The Packard Clipper shot up Nob Hill Boulevard and out toward the country. It’s white walled wheels grinding over the gravel like a king on a horse. The straight eight, under the stylish hood, blasting out exhaust. Billie Holiday crooned, ‘God Bless the Child’ on the radio. The Clipper reached the city limit, passing into orchards yet to bloom, slipping and sliding out of large potholes and the muddy pools left over from the early spring run-off of the mountains surrounding the Yakima Valley.
The sleek, black, top-of-the-line automobile screeched around a corner, rocketing onto a side road, going down a long grade and climbing back up the opposite hill, approaching a brown dilapidated barn set back in a hollow, surrounded by pear trees.
In the passenger seat a young man, handsome in a cruel way, gripped the dashboard with long fingered, almost delicate hands, whooping with exhilaration. His wavy brown hair was past needing to be cut and his angular sharp features were the spitting image of his father’s.
His father, a tall man of six feet five inches, gave the Packard more gas and threw his head back and laughed, the cigar in his mouth pouring smoke out the slight space provided by the rolled down window. He turned, narrowing his deep brown eyes, the eyes his son inherited. “You like that, Archie?” His voice boomed over the sound of the Packard’s six cylinders.
Archie nodded, his cruel eyes flashing with greed, “Is this car for me? It is after all my birthday.”
The father smiled, his thin lips curling sardonically, “A car like this awaits you, but not on this birthday. Not until you’re sixteen.”
The son’s full lips, genes from his deceased mother, made a very ugly pout, but the father slapped Archie’s shoulder, “Cheer up, you’re going to love this!”
Archie’s voice was sullen, “I wanted a car.” He would not meet his father’s eyes and focused instead on the rapidly approaching barn.
The Packard ground to a halt and father and son disembarked, walking up to the barn door that still bore the faded emblem of the family crest; a green dragon, clutching an apple. They pulled open the barn door, large enough to let out four steer abreast and stepped inside. Long ago the area had been abandoned and Archie couldn’t help but wonder what they were doing way out here in the country at a broken down old barn on his birthday.
The interior of the barn was lit by nothing more than natural sunlight pouring through a multitude of holes in the unpatched barn roof. The smell of old hay hung heavy in the air but otherwise the barn was empty of anything except some rusty unused tools and a moldy bridle hanging from a solitary nail.
In the center of the concrete floor was a sagging wooden door. Archie’s father stepped forward and leaned down, pulling on a steel handle that flashed in the light, opening the wooden trap door and revealing a set of stairs that led down into the darkness. His father turned with a twisted grin on his face and beckoned Archie forward. Archie hesitated and then proceeded, trusting his father implicitly.
The stairs descended to another floor, converging on a long dark, stone hallway smelling of mold and rot. His father pulled a flashlight from a sconce in the wall and shined it down the corridor. They marched forward.
Archie asked for no explanation, his pout gone, filled with intrigue. Then his father offered this, “When your grandfather, my father, first moved into the Yakima Valley from back east, he originally wanted to be a rancher and so he constructed this barn. Ranching turned to farming because of the demand for fresh produce but still he kept this barn intact for stabling horses to scout the orchards and make sure the work was being done properly.”
Archie frowned, “How come I’ve never even heard talk of this place or been out here?”
His father smiled slyly and turned to face his son, a wicked gleam creasing his handsome face in the light. “Because it’s also used as a rite of passage from boy to man. When I turned fourteen my father brought me here, and today,” he placed a reassuring hand on Archie’s shoulder, “today is your day to become a man and I will perform the same rite of passage for you.”
They had come to a stop in front of a large oaken door made up of three very thick looking slats. A new steel handle was attached to the door and a large deadbolt held it firmly secured. Archie’s father pulled a long iron key from his pocket and inserted its length into the lock, began to turn it and then paused. He faced his son and spoke, almost in a whisper, “You’ll recall that barely short of two months ago, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Roosevelt and Congress declared war?”
Archie nodded but his young face was perplexed. Where was this going, he wondered?
His father smiled, a genuine smile of joy that the mystery was safe, like a magician about to impress his audience with the final act. “Well, yesterday Roosevelt signed an interment order, Executive Order #9066, stating that all Japanese immigrants inside the United States must be put into enclosed camps for the duration of the war.”
There was another dramatic pause, Archie’s father leaned into him leering and asked, “Remember this summer when you had a crush on that cute little Japanese girl that was picking blueberries with her parents out on one of our plots? The one that was about 13 years old and wouldn’t give you the time of day?”
Archie nodded, eager, his adrenaline kicking in, finally seeing the prize, tasting the victory. His father laughed at the wolf now drooling in his son’s eyes. “Tragically her parents died this winter, too old to stand the cold and food was hard to come by. We took your crush, their daughter, into one of the boarding houses, but with no family to look after her, one night she just disappeared.” He smiled in mock despair. “Lucky for you, she turned up here and I’ve been keeping her safe ever since. How fortunate that the Japanese attacked. Now she’ll be just another statistic in a country that doesn’t want her in the first place.”
His voice grew deadly serious, “Remember what I’ve always told you about the feeling of opportunity; when you sense its presence crouching you must act immediately. If you hesitate, even for an instant, it’s gone!” He snapped his fingers in front of Archie’s face for effect. Turning he grasped the silver handle, and swung open the door with dramatic flair. He handed Archie a four-inch, black handled dagger, adding as an afterthought, “Make sure you clean up the mess when you’re done. I’ll be waiting in the car.”
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