He hung on for a few months after the Office of Strategic Services was disbanded in September 1945, waiting to see what might happen next. He was back on a desk, of course, now the war was over. He missed the travel, the adrenaline rushes, even the danger and uncertainty, that feeling of always being on alert, nerves afire, just a little tense--in the good way, not a stiff, debilitating way--that gave you the vital edge. Much like the feeling he got on the ball field. People were fond of pointing out that the stakes were hugely different, which he didn't argue with: his life, many lives, and their preferred way of life itself at genuine risk rather than merely the stake of winning or losing a game. Still, it was that same feeling of being utterly focused, hyper-aware of his surroundings, everything around him faded except what was directly of importance.
In January of the following year, when the government set about revamping the O.S.S. as the Criminal Intelligence Group, he quit. He didn't like his prospects of getting out from behind the desk much. He'd keep in touch with his contacts in case something interesting overseas came up, but as of the start of 1946, he was out of the intelligence game.
Out of the ball game, too. Though at least he could look forward to watching games as a spectator in a few months. He wasn't suited to being a coach; he'd turned down that offer for the final time when the war finished and the Red Sox management approached him again.
A lot of change. Estella had moved on; she'd married at the end of the war, even though he'd promised to return to her. She'd known better than he'd been able to admit at the time that it was a lie. He'd told himself he'd miss her, but that hadn't proven true, either.
He spent his spare time in the library. Any library that happened to be close to where he was currently residing. Large, airy, with their own distinctive scent and always quiet spots to settle in with his reading matter without any danger of being interrupted, his solitude disturbed. He found his sense of home, that elusive belongingness, in them again after the peripatetic war years.
He kept up with his newspapers, the ten or so a day he enjoyed in various languages, and dove back into the journals he'd read avidly before the war. Esoteric scholarship, unconnected to war, divorced (mostly) from politics, was getting back up to speed. He enjoyed watching the remaining familiar names--some had disappeared, possibly dead, from natural or other causes--pick up where they'd left off and valiantly make a stab at reestablishing equilibrium in the ravaged world.
The process was slow, but steady. He'd...appreciated, rather than enjoyed, his time in the field: the clandestine traveling, the gun a hard weight nestled against his side, his power to choose life or death for not just a single target, but potentially millions of people if he chose wrong. If he'd misjudged Werner Heisenberg's character and Germany had gone on, under Heisenberg's direction, to develop an atomic bomb because he'd let Heisenberg live....
Well, he and a lot of other people would very likely not be sitting here alive and at peace today, able to write about the teachings of Epictetus and a new language discovered deep in Amazonia.
But they were and that chapter in his life, like being a catcher, was over, at least for the most part. He could relax; as much as he was capable of relaxing.
On a fine Saturday in early May on a visit home to Boston, he settled in a chair at the most familiar library of all with his newspapers and selection of journals, prepared for a couple of hours reading before walking home to his brother's place for the night. One of the journals was his old favorite, the Journal of Oriental Society. Each time he picked up a new issue, he paused for a moment, regretting the lack of chances to practice his (rudimentary) Japanese or any likely chance in the foreseeable future of being able to travel again to a country of which he had nothing but fond memories. Pre-war memories. He had no idea what he'd think of the people or the place now if he saw it, or what was left of it, after four years of brutal fighting on both sides, for which the Japanese themselves were responsible since they'd set the whole damned thing in motion. Just as some people had predicted would happen.
The past, however, or his own tiny slice of it at least, was nothing but a pleasant memory. He smiled faintly, putting the war as much out of his mind as he could for the moment, and started reading at the beginning, as he always did. He came to a halt 23 pages in at an announcement of a conference upcoming in San Francisco in mid-August to address the complex matter of repairing Japanese/US relations in the post-war world. The conference featured several names familiar to him as regular contributors to the J.O.S., along with some Japanese counterparts the organizers would be hosting.
Scanning names, his eyes caught on Isao Kawabata, history professor at The University of Tokyo, and everything else faded around him.
The train took four days, including an overnight stop in Chicago. He'd booked a room ahead at the Fairmont in San Francisco, where the conference was being held; he'd booked it within a day of seeing the article in the J.O.S. because of course there wasn't any doubt he'd go. He checked in the day before the conference got underway and stretched his legs walking around San Francisco's hilly streets and hopping on and off tram cars with his camera.
He'd also registered for the conference itself. He donned his tux, which the hotel staff had ironed for him, and went down to the smaller ballroom for the first night's introductory mingle. He sipped champagne while keeping to the periphery of the room, checking out the attendees from the safety of his ability to pass unnoticed when he chose. A band played at one end of the ballroom where some couples were dancing; the interesting clusters of people were at the other side of the room. It might be the smaller ballroom in this luxury hotel, but it was still a large enough space for a lone man to lose himself. To see, for the most part, without being noticed other than for the exchange of casual smiles in passing as he sipped and browsed his way around the edges.
Most of the Americans he could see looked focused, already engaging in talk that wasn't, he gathered as he passed groups, about light social topics like the weather or the latest sporting news, though there were some convivial greetings and happy reunions. A few of the younger men had visible scars they perhaps hadn't had before the war, and one had the empty left arm of his tux jacket pinned up, but mostly they looked exactly like what they were: scholars, teachers, and thinkers, nothing military about them like the people he'd been working with the past several years. Just ordinary folk with intelligent eyes and determined to see through a mission of their own.
The Japanese attendees were grouped closer to each other, when he finally spied them kitty-corner across the ballroom. They hadn't spread throughout the room, though some were engaged in earnest conversations with American counterparts and were beginning to drift apart from the rest of their countrymen. It wasn't that they were huddled together or looked defensive, just that they hadn't spread throughout all parts of the large room, as though they'd arrived together as a group and were not yet ready to lose sight of each other.
He drifted slowly from his position across the room, his eyes roaming over the group from each new angle, seeking glimpses of more faces, more bodies. It took five minutes of casual maneuvering before he finally glimpsed, through two black-coated men, the familiar profile.
He paused, everything around him, including the half-empty champagne glass in his hand, fading away just as it had that day in the library in Boston's Copley Square. All he could see was Isao's trim figure, square-shouldered and straight-backed in a tuxedo. Isao's head was high and his eyes roamed around the room; he paused and gave a polite smile and nod to a man who passed him with a nod of his own. Isao's smile disappeared as soon as the man had moved on.
For a moment, he had the disorienting sense that the past ten years hadn't happened, that Isao was here looking exactly as he had in the hotel lounge in Tokyo all that time ago. Then his gaze sharpened and he saw threads of silver in the dark hair at Isao's temple and he pressed his lips together at a sudden chilling sense of loss. Nothing was the same now as it had been then, when Isao had been sure of the hopelessness of trying to avoid a war between their countries, but had nevertheless kept trying everything in his power to work against the inescapable likely right up until war itself was declared in its spectacular fashion.
Now, war, destruction, anger, and horrific suffering lay between their countries, yet here he was again, still trying, despite having completely failed even to slow the conflagration, to build those bridges between their very different cultures that might help this hard-won peace last. For Isao, if nothing had changed in the past decade--and he didn't think, given that Isao was here, anything significant in this regard had--forging links of shared experiences was key to creating understanding between people in both of their countries.
Moe looked away. He looked down into the champagne glass in his hand, wondering if he shouldn't just leave as unobtrusively as he'd come. Leave the past in the past.
"Good evening, Mr. Berg."
He looked up sharply straight into Isao's eyes watching him with a level look. The hint of wariness in Isao's slight, polite smile hurt to see.
"Mr. Kawabata." Moe bowed. "A pleasure to see you again."
Isao bowed back, still formal, but his smile gained a little warmth. "Indeed. A happy surprise. I'd thought you lived a great distance from here. In Boston? But perhaps that's changed now."
Moe shook his head. "No, not really. I split my time these days between Boston and Washington, both very far indeed from this coast." He smiled. "I took the train out. An enjoyable trip across the breadth of the country. I sometimes forget the vastly different terrain this continent consists of."
"Such a long trip to undertake in the heat of summer."
"Yes." He smiled again and left it at that. Then he gestured with his free hand. "Would you care to find a somewhat quieter spot where we could perhaps sit? Unless you have other plans."
The silence as Isao studied his face stretched for seconds longer than Moe had hoped for, when he'd visualized this meeting. On that long train ride.
Then Isao nodded. "I have no commitments until tomorrow, when the conference proper begins. Shall we check the bar off the lobby? There might be some empty tables there."
The bar was indeed quieter and relatively empty on this Wednesday evening. They seated themselves at a table in an alcove, where a Casablanca fan turning overhead wafted cool air onto them. They ordered drinks and sat unspeaking together until the waiter delivered them to their table. Moe had them charged to his room and Isao didn't protest, just lifted his glass in a salute with a slight smile before sipping his whiskey.
Isao broke the silence. "So, you have proved me wrong."
Moe cocked his head.
Isao's smile was warmer than it had been thus far. "When I said I doubted we'd ever see each other again."
Moe shrugged with an easy smile. "I read about the conference in the J.O.S a few months ago, so I made my plans. Because it is, of course, always satisfying to make someone else eat their words."
He offered a full-blown grin and Isao laughed. The tension in Moe's gut loosened a little. He took the moment to study Isao, noting that the gray hair at his temples was also showing in his neatly trimmed mustache. There were lines on Isao's face, around his eyes and mouth, that hadn't been there before, or at least not deep enough to be noticeable. The skin seemed stretched a little too tightly across the sculpted planes of his face, as though he were holding himself together through sheer will alone and might fly apart if he relaxed an iota.
The ache returned. Moe blinked his eyes down to the linen tablecloth and his hand tightened around the shot glass. He swallowed painfully, feeling compelled to speak, although, when he'd considered this potential meeting in his head, he'd had no conscious intention of broaching the subject at all.
"I spent the first part of the war riding a desk." He looked up, straight into Isao's intent, dark eyes. "And I spent the last years of the war entirely in Europe."
He hadn't realized he needed Isao to know he hadn't been involved in the Japanese part of the war in any way whatsoever. He remained still before those watchful eyes. "They found a use for my facility with German, French, Dutch, the romance languages, Latin, Turkish, Arabic, and Farsi, but not, oddly enough, my single memorized bit of Japanese."
He settled back in his chair, became aware that he was gripping his glass far too tightly, and relaxed his fingers, but he only breathed easily when Isao smiled and his focused gaze at last shifted aside. Isao's whole posture softened, as though he'd been holding himself in his stiff reserve for far too long. Just like that, despite the graying hair and deepening lines marking his fine features, he suddenly looked distinctly more like the Isao of ten years ago, before the world went to hell.
"I, too," Isao said in an even tone, "spent the war, as you put it, 'riding a desk'. First continuing at the university, then lending what assistance I could with my English, and my cultural and historical knowledge, in hope we might end the war sooner." His eyes closed, dark lashes lying like weary smudges beneath them. "Futile hope, of course. As futile as our efforts to avert the war entirely ten years ago."
He opened his eyes and looked at Moe with stoic resignation. "The warmongers won, and so we all suffered, your people and mine, as well as the Chinese and countless others."
Moe nodded. "It's over now."
"Yes." Isao smiled wryly. "So now the real work begins to try to heal the wounds and prevent anything like it ever happening again."
As the atmosphere lightened between them, as though any doubts had been swept away, Moe was satisfied he'd said as much as he'd needed to share and Isao needed to hear.
He wouldn't, however, ever mention the film he'd shot with clandestine care the morning after their night together in Tokyo, the images he'd taken from the top of St. Luke's Hospital of the warships in the Sumida River, which he'd secretly brought home and given to Bill Donovan and the rest of the O.S.S. He wasn't ashamed of what he'd done; that went without saying. He'd do it again in similar circumstances, but telling Isao at this late point would serve no purpose. In an odd way, he felt Isao would understand, anyway, because, like Moe, Isao understood the need for secrets and was adept at keeping them.
Isao would also understand he'd needed to do what he could to help his country, as Isao had undoubtedly done.
May I ask you an important question?
You're a professor of history. Will there be a war between our two countries?
Yes. It has been progressing step by step. It is quite inevitable. Everything will change. And we will all play our part.
Isao would understand. Moe still preferred he not know.
At any rate, he doubted his film had made any difference either way, since he'd only handed it over after Pearl Harbor had been bombed and they were already at war, by which time any information that could be gleaned from the images was five years out of date. He'd used the film as his ticket into the intelligence community rather than holding any illusions of its having any actual value in itself. He'd never, after all, attempted to get it to the authorities before the Japanese attacked, which he could likely have found a way to do via his Princeton contacts.
And that was firmly in the past. Isao, typical of his forward-looking nature, was already focused on the future. So there was only the present to be concerned with.
"How long are you here for?"
Isao smiled. "Our visa is for two weeks. We have a tight schedule, various committees to consult with. Perhaps, in future--if all goes well this time--we will be allowed to stay longer on future visits. The conference here is five days, then we will be moving on to Los Angeles to meet with more of our counterparts in the universities."
Moe nodded and caught Isao's eyes with his own. "And your wife? Did she accompany you?"
He was concerned when Isao's smile instantly dimmed and he blinked his eyes, which abruptly took on a sad look. "No. She's home in Tokyo."
Well, that was a relief, that she wasn't dead as he'd immediately feared. He let out his pent breath.
Isao was staring down at the table, his fingers restless, playing with his empty shot glass. "She devotes herself entirely now to our remaining children."
Moe swallowed, but didn't ask. Six children, Isao had said he had a decade ago, but Moe had never inquired about their ages. Ten years, however, had likely made some of them old enough to fight.
"I'm sorry." He spoke softly, then leaned forward and, in their isolated alcove, reached across to lay his hand over Isao's on the table.
Moe stayed still, letting the silence blanket them together, as Isao looked at their hands for a long moment, before lifting his own hand and placing it over Moe's. Isao looked up and nodded, the weariness still heavy in his eyes, but his smile genuine. Moe nodded back when, shortly afterwards, Isao slid his hand away, the prudent course in public, taking away the warmth and the tingle of connection. Moe sat back in his chair.
Isao cleared his throat and spoke in a lighter voice. "And you? Have you a wife now, and children?"
He laughed and shook his head. "I doubt that will ever be the case for me. I don't seem to be the staying kind."
Their eyes settled on each other's, warmth now like a bridge of their own flowing between them.
"And yet you came all this way across the country."
"Only to see me."
He smiled. "Yes."
"After ten years."
"After ten years. A lot has changed since we last met, between our two countries and in the world at large, but not everything has changed: I still don't fit."
Isao met his eyes with their long-ago understanding. His voice dropped to a murmur. "I, too, still like to hide."
Moe let the silence encase them for a few moments, then spoke in a lighter voice. "Though, you know, I did also have to prove you wrong when you said we'd never see each other again, all that time ago. That was a challenge I couldn't resist."
Isao's smile was now all warmth and peacefulness, and his voice playful. "So now you've set me a challenge."
Moe lifted his brows in question.
Isao's voice became hushed once more. "To make sure your long journey was not in vain, and that you return home with memories that'll last another ten years."
Moe slid his foot under the table, hidden by the long tablecloth, and let it rub against Isao's leg.
He matched the quiet of Isao's intimate voice: "Or perhaps the memories won't have to last that long for either of us this time. If, after all, you might be making repeated trips here."
Isao tilted his head with an unmistakably roguish smile. "Why, Mr. Berg, I thought you weren't the staying kind."
He matched Isao's smile. "Or it might be, Mr. Kawabata, that I'm just not the marrying kind." He tossed back the last of his whiskey and nodded toward the door. "Shall we continue our reunion elsewhere? I have quite a fine view from my fifth-floor room."
Isao finished his own drink and set the glass down with his habitual precision. "It is still a gratifying reassurance to see the city lights at night again."
They stood in unison and walked side by side out of the bar, unhurried and sure.