Lawrence F. Farrar

 

The Man Who Wouldn’t Pay For Dinner

 

Herbert Templeton’s name first lodged in Consul Paul Choate’s consciousness while Paul was polishing off a cheeseburger. Paul and two other consular officers had already begun their lunch in the Embassy cafeteria, when Vice Consul Marcia Phillips placed her tray on the table and joined them. Marcia, a trim, short-haired brunette, came across as a no nonsense sort of a person, wholly committed to her job—too committed, in the view of her more experienced colleagues. Like longtime members of a fraternal order to whom all had been revealed, they were of one mind—the twenty something Marcia needed to lighten up.

“I just had a sort of strange passport renewal at the counter,” she said. “A young guy, named Templeton.”

“Strange? Strange in what way?” Charlie Philibrown asked.

Marcia doused her chicken salad with dollops of Ranch dressing, and then scraped some of them off with her fork. “It’s hard to explain,” she said. “His documents were all in order, and he was very polite.”

“Well that is strange,” Paul said, and everyone laughed. It was an old joke.

Paul Choate, a man in his mid-thirties, had brown eyes and close-cropped ash-blond hair challenged by a hairline in retreat. Sleeves rolled up, looped tie askew, and often as not a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, he looked more like a character from a movie newsroom than an American government representative. All he needed was a hat with a press pass stuck in the band. Both cynical and cautious, in the church of bureaucratic success, Paul reckoned the cardinal sins to be those of commission, not those of omission. Prudence was the watchword.

“No, it wasn’t that,” Marcia said. “I’m serious. He was nice looking, dressed quite neatly, expensive clothes—oozed preppiness. What was strange was the way he talked.”

“Dialect? Accent? What?” Philibrown hunched his shoulders and lifted his palms, a juxtaposition of gestures that proclaimed get to the point. Philibrown—portly, red-faced, and middle-aged—regularly advertised his resentment of faster rising, younger officers. He directed some of his heaviest volleys at Marcia, a person he once described as overly serious and too big for her bloomers (no one had laughed).

“Not that either. It’s just that when he answered my questions, he was ... well, kind of vacant—spaced out. Like he was talking past me. Like I wasn’t there.”

“Hey, that could apply to some of the people at this table,” Paul said. “Vacant, I mean.”

“You can laugh if you want to, Paul,” Marcia said, “but I think we’ll be seeing him again. Something wasn’t right.”

“Anything else make you think so?” Susie Opstad asked. A large, animated woman in her early thirties, unlike Marcia, she detected seriousness in almost nothing. Not one of the Great Minds of the Western World, she flowed happily along with the current, wherever it might take her.

Marcia picked at the forlorn flakes of chicken, scattered like a cook’s afterthought among clumps of iceberg lettuce displaying signs of incipient wilt.

“When I asked him what he was doing in Japan, he said he didn’t know. Just said they sent him.” Marcia put down her fork. She’d given up on the salad.

Paul dabbed at an errant glob of catsup decorating his shirt front. “They? Who are they?” he asked.

“He didn’t say. And before he left I saw him standing in the lobby. He must have spent five minutes staring up at the clock.”

“Just wanted to be sure of the time,” Susie said. She smiled brightly. Susie always smiled brightly.

“I’d swear he was watching the second hand go around,” Marcia said.

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Paul’s turn as duty officer came that evening, meaning that if any consular business needed attention after the Embassy closed, the switchboard operator directed it to him in his apartment. He’d just refreshed a glass of Chivas Regal and spread open the Japan Times to its meager coverage of American sports when the phone jangled. He recognized the voice of a police liaison official named Imai, one of their regular contacts.

“Mr. Choate,” Imai said, “we have a somewhat curious situation here. One of your citizens came into our Akasaka police station about an hour ago and does not seem desirous of leaving.”

“Has he broken a law?” Paul asked.

“No, but the policemen find his presence rather annoying.”

“Has he interfered with them in some way?”

“No. He is just standing near the door and staring at the officers as they come and go. Sometimes he smiles and bows.”

“Do you have his name?”

“Oh, yes. He was most courteous and gave us his passport. He is Mr. Herbert Templeton of the state of Connecticut. He is twenty-eight years old.”

It was the same guy Marcia had talked about at lunch.

“How can I help?” Paul said. “Has he asked for some kind of Embassy assistance?”

“No, he has not. But, we hoped you might speak to him on the phone. Suggest he return to his hotel.”

Paul quaffed his drink and pulled a note pad closer to the phone.

“Hello,” the man said, “Herbert Templeton here.”

Paul identified himself and said, “Mr. Templeton, I understand you’re visiting one of the local police stations.”

“That’s quite right,” he said. “It’s very nice.”

“Yes, but they’re also busy. It would probably be a good idea if you could be on your way and let them do their jobs.”

“Perhaps you’re right.” Paul encountered the same detached voice Marcia had described.

“What brings you to Japan?” Paul said. “Are you a tourist?”

“I suppose I am. I hadn’t really thought about it. Yes. That’s it. I’m a tourist.”

Before Paul could ask him anything else, Templeton hung up. A moment later the phone rang again. “He just walked out and got into a taxi,” Imai said. “Thank you.”

Paul paused for a moment, considering his notes. Not much there. He had to admit he didn’t know what to make of the episode. But, difficult as it might be to do, he felt inclined to agree with Marcia. They likely had not heard the last of Mr. Templeton.

The next morning Paul asked Marcia to bring Templeton’s passport renewal application to his office. Templeton had given his US address as Middleford, Connecticut and his Japan address as the Grand Palace Hotel. He listed his emergency contact as Mr. Homer J. Templeton, also in Middleford. Herbert Templeton had landed a week earlier at Narita on a United Airlines flight from New York. Nothing on his application cried out for attention.

“One other thing, I noticed, Paul,” Marcia said. “Templeton has at least a dozen visas in his passport—maybe more. And there are entry and exit stamps on almost every page.”

“He must really get around,” Paul said. He started to sing, I’ve Been Everywhere, but couldn’t manage the words, and his Johnny Cash impression petered out after Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota.

Marcia rolled her eyes. “I’m serious, Paul.” She snatched back Templeton’s paperwork, delivered an exasperated look, and stalked out of the office.

The weekend passed without incident. At least, Templeton seemed to be behaving himself. On Monday the familiar throng of people seeking consular services lined up outside, funneled in through the doors like fans at a sports event, and packed the lobby. A would-be Zen practitioner from Elgin, Illinois claimed he had lost his passport and wanted a new one. Ever ready to ferret out fraud, like a precinct detective, Philibrown interrogated the young man, convinced he’d actually sold the passport. He maintained you could see in their eyes if they were lying.

Marcia busied herself explaining to an irate American woman there was nothing the Embassy could do about rude hotel clerks. And, still smiling, Susie zeroed in on a Filipina who, like a miraculously recovered amnesiac, suddenly recollected she had failed to mention on her visa application that she was already married and had two children back in Manila. Like a succession of ocean breakers, surprise, incredulity, and unhappiness crashed against the face of the applicant’s GI fiancé.

At about 2:30, Kensuke Takeda, the consular section’s senior Japanese employee, presented himself at Paul’s office to report a phone call from the Yamashita Department Store in the Ginza. He said a foreigner, whom store officials determined to be an American, had been lounging on a sofa in the furniture department since the store opened in the morning. When Takeda inquired about why they didn’t call the police and have the man removed, a manager told him they wanted to avoid adverse publicity. According to Takeda, the manager acted as if someone with a particularly repugnant disease had turned up on their couch. Couldn’t the American Embassy do something? Discreetly please.

“Is his name Templeton?” Paul said.

Mr. Takeda nodded.

“Tell him we’ll get back to them.”

Four consular officers huddled in Paul’s office. Except for Marcia, they agreed that, since Templeton had not asked for any help from the Embassy and since the Japanese, so far, appeared reluctant to take any action, there wasn’t much they could do. Moreover, while his behavior might be characterized as unusual—weird, according to Philibrown—it did not seem threatening.

“Isn’t it our job to help Americans in trouble?” Marcia narrowed her eyes indignantly. In her view, the rest of them, like so many bureaucratic ciphers, were ducking their responsibility.

“But, he really isn’t in trouble,” Paul said. “We can’t involve ourselves with every minor flap that comes our way, with every American who gets a little off course.”

“Besides, if we get involved we’ll probably just stir things up,” Philibrown chimed in. “Next thing you know, we’ll have some congressman wanting to know what’s going on.”

“That’s why we ought to do something now. So we don’t have to hear from a congressman.” Marcia remained convinced their hands off approach was not the right one. “Maybe we should at least talk to him—find out what’s happening with him.”

Of course, imbued as they were with unassailable self-certainty, the others knew she lacked the sagacity that comes with years of experience, a sagacity that says, if left alone, cases will resolve themselves, that says the passage of time is a universal curative. They didn’t articulate it. But, they thought it. Marcia would learn.

In this vein, Paul hoped Herbert Templeton, like a radar blip that flares brightly, then fades, would simply vanish from their screen. Consequently, Mr. Takeda’s follow-on report afforded some relief. After lingering in the clocks and watches department, he said, Templeton had bowed to a clerk, glided impassively down the escalator, and disappeared into the street.

The consular team heard nothing from or about Templeton for the next week. Then one evening, just after Paul punched in his remote to watch the CNN satellite news and lofted his stockinged feet on to a hassock, Marcia phoned him at home.

“You’re not going to believe this,” she said. “It’s Templeton again.”

“What now?”

“Same sort of thing. He apparently attended a concert at the Sony Hall tonight. Philadelphia Orchestra I think.”

“Right. That performance has been sold out for weeks. He must have paid plenty for a ticket.”

“Anyway. Long after the concert was over, he was sitting on a bench in the lobby. The cleaning crew thought he must somehow be with the orchestra. But, when they were ready to lock up, he was still parked there.” The man seemed to carom from place to place like a billiard ball.

“His behavior is odd. There’s no doubt about it.”

“The hall manager called Brian Allison. He knows him, of course, because Brian is the Cultural Attaché. Brian called me afterward.”

“Is that it?”

“No. Brian lives near the concert hall. Thinking he could be helpful, he went over there and actually talked to Templeton.”

“That’s not his job, but ...” Paul craned his neck, still trying to catch the television news.

“Brian had the same impression we did,” Marcia said. “His first words when he called were, ‘This fellow is troubled.’”

“What did ...?”

“First, Templeton rambled on about the concert. Then, according to Brian, the man clammed up and for a long time just sat there with this serene smile on his face. When Brian started to leave, out of the clear blue Templeton accused Brian of being sent to spy on him by Templeton’s father.”

“I expect Brian wished he’d stayed home,” Paul said.

“Brian’s exact words. He also said he couldn’t help thinking of the Norman Bates character in Psycho. According to Brian, Templeton stood up, announced he was walking back to his hotel, and left.”

“Norman Bates? Really?”

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A few days later, Anthony Hamilton, the Embassy’s Consul General, returned from home leave in the United States. In the course of filling him in on some of the cases that had come up while he was away, Paul cataloged their quirky contacts with the quirky Mr. Templeton.

Tony tilted back in his executive chair, fiddling with a pencil. An African-American, with Jamaican forebears, Tony was endowed with a youthful demeanor and appearance (just a bit of gray at the temples) that belied his long Foreign Service experience. A savvy, all-around good guy, Tony was also a wellspring of consular lore.

“I’ve dealt with cases like this before, Paul—once in Rio, another time in Nice ... couple of other places. I’m guessing, of course. But, I’m willing to bet your man is emotionally disturbed, sent abroad by his family to get rid of him.”

“I guess I’ve heard of such ...”

Tony flipped the pencil onto his desk and clasped his hands behind his head. “They find him an embarrassment. Instead of getting him the treatment he likely needs, they stick him on a plane and send him away for weeks at a time—maybe months at a time.”

“According to Marcia, his passport was plastered with entry and departure stamps,” Paul said.

“Mostly, the families are well off. So expense is no problem. And they can always say their son—it’s almost always a son—is traveling abroad. Sounds good.”

“It seems pretty unfair,” Paul said.

“And, because these folks aren’t fully competent, there’s always a potential they’ll get into trouble.”

“So what do we do?”

“Right now? Nothing,” Tony said. “If they think he’s a problem, it’s up to the Japanese immigration authorities. I’m confident this guy has a return ticket. But, so far, it sounds like he hasn’t done anything that could get him deported. He’ll probably just go out to Narita Airport one of these days, hop on a plane, and fly off. I’m sure he knows the drill. ”

“But, Marcia thinks ... well, she thinks we could at least send a telegram to his parents.”

“Oh, yes—our Ms. Phillips. Good instincts I suppose, but a bit zealous.”

“I told her we’d just be seen as meddling, but ...”

“That’s right, Paul. We’d just be meddling. He’s an adult and a private citizen. Unless there’s a legal problem or unless he asks, it’s not our business.”

Paul liked Tony’s assessment. “Well, you know how Marcia is,” he said. “Anyway, haven’t heard any new reports. It’s probably a non-issue. ”

Paul’s forecast was as inaccurate as the ones for the local weather.

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The following afternoon Marcia waved him over to where she was talking to a man at the visa counter.

“Paul, this is Mr. Lyman. He stopped by to share some information I know you’ll want to hear.”

A longtime Tokyo resident, Peter Lyman represented a Minnesota medical products company. A large, humorless man, Lyman sported a crew cut straight out of the 1950s, horn rimmed glasses too.

“I had a kind of strange experience on the train today,” he said. “I thought you might be interested.” Lyman scanned the room, like someone who suspects he’s under surveillance. Then he placed his elbows on the counter and spoke in a low tone. Paul had a hunch as to what must be coming.

“I was on the Yamate Line, on my way to an appointment,” Lyman said. “I sat down next to this young American. Thought I’d chat a bit. You know—talk to somebody from home.”

“Let me guess. His name was Templeton,” Paul said.

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“Please go ahead.”

“Long story short. When I asked where he was going, he said, nowhere. Sounded like, I don’t know, like a robot. I figured he was joking.”

Marcia and Paul exchanged glances. He’d run into Templeton all right.

“What he said next sounded pretty strange too. You know the Yamate Line runs around the city in a loop. Right?”

“Yes, we know.”

“Well this young guy—really looked normal, you know, but kind of creepy when he talked—told me he’d been on the train all morning, just going around and around.”

“Did he say anything else?” Marcia asked.

“That’s what I’m getting to,” Lyman said. “We pulled into Yurakucho, which was my stop, and I got up to leave. He stared at me, and you know what he said? He said, ‘I’ve got a bomb, and I’m going to blow up Tokyo.’ He said it with a straight face too.”

Paul had Lyman repeat his story to the Regional Security Officer (RSO). The RSO had already heard about Templeton’s earlier exploits, both from Paul and from the police. He promised he would pass the information on to his law enforcement contacts. The notion that Templeton actually had a bomb seemed far-fetched, if not preposterous. Moreover, one man’s recall of remarks he might not even have heard correctly was a thin reed on which to hang any kind of action. Still, Templeton’s behavior warranted some concern.

As it turned out, the police thanked them for the information, but they pointed out they received many such tidbits and simply couldn’t deal with them all. They did say a detective would swing by Templeton’s hotel and talk to staff members there.

“You’ve passed the information along,” Tony said, “that’s all you can do for now.”

Still, Paul increasingly began to wonder if Marcia might not have it right. He tried to resist the notion. It was, after all, at odds with the approach that had served him so well for so long. Nonetheless, maybe they should try to get more involved. Talk to Templeton in person, call his father, consult with the police—something.

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“Okay,” Philibrown said, “your boy Templeton has pulled one stunt too many.”

“My boy?” When did he become my boy?” Paul said.

“Okay. Not your boy. Anyway, he was in a Shinjuku restaurant—Takeda has the name of the place. The police say he had a meal, then just sat at the table and refused to pay his bill. The restaurant owner has agreed to press charges. It’s a minor offense, but the immigration types want him gone.”

“Good. They’ve finally got something they can act on. I think it’s time he leaves.”

“The cops have him right now, and Tony wants you or Marcia to pay him a welfare visit. Make sure he’s being treated okay.”

“Why are they even holding him? Can’t they just keep him at his hotel until he has a hearing or they send him on his way?”

“Takeda says they put him together with that bomb talk. Apparently want to keep a closer eye on him than if it was just the restaurant business.”

“I’ll go,” Paul said. He retrieved his consular ID card from a desk drawer, slipped on a jacket, and requested the admin assistant to lay on an Embassy car and driver.

After he checked in at the police station, Paul found Templeton sitting in a holding cell casually examining his nails. Paul asked if he was being well-treated. Templeton raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

“Would you like us to notify anyone in the States that you’ve been arrested,” Paul said.

“They’ll find out later.”

In his mind’s eye, Paul had conjured up an image of what Templeton might look like; and he’d come surprisingly close. Willowy build, blond hair stylishly cut, tie perfectly tied, jacket obviously tailored—in short, like someone to the manor born. Except, if Tony’s assessment was on the mark (and Paul sensed it was), it appeared Templeton had been shown the manor door.

“I can’t give you legal advice,” Paul said. “But, I can say that in cases like yours in the past the authorities have simply asked the person involved to leave the country.”

Templeton continued to study his nails, first extending his fingers palms down, as would a woman, then, closing his fingers against up facing palms, as would a man. He seemed totally preoccupied.

“Could you tell me the time?” he finally said.

“It’s 4:15. Did the police take your watch for safekeeping?”

He shot Paul a don’t you know anything? look. “I gave it to a musician. It was no good anyway.”

“I see. Of course, I assume you’ve shown the police your return ticket.”

He delivered the same look. “I threw it away,” he said and began to manipulate a cufflink between a thumb and forefinger.

“Do you have money to buy another one?”

“No.” A look of blank indifference.

“Credit cards?”

“No.”

“I don’t quite understand why ...”

“I gave my money to an old woman pulling a cart. The cards just flew away—maybe into the sky.”

“We could give you a repatriation loan. But, first you have to try to get money from friends or relatives. Would you like us to contact someone? Your father?”

He pursed his lips like someone who’d just ingested a too large portion of wasabi.

“If you want to.” It hardly seemed a firm endorsement of the idea.

“I understand you’ve paid in advance at the Grand Palace. If I talk to the police, I think they’ll let you stay there until the immigration authorities act on your case. Probably tomorrow.”

“Yes. That would be nice.” Templeton did not appear overburdened with gratitude.

“And you could call your family. Unless you want us to send a cable.”

“They’d be absolutely delighted,” Templeton said. A stealthy smile crept across his lips and his voice came freighted with irony.

Dealing with Templeton was not easy. Paul felt as if he was trying to pick up a piece of cellophane with yard long chop sticks.

“I don’t expect they’ll hold you much beyond tomorrow,” Paul said. “Just a guess.”

“Good. Tell the police, I would like to go back to my hotel. Tell them I’ll fly away tomorrow.” Then, as if part of the same thought, he added, “Do you know that when you sleep, you leave the earth?” Whatever was that supposed to mean?

“I thought you threw away your ticket,” Paul said.

“Oh, no. I threw away my watch. Here’s my ticket.” With that, from an inner pocket he produced an open ticket to New York and grinned. “Seems I deceived you,” he said. Herbert Templeton needed to go back to the United States. Soon.

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In the morning the Embassy operator patched through a call from the United States, a call from one Martha Templeton. Along with his other duties, Paul served as the Embassy’s Welfare and Whereabouts Officer.

“Our son, Herbert, is traveling in Japan. He’s supposed to check in once a week. But, we’ve heard nothing for over two weeks.” Paul sensed more irritation than concern.

“As a matter of fact, I spoke with him just yesterday,” he said. “He seems to be in good health, although perhaps." Paul searched for words. "a bit disoriented.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Martha Templeton said, her voice marinated in sarcasm. He’d touched a neuralgic point.

Paul outlined what he knew of Templeton’s curious activities and, as best he could, his mental state.

“Are you a psychiatrist? He’s seen some good ones, you know.” Martha Templeton possessed the smoky voice of a woman with too much money and too much self esteem. Paul also had the impression she had tossed down a cocktail or two—or three—before the call.

“No. But, I have to tell you the police and immigration authorities want him to leave. And he’s assured us he will be on a plane for New York in the next day or two.”

“That simply won’t do. His father has made reservations for him in New Zealand. That’s why I want to talk to him.” Bleached blond, crow’s-feet, parchment skin from too much tennis or golf—Paul tried to visualize her as she lectured him.

“Well, Mrs. Templeton, I’m sure the Japanese won’t care where he is going. But, don’t you think it would be better if he returned home?”

“That is none of your concern. Just give me his hotel phone number. And, if you see Herbert, tell him to call home.”

As soon as Paul informed her where her son was staying, she hung up. Nice lady.

Paul tried to call Templeton in his hotel room, but no one answered. The desk clerk said the American had not come down and agreed to deliver Paul’s message when he did: Call parents in US or call me.

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The regular group had congregated at a cafeteria table for a coffee break when Mr. Takeda homed in on them.

“The police just called. That fellow Templeton is dead.”

“What?” They responded in near choral unison.

“A hotel guest in the corridor heard moaning from his room,” Takeda said. “He called the front. The clerk thought Templeton might be ill, and so he let himself in with a pass key. When he stepped into the room the clerk was shocked by a most disconcerting spectacle. Mr. Templeton lay sprawled on the floor—quite dead. There was a great deal of blood spattered about.”

“What was the cause of ...?” Paul said.

“The police say he killed himself. Cut his wrists and stabbed his neck with a broken glass. They want to know what to do with his body. Also want someone from the Embassy to take over his luggage.”

“It’s what we get paid for,” Philibrown said. But, he wasn’t his usual flippant self.

“This is awful,” Marcia said. “Just awful.” She clapped her hands over her mouth.

“Mr. Takeda,” Paul said, “please ask the police to hold the remains at their morgue and arrange for us to meet them at the hotel in an hour or so.”

Takeda executed a bow and started to leave.

“Also, see if they have any more details. I’ll be in the Consul General’s office.”

Once Takeda had gone, Marcia said, “Well, I guess we’re involved now, aren’t we?”

“Yes. I guess we are.” Paul thought for a moment. “Great parents, huh? Just dumped him.”

“So did we, Paul. So did we. We could have done more.”

“But, Marcia, until yesterday, we had no official reason to ... there was nothing we could have ...”

Marcia, a sorrowful expression blanketing her face, condemned Paul with her eyes. Then, without looking back, she strode out of the cafeteria.

As a career diplomat, Lawrence Farrar served in Japan (multiple tours), Norway, Germany, and Washington, DC. He also lived in Japan as a graduate student and as a naval officer. A Minnesota resident, Farrar has degrees from Dartmouth and Stanford. His stories have appeared in Tampa Review Online, Green Hills Literary Lantern, The MacGuffin, Red Cedar Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Evening Street Review, G.W. Review, Straylight, Colere, Worcester Review, 34th Parallel, Blue Lake Review, Cigale, Bloodroot, New Plains Review, Paradise Review, The Write Room, and Bryant Literary Review. He also assisted with preparation of a Hiroshima memoir published in New Madrid. Pieces are forthcoming in Jelly Bucket and Streetlight.

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