Fall 2019, Volume 27

Fiction by Lawrence F. Farrar

Not What He Signed Up For

Another hot, soggy Okinawa day in the early 1970s. Feet planted behind his counter work station, twenty-five-year old Vice Consul Fletcher Bradshaw III surveyed the Consulate’s crowded lobby: Okinawans and Americans, travelers, soldiers, merchant seaman, businessmen, tourists, students. Steeping in oppressive discomfort, they all wanted something—visas, passports, marriage certifications, repatriation loans, notarial services—you name it. A merchant seaman and his boom box serenaded those there assembled with an up-volume presentation of Jim Croce’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.

A slim young man, Fletcher possessed eyes between blue and gray, a high nose his Boston grandmother characterized as patrician, dark hair parted to one side, and fair skin made tan by the near-tropical sun. He puffed on a Meerschaum pipe; he thought it lent him a more sophisticated mien. Colleagues considered it an affectation. Nonetheless, they liked him. Although he sometimes seemed uncertain about how to comport himself, they gave him credit for trying to do the right thing.

He kept his disappointments to himself. This was not the diplomatic life he’d signed up for. A Bowdoin degree ought to count for something. Forbearers who’d served in London and Paris embassies ought to count for something. Yet, visions of paneled embassy walls, marble floors, glistening chandeliers, morning coats and striped pants, grand soirees, and great diplomatic treaty-signings had all gone a-glimmering.

Instead, he found himself in a dilapidated, tile-roofed one-story building, its beige stucco exterior mottled with faded shades of gray. Malodorous whiffs of things unknown drifted in from the waters of the adjacent port. Smothered yellow light filtered through smudged windows, the typewriters didn’t work, the sinks and toilets were rust-stained, and geckos scampered across the walls. Anything close to diplomacy, as he had imagined it, was practiced a thousand miles away in Tokyo.

Beads of perspiration lined Fletcher’s temples. Thank God, the boss didn’t require a coat and tie. Even outfitted in a short-sleeved white shirt and khakis, Fletcher felt uncomfortably hot. That the air conditioners barely fended off the worst of the muggy heat did nothing to lift his spirits.

Fletcher glanced a few feet to his left where his fellow vice consul, Elaine Ridgeway, had been engaged in an animated discussion with an American soldier and his Okinawan girlfriend. Fletcher heard Elaine say, “Nothing I can do now.” She peered over her shell-rimmed glasses and said, “I can’t approve this application. You’ll have to come back when you have something new to submit.” That said, she dismissively waved her hand and pivoted away. Fletch read her mind. God, the people we have to put up with. Manifestly dissatisfied, the couple stalked away and left the building.

A gray-haired, petite woman in her mid-forties, Elaine had a paper-white face, small gimlet eyes, and lips that seemed regularly puckered in an expression of disapproval. She favored pastel blouses and dark skirts, as well as flat shoes, appropriate for counter work that required a good deal of standing.

Elaine displayed a sugary amiability toward senior military officers. However, people of lesser rank and standing frequently complained about her demeanor. Fletcher deemed their complaints warranted. A former secretary, risen from the clerical ranks, Elaine was much taken with her role, condescension her hallmark. And her judgements were not always based on facts or shaped by concerns for fairness. She considered the local people to be hopelessly inferior.

A North Carolina native, she came across as particularly judgmental about liaisons between American soldiers and Okinawan girls. A disseminator of mean-spirited gossip, Elaine exhibited a good deal of prurient curiosity in her interrogation-like visa interviews. To hear her tell it, the girls almost always turned out to be prostitutes or communists; maybe both.

Puffing on one of the several Winston filter tips she consumed daily, she offered pronouncements such as, “These white boys just don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. Wait until they bring one of these little Okinawan flowers back to Mama in Raleigh or Fayetteville.”

Now, as she flounced by Fletcher toward her office, she declared, “I’ve just got to have a Coca-Cola.” As an after-thought, she added, “I think that soldier is looking to make trouble. Downright mean. And the girlfriend just standing there like a dumb cow. Maybe, you’ll have to take this one on, Fletch. I don’t think these people want to deal with me anymore.” Passing difficult cases to Fletcher had become a favored fallback course of action for Elaine.


Two days later, the couple returned. Miss Kaneshiro, the receptionist, delivered a message that, indeed, they “did not want to talk to that woman again.”

That report inspired the Consul, Walt Compton, to summon the two vice consuls to his office. Long-necked and washed-out, Compton sported white shoes and tropical-weight suits, embellished with a paisley handkerchief nestled in a breast pocket. A humorless, finicky man nearing retirement, he sought to avoid any flare-ups or incidents on his watch. He especially fretted about the possibility of Congressional inquiries, inquiries that arose when applicants for services complained to their Washington representatives they’d been ill-served by a consular office.

“Fletch, Elaine tells me she thinks this fellow could be trouble. As I understand it, this should have been a routine fiancé case, but the girl’s documentation came up short,” Compton said. “Unfavorable police report.”

“That’s right,” Elaine said. “Police certificates show an arrest record for black-marketing and prostitution. I’m sure they are right. These bar girls are all pretty much the same.” She delivered a smirky smile.

“Why didn’t you just deny the visa outright?” Fletcher asked.

“I did. But the GI claims the records must be wrong. The girl insists she’s not the person in the police report,” Elaine said.

“I gather the soldier threatened to contact his Congressman and let him know what a rotten operation we are running here,” Compton added.

“I told him he didn’t have to do that. He could come back and provide any new evidence he might have.”

“The problem,” Compton said, “is that he’s refusing to talk to Elaine. I understand he’s sitting out there in the lobby with his girlfriend right now. I guess that means the ball is in your court, Fletch.”

“Okay,” Fletcher said. “Don’t know what I can do differently. But I’ll see them in my office.” The boss hadn’t said so, but he wondered if perhaps Compton wanted him to go easy on the couple to avoid a Congressional inquiry.

Elaine fired off a parting shot. “She’s like the rest. Wants to marry a white boy and get a ticket to the good old USA.”

            Fletcher considered himself a by-the-book type. Yet, three months into the job, and still finding his way, like a minor epiphany, it occurred to him that the most troublesome visas were the ones you didn’t issue. It seemed nobody complained, even if a visa was issued in error or might involve applicant fraud. But if you refused the visa because the applicant’s documentation didn’t meet legal requirements, well, then you could have problems, your decision challenged. Agitated applicants kept coming back; Congressmen wanted constituents satisfied; and supervisors and commanders sought to intercede for subordinates.
Fletcher asked Miss Higa, a long-time Okinawan employee and Consulate interpreter, to bring the couple into his office. “I’m Fletcher Bradshaw,” he said, when they arrived. “I’ve been asked to follow up with you after your meeting with Miss Ridgeway.”

The couple settled uncomfortably onto a small bench. Miss Higa sat on a chair next to Fletcher’s desk. Anonymous and drab, the office was sparsely furnished: desk, wooden chairs, a low coffee table, a file cabinet topped by a small vase with a wilted flower, a framed consular commission on one wall, and a photo of Fletcher’s parents at their summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee on another. Fletcher’s desk fan struggled to complete its rotations.

Staff Sergeant Jack Brewer was a big man, red-faced, square-jawed, and bull-necked. Crew-cut, clean-shaven, and dressed in fatigues, he was twenty-eight years old, assigned up island at the Army’s Torii Station. His raspy voice came loaded with ill-will. Fletcher could not miss the inscription tattooed across the knuckles of his clenched fists: Kill Cong.

Brewer’s prospective bride, Noriko Miyagi, a blowsy woman and denizen of Naha’s Naminoue bar district, sat sullen and silent. Her black hair piled high, sideburn-like ringlets framed a flat face. Eyes at once pleading and greedy, skirt too short, sweater too tight, earrings too flashy, she nicely fit the stereotype Elaine loved to promulgate.

 Reluctant to concede much to Elaine, it struck Fletcher she might have been right in her assessment of the pair.

 “I understand you don’t agree with what’s in the police report we received in connection with your application,” Fletcher said. “I’m certainly willing to hear what you have to say by way of clarification. Miss Higa will pitch in if Miss Miyagi needs language help.”

Brewer glared at him, his face saturated with belligerence. “We shouldn’t even have to be here again. It ain’t her in that report. I don’t know where they come up with this bullshit, but it ain’t her.”

“Well, can you explain why there is a discrepancy, if there is one? Do you have any proof to support what you are saying?” Fletcher became aware of the hot morning sun beating on his neck through a south-facing window. He shifted his chair to escape the heat.

“She says it ain’t her. And that’s good enough for me.”

However weak the argument, Fletcher thought, the soldier had returned to the Consulate riddled with a desire to vent his displeasure and demand action.

“Unfortunately, sergeant, her word alone isn’t good enough when it comes to our visa laws. We accept documentation from local authorities, unless applicants can demonstrate it is flawed. Or we have some other reason to question it.”

“For Christ’s sake. You sound like that witch-faced woman that already turned us down.”

Fletcher cleared his throat. “I’m sure Vice Consul Ridgeway was simply doing her job. Just as I am doing mine.”

Fletcher experienced a frisson of unease as the soldier leaned forward, his face immersed in menace.

“I don’t give a damn what kind of job you’re doing,” he said. “Noriko needs a visa so we can get married in the States. She wasn’t even here when them police charges was made. She was living on another island. Probably some kind of mistake. Half the people in Okinawa are named Miyagi.”

“Well, it would be unusual, but perhaps we can go back to the police and ask them to check and see if they’ve made a mistake. That might take some time, but . . .”

“I don’t have any time. I’m rotating back to the States in two weeks.”

“Well, if the issue can be resolved, she could still travel after you left.”

Fletcher’s eyes fell outside the office window. They focused on the trailing wake of an army cargo ship leaving port and headed for Vietnam. Gulls circled and swooped, wind ruffled the water, and low-lying clouds portended a storm. When he returned his attention to the soldier, the prospect of a stormy interview also seemed likely.

The sergeant’s close scrutiny of his every move unnerved him. Who knew what malformed thoughts resided in the man’s mind? Fletcher felt threatened. Nothing in his consular training had prepared him for this situation.

In the meantime, Sergeant Brewer had produced a pack of Luckies from his sock and lighted up. He inhaled and then launched a puff of smoke in Fletcher’s direction.

“Why don’t you have your helper here call the police right now. Tell them you need to straighten this out.”

Fletcher pushed a glass ash tray across his desktop. “I’m sorry, Sergeant. That’s not the way it works.” Fletcher spoke in a deliberate manner, seeking to exhibit a self-confident air of authority. The sardonic disdain on the soldier’s face signaled the effort had failed.

Brewer ground out his half-smoked cigarette. “We’re gonna get married in the States. You ain’t gonna stop us.”
Fletcher sought to maintain a carefully neutral expression. “Sergeant, I have no interest in preventing your marriage. Maybe you can get married here in Okinawa later on. But we are both governed by US immigration laws. And, if true, the police reports disqualify Miss Miyagi for a fiancé visa. Right now, that appears to be the case.”

Sergeant Brewer got to his feet and grabbed Miyagi’s hand. “Let’s go. He wheeled in the office doorway. “You ain’t heard the last of this. You can count on that.”

The pair tramped through the reception area and went out the door.


When he drove his BMW out of the consulate at day’s end, Fletcher spotted Brewer standing across the road. Like a menacing Japanese temple statue, the man did not move; he made no gesture. He simply stared. Given what had gone before, Fletcher felt especially uncomfortable.

That evening, Fletcher hunkered down in his on-base Kadena bungalow. He heated a frozen dinner and turned on the radio. Janis Joplin wailed away on Me and Bobby McGee. Still in the kitchen, he thought he heard a noise outside. He snapped off the radio and listened. Nothing. Just keyed up, he told himself. It was best to put the day’s unpleasantness behind him. Part of the job, after all. Once he’d eaten, Fletcher leaned back in a recliner, sipping a cold Orion beer and watching Armed Forces television.

When the phone rang, he swung out of his chair and stepped across the room to answer. He picked up the phone, but no one was there. Ten minutes later the phone rang again. No one was there. The third time, he heard Brewer’s agitated voice. “Still time to change your mind. If you don’t, you’re gonna regret it, Bradshaw. I’m watching you.” After three more calls, Fletcher disconnected the phone.
In the morning, Fletcher huddled with Compton and Ridgeway. “I think this guy is a threat, to me specifically and to the consulate generally,” he said. “It’s hard to know what he might do next. He was obviously over the edge when he called last night.”

“You’re right to be concerned,” Compton said. “I’ll phone the Provost Marshal and let the military officials know about this. It’s just not acceptable.”

Fletcher felt relieved when Compton told him the army officials agreed that Sergeant Brewer appeared to have been way out of line and would likely be subject to disciplinary action. He was currently on leave awaiting transfer. When the MPs located him, he would be restricted to his base while legal officers conducted an investigation of his actions. Of course, Vice Consul Bradshaw should report any further contacts from the sergeant.

This time, Fletcher saw no sign of Brewer when he left work. Nonetheless, he was still ill-at-ease. Driving up the palm-lined cul-de-sac to his quarters, he scanned the yards and open spaces. He took comfort from the Provost Marshal’s assurance, but the surveillance outside the office and phone calls had been especially ominous. Once inside the house, he locked all the doors and windows.

In retrospect, what happened next had been predictable, one more step in an escalating progression. As it turned out, the MPs had failed to track Brewer down. And when Fletcher came out of his house in the morning, he came face-to-face with the soldier. Arms folded and now in civvies, Brewer leaned against his gate. The air was already oppressively warm and damp. The two men stood silent for a moment, sizing each other up.

Then, Brewer spoke. “I hear somebody from the consulate reported me to the Provost; claimed I was making threats. That wasn’t very smart.”

“Look, sergeant, as I told you, I was just doing my duty You should understand that.”

“Got my ass in a sling. Thanks to you. Just wanted to come by and give you a little something to remember me by.” His nostrils flared. His eyes emitted daggers of hostility.

“Be reasonable, Sergeant Brewer. We both know anything you do now can only make your situation worse.”

“Maybe. But it will sure as hell make your situation worse, too, you little prick.”

Fletcher stepped back, as if to return to the house. But his move came too late. Brewer rushed forward and, with a single blow to the face, sent the vice consul crashing to the ground. Fletcher struggled to his knees, but a kick to the stomach knocked him down again. A third punch to the face as he lay on the ground opened a bleeding cut above his eye. Was the soldier trying to kill him? Unable to defend himself, his vision blurred, his thinking muddled, Fletcher felt himself slipping into oblivion. He only wanted the onslaught to end.

And end it did. Wielding their batons with authority, two white-capped and black-booted MPs dragged Brewer off his victim. In the course of their search for him, they’d realized the soldier might seek vengeance against the consular officer at home. A second squad car pulled up, and two additional MPs cuffed the flailing, shouting Brewer, forced him into the rear of their vehicle, and drove off.

Another MP assisted Fletcher back into his house where he staunched the bleeding. The wound was not a serious one, despite the loss of blood. For the badly shaken vice consul, however, an insistent thought pushed across his mind. Not what I signed up for. Not what I signed up for.


The Provost Marshal informed Compton the soldier had been placed in confinement pending court-martial charges for the assault. When convened, the court might ask Fletcher to appear as a witness. Given the violent nature of his attack on a US Government official, the soldier likely faced prison time and a dishonorable discharge. Whatever the outcome of the proceedings, Brewer would be sent off island.

Fletcher knew he’d made the right decision. Still, the notion chewed on his brain that it all could have been avoided if he’d just found some way to issue the visa. He was still mulling the idea when Miss Higa told him, she had taken a follow-up call from the police.

“It is highly unusual. Highly unusual,” she said. “The police say they made a mistake. It was not the same Miyagi. The woman had no police record.”

Fletcher drew his hand across his forehead in near-astonishment. “Are they certain?”

“Very embarrassed. But they say there is no doubt they made a big error. They are very sorry.”

“They damn well should be,” Fletcher said. In no way he could rationalize or condone Brewer’s actions. But the soldier’s claims apparently had been legitimate ones. It probably all could have been avoided.

Elaine smiled when he told her. “You still can’t trust any of them,” she said. Not exactly an understanding response.

Three weeks later, her delight unbounded, Elaine thrust her head into Fletcher’s office. “You’ll never guess who is out there for a visa interview,” she said.

When Fletcher shrugged, she declared, “It’s that same Miyagi whore.”


“If this doesn’t beat all. It’s her alright. She is with some Marine.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“No way, honey. And they’re in your queue.”

Miss Higa delivered an updated file and, thirty minutes later, guided the couple into Fletcher’s office.

This time, Miyagi had latched onto a twenty-four-year-old lance corporal. Fletcher could only wonder how and where.

“Merrick, sir. John Merrick. And this is my girl, Noriko,” the young Marine said when Fletcher introduced himself. Thin-lipped, with a bird-like profile, Merrick was young, very young, at least ten years the woman’s junior. Slim, serious, and, Fletcher thought, in over his head. He had bad skin.

Miyagi stared straight ahead. She apparently had abandoned Sergeant Brewer like a worn-out dress. Questions flashed through Fletcher’s mind. Was she an opportunistic one? A desperate one?

The vice consul referred to the documents Higa had presented to him. “I assume we’ve got the right person this time,” he said.  He glanced at Miyagi to check her reaction. She remained stone-faced. Lance Corporal Merrick looked perplexed.

“Yes, sir,” Higa said. But . . .” She pointed to one of the documents.

Fletcher leaned back in his chair. “I know. I know. Right woman. New problem.” Premonition of another visa refusal transited Fletcher’s thoughts.

“Yes, sir. New problem.”

Fletcher again considered the document Higa had called to his attention. “Well, lance corporal, it appears that Miss Miyagi is already married. Unfortunately, that being the case, she is not eligible for a fiancé visa.”

How Miyagi had concealed this before, Fletcher could only surmise. No matter. It had come to light now. Fletcher did not know what sort of reaction to expect from the young man. Surprise? Anger? Dejection? Instead, Merrick simply smiled. He smiled. He turned to Miyagi, and said, “show them the paper.”

The woman produced a Japanese language document from her purse. She handed it to Miss Higa.

“Didn’t have time to get it translated,” Merrick said. “She just got it today from a government office before we came in.”

“It is a divorce decree,” Higa said. “It appears to be authentic. Of course, we must verify.”

She might be a person of dubious character. She might be exploiting this young marine. But, assuming the decree was valid and she met all the requirements, she would likely get a visa.

Definitely not the diplomatic life Fletcher thought he signed up for.




BIO: Lawrence F. Farrar is a former Foreign Service officer, with multiple postings in Japan, Europe, and Washington, DC. His stories have appeared seventy-five times or so in literary magazines. His work often involves a protagonist encountering the customs and norms of a foreign society.