[Note about title: Spanish for “The Ladies-in-waiting”, Las Meninas is a 1656 painting by Diego Velázquez, and is one of the most widely analyzed works in Western painting for its complex and enigmatic composition that raises questions about reality and illusion.]
Autumn embraced the city of Kyoto.
The temperature was pleasant, and red maple leaves that were steadily gaining color were floating in the serene blue sky.
Since it was the season of fertility, cuisine that used Kyoto vegetables from the abundant harvest, as well as Japanese sweets that were made from chestnuts and the like, gained popularity, so you could say that autumn is the most appealing season in Kyoto.
It was well in the middle of the tourist season.
The shopping arcades of Teramachi-dori and Sanjou-dori were even more bustling than ever.
While idly cleaning the shop, I looked out the window.
Recently, I’d been able to determine if the people walking past were tourists, just by looking at them. There were indeed many tourists in this season, and they always walked past without taking a glance at the shop.
As usual, the shop was quiet, as if the clamor outside was just an illusion.
The hands of the wall clock ticked on, as if to the rhythm of the pleasant jazz music playing in the background.
Holmes-san was sitting at the counter with a pen on one hand, writing into an open account book, as usual.
…He was checking the accounts again.
Come to think of it, I wonder what he’s always checking?
I took the duster and peeked at him from the side, but he was just pretending to check the account books, and was actually studying for his university classes!
“Holmes-san, are you studying?”
I asked in surprise, and Holmes-san reacted by giving me a weak look.
“So you noticed, huh. Sorry, it’s for an assignment I have to submit.”
“I-I see,” I replied. You don’t have to apologize, though.
“To tell you the truth, when I looked to be busy with the account books in the past, I was sometimes studying.”
“So that’s it!”
And that was why he always had the account book open in front of him.
“By the way, it’s fine for you to do your homework here, Aoi-san.”
I laughed as Holmes-san looked at me weakly, probably embarrassed.
There isn’t a need to apologize, though.
It isn’t weird for the grandson of the shop’s owner to be doing his university studies alongside tending the shop.
“No, no, I’m here for a part-time job, and I can’t take the pay without doing any work. Although I’ll do a little studying if I have to come in for work before exams.”
I usually don’t work right before exams, but I’ve been occasionally asked to tend the store during such times. It would be fine if I’m allowed to study here.
“If that’s so, then I’ll help you study.”
“Really? that’s great!”
With Holmes-san teaching me, I wouldn’t be happier.
As I leaned forward with gratitude, the doorbell tinkled.
I turned around in surprise to see the lanky figure of a man standing in the doorway. He looked androgynous, and his long hair was tied at the back in one bundle. He appeared to be in his late twenties, but that’s just my guess.
The man said, revealing a foolish, sappy grin.
“This is Yoneyama.”
“Long time no see. Sorry to disturb you in the middle of your work,” he said with a shrug.
“No, as you can see, we were only doing some odd jobs. Please, come in. And Aoi-san, let’s take a break. I’ll be making coffee.” Holmes-san stood up and left.
By odd jobs, he meant that he was doing his studies.
“Hello. Pleasure to meet you. Are you Kiyotaka-kun’s girlfriend, perhaps?”
I was sitting down on the sofa in front of the counter, when the guest asked that question with a limp smile.
“N-No, I’m just working part-time here,” I replied while shaking my head furiously.
“Ah, I see. I thought it was like that because you two had such a good vibe together.”
A good vibe? My heart pounded upon hearing those words.
“I’m Yoneyama Ryosuke. I’m currently working in an art gallery,” he introduced himself, then handed me his name card, although I was just a high school student.
“I’m Mashiro Aoi.”
I accepted the name card with two hands, and I was captivated by its artfulness.
“That’s a wonderful design for a name card.”
“Thank you.” He bowed and scratched his head, his cheeks red in joy.
He’d probably designed it himself. It even seemed as though he brought it out just because he wanted to be praised for it.
He seems like quite an endearing person.
As I studied the name card, Holmes-san appeared from the pantry holding a tray.
“—Here.” He placed the cups in front of us.
My heart felt relaxed as the rich aroma of coffee filled me.
“Thank you.” The guest brought the cup to his mouth, then closed his eyes as he savored the delicious coffee.
“Ahh, Kiyotaka-kun’s coffee is simply divine! Oh yes, here’s some local specialty sweets. They go well with coffee, so let’s enjoy them together!”
He delightedly retrieved a box from his paper bag and placed it on the table.
On the box were the words “阿闍梨餅”. I looked carefully at the characters.
“…How do you read it?”
“It’s read ‘Ajari Mochi’. It’s from a famous shop called ‘Mangetsu’, and it’s quite famous in the city. Let’s eat!” He brought out some small packets from the box.
I opened the packet to reveal a round yakimochi.1
I took a bite. The skin was chewy, and the filling inside was light.
“T-This is really good!”
Overwhelmed by the delectable taste of the yakimochi, I made a face that wholly betrayed my enjoyment.
Holmes-san and Yoneyama-san nodded happily upon seeing me in that state.
“Yes, it’s delicious, isn’t it? It’s a really popular sweet in Kansai, but they expire within five days, so it isn’t known in the rest of the country.”
“Ah, I see.”
If you have to finish it in five days, that would limit the number of people who can bring it back home. It’s such a waste that it’s so delicious, yet so few people know about it!
I joyfully took another bite of the yakimochi, causing me to make another face.
“Apparently, Yagashira-sensei has recently found some counterfeits in an art museum. They were quite elaborate, I hear.”
Yoneyama-san muttered, as if speaking to himself.
“Yes, and that’s why my grandfather’s going around to the art museums this time. He even said that he honestly didn’t expect a master forger to show up.”
I was shocked by those words.
—A master counterfeiter?
I looked at Yoneyama-san as if I was doubting my ears, causing him to respond with a weak, bitter laugh.
“Ah, you’re surprised, huh. Actually, I used to be a master forger, but I quit that shady business after Yagashira Seiji-sensei exposed me.”
“I-I see.” Unsure of how to respond, I smiled ambiguously.
“Did you find that unexpected?” Holmes-san asked, and I nodded honestly.
“Yes, I thought master forgers were audacious people. That’s the image I have of them, anyway.”
I can’t believe this limp person used to be a master forger.
“Well, I also didn’t expect to become one. I used to be an arts university student. I had confidence in my abilities, but I failed to get selected for a competition. During that time, I was looking at a famous artist’s work, when I thought to myself, ‘I could draw something as simple as this too!’ and then I imitated it. That was really a masterpiece.”
“There’s no such thing as a masterpiece for forgeries.”
Holmes-san replied with a cold expression on his face, causing Yoneyama-san to shrink back.
“Sorry, sorry. So that imitation of mine caught the eye of some bad friends, who instigated me, saying that I was a genius and the like. Since I’m not used to being praised, I couldn’t help but feel happy about that, and I got hooked onto creating forgeries.”
Such an easy… I was unable to say anything through my exasperation.
Holmes-san let out a breath while taking a sideward glance at the guest.
“He may not look like it, but he’s actually quite a wily man.”
“Yes, especially in the tricks he uses in his forgeries. He would buy the art of a nameless 17th century artist, then scrape all the paint off. He would melt all that paint, then use it to draw a new picture on the same board. That way, he could get the colors of that time period, and everything, down to the rust on the board, would be from the 17th century.”
“I-I see.” That was certainly amazing.
“Furthermore, he’s the type to get possessed, or rather, he gets into a trance to make copies of other artists’ work, so you can’t really detect those detestable feelings of wanting to deceive others from his forgeries.”
Holmes-san words caused Yonezawa-san to produce a self-mocking smile.
“But while I was doing that, I started wanting myself to be seen.”
“…Wanting yourself to be seen?”
“Yes, I started having egoistic thoughts like, ‘This isn’t made by a renowned artist, but by me!’ And that’s how I got caught.
“Yagashira-sensei came all the way to meet me. He said, ‘I don’t wanna give encouraging words to a master forger, but I gotta admit, ya got some skill. It’s such a shame that yer in the shadowy side of the business, but ya better turn over a new leaf and redeem yerself. If ya can do that, I’ll try ta help ya.’ …That was the first time I was seen and appreciated by someone, and I was so happy that I collapsed on the spot.”
Yoneyama-san must have been thinking of that conversation, for his eyes moistened as he rested his chin in his hands.
“—Now you mention it, do you have some business with me today?”
Holmes-san asked gently, causing the guest to come to his senses and look up.
“Ah, yeah… actually, I have a request to ask of you.”
Yoneyama-san nervously drew back his body.
“A request? What is it?”
“How should I put it… I would like you to conduct an appraisal.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll take a look.”
Holmes-san immediately reached into his inner pocket for his gloves, but Yoneyama-san hurriedly held his hands out.
“No, the thing is, I don’t have it with me right now.”
“Is it something big?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose. Actually, I had Yagashira-sensei take a look at it the other day, but then he said, ‘Go show it to Kiyotaka.’”
Even Holmes-san frowned, unable to comprehend why his grandfather would do such a thing.
It was indeed strange. What was the meaning behind Owner pointing to Holmes-san after having seen the antique already?
“What kind of work is it?”
“Actually— I’d like you to appraise my art.”
Upon hearing those words, I went, “Eh?” and stopped moving.
In other words, Yoneyama-san wants to get Holmes-san to appraise his own artwork and find out how much it’s worth?
Holmes-san might have a good eye for appraisals, but reviewing an artist’s work seems to be outside his jurisdiction.
“Well, it’s a story that has to do with my life.”
Yoneyama-san shrugged again.
“Could you let us hear the full story?” Holmes-san stared at him with a strong gaze.
I wonder what’s the story that has to do with his life.
Feeling a little tense, I silently waited for Yoneyama-san to begin.
“It was when I participated in an art-related party the other day…”
The former master forger slowly started telling his story.
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