[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.
His story went like this—
After being exposed by Owner, Yoneyama-san had a change of heart and gave himself in, properly redeeming himself for his crimes and completely washing his hands off that shady business.
After that, he went on to do honest work, with Owner’s assistance.
While Owner helped Yoneyama-san, he never hid the fact that he used to be a master counterfeiter from people around them.
Apparently, he explained that he did that because “not hiding anything allows you to live openly and boldly”, which indeed sounds like something Owner would say.
During that time, Yoneyama-san was invited to a party, where he had a reunion with the person he didn’t want to meet the most. That person was an old, rich man who lived in the Okazaki district, Mr. Takamiya.
“…It was when I was in my twenties. I sold one of my forgeries to this person.”
Yoneyama-san bashfully shrunk back again.
After hearing from his bad friend that “a wealthy old man called Takamiya lives in Okazaki, and he doesn’t have a good eye for paintings,” Yoneyama-san immediately produced a painting and brought it over.
Before that point, he had always only been creating the forgeries, and had never been involved in selling them.
However, at that time, he wanted to find out with his own eyes how a customer would react to his work. It was a counterfeit that he was confident in and satisfied with.
That was his first and only time he sold his own forgeries.
So that was a reunion with his first customer, and his only victim.
After hearing the story up to that point, Holmes-san folded his arms.
“…Whose painting did you imitate?”
“A painter loved by forgers, huh.”
“What do you mean?” I tilted my head to the side.
“Vermeer was a 17th century painter from Holland, and was also known as ‘The Magician of Light’. His expertise in depicting the sensation of light is still admired by people around the world today. His most famous painting, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, of a young girl smiling slightly as she turns to the side, has been praised to be ‘Holland’s Mona Lisa’.
“Later on, Han van Meegeren, a genius forger in the 20th century, imitated Vermeer’s art to near perfection and caused a huge scandal when he was discovered2. Today, the forger Han van Meegeren’s name comes up whenever Vermeer’s name is mentioned.”
As usual, Holmes-san delivered a fluent answer. It seemed that he was still going strong.
“That’s Kiyotaka-kun for you.” Yoneyama-san smiled weakly.
“It’s just information that anyone in the industry would know of. By the way, I also know about Mr. Takamiya, and he’s a person who is quite well-informed about the field of art. In fact, I find it unbelievable that he was fooled into buying an ersatz Vermeer. Was the work that you imitated ‘The Concert’, by any chance?”
“—No, it was ‘The Guitar Player’.”
Holmes-san’s eyes developed a sharp gaze as the former forger gave his reply.”
“…I see. How shrewd of you.”
The two of them seemed to be communicating with just their eyes, but unable to understand what was going on, I was left with my mouth hanging open.
Sensing my confusion, Holmes-san turned to me and flashed a kind smile.
“Sorry. Vermeer’s ‘The Guitar Player’ is…”
He picked out a book from the shelf and flipped it open.
On the page was a picture with a young woman in a plain dress, holding a guitar that was slightly larger than a ukulele and grinning at someone, giving the picture an overall gentle atmosphere.
“‘The Guitar Player’ was created in Vermeer’s later years, and since it has lower art quality, it’s worth less compared to other works.”
“Ah, is that why it’s easier to forge it?”
I nodded in understanding, but Yoneyama-san flashed a limp smile and shook his head.
“No, that’s not it?”
“This painting was kept in Kenwood House, an art museum in England, but was stolen in 1974,” Holmes-san explained with a bitter expression on his face, causing me to lean forward in surprise.
“What? The painting was stolen?”
“Yes. However, it was found in two months and now still resides in Kenwood House.”
“Ah, so it returned. That’s good.”
“Yes. However, it wouldn’t be strange to think as follows: What if the returned painting was actually a fake produced to maintain appearances, and the real painting is still out there somewhere?”
Our eyes locked.
Holmes-san’s sharp gaze caused me to quickly swallow my breath.
It was a work that had been stolen once and returned to the museum.
In other words, the forgers tried to sell the imitations by saying, “The painting returned to the museum is a fake, created for the purpose of maintain appearances, and this one is the real deal.”
“Umm, what about ‘The Concert’ that Holmes-san mentioned earlier?”
“That one was also stolen. Unfortunately, its whereabouts are currently unknown.”
Holmes-san looked down, his eyes filled with disappointment.
…I see. At any rate, art museums sure get involved with many cases of theft. It’s like in manga and movies.
“The risk of forging ‘The Concert’ would be too high.”
“Indeed. And as I thought, you’re wily.”
“Oh, stop it, that’s all in the past now. Furthermore, the one who suggested it was that friend.”
“Yes, of course. I understand.”
The two of them exchanged looks and smiled.
“Umm, why is it riskier to forge ‘The Concert’?”
Feeling somewhat apologetic at being the only one being unable to understand, I asked quietly.
“Because if ‘The Concert’, a work which has been missing for quite some time suddenly reappears, it would probably be a news story that would shake the world. Even if you got the buyer to refrain from publicizing it, there is a chance that the real painting could appear later on. As such, it’s less risky to forge and sell a work that has already been stolen and returned. Moreover, the buyer wouldn’t loudly proclaim that they have the real deal, and would instead treat it quietly and carefully, so there wouldn’t be much chance of the forgery going public.”
“—I, I see.”
That was certainly true. If the artwork of the century suddenly reappears after being missing for such a long time, it would be at the top of the news. However, ‘The Guitar Player’, which had already been found and returned, would likely not be made public.
“A foxy one, isn’t he?”
Holmes-san looked at me as if wanting my agreement, but I stopped myself from nodding.
It was difficult to say, “Yes, exactly, he’s so foxy!” in front of Yoneyama-san.
“As usual, you’re incredibly incisive when it comes to forgeries, Kiyotaka-kun.”
Yoneyama-san’s eyes narrowed in mirth.
“So, how much did you sell your forgery to Takamiya-san for?”
Holmes-san straightened his posture and returned to the topic at hand. In response, Yoneyama-san raised one finger.
Eh? Could it possibly be one million? He sold it at such an exorbitant sum?
“One hundred million,” he casually answered.
“O-One million!” My high-pitched squeak resonated in the shop.
“…Taking into account that Vermeer’s early works have sold in auctions for over a billion dollars, for a later work that cannot be revealed to the public to fetch one hundred million… well, that’s an acceptable price.”
“A-Acceptable? That’s acceptable?”
“That’s only if it’s genuine. A forgery is not even worth one yen.”
Holmes-san asserted, as if to emphasize a point.
“As I thought, you’re sharp,” Yoneyama-san said with a chuckle, and shrugged.
“However, I’ll have to admit you did a great job getting that Takamiya-san to fork out a hundred million yen. He’s quite a worthy investor, so he must be astute, too. Was your friend’s sales talk that amazing?”
Seemingly unable to comprehend, Holmes-san placed a hand on his chin and studied Yoneyama-san.
“He did no such thing. All he did was show the painting and name the price.”
“So, after viewing the painting for a while, Takamiya-san said he would buy it. The money arrived at a later date in the form of a check, but it was only for one million yen. It didn’t seem like he would pay the rest of the money, and we couldn’t push too far, so in the end the painting sold for a million yen.”
Yoneyama-san shrugged again, causing Holmes-san to say, “I see,” and laugh.
“Now this I can accept. Takamiya-san probably saw through you, but still paid a million yen. Perhaps he wanted to reward you for managing to deceive him, and also wanted to invest in your talent.”
Yoneyama-san let out a heavy breath as Holmes-san nodded.
“Exactly. I met Mr. Takamiya again at the party, but I couldn’t say anything. All I was able to do was stand there quavering with my head down, when he came over and said, ‘Thank you so much for The Guitar Player you sold me the other time’, with a kind smile on his face, as if he was completely harmless. I could feel my whole body being drenched in cold sweat.” Yoneyama-san apparently still felt fearful just by recalling that situation, for his face turned pale and he placed a hand on his forehead.
“I understand. My grandfather mentioned that the industry is filled with monsters. It’s frightening out there.”
My face twitched as Holmes-san nodded.
…He perfectly plays the role of monster himself, though.
“Takamiya-san then continued to tell me this.”
Yoneyama-san took another breath, then continued with his recount of what happened during that party.
After receiving “The Guitar Player” from Yoneyama-san, Takamiya-san immediately flew to England, for the sake of seeing the painting of the same name at Kenwood House.
After that, he knew without a shred of doubt that Yoneyama-san’s painting was counterfeit.
The clincher was that they were exactly the same.
Yoneyama-san’s painting had no difference from the painting on display at the art museum. Takamiya-san realized that he’d devoured the image, to the point that it was firmly imprinted on his mind, such that he was able to imitate it as if being possessed by Vermeer himself. Exactly as Holmes-san said, the one million yen that Takamiya-san gave was a reward for deceiving him, as well as to show respect towards Yoneyama-san’s skills that allowed him to copy the painting to such a fine degree.
(Between his confident words and Holmes-san’s compliments about him, Takamiya-san seemed to have pretty good judgment.)
After having told his story to that point, Yoneyama-san sighed deeply, probably remembering the relief he felt at that time.
“I was feeling relieved, but Mr. Takamiya said, ‘However, there is no changing the fact that you committed a crime on me. Now that we’ve reunited, I’d like you to compensate me.’”
“He wanted you to return the money?”
I asked instinctively, but Yoneyama-san shook his head.
“It would have been a simple matter if that was all. This is what he said…”
Takamiya-san’s request was…
“‘I would like you to fulfil a wish of mine. Do that and I’ll forgive you of your crime.”
Upon hearing those words from Takamiya-san, Holmes-san and I looked at each other.
—He wanted his wish to be fulfilled.
What exactly was it?
As that question swept over my head, Holmes-san nodded in comprehension.
“He wanted you to paint a picture, is that correct?”
“Exactly, and with certain conditions?”
“Conditions? He didn’t ask you to produce a forgery, did he?”
“No, he wanted me to paint in the style of Diego Velázquez.”
“—Diego Velázquez, huh.”
Holmes-san mused as he folded his hands on top of the counter.
As I was feeling lost from hearing the unfamiliar name of an artist, Holmes-san flipped through the pages of the art book that was still on the counter.
“Diego Velázquez was a painter in the court of the Spanish royal family, and was a maestro who represents the Spanish golden age in the 17th century. His famous works include ‘The Surrender of Breda’ and ‘Las Meninas’.”
The page he had flipped to contained the image of ‘The Surrender of Breda’.
In the picture, it seemed as though the battle was already over, for horses and infantry with their spears were appreciating each other for their efforts.
It was indeed a wonderful picture, showing that Velázquez was deserving of his title as maestro.
“‘The Surrender of Breda’ is a depiction of victory.”
—A depiction of victory.
In other words, it was a picture that captured the military victory of Spain.
“In paintings of victories, the general of the losing army would normally be kneeling on the ground, while the winning general looks down at him on a horse. However, in ‘The Surrender of Breda’, the winning and losing generals are standing on even ground, and have their hands placed on each other’s shoulders as a sign of appreciation for each other.”
After Holmes-san’s words, I looked at the picture again.
It looked as if soldiers of the same army were congratulating each other for their efforts, but the victorious general actually had a hand on the shoulder of the defeated general. The two of them gave off the feeling of comrades-in-arms.
“This painting shows the chivalry and spirit of the Spanish even in victory. Diego Velázquez is considered amazing not just because of his technique, but his ability to appeal to the heart in his paintings.”
Holmes-san said with a bright grin.
…Paintings that appeal to the heart.
Now that I’d listened to the explanation, I looked at “The Surrender of Breda” again.
Seeing those figures honoring one another made me feel a gush of respect for them.
As expected, it’s better to have knowledge when coming into contact with such artwork.
The only problem was that just looking at the painting wouldn’t allow one to understand the feelings and drama behind it.
That was what I earnestly thought.
“—So, you finished that painting, right?”
Holmes-san’s voice made me come to my senses and look up.
“Yeah, I finished it. As for the transaction, it’d be better in the presence of a third party who knew the situation, so the sensei said that he’d go with me.”
It certainly seemed like a good idea to have a third party who knew the situation.
Owner must have really cared about Yoneyama-san to offer to witness the transaction for him.
“But then after seeing the painting, he said, ‘I ain’t going to witness the transaction. Have Kiyotaka do it for ya.’”
Yoneyama-san continued with a bitter expression on his face.
“…And that’s why you came to me.”
“Only you can understand why sensei said that, Kiyotaka-kun. So how about it? Will you come with me?”
Yoneyama-san gave a deep bow, and Holmes-san took a small breath.
“—I see. Since my grandfather appointed me, I can’t refuse, but to be honest, I want to see what kind of picture you painted.”
As if having lost his strength, Yoneyama-san placed a hand on his chest.
“Right, and it would be great if Aoi-san could come as well.” He looked at me, causing me to be surprised.
“Eh? Is it fine for me to go with you?”
“Yeah. Mr. Takamiya once lost his wife, son and his beloved grandson in an accident, and now he has only one living relative. If that grandson had survived, he would be around your age, so perhaps you’d help to soften the atmosphere.”
After hearing Yoneyama-san speak, Holmes-san nodded quietly.
“That might be true. So, Aoi-san, would you like to come with us, then?”
“Y-Yes! I’m happy to be able to accompany you.”
I was interested in the mystery behind Takamiya-san’s request, and I also wanted to see what Yoneyama-san painted.
On top of that, I was interested in why Owner appointed Holmes-san to go, even though it didn’t seem as if he’d thought the painting was bad.
Even though it might have seemed imprudent, I responded with a strong nod, feeling utterly excited.
It was Saturday on the same week.
Holmes-san and I were heading to the Okazaki District, where Takamiya-san’s house was at.
With Heian Shrine, known for its gigantic vermillion shrine gate, as well as Okazaki Park and Okazaki Zoo, this area gave the impression of having a lot of wide spaces.
I stared outside the window from the passenger seat.
“With clear blue skies like these, the vermillion color of Heian Shrine really shines, don’t you think?”
Holmes-san commented brightly as he drove.
“You’re right. It seems like a good time to take a walk here.”
“Yes. Naturally, Heian Shrine has a circuit-style garden, and you can also enjoy reading books at the library there. With Nanzen-ji3 a few minutes walk away, you can spend a whole day in Okazaki District.”
“That’s certainly true. There’s really so much to see in Kyoto!”
“Yes, perhaps we should slowly look around next time.”
My heart pounded after hearing Holmes-san’s smooth reply.
“Yes, let’s! I’d be happy if you could show me around, Holmes-san.”
If I got to places like the art museum, library and zoo with Holmes-san, wouldn’t it be like a date? Then again, since we’ve already been to the Handicrafts Market in Hyakumanben and Mt. Kurama, perhaps it wouldn’t be special at all to Holmes-san.
Mortified that I was the only one to be feeling such nervous excitement, I looked out of the window, thinking that it was a futile aspiration, yet being unable to comprehend why. As I was in that state, the car pulled into a residential street.
Quite unlike the rest of Kyoto, large houses were lined up with large spaces between them. It certainly gave off the atmosphere of a premium residential area.
As we entered a small road, a tall fence immediately came into view.
“That’s Mr. Takamiya’s residence,” Holmes-san said while looking at the fence.
Surprised by his words, my eyes widened.
The high fence, which made it clear that its purpose was to keep intruders out, enclosed a section of land.
On the other side of the large door with iron railings was a wide yard with a lawn spread over it.
I could see a Western-style building in the middle of the yard. It had a brick outer wall in a subdued color.
Up till now, I had always seen gleaming Western-style buildings, but Mr. Takamiya’s residence was different from those ones that gave off a new, modern atmosphere, and instead made me feel its history and significance.
With its dignified ambience, it gave off the impression of an old castle.
A huge parking space lay in front of the door, and a one-box car was parked in it. In the driver’s seat was Yoneyama-san’s figure.
After confirming that we were approaching, he waved with a limp smile on his face.
Holmes-san nodded politely upon seeing Yoneyama-san, then reversed the car to park it.
“You’re in time. Thank you.”
Yoneyama-san got off his car, opened the trunk and retrieved a big painting wrapped in packing paper.
That would be the painting that he’d produced.
The one that was “in the style of Diego Velázquez”, as requested.
“—Welcome. This way, please.”
Following the servant’s directions, we went into the yard and entered Mr. Takayama’s residence.
While I was blown away by the size of the entranceway and the height of the colonnade, we headed towards the study.
A maroon carpet was spread out on the floor, and a chandelier hung from the ceiling. An enormous portrait dominated a wall. It depicted a young man with dauntless features and a beautiful woman. Probably Mr. Takamiya and his wife when they were young.
It was a wonderful painting that was most likely created by a famous artist.
“Here we are.”
We stopped in front of the study as the servant slowly opened the door.”
The first thing that caught my eye was “The Guitar Player” that Yoneyama-san had painted.
I was a little shocked to see that Mr. Takamiya had put it up even after knowing that it was a forgery.
In front of that picture was a splendid desk, where Mr. Takamiya was sitting.
He struck me as someone in the same generation as Owner.
That would put him in his late seventies.
However, he wasn’t dazzling with youthful ardor like Owner, but was instead gentle and composed, and gave off an atmosphere of elegance.
“Thank you for coming.”
With a hand resting on a walking stick, he stood up. His intonation was flawless.
The two of us bowed respectfully.
“Well, if it isn’t Kiyotaka-kun. Haven’t seen you in a while. I heard from Seiji-san that you would be the witness today.”
Takamiya-san’s eyes narrowed as he saw Holmes-san.
“Good to see you after such a long time. You haven’t changed much since then.”
“No, I’ve definitely grown old. How I wish I can be always healthy, like Seiji-san.”
He then turned to look at me.
“—And this is?”
“I, I am Mashiro Aoi,” I awkwardly introduced myself.
“Aoi-san is part of the staff at Kura,” Holmes-san continued for me.
“I see. It must be quite interesting to work around the people in the Yagashira family. Do your best!”
From those words, I could surmise that he also knew about the unique points of the Yagashira family, making me feel a sense of affinity with him. Happily, I said, “Yes!” and lowered my head again.
Takamiya-san walked over to Yoneyama-san.
“It seems that you’ve already finished the painting. Are you a person who works fast?”
He asked with a smile on his face. The smile was gentle, but had a lot of force behind it.
“Y-Yes, I work fast, I think.”
Yoneyama-san nodded nervously, then looked at the easel that had already been set up in the study.
“Umm… do I put it here?”
“Yes, please do.”
Yoneyama-san installed the wrapped painting on the easel.
I could sense the tension in his movements, making me feel nervous for him too.
“—H-Here you go,” Yoneyama-san stammered, then stepped away.
The painting on the easy was covered with a white cloth.
Takamiya-san, who had been holding such a composed expression up till now, gulped.
Holmes-san, who was standing by the wall, was also staring at it with a sharp gaze.
Tension enveloped the study.
Takamiya-san silently extended a hand and swiftly lifted the white cloth off.
He unexpectedly let out a sound.
On the painting was a cute young girl who looked like a doll.
She seemed to be seven or eight years old, with black glossy hair, deep black eyes and rose-colored cheeks.
She was wearing a pink dress and a prim smile.
Behind Takamiya-san, who had stood up without saying anything, Holmes-san quietly smiled.
“An oil painting similar to that of Diego Velázquez, I see. It brilliantly expresses the art style of the maestro himself, I think. By the way, who is this young girl?”
Takamiya-san looked down in response to Holmes-san’s question.
“That’s my granddaughter, Satoko.”
Upon hearing those words, Holmes-san closed his mouth and put on a meek expression.
Yoneyama-san hesitantly raised his head.
“…I heard from Yagashira-sensei that your granddaughter, Satoko-san, was the apple of your eye. With the help of your secretary, I managed to obtain photos of Satoko-san.”
He gave an apologetic look, probably sorry for having taken the liberty to get the photographs.
I noticed that he used the past tense, which left me with a bitter feeling. As we’d been told, Takamiya-san had lost his family in an accident, and the picture depicted his deceased granddaughter.
“…I see. Diego Velázquez also painted many pictures of King Philip IV’s beloved daughter, Margarita. She was given to Austria for a political marriage, but it’s a fact that the king doted on her. Did you take a hint from that?”
Yoneyama-san wordlessly nodded to Holmes-san’s question.
In front of that painting, Takamiya-san’s eyes were moistened, and his hands were quavering.
“I’m moved. It’s more wonderful than I thought it would be. If Satoko looks down on this from Heaven, she would surely be happy.”
Yoneyama-san placed a hand on his chest in relief, but Takamiya-san narrowed his eyes.
“I gained immense riches through the success of my business, and at one time, I felt that I had everything in the world. I would even arrogantly say, ‘There is nothing that can’t be bought by money.’ But then I received divine punishment.
“Since I was too busy with my work, my wife and my son’s family went for a holiday. But then they got into a traffic accident, and that’s how I lost my family. My wife who has followed me for so long, my proud son, and my precious granddaughter…” The words escaped from his lips as he stared at the painting.
The despot who boasted about getting everything in the world lost everything that couldn’t be bought with money.
Feeling the despair and pain in Takamiya-san’s statement, I was unable to look directly at him, so I looked down instead.
“…Yes, that’s what I heard. I also heard that your granddaughter was five at the time…”
Yoneyama-san continued, causing me to go, “Hm?” and check the picture again.
That child is five years old?
…She didn’t look it at all. She was too big to be a five-year-old.
At that moment, Holmes-san nodded and muttered, “I see.”
“You painted a picture of a slightly grown-up version of Satoko-san, right?”
“…Yes. I imagined a grown-up Satoko-san based on her photographs, then painted her at an age when she would be entering elementary school.”
Yoneyama-san nodded. Unable to hold it back any longer, Takamiya-san burst into a flood of tears.
“Thank you so much. I never dreamt that I would be able to meet the seven-year-old Satoko.”
Takamiya-san clasped Yoneyama-san’s hands.
“…No, I can only hope that I met your expectations.”
He’d probably managed to create a work that resonated with Takamiya-san’s feelings.
I was also deeply touched by that scene, and tears started welling up in my eyes.
“It absolutely surpasses my expectations.” Takamiya-san vigorously shook Yoneyama-san’s hand, but a hesitant expression appeared on the artist’s face.
I wonder why he looks so despondent? I thought. At that moment, Holmes-san answered my doubts.
“—The painting certainly went beyond expectations, but it’s quite different from the work that Takamiya-san wanted from the beginning, right?”
Holmes-san asked with a strong tone, causing all of us to stop moving.
The painting went beyond expectations, but it’s different from the work that Takamiya-san wanted?
I frowned, unable to understand why Holmes-san would say such a thing.
But Yoneyama-san nodded with a solemn look on his face, apparently holding the same thoughts.
“I agree with what Kiyotaka-kun said. I had a lot of confidence when I was producing this work, but after Yagashira-sensei looked at my finished painting, he went quiet for a while, then appointed Kiyotaka-kun.
“I believe the sensei felt that something was off, but he couldn’t express that feeling in words. This picture might have satisfied you, but it isn’t necessarily linked to your initial request, right?”
As if the frail impression he gave off was just an illusion, Yoneyama-san spoke firmly, causing me to be a little flustered. I never knew that the lax artist could hold such a strong gaze.
Takamiya-san looked down, as if to escape from that gaze.
“…It’s exactly as you say. When I set the condition that the painting had to be “in the style of Diego Velázquez”, it was because I hoped to see a certain kind of painting. I looked forward to see what kind of picture the genius who had once deceived my eyes would draw in response to my condition.
“I wondered if you would read my intentions and produce a wonderful painting, or do the bare minimum and create a piece that simply imitates Diego Velázquez’s techniques.”
Takamiya-san was testing Yoneyama-san to see how far he would answer his expectations.
“In the end, you didn’t quite grasp my desire, but you certainly went beyond my expectations.
“It isn’t an exaggeration to say that you’ve vastly outperformed your client. So, it’s fine. I’m satisfied with your painting.”
Takamiya-san earnestly said as he stared at the painting.
“But I can’t agree that I’ve done a good job if I didn’t draw what you originally wanted,” Yoneyama-san replied in an annoyed tone.
He really was like a different person.
Yoneyama-san used to suppress his sense of self when creating forgeries. He’d turned over a new leaf and was now working in an art gallery, but this was probably his first time in this kind of situation.
In this situation where someone not only knew about him and acknowledged his talents, but also entrusted him to produce a piece of art, something must have started growing within Yoneyama-san.
And that something was a creator’s strong pride that made him want to fully fulfil his client’s wishes…
I wonder what Holmes-san’s thinking?
I glanced at him, but he was standing by the wall and looking out the window, with a small grin on his face.
…What is he looking at?
Lured by his gaze, I also turned to look out of the window, to see two young children playing in the garden.
There were also a young couple who were joyfully watching over the children, who seemed unsteady on their feet.
“—Who is that family?”
I quietly asked. Takamiya-san gazed at the scene with a peaceful countenance.
“That’s my one remaining treasure. I’ve lost my precious family, but I have one grandson left, and that is his family. My grandson, his wife, and their two children, one at three years old and the other at two years of age. That would make them my great-grandchildren.
“They don’t care about who I am, and just adore me. Indeed, they are irreplaceable.”
Takamiya-san’s cheeks relaxed as he contentedly looked on at the family playing in the garden.
Holmes-san made a small nod, apparently having surmised everything.
“I understand now, Takamiya-san.”
Takamiya-san went, “Hm?” as he shifted his gaze to Holmes-san.
“You wanted Yoneyama-san to paint a picture in the style of Las Meninas, right?”
Takamiya-san’s eyes widened as he heard Holmes-san’s confident words.
Yoneyama-san and I asked together, but with different inflections.
My question was rhetorical, but Yoneyama-san’s voice echoed with doubt.
“…As always, you’re amazing, Kiyotaka-kun.”
Takamiya-san said after a short pause, his eyes narrowed as if he were looking at something dazzling.
That was one of the famous works of Diego Velázquez that Holmes-san had mentioned the other day, and he’d shown us a photo of the painting.
Las Meninas is Spanish for “Ladies-in-waiting”. It’s focused on Princess Margarita, with many ladies-in-waiting around her, I think.
“With a complex structure, it is critically appraised as a work of art.” That was written in the artbook that Holmes-san had shown us.
Did Takamiya-san want a painting with such a complex structure?
Answering my question, Holmes-san retrieved the art book from his bag which was on the floor.
“I brought it here, just in case.”
He then flipped to the page with the image of Las Meninas.
As I’d remembered, it had Princess Margarita in the middle.
On the left side was a lady-in-waiting holding the princess’ hand, and on the right side were three young girls. Out of the three girls, the youngest one was stepping on a dog that was lying on the ground. It might seem cruel at first glance, but the dog didn’t seem to be feeling pain, so it was probably just a child’s harmless prank.
The part of the painting that left a lasting impression was the figure who stood in front of a canvas, painting a picture.
“—Who is this person?”
“That’s Diego Velázquez himself.”
“The artist himself!” So Las Meninas was a self-portrait as well!
Diego Velázquez must be quite a narcissist to include himself in his own work. But perhaps all artists were like that?
In any case, there must be a hint somewhere in that painting. As I was devouring the picture with my eyes, searching for the answer, Yoneyama-san stood up next to me.
“—Yoneyama-san, concentrate on the royal couple in the painting.”
Holmes-san quietly said, causing Yoneyama-san to strain his eyes to look at the picture and respond with, “The royal couple?”, a difficult expression on his face.
After staying silent for a while, he suddenly raised his head, as though he’d had a revelation.
“…Um, did you understand something?”
“Y-Yeah. Aoi-chan, look here.”
He pointed at the picture frame on the wall in the painting.
“You’re referring to the picture in the painting, right?”
It was a picture of a woman clad in a dress on the left, and a man on the right who seemed to be a person of authority.
That was probably the portrait of the royal couple.
“That’s what I thought too, but that’s wrong. It’s not a portrait, but a mirror. It is a custom to paint the king on the left, but it’s the other way around, right?”
…If that’s so, even though they were not in the picture, they were in the room. In front of Princess Margarita and the working Velázquez.
—In other words, Velázquez was painting a picture of the royal couple on the canvas.
I see, so that’s how it is.
To summarize, Velázquez painted Las Meninas through the king’s perspective.
Today, you can easily do that with a camera, but that didn’t exist during that era.
And at that time, young Margarita would soon be wedded off to Austria.
Those everyday scenes filled with joy and tranquillity must have been treasured by the king as a precious, limited treasure.
Velázquez cut out those treasured bits of time and painted them for the king.
To leave behind the image of the princess, her ladies-in-waiting and himself, paying a visit to the royal couple.
At the moment when I understood the meaning behind the painting, Yoneyama-san clenched his fists and said, “—I, I understand. I now understand the secret behind the arrangement of Las Meninas.”
He then continued in a low voice.
“This is— the joyous scenery that the king always sees, right?”
Holmes-san silently nodded to those words.
It was now obvious to me as well.
Basically, Takamiya-san wanted Yoneyama-san to paint the joyous scenery of his grandson’s family playing together from his viewpoint, a scene that he could enjoy only now.
It was exactly like Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas.
While that scene seemed to be insignificant and could be seen everywhere, I knew just how irreplaceable it was to Takamiya-san.
Before I noticed it, tears had already naturally welled up in my eyes, so I hurriedly wiped the corners of my eyes.
“Here you go.”
Holmes-san immediately offered me his handkerchief.
Feeling embarrassed, I used the handkerchief to press down on the corners of my eyes.
Having heard our little exchange, Takamiya-san chuckled.
“Thank you for weeping for me.
“It is exactly as you say. However, the condition that I gave, “in the style of Diego Velázquez”, contained a little mischief on my part. Basically, I wanted to see how far Yoneyama-san could solve this riddle, but I wasn’t really taking it seriously since I didn’t expect him to understand it. But then he painted up a wonderful picture in the style of Velázquez, so I’m satisfied.”
Takamiya-san gazed at Yoneyama-san’s painting of Satoko-san again, his eyes narrowed lovingly.
Yoneyama-san walked in front of the elderly investor and lowered his head.
“—Takamiya-san, could you give me one more chance?”
Upon hearing those words, Takamiya-san looked into the artist’s eyes without saying a word.
“Please let me paint one more picture. This time, I think I’ll be able to produce a work in the style of Las Meninas,” He asserted in a strong tone.
Takamiya-san’s face seemed to be filled with doubt for a moment, but it quickly turned into an ecstatic smile.
“Then, let me officially make a request of you. Could you paint for me this joyous scene that you can see here?”
“Yes, I’d be glad to,” with a hand on his chest, the artist bowed again.
“I’ll look forward to seeing your version of Las Meninas, then. But this time, don’t be too fixated on Velázquez’s art style, and draw this scenery in your own style.”
Takamiya-san said. In reply, Yoneyama-san bowed deeply with a serious look in his eyes.
“Yes, I will do my best.”
Indeed, he was just like the king’s Diego Velázquez.
An awe-inspiring scene lay before me.
Right here, right now, an amazing artist was born.
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- Grilled or broiled mochi.
- Interestingly, officials believed that van Meegeren had sold a real Vermeer painting to the Nazis, so he confessed to the charge of falsification to get a much smaller punishment of a year in jail. However, he suffered from two heart attacks and died before the end of his sentence.
- A Zen Buddhist temple established in 1291, Nanzen-ji is also the headquarters of a branch of Rinzai Zen.