Three summers ago, I was recruited by an international, monogramed organization known succinctly as the “J.E.T.” Their aim was to infiltrate the Japanese educational underbelly and impart within it a covert code made up of Roman letters and romanticized roots that would bring about the rise of a cross-cultural revolution. It would be a sort of inception while everyone was still awake. At the time, a worthwhile mission, I thought, so I chose to accept it.
Over the course of weeks and months, I managed to gain access to the inside, taking on the identity of a teacher. It proved easier than anticipated with my natural disguise; I already looked like them, and it was not long before I could mimic their language to some degree. Needless to say, however, things have not gone without a hitch.
Coming ill-equipped of the local lingo and minimally briefed on the cultural situation before being air-dropped into the countryside, I have lost my cover on numerous occasions, often succumbing to the default alternative identity of having a Japanese speech impediment or worse. It was once in transit during my first autumn on assignment when such a strategic switch had to be executed.
Instructed to assemble at a discreet building within the prefectural capital while carrying a payload of foreign ambassadors, I commandeered an automobile for the purpose of the mission. The delivery: four dignitaries from several sectors around the globe. The goal: escort them to an international consortium in one piece at a designated time. The catch: convince the passengers that I was one of them without jeopardizing my preexisting camouflage with the locals–become a double agent of sorts. It was already a challenge before the clock even started ticking.
I met my packages around 0800 hours at the designated train terminal and had the wheels rolling before any questions were asked. I came under my own undoing with my first rookie mistake, however; I set course on my mission without completely canvasing the surrounding terrain prior to departure, and soon I was driving in circles, losing sight of the finish line and wasting precious time. I had no choice but to break protocol.
I turned to my passengers and asked for a favor. I needed a navigator, and the prominent Scotsman, Dr. Pickleweasel, obliged without protest. I involved a package in the case, and that was my second mistake.
With a map in his hands, I followed the Scotsman’s every word. Turn by turn, he led me from one road to another. Recognizing some landmarks from the satellite imagery of the area, I was confident that we were at the very least nearing the drop point. Surely, only a few corners remained. The doctor was proving to be an adequate accessory after all. But as soon as that thought formulated in my mind, it hit me: I trusted the doctor without confirming his credentials. Strike three.
In my windshield was a local authority, staring at me, speeding my way on a black and white motorcycle. The Scot had led me into a trap. I had been double-crossed. It was the wrong way from the start. There was no escape. I had to regain control of the situation, and there was only one option remaining: rewrite the script back to the fundamentals.
First, I needed to breathe. I had exhausted my options, and all exits were sealed. Then, I recalled Lesson One of the survival tactics handbook: “Nihongo ga Tabemasen.” I was faced with the worst case scenario undercover, mistaken for a citizen on the wrong side of the law, so I reached deep within and reverted to the identity I had used for over a decade prior to becoming an agent for the J.E.T. I produced a blue American passport and an International Driving Permit from a hidden pocket in my satchel and presented it to the officer glaring in my face.
The stern trooper examined it as close as he could. It was obvious he wanted to make an arrest. My only hope was for him to believe the flawless documents and be fooled by my perfectly Anglicized pronunciation of gibberish and chatter meant to disorientate him. I spoke quickly and made sure no hint of Japanese escaped my lips, explaining nothing useful in particular, but saying everything that the ambassadors in my automobile were expecting to hear.
Within a minute, he understood the new situation I put before him, making him see the show I wanted him to watch rather than the program he first thought he tuned into. We were not the droids he was looking for, so he allowed us to turn around and carry on with our day. But he was not done with me just yet, and the doctor in the passenger seat still had one more trap in his bag for me as well.
After I maneuvered the vehicle away from the patrolman, I came to a traffic signal, and like a ninja, the peace officer was in my face again. Another problem? Did he not buy into my rouse? Was he able to see through my guise? Were the seals too perfect on my documents? Certainly, the jig was up, and alas, my skills as a wheelman may have needed reawakening, so I put the transmission into gear and eyed my outs. Then, without warning, the stern man drove in front of the sedan, blocking my path. He signaled for me to follow him. I was sure there was only one place we were headed. But instead of leading me to the precinct, he escorted us to our target location like a good Samaritan.
An audible breath emanated from my lungs. I had fooled the law and reached my destination with my passengers none the wiser except for the one man I should never have trusted at the onset of this journey. Ipso facto, as the local authority was exiting the scene, the Scotsman grinned and uttered a simple phrase, negating my efforts in one fell swoop. “Arigatou gozaimasu. Sumimasen.”
The officer stopped. I froze. Time stood still. Everything went silent. Sweat visibly fell from my brow as I skimmed through the entire survival handbook once more in my head. I had to see the mission through to the end, but I was in too deep to change tactics again. Not there. Not then. An awkward eternity was passing before our very eyes. I had to act quickly.
“Thank you,” I said at last in a clear, pronounced voice through my wide open window. And after a moment of contemplation with a short nod of satisfaction, the policeman went on about his way. The legal threat had vacated the scene, and the Scotsman’s trap had been foiled. Thus, everything returned to an even keel.
Mission complete, but not completely accomplished. After all, I may have just met my new nemesis, but as I learned from the international consortium, we had in fact been working for the same agency from the start. Well played, Dr. Pickleweasel, but what was your angle exactly, sir?
As my luck would have it, the truth was about to find me soon enough, whether I really it wanted to or not. ◆