The Chef's Surrender
When the Japanese saw their people killed by the thousands at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they knew they’d lost the war. Kikuchi was lucky. He was Japanese, but he was also a cook on the USS Missouri, the same battleship scheduled to host the signing of the instrument of surrender by the dispirited Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu. As a chef, Kikuchi had never been called upon to kill another human. All he had to do was prepare meals for those who did.
On this bright and sunny day, the ship’s crew had eaten and the mess hall was almost clean. Kikuchi saluted his commanding officer as he passed by him in the hallway.
“Sir!” Kikuchi said, “Request permission to speak, Sir.”
The officer stopped and faced the cook. “Permission granted.”
“Sir, I know my duties are down here in the galley, but I have a personal interest in seeing the Japanese officials when they come on board.”
“Yes, Sir. I mean, I’m an American and I want to see them surrender.” Kikuchi gazed down at his shoes. “They’ve caused my people a lot of pain.”
Kikuchi started to worry that he may have overstepped the bounds of respect for a commanding officer.
After a moment of silence, the officer grinned. “Not a problem.” He looked at the cook’s name tag. “Kikuchi.”
“Where you from, Kikuchi?”
“San Francisco, Sir.”
“Good, okay then. Be on deck in thirty minutes.”
When Kikuchi climbed up to the deck level, he saw what must have been about three thousand soldiers and officers from every branch of the military as well as dignitaries, all standing in formation. Kikuchi knew he’d stand out in the crowd as he was still wearing his kitchen whites, so he remained in the corridor doorway.
He saw a group of Japanese men, six soldiers and four civilians. The man in the black tuxedo and top hat he recognized as Shigemitsu. All of them stood rigid at attention. Apparently, the Americans weren’t ready to begin the ceremony as General Douglas MacArthur was not yet present.
“Hey Cheffy! What are you doin’ up here?” It was Benson, one of his mates from down in the galley.
“Just curious, like everybody else,” Kikuchi said. “What’s the holdup?”
Benson grinned. “Not sure. I bet Big Mack is just makin’em wait on purpose.”
Just then a commotion on the deck grabbed everyone’s attention. The Japanese officer standing next to the Foreign Minister took a few steps toward the American interpreter. The interpreter translated the soldier’s words to an officer standing nearby. The officer nodded and pointed to two armed Marines. A small murmur ran through the crowd as the armed escort led the Japanese soldier in the direction of the door hatch where Kikuchi stood.
Kikuchi and Benson stepped aside as the escorts led the uniformed man to the nearest head.
“When you gotta go, you gotta go,” Benson said.
They both grinned and turned back to the deck where General MacArthur and others were filing in. After a few minutes passed and the crowd had settled in, Kikuchi saw a strange frown on the general’s face as he looked in Kikuchi’s direction. Apparently the tables had been turned on the general and it was now he who was waiting.
A third Marine accompanied by the interpreter was sent in the direction of the head occupied by the Japanese soldier. Kikuchi was standing about twelve feet away when he heard the interpreter call to the soldier through the door. The interpreter spoke in the soldier’s native tongue.
“Sir, come out now. Everyone is waiting for you. We can wait no longer.”
The three Marines stared at each other as they were met with silence.
The Marine who had accompanied the interpreter rattled the door to the head, but could not open it. He looked back at Kikuchi. “Hey!”
“Yes, Sir,” answered Kikuchi.
“What kind of lock holds these doors shut?”
Kikuchi had never thought about what guarded his privacy when he was relieving himself. He looked at his friend standing next to him.
“It’s a simple door latch held in place by gravity,” said Kikuchi’s friend. “I can pick the lock, if you want me to.”
“Get over here and do it...Now!” growled the Marine under his breath.
Benson rushed to the door and fished a nail clipper out of his pocket. Within seconds he had used the file part of the clippers to slip the latch off its hinges and unlock the door. He stepped aside as the Marine pushed the door open.
“Jesus Christ!” said the leatherneck, taking a step back.
Kikuchi gasped as he peeked around the Marine and saw the Japanese soldier lying crumpled on the floor. A pearl-handled pocket knife lay next to the dead man as blood continued to spread in a circular pattern over his stomach area. The dead man had taken off his cap, shirt, and military dress jacket and hung them neatly on a wall hook as if preparing to take a shower. His knee-high boots sat in the corner.
“What the hell are we gonna do now?” the Marine asked his fellow soldiers. He looked at the other two Marines. “We needed this dead guy to sign that damn surrender treaty. Those other Jap soldiers already refused to sign.”
The second Marine scanned the corridor in each direction as if looking for eavesdroppers. Then he locked in on Kikuchi.
“We’ll use him,” he said, pointing his chin at Kikuchi.
“Use me for what?” asked Kikuchi.
“This is a photo-op for big Mack. Damn Japs have already surrendered. We just need someone to pose for the picture.” The second Marine grinned slightly at Kikuchi. “That’s you, buddy.”
“This is crazy. I’m not that kind of Japanese,” Kikuchi said. He felt like bolting out of there, but with three Marines staring at you, that’s not a viable option.
The first Marine pointed at Benson. “You. Take off the guy’s pants and give them to the chef…now!”
Benson obeyed and grimaced as he undressed the Japanese soldier. He handed the dead man’s clothing to Kikuchi. “Sorry, Cheffy. It’s all for the greater good.”
With great reluctance and trepidation, Kikuchi put on the Japanese uniform. He was a good sailor who loved his country, America.
The Marines escorted the “new” Japanese soldier back to his position next to Shigemitsu. The Foreign Minister shot a puzzled look at Kikuchi, who tried to avoid the diplomat’s gaze. Kikuchi then faked a signature for the photo. The surrender was complete.
Michael Pacheco is a member of the Editorial Review Board of Label Me Latina Journal. His debut novel, The Guadalupe Saints, was published by Paraguas Books in April 2011, and won Second Place in the International Latino Book-to-Movie Awards. His novella, titled Seeking Tierra Santa, received Honorable Mention in the 2013 ILBA Best Novel Award. He has been short-listed for the JF Powers Prize in Short Fiction and the Southern Pacific Review fiction contest. He also received Honorable Mention in the December 2014 Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction contest. Michael Pacheco’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Bilingual Review Press (ASU), Southern Pacific Review, Southwestern American Literature, Azahares Literary Magazine, The Gold Man Review, Label Me Latina, The Acentos Review, Boxfire Press, Red Ochre Press, VAO Publishing - Along the River II, St. Somewhere Journal, Emerge Literary Journal, Writer's Bloc Literary Magazine (Texas A&M), Fiction Vortex, Valley Voices, A Literary Review, Circa Journal of Historical Fiction, The Veterans' Writing Project, The Story Shack, River and South Review, Writers of the Rio Grande, SOL: English Writers in Mexico, The Binnacle, Yellow Medicine Review, FictionMagazines.com, Praxis Magazine, Diverse Voices Quarterly, AirplaneReading (twice), and The OFI Press Magazine.