"The culprit is among us."
Kyouko-san declared it so.
It was like a spell handed down from the days of yore, a line a detective used to begin the traditional ceremony; but to me, Oyagiri Mamoru, I couldn't feel any truth in those words, and at that point, it seemed far too excessive to praise the white-haired woman's deductive prowess.
The reason being, what Kyouko-san pointed to wasn't a group a.s.sembled in a room, but the entirety of a high-cla.s.s, modern, thirty floor apartment complex. Even if she said 'among us', I hadn't the slightest idea how many suspects that would include.
Whatever the case, it didn't seem she brought it up as a joke to lighten the mood, Kyouko-san's expression was thoroughly serious… Following on from that old fashioned, hard-to-call-appropriate-given-the-circ.u.mstances line,
"The problem is,"
She continued on.
"Whether or not there's an artist present."
Certainly… that was a problem. To Kyouko-san, and to me.
When scolding a child not to be picky with food, adults often use the logic that, 'There are people out there who can't eat it even if they wanted to, so don't be picky,' but when closely observed, that phrase is a false equivalency. Sure, regional food shortages and world hunger are pertinent problems one must be informed of from a young age, but does an environment where 'people can't eat even if they wanted to' really develop into, 'don't be picky' by any logical sequence?
Perhaps instead of entrusting ourselves to the bitter silence of liking what we like, yet being unable to say we hate what we hate, teaching children to create a world where they're able to freely state their tastes is the proper way to raise them… of course, that's plain sophistry.
Sophistry, or rather an empty ideal.
It merely shifts the problem.
Realistically speaking, the world isn't a place to speak with such top-down morality… but also realistically speaking, the real reason an adult tells a child not to be picky is to make sure they get a proper nutritional balance to ensure healthy growth, or otherwise to restrain them from excessive nutritional intake, having absolutely nothing to do with fear for societal food problems. The one who shifted the problem first wasn't the child, but the parent. Making a child listen by using moral words that were hard to speak up against, while I wouldn't go as far as to call it hypocritical, it was part of the foul playbook of being an adult.
The point to all this is, putting aside whether they eat it or not, I really would just like it if they were free to say if they liked it or not… the moment I thought such a thing might have been around that time, when I myself held a strong lament for my future.
The retirement money I got from the Oote Security firm was somewhat cut down by my payment to the Okitegami Detective agency, but it wasn't enough to get me thrown out on the streets, nor was it enough to curb my anxieties about the future—perhaps the recent recession was the blame, or it may have just been my own lack of credentials, but I couldn't see my second workplace anywhere in reach.
In that case, instead of retirement money, I should've asked my superior to write a letter of recommendation, I would think from time to time.
It did seem I was no longer in a place where I could voice my tastes, or rather fixation on working a 'job where I can protect something'. If I stopped being picky, surely there were plenty of jobs out there, or so it was finally my time to say that senseless line.
Abandoning my freedom in job selection wouldn't only restrict my own life, it would restrict my place in society as a whole. I knew I shouldn't submit to the dilemma, but the way things were going, forget having a choice of job, I would be cornered into a position where I couldn't have a choice of the food I ate.
Unlike a child, the grown adult me doubted he had any more to grow, but no matter where I worked, my body was my main a.s.set, so I had to take a nutritional balance into consideration. They say man forgets how to work if he remains unemployed too long and all—
So not just the compet.i.tion of the security firm I worked at, I finally started looking into other jobs as well—the career requirements for a policeman or firefighter, and such; from how I was still trying to choose jobs close to my expertise, it couldn't be helped that you point out I was still bound, but however so, it was around that time.
A call came to my cellphone.
The screen displayed the raw number of someone not registered in my address book, so I had some hesitation to answer the phone, but I was in the midst of job hunting… as someone hoping for reemployment, caution alone wasn't going to get me anywhere. When I thought of how they might inform me of the results of an application or interview, I couldn't neglect any call. Even withheld or private numbers couldn't be ignored.
While it was a territory distant from the crime-prevention sense I was supposed to hold, it's true that my wariness wasn't very active on that call. The reason was simple, I had a slight recollection of the number displayed. To be more precise, at the level of, 'I think I might have seen it somewhere before', and truly an unreliable sense, mind you.
While a phone book makes a clear distinction between the numbers its registered and those it has not, the human memory is a peculiar thing. To register… even if I didn't remember the number itself, I could recall things like the fact I had 'seen it before'.
Though there were people who could cleanly forget like Kyouko-san, those were a rare case. I knew it. I knew that number. It was a number that tugged at my heartstings with such uncertainty— the memory ran so thin that a light tug was the perfect way to describe it.
Where had I see it… if I had, then where? It wasn't a 090 or 080 number, so it seemed to be a landline, but what region was the area code from?(TL: In j.a.pan, cellphone numbers begin with 090 or 080, instead of having an area code. They move, so makes sense.)
I thought as I took up the phone, but,
"Hmm. So it's that whelp from before."
On the response I received from the other side, I understood who I was speaking to in an instant.
In that regard as well, the human memory is peculiar. Such slight triggers can suddenly revive memories so vivid. No wonder Kyouko-san who could forget all the previous day's memories would be a national treasure. Anyways, I had to confirm it so, "Is this Wakui-san?" I replied.
"Indeed. This is Wakui Kazuhisa," the man named himself.
Right, it was that old man who went on a rampage in the museum and cost me my job… rather than vigorous, I could remember his violent form all too sell. Of course, at the time he only gave his surname of Wakui. His full name was something I learned after hearing Kyouko-san's deductions, when I went to confirm their validity.
Apparently, I was just ignorant, and framer was a traditional occupation that had existed for ages; and while I investigated into that occupation, I reached old Wakui's name without even having to look for it.
The industry's 'old man of the mountain', a mainstay among mainstays.
Providing frames that fit paintings better than any could dream, he was known as the most prominent framer. The number of painters who wished for him to make them a frame was beyond count—I see, in that case, there was no way a single museum could stand against him. No wonder they'd go take an interest in coverups.
He wasn't a mainstay artist, but a mainstay craftsman… nay, the voices who claimed the frames he made had already reached the realm of fine arts were in no few numbers, apparently.
Meaning back then, I got an outrageous bigshot into a full nelson… as long as they wish to violate the target, then the sort of VIP they are is irrelevant. That's the main essence of a body guard or at least the official stance.
… But why did that old Wakui put in a call to my line? I didn't remember exchanging contact information with him.
Paying no heed to my confusion, with a tone of dignity rather than familiarity, old Wakui called me by my first name and asked.
"What have you been up to lately? Safe and sound?"
The question itself was what a youngster might ask his friend… from what I saw of him, he looked to be an old man barely past seventy, but while it was rude to call it a surprise, his sensitivities may be surprisingly youthful.
At the very least, his disposition was…
"If you want to know what I've been up to, I haven't been doing anything particular…"
"Mn. That's no good, no good at all. A youth at your age, loafing around, not working in the middle of the day, that's a real waste."
I didn't say anything about loafing, and whose fault did he think my predicament was? If he wanted me to answer the safe and sound portion, the terrible calamity that visited me was too recent for me to laugh about it.
In the sense I was locked in place and complaining, I definitely was in a safe making sound… and I was running out of air. Come to think of it, a sound's a body of water surrounded mostly by land. Seeing how I'm not getting anywhere, there really wasn't any better phrase to describe me.
In self-admonishment for failing to prevent the painting's destruction, I didn't seek reemployment, but that doesn't mean humankind is constructed such that they could hear it directly from the culprit who caused it all—and back then I was in front of Kyouko-san, so a part of me probably just wanted to look cool. I was almost about to roughen up my voice and shout back at him, but as if to promptly restrain me,
"I get it, I get it,"
Said the old man, his voice tinged with a laugh.
"Whelp, I heard you got fired from the security company because of me. My bad."
When he apologized that easily, it was a real underhanded tactic, or rather a letdown, more so, it felt more like he was just pouring oil onto the flame. He really was in for it bad.
"Hey, I gave that fool Shikihara a stern talking to, so cut me some slack. You'll find fools who don't understand art in any generation, any age. You can also say it's people like him that raise the value of art. The fewer people fighting over the pie, the better."
What's more, while just barely accepting his responsibility in the matter, in the end, he pushed it all onto the curator, Shikihara-san… I was taken aback, it was a shifting of responsibility so idiotic that it felt stupid to get angry. Well, it's true the root cause was with the museum for arbitrarily changing out frames.
And there it hit me. It wasn't as if I held round-robin deductions like Kyouko-san, and it was a flash of inspiration from my own complete lack of thought.
"Did you get my contact information from Curator Shikihara?"
My gut told me.
The security firm was also a possible route, but to that company, the museum was only a single place they were charged with, and it was hard to say old Wakui's influence (or perhaps intimidation) would have a direct effect—I couldn't think they would leak the personal information of a former employee. But the museum kept their staffs' direct contact information in case of emergency, and finding it out from the wouldn't be difficult for the man.
"Yeah, that's right. What about it?"
Showing no signs of apologetics, the old man brazenly replied—if I was that shameless, then my life would be much easier; but when I considered how many people I'd have to collide with to maintain that shamelessness, it didn't make me envious.
"No, nothing at all," I evaded, "Do you have some business with me?"
I pushed the talk forward.
How should I put it, he went as far as looking into my number to contact me, so normally I'd deduce the old man got in the mind to apologize to me after reflecting on his violence with a level head, but from what I could tell from our conversation, it was clear that wasn't all. This person was definitely not reflecting, first off.
I'm sure it wasn't because of his obstinacy that even let one feel a form of conviction growing into that personality rather, I should see it as him climbing all the way up to his arrogance.
"Business? Yes, of course I do. There's no way I'd call a whelp like you without any business. I'm a busy man, you know."
"Mamoru, do you want to come work at my place?"
While I was quite fed up with the old man's haughtiness, those words instantly sobered me up—what?
"Don't turn me down here. It's not like you've got anything better to do."
"I'm free but–"
I answered on reflex, but strictly speaking, I wasn't free. By that point, my job hunting schedule wasn't planned out day by day, but hour by hour—even that day, I planned on going out to search. When I plainly informed him of that,
"In that case, it works out perfectly. Because I'm telling you I'll employ you," said old Wakui, ever triumphant.
While he sounded boastful of his own foresight, he was the very one who made me unemployed, so there was nothing for him to be proud of at all. I highly doubted he was employing me to atone for anything… in the first place, he said employ, but what did he intend to make me do?
If he judged me highly for my ability to see through that painting's intent as the 'earth', and he wanted to invite me to the world of art, then he was overestimating me. That was a complete second-hand opinion.
"Hah? Wrong, wrong. What are you misunderstanding? I don't need any disciple like you."
The old man gave a hearty laugh—I was the one who didn't want a master like old Wakui, but in that case, what was he trying to put me up to?
"That goes without saying. You're a security guard, aren't you? In that case, what other job would I have besides security?"
Those were strong words. As one who had started job hunting with other occupations in my field of vision, they were especially painful on the ears… at the very least, this was not the time to a.s.sert I retired so I was no longer a guard.
"Security… is it?"
"Yes, that's right. You'll take it up, right?"
He seemed impatient, almost telling me to just accept it already, but no matter how I turned, I definitely wasn't getting the full picture… I was much too lacking in information to simply nod along to the word security.
"If it's an official job, I think you're better off asking a proper company…"
"Hmph, like I could trust an organization."
The old man spoke disparagingly. They were words mingled with a harsh prejudice, but as the organization of the museum had just betrayed him the other day, I couldn't rebut it so suddenly—Well, I was also abandoned by the organization I was employed by, so even if I didn't sympathize, a part of me got where he was coming from.
"No matter what it is, I'll see with it my own eyes and make a decision. I'm placing my hopes on you, think of it as an honor."
So he really was judging me for seeing through the earth? Or perhaps he was referring to the price appraisal I did on that painting. While that one wasn't second-hand, it was hard to deny the hint of desperation in my response, so even if he appraised me for that, it didn't feel much different from being appraised on coincidence.
"So umm… what sort of painting do you want me to protect?"
Take it or not, I needed to asked—unless I heard that, I couldn't make a decision. No, if I had to say, the side of me asking in order to decline was stronger. The old man criticized organizations, but there was a limit to what an individual could protect.
In the end, what opposes violence isn't a single hero, but a faction with organizational capability.
When he called it security, even subtracting the fact of my unemployment, I felt I would latch onto it by instinct, but not doing what you're incapable of is also part of the job.
"Who said you'd be protecting a painting?"
Sand old Wakui.
"I'm not a painter—you didn't know?"
"No… of course, I'm aware, err… you're a framer, right?"
Though I only became privy of their existence quite recently… well, sure enough, it was too early to conclude I'd be protecting a painting.
Which means I'm guarding… a frame?
"Yeah, something like that. But it doesn't exist yet—I'm going to make it now."
"So you're going to make… a frame?"
Still uncomprehensive, I repeated his words.
"It's right about time I get to making a work that represents my life as a framer—until my work is complete, I want you to protect my workplace and make sure no one hinders me."
When an old man speaks of his life's work, a youngster swallows his breath. It practically meant it would be the last work of his life—a word too heavy for someone in his twenties. While old Wakui didn't see the fact he got me fired as very serious at all, I see, perhaps from his point of view, I was at an age where I could start over as many times as necessary.
And to an old man who had tread the long path of life, one's occupation must hold a far deeper meaning than I thought…
Protecting paintings, protecting frames, and protecting workplaces, the amount of work for an individual didn't change much… but when it came to that point, it was difficult to decline his invitation.
At the very least, hard to do over the phone… and honestly speaking, I was simply interested. By a detective's evaluation, he was a craftsman who could make frames that dragged the price of a two-million-yen painting to two hundred million. Just what sort of piece could be his life's work
Even if the world of art was dark to me, as a person who worked at a museum for a period of time, I couldn't help but be somewhat curious.
While at the current point, I couldn't decide whether I'd take it up or not, I wanted to prolong the talk as long as possible to hear the details—the probability I would decline in the end was stronger, so I told him not to get his hopes up as my form of consideration, but,
"Oh! I see, I see!"
The old man innocently rejoiced. Rather than old, his conduct was like a child's.
"Then we have to meet up and talk. We won't get anywhere if I don't have you see the workplace you'll be protecting—oh, it's nothing so grand. It's not like I'm trying to decide your life with this job… think of it as a temporary part-time job."
"Part-time… is it?"
"Yes. Of course, I'll up your wages. You'll get around double what you made working. Your period of employment will be a few months, half a year at most… for a youngster like you, that's no time at all."
Said old Wakui.
"But to an old man like me, it's a life-draining period."
To make sure nothing happens, I've got to do everything in my power to protect it—said old Wakui.
"… Where do I have to go?"
I asked… I had no choice but to change the day's schedule.
To a laborer, double wages were honestly captivating but a job to protect an old man's 'time' was definitely a worthy one… though I still couldn't a.s.sent just yet.
After meeting him directly, if it came back around to refusal, while he was an old man who hated organizations, I'd introduce him to the security firm I used to work at—even if it was the organization that dismissed me, it's not as if I didn't have a single trustworthy superior or colleague I could consult with.
"Atelier Manor. Come to Atelier Manor."
"Yeah, that's right. It's where I work—"
A large voice from beginning to end, as if he was constantly shouting, only there did old Wakui lowered his voice in thought.
"—And where I'll die."