Chapter 8: Open It Up (8)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
The next day before the start of the broadcast, Sakae brought Shin out into the hallway. It was just past 6 pm, the perfect time when things were becoming chaotic, but before they entered the final push for the broadcast preparations.
“So you know a guy named Megumi at the New York office?”
“Huh? Um, yes, uh, I do.”
For some reason Shin became flustered and avoided Sakae’s gaze.
“Why the hell are you acting so strange?”
“Oh, I was just surprised to hear that name from your mouth…”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Well, whatever. What’s he like? Can you count on him to do his work?”
“He’s a reliable worker, but he’s a lil’ strange though.”
“Umm… Nevermind, please forget that I said that.”
“Can he keep his mouth shut?”
“Hmmm… I think that he can keep things confidential for work.”
“Alright, I’ve got some work I want to ask him to do, so give me his contact information.”
“Work for Megumi, sir?”
“Yeah. Let him know beforehand that he’ll be getting an email from me. I’ll send it out by tomorrow morning, Japan time. Stress the fact that I don’t want him breathing a word about it to anyone. I want as few people on the job as possible. That means that I don’t want you telling anyone about this either.”
Shin understandably made a face like he couldn’t make heads or tails of Sakae’s request, but he counted off the requirements on his fingers as he confirmed the details with Sakae and nodded with an “Okay, I’ll take care of it.”
“I’ll send his contact information to you over LINE, and I’ll debrief Megumi about everything by today.”
“Mm,” Sakae grunted in response, and then he realized that Shin was grinning at him. Even though Sakae had just ordered him around without giving him any of the full details.
“What? What are you smiling about?”
“…Just that you look like you’re enjoying this a little, Souma-san.”
“Is that so? …But it feels like the times when you’re about to start a new project. And it always turns out to be something amazin’.”
“Don’t raise the bar for me before I’ve even made a move here.”
“Oh, sorry… If there’s anythin’ else I can help with, please ask an’ I’ll take care of it.”
“For now, take care of the thing with Megumi and keep this all a secret.”
Sakae tried asking himself, Am I enjoying this? He had no idea if this lead would amount to anything substantial, and the subject matter was so sensitive, there was no certainty that it would even see the light of day even if it did hold water. Honestly speaking, Sakae couldn’t care less about nabbing a scoop, and he felt no ill will towards Miyoshi either.
After Sakae had returned home from the massage place, he watched the movie that Asou had messaged him about, and then he checked the corresponding episode of My Document that had been on his hard drive. And yeah, when he saw it, he thought that they could be the same person if he bore in mind the differences in their appearance. Maybe the acupressure foot massage had really worked its magic (although Sakae did not want to admit it), but he was able to sleep soundly without dreaming for a change, and when he woke up feeling refreshed, he felt like chasing down the lead. It was like something had slotted perfectly into place like a garment that fit like a glove. Even if he assumed that Shitara had been behind the lead in the first place, it didn’t make him want to change his mind. Sakae wanted to know why a documentary about the homeless had to be fabricated like this.
About 30 minutes after the broadcast ended, Sakae received a LINE message from Shin that said that he had passed the message to Megumi, just as he said he would, so Sakae sent out an email with just the bare essentials. He wanted the name of the actor who played the hotel clerk of the low-budget film, and he wanted him to find a way to contact the actor directly. Both objectives weren’t impossible for Sakae to do on his own from Japan, but if he had someone who knew English at his disposal, then it was far faster to let him do everything. And if Shin was wrong about the guy and he turned out to be useless, then Sakae would take care of it himself.
He received a reply to his email right away that said, Yes, certainly. The content of the message was concise—Megumi would make an inquiry to the movie production company using a suitable excuse and report back if there were any developments or not. For the time being, the guy didn’t appear to be stupid at least.
Sakae had thrown the first pitch. If he wasn’t able to get anything from this, should he approach Yamato TV and scare them a little? But if they insisted that it was just a coincidental resemblance, even the moles, then Sakae had no means to challenge them on their claim. There was no obligation for them to disclose their source material in order to prove their innocence. He would just be throwing unfounded accusations at them. And he would probably lose if he challenged Miyoshi without any cards in his hand.
Sakae tended to opt for showers most days even in the winter, but he filled the bathtub and got in, stretching out in the hot water as his mind wandered over various thoughts. As soon as he pondered the thoughts, they streamed out into the hot water, and he couldn’t get any traction. Drowsiness seized his mind, and his head seemed to melt and go empty, but there was one face that didn’t dissipate from his thoughts. Sakae had only talked about work with him yesterday and today. He wondered what he was thinking. The virtual Shitara in his head was silent with his eyes closed just like he had been in the car.
A full week hadn’t passed yet when Sakae received the first progress report.
“I have a reply from the production company. Apparently the role of the hotel clerk wasn’t played by a professional actor, but they had chosen him from an audition. They aren’t able to disclose his personal information to me without his permission, but they agreed to forward an email to the person for me.”
Sakae was fully prepared to strike out. The person in question wasn’t with an agency, which would make it harder to get a response without an agent specifically fielding requests, but when he skimmed the email written in English enclosed for his reference, he had to laugh out loud.
“I just happened to watch the movie that you were in, and I was incredibly captivated by your brief performance. You really embodied the essence of a world-class hotelier with your effortless gestures and dignified elocution. I’ve watched a lot of hotel clerks in all sorts of movies, but this is the first time that I’ve seen such a brilliant performance. If you’ve appeared in any other movies, I would love to watch them, so I really hope to hear from you.”
In short, it was funny to wonder what kind of face that Megumi had made as he wrote that ridiculous email full of effusive praise for such a trivial role. Especially when Megumi’s photo in the employee directory gave off a serious and responsible impression when Sakae had looked him up on the company intranet. Where in the world was there anyone who watched movies for the hotel clerks? There was a possibility that the email would be interpreted as a troll or a scam, but since the man went out to audition for roles, he probably had some sense of vanity or desire for the limelight.
Sakae felt motivated to work on this potential story, yes, but he didn’t really feel the ambition to make this lead that had fallen into his lap his own. His attitude was that he wanted to see where the dice would land (for the story and for himself), but he would let things take its own course. About a week later, there was more progress.
“I received a reply to the email. His name is George McConnell. He’s 73 years old and lives in New Jersey. We also talked over the phone, and after bonding over the Yankees, he was nice enough to tell me a lot about himself. He grew up in Boston, and after he graduated from college, he worked for an office equipment leasing company. He has two daughters and five grandchildren. He found himself with a lot of free time after he retired and decided to join the theater troupe at his local senior citizens community center. Through volunteering his time to act in plays performed at hospitals and children’s homes, he discovered his love for acting, so he’s been attending auditions for parts here and there. That movie is the only major work that he’s appeared in.”
So the guy really was a different person. Nothing about him matched the life of the homeless man who had crouched in the shadows of the skyscrapers. Sakae felt a familiar thrill that ran through his skull from the inside whenever he grasped the threads of a story that started to materialize. It was a similar feeling when he was one tile away from a great hand in mahjong. All he had to do was to draw the winning tile or to wait for someone to discard it.
He read the rest of the email.
“When I told him that I had just moved here for my job, he said that he would be happy to meet up with me at any time. Fortunately, New Jersey is very close by, and he’s happily retired, so it should be very easy to schedule a meeting with him. What would you like to do?”
Sakae immediately dashed off a response.
“I’ll go to New York for it too.”
He was going all the way to a foreign country for an interview that could possibly flop—all on his own dime even—and there was no guarantee that he’d be able to expense the costs of the trip. He’d probably say nothing about the trip at all if he failed to secure McConnell’s words on record. But nevertheless, he worked out a schedule with Megumi and bought a plane ticket with his own funds. It had been a late night on Tuesday when Sakae said that he would go, and on Saturday morning, he was in Haneda and took a flight that departed at 10:20 am.
When Sakae had searched around the website of McConnell’s senior citizens theater troupe a few days before the flight, he saw an announcement that said that they had performed a puppet show at a children’s special needs home. For some reason, that announcement had bothered him, and when he checked the broadcast archive for My Document, he remembered that there had been an episode about a girl from the U.S. who was called the lonely piano prodigy. She had severe autism and was unable to communicate with others, but she took a sole interest in the piano and played the compositions Transcendental Etudes with effortless ease… She was of course a real person who existed. Videos of her performances were available on the Internet, and she had her own CDs as well. Sakae did some searching and discovered that she had been at the special needs home that McConnell had visited. What if Miyoshi had learned about the theater troupe during his interview with the girl and decided to use someone from there to play the part of a homeless man…? It was a little far-fetched, but it was possible to connect the dots. But Sakae still had no answer to the fundamental question of why Miyoshi would do something like this.
It was a 13-hour flight to New York, and Sakae spent it solely watching movies in his cramped economy seat. It was strange, but when he remembered the hard seats from his grandparents’ movie theater, he began to think that the seat was actually pretty comfortable.
The movie theater had barely scraped by when his grandparents ran it, and although it was still in existence, it had been renovated, and the two of them were no longer of this world. Sakae had thought about filming a story about his hometown, but just when he was about to take it on, all hell broke loose, and the project had fizzled out. Sakae hadn’t been motivated to do the project in the first place, and he should have had no lingering feelings about it, but right now Sakae felt a fierce regret for the missed opportunity. One day he wouldn’t be able to recall the things that he had lost, and he would forget them at an ever-increasing rate. He should have preserved them on camera. Someday it would disappear—anything and everything. People, houses, towns even. If so, then he should have recorded the world that he had seen, even if it was just a small fragment of everything out there. Those were the thoughts that ran through his head as he flew through the sky. Next to him wasn’t Shitara, but a random businessman who nodded off in his seat.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.