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 Chapter 20

Plucking Geese

London, April 15, 1937.

Mrs. Hiroshi Tanaka's arrival in London, while unheralded, gradually produced a considerable stir in diplomatic circles. The first circle to welcome her was, of course, that formed by the military and naval attaches and their wives. However, the waves caused by the necessarily small splash of any wife of an Assistant Naval Attache seemed to defy the laws of physics. Instead of diminishing, they rose to cascade over barriers, and into a series of larger concentric circles.

There was next the circle consisting of all the diplomats below the rank of First Secretary. Then there was that of the diplomatic corps as a whole. Finally, there were dinner invitations from circles which weren't even concentric, and which only barely intersected the original ones. Mrs. Tanaka, for example, was made to feel welcome by some wives of members of Parliament.

This last group, a good deal less rigid and conventional than the others, was able to include her in certain mixed gatherings which included the M. P.s themselves, but in which Lt. Tanaka's presence would have been awkward. It quickly became apparent that, as long as no one else mentioned her husband, neither would she. She was seldom the only woman present who had a husband somewhere vaguely in the distance, but who could herself be considered an independent entity.

To top it all off, Mrs. Tanaka began to receive invitations from some members of the nobility who weren't even part of the quasi-egalitarian swirlings and skirmishings which emanated from the House of Commons. Lady Barnstable, for one, pronounced her exquisite. She also remarked that, were it not for the regrettable husband, it would have been possible to introduce Mrs. Tanaka to some of the younger members of the royal family. The impossibility did not, of course, consist simply in the personality of the husband. That had never been worse than bland. The upward bound for Mrs. Tanaka's hyperbolic rise was constituted by the fact that, in view of the daily Japanese atrocities in China, no member of the Japanese armed forces, or his wife, could be singled out for special honors. Still, there was a good deal that one could do in London without going to Buckingham Palace.

A couple of people who had known Mrs. Tanaka in Washington noticed a sharp change in her manner, and even in her appearance. She now made no attempt to be American. On the contrary, short of wearing a kimono, she seemed to do everything possible to appear oriental. This change was most judicious on her part. She seemed to realize, even before her arrival in Britain, that, politics apart, educated Britons disliked American culture more than they did Japanese culture. No one was afraid that England was about to be Japanicized.

There were, at first, a number of men who were attracted by the beauty and charm of a woman whose allure was affected only qualitatively, not quantitatively, by changes in national or cultural allegiance. Some of these men were rather important, and hence disclosed their true intentions only in discreet ways. They were refused in an equally discreet fashion. Indeed, all potential lovers, well-placed or not, were given short shrift. Most of them gave up when the rumor got round that, in addition to her obviously inadequate husband, Mrs. Tanaka had a lover in America to whom she was faithful.

There were still one or two men so presumptuous and egotistical as to believe that no woman would knowingly refuse them. Even they dropped off when a following rumor indicated that the lover was, in fact, a prominent American admiral known for his attractiveness to women.

While the more unruly men were being put in their places, there was an almost unparalleled rush of the ladies, both noble and otherwise, to become acquainted with Mrs. Tanaka. It didn't seem to be just a matter of gratitude shown to one who could have detached their husbands, but hadn't. It was more that every social season needed some new element, some new breath of fresh air from a previously unknown direction. Mrs. Tanaka supplied it for London in 1937.

One result was that invitations multiplied to the point where no one could have accepted them all. It was part of the prevailing mood that there arose friendly wagers as to which invitations would be accepted, and which hostesses would succeed in enticing the lady in question into their houses. Beyond that, there was another more rarified competition, the one to become Mrs. Tanaka's best friend.

There was, in mid-April, a discussion between Mrs. Tanaka and Mrs. Eustacia Bellows as to which lady should be allowed to be that best friend. Mrs. Tanaka allowed,

"We can learn the most from the Germans, and that would mean Frau von Schweppenburg. But it wouldn't look right to the English, two Axis ladies in alliance."

"It certainly wouldn't. I'd choose the English lady within ten years of your age who has the most powerful and influential husband. That's what they'd expect, and we might as well know what the English know. We've already discovered that they don't tell us everything."

London, April 18, 1937.

Mitsy and Eustacia had been delighted when they found a little restaurant and cafe called the Incognito. Located a street away from the South Kensington tube station, it was also within walking distance for both. The present day being fine, Eustacia had walked up from Ebury Street, while Mitsy had left her flat in Albion Street to walk entirely across Hyde Park. While Mitsy had much further to go, the walk was a greater undertaking for Eustacia. Mitsy, even in high heels, could walk as fast as an Englishwoman. For Eustacia, on the other hand, the act of walking down a street had long been a quasi-theatrical event whose purpose had as much to do with the effect on the spectators as getting where she was going. This difference in gait had become humorously clear when the two women had tried to walk together, even back in Washington. Along with almost everything else, Eustacia had attempted to alter her walk since coming to England. When she now arrived to find Mitsy already ensconced at a window table, she was thus feeling both virtuous and somewhat out of breath.

Having ordered rather exotic drinks with fake south sea island names in honor of Mata Hari, the two women fell into casual gossip. The disparity in the warmth of their receptions had, by this time, become a joke. Mitsy had put it down to the fear of the hostesses that their husbands would want to run off with Eustacia. She now expanded on the idea.

"We could really have quite a lot of fun with them. I could insist that the women who don't like you invite you to their parties. Then you could drive their husbands wild in front of them."

"Remember what happened with Mrs. Ricketts back home? I have a better idea. When I first got here, before I started trying to copy the English, I pretended to be from the American west. Most English people think it's still the way it is in wild west movies. If I acted that way, it'd make these women very uncomfortable. They're good at dealing with social climbers, but they can't cope with new and different situations."

"You could take one of those toy pistols in your purse, and you could get all the men around you competing to see who could draw it the quickest."

"I couldn't really get them to do that, could I?"

"I bet you could. I'd love to see Mrs. Colfax's face while her husband tries to yank his pistol out of his cummberbund and someone else stands by with a watch in his hand."

"Yes, a lot of Englishmen are silly in that way. If something's a sporting competition, they'll do it, whatever it is."

"Of course they will. And you can make up to all of them, and give the impression that the winner gets a special reward."

At this point, Eustacia began to get hiccoughs. Mitsy knew just what to do, and, stifling her own laughter, held a glass of water below table level for the other to drink across. Eustacia's hiccoughs were sufficiently violent so that, when they ended, she felt considerable relief. She was also afraid that they would come back. Mitsy began to speak quietly.

"Some rather interesting things have turned up lately. You met our new attache, Captain Aoki, didn't you?"

Eustacia almost whispered her reply.

"Yes. At the Swedish Embassy party."

"Well, the intelligence specialist who was sent here to control me has been sent home, and his duties have been handed over to Aoki."

"That seems strange."

"They don't have the staff here that they do in Washington. Intelligence functions are ordinarily fulfilled by regular naval officers. It was only because this case was particularly sensitive that they sent an intelligence specialist here at all."

"Oh. So, once the intelligence man got things started, they then decided that Aoki could handle it?"

"Yes. That was a great mistake."

Here, Mitsy laughed in the beautiful clear way that had so entranced the London hostesses. Eustacia asked,

"Why? Doesn't he know what questions to ask?"

"Much worse. Without realizing it, he tells me many more secrets than I give to him. I only have to flatter him about the scope of his knowledge."

"Intelligence shouldn't be entrusted to amateurs. What have you found out?"

"This is unofficial. That is, it comes from the Luftwaffe via Aoki, but it's something that Luftwaffe headquarters doesn't know, or doesn't believe. Something that, if we're lucky, will never make it to the Naval General Staff in Tokyo."

Eustacia nodded for Mitsy to continue.

"There's a report that the Condor Legion fighter group was defeated in the air by a Republican fighter force in November. Then, they were lucky enough to catch the Republican force on the ground and destroy it."

"I can verify that from my sources."

"I had a feeling that you'd be able to. They think they know who this force consists of. German communists. They've been training secretly for years. They're led by a former German wartime flyer whom they haven't been able to identify. He's pretending to be a White Russian, Prince Tomkonovitch."

Eustacia was genuinely startled. Then the humor of it struck her. But, fearing for her hiccoughs, she dared not laugh.

"Rumor never ceases to amaze me."

"What should I tell Aoki?"

Cynthia Harding had previously told Mitsy, on Murphy's instructions, that she was being sent to London as a spy under another name. Since, according to plan, Mitsy had passed this information along to her masters, the present consequence was that Cynthia, as loquacious as ever in her new guise as Eustacia, could let slip information dealing with almost any subject. She now replied,

"We could say that the American navy has heard the rumor and puts it down as Republican propaganda. The Condor Legion, we believe, actually shot down everything that came near it."

"Aoki will certainly believe that. He also won't want to be the one to report what might turn out to be a false rumor."

"We might claim to know exactly where this rumor comes from, and then invent a particularly unreliable source. Senor Fuentes at the embassy is as unreliable as anyone I can think of."

"Are you still going out with him?"

"Occasionally. He was interesting at first, but he gets to be a bit of a bore after a while."

"Always on stage?"

"That, certainly, but he has a limited number of acts. Every time a new person comes up, he goes through them all, even if the person he's with has heard them seventeen times."

"That's better than poor Hiroshi. He has no acts at all. Here they have a phrase for tongue-tied people. They say a person doesn't utter. Have you heard it?"

"Yes. Most often applied to women. They let the side down if they don't utter. Men are allowed to be strong and silent."

"Hiroshi doesn't utter, but he doesn't look strong and silent either. Senor Fuentes utters all the time, as you say. You and I are in a business where one utters only about certain things."

"There are times when you actually do look inscrutably oriental. You never did in Washington."

"I'm doing my make-up in a different way to make my eyes point and slant. In America I was always trying to be an American. I've never wanted to be British. They're too much like the Japanese. Some of their naval officers even like Hiroshi. They're just as unimaginative and tradition-bound themselves."

"You did a much better job of being American than I have of being English."

"It's easy to be American. You can have any accent and any sort of ethnic background. Being English is almost as hard as being Japanese."

"Incidentally, the English believe weird things about the Japanese. Did you hear of that report sent through to the First Sea Lord about mental strain?"

"The one that says that our brains are strained by learning six thousand characters as children, and are never good for anything afterward?"

"Yes. I can imagine the sort of naval attache they'd have stationed in Tokyo originating something like that, but it's amazing that it's being taken seriously at naval intelligence."

"Admiral Lord Chatfield believes it himself, I'm told. I'm having a strained brain myself trying to pretend that I don't know what you've been doing all these years."

Eustacia had many times wondered how much Mitsy had inferred, but wasn't particularly alarmed at this disclosure.

"My people said that you had no need to know, and I have tried not to give everything away. But I thought Admiral King might tell you anyway."

"No. He's not like D. D. Ricketts. He can be intimate on some levels, but keep secrets."

"I hope that others haven't figured it out the way you did."

"The Japanese are so much on the wrong track that they'd probably ignore any evidence that didn't fit their preconceptions. It's not good that I know, though. I had a very unpleasant experience when I was back in Japan a few months ago."

"They aren't catching on are they?"

"It would have been much worse if they had. No. But I'm now considered an intelligence agent, and I had to help question a woman who had been mixed up with a foreign agent. She was a pretty young girl, quite westernized, a secretary in Tokyo. She obviously didn't know anything of importance."

"Did you tell them that?"

"I should have, but I was afraid myself. The men were so intense, and the one in charge had a strange look on his face."

Mitsy paused and took a long drink before continuing.

"After she told them what little she knew about the man, they made her take off her clothes. The Japanese aren't ashamed of nakedness the way westerners are, but she still looked very frightened and vulnerable. They then took her away for over an hour while I had to wait.

When the girl came back, she seemed to have trouble walking. I couldn't see any marks on her, but I did notice that her make-up had been washed off. They left her alone with me to get dressed, but she hardly talked. She seemed to be in a daze. They released her, but she killed herself the next day."

Mitsy's voice had remained more or less even, and Eustacia hardly knew what to say. Finally, she asked whether the woman had been tortured. Mitsy replied in the same tone,

"It's possible that they used only psychological techniques on her."

"You mean, they told her she'd dishonored her family?"

"Possibly. I've had nightmares about it ever since."

"They couldn't torture someone of your family and position could they?"

"Not unless they were sure that I was a spy. And probably only in Japan, even then."

"We can't risk your going back! Even for vacations."

"I certainly don't want to. I also wouldn't be able to withstand torture. The minute they began on me, it'd all come out."

"You have to keep something back as long as you can, you know. Otherwise they think there's more."

"Hiroshi will want to go back the next chance he gets. Should I pretend to be sick?"

"We should be able to convince them that either I or Admiral King is about to divulge something important whenever you're scheduled to go back. Then they'll cancel his leave."

Late that afternoon, Eustacia went to Commander Filson's office and reported the news Mitsy had gotten from Captain Aoki. Filson was amused.

"Isn't that German? They run across a group they can't beat, so they decide they're really other Germans in disguise."

"It also looks as if we, in effect, have another source of information. Captain Aoki. What do you think of him?"

"He's the jolliest Japanese I've ever met. He's already playing golf with some of the Third Sea Lord's staff. One of them even joked in front of him about his being the blunt end of the axis when he stoops to putt."

"Wasn't he offended?"

"Didn't seem to be. Of course, it was Dawson-Hicks who said it. He can get away with almost anything. So that's what I know about Aoki."

"Some of the Japanese aren't so jolly. They seem to torture women when they feel like it."

Eustacia told Filson the rest of Mitsy's story.

"I'm afraid it doesn't surprise me. It's not even that the Japanese are extraordinarily bad. There are really very few countries that don't go in for torture."

"If it came down to it, I myself would probably be more willing than Mitsy to torture someone."

"But you'd also be quicker to object if you thought it was pointless. You wouldn't have sat by quietly the way she did."

"She's dealing with different kinds of people, though. They're tough and mean, and it'd be dangerous to object to anything they want to do."

"Yes, I imagine so. I have heard of their torturing women. They seem even to have a special phrase for it, a very unpleasant one."

Eustacia laughed.

"You can't go that far, Paul, and then not tell me what it is."

"Plucking a goose."

"I see. Well, we'll have to make very sure that Mitsy doesn't get sent back there. In the last resort, we'll have her elope to Nevada with an American."


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