san."


Part 2
Tags: author: astrangerenters, movie: the third man
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