You never know when you might hit a turning point in life. As life goes on, from time to time, you might catch a glimpse of what’s in store, but such visions are a complete hallucination. Take for instance my, Oyagiri Mamoru’s, life.
To be honest, when my employment was decided- what’s more, at the Oote Security Company I had been hoping for- I felt a joy great enough to completely forget the misery-numbing levels of job hunting that led up to it; when I knew nothing had even begun yet, I hadn’t accomplished anything, it’s true I felt that I had ‘risen above’ my past life.
My future to come was set in stone.
Here on out, there wouldn’t be any more seat changes or class changes or graduations: for the rest of my life, I would continue my job of ‘protecting something’, I got around to thinking. Well I’m sure that was the intent of my grandfather who gave me the name Mamoru, and my mother and father who gifted me this needlessly sturdy body, and I felt proud from the depths of my heart I could answer their expectations. But on the other hand, with my last choice in life gone and done with, I cut the rudder to my future, and as I thought how everything to come would be a one-way street, there was a stroke of loneliness I couldn’t wipe away.
(TL: Mamoru means to protect, his first name Oyagiri is literally an alternate reading of the word kindness- Shinsetsu)
But I was mistaken.
Life couldn’t be decided by the likes of employment.
It can change as much as it wants, wherever it likes- and foresight of the future is practically a mirage. No, if it were a mirage, then perhaps the real article might exist somewhere but- it’s uncertain any visions of the future even exist.
That’s why you can never tell the turning points of life. That’s nothing to feel let down by; humans are always changing, so you can always just wait in expectation to see what the future has waiting for you. No matter the year, the day, it’s the start of an adventure.
But the problem is, that turning point might be a downward turn. We must always tread with caution, wary of what might trip us up, or who might grasp at our ankles. If you think those accidents and incidents that flow past on the TV are ‘irrelevant to you’, you’re in for some pain… even if a greenhorn like me spouts some plausible-sounding moral lessons like that, it might not be the least bit persuasive. But please hear me out. These aren’t some flowery words I picked up from some billboard, they’re teachings of self-admonishment I learned from painful experience.
Please grasp my words as a stick before you fall over.
And maybe that’s precisely what will give me the qualifications to console myself, that I wasn’t a man who fell over for nothing.
To start off, I’d like to introduce the three people who brought an unforeseen turning point to the life of the man who felt as enlightened as a mountain hermit from mere employment. Rather than brought the turning point, it would be more accurate to say they were the three people who tripped up my life’s smooth sailing, but I’ll refrain from phrasing it like that.
First off, it’s not like they had any ill intent when they overturned my life, and secondly, they were customers. The customers are god… even if that’s saying too much, customers are customers. Not the targets I should be directing my resentment at.
Of course, it’s not like they were my customers- meaning they weren’t the subject of my security. They were customers of a certain art museum I had been stationed at. The precious visitors to a so-called modern art museum a man like me would never get involved with had he not been stationed there for work. Of course, strictly speaking, one of them was not a customer, but there’s no doubt he was a visitor.
The first person was a woman with white hair. While I couldn’t call her a regular, she would drop by the museum with relative frequency, appreciate every art piece from start to finish, and leave. Among the pieces, she seemed to have an attachment to a single article in my security area; her feet would stop before the painting for up to an hour as she gazed at it intently.
I grew curious whether she displayed such conduct in the other areas and asked a colleague, but apparently that painting was the only one she looked at for such a long time.
Then perhaps she dropped by the museum just to see that painting… as mentioned prior, I have absolutely no grounded knowledge in art, so I couldn’t tell what was so good about the painting she gazed at, but it didn’t feel so bad to watch someone deeply moved by my subject to guard.
It made me proud to know I was protecting something with value- it might be strange for me to feel triumphant over such a thing, but just as she gazed at the picture like that, there were times I became inclined to watch her picture watching back.
Truthfully so, her standing form made a pretty enough picture to warrant it.
But like that, I learned the tiresomeness that comes with standing and staring all too well- no matter how moved, how deep of a trance one might be in, staying standing, maintaining an unmoving stance expended considerable muscle. You’re hearing that from someone who stands there like that six hours every day- albeit with breaks- so there’s no doubt about it.
Take for say conceding your seat to the elderly on a train, you might occasionally find that the action contrarily enrages them. I’ve experienced it a number of times- well, not understanding a hatred of being treated as old was definitely a failure of my own imagination, and there’s no helping they chastise me for it. The standard I reaped from that example was the possibility ‘She might be dyeing her hair white’- Dyeing one’s hair an unnatural color comes from the train of thought of wanting one’s self to look younger; of course, there are plenty of exceptions, and it should be taken as case by case- and in that sense, I had no reason to hesitate to worry for that woman with beautiful all white hair.
It was a museum scrupulous about removing all barriers, so as long as she filled the paperwork, she could at least rent a chair, I called out to inform her of that… but even disregarding how that overstepped my position as a security guard, that was a mistaken action.
What had from my angle always looked like a diminutive back belonged to a woman of whom, forget old, looked no older than me. A woman in her mid-twenties. The intellectual eyes behind her glasses looked up at me dubiously.
Having lost the words I should say despite being the one who called out, I cursed my own folly. The situation was unanticipated but the place was a respectable museum, and if you told me it was appropriate to see it coming, I couldn’t disagree. In a place for those of original aesthetic sense that transcended the sense of values of an unsociable man like me, it shouldn’t be strange for there to be a woman who dyed her hair white instead of blonde for fashion’s sake. Rather than dyed or a wig, the white looked to be much too natural for that, but…
Thinking back, at least from what I can remember, she had never appeared in the museum wearing the same clothing twice. That was the first time I saw her in that turtleneck knit sweater, a stole draped over, and long skirt below. For such a fashionable lady, her white hair must be a facet of her style, though it’s not like I’m some detective from a novel, and if you wanted me to make a definitive deduction, that’s setting the bar way too high… whatever the case, calling out without ever confirming her face was idiotic and overeager of me.
What’s more, the face that turned to me- while belonging to a cute young lady- wasn’t looking at me for the better… as I panicked to smooth over my failure, I was practically a pickup artist flurried before a beauty. That being the case, starting out the conversation with I thought you were an old woman was difficult to imagine as virtuous under the circumstances.
“Y-you come here often. You must really like this painting.”
After mulling a moment, those words came to mouth… lines that sounded like they should come from someone concerned with the museum, but as truth would have it, I was an outsourced security guard.
“I come here… often? Do I?”
The white-haired woman tilted her head.
Hmm, she muttered as if it was someone else’s business. Her behavior almost made it seem like she was learning that for the first time from my mouth.
“? You do come here often, don’t you… and every time, you stand stock still in front of this painting as if it’s sucking your soul in.”
“Is that so.”
“When it’s a painting you must have seen countless times, but every time you seem just as emotionally moved as the first time you saw it, so I’m sure it must be a wonderful painting perfectly suited to your sensitivities.”
“Is that so…”
Her responses were half-baked.
Well, I was throwing in ambiguous terms like ‘I’m sure’ and ‘must have’, perhaps it went both ways. It was like I was confessing I didn’t understand the piece- as a matter of fact, the painting hung up was abstract, or rather, all I could see was a single canvas randomly smeared with blues, whites, greens, and browns.
On the plate stuck to the wall beside it, the painter and the production date, the materials and the style, and in large letters, the title ‘Mother’ was written, but it completely eluded me what part of the painting was supposed to be a mother- so I could only call it an abstract with fragmented knowledge, but I couldn’t even determine if that was true.
“I see, so I’ve brought myself to this museum numerous times… and I always stand here and stare. Fufu. Well, I guess you could say that goes without saying.”
I couldn’t tell what was funny, but as the white-haired girl giggled, I returned a smile of social courtesy- my thoughts reached the lane of confusion. Do people with sharp aesthetic intuition hold an unconventional sense in daily conversation as well… or so I thought when,
“Around how long do I usually stand here?”
She asked something even stranger than before. Even if it wasn’t a major museum with an incessant stream of visitors, I couldn’t be away from my station too long, so now that I understood I wasn’t dealing with an old woman in need of consideration and my thoughts began to turn calmly, I wanted to get the conversation over and done with already, but her carefree attitude was enough for me to think I wanted to talk just a little longer- despite the peculiar contents of the conversation.
“Usually around an hour, I’d say… Forgetting time, as if you’ve lost yourself.”
“Forgetting time, as if I’ve lost myself.”
She repeated over the words I managed out. She gave a grin.
“Around an hour… is it? Fufufu, that sounds about right. Yes, I’m sure I spent at least that much time standing here today- this work has enough charm for it to shave away a whole hour of my today.”
“Y-you’re right, surely.”
My today was quite the odd way to phrase it, but whatever the case, but I felt a bit of relief that it didn’t end as, ‘I was looking at a painting my friend painted’- I’m repeating myself here, but it was a delight to know that what I was guarding was something of value. More so in a case like this where I couldn’t discern that value myself.
A security guard cannot choose the target of their protection, but guards are not a system, but human beings. Their emotion can’t be denied. If I was going to be working anyways, I’d rather have joy than anger as my motivation.
It’s just, when it came to value and price tags, the all-white-haired woman’s following statement was really quite straightforward, in that regard as if casting a straight stone… in an emotional tone as if appraising from the bottom of her heart,
“I mean, this work is two hundred million yen.”
Two hundred million: The average amount a modern Japanese salaryman makes over the course of his entire life, an amount you might win as the grand prize of a lottery, and if I had to spell it out, an undoubtedly large sum- of course, this was an art museum, so there’s no way the price tags were written on the plates that gave details for each piece, but when she brought up two hundred million yen, the way I looked at it changed.
That painting so incomprehensible to me suddenly seemed to emit a peculiar radiance. No, judging an artistic work by its monetary value and worth isn’t something that should come to pass… but she was the one who brought up a monetary evaluation.
“So it’ll go for two hundred million… this thing.”
“Yes, can’t you tell by looking?”
She stared at me in blank wonder. You’re guarding it without such rudimental knowledge? Or so I was caught up in such a delusion of persecution. Well, it really can’t be helped if you call me unlearned… I’ll have to do some serious soul-searching.
“Amazing isn’t it? Two hundred million yen. Just think of the things you could do with that money. I guess I’d save half of it, and run through the other half in one go? Quit worrying about finances and just buy up all the clothes I want.”
She said it in such a natural, absentminded tone I might just let it slip by, but she had said something considerably rude… no, I don’t really care, but I’m pretty sure the artist who painted it didn’t want it to be judged on price alone, right? Rather, what the woman spoke of was that very sum. Still, it’s a world without a fixed price tag, so it’s only natural an upfront appraisal might not become its actual price…
“Yes, I really do think the world of art is amazing… cost-performance-wise.”
“C-cost performance? You think?”
“Yes. No matter what material you use, there’s surely an upper limit to the cost price, right? And yet, there are times when they’re worth millions, billions even… and unlike with authors and cartoonists, you don’t even have to worry about the printing and binding fees that come afterward. More so, by subtracting the cost of mass production, its value rises even further—that’s a business model I’d like to take a lesson from.”
I lost my words in a different sense than before. Could business model be the most unbecoming word to voice in a museum? As long as the art museum I was stationed at didn’t offer free admission, there was no doubt it was a business… It’s all a matter of perspective. But the way she put it made it should almost as if she paid the entrance fee to come and see a wad of two hundred thousand yen—standing before two hundred million yen, spending an hour in a trance, she had far surpassed greedy into plain eccentric. By a considerable margin at that.
“My word, good sir. Have I ruined your mood? Fret not, I understand; I assure you. In order to preserve its value in being the only of its kind in the world, the cost this institution must pay to maintain it, it’s not as if I could ignore that.”
While I’m not sure exactly what way she took the confusion that apparently showed on my face, she followed through in a manner missing the mark—rather than missed the mark, it somewhat felt like she was playing the foo
As if by shifting the point in question, she managed to evade it entirely— that being the case, no matter how she was looking at it, I honestly felt a little happy she was properly recognizing the existence of a security guard like me, who occasionally received heartless words that he was tainting the scenery of an art museum.
“Still it really is nice, two hundred million yen. Two hundred million, that truly is wonderful. There’s no other replacement for two hundred million yen than two hundred million yen. And now that I’ve been able to see such a beautiful two hundred million yen, I get the feeling I can do my best today.”
“C-could you please stop repeating two hundred million yen… so umm, what exactly do you do for a living?”
I asked the question to change the topic, but it wasn’t a completely irrelevant theme. I mean to say, I abruptly arrived at the possibility this person might be an art dealer.
In that case, it would be understandable that her first criterion of evaluating artwork would be its price—inevitable even. Giving a severe and proper numerical estimate would be her business. Even if the woman with a spacy vibe to her didn’t give of the air of a competent art dealer, it was plenty possible her occupation was something similar. If I consider the way she frequents (so naturally even I can’t remember from when) the art museum as part of her job, then some things do fall into place.
But that was my complete misapprehension. It does seem my tempo gets thrown off when I’m around her—my deductions never hit the mark.
“I’m a detective.”
She said slickly as she held out a business card. The card read as follows.
‘Okitegami Detective Agency Chief 掟上 Kyouko’
“Kyouko-san… is it.”
I thought it might be impolite to suddenly call a girl by her first name, but I didn’t know how I was supposed to read the ‘掟上’ kanji in her surname, so it couldn’t be helped. But seemingly without that discourtesy harming her mood, “Yes, I’m Kyouko. Okitegami Kyouko,” she named herself- thanks to her introduction, it became clear ‘掟上’ was read as ‘Okitegami’. Thank god— no, perhaps she inferred I couldn’t read it, and quite intentionally gave the reading herself.
(TL: The Okitegami in the office name and her last name are spelt differently.)
When it came to her deductions, that would be a very detective-esque deduction for her to make—wait, detectives only deduce in novels, do they? The real detective occupation mainly consists of investigations and reports—whatever the case, she’s the Chief of all things.
“So she’s a bigshot.”
I ended up putting out the comment. Judging someone by their title was an act even ruder than judging artwork by its price, but no matter how I looked at it, the stiff title of Chief didn’t suite gentle-aired woman before my eyes.
“No way, I’m not particularly high up. It’s just my personal office. To be more precise, I’m chief, accountant, manager, deskwork, and grunt work.”
She—Kyouko-san said such a humbling thing, but being her own boss at her age was quite something in and of itself. Okitegami Detective Agency- Okitegami- just from her office name, it’s hard to think she’s owner in name alone.
“In the way we protect the best interests of our clients, you could say we’re in the same industry, Oyagiri-san. So if you’re ever in need of something, feel free to put in a word.”
Kyouko-san said with a deep bow of her white-haired head. From her attitude, it was apparent she was in charge of marketing as well. Her somewhat (if I must understate) noisy financial sense was understandable if that was the case. It’s just, I’m pretty sure detectives and security guards are probably quite different occupations… tying them down just with protection seemed considerably forced.
Huh? But I’m sure I hadn’t introduced myself yet… where did she get my name? Wait, no, I’m sure she just saw the nametag clipped to the breast pocket of my uniform. Was that also the keen sight of a detective… even so, my Oyagiri last name, just like her Okitegami, was by no means easy to get right the first time.
“Then if you’ll excuse me. I do apologize for taking up your time. I’ll be looking at this two hundred million y… this painting for a little while longer, but Oyagiri-san, do feel free to return to your work.”
“… Of course. I apologize for getting in your way.”
I had completely missed my opportunity to step back, so it was honestly a huge help when Kyouko-san came out with it herself. I got the impression she was upright or rather refreshing sort of person.
I gave a bow and returned to my station. Just as she had proclaimed, after gazing at the painting a while, she eventually took her leave.
That was my first close quarters encounter with her, of course, that alone wouldn’t be enough to form a turning point in my life, and I didn’t learn anything from it—at most, the moral lesson, ‘When you try talking to someone, properly see who they are first.’
Even if I put it to memory as a single trifling mistake I made on the job, I had plenty of other similar tales of failure to tell. I’m a human far too distant from perfect, I won’t deny my numerous slipups.
But in regards to Kyouko-san, there is another episode I’d like to add to that first step. Continuing on from there, Kyouko-san continued incessantly dropping by to see that two hundred million yen but, of course, I didn’t try talking to her again.
Even if that wasn’t the case, it was only good manners to keep quiet in a museum. As before, without me leaving my post, I simply watched the back of the white-haired woman gazing at the painting. That routine- excluding the changes in her fashionable garments- showed not the slightest sense of crumbling, until the day an aberration came about.
It was a sudden change- even if I say that, it’s not like Kyouko-san underwent a flashy visual change (for example her hair turning black, or her wearing clothing I had any recollection of), it wasn’t anything like that. It was a sense of unease I got precisely because I had always watched Kyouko-san pass through the museum- To put it simply, what I thought would continue for eternity, the routine I considered empyrean at that point, without any preface, suddenly crumbled away.
Kyouko-san passed by that painting without stopping to look. The painting she would always spend an hour before, she went by with barely a glance. Her feet barely slowed to look at it.
“… Please wait a second.”
I reflexively and unintentionally called her to a stop. Unlike the last time, I had no backing from my station; it was an action that completely exceeded my authority, one I had no excuse for. But being well aware of that, I had no choice but to call out to Kyouko-san.
By the way, Kyouko-san was in blue denim that day, a vest over her white shirt. In regards to that, she’s a person who looks good in anything she wears, but every time I meet her I have to reimagine just how giant of a closet she must have at her home. But I digress.
“You’re not going to look at that painting?”
Kyouko-san gave a hysteric reply. Her expression too verbosely spoke the words ‘who are you’- it did appear she had forgotten me. When it comes to uniformed security guards, they all end up looking the same, so it’s nothing unreasonable. But taking into account the sharp eyes I experienced the other days, it wouldn’t be strange if she at least remembered my face. Contrary to her intellectual air, perhaps her memory wasn’t actually that good.
Regardless, it’s not like I spoke to her with any ulterior motives, and I really couldn’t care much less for the color of impression I left in Kyouko-san’s recognition. The problem was the shade of impression that painting left on her- why was it that the painting she always appreciated without exception, today of all days, was passed without stopping?
I was so curious I couldn’t help myself. It was the idol she had been devoted to all the while- thought you could just call it two hundred million yen at this point- but without treading on a single step down, was it really possible for her to abruptly lose interest?
“I did see it… so what?”
Kyouko-san kept up her guard as she answered so. The gears weren’t meshing, or rather, what I wanted to say wasn’t getting across in the slightest. Thinking back, I get the feeling our previous conversation was also spotty at best…
“That you did… no I mean, aren’t you going to stare it like you usually do? You usually admire it for a much longer period of time. And yet.”
I’m practically sounding like a stalker, I reflected as I spoke. For me to approach as if to lecture her because her routine work collapsed, my actions were far from a security guard. It was almost as if she was a potential danger I’d marked down.
For a woman, it wouldn’t be strange for her to cower and flee, my attitude was the epitome of suspicious, and yet Kyouko-san showed no hesitation. More than that, she spoke with great intrigue.
The corners of her mouth rose. It was very much the smile of a ‘Great Detective encountering a fascinating mystery’- her gentle atmosphere inverted to an expression I might even call aggressive.
“That sounds interesting— could you give me the details?”
“E-even if you ask me the details… um, as I was saying… why did Kyouko-san who would usually take her sweet time looking at that painting suddenly ignore it today…”
When the other party had clearly forgotten that we’d talked before, it was hard to step in from my side. Therefore, I completely skipped over that part and gave just the main points. Albeit, at Kyouko-san’s bearing as if she had even forgotten she ‘usually looked at it’, I couldn’t help but feel something off-putting…
As we were talking, I started coming under the impression it was much stranger to be captivated by the same painting every time she dropped by, but it didn’t seem that was the point the person in question- Kyouko-san- was caught up on.
“Yes, yes, you might be wondering ‘why I ignored this piece today of all days’, but what’s on my mind is ‘why this piece deeply touched me to this day’ you see- we’ve talked before, have we?”
She suddenly pointed out.
When she jabbed at it, it made me feel insincere for trying to play dumb… it’s not like I have any confidence in my acting ability (More so, I have zero confidence in it), but I wonder how she saw through me.
“No, I mean, you just called me ‘Kyouko-san’ when I had yet to introduce myself.”
Crap. To a cliché extent, that was from my own boneheadedness. Whatever the case, this was a problem that sprung from her own deficiency in forgetting someone she had talked to before, so I did get the feeling she stirred up trouble just to solve on her own.
“Yes, we have. At the time, you spoke heatedly about this piece, making me find it all the more bizarre…”
“Heatedly, is it. Knowing me— it wasn’t the artistic technique, but the price of this work that I spoke so heatedly over, correct?”
Knowing me, she said making it sound like someone else’s business. She did seem to have a tendency to cast away her past self as a stranger.
I found it hard to say she was right. But she had repeated the paintings price so many times that day it would feel too insincere to say she was wrong- at the end of my hesitation, meaning at the end of my failure to think up a means to play it off, “You said it was two hundred million yen,” I answered idiotically honestly.
Well, it’s not like anything would start by haggling down the price to one hundred or fifty thousand, and inflating it would be just as pointless.
“Two hundred million yen. Hmm… this piece is?”
As she said that, Kyouko-san stood before the painting. Looking at her pose and position, it was the same ‘picturesque Kyouko-san’ as always, but when it wasn’t as if anything had changed, it was as if the nuance I could feel from her had taken on a complete shift. Eyes appreciating eyes—that they were not.
As if to bluntly interfere with its contents, to outspokenly force their way into the secret privet lives of another, they were like the eyes of a detective.
Wait… that’s wrong.
She’s not like a detective, she’s a detective.
“Fufu. Indeed, this is a wonderful piece the author must have put his soul into, but two hundred million is going a bit too far… three million… no, if you want me to be realistic, I’d say it’s around two million.”
I was taken aback, to think the price would fall to one one-hundredth of its original value—for an investment, that’s great enough decline to hang yourself over.
Just what could have happened?
From what I could see, it’s not as if the canvas was damaged, or the colors were stripped, no damage visible to the eye had happened to the painting. Granted, different appraisers might come out with different prices, that was within the realm of possibility, but the one who said two hundred million was none other than Kyouko-san. I couldn’t understand… I could only think it was Kyouko-san who had undergone a change.
“No, nothing’s changed with me. I can guarantee that one— tastelessly little change if I do say so myself.”
When she said that brimming with confidence, I could only accept it. Rather, it was hard to refute.
“I’d like to confirm something, Oyagiri-san.”
Kyouko-san called my name. It’s not like she remembered it, I’m sure she saw the nametag on my chest.
“Is it true this piece hasn’t changed? It’s not the tiniest bit different from when I last saw it?”
“It’s… it’s the same.”
When she emphasized it so hard, I grew anxious. I couldn’t guarantee it wasn’t the slightest bit different. It’s just, even if I looked at the painting anew, I couldn’t spot anything different—as a guard, my job was to look out for suspicious individuals, and not to appreciate the pieces themselves (more so, I’m not supposed to pay attention to the art). But that being the case, as I kept to my station, the painting naturally entered my field of view, so I’m sure I would notice any blatant changes.
In that case, not the painting, did something change in its background? If you’ll let me drop my prudence, it’s possible for a so-called work of art’s value shoots up upon the death of its painter—that’s a case where the price rises, but I’m sure there are patterns where it can plummet. For example, it came to light it was actually painted by someone else… in that case, even if the painting itself didn’t change, it would be possible for its price to change.
But if any such news flowed in, before the price’s fluctuation came into question, an uproar would happen at the museum displaying it. No doubt such a ruckus would enter even the ear of an outsider security guard. If it became public the history of a painting they’d always displayed was wrong, the display would be put on hold, it might even become a scandal on the scale of the museum taking a temporary holiday.
“Yes, I see your point. But a difference in the background is a good train of thought. Art is only art with everything around it—”
“… Though they do say a creator and his work are different matters.”
“Ahaha. If you’re looking at it for enjoyment, it’s perfectly fine to detach them, but if you want to look at it as fine art, the partition is difficult… an art piece can sometimes be seen as the main essence of the artist.”
Though that’s irrelevant right now, said Kyouko-san.
It’s irrelevant? But she was speaking with a strange sense of confidence, so perhaps Kyouko-san already had a rough idea of why the unchanging painting’s price changed. I wrung out my courage to ask.
“Well if I had to say, I do have an idea. I don’t have any evidence, and it’s just a notion that struck me without any basis.”
Kyouko-san said after all. And parting from the space before the painting, “Well then, I’ll be taking my leave,” she gave me a bow and walked off.
“H-hey, hey wait a minute.”
“? What is it?”
“You’re not going to tell me? Why the painting you told me was two hundred million yen is two million yen today?”
“I’m sure it’s true I once said this piece was worth two hundred million yen. But today it’s two million. Then it’s clear that a change of one hundred ninety-eight million yen must have occurred… but explaining that here would be somewhat uncouth. This is a place to speak of art and not mysteries. In the first place, today is my off-day.”
If you say I must, or so Kyouko-san held out her business card.
That was something that wasn’t the tiniest bit different from the last card I received, Okitegami Detective Agency Chief Okitegami Kyouko’s business card.
“Make a request. I don’t deduce for free.”
When all was said and done, in the end, the mystery of why a two hundred million yen painting suddenly faced a drop in price to two million went unsolved- or at least to me and the museum. Of course, I was curious, but I didn’t see it as the sort of overblown case or mystery to go as far as to pay money for a detective. Even if my knowledge on a detective’s market price was limited, I highly doubted it would be cheap. When she possessed such a wide array of clothing, I couldn’t think that Kyouko-san worked for a low enough value to be covered by my disposable income.
In the first place, two hundred million and two million were both no more than her personal estimates, and if I had to say, it was possible she was just making things up- it was practically she who built up the whole mystery. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it some new form of scam, but it seemed plausible that was her proactive business campaign as a detective; getting caught up in that and forced to pay a fortune didn’t sit very well with me.
There were ways to go about it, say drawing out the details on that painting from someone involved with the museum employing me, but I wouldn’t be able to avoid them reversing the question and asking why I wanted to know. Once asked, the fact I had a chat with a visitor on the job in derogation of my duties would inevitably come to light- something I’d definitely like to avoid if possible.
So when all was said and done, I held on to some hazy thoughts as I continued to work my unchanging job, with the unchanged painting in my field of vision. I spotted Kyouko-san’s figure a few times in the museum after that, but she would never rest her feet before that painting in question again.
Nor would I call out to her.
Naturally, she didn’t speak to me of her own accord either. Perhaps she had already forgotten me again. That’s why my only point of contact with her- the two business cards I had forgotten to take out of my uniform pocket- only returned to memory after the incident had occurred.
Whatever the case, I must now introduce the second of the three people who brought a turning point to my life—it would be an exaggeration to call him a gent; he was a young boy around ten.
For a child to grant me a moral lesson makes me feel like a disgrace of an adult, but he was a so-called prodigy, so it’s not particularly like it was a complex I was alone in feeling. It’s occasionally the case that someone with talent comes to despise those without it, and perhaps owing to that, the young boy took on an impertinent attitude with me from beginning to end. In that sense, I don’t hold a very good impression of him, but I have no choice but to recognize his talent.
His ‘artistic’ talent, that is.
I first came to recognize him shortly after I first spoke with Kyouko-san- after she told me the painting was worth around two hundred million, I suppose. As I recall, it was around the time the curator’s negotiated works came in, and there was a bit of a ruckus over how they were going to be exhibited. The new exhibit attracted attention, my surveillance area was even quieter than usual when the crop-cut boy appeared with his sketchbook. Of course, he was a visitor who paid the standard fee (child’s fare), so I had no complaints in that regard. A child had just as much right as an adult to enjoy the fine arts—however, what he took was a problematic action I couldn’t overlook as a security guard.
No, couldn’t understand would be more precise. But it was the sort of problem for which a single security guard tasked with a single area in the corner of the museum was supposed to make a decision on the spot. No food and drink, keep quiet in the building, don’t touch the art pieces, no photography.
Those rules were stipulated all throughout the building, and I had no hesitation to enforce them as a guard—as a guard, my eyes were shining. Especially in the present age, where the diffusion of cellphones has made photography a part of everyday life, cautioning the visitors who tried taking pictures without any ill intent could be called my main job.
But what about in that circumstance? Meaning when he took his position in front of a single picture, flipped open his sketchbook, and let the pencil in his hand begin to smoothly reproduce it—
The child started sketching much too boldly, as if to give me the feeling ‘that’s just what you’re supposed to do here’—sure enough, it didn’t say anywhere in the building you couldn’t draw on the premises. If it was truly a good a museum, then it wouldn’t be strange for an inspired visitor to want to take up the brush… but that was strange. In the first place, the kid has come with his sketchbook and materials in hand from the start, brimming with the intent to draw.
In the first place, it wasn’t the timeslot for an elementary schooler to stop by. I don’t remember the specific day, but it was undoubtedly midday on a weekday. I looked around to see if it was the extracurricular activity of some elementary school, but there weren’t any other kids around who looked the part. No teacher taking command either.
That being the case, disciplining a child wasn’t part of my job—if he wanted to come to a museum instead of going to school, I could feel some extraordinary circumstance after all—now then, what was I to do? Painting a picture to duplicate it did somewhat seem like a blind spot of the photography ban, but thinking over it with a level head, it wasn’t something I should shut my eyes to.
Even so, it was the work of a child, it’s not like I didn’t consider overlooking it with warm eyes- at the time, neither Kyouko-san nor any other guests were around, it wasn’t as if he was causing any trouble to anyone, and more than that, seeing a child do his best to draw was in itself a pleasant scene. Hesitating whether I should look to my superior or employer for a decision, I decided to start by approaching him only for my smile to freeze.
That ‘copy’ laid out in his sketchbook was, how should I put it, a piece that made the word ‘copy’ sound forced… if I wanted to search my vocabulary for an appropriate word, ‘reproduction’ was more accurate. No, it was difficult to even call a reproduction. I mean the painting on the wall was done in paint, and even if it wasn’t clear what was being depicted, there was no doubt it was done in blues, whites and green… in contrast, the boy’s tool was a single pencil. It would be impossible to completely recreate it; but as if applying Indian ink painting, the boy used only shades of black to gray and reproduce the abstract (?) painting before his eyes… and I could say his attempt was largely successful.
This is just the opinion of an amateur, so perhaps an artist might hold my description in scorn but… it was such a precise level of reproduction I wondered if that was what would come out if a picture brimming with color was run through a monochrome copier. A copy machine is, well a machine, so it would be possible- when a human did that with their own craft, to be honest, it could be summed up in the word uncanny.
In the first place, I could sense a difference from if a copy machine scanned a single painting. This wasn’t a matter of my own sensibility, no matter how dense one might be, they would notice. I learned it for the first time guarding a museum, but paintings are never perfectly level. By slathering paint on a canvas, a rough surface will inevitably be formed; multiple layers alone will protrude certain parts, and if you went from dark to light, the flow was such from high to low—the strength of the brush stroke also made a difference.
A strong stroke and a light touch of the canvas would change the image and damage granted to the surface—both of which would change over the passage of tears. If you want a simple metaphor, an artist taking up a brush was engaging in a single genre of sculpting. You could say that was the large difference from producing digital graphics. It was in that sense as well that they were impossible to reproduce; that’s why no matter how advanced photographic technology becomes, humans will still bring their feet to a museum to see the real articles. A sense of reality that can’t be conveyed by a printing or monitor—or perhaps a sense of texture one can sense without touching exists.
With all that said, there it was on the boy’s sketchbook—I won’t tell you not to be surprised, rather please share in it with me. The young boy had reproduced that unevenness, brushstrokes included, with a single pencil.
That’s why, monochrome or not, in paint or in pencil… regardless of whether there was any difference in the finished product, it made me feel like I was seeing a complete reproduction. A tender young child who didn’t quite understand the rules of the museum, wanting to join the ranks of the artists, got in the mood to copy a painting—it has far exceeded that level.
Just what was he doing, that child?
In a sense, it was an act far more exorbitant than taking a picture—as if not just the image itself, he was stripping away its deepest contents. As a security guard charged with the area, or at least to me, it was difficult to overlook it—I mean, not so long ago, I had already heard from Kyouko-san that the painting was two hundred million yen. It was as if I was present at the scene of a two hundred million yen masterwork being snatched away: a heist so bold Arsene Lupin might direct it himself.
“Hey, kid, what are you doing?”
Perhaps I was too into it, as the voice came out deeper than expected—raising a cry of “Whoah!” the young boy dropped his sketchbook. He didn’t unhand his pencil, which may be because the way he held it was just wrong. Like an infant, his pencil was held up in a clenched fist; no, if he was able to produce such a work at such a speed with that grip, then labeling it as wrong was a decision entrenched in my own educational prejudice. If this child were to assert it was more proper to hold it like a sword, I doubt I would be able to refute it—and as things stood, it was because he held it like that, that it didn’t fall from his hand.
“W-what is it… wait? How long have you been there, old-timer?”
In his immersion, it seems he had completely failed to notice my existence as I approached. That high pre-pubescent voice and sharp manner confirmed to me he was as much a child as his appearances suggested.
I wasn’t yet at the right age to be called old, surely, but when I was around his age, perhaps I thought of anyone beyond twenty like that as well.
“Don’t talk to me so suddenly. You surprised me.”
“Oh yeah… sorry for that.”
I said as I retrieved the sketchbook the boy had dropped on the ground. This was yet another scene I had no experience in, and I had no idea how to interact with a child. The museum wasn’t the sort of place adults brought their children to; it was definitely not the sort of place children came to alone.
Therefore, while I was in a position where I needed to caution him, I reflexively ended up apologizing, but that did offer me slight relief. At his attitude fitting of a child his age, I was hit by the reality I wasn’t dealing with some form of apparition. It was only the next moment I would realize how hollowful that reality was—I can’t guarantee hollowful is a real word or not, but whatever the case, I took the opportunity to open up the sketchbook in my hands and take a glance over its contents.
I only looked like going through a flipbook, so it’s not as if I got a proper look at every page, but, but still, with that alone my chest was instantaneously, instinctively slammed with dread—with intuition rather than logic, I got to know of the young boy’s hard-to-describe artistic prowess.
Not just the picture he had just drawn, the numerous pencil sketches he had done to this point were more than enough to overwhelm the looker—I doubt all of them were copies but I got the feeling perhaps I wouldn’t get this much of an impact even if I looked at the real pieces he was mimicking. I felt an off-mark relief that his sketchbook didn’t bend when it hit the ground.
Returning the book, I looked over the boy. A shaved head, sun-tanned skin laid bare by his T-shirt and shorts, his knees were lightly skinned while his feet were in sandals. Looking at that alone, he looked like a healthy base-ball playing boy you’d find racing across the field—at the very least, his appearance didn’t give off an artist’s impression, and he didn’t have the nuance of a child prodigy you’d see on TV. Or could it be if you took away broadcast production value, those child prodigies were surprisingly something like this?
For such vague features as talent or nature, come to think of it, they would be stranger if they actually came out in one’s appearance…
“Something up, old timer? I’m a bit busy here.”
He calmly said to me. Forget shying back, his attitude could practically be called abusive. Well, it was a hefty demand to ask an elementary schooler (?) to speak politely… after all. For a boy who could draw such pictures, the main problem was how I was supposed to make him respect me in the first place.
“You’re causing trouble, drawing here. Could you put away your sketchbook and pencil?”
“Really? Where does it say I can’t?”
The boy sounded displeased. I never expected him to accept it and stand down so easily- it never is that simple- and things were proceeding as iffy as I thought.
“It’s not written, but you’ll bother the other guest so—”
The young boy looked around—as luck would have it, it was around noon on a weekday, and at present, there wasn’t another guest in sight. I wonder what he would have said if Kyouko-san was around.
“Then if someone else comes I’ll stop. That sound alright?”
Said he as he let the lead of his pencil dash across his sketchbook anew— I’d be troubled if I let the conversation end just like that. If I stood down just because I was dealing with a child, or perhaps a genius, I couldn’t call myself a security guard.
“It’s not much different from taking down notes on what you feel when looking at a painting, right? Is that also banned?”
When he put it that was, I couldn’t find the words to speak back.
Of course, if he went on to set up an easel, spread out a canvas, and take paintbrush and paint in hand, I would be able to restrict him by the reigns of common sense… with eccentricity on that level, whether it be clearly stipulated or not, it would be reasonably understandable.
But all he was using was a pencil and moderately sized portable sketchbook… if I started restricting that, then how much would I have to restrict? So if I witnessed a scene of any other kid- even adult- before a painting smoothly copying it out (I don’t have such experience, this is purely hypothetical), I’m sure I would have hesitated before ignoring it, or taken it as an event beyond my authority and consulted a superior.
The reason I moved on my own discretion was simply because his skills were prominent to an uncanny extent—he was too skillful for me to turn a blind eye. But how was I supposed to explain that? You’re too good at drawing, so you can’t draw here?
No, that was the exact train of logic I was following, but I also thought it was too unreasonable of a force to place on a child; not much different from asking the fast running kid to match pace with everyone else. You can’t just make the fastest kid lower himself to the standards of the curriculum.
Let’s see, for example, in a bookstore, you know it’s wrong to copy out the contents of a book on sale, right? It’s the same as that… no it’s not. A museum and shop are institutions with different natures—if I had to say, the proper comparison would be a library. In a library, it was actually recommended to copy out some of the text… which means in the end, I was in a situation where all I could say was ‘it’s just wrong’. At a loss, eventually,
“Anyways, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in school?”
I was forced into approaching from a different angle; the logical route of, quit drawing in a place like this and properly get yourself to school. Well, I had a vague understanding there was some circumstance to it, but even if that wasn’t the case I had a hard time believing a kid like this could fit into a normal school—
“I don’t have to go. You know the thing with compulsory education? The parents have a legal obligation to send their children to school; the children aren’t obligated to go.”
That was definitely how the law worked, but it was a childish argument. If that sophistry actually passed, I get the feeling we wouldn’t have so much trouble.
“Then where are those parents? Somewhere around? Did you come here together?”
“You’ve got eyes, don’cha? Keep it down.”
Even as he said that, the boy raced his pencil… the sketchbook was dyed a deep black as the two hundred million yen painting was reaching its completion. AS long as I had no means to stop it, I could only watch over the trace’s completion. It’s not like I could use force against a child. I mean, he wasn’t even half my size, so if I wanted to take away his pencil, it would be easy enough, but if such extreme protective measures developed into a problem of responsibility for the museum, that really would be putting the cart before the horse—I wouldn’t be protecting a thing.
“I can see just fine… then they’re not with you. What’s your name, kid?”
Determining it was a subject beyond my reach, I decided to get more details on the situation. The plan was to at least make a report to give to my employers. With a child of his skills, it was quite possible I just happened to be oblivious, and he was actually a famous name in the museum. In that case, this sort of questioning might be routine.
Without stopping his pencil hand, the young boy curtly responded.
“It’s Hakui Riku.”
As if disappointed by my reputation—almost as if he thought it was uncultured for someone to not know his name—he silently wrote out the kanji on the next page of his sketchbook. Hakui Riku (剝井陸).
In contrast to the brush strokes he penciled in, it was somewhat rough, crude handwriting, that took some effort to decipher, but…
“I see, so it’s Hakui-kun.”
“I said it because you asked me, but could you not call me so casually? It’s not a name I’m fond of. Neither Hakui nor Riku.”
He said in scornful routine, returning to his sketchbook’s sketch page—his actions showed he was upset I had thrown off his rhythm. But even if his movements were flustered as he put pencil to paper, his pencil mastery remained as precise as ever—as if he had two chains of command in his head.
If he didn’t like the name Hakui, then what was I supposed to call him… as I mulled over how to response, Hakui-kun spoke up.
“Hey old-timer. What about you? You asked for someone’s name, so you’ve got to give your own.”
I highly doubted Hakui was interested in my name, but, well, perhaps it was some revenge for getting in the way of his art… unlike Kyouko-san, it didn’t look like he had the sharp eyes to identify my name from my nametag. While artist and detective are two completely different occupations, wouldn’t he need an appraiser’s eye… no, barely knew anything about Hakui, so there was no helping it.
“My name is Oyagiri. Oyagiri Mamoru.”
“Oyagiri? What sort of name is that?”
“Exactly as it sounds. To cut your parents. It’s a name I like quite a bit.”
“You like cutting down parents… ah, no, so you write it as kindness? Hmm.”
(TL: The kanji for kindness is 親切, the first kanji being parent, the second being to cut. This does not have anything to do with cutting parents, it is because the kanji for parent has the meaning of intimate (親しい), and cut is used in a strange phrase that translates to ‘close enough to cut you’ (刃物をじかに当てるように). Not it a bad way. So it means close and intimate. Oyagiri’s name is spelled kindness, but read as the literal interpretation of parent (oya) cut (kiri))
Upon turning, he finally noticed my nametag; he gave a nod before flipping his sketchbook again—and underneath where he wrote ‘Hakui Riku’, he wrote ‘Oyagiri’ in the bad handwriting I’d come to expect. It did appear I had succeeded in giving the boy wonder an impact with my surname… though he ignored my commonplace given name of Mamoru.
And all-too-easily as if to say our business was finished, young Hakui returned to his ‘painting’. I also didn’t have anything more to say or ask him. Returning to my station, I would simply report the order of events on my radio. I would seek orders, and wait for someone who could make a proper decision to put out a proper order. Just as with Kyouko-san, the museum was visited by all sorts—I can’t say much, but perhaps that’s how a future artist would be raised. No, from how he seemed to think it was strange I didn’t know the name Hakui Riku, perhaps not just the museum, he was already a child known to the world of art. It sounds all profound to say art has nothing to do with age, but I heard Pablo Picasso was painting from six after all…
But there I suddenly grew curious and came to a stop—I had nothing more to say or ask, but there was something I wanted to know—one thing I wanted him to tell me. Kyouko-san had such a charm and radiance to her I couldn’t bring myself to ask… meaning, just what was that painting supposed to be?
That was the question. It had a title of ‘Mother’, but when it came to what part of the painting was a ‘Mother’, or what sort of meaning was put into that abstract (?) I hadn’t the slightest idea. Maybe that’s just how it’s supposed to work, you’re just supposed to understand what you see. It’s mistaken for an amateur to attempt interpretation.
Or so I thought, but because Kyouko-san had told me it was worth two hundred million the other day, all holds were off. It just didn’t sit right with me that such an incomprehensible scribble was worth two hundred million.
At the very least, I wanted to know what was being depicted, a vague yearning was there. I might be able to find out in no time if I looked into it, but it’s not like I wanted to know what an index had to say. I wanted someone who properly understood to tell me. That’s why I thought to ask my employer if the opportunity presented itself, but I somewhat understood that wouldn’t be anytime soon… and there I had Hakui-kun.
Normally, it wasn’t the sort of thing to ask a child (especially when it came to talks of money and two hundred million yen), but he went as far as capturing the texture to reproduce it… with his craft of copy, perhaps Hakui-kun could understand the painting to its very depth. That’s why, “Hey, do you know why this painting is titled ‘Mother’?” I asked—not expecting a response.
“What, you don’t get it?”
For argument’s sake, I tried to phrase it vaguely to draw out information, but an adult’s tact didn’t get through to a child and he returned the question.
“Nope. Can’t make heads or tails.”
I honestly admitted. Perhaps that was the right answer as, “That so,” Hakui-kun answered unsympathetically, flipping over two pages in his sketchbook… it looks like Hakui Riku and Oyagiri were all that was going on the previous page. It felt like a bit of a waste, but I’m sure he had his fixations… And on the brand new page he revealed, with a swish he swiftly penciled something in.
“Now look. Do you get it now?”
What he showed me was something I definitely could understand at one glance. A three-dimensionally shaded circle… on the sphere was something an amateur, no anyone could see and understand as the third planet in our solar system, meaning the earth.
In just a few seconds, he had freehanded the earth without any tools or references, making me once more recognize the artistic prowess of young Hakui, but… the earth?
I lifted my face from his sketchbook and looked at the painting ‘Mother’ on the wall. So does that mean ‘Mother’ was supposed to represent ‘Mother Earth’? The paints filling the canvas to the brim were code for our planet… no, even with that knowledge, looking at it once more, I really didn’t get the impression.
“So it’s an abstract after all.”
“I don’t think abstract means what you think it means, but this is a landscape painting.”
“What? A landscape?”
“Yeah. Well not strictly speaking, but a landscape’s a landscape. At least they painted the view.”
At that scale, I don’t think it could be called landscape, but the earth itself was definitely scenery if you wanted to call it that…. But the sketch in Hakui-kun’s book aside, the painting on display didn’t really…
“Wait… this is a closeup?”
By that time, Hakui-kun had returned to his work. I didn’t ask anymore, but once I had noticed, it became the sort of mystery where I felt ashamed I never noticed it before. Blue, white, green and brown. With various things mixed and marbled in, it was the sea, the clouds, the trees, and earth… From a map of the earth seen from space, a portion had been zoomed and cut out.
That’s why it wasn’t an abstract but a landscape.
No, from the artist’s point of view, I’m sure they had some deeper intent of artistic expression… purposely portraying the earth in such a way and tacking on the name ‘Mother’ was a way of thoughts I would never reach and not something I should speak so frivolously on.
But upon knowing that, looking at the painting with that knowledge, it felt far more refreshing than before as if I could finally appreciate it. While Kyouko-san who would stand before it only spoke about costs, it went without saying that what the painting depicted was self-evident to her.
Taking it to the extremes, there are some quizzes where a high-spec camera or microscope is used to take a closeup of some object before asking ‘What do you think it is’, but… I doubt the artist was able to look at the actual article, so I can see why Hakui-kun said it wasn’t strictly a landscape.
“Did the artist look at a satellite picture or something to paint it…”
“Might have just thought it up. No need to look at a picture to constrict the possibilities.”
Hakui-kun answered my murmur.
“It’s even possible that the painter was an astronaut.”
“I-is it really?”
“No way in hell. Don’t take it so seriously.”
When he was the one who brought it up, Hakui-kun angrily spat toxicity before slamming his sketchbook shut.
“Ah, sorry. Did I ruin your mood?”
My speech there was strange. In the first place, I had tried to stop his painting… when I was getting in his way from the start, there was no need for apologies. Of course, it did seem the likes of me was unable to hinder the creative urges of the boy wonder and, “I just finished drawing,” he said matter-of-factly.
I had wondered why he was so willing to tag along with my conversation around the end, but in that case, it was because he had found the leisure to… however, after only spending an hour there (oddly around the same times Kyouko-san would spend), was it possible to complete a copy?
“Wait… could you let me see it for a bit?”
As if to say he didn’t care if I saw it, but it was a real pain to open up the sketchbook he had just closed, he sluggishly opened to the pages before handing it to me.
As if hoisting it up, I lined it beside the real article. As expected of full color and monochrome, looking at it like that, there were some minute differences, and it was difficult to call a perfect copy—but, even so it held a reproduction value boasting a bizarre sense of precision.
Instead of impressed, I could only be awed by his overflowing wisdom, and if he could do so much, I could only question why he was here doing this. This is also just the arbitrary impression of an amateur, but isn’t copying supposed to be practice work for an artist? If he could already do this much, it was already time for him to move onto the next step, I held as my humble opinion. I arbitrarily looked through the other pages of the sketchbooks—the other works I had only got a quick flip through.
“Do all of these have originals?”
I tried asking.
“Yeah… originals or rather samples or… well, just call them models. I’ve been to museums all over.”
It sounded hard to explain. I also felt a frank atmosphere around him as if there was no use telling it to an amateur… sure enough, I doubted I could understand if he explained.
“You’re not going to draw your own painting? Um, I don’t mean a self-portrait…”
“I get it, I know that much. Of course, I’ll draw it someday but… My teacher told me I’m not on that level yet.”
No, there’s no way it’s his school teacher. I’m sure he means his art master or something like that… so even this impertinent kid is apprenticed to some predecessor. When I thought about it like that, it was a bit reassuring—but to say a young boy with such abilities wasn’t on that level yet, they must be a strict teacher.
“I think you’ve got some amazing talent.”
I found myself following through, or rather I said something almost like consolation… even if someone like me consoled him, it would only be a disgrace, but, “Well thanks for that,” or so Hakui-kun offered some slapdash gratitude—and, “Old-timer, what do you think talent is?” he continued on.
That was something I had never thought of before, and if he didn’t ask me there, a question I would never think of henceforth… what is talent?
This might be an exceedingly commonplace answer, but it’s a gift from the heavens… realistically from one’s parents, or a gene from some ancestor perhaps? When it comes to me, my sturdy body is a sort of talent, and it even decided my employment. But that was an amateur’s opinion after all.
Hakui-kun spoke his ‘teacher’s opinion like gospel.
“According to teacher, having talent means you can put in a higher form of effort, it’s something like a qualification… because I’m a genius, I have to put in one hundred times more effort than everyone else. That’s why I don’t have the time to go to school.”
“Sorry for troubling you, old-timer. My effort here is over, so I’m not coming back. Lighten up a bit. If anything happens…”
As I couldn’t find the right words the say, the young boy took my hand. I thought he intended to shake it, but instead he started writing numbers on it in pencil. It was pencil on skin, so it was hard to say he wrote it properly (his handwriting was terrible for one thing), but he finished with a ten-digit number I could barely make out… no a phone number, eh.
“Just make a call to that number… well, you might be the one getting the call in the near future, mind you.”
“? … Is this your house’s number?”
“Yeah. My house, er I mean my guardian or… whatever, does it really matter?”
Apparently explanations had become a pain again and Hakui-kun cut off before snatching away the sketchbook that was still in my hands. He put away his pencil and left the space in front of the painting.
And just as he took his first step,
“… Old-timer, I don’t think we’ll meet again, so there’s something frank I want to ask you about this painting.”
He pointed at the painting on the wall as he spoke.
“Oh? Of course, go ahead… but I’m an amateur you know.”
“I want to hear an amateur’s opinion. I want a layman’s perspective, your simple thoughts… we talked about astronauts, right?”
“Yes, we did… but that was a joke, right?”
“Yeah, there’s no way this painter was an astronaut… but was it Gagarin? The one who said the earth was blue?”
“Let’s see… I think so. What about it?”
“I just think that quote is a good example, see apart from Gagarin, all sorts of astronauts have looked at the earth and they all say it, they go on and on about how it’s a beautiful planet. What do you think about that, old-timer?”
“What do I think… well, I’m sure that’s just how it’s got to be. I don’t think they were lying when they said it.”
I’m no astronaut, and I can’t say if it’s even remotely the same, but when I look at satellite images, I do get a similar impression. If the time comes when everyone can go to space, and everyone can see the whole earth as the astronauts of yore… once they learn the beauty of the earth, then environmental pollution and destruction might screech to a halt, or so the theory goes. I think there’s some sense to it.
But with a “Hmm,” Hakui-kun ignored my response that could only be called commonplace before unveiling his own view that ran in full opposition.
“I, you see… the first time I saw a satellite photo of the earth, my first impression was how filthy it was.”
He spat out the word.
“Speckled with all sorts of colors getting all jumbled up like mud, just how dirty can it be— why do all the astronauts call it beautiful, let alone blue? Why do they praise it like that, I don’t get it at all… if it were me, then the moment I see it, I’m sure I’ll throw up. The moment I first saw that, young me firmly decided he would never become an astronaut.”
A child was intentionally saying something edgy to tease an adult… his cynical tone was too close to sincere for me to interpret it that way. It’s not like he was hooked on the sense that his values ran contrary to the rest of the world… this child really couldn’t understand what the astronauts were saying. Just as I could barely understand what he was saying.
“That sensation is also the origin of my art style… I’m not doing everything in black pencil because it’s a rough sketch, I find colors disgusting. Go for monochrome over color… come to think of it, I think Gogh-san said the way we view scenery differs from person to person? I think I’m like that. In which case, that’s also a talent, I guess.”
If it’s about the various theories on Van Gogh’s sense of vision, he’s famous enough that even an outsider like me’s heard them… more importantly, I was sure the young boy who added -san to Gogh was using a single pencil because it was just barely within the bounds of what was (maybe) permitted in the museum, but it seems he had a fundamental repugnance for color.
“There’s no way of telling if the landscape someone else sees matches up with what’s in your eyes—paintings c’n be copied over however many times you want, but you can’t share their field of vision. I think about it regularly, but you can sympathize with the astronauts so easily. What I’d give for that.”
I wonder how much effort a genius has to put in to catch up to the common man… saying only his last line in jest, the young artist left the museum.
He said he wouldn’t come again, but as one in charge of security, I couldn’t swallow his words whole, naturally reporting everything that happened that day to a superior—including the phone number Hakui-kun had written on my hand.
I knew I might be reprimanded for sending him off without stopping him, but that said, I couldn’t be negligent with my work. But not only did I not receive the summons I had resolved myself for, I didn’t even get any advice on how to handle it the next time a child came around. When it got to that point, it felt as if my report had been crumpled up and tossed, something wasn’t sitting right—but as he declared, Hakui kun didn’t stop by the museum after that, so it didn’t develop into the same predicament again.
While he said we would never meet again, it was simply the case that the site of our reunion wouldn’t be the museum… and while I’m putting on airs, I might as well introduce the third and final person who brought a turning point to my life. As truth would have it, he was the one who most harshly tripped up my feet, so instead of beating around the bush, perhaps I should have introduced him first, but there’s a process to these things.
Because it was only because of my encounters with Kyouko-san and Hakui-kun that my third encounter turned out as it did…
The bonds between people truly are bizarre.
It goes without saying, the incident that followed occurred because it had to—regardless of whether I was involved or not, it was an inevitable occurrence. I don’t intend to say it was my doing or anything pretentious like that, and I’m not virtuous enough to shoulder too much responsibility for it.
Now then, while I first misunderstood Kyouko-san as an elderly woman in need of assistance, the third was, without any mistake, an old man. He did dye his hair white, but as he came to the museum with a cane, well, there’s no doubt about it. It’s just, even if I did feel obliged to look out for him, he emitted an aura that made him difficult to approach. To put it simply, a grumpy air.
Like the others, he also… stopped his feet before that painting.
Before the painting Kyouko-san would stare at, and that Hakui-kun copied—granted by that time, Hakui-kun had stopped coming to the museum, and Kyouko-san said the painting wasn’t two hundred million but two million, not even lowering her walking speed to look at it. As always, I had no choice but to stand there, so whether I liked it or not, the painting entered my field of vision… but what had once been an ‘incomprehensible abstract’ when I first took this position had become a ‘two hundred million yen masterpiece’, after which it became clear what was painted was a ‘landscape of the planet earth’, and after that, for some reason, its value bombed to ‘two million yen’, a hundredth of its original value. Unsure of how I was supposed to face it, my position in the room was becoming unstable.
So when the old man in a hakama came to a stop before the painting, I won’t deny I curiously looking forward to what would happen this time. I ended up hoping for the next plot twist to come. Those aren’t the right feelings to hold on the job, and I know I should reflect on that, but that being the case, the retribution bestowed on me was simply too great for the sin.
Undue suffering… no, if I wanted to bring up suffering, the painting ‘Mother’ suffered a far crueler fate than me.
On top of having her contents stripped bare by a boy wonder, and her price beaten down to one hundredth by a white-haired beauty, she was finally smashed to pieces by the mysterious old man’s cane.
By the time I could react, the cane’s second blow came down on the canvas… the poor depiction of earth, as if it had collided with a meteor from a movie, was smashed into pieces.
“H… hold it right there! What do you think you’re doing!?”
Between my stiffening from sudden circumstance to the return of my senses was only an instant, and rushing over took less than two seconds… but with a deftness that didn’t let one feel his age, he made good use of even that small period, showing no mercy to the canvas that had fallen from the wall to the floor, and showering it with strikes from his cane.
His handling of that stick was so wonderful I had to wonder if he carried it not because his legs were weak, but because he had intended to do it from the moment he left the house—but this wasn’t the time to be impressed. At the point I had grappled the man away, the painting had- frame included- been rendered impossible to repair. Still unsatisfied, he continued to put up an intense resistance with immense power I couldn’t expect from an old man. It felt like he would shake me off if I let my guard down, but as I was dealing with an elderly person, the most I could do was a Nelson hold. I couldn’t quite slam him to the floor.
“Unhand me, you insolent wretch!”
On the other hand, the old man showed no signs of cooling off… forget that, his heel naturally started slamming into my shin. The man was wearing geta instead of shoes, so when the corners dug in, the pain was no joke.
The painting’s removal from the wall sounded the alarm, and with such a ruckus I was sure that backup would come soon enough, but I wasn’t confident I could restrain the old man without injuring for that long.
“Please calm down… what’s gotten into you?”
“What’s left to explain!?”
I asked without expecting any proper exchange, but surprisingly he did give what sounded like a response.
“How dare they think they could get away with something like this! The sheer nerve!”
Saying that, the old man glared at me… with all the pressure he put on, I got the urge to just let go of his arms as he ordered me.
“A-anyways, just calm down. If you stop resisting, I’ll release you…”
“Shut it, you can start by calling Shikihara!”
Shikihara? I thought over who that might be before remembering the curator had a name like that… meaning this person was telling me to call the curator?
If I had to say, the one who was going to be called somewhere was the old man who had committed such violence… but the man’s overbearing way of addressing the curator without honorifics wasn’t easy to ignore. He had too much dignity in his rage for me to write it off as an old man’s hysteria, and I felt like I might end up obeying him if I was caught unprepared. I was on the verge of calling the curator, but if I just did as I was told there, it would be the same whether a security guard was stationed there or not. Now that he had destroyed what I was to protect, there was already practically no point in my being there, but even so, I was unable to abandon my station.
“If you want to say something, I’ll hear you out…”
“Bollocks I say! It’s a waste of breath on a knot-eyed amateur like you!”
“Knot-eyed? By knot-eyed, you mean…”
I could understand if he said an outsider security guard was a waste of breath, but what did he mean by a knot-eyed amateur? As if to take a stab at the moment I spent pondering, the old man rapidly untangled one of my arms, holding his cane aloft. His dynamism unfit for his age astonished me… at the same time, I couldn’t help but question what sort of impulse was driving him so far. I seized the cane he was about to lower.
“D-do you have some bone to pick with the planet earth!?”
I cried… and suddenly.
All of a sudden, the old man went docile—draining his power, he also stopped stamping his feet. With his one-eighty, I was about to fall over from my own left-over momentum.
Quietly this time, the old man spoke… Just because he had stopped resisting, releasing the perpetrator of such violence was crazy, but he had already preceded me and released the cane from his hand… he discarded his armament.
I was half lifting him up in that air, and once he had stopped thrashing around, precisely because were practically stuck together, the feel of his slender light constitution was conveyed to me… My respect for the elderly that had turned off in crisis came back to me.
At the end of my hesitation, I let go of his withered branch- though from his previous rampage it was surely too powerful for that label- of a body. Of course, keeping myself ready to cope if he started going at it again.
But for now, it looked like my worries were undue, and all the freed man did was straighten out his disheveled traditional clothing… looking at him like this, even retracting my own build from mind, he was a small-built old man; though his eyes were to sharp for me to think of him that way… I wonder what it is, he didn’t give off the slightest sense he had given up resistance and surrendered on my intervention.
“You mentioned the earth. Can you understand that painting?”
I was perplexed by the question he tossed over… really, what was it? Ah, was he referring to my ‘Do you have some bone to pick with the planet earth’ line? No, if he asked whether I understood the picture or not, I could only say I didn’t. All I had was hand-me-down knowledge from Hakui-kun. If I was told two hundred million, it looked like two hundred million to me. If I was told it was the earth, it started looking like the earth, and if I was told it was two million, it started looking like two million… that was the extent of my eye for appraisal.
But even if he was calm for now, thinking of the old man’s temperament, I couldn’t imagine answering honestly was the appropriate response. So while it was far from sincere.
“Yes. It’s a landscape of earth seen from space… isn’t it? That’s why it was given the title ‘Mother’.”
I’m surprised a child’s opinion helped me to such a degree, but the deed was acknowledged and, “I see,” the old man gave a profound nod.
“It looks like they’re not complete knotholes… but in that case, you’re even more of a dullard than I thought. It’s all the more sorrowful to see you had a discerning eye on you…”
“U-um, what do you mean by that?”
Without answering any of my questions, after taking a scrupulous rude look over me, “Whelp. What’s your name?” he asked.
Whelp… owing to my height over one eighty centimeters, I had never been referred to as such, and for a moment, I couldn’t tell he was talking about me. In the end, it looks like Kyouko-san was the only one who could discern my name from the tag on my chest… could it be my nametag was completely meaningless?
“I see. Then Mamoru. I’m going to give you a test.”
Despite being a ruffian taken in… despite being someone who would be turned in to the police, the man spoke with a majestic, imposing air. His tone overly condescending, he had shown strong enough resistance to warrant it… but at the word test, for some reason, I felt some intrigue. What did he bite onto?
I couldn’t tell… and as I couldn’t tell, the old man pointed at the fragmented canvas strewn across the ground.
“Try putting a price on this painting.”
“… A price, is it?”
“Yeah. It can be a general estimate. Nearest whole, just give me the first price that comes to mind.”
With the eyes of a true appraiser strongly trained on me, he issued me an order… I looked at each piece of the dispersed canvas in turn. Price… on that question, I naturally recalled Kyouko-san—the white-haired woman who first appraised the painting at two hundred million, and after that, as if forgetting that episode entirely, she revised it to two million.
Just as I jumped onto Hakui-kun’s opinion, could I ride aboard Kyouko-san’s take there as well? But even if I wanted to, Kyouko-san had given two. The two hundred million she would spend an hour admiring, or the two million she barely glanced at—which price would be right to say in this situation? Before right and wrong, was there even a correct answer to the eccentric old man’s query? I got a feeling he would take offense to whatever I said and call it wrong. Perhaps he even had a vague sense that the answer it was a landscape of the earth wasn’t an answer of my own… isn’t that why he was testing me?
Instead of a test, was he stripping off my mask? In that case, I couldn’t carelessly be caught up in his trap. But even if I wasn’t going to borrow Kyouko-san’s words as is, I would have to give my own honest opinion; problem being, I didn’t have one on the matter.
“What’s wrong? Can’t answer? If you don’t know, just say you don’t know.”
It was fact that I couldn’t answer, he was right when he said I didn’t know, but honestly admitting I didn’t know would make me too much a greenhorn to the old man… I still had some will in me.
I tried thinking.
I didn’t have to appraise… I just had to deduce.
If hypothetically, I used Kyouko-san’s estimate as a base, the options would be two hundred million or two million… in that case, just considering it in turn, the obvious choice would be the latter.
That went without saying, it was a problem of chronological order. The day Kyouko-san said two hundred million yen, and the day Kyouko-san said two million yen, the problem wasn’t which day Kyouko-san’s eyes were more trustworthy… the main problem was which one was the latest information. Putting aside whether Kyouko-san’s opinion changed after that, she never stopped her feet before the painting again—if its value had returned to two hundred million yen, then surely she would have spent an hour admiring it as she did in the days of yore.
With her detective insight, she had noticed the price plummet of something I couldn’t detect any change in, and if there were any further changes, she wouldn’t overlook them… but if I had to be pedantic, it wasn’t as if Kyouko-san came by the museum every day. In essence, she hadn’t stopped by in the past week; I had no guarantee the painting hadn’t changed in that timeframe…
At the very least, if I knew what basis Kyouko-san used for her change in price, I would be able to proceed without hesitation, but she wouldn’t tell me, and I had no developments myself… she said she wouldn’t deduce for free.
In that case, should I have made a formal request?
No, at that point, I had no telling the information would be necessary… and in the first place, there was no finality to Kyouko-san’s pricing. To the end, that was her personal opinion— there was no guarantee this old man would take to it.
Rather than saying something stupid to send him on another rampage, keeping silent or lowering my head and saying I didn’t know would be the adult decision. It was disgraceful and an option I resented, but in all honesty, I didn’t know the price of the fragmented painting, and regardless of how it was in the corner of my field of vision for months, I couldn’t notice any changes with it.
No… wait. Change?
If we’re talking about changes, there was a bigger one than any in the months I’ve been here. A dramatic change making it impossible to even compare to how it was before just happened. The old man smacked it with his cane, smashing it frame and all… even if it’s price the previous day was two hundred million yen, now that it’s in pieces on the floor… there’s no way that price exists. Kyouko-san had said something about ‘the cost paid to preserve its value’.
“In its current state, it is no longer possible to put a price on it… far from it, in the current day and age, its disposal might not even be free of charge.”
Of course, it’s not as if the pains and zeal the painter put into it have become worthless… more so, because the actual article has been lost, they might actually rise in value but… its physical price as a painting was completely lost.
While changes can occur over the years, there are instantaneous changes as well… there’s no need to say all things in life are transitory, there’s no way anything can preserve the same value forever. Just as turning points in life can come at any time, an item’s value, the values of society can change… there’s nothing that doesn’t die and nothing that doesn’t break.
The moment the old man hit it, the painting had lost its value… whether it be two hundred million yen or two million, it was also a form of proof it had a definite unyielding value up to that point.
The old man grinned, he gave a wicked smile, “Hmph. I’ll admit you’ve got some wit to you—I’ll have to give you a pass.” He said as he turned his hand towards me.
It appeared he was demanding the return of his cane… I had some hesitation, but come to think of it, I had no basis to determine the cane was only carried to destroy artwork. If his legs really were weak, depriving an old man of his cane would be horribly mean-spirited.
I held out the cane. Seeing how, after taking it, he immediately pressed it to the ground and entrusted his body weight, my decision was not mistaken.
That aside, judging by the old man’s remark, my answer was by no means worth one hundred points… it felt more like I had used some clever loophole to barely pass. Well, he did call it for what it was. It was a scene where it wouldn’t be strange if he screamed out that wasn’t what he meant… I was just happy the old man had completely calmed down.
And in his plight, he decided to return some wit for wit.
“Now then, you must let me take my leave—all I did was smash a painting worth nothing, so naturally, you have nothing to fault me on.”
He made a grand show of using his staff to walk off down the museum’s recommended route… no wait, there’s no way that logic would ever pass! I hurriedly circled ahead of him, spreading both arms to block his way.
“Something the matter? The one who said it was zero yen was you.”
“Y-you’re right, but you know that’s not it—anyways, don’t move. I’ll call someone in.”
“You’re a hard shell to crack. That’s what I’ve been saying from the start, just call Shikihara in—tell him Wakui came by, and he’ll understand.”
“W-Wakui, is it?”
“That’s right. Now get to it.”
The old man’s name had finally come to light, but more importantly, from his manner of speech, he made it sound like he was an acquaintance of the curator. In that case, it would explain his unchanging arrogant attitude but… could it be the old man, old Wakui was a mainstay of the world of art?
He definitely looked the part… but would a prominent artist make such a mess of an art museum? Thinking about it logically, I couldn’t imagine it so, but at present, it was impossible to think of that person as being within the bounds of logic.
As that was going on, the security guards from the other areas and the museum employees finally rushed in from the ruckus. As I reported the turn of events to them, old Wakui was led off to another room, and by the time I noticed it, he was gone. None of the guards knew him, but it seems some of the staff were aware of who he was, and looking at their courteous attitude that went a little beyond caring for the elderly, I was sure he had to be someone big… whatever the case, as the one charged with the area the problem occurred, I was charged with cleaning up the mess.
So the identity of the old man and what motives he held in his destructive actions, in the end, I could only come to know them on a later date… or so despite the gravity of the situation, I was still trying to keep optimistic.
I never saw it coming.
To think the events of that day would be cause for me to lose my job… that’s why it became a turning point in my life.
A turn for the worse.
When you really boil it down, my hopes were too sweet… on top of the sweetness, perhaps I had simply yet to have a proper taste. It’s not like I had ice cream dangling in front of my face, and I wanted to chastise myself for how much a sweet tooth I had been… well, I don’t hate sweets, but I never thought that would force me to taste such hardships.
If old Wakui was acquainted with the curator—it seems he was receiving special treatment after all—I won’t deny I had some light hopes things could be settled internally.
Even if I couldn’t escape punishment as the one charged with the area, at most I’d be transferred out of the museum or get off with some disciplinary action, or so I thought… who would’ve thought I’d actually get sacked for it.
I couldn’t believe a moment of negligence had cost me the job I had so longed for and put in considerable work to obtain… it felt as if I was trapped in a nightmare.
But thinking about it calmly, it was only natural to fire a security guard who couldn’t protect what they were supposed to. All the more that I failed to prevent the destruction of a painting momentarily valued at two hundred million yen from so close, what reason did they have to continue hiring me? It was a tale where it wouldn’t be strange if they demanded reparations from the security company… it was stranger for me to think they would cover for me.
No, if I took a careful read of my employment contract and hired a lawyer to fight it out, perhaps I would be able to resist. As luck would have it, in this country- at least the official stance states- the rights of laborers are guaranteed… I could fight if I had the will.
But it was a turn of events that dampened my spirits.
I held a guilty conscience that it had all sprouted from my insufficiencies, and I didn’t think my mentality could hold up through dragging the company I had so wished for employment with through the muddled fields of law.
Just imagining it tired me out.
And even if I say I was fired, the company let it stand that I retired of my own volition… meaning I got my full retirement package. In that case, using those funds as stock while I searched for my next occupation would be a far better use of my time. With how things link up, I was sure the scandal I caused would spread in no time, so it would be difficult to find work in the industry anymore but…
Even so, what bothered me most was the retirement package my company paid… when I was surprised by the fact they deposited anything at all, the amount wasn’t in any way reduced from my normal payment, more so, it was as if some extra colors were added in.
Just as young Hakui said he hated colors, when it came to all this green, I felt a little sick, or rather, I felt an unrefreshing taste in my mouth. If they just threw in a bonus so I wouldn’t be thrown onto the streets, I would naturally be thankful, but unfortunately, I was no longer able to see things so sweet.
I could only think that the listed amount included hush money… regardless of the fact an exhibited painting had been violently smashed at a by-no-means-small-scale museum, the media never took to it.
The name of the museum, Wakui, and naturally my name never graced the space of a newspaper or the buzz of the TV. Granted art is a restricted culture in the grand scheme of things, so if you told me it was never that newsworthy I’d have to agree, so it didn’t really bother me at the time… rather, back then, I was in the midst of the greatest calamity of my life- losing my job- so I hadn’t the leisure to think too deeply into it.
But as time went by and I started to reflect—when I thought about it alongside the sum of retirement money I received, it was a strange tale indeed. Some large power had moved to end things peacefully… maybe it truly had been solved internally. But in the circle that excluded me…
It was too late to say such things, and if I realized it sooner I doubted I would have done anything about it but, when I thought it seemed obvious… to end matters peacefully, a scapegoat was necessary, and I was given the grand honor.
Since large damages had actually come out, someone had to be punished—perhaps the large sum the company paid came from the guilt and pity they harbored towards me. I didn’t have any evidence, but if I deduced it that way, it fit into place… by cutting off only me, the person in charge of the site, they managed to settle it.
And they all lived happily ever after.
I don’t know that much, and there was no way I could shake off the feeling I had pulled the short straw, but even so, it was true the company had given me as much consideration as they could. What’s done is done. That being the case, if I wanted to change gears and head forwards, I still had my lingering regrets. I didn’t have any resentment towards the museum, security company or old Wakui, but even so, I wanted to know what had been put into this bitter situation—if I didn’t know, then I wouldn’t be able to handle it next time this happened, next time I was put through it.
For what reason did that old man so incessantly smash the painting to pieces… and in the end, how much was it worth? In the first place, who was the old man, and why did everyone try to cover up the ruckus?
There were too many mysteries.
No way in heck was I going to live the rest of my life taken up by such impenetrable enigmas.
I needed a staff. Not a staff to violently smash them to bits, a walking stick to prop me up met time I fall for a turning point in life… when I thought that, what came to mind were the words of the all-white woman.
‘I don’t deduce for free–’
Everything has an appropriate price—whether it be paintings or work or retirement or mystery solving. Back then, I didn’t think unraveling the painting’s mystery was important enough to pay money for, but seeing how it all turned out, I was wrong. Because I pigeonholed a mystery I should have set straight, it straddled along the clock and came falling from above—if I got her to say the reason for the plummet in price, it wouldn’t have come to this.
Of course, I could only say that in hindsight, and in the first place, at the time I didn’t have the money saved up to hire a professional detective like Kyouko-san, so it was a talk that went nowhere… but whatever the case, the current me had the savings.
The hush money I couldn’t bring myself to save.
A sum far too great to call consolation.
Of course, wherever it may be, they were important capital until I found my next place of employment, and not something I could use up—from dusk to daybreak, it was something I should properly keep tucked away. I was well aware of its importance, but even so, I took out the two business cards… All crumpled up in the pocket of the uniform I missed the opportunity to return, the two cards I had forgotten to take out.
Okitegami Detective Agency Chief—Okitegami Kyouko.
My second bout of job hunting could only start after I made a call to her.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, I’m Okitegami. You’re my client, Oyagiri-san, right? A pleasure to meet you.”
She said as she appeared at the café—it had been a while since I last saw her face-to-face, but there way I could mistake her all-white hair. Still, her ‘pleasure to meet you’ meant she must have forgotten about me again… did I really give off such a light impression? Whatever the case, this made for our third conversation, and if I properly explained, I was sure she would remember.
Kyouko-san’s fashion that day consisted of a light blue shirt and jacket, a tight skirt, stockings, and pumps, a formal ensemble. Was it because unlike when she came to the museum, she was on the job? Perhaps she was a person with a clear on and off switch; when it came to me, if I took off my guard uniform and spent a whole day off, I felt as if I would lose sight of myself. Maybe that’s why I never got around to returning it, I couldn’t help but wonder.
“Yes. I’m Oyagiri. It’s a pleasure.”
Whatever the case, I wasn’t wearing a nametag, and of course, in my unemployed state, I didn’t have any business card to give her, so as I stood, all I could do was name myself.
“Haha. As you said, you do have a wonderful build. I could pick you out at a glance. Oyagiri-san, are you doing something to train?”
Giving a care-free smile, Kyouko-san offered some flattery—her atmosphere hadn’t changed from when I last saw her at the museum. Since it seemed there was a considerable change in fashion between her work and private life, I thought her manner of speech would change as well, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
“I’m not doing anything special at the moment, but… well, due to my job I… no, I don’t have that job anymore…”
When we spoke over the phone, I hadn’t told her the details. Rather, the talks proceeded at such a rapid tempo, it was more accurate to say she didn’t afford me the time to say the details. When I resolved myself to call the Okitegami Detective Agency, I ended up with an evening appointment on the very same day.
I was only told to wait at the designated café.
Naturally, I had intended to make a booking on some later date, and the rapid tempo did put me off, but as far as I can tell, it seems as if the Okitegami Detective Agency only handles same day appointments—isn’t that practically the same as not making an appointment at all?
Could one really set up a detective trade on that system… while I held some questions, it was best to get it over with as quickly as possible, so I got my appearance in order. After waiting for Kyouko-san to finish placing her order (contrary to her white hair, she turned down sugar and milk, ordering straight black coffee), “… Umm, truth be told, we’ve spoken on this matter before… do you have any recollection of that?” I got right into it.
Kyouko-san blankly tilted her head… she didn’t have the slightest idea.
“See, there’s that museum you often go to, right? I was working as a security guard there… since I’m not wearing my uniform, is it hard to recognize me?”
Kyouko-san silently stared at me… I wondered what she was thinking was she trying to imagine me in a security guard uniform?
“There’s a… museum I go to.”
“Y-yes. Umm—there’s this painting of the earth you always used to… no, it’s not on display anymore, did you notice that?”
“Some circumstances have forced me to quit my job at the museum, but have you been around lately?”
“Oh… I wonder.”
The gears were more misaligned than I thought. Perhaps I had a strong impression of it simply because it was my workplace, but to Kyouko-san, her visits to the museum were simply a portion of her daily life not important enough to commit to memory. No, at the very least, back when she used to stand stock still an hour, that couldn’t have been the case—that was no was no way to express what would shave away one twenty fourth of her day.
It was difficult to say it left a light impression on her.
“Oyagiri-san. For now, I’m fine if you keep speaking on the matter—please ignore if I’m personally involved with any of the contents of the request. If possible, please explain it as if you’re spelling it out to someone you’re meeting for the first time. While you’re at it, please forget for a moment that I’m Okitegami Kyouko, and tell me all the calamity that has befallen you, down to the last detail.”
Her black coffee arrived, and Kyouko-san said such a thing after taking a mouthful. With how slow the talks were going, she was pretty much sending out a lifeboat, but that didn’t detract from how strangely she put it.
Forget for a moment that Kyouko-san is Kyouko-san… I doubted I could reset my cognition of her so conveniently, but I presumed that as a detective, she hoped to obtain an objective grasp of events. The observer effect, was it? I don’t have any study in that field, so I don’t really know… but whatever the case, I shouldn’t stick my mouth into the methods of a professional.
So I spoke about the events surrounding my last few months on the job. I didn’t think I had to touch on Hakui-kun, but she demanded ‘down to the last detail’, so I decided to throw it in just in case—even if she didn’t ask, he was a boy who left too large of an impact to ignore.
I concealed the fact I thought Kyouko-san was an old woman when I first met her—it was too untactful to look her in the face and say it. Still, that left me without a reason for calling out to her so, “Your back was simply so charming, I couldn’t help but call over,” I said to cover it up. When it comes to a security guard who ditches work to hit on someone, it would be inevitable they get sacked, but in regards to that, it would still be more flattering than the truth.
Luckily, it seems I didn’t give her a bad impression and, “Oh my, you’re quite something,” I got off with some light scolding. From her gentle smile, perhaps she had unexpectedly seen right through my deceit. The woman had a certain something to her that made me second guess.
And on her further urgings, I continued on to tell the full story. When I explained it to someone like that—come to think of it, that was the first time I properly explained it to someone from start to finish—I felt a certain degree of consistency, rather, it felt as if what I had gone through wasn’t as bizarre as I thought it was; but that still only ran to a ‘certain degree’ and no further, or so was the impression I got.
What sort of impression did Kyouko-san take from it?
As I wondered and waited for her reaction, she lifted up her cup that had run empty over the course of the story, “I’ll be getting a refill, but how about you?” she said something that sounded wholly out of place—granted, it was true my throat was dry from all the topping.
To take her consideration into account, I ordered an ice tea. Kyouko-san’s second order was a double espresso. For that one as well, she said “I don’t need milk or sugar”—just what sort of tongue did she have on her?
“I’m quite relieved that I can be of some use… it seems you’re unaware, but I’m a considerably specialized type of detective, and my field of expertise is terrible constrictive. So, if I determined it was impossible, I would have to introduce you to someone else in the business… it’s quite a shameful feeling to have to pass a job to a rival, you know.”
Kyouko-san said as she waited for her drink to arrive… but a field of expertise?
“And what’s your expertise?”
“Perhaps calling it a field of expertise isn’t the right term. I mean the subjects I’m capable of resolving, and those I cannot… wasn’t it written on the business card I handed you?”
“Not that I recall…?”
I took out the business card I carried along just to be sure… but looking at it front to back, I couldn’t see any warning labels that looked the part.
“It’s definitely on it. See, it’s right there.”
Leaning over the table, Kyouko-san pointed it out… she got closer than I had anticipated, startling me into bending my back in the opposite direction, but I could make out the words she pointed out.
‘We’ll solve your troubles in a day!’
I hadn’t paid it much mind, but under the ‘Okitegami Detective Agency’ logo, such a vigorous sales pitch was lain out—but just what sort of specialization did that point to? It sounded like simple enthusiasm, or a declaration of conviction, maybe even the catchphrase of the office. While it sounded a little too boastful to go and say she could ‘solve your troubles in a day’… forget warning, it was even reassuring.
“You’re wrong about that. It means I can, ‘Only take on jobs that can be solved in a day’… I’m the forgetful detective, after all.”
I hesitated at that term I wasn’t used to hearing.
For some reason, Kyouko-san gave a triumphant nod.
“My memory is reset each and every day… every event that has happened today will be cleanly forgotten by tomorrow.”
Kyouko-san only has today.
I had made a request unaware of the most emphasis-worthy characteristic of the Okitegami Detective Agency, but having heard that, I finally had a satisfying explanation for our unmeshing conversation. It wasn’t just that Kyouko-san didn’t remember me, or that she didn’t remember visiting the museum, she had forgotten everything that happened up to yesterday. It was no wonder she only accepted same-day appointments—even if she did take up a job for a later date, by the time the day in question came, she would have already forgotten the corresponding appointment. This wasn’t on the daily level of bad memory or forgetful… I couldn’t believe it all of a sudden, but I couldn’t think that Kyouko-san had any reason to lie about that. There would be no need to indicate that demerit on her business card if it wasn’t true. For the detective trade with a premise of prolonged investigation, was that not a fatal attribute to have?
“Don’t worry about it, it’s not all bad. More than that, it’s apparently been treated as a priceless treasure before. To a detective, behind that premise, there’s an even bigger premise of preserving confidentiality and adhering to secrecy. Looking at it from the perspective of protecting privacy, there’s nothing more trustworthy.”
“Oh… I see.”
Sure enough, the person investigating would forget, so there were no means for information to leak… not only the contents of the investigation, the fact they took a request, and who the client was would be forgotten by the next day. It went both ways, and even if Kyouko-san herself learned national-level secrets she should never find out, she would never have to feel in danger… if she was simply going to forget it in a few hours, she wouldn’t have any need to brave the risk.
If a detective came around who could brazenly step right into any classified scenario, I could see why she’d be classified as a priceless treasure. I had made the request oblivious, simply listening to her words, it did seem that contrary to her gentle air, Kyouko-san’s style and stance made for a sharp detective separated from the sort I’d imagined her.
Once national secrets entered the conversation, I felt like shrinking back at the notion I had brought her a request concerning the likes of myself. Wasn’t it rude to use our slight connection to make such a small request? Perhaps reading the mood, “Oh, don’t worry about that,” Kyouko-san waved a hand in front of her face.
“No matter what sort of incidents I’ve taken charge of or resolved, to today’s me, you’re my first ever client, and this is my first job. There’s a question of whether I’m capable of doing it or not, but I’m not the sort to be picky with my work… I may lose my memory, but that’s precisely why I never lose my beginner’s drive.”
If you don’t find me unreliable, please don’t rescind your request, Kyouko-san deeply lowered her head.
I had learned first-hand the pain of losing a job you’d thought you’ve secured, and the words ‘I never forget my beginner’s drive’ did have a good ring to them… come to think of it, perhaps it was because I had lost my beginner’s drive that I was unable to stop an old man’s rampage. At some point, the job I had wished hard for had started to become only natural, and because I had gotten around to thinking it was only natural for me to stand there, I was unable to deal with an unforeseen situation.
Going at it constantly thinking today is your first day… and at the same time your last is perhaps the most favorable mindset for labor.
“I’ll be troubled if you take me so seriously. When you get down to it, I can’t accumulate experience, and I can’t learn—you could say I’m more suited to routine work than anyone. I can be deeply moved by the same piece any number of times.”
“I see, so that’s how it was.”
The reason she spent an hour entranced by that painting every time she came to the museum, was because she had forgotten the last time she saw it… and the reason she frequented the museum might not be because it piqued her interest to such a degree, but because her past history of visiting had been erased.
If everything was a first experience, then admiration would never fade… always facing art with a fresh perspective, well, that might not be too bad. The desire to erase the passion you got from an interesting movie so you can get another taste of it from zero is something everyone’s felt once or twice, and Kyouko-san could actually—albeit unwillingly—pull it off.
When I called out to her the second time—and today the third—Kyouko-san treated it as our first meeting not because I left a shallow impression, but because the memories had already been reset, and how she forgot her emphasized two hundred million yen was also because she had actually forgotten it. However, if her life became a routine precisely because her actions didn’t accumulate, then calling a painting two hundred million yen one day, and two million yen another, was remarkably inconsistent. The painting Kyouko-san once appraised as ‘two hundred million yen’ really should, on another day—another ‘today’ still be two hundred million yen.
No… maybe not?
Even if there was no time-based change on Kyouko-san’s part, with its environment and circumstance, perhaps the target changed by the day… You can see weather as one word, but the sky’s never the same twice. For every day she took a look at the clouds and decided to visit the museum, was a day where she decided to read a book at home.
More so, it was precisely because she forgot her appraisal of two hundred million yen, that she could see through to its ‘current value’ with partial eyes. Which means some sort of change would have to have happened to that painting… something even I couldn’t notice when I looked at it every day, a minute change…
“But hypothetically, even if there was a change, the painting’s already been smashed to smithereens… there’s no way to confirm it. There’s no use saying it at this point, but if only I’d asked you to solve the mystery back then, something like this wouldn’t have…”
“No, I’m sure that’s the fault of that day’s me’s shortsightedness. It’s nothing you need to repent for, Oyagiri-san, that day’s me is to blame. Yes, the real problem here lies with that day’s me saying something so profoundly suggestive, without telling anyone what it really meant.”
She kept repeating that day’s me, that day’s me, but from my point of view, it was Kyouko-san all the same… just because she had cleanly cut off her past self, she was boldly pushing her under the bus.
“And it’s not like it’s too late. I said it, didn’t I? I’m relieved I can be of some help—I said.”
Yeah, that’s right.
She said it… that it was within her field of expertise.
Then that inevitably meant that Kyouko-san determined the matter could be solved in a day… but was that really possible? Even if she said today, it was already evening, and it did appear there was barely any time remaining… even if we brought our feet to the museum that very instant, we wouldn’t make it before they shut their doors. Whether she wanted to investigate the scene, or question those concerned…
“No, we don’t have to move a single step. The mystery has already been solved.”
“Oh my. Were you unaware of that? On the contrary, I’m surprised you even made a request to me. Ah, it must be the result of profoundly suggestive thing I said, a splendid sales pitch if I do say so myself… I guess I really can’t take that day’s me for a fool. Yes, the truth is, they call me the fastest detective–”
Kyouko-san carelessly threw it out… but f-fastest?
Certainly, if the mystery was already solved, I couldn’t ask for any faster but, that was almost as if she heard a math problem from me, and instantly did some mental arithmetic. On top her nature, the forgetful detective couldn’t take down notes, so she had to do it in her head but… that wasn’t what I meant.
“T-then Kyouko-san, do you already know the answer?”
“I won’t go as far as to call it an answer… as things stand, it’s just a deduction. As a matter of procedure, I’ll have to go substantiate it, but there’s probably no doubt.”
She said it too matter-of-factly for me to praise her, and while I let out some plain admiration, Kyouko-san humbly shrugged her shoulders with an, “It’s nothing much.”
“It just goes to show your provision of information was detailed enough for me to picture the scene and scenario just from your words… though you could also take it as me skipping some crucial steps as the problem solver. If I had to say, an armchair detective’s means go against my principles. I’m thankful to be a detective who shaves down her soles visiting the crime scene a hundred times… well, in this case, it sounds like I’ve already been to the scene- the museum enough time, so let’s just make a special exception.”
Her saying my detailed account solved the mystery was probably just social courtesy, but I did feel some pride in my chest… Old Wakui had called me a knot-eyed amateur but at the very least, this showed I wasn’t knot-eyed as a surveillance guard.
Of course, if I myself didn’t notice the answer, I really can’t evade the label of knot-eyed…
“But in that case, Kyouko-san.”
“What could it be?”
“Could that possibly mean the deduction you wouldn’t give for free that day, will be provided free of charge today?”
That’s really reassuring, I had intended to continue but,
“What are you saying!?”
Kyouko-san put her hands to the table in abject astonishment—the one surprised by her threatening air was me.
“That’s not what I meant when I said it was nothing. There’s no way you’d be able to get the reasoning I wouldn’t unveil for free that day, free of charge. What are you even saying?”
“My fee will be the standard rate. Not a single yen short.”
It’s not like I was trying to use her slip of the tongue to haggle myself out of paying, but she was so ardent in chastising her past self, so I wondered if that was the case. It seems she had no intent to repent for her ‘shortsightedness’… she was going to keep pushing it until it worked.
It’s something I understood from when she appraised the painting, but it seemed Kyouko-san was stricter with money than I understood her to be… just because she was able to easily, swiftly piece together her deduction, the price wasn’t going down.
Of course, I had no objections.
It should actually be rising, come to think of it, it’s strange to think the reward should go down because the job was done fast… and around that point, the espresso and ice tea we ordered arrived. It was the first time I ever saw someone drink an espresso straight… Kyouko’s face didn’t even grimace at the bitterness, she kept an elegant countenance as if she was sipping a café latte.
Was it because she couldn’t see the world as sweet as me, that she was a detective who knew the bitterness of life… no wait, even if she tasted her way through sweet and sour, Kyouko-san would forget the taste.
“Then let’s start solving the mystery. Are you ready?”
“Ready… do I need to prepare something?”
“No, nothing in particular.”
As I braced myself, the forgetful detective turned it on me.
“If I had to say, prepare your heart.”
“What I’d first like to assert is the fact that an item’s value is fluid, and in economics, there is no such thing as an eternally unchanging fixed price. Currency value is by no means absolute either… While two hundred million yen might sound like a fortune, if for say, Japan’s national power increased a hundredfold, then its relative value by exchange rate will fall to two million.”
“Y-yes… I see.”
I tried nodding, but the talks had suddenly gone into technical details, which I couldn’t confirm the validity of. Meaning, if you changed currency when the exchange rate was one dollar to one hundred yen, then two hundred million yen would be two million dollars, but if one dollar was one yen, two million yen would become two million dollars, so relatively speaking, two hundred million yen and two million yen would have equivalent value in their times… so what?
“Only in theory, mind you.”
“Which means… on the day you changed your pricing on that painting, there was such a great economic shift—is that what you’re trying to say?”
“No, not at all.”
I asked in suspense but was evaded oh so easily. I thought it might be a segue into something serious, but it seemed it was a sort of joke to lighten the mood. I really could never get a read on that woman.
“Certainly, in that case, the two hundred million and two million yens I mentioned would mean precisely the same thing but… if the exchange rates showed a movement to that extent, it would be exceedingly hard to believe you would be unaware, as a citizen of Japan.”
“W-well, that’s definitely true.”
“If you really want to consider the possibility, I do think it’s possible to look into the rates on that day but… should we?”
She sounded like she was trying to show consideration towards me. I was only trying to follow along with the conversation—no, it’s true I had braced myself just in case it was such a global reason, so it’s now like her joke completely missed the mark…
“No need. So what’s the real reason?”
“Hey slow down there. I mean, if you really wanted to, any mystery, any curiosity could be explained in a single sentence, but that’s not being the fastest, it’s just being lazy. If I don’t properly go through the proper procedures to unravel it, the root of the problem will remain in the end—Oyagiri-san, to you, this request isn’t the sort where it’s fine as long as you just know the answer, right?”
“From what I can tell, you see this as an unavoidable rite of passage, before you can think about your next employment… in that case, you might get a little fed up with applying the formula, but I will be quite happy if you took it as part of the show only a detective can put on.”
Well—she definitely had a point. It’s not like I called Kyouko-san to learn the answer to a riddle or quiz. If it was simple curiosity or pure thirst for knowledge, there were surely other means. And yet—
“Are we good now? Then I’ll be going on—all I’m saying is that an item’s worth is relative. That’s not limited to monetary value. For example, my white hair, it’s something that stands out quite a bit in town… I can feel some stares even now. But if you gathered up a hundred similarly white-haired woman, its novelty will disperse like the mist. While it may sound odd that gathering will disperse—more so, if a black haired person participated in those hundred, then surely that one would be showered with attention.”
“The majority and minority… is that what you’re getting at?”
It seemed we were still a long ways away from the main issue, but if she called it proper procedure, I couldn’t let it slide by. If I didn’t treat everything she said as necessary, I couldn’t connect to the next point. I needn’t be fully satisfied with her current explanation—it’s a buildup to the next. Which means, I shouldn’t simply listen to what she has to say, I need to do some thinking on my own part; I’m sure Kyouko-san’s urging me to do so as well.
“Meaning… the price… and meaning can change based on the surrounding circumstance. Supply and demand, market principle… it’s a world I’ve no connection do, but there certainly are people who buy paintings as an investment.”
“Ahaha. If they did, I’m sure they’d be quite shocked to find their two hundred million became two million.”
It would be more than a shock. But while Kyouko-san got to passing by it without a glance, if I was a visitor, the very fact such a massive price fluctuation had occurred would be reason enough for me to stare at that painting. A spirit of curiosity, or perhaps even a sense of schadenfreude to look over such an unfortunate piece.
And swift was heaven’s vengeance.
“No, no, that’s the normal way to look at it. You don’t need to feel more guilty than necessary… a plummeting price gathers attention, and that attention rebounds it to the top again, those shifts in gravity occur here and there on the market.”
Kyouko-san kindly followed through. While I was thankful, I couldn’t let her pamper me.
“But Oyagiri-san. It’s not as if anything of the sort happened at the museum, right? There was no sudden increase in visitors to the museum or anything like that– Which means, paradoxically, there was no grand news of a change in the market value of that painting.”
“Yeah… that’s what it would mean.”
Even if that talk of currency rates was an exaggerated hypothetical… that day when I talked with Kyouko-san, the conversation also turned towards the background. If at that time, a truth that would drop the value of the painting came to light, it would surely have become the sort of ruckus the museum would have to take off for… there’s no way a professional couldn’t see what Kyouko-san could. Taking that into account, it seemed only appropriate to discard the theory that the painting’s relative price changed because of a change in societal circumstance. If I had to nitpick, it could simply have not been made public—on a need-to-know basis—there may be some backroom reasons only the well informed had a grasp on, but I really can’t think the Kyouko-san of that day could have had any knowledge of them.
Not recording any such confidential matters to memory was precisely why she was the forgetful detective… meaning, the two million-yen Kyouko-san appraised it for wasn’t a relative judgment, but an absolute judgment.
She had judged it on nothing more than the painting itself.
“There’s no guarantee on that one, Oyagiri-san.”
“As I was saying… and I’ll be repeating myself here, but making an absolute judgment of an item on its own merit is difficult. Even if you try to look with unclouded, unbiased eyes, an objective point of view isn’t something one can consciously hold—that’s the same for someone who doesn’t carry on memories up to yesterday.”
Observation is difficult, even for a pro detective, said Kyouko-san.
“And when it comes to appraisal, that adds another layer to it.”
“Is that how it works… but as a matter of fact, you went and appraised it in the blink of an eye. Both when you said two hundred million and two million”
“It does seem that the way I stuck prices on them has become a baseline for you… it seems that’s become your prejudice, please remember that. From what you could see, there was no change to the painting itself, was there?”
It sounded so shapeless when the forgetful detective told me to remember something but… what was she getting at?
“Then how about we digress and try thinking over whether my prices were accurate or not? When there was no change in the painting’s background or its contents, would it really be possible for its pricing to change? In that case, it could just be my misapprehension… wouldn’t that be possible?”
“But that would end up crumbling our major premise…”
There was never a mystery to begin with, she was making it sound like the punchline of a ghost story.
“This is a thought experiment. A round robin of possibilities. Just wrestle with it as a warm-up.”
“A warm-up, is it…”
If she was building the groundwork for me to accept the truth of the matter, I really couldn’t make light of it… my better judgment told me that doubting the person before my eyes would be rude, but come to think of it, looking over that point first was the best bet to make sure the major premise remained standing. Of course, if Kyouko-san wasn’t the forgetful detective, this would be an unnecessary hassle, but… to ‘Today’s Kyouko-san’, the women I met on those two days were both strangers, those were affairs she was unable to take part in, and she was, to the end, a third party.
“I simply don’t think you had the necessity to tell a lie… that’s how I see it.”
“People do lie without a necessity.”
“But would someone lie to a security guard they’ve coincidentally just met on the spot?”
“Isn’t it possible a man who’s just her type called out to her, so she got the urge to tease him? She said something profound-sounding like two hundred million yen to draw his attention?”
She said a man who’s just her type so plainly, it made my heart skip a beat, but that was definitely something of the ‘teasing’ variety. Perhaps she was returning the favor for my efforts to deceive with the ‘I saw a charming woman and tried hitting on her’ line.
“It’s also possible you called out to me when I was genuinely enraptured by the painting as a form of art, so I brought the talks to money to cover up my embarrassment… you see, if you wanted to throw something together, you can fabricate a reason like that as well.”
“But, even if that was the case, that wouldn’t make a reason for you to say a painting is two hundred million yen one day, and two million yen another.”
“If they were both lies, that’s within the range of allowance. When you mention two hundred yen first, it sounds like a relative trifle, but two million yen is still quite a bit, you know.”
That was true. While I was sent a retirement pay I wasn’t expecting, if this unforeseen incident never happened, two million was a number I never thought possible to see in my bank balance. To save that much money, a person would need to save up for months.
“Yes. If it were me, I’d do anything for two million.”
That’s also an amazing sense of values. It was undoubtedly the sort of sum one might bring up as a joke… taken the other ways, if I imagined having two million yen in debt, just imagining it would make me want to take flight.
“Ahaha. Right, right. If I wasn’t the forgetful detective, but a competent swindler, perhaps I’d have done something like that. By calling the painting I initially valued at two hundred million yen the first time, two million the second, it might have stirred your urge to buy… sounds like a real bargain, right?”
Which means two million was also an exquisite price… it was a high sum, but if you took a loan, even a youngster like me could just barely obtain it.
“If you want to be thorough and hold everything in doubt, it’s not a bad idea to delve into the possibility… so how about it?”
“Ah, no, perish the thought…”
When she made such a mischievous smile, I ended up thinking I wouldn’t mind being deceived by her, but even retracting her smile from the equation, the possibility that was a scam was slim—the institution I was in service to was a museum, not a gallery. Even if she instigated my urge to buy low, sell high, no matter how much of a bargain it was, I wouldn’t even be able to negotiate a sale.
In contrast, since two hundred million and two million both sounded like a fortune, it was possible that was a lie Kyouko-san told based on her mood that day. Though in that case, that would mean there had to be another reason she started ignoring the painting she always stood entranced by before…
“Right. On the day I appraised it at two hundred million, I might have seen an exposé on a baseball player who makes two hundred million annually. On the two million day, perhaps I saw some infotainment on a high-class mansion with a rent of two million yen. Led along by that, each time, I made a decision based on what I considered to be a fortune… and now that we’ve reached that point, Oyagiri-san. Are you satisfied with that explanation?”
I wasn’t satisfied, but I did think the logic checked out… if we worked under the supposition that Kyouko-san had a reason to lie, then the puzzle solving couldn’t be any simpler. Even if the man my type part was a hazardous joke, she could have said something random to drive away the rude security guard who called out while she was enjoying the museum—reluctant as I was to admit it, that train of thought was plausible.
But in the end, that would only resolve the first half of the question I held—the problem solving I requested Kyouko-san for pertained to the latter half that followed. If I had to say, that was the part of higher relative importance. Even if Kyouko-san gave a purely absurd appraisal, that wouldn’t provide the slightest explanation for old Wakui’s violent outburst.
Of course, it was possible to think that Kyouko-san’s appraisal and old Wakui’s destructive acts were irrelevant to one another… but the stars aligned to well for me to assume so without a basis.
Granted, since it wasn’t the picture, but him himself with eccentricities, Hakui-kun could possibly be irrelevant…
“Then shall we place the piece’s price aside for a moment, and discuss the events that followed? What became the direct cause of your loss of employment… it pains my heart when I imagine myself being made to stand in your shoes, but let’s try to think not from your, but from Wakui-san’s position.”
“Wakui-san’s position… is it? I see…”
Even if she told me that, honestly I was disinclined, or rather, it was difficult for me to find a point in common with that rough-tempered old man, and imagining what was going through his head was beyond me.
But it wasn’t as if I was reading a book—if Kyouko-san was the sort of great detective from the pages of a mystery novel, then now was the time to deduce taking the hard-to-measure inner thoughts of the characters into consideration. Short as I fell, I had to accompany her. Just what motive would lead a person to smash a painting displayed in a museum with his cane… just what did that old man want to accomplish?
“Yes. So let’s try thinking about it. This is also just a thought experiment. Oyagiri-san, what would have to happen to impel you to destroy a piece of art hung up in a museum?”
That was a crazy question. Even if I had been fired, that wasn’t the sort of thing a security guard should consider; but, if I had to force myself to think over it, well… I only had some hunches without any evidence.
“That old man was actually the painter who painted the work and… he was unsatisfied with the finished product, so unable to bear it was being displayed to the public, he impulsively smashed it, or something–”
I didn’t have any evidence, but if I had to bring up something that sounded like a basis, when I think of how violence to such an extent was settled with just the firing of the guard on the site, it seemed plausible that the culprit and victim were the same individual. Like a potter who smashes his bowl into the ground because he hates how it turned out—if that old man was a famous painter, I could also see how he’d be acquainted with the curator.
Ignoring monetary appraisals, I have to wonder if the painter who should know its artistic value as a work of art more than anyone would really destroy it in such a fashion, but it was precisely because he was the artist that he had the qualification to destroy it—that logic did feel complete in and of itself.
No, if I had to speak conclusions, even if he was the very man who painted it, I doubt he had the right to destroy a piece being exhibited in a museum.
“Right you are. It might be good to probe into the possibility that Wakui-san was the painter… even if it wasn’t his own painting, he might have the educational motive of smashing the poor workmanship of one of his disciples, or perhaps it was an act of brutality out of jealousy that a detested rival’s work was on display.”
Brutality from jealousy, no matter how I looked at it, was too out of line with his age… but if we were talking possibilities, it wasn’t impossible. Regardless of how I thought of the matter, at the very least, old Wakui didn’t feel like the sort who took his own age into great consideration.
“But considering how he calmed a bit after you saw through the painting’s intent- abiding our cute boy wonder’s advice- as a landscape of the earth, it feels a little off to think he destroyed it because he didn’t like the painting.”
“Well… you have a point.”
If he didn’t like how the painting turned out, then no matter how I evaluated it, no matter what I thought was depicted, he wouldn’t have cared… more so, if I showed a needless understanding, it might actually send him into a rage. While it really was just hand-me-down knowledge, when I showed I wasn’t the knot-eyed amateur he thought I was, old Wakui stopped his rampage, which means…
“And while it works as a hypothesis, if Wakui-san was the painter, then I’m sure you’d have noticed—you’ve surely caught sight of the artist’s name on the plate beside the painting more than enough times.”
Sure enough. If the name written there was Wakui, I’m sure I’d have noticed… strictly speaking, I didn’t record the artist’s name to memory, but if that’s what it was, I’d definitely notice.
“That being the case, that doesn’t mean we can completely eliminate the possibility, so let’s consider if Wakui-san was the painter, and that became the reason for his smashing of the painting in question… but in that case, the timing is considerably peculiar.”
“Timing… you say?”
“Yes. Why did his destructive behavior come out on that day? Judging by your story, the painting’s been up for quite a while, right? And yet, why wasn’t it right after it was put on display… but on that day?”
Come to think of it, that was a large hole in the theory. Whatever reason he might have, if he didn’t like the painting being shown, then he could’ve just destroyed it when it was put on display. If he really was the artist, I doubt they’d exhibit a painting he detested to begin with—of course, the world works in strange ways, and doing work you’re not pleased with happens now and again in every occupation.
Even so, the painting was on display even before I was stationed as security in that museum, so why come so far, so late in the game? I couldn’t deny that feeling.
“Not long left on earth, he might have gotten the urge to take care of his last regrets, but Wakui-san sounded too vigorous for that.”
It was hard to tell from her grinning mouth, but Kyouko-san calmly said something quite dark… not long left on earth, is it?
I had my suspicions since I first spoke to her, but now that I was sitting down, speaking face to face, but this person was just forming a gentle smile to play it off; the things she said were severe, and she didn’t seem to ever be carried by feeling. Perhaps that was precisely why she could guess human feelings and thought but—I grew just a little curious as to why she was working as a detective. Did she have a desire to ‘protect something’ like I did…? Well, now wasn’t the time to appraise Kyouko-san.
“Then let’s put whether Wakui-san’s real identity was as the painter or not on hold, and pose the question of why he attacked at that timing. How does that sound, Oyagiri-san?”
It’s not like that day was any special day—it was a normal weekday, and the museum hadn’t held any particularly large event.
“This will be backtracking a bit, but are you sure it wasn’t because… there was a change in the painting being exhibited? Meaning, he didn’t have any dissatisfactions when it was displayed in its original state, but as time went on, something in the painting changed, and he couldn’t contain his urge to smash it?”
It made some sense, but if I were to take on that perfectly logical supposition, then it would come to heads with the theory there was no actual change of two hundred million to two million (Kyouko-san’s falsehood).
In the end, the painting would have to have changed—more than that, a change of two hundred million to two million hit the mark perfectly, or at least sounded appropriate.
“It’s plenty possible there was some inadequacy in the display. In truth, it happens now and again with abstracts. Like the painting being put out upside-down through the museum’s lack of knowledge, angering the artist.”
“Yes… but as far as I remember, there was never a change in the painting’s orientation. If there was any change like that, I’m sure I would know.”
“Ufufu. The problems are going round and round. Is this what you call going around in circles?”
Kyouko-san seemed to be enjoying herself a bit… well, from the point of view of someone who had already reached the answer, perhaps my flailing was interesting to watch. You could call it in bad taste, but I was already aware she wasn’t a person of perfect virtue.
“For example… you actually mentioned this one, Kyouko-san.”
“Oh I did?”
What a strange conversation.
“Maintenance requires a considerable cost, something like that. A painting is different from digital data, and they can’t help but deteriorate with time. That might be a good thing in some cases, but it’s quite a hassle to preserve artwork… so that museum might have…”
“No, there’s no way you couldn’t figure that one out from the flow of the conversation… that museum failed to properly maintain a piece on display and, umm, the paint cracked, or came unstuck or… some heartless visitor doodled on it and ruined its worth. When the artist Wakui-san realized that, he was taken by rage… in that scenario, there would be some coherency with the timeframe.”
“But, and I’m being incessant, but as far as you could see, there was no change in the painting, right?”
“That’s right, but…”
But that’s the opinion of a knot-eyed amateur. It’s not like I could confirm if there were any minute nicks in the painting on display… I don’t have the right eyes to spot the minute changes only a pro could tell.
“If you want to take it there, I’m not a professional on art either. Of course, observing things is my job, so I’d notice the sort of change that would turn two hundred million to two million, but I wouldn’t be able to tell the slight changes that would need a magnifying glass or x-ray analysis to tell.”
“And you were in the same area, observing that painting all the while, right? In that case, even if you didn’t notice a change in the painting, you could at least tell if someone scribbled on it or not, right?”
I could definitely guarantee that. It’s not like I overlooked Hakui-kun when he took out a pencil before the painting… no one laid a hand on that painting until Wakui-san abused it. And if I had to give testimony as a security guard, I couldn’t say that painting’s management was particularly bad… even if there was an oversight in its preservation, the other paintings displayed in that area were in the same conditions. I haven’t heard any talks of any of the other paintings being similarly smashed—it would be troubling if there were loads of such violent old men out there, and even if such an incident occurred, it might be likewise covered up, but…
“I wonder about that. If multiple pieces were damaged, I would really have to question the place’s standing as a museum.”
“That’s right… that wasn’t the sort of scandal that could be solved just by firing the guard on site.”
In the first place, the coverup might not have been to conceal the scandal at the museum, but to cover for old Wakui, who had been driven to violence. I won’t go as far as to say I was just dragged along for the ride because I happened to be there, but this matter was a personal matter brought up by old Wakui.
“How should I put it, the more theories we build up, the more these theories contradict one another… should we look at it more simply? Or should we dig a little deeper and divide up the possibilities?”
“No, with this, we have the important theories all roughly gathered up—it’s enough. Good work, Oyagiri-san.”
As I held my head, Kyouko-san offered her gently gratitude. For a moment, I thought she was being sarcastic, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Meaning, Kyouko-san had finished treading over the proper procedure for her deduction… the forgetful detective’s detective ceremony had concluded. It was like I had done a good once-over on the peculiarities of the case.
I didn’t feel any sense of achievement, rather, with my thoughts dragging on and on and over one another, I got the impression the puzzles and mysteries had multiplied.
“Y-you mean the right answer lies among the theories we’ve put out to this point? And by gathered up, you mean the options are gathered–”
“There is no right answer. Through our scrutinization, we have found them all to be false… there is no room for reexamination. In the words of a detective among detectives, who all detectives may admire, ‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.’ Apparently. Of course, there are some exceptions, and this is one of them.”
If it’s that aphorism, I knew it as well—after hearing my story, I thought Kyouko-san had immediately come to a watertight conclusion, but this meant that in that slight space of time, she had concluded this many thoughts… Apparently, it wasn’t just the request resolution speed that made her the fastest detective, her natural thought speed was also too fast… when all was said and done, in her ‘ceremony’, she lowered her pace to lead me along.
“B-but… let’s say our discussion up to now served as process of elimination and wasn’t completely pointless. I really have no idea what remains.”
“More than a process of elimination, it was reductio ad absurdum. Whichever the case, it’s a standard technique in detective novels—umm, then let’s put it simply.”
Saying that, Kyouko-san suddenly stood. And changing her position, she moved to the side of the table. At around a step back from where a waiter would take orders, she settled her position.
Putting her legs at shoulder width, she raised both hands over her head… what sort of pose was that? If I had to say, while I’d never been in that position myself, it was similar to the pose one took when having their belongings checked upon entering an area of high security. Regardless, it wasn’t a posture one often took in daily life.
“W-what is it? That. Are you mimicking some sculpture?”
The museum I worked at centered around paintings, so the only sculptures they had were around the entrance, but… at the very least, they didn’t strike such strange poses.
Though it wasn’t crowded, it’s not like we left the café for secret talks, so of course, Kyouko-san’s actions attracted some eyes… not that she seemed to mind. Did she not pay attention to other peoples’ eye?
When standing as a security guard, exerting a sense of presence is part of the job, but attracting so much attention is still embarrassing… perhaps because she had the premise ‘I’ll forget it by tomorrow’, she was able to numb her sense of shame.
“it’s not a sculpture. I just thought you’d be able to see my full body better this way.”
“Your body? Yes, I definitely can see all of you…”
Since she was lifting her hands up, I could see everything apart from her back… in that sense, much like the sculptures at the museum, Kyouko-san’s (somewhat comical) posing did enter my eye from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.
Her formal attire didn’t particularly have much exposure, but without anything special being anywhere, her standing form looked somewhat sensual for some reason. Well, if a person just normally stood, I doubt they’d garner that much attention…
“And what about it? Umm, Kyouko-san, if possible, could you sit down already…”
“Have you noticed something?”
Completely ignoring my advice, Kyouko-san asked in a nonchalant face—as I failed to grasp the meaning of her question, “Have you noticed any large difference from when you talked to me in the museum?” she specified.
Since her memories reset, wasn’t she not supposed to have any change from the passage of time? Of course, her hair would grow, and her nails would grow, such minute differences would surely come about… but it would be difficult to call those large changes.
“You don’t get it? Take a good look.”
“You want me to take a good look? I really don’t get it, but is there really a difference? … Ah.”
Under a circumstance where Kyouko-san would continue taking center stage in the shop if I didn’t answer quick, my impatience jumbled my thoughts, but once it hit me, the answer was simple. Forget simple, it was the first thing I thought when I saw Kyouko-san in the café.
“Yes. That’s right.”
I presented it right when I thought the waiter might come to caution us, and it seemed my not-particularly unexpected answer was taken favorable, as Kyouko-san easily stopped posing and sat back in her chair. I pat my chest in relief.
And wait, if that’s all it was, then instead of purposely showing her whole body, if she just normally asked from her seat, I think I’d have been able to answer much faster… even if you retracted her trait of forgetting everything by the day, she was a somewhat defenseless person.
It seemed dangerous, and a little fearful to watch.
That aside, her clothing… it wasn’t just something limited to today, Kyouko-san was definitely fashionable, and even in the museum, I’d never seen her wear the same clothing twice. I often pondered how large of a closet she must have at her home but… what about it?
“Yes. Then this is the question, but why were you able to determine I was the same person when I was wearing different clothing?”
“I mean, ninety percent of what you can see is completely different from how it was the last time you saw me. And yet, what basis do you have to identify me as the same person?”
Ninety percent of what I could see was different… sure enough, she was right about that. Thought it was quite extreme for a person to appear in different clothing each and every day like her.
“It’s not like you’re hiding your face or anything… there’s also build, and when it comes to you, Kyouko-san, I think I could also judge based on hair color.”
“Face, build, hair color… meaning the attachments it’s not possible to remove, me myself. Regardless of whether the clothing I wear changes, I’m just me, you say.”
I didn’t mean to say anything so Aesop, but that was the gist. The world would be so much easier if changing clothes was all it took to become a different person.
“But Oyagiri-san, you said it first, right? ‘since I’m not wearing my uniform, is it hard to recognize me?’ You asked… is your uniform an exception?”
“Yeah… well, when it comes to security guards, they’re often recognized by their clothing. If they wear that, then anyone can give off security-guard-ish signals… it’s not limited to guards, I’m sure uniforms ought to work like that in most cases.”
“Yes. I’m sure. There are times the clothes one wears can define them—while I’m me no matter what I put on, for example, I’m on the job today, so I’m in formal wear, but when I’m off, I might possibly go all out and wear short shorts.”
“S-short shorts, is it?”
I couldn’t really imagine it. But what was she talking about? Wasn’t she supposed to be giving hints to resolve it? Checking up on Kyouko-san’s fashion was interesting enough as a topic, but I did think it wasn’t fitting for work…
“You don’t get it? Even if there’s no change with me, by the clothes I wear, I can become various forms of myself… a so-called image change. On the contrary, if I always wore the same clothing, I might not be able to change for the better, but I’ll preserve an immutable value. And this isn’t something limited to humans, it’s the same for art.”
“The same… mn?”
I could see what she was getting at. But wasn’t that theory already mentioned and denied? Even if the painting itself didn’t change, the artist could have died or been someone else. By those sorts of surroundings, its marked value can face a relative change… to extend that even further, factors such as what other painters lived in the same period, what cultivated their style, and what circumstances the work was created under, those such background stories can also influence the price.
But if there was such a dramatic change in circumstance, I must conclude it would be difficult for me to remain unaware while I worked at a museum.
“But despite, that, you’re asserting there was some change in the background?”
“It’s not the background. Nothing behind it, but perhaps up, down, left and right?”
At Kyouko-san’s blanked-out answer, I tried to catch on… up and down? Left and right? Did she mean the other paintings displayed in the same area? Would that change its relative price?
No, left and right aside, there weren’t any paintings exhibited above or below it… and I didn’t hear about any paintings being swapped out in the area I was charged with.
“Kyouko-san, please quit putting on airs, I’m begging you, just tell me the answer already.”
Pitiful as it was, I had to raise the white flag.
“Just what could have made the painting’s price change—why did you frame the price at two hundred million one day and two million the next?”
“It was framed differently because it was framed differently.”
“And I’m asking…”
“It was framed differently because it was framed differently.”
As if to evade the question, Kyouko-came out with such a totality; I felt I might almost close in on her for it, but then she repeated the exact same words—her intonation changed.
It was framed differently… frame?
Then she wasn’t dodging it as well?
It was just as she said, completely straight-forward… was that the answer to the riddle?
“To be a little more precise… the monetary value changed because the picture frame changed. The frame that borders it on all four sides.”
It was much to large to call a blind spot… I won’t say that spot was large enough to cover the whole surface, but at the very least, it surrounded it. But sure enough, when appreciating a work of art, ‘the sort of frame it’s in’ is often unconsciously omitted. Just as when watching TV, it’s not the TV itself, but the scenery displayed that you see… however,
“The sort of frame a masterpiece is in is actually quite important, you know. It’s not like there’s any change to the painting itself, but the frame around it can largely change how you look at it… as a person can be defined by what they wear, taken to the extremes, a painting might be defined by its frame. Your neighborhood forgetful detective remembers Oscar Wilde once said, ‘It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances,’ but that doesn’t mean appearances are always so straightforward.”
What makes an appearance… to what extent were the contents the criterion for judgment? It was certainly a difficult problem. For example, I doubt it would work if I told people I didn’t want to be judged by appearance while wearing my security guard uniform, but that being the case, I doubt they’d think I’m a different person just because I changed clothing.
Even if the frame of a painting on display changes… I can’t think anyone would notice there was a change from afar. In reality, I never considered it and didn’t notice.
“What I don’t want you to misunderstand here, is simply the fact I’m not referring to the price of the frame… when criticizing a shoddy painting one might say, ‘even the frame’s worth more’, but in this case, the matter in question is still the piece of art itself. It’s not that a two hundred million yen frame was switched out for a two million yen one, it’s a question of affinity with the main subject, the artwork. In fashion, there’s clothing that suits you, and clothing that doesn’t. And there’s no one out there who looks good in anything, right?”
I wondered if she actually fit the bill for that one, but that would change the topic of conversation so I held my tongue. I mean, I doubt even Kyouko-san could wear clothing the wrong size… or so, I forcefully interpreted it.
“On the contrary, if a professional stylist selects the clothing, even if the subject doesn’t change, it might be possible to observe an unthinkable transformation.—entrusting it to the store clerk when buying clothing is also an option.”
From the point of view of a guy used to wincing from overbearing clerks, it was a sense of values I found hard to nod along to, but now that she’d mentioned it, perhaps there were some things that couldn’t be understood just by looking at a mirror that inverted left and right.
“As a matter of fact, among artists, there are those who end up making their own frames but naturally- you could call them stylists for paintings- there are also professionals who specialize in producing frames.”
“P-professional frame makers? That’s an actual occupation?”
“Even things we only thing natural to exist have someone who made them. This table, this chair, and this cup as well. The clothing we wear, and the frame that borders a painting… someone made it with pride.”
That was also… a blind spot.
With technology at such a level, and mechanized production the norm, in the end, if no one made the screws, the gears would never turn… of course, as with security guards who work at museums, it’s not as if everyone longs for the spotlight but… there aren’t many out there who wished to be ignored entirely. If pride was too decorative of a word to use, it was at least the minimum professional sense.
“Yes. That’s why it’s really a let-down… when the framing specifically made for that painting is switched out for another. It might even get to your head, driving you to rage, and making you smash it apart.”
“! Then… Wakui-san wasn’t the one who painted it… but the frame maker!?”
What he was trying to smash back there wasn’t the painting but the frame? The painting just got dragged along and—thinking back, what was smashed up wasn’t only the canvas, but the frame as well. So that’s why old Wakui came to his senses when I reminded him about the painting… When I asked ‘do you have some bone to pick with the planet earth,’ he didn’t actually have a grudge against the earth, meaning the painting.
That’s why his rage subsided. Perhaps the test he gave me afterward was to cover up his poor decision-making skills in destroying the painting he didn’t intend to.
“Apparently, the proper term for someone who works in Wakui-san’s field is a picture framer. A job to draw out the value of a masterpiece as much as possible… or perhaps to make frames that enhance it.”
“It may sound more modern to call them a painting designer, but that sounds like it treads into the artist’s territory, so when they name themselves without putting on airs, it’s usually just the standard frame maker.”
In novel terms, would it be like the binding? Certainly, the cover, and the size of the book, even if they don’t align with the contents, can change the reader’s impression considerably—did old Wakui accomplish the same effect with a frame?
“At the present time, it’s still just a deduction. Of course, I currently do not have the evidence to confirm Wakui-san’s identity. But in museums that display artwork, framers are deeply-connected business partners, so it wouldn’t be strange if he was acquainted with the curator… or that he was treated as a VIP and had his violence pushed under the rug.”
“I’m sure it’s no joke when you were hit with the gust as the rug fell back in place, but I’m sure Wakui-san just received some unfairly favorable treatment… you could call it an inevitability, and perhaps the museum felt like doing some atonement. By which I mean, and this is also just a guess, but they probably arbitrarily switched out one of the frames without Wakui-san’s permission.”
But even so, that was also a frame someone had to have made, what’s more, there’s really something wrong with him if it got to his head so hard he smashed it painting and all… said Kyouko-san. She sounded like she was trying to follow through for him, but it seemed she had no intent to stick up for the museum or old Wakui.
She’s a severe person after all. Well, it was just as she said. Thinking of how the painting old Wakui smashed, and the frame both had their own makers, no matter how necessary he felt it, no matter how angry he was, I really couldn’t sympathize…
“I do think it would be more appropriate if you went and checked the answer later, but for now, just listen to the mere deductions of an outsider detective… of just how this incident came to be.”
“Yes… if you will.”
“At the point I expressed the painting’s value at two hundred million yen, I think the frame was one Wakui-san provided. And it was changed somewhere down the line… You said something about there being a ruckus over the curator’s negotiated works coming in? I wonder if it was at that time. The museum wanted to decorate them marvelously on their debut. That’s why… they decorated them with the best frame they had.”
Their best suit, said Kyouko-san. Comparing it to clothing made it easier to grasp—but those clothes were supposed to have been made specifically for that painting, and wouldn’t it be impossible to determine if they fit the new works?
“Even if you say that, they’re still clothes made by a professional. To an extent, they’ll go with any painting—clothing maketh the man might have a bad ring to it, but as long as the size isn’t wrong, you know. Of course, the painting whose frame was removed needed a new frame as well, but that doesn’t mean its contents were changed.”
“… But someone with good eyes like you was able to see the difference.”
Two hundred million to two million. A hundred-fold fall.
Come to think of it, back then, Kyouko-san kept speaking of its price as a ‘piece’… not as a ‘painting’, as a ‘piece’ its price was either two hundred million or two million. Her price tag included the frame.
“… I must emphasize this, but that was just my estimation. Take it with a grain of salt. I don’t know what price tag society’s placed on it.”
Kyouko-san added in a remark.
“The opinion that a painting’s price is irrelevant to the frame it’s in should be respected in and of itself. The museum probably intended for it to be for a limited time, a temporary arrangement I’m sure… there’s no way they were completely unaware of Wakui-san’s temperament.”
If it fell all the way from two hundred million to two hundred, then the piece’s affinity with its new frame must have been exceedingly poor… that might have been part of it. And I can’t say if the newly arrived painting ‘fit it’ or not…
“Did they think they could… deceive him?”
“I’m sure they did, and in essence, it was the sort of wrong-doing they might be able to get away with. To the museum, Wakui-san’s visit must have been unexpected… otherwise, as the guard charged with the area, you’d have received some sort of command.”
I wonder if he got a secret little message from someone, said Kyouko-san.
What Kyouko-san hinted at was naturally someone who worked in the museum’s domain, but my gut instinct told me old Wakui was tipped off to the wrongdoing by that young boy with a sketchbook.
That was a deduction without any evidence… but the only ones who paid enough attention to notice the difference in frames were Kyouko-san and Hakui-kun. If the frame had already been switched by the time he made a copy… and if he felt something off from it…
And to be more precise, while Kyouko-san- who lost memory with time- could notice the frame’s price, she couldn’t notice the frame had been switched… which means, among the visitors, only Hakui-kun could pass the message.
That was something I had no way of confirming, and whatever the case, it didn’t change the fact old Wakui learned the truth… he embarked on his mission, after all. And singing his own masterpiece that was supposed to surround the painting wasn’t there, he displayed an unthinkable level of violence. While I can’t determine from this reasoning whether he brought his cane with the sole intent of destruction, thinking of how he destroyed the frame with its adjoined painting, I really do think he did it on impulse.
That’s why he calmly let himself be led along once he returned to his senses… in contrast, those on the museum side were aware they were the ones who started it, so unable to go out too strongly, they settled matters internally.
Once everything was said, I fell into silence.
As one who worked at the facility, I couldn’t say Kyouko-san’s deductions were right down the finer details, but at the very least, the questions I held, and my suspicions were almost all wiped away. They were wiped, but…
“So, Oyagiri-san. What are you going to do now?”
Asked so suddenly, I responded blankly… the deductions were over, meaning Kyouko-san’s job was supposed to be over; but as if to say the real problem started now, she stared straight at me. It was a piercing gaze.
“W-what do you mean by that?”
“I have hereby unraveled the reason for your dismissal, but upon hearing that, what do you plan to do? Is my meaning. Because you feel guilty for your inability to protect the painting, it looks like you’ve accepted your punishment, but I wonder. If you trace it back to the source, the museum’s frame swap brought on Wakui-san’s destructive behavior, so I do think it’s a little inappropriate for you to be the one punished for it.”
“If you say you want to fight against the organization’s unfair treatment of you, I wouldn’t mind lending my power. In that case, your foe won’t be the security company, but the museum, so I doubt you’ll need to show the restraint you spoke about. I can introduce you to a skilled lawyer, and if it’s simple legal procedures, I can also act as your agent. I can even accompany you to the museum after this to confirm the truth.”
Apparently, the first stage cleared changed Kyouko-san from a detective consultant to a detective’s sales pitch… that part of her was obstinate or rather, her self-made woman attitude seemed completely different from the sense of a hired man like me. Though I wasn’t hired anymore…
I had intended to request the job to Kyouko-san so I could get to finding my next occupation, but the path I hadn’t anticipated, back to my original position was coming into sight… still.
“No… I do not intend to return to my original position.”
“Oh my, is that so? … Can I ask for your reasons?”
Of course, it would be a lie to say I had no lingering regret. Even if it was a path I had once completely given up on, if the circumstances changed, perhaps I should fight… fired unjustly, if I fought here, I might be able to set a precedent, protecting others who find themselves in the same position as me. To let those who follow proceed without wallowing in the same misery, for the sake of my own rights, perhaps I should move assertively. The victim’s meek acceptance would only lead to the fostering of the next crime.
“But… in this incident, I don’t think the greatest victim was me.”
“Hmm, then who could it be?”
Kyouko-san asked brimming with curiosity. “Why the painting put up in that frame,” I replied.
“It’s a fact I couldn’t protect it… even if the circumstances change, if the background dealings become public, that doesn’t change the reality I couldn’t protect the painting I was charged with protecting. It’s a constant. In that case, I think I should accept my recompense… but not as a punishment the organization has handed me, but one I’m inflicting upon myself.”
I wonder if the destroyed frame thought the same… this was too much to bear for my unfair treatment, but I couldn’t work in a way that lightened the load on my back. In essence, it’s not as if anything changed. Even if I put in a request and had her unravel the mystery… nothing changed, and I wasn’t trying to change anything. I would welcome tomorrow still lacking a job… but that was fine.
Even if events didn’t shift, my interpretation of them did.
The price, the meaning it held—it changed.
I thought that was fine—for the better.
“I want to become someone who can protect something. Honestly, I had lost my confidence, but thanks to you, I’ve regained enough to set my sights on that again… to me, that alone is plenty.”
Kyouko-san said matter-of-factly.
When she said it like that, it made me feel awkward… perhaps I had tried acting too cool. Growing embarrassed, I forcefully got the talk together.
“A-and so, the job I request to you ends here… my payment will be in hard cash, and I need to pay within the day, right?”
Taking out the wad of bills I withdrew at a convenience store before coming t o the café, I handed them over still in their envelope… I had my misgivings of taking out exposed money, but Kyouko-san easily pulled them out of the envelope and with the deft hands of a banker, began to count them.
“You’re all good. Thank you. I have a strict adherence to confidentiality, so have no fear… so Oyagiri-san. What are you going to do now?”
I thought we had already covered that… why was she bringing it back up? It had barely become six in the afternoon, but did her memories already reset?
“Not that. Do you have any other plans today? Was my meaning. Unfortunately, you didn’t give me an additional request, so I’m completely off after this. Wouldn’t you take responsibility and treat me to dinner?”
The day is still young.
So spoke Kyouko-san… while it was by complete coincidence, because I didn’t have any additional requests for Kyouko-san, I had no further plans either.