Sayonara Piano Sonata
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"Sonate pour deux"

When I first set my eyes on the first page of the score, the song reminded me of a fluttering moth.

The countermelody circled around the burning main melody before diving into the flames. But despite being burnt into nothingness, new moths would spawn from the charred ashes—that was the feeling that that song had imparted on me.

Sonata in A♭ major, also known as "opus postumus," was a posthumous work. And because there was no given title for that sonata, I habitually referred to it as <Fire-thieving Moths>.

♯ ♪ ♭ ♬

After I had become a ruffian in the classical music industry, I had found that there were a few particular questions that I would commonly be asked, such as "Why don't classical pieces have titles? Wouldn't not having titles make it difficult to refer to them?" I had briefly touched on that topic during an interview for a magazine—it was an interview for an album, though I had only produced one of the album's songs.

"Mr. Nao, are you the one that came up with the album's name, <Mutant Butterfly>?"

"Yeah, it was me. Back then, no one could come up with a name for the album, so the manager said, 'Hey Nao, name one of your favourite songs!' To which I replied, 'Beethoven's Sonata no.31 in A♭ major.' But they misheard it as "mutant butterfly" instead......" [TL Note: Apparently, "A♭ major" sounds similar to "mutant butterfly" in Japanese]

The interviewer roared with laughter. Then, he posed that question—

"Still, why are classical pieces referred to as whatever number and whatever pitch instead of titles that are easier to understand?"

I had been asked that question several times already, so I already had an answer prepared.

"Well...... here's an analogous situation. Military buffs usually refer to fighter jets by their model numbers, don't they? They'll call a jet an 'F-14' as opposed to a 'Tomcat,' and they rarely ever refer to the 'SR-71' as 'Blackbird.' Fans of classical music are the same. Referring to these classical songs by their opus number makes us sound cooler and more knowledgeable, doesn't it?"

"I see!"

Of course that was just me bullshitting.

♩ ♫ ♯ ♬

I had first come into contact with <Fire-thieving Moths> on my twenty-fourth birthday.

The day before that—the last day I was twenty-three—happened to be the same day Mafuyu was finished her American tour and was returning to Japan. So having just completed my work, I drove down to Narita Airport early in the morning.

I wasn't sure if it was because of the spring holidays, but the airport was filled with tourists when I arrived there at ten, and many of them were travelling as a family. Because of that, the airport was somewhat packed, but I still spotted Mafuyu's shiny maroon hair instantly as she made her way through the arrival gate. Mafuyu saw me before I could even wave my hands and immediately ran towards me.

The last time we had seen each other was during New Years. Three months had already passed, and it felt like she had become even prettier.

Ebisawa Mafuyu—she was now the world famous pianist with "mercury fingers." So who had come up with that weird title of hers? It's sad to say this, but it was my dad, Hikawa Tetsurou. And because that title suited Mafuyu's style of playing the piano, her "ice beauty" look, and her staunch rejection of the media, it was quickly accepted by everyone, and had even made its way overseas.

Even though we were already adults, to me, Mafuyu was still an ordinary girl that cried easily and that got angry for the slightest reasons. And she would only prove my point as she walked towards me with wobbly steps. It has been three months—I think it should be okay to give her a really tight hug, right? But that tiny thought of mine was immediately quashed by my rationality when I thought about how it would look in the eyes of the crowd around us.

"Welcome back—"

Right when I finished saying that, Mafuyu came to a stop two meters in front of me. For some reason, she was warily scanning the arrival hall behind me.

"I-Is something wrong?" Did she read my mind and become aware of my desire to hug her?

"We will not be chased around by anyone, right? And we will not be brought to a strange place again, right?"

"Nah! Why would that happen?"

"Those are my only impressions of Narita Airport....."

As Mafuyu mumbled those words with her head lowered, I remembered what had happened there.

Mafuyu was always flying all over the place because of her tours, but that was already our third time meeting at Narita Airport. The first time was during the summer of our first year of high school, while the second time was during the winter. In both cases, we were chased around by the security; and both times, there was hardly any chance for us to talk. Ah, those were painful days......

Regarding the third time—today—Mafuyu had actually asked me to pick her up at the airport. That was the first time she had done that, and it also meant that Ebichiri wouldn't be around. That was why I had spent the whole night finishing all my work, so that I could reach the airport early in the morning.

"Urm....... we sure did some impulsive things when we were young......"—I laughed wryly—"But you don't have to worry today. I'm here specifically to pick you up!"

Mafuyu nodded her head vigorously and walked right up to me.

"...... I am back."

Mafuyu's tiny voice was almost drowned out by the sound of rolling luggage. What's wrong? She didn't look very happy.

But she didn't seem angry either. I guess she's just exhausted from all that travelling? I mean, she did fly halfway across the globe; and there's the jet lag to consider as well. She should be sleeping at around this time.

I grabbed Mafuyu's luggage and started walking.

"Where are we going?"

"I drove here, so how about we send you home? You're probably dead tired, right? You don't look very good."

"Send me home?"

Mafuyu shot past me and turned around. Looks like I've really pissed her off this time.

"I specifically planned my return flight to arrive around this time, so why would I want to go back home?"

"S-Sorry, is there someplace you'd like to go?"

Mafuyu shook her head hard.

"Urm....... then? What's going on here?"

"It just means anywhere is fine as long as I can be together with Naomi!"

I must've had an incredibly silly expression on my face after hearing that. Mafuyu's face was all red, and her eyebrows were arching upwards.

"I-I see...... Mmm, I get it. I'm sorry."

I cautiously closed the distance between us and gently took her hand. She responded with a firm grip.

The announcements were blaring nonstop over the speakers, and as we stepped onto the escalator, I asked that question softly.

"Then...... how about my home?"

Mafuyu nodded. Looking at her from the side, it seemed like she couldn't wait.

We were overwhelmed by fatigue when we reached my house, so after a quick shower, we dropped dead onto my bed.

♫ ♯ ♩ ♬

We each took another shower after waking up. It was already ten at night when I began preparing our dinner; and Mafuyu had just walked out of the bathroom with a tired expression on her face and her wet hair wrapped up in a towel. Though our jobs aren't exactly what you would call normal, it's still a little much for us to sleep from morning to late into the night. I guess we should reflect on that a little.

As I was preparing the fish in the kitchen, Mafuyu sat herself down on my bed and looked around the room. For some strange reason, she looked disappointed.

"...... Sorry, my room's really cramped......"

Mafuyu had visited my room several times already, but I still deliberately said that anyway. But she just shook her head.

"That is not what I was thinking. Naomi's room is just way too clean. There is nothing I can help out with."

"Really? I think it's a little messy in some areas."

One of the walls of the room was covered with rows of guitars and basses, and a two-tier electric piano and synthesizer were also present. The instruments took up almost the entire space. Additionally, I had recently converted my music into a digital format, so I didn't have very many CDs left; but I still couldn't convert my books, so my shelves were still filled to the brim.

"Naomi, why are you so neat and tidy even though you are his child?"

Mafuyu knew very well how destructively lazy Tetsurou was, but there was still this complicated feeling inside me when I heard that question of hers. Can you not word it that way?

"Well, a child does grow up looking at the backs of his parents; but there are certainly occasions where a parent serves as a negative example rather than a positive one."

"At the very least, allow me to help out with our laundry!" Mafuyu stood up.

"But I already washed everything while you were in the shower."

"Why did you wash them?" Why are you so angry anyway?

Mafuyu puffed her cheeks out and sat herself back down on the bed.

When dinnertime rolled around, Mafuyu was still a little unhappy. She ate her food silently, but did occasionally peek at my face.

"Urm...... sorry, are the dishes bad?"

"I have tasted plenty of dishes in various hotels and restaurants in America, but Naomi's miso soup is still the best out there."

Then you should look happier when you're eating my food......

"I wish I could eat your dishes every day......."

"Nah, that's impossible. I can't possibly freight them to America every single day!"

"From the next month onwards, I will be shifting the focus of my work back to Japan. It is too tiring doing tours all the time."

Mafuyu's announcement caught me by surprise, and I nearly dropped my bowl onto the floor.

"Eh? Back to Japan...... So that means...... you'll be living here?"

"...... Is that no good?"

"What are you talking about!? Of course that's great! I'm really happy!" I leaned my body forward in excitement. Up till then, the longest Mafuyu had ever stayed in Japan was a month; and even then, we couldn't see each other every day.

"...... And so...... therefore...... I can eat your food...... every day."

Said Mafuyu, as she looked at me shyly.

"But still...... it won't be easy for you to make time for that every day, right? Your house is a considerable distance away from mine too......"

I was suddenly kicked in the leg beneath the table. Huh? W-What's going on? Does she really want me to send my cooking to her house every day?

"Whatever! You are an idiot. Pretend I never said that."

After saying that, Mafuyu sent a spoonful of sashimi salad into her mouth.

When we were done eating dinner, Mafuyu said she wanted to do the dishes, but I stopped her immediately.

"Why not?" pouted Mafuyu. "Are you going to say something like 'a pianist shouldn't be risking her fingers doing chores like this' as well?"

"Of course!"

"I hate this. You have done all the housework impeccably, so there is nothing left for me to do!"

"But I don't even mind that you're not doing any of the housework."

"But I do!" Don't slam the table! What on earth do you want?

Mafuyu hugged her knees on my bed and turned to face the wall. Seems like she's really pissed off. So while I was washing the plates, I cautiously asked her,

"Right, I....... I bought a new electric piano. Wanna give it a go?"

Mafuyu had wrapped herself up with a blanket and was still throwing a tantrum on my bed, but she eventually got off and sat down in front of the piano. She flicked the switch on. And as Mafuyu rested her "mercury fingers" on the keyboard, I unconsciously set the dish I was washing down and turned off the faucet.

One of Mafuyu's unrivaled characteristics was the delicate way she struck the keys, which was often referred to as "the faintest sound, like the fog of the night." It was a shame that the electric piano was unable to interpret her gentle playing to replicate the sounds accordingly, but what should've been a sickeningly sweet E-major melody was still transformed into something that felt like a cup of smoothie, that was incredibly comforting to listen to.

It was Edward Elgar's <Salut d'Amour>, a heart-warming piano piece that was dedicated to Caroline Alice, the woman that would later become his wife. Because the song was less than three minutes long, I stopped washing the dishes to listen to it until it was over.

"...... That's the first time I've heard you play that song! Do you like Elgar?"

"Nope." Mafuyu shook her head while facing the keyboard. "I dislike all his works aside from his Cello Concerto."

Now that's being really clear about what she likes and dislikes! But why play that song then?

"It is fine if you do not understand...... Is there any song you would like to listen to?"

"Eh? Well......"

I wasn't sure if she was still angry, so I hastily washed the dishes with unease and walked to Mafuyu's side.

"There's a ton of stuff that I'd love to listen to you play...... Can I really choose? But it's so late already......"

"I will be staying here tonight."

"Huh?" The lingering sounds of <Salut d'Amour> were completely erased by that strange cry of mine. "Ah, urm....... well...... urm, what I meant was...... you're definitely welcome to stay, but is that really okay? Your dad, he should be back in Japan, no? And since you'll be staying in Japan for the long term anyway, there's no hurry to have you stay over tonight......"

"Papa is still in America...... though he should already be on his flight from Dallas."

"What's...... going on?"

"It is just....... If I had returned to Japan together with Papa, I would not have been able to leisurely spend time together with you. So I snuck away and returned a day earlier."

...... And I wanted to see you while you were still the same age as I am—upon hearing that explanation from Mafuyu, I sat down next to her on the small piano chair and leaned in closely to her body. I had my back facing her because I was really quite embarrassed. I see, so that's why she only had a small piece of luggage with her when she came back.

"It seems like Papa wants to discuss something with you once he is back in Japan. But because it is rare for me to be able to meet you on your birthday, I really did not want to see you together with Papa."

"Ebichiri wants to discuss something with me?"

What could it be? Probably something related to Mafuyu, I guess? Whenever Ebichiri was looking for me, his image as a "world-renowned conductor" disappeared and was replaced by that of a silly father that doted on his daughter too much. If I was given the option, I would very much prefer that he be looking for me to talk about things like speakers or stage performances and so on.

Though I was oblivious to it, the hands of the clock on the wall had just overlapped with one another while pointing upwards. The fourth of April had finally arrived.

"Happy birthday, Naomi!"

"Mmm, thanks."

"I have specially prepared a birthday present for you. I bought these in Manchester when the BBC Philharmonic invited me to go to England."

The patchwork bag she gave me was filled with EP records and cassette tapes. They were said to contain the live recordings of Manchester-born performers before they had become famous worldwide. And included, were the Oasis, The Stone Roses, etc. I had never expected her to find something like this.

"You do not quite like Manchester music, do you?"

"Mmm...... You do know me well."

"Manchester music," as it was called, was comprised of bands categorized under the britpop genre. And for reasons unknown to myself, britpop music just wasn't quite my cup of tea.

"You may start to like it after listening to these recordings. Or perhaps you might dislike it even more."

"What about you?"

When I turned my head around, Mafuyu was only a hair's breadth away from me. She pouted as she thought of an answer.

"I cannot really say if I like it or not, but...... it does make me want to share it with you, Naomi."

"...... I love presents like that."

And that was the truth. Music existed to mesmerize the hearts of others to transport them to an unknown place. And as to whether that place would be an oasis or a wasteland filled with thorns and rubble...... we could only decide that after we had reached that destination.

"That is not all....... I am giving you. I will also play whatever songs you want."

Feels just like the Christmas of a certain year. Mafuyu and I were reminded of the same thing at the same time; and our faces came into contact with each other as we smiled.

"But since it's so late already......" I snuck a peek at the clock. It'd be boring if I could only listen to gentle melodies that were along the lines of <Salut d'Amour>; I want her to go all out if she's going to play.

So I hooked the electric piano to the mixer and plugged in two pairs of earphones. The wires and the warm electric signals linked Mafuyu and me together.

"So what will your first request be?"

Murmured Mafuyu.

"I haven't thought of anything yet. But we still have time anyway......"

I made my way to my bed, which was a slight distance away from the piano, and went deep in thought.

"Are you okay with a slightly longer piece?"

"If you want me to play Wagner's <Der Ring des Nibelungen> rearranged for the piano in its entirety, I will do just that."

Don't! Do you have any idea how long that'll take?

"Because that means I will be able to be together with Naomi!"

I was secretly glad that Mafuyu was still facing the piano when she said that, as I was so incredibly happy at that moment, the expression on my face was probably pretty disgusting.

"Urm...... well...... How about Beethoven's <Op. 106> then?"

Her maroon hair bobbed for a brief moment. Then, she raised her slender fingers and placed them on the keyboard. The first movement, reminiscent of majestic fanfare, began to play through the earphones.

I11

Beethoven's —

During the time Beethoven was still alive, improvements to the piano were advancing at a rapid pace. The range of the piano's sound became wider, and its timbre approached that of the piano in its final pristine form. Whenever the artisans crafted a new piano, Beethoven would come up with sonatas that would push the piano to its limits. And when Sonata No. 29 was created, Beethoven had finally composed a piece that had exceeded the instrument's capabilities, as well as the musical skills, of his time.

In an unexpected twist that even Beethoven could not have predicted, the piece that was written for future pianists, and for the piano of the future, was named <Hammerklavier>, the German word for the fortepiano.

I liked that term quite well, as it explicitly stated that the instrument was made up of hammers and a keyboard. [TL Note: Hammerklavier literally means "hammer-keyboard"]

But that piece was demanding not only of the instrument itself, but also of the pianist, who had to reveal everything about himself. The pianist had to remain focused for the entirety of the fifty-minute performance, something that was incredibly difficult to achieve for even seasoned pianists.

But Mafuyu was playing <Hammerklavier> right before my eyes. She was playing a song that would've been impossible for her to play had her fingers not fully recovered.

I closed my eyes and listened to the adagio of the third movement coming from the earphones. It felt like I was peering into the depths of a spring.

This time spent together with Mafuyu...... there'll be plenty more times like this to come.

♭ ♭ ♬ ♬

I received his call the following day. I was using my thumb to try to rub away the drowsiness on my eyelids when I picked up the vibrating cellphone next to my pillow. Whose number is this?

"Hello? This is Ebisawa speaking."

Out came the slightly unhappy voice of the man on the other side of the phone. Still in a daze, I almost asked "Which Ebisawa am I speaking to?"

"—Hmm? Ah! You're...... Mr. Ebisawa Chisato?"

I'm not sure if she was awakened by my yelp, but Mafuyu, who was sleeping next to me, gave a "Hmm?" and flipped her body around. The tip of her nose was pressing tightly into my arm.

"Yes. It has been a while."

"Oh, no, it's okay," I slid out of the blanket and reflexively sat seiza on the bed.

"I have just returned to Japan and am currently in Tokyo. Mafuyu should have arrived a day earlier than me, but I could not reach her through her phone...... Mmm, so I am wondering if you know where she is. Just in case. Sorry for interrupting you at a time like this, but I just want to make sure."

There were faint hints of a thorny "I have an idea of what's going on, but I don't want to face it anyway" emotion hidden in his words, so I was at a loss at what to say. But at that moment, Mafuyu just happened to open her eyes slightly, and as she hugged me tightly while still half-asleep, she cooed, with a slightly nasal voice, "Naomi? What is going on? What time is it now?" It seemed like Mafuyu's voice had carried over to the other side of the phone, as I heard a painful moan come from Ebichiri. It sounded very much like the dying breath of a cow that was being strangled. I had an urge to throw my cellphone down the toilet and flush it away.

"Well...... urm...... Mafuyu...... Mafuyu-san's....... at my house right now. Yes, since yesterday......"

Even though he doted on his daughter to a point that was beyond salvation, he was also a man that knew his boundaries—I guess that's Ebichiri's biggest misfortune. All I could hear was hot air constantly flowing into the phone; it was as if he were saying "I know you and Mafuyu are already adults that are fully capable of supporting yourselves, and as her parent, I am not in a position to talk too much. But that and my emotions are two separate matters altogether. If you were standing in front of me right now, I would definitely send you flying with a punch!" The silence was unbearable.

"Today is a holiday, but it is still atrocious for working adults to sleep in until noon!"

In the end, he decided to compromise by lecturing us on our living habits instead. But how does he know I just woke up? Is it because of the laziness in my voice?

"I do not care if you want to emulate Hikawa's lax lifestyle, but do not drag Mafuyu down with you."

"Right...... I'm sorry."

After I said that, my phone was suddenly snatched away from me.

"Papa? Is this Papa? Stop poking your nose into the lives of others! What has this got to do with you!? Didn't I say I would be taking a break until next Monday...... W-What is wrong with that!? That is between Naomi and me!"

What is that father-daughter pair talking about......? I slid myself back under the blanket and listened to them quarrel for a while. But just as I was about to fall back asleep, I felt the cold sensation of the phone on my ears again.

"Papa says he wants to meet you."

"Huh? Eh? Why?"

Not so that he can punch me, right? Ebichiri's voice sounded through the phone again while I was in a state of panic.

"Back to business. I actually have a favour to ask of you. Do you mind making a trip today? The issue is slightly complicated, so I would like to speak to you in person if that is okay with you."

♮ ♮ ♬ ♬

In the end, Ebichiri asked me to meet him at a music university in Ikebukuro. When that was settled, Mafuyu apologetically told me she didn't want to see her father, so she would go home instead. But personally, I felt sort of saved by her decision, as a three-way talk was the last thing I wanted. Moreover, I didn't think the talk had anything to do with Mafuyu.

But because Mafuyu was going to be busy with things like practices, interviews, recordings and performances after she left, we ended up loitering in my house to delay our reluctant separation. It was already four in the afternoon when I arrived at the university. I was already late.

"Sorry for being late!"

When I sprinted into the staff room, I was greeted by Ebichiri, whose hair had been graying rapidly recently, and a kind-looking man in his sixties. It seemed like they were having an engaging discussion next to a desk filled with files and scores. They looked at me, and then at the clock; and it was only then that they realized that it was already some time passed the agreed meeting time.

"I am fine with you being late, but you will have to apologize to the professor here. He has kindly offered his place for us to talk, but you have made him wait."

"I am terribly sorry." I apologized by lowering my head in the direction of the person sitting next to Ebichiri. The man was wearing a wool vest over a white shirt.

"It's okay, it's okay. It's the first time we've met. My family name is Katase. You're the son of Hikawa, aren't you? Oh my, you sure take after your father."

"Urm, i-is that so?" I had heard that plenty of times since I had decided to follow Tetsurou's footsteps into the industry, but that was the only time that that comment made me feel uneasy.

"He is Professor Katase. He teaches the history of French music. You can consider him as....... hmm, as my senior."

"Urm...... so he's Kokonoe Hirofume's......"

"Yes, that's right. Ebisawa and I both learned music theory from Professor Kokonoe!" explained Professor Katase.

Kokonoe Hirofume was a renowned Japanese composer and conductor. He had become active in the music scene after World War II, and had participated in the production of many film scores. He was even well received internationally. It is said that he was a really energetic person, and was conducting on stage the day before he died. A lot of his work was also focused on nurturing the next generation of musicians, and plenty of his students had gone on to become well-known musicians in Japan, of which the most successful was probably Ebichiri (and as for the biggest failure...... I'm afraid that would be Tetsurou).

"The favour that I talked about on the phone is related to Professor Kokonoe."

Said Ebichiri, as he motioned for me to take a seat.

"Well...... do you want me to write a critique?" Honestly speaking, I'm not that familiar with Kokonoe Hirofume.

"No, not that. I want you to investigate something."

Ebichiri then spread a stack of handwritten scores out in front of me. On the aged, yellow paper, were notes arranged neatly on the staves. It was titled with the simple words "Sonate pour deux." On the score was a treble staff and bass staff, so it was likely written for the piano or some other keyboard instrument. The mood was marked as "tendrement"; and though French was a language I had zero knowledge of, I still understand a few commonly used music terms. It means "lovingly." Aside from that though, there were no tempo markings that I could see.

A note with the words "opus postumus" (posthumous work) was stuck to the first page; and it looked pretty new, so it probably hadn't been put there by the person that had collated the scores.

"...... Is this a composition by Kokonoe Hirofume?"

"Is it that obvious?" asked Ebichiri.

"No, I'm not at the stage where I can deduce a person's personality just from the score alone......" I'm barely in the budding stages when it comes to that. "I just thought it might be his work after listening to both of you."

"I think it is Kokonoe Hirofume's work as well, but I have no concrete proof," said Professor Katase.

"So we want you to investigate the origin of this score, to confirm whether or not this is really Professor Kokonoe's work."

Ebichiri then went on to explain the situation, as I was just getting more and more confused.

Apparently, Professor Katase was helping out with a huge documentary series, and as he was compiling the large amount of pieces composed by Kokonoe Hirofume, he discovered these scores while sorting through the items that Kokonoe had left at the university. It was labeled a posthumous work because they had discovered it after his death, but they weren't sure when it had been composed.

"But this should be nothing more than a draft, right? The notes might be flexible enough, but the fugue only contains two voices throughout. And the bass seems pretty empty as well."

"It is reasonable for you to suspect this is an incomplete work, but Professor Kokonoe was a man that was very rigorous with his words, so it is hard to imagine that this work is incomplete."

"What do you mean by that?"

"It means he was very strict when it came to his compositions!"

Professor Katase elaborated on what Ebichiri had said,

"Back when he was working on soundtracks for movies, he once became extremely furious because the production company had titled his composition 'Symphony of the Seaside'!"

Come to think of it, I did hear that Kokonoe Hirofume was an eccentric man that threw tantrums really often, and that clashed with movie producers for no apparent reason. I had also heard that he had been born into a noble lineage with a long history, but had fallen out with his family after marrying a French woman; and that his family and him barely got in touch with each other after that.

"Therefore...... if it was just a draft, there is no way he would have titled it a sonata. Moreover, Professor Kokonoe would always destroy his drafts whenever he completed his works, probably because he did not want anyone seeing them in their 'incomplete' states......"

"I see. Hmm, but......"—I shifted my attention back to the score—"have either of you played this piece yet?"

Ebichiri and Professor Katase both nodded in response.

"We have, but we cannot call it anything but an incomplete work......"

"But that's contradicting what you said earlier......?"

"So, because of this title, we're guessing......" said Professor Katase as he pointed at the words "Sonate pour deux", "What if this sonata is a duet? Perhaps there is another set of scores somewhere."

It roughly translates into "Sonata for two" in English, right? It didn't explicitly state the instrument the song was written for, but from the way the score was written, it should've been composed with a keyboard instrument in mind. Is the sonata written for two pianos? Unable to shake away the questions in my mind, I absent-mindedly ran my fingers along the surface of the score filled with notes.

"This place here...... looks really empty for the left hand."

"I started off with that same thought as well......"—Ebichiri stretched out his hand and flipped the score a few pages back—"But there are lots of phrases later on that require both hands to play, so what you're thinking is not exactly right."

I see. The continuous high-pitched trills of the arpeggio—phrases like that do require the use of both hands to perform.

"Moreover...... here, take a look at this word."

Professor Katase pointed at the bottom-right corner of the last page—the word "ensemble" was written there.

Ensemble. That term was used specifically to refer to a small-scale musical ensemble. Meaning...... this piece is indeed written for more than one musical instrument. But then again, the instruments weren't specified on the score, so there was no way we could know for sure.

I guess the mystery lives on. But why is the word "ensemble" written on the final page?

"This is definitely Professor Kokonoe's handwriting, but I'm not sure if this is his composition. It might have been a copy of someone else's work......"

As he said that, Professor Katase removed his spectacles and wiped them.

"Urm......"

I scratched my head. Everything was a mystery.

"May I ask...... why you two chose to approach me regarding this? I am totally helpless when it comes to research related to Kokonoe Hirofume......"

"Professor Kokonoe's son is working in that circle of yours, isn't he? Professor Kokonoe's property is all under his care. But he is well known for his dislike of classical music, so it is difficult for us to approach him."

"Ah, I see."

They were right. Music producer Tooru Charlois was the son of Kokonoe Hirofume; and I had seen him several times at the record company as well.

"Urm, but he's a real big shot! There's no way a small fry like me could get in touch with him......."

"I originally wanted to seek Hikawa's assistance, but I could not contact him at all. If I remember right, he is acquainted with Tooru."

Speaking of which, I don't have the slightest clue about what Tetsurou's doing right now either. I can't even reach him through his phone. All he did was send me a simple message saying "I'll be doing an interview in Poland for a few days," and poof, I stopped hearing from him. Nobody knows where on earth he is right now.

"Sadly, there's not much time left. But Ebisawa said Hikawa's son is a pretty dependable person, so I thought I'd try asking you first."

Professor Katase leaned his body forward.

"So what do you think? Can you please help us investigate this matter? I'll definitely compensate you for your trouble, of course. I really want to know if this piece is composed by Professor Kokonoe, and if there's another part to this score as well."

Pressured by the aura of the two men in front of me, the only thing I could do was shift my gaze away from the score.

"...... Why are you so insistent on this particular piece of music? I doubt you are going to compile the full collection of his works, so it should be okay if the compilation is slightly incomplete."

"Everyone knows that most of Professor Kokonoe's works are compositions for the orchestra. But if this is actually his work as well, it will be the only piano sonata he ever composed. Moreover......"

With a serious expression in his eyes, Ebichiri murmured,

"This score was found in Professor Kokonoe's baton case, which he carried with him all the time. It must be a really special song."

♯ ♪ ♩ ♫

Ebichiri offered to drive me back home, but I solemnly rejected his offer.

"I'll be paying a visit to the publisher, so I don't want to impose on you."

That was the excuse I had conjured up. But the truth was, it would've just been too incredibly awkward talking to Ebichiri in the confined space of a car. But despite having successfully managed to avoid that one plight, I was still given a harsh dressing-down while on my way to the carpark.

"Be honest with me. What is your job right now? I did hear about it a bit from Mafuyu, but I still cannot quite grasp what it is......"

"Ah...... Well......" To be honest, I'm not too sure myself. "I do everything...... And I really do mean everything."

I wasn't even sure where to start regarding the various things I did. It was coming to the point that I was seriously considering whether or not I should write "ruffian of the music industry" in the occupation box on my tax report. I frequently wrote articles for the magazines, and had even written a book with someone else. And since it was rare for critics to actually perform, I was viewed as someone relatively important in the pop music scene because of my uncommon views. Additionally, not only had I been invited to write for quite a few songs (though none of them had sold well), recently, for the first time ever, I was hired to assist in producing a song as well. I was also frequently invited to be the harmony for singers during their recordings.

"So I guess I'm a jack of all trades...... sort of?"

"Hmm...... I am grateful that you are accepting our unreasonable request, but with work like that...... I doubt your lifestyle can be considered normal, right?"

"It stopped being normal the moment I chose to write articles for the magazines......"

"Listen to me carefully......"

Ebichiri's shoes were echoing loudly in the corridor. As he walked half a step ahead of me, he said to me harshly,

"Mafuyu is a professional pianist. That means she needs to maintain her body under a strict regimen, just like athletes do. I do not want to see her falling under your influence after living together with you!"

"Yes, I'm really sorry...... But she doesn't stay overnight at my place all the time. We only lived together for a day......"

Ebichiri turned around and shot a fierce glare at me. We had happened to stop right in front of the gates of the university, so the students walking by were all looking at us in a weird fashion.

"I am not just talking about what happened yesterday. I am also talking about the future as well!"

"Mmm...... Eh? Huh?"

"Did Mafuyu not tell you she would be shifting the focus of her work back to Japan?"

"Ah, she did."

"Then you two should have talked about the future as well, right?"

"...... Talked about what?"

Ebichiri's face was suddenly overtaken by a wave of pity, as well as deep despair.

"....... You are indeed HIkawa's son! I am once again forced to confirm that fact...... Back when he was still young, he caused all sorts of troubles for Misako and for the other women as well......"

Eh? Wait, what's going on here?

The carpark was located right past the school's gates; and there, Ebichiri got into his Toyota Crown, closed the door and drove off in a flash.

♬ ♯ ♩ ♫

Even though feketerigó's glamorous homecoming tour was in full swing when I called her, Kagurazaka-senpai still forced her manager to free up some time so that she could meet up with me. And so, at midnight on the eighth of April, we held a secret meet-up session inside the Tokyo Dome hotel.

"Our American opponents were really strong. It was a complete failure!"

It had been a while since I had seen Senpai. She flashed me a wry smile as she toasted me with a glass of diluted whiskey.

feketerigó—which consisted of Kagurazaka Kyouko (lead vocalist & guitarist) and Aihara Chiaki (drummer)—made its glamorous debut as a hard-rock indie band five years ago. And for a time, Kagurazaka-senpai was dominating the headlines as the revolutionary rock gal. She recently changed her hairstyle to a more mature one, however; but that only made her look even more gorgeous, and served to increase her superstar appeal as well. Worst of all, though, was that she was looking pretty damn sexy in that robe of hers.

"Isn't it a little too early to enter the American market right now? It wouldn't be too late if you wanted to wait until after you had established a firm foothold in Japan first."

Senpai prodded my nose when she heard my silly and unnecessary words.

"It's never too early. All we have to do is try again with new songs. America's a place where they don't care about good or bad. Only the winners are remembered, while the losers are duly forgotten—that's what I like about that place. So I'll be heading overseas once more, hitching a ride with my cigars and pies as I streak across the plains beneath the moonlight, transferring between buses—chasing after my American dream!"

There wasn't the slightest hint of depression in Senpai's smile.

Even though it was called a "glamorous homecoming tour," feketerigó's record sales in America were far from encouraging. But Senpai was a revolutionary through and through, so it was pretty much impossible for her to give up on standing at the peak of the world to settle for just Japan.

"But, of course, I can consider changing the order if you're feeling lonely and want me to stay in Japan."

"It does feel a little lonely when it becomes difficult for us to meet up...... But what do you mean by changing the order?"

"I had planned to conquer the world before making babies with you, but I'm okay with switching the two around!"

I held my glass of wine tightly in my hands as I retreated and leapt over the bed, making my way towards the side of the door.

"It took you that long to realize my motive despite you coming to a hotel room by yourself in the middle of the night? You're as cute as ever!"

"U-Urm, Senpai....... enough with ......" the jokes—I shut my mouth before I could finish my sentence. Unable to look into Senpai's eyes, I turned my back to her while holding my wine glass next to my chest.

That wasn't a joke. The revolutionary of love never lied to herself, and would never lie to the world either. She really hasn't changed the slightest bit—she still crossed the boundaries of my imagination with ease and spread her wings out, just like she had always done.

"Relax, Comrade Hikawa. That was just a joke."

Right, one thing had changed though—she no longer addressed me as "young man." Not because I had become older, of course; but because she had finally started seeing me as her fellow comrade.

"Comrade Ebisawa just returned to Japan, didn't she? I have no intention of making her feel depressed!"

I turned towards Senpai again and made my way back to the side of the bed.

"I'll lay my hands on you only after I've obtained Comrade Ebisawa's blessing." So it's contingent on a term like that huh? I guess it would still be safer to sit as far away from her as possible.

"Are you keeping in touch with Mafuyu? I don't think the media has reported her return just yet......"

"It's not only that, I also ran into her at Houston."

"Eh?"

"You see, the bonds between us are just impossibly difficult to sever! Our performances happened to be on the same day, so I brought Comrade Aihara along and nonchalantly snuck into the hotel that Comrade Ebisawa was staying at."

"Don't sneak into a hotel nonchalantly!" That's a crime!

"And the three of us talked till dawn!"

"...... I'm quite envious of that......"

"Comrade Aihara and I picked up quite a bit of information from our relentless attacks too! So you tilt your face to the right when you kiss?"

"W-What? You bombarded Mafuyu with questions like that!?"

"Nope. I was just fishing information out of you."

"What!?"

"You're as simple as ever! Questions like these are 50-50, so you should know I'm just making them up!"

"How would I know that!? That isn't something people typically do!"

"Also, based on the accumulation of my experiences, it seems like more people prefer tilting their face to the right!"

How much longer do I have to be led by the nose by Senpai? Come to think of it...... "You've kissed enough people to be able to come up with a statistic like that?"

"Yeah, but you're the only male I've ever kissed."

"Don't fabricate lies like that! I've never once kissed you!"

Senpai let out a laugh and rolled about on bed.

"Oh, we did talk about things like that when we were chatting though, and it seemed like she was actually getting really worried! She kept wondering about just how intimate we were being back in Japan, and even talked about things like returning to Japan without Ebisawa Chisato after finishing her tour. So what happened?"

"So you're the reason she returned to Japan earlier than expected......"

Still...... I was really happy that Mafuyu had returned to Japan early, and that I had even gotten to pick her up at the airport.

"And I heard she won't be leaving Japan anytime soon? I see, so that's why you couldn't reject Ebisawa Chisato's request! Well, I guess you do need to leave a good impression on your future father-in-law."

I was a little stunned when Senpai pulled us back on topic. Oh right, that's the reason I called Senpai in the first place.

"That's not really why I agreed to his request...... Also, Ebichiri and I have already known each other for ages now, so why should I take his impression of me to heart?"

"It's okay if you haven't picked up on it!" Senpai laughed it off with a wave of her hand. "But do fill me in on what's going on."

It felt like there was something deeper behind Senpai's words; but it wouldn't do if I just kept dancing along to her lead either, so I began talking to her about the <Fire-thieving Moths> sonata, as well as Kokonoe Hirofume's son, Tooru Charlois.

"A piece composed by Tooru's father huh...... I see, so you're asking me to pull some strings for you?"

"Yeah. I remember there were plans to have him as the producer of feketerigó, right? So I was wondering if you were still in contact with him......"

"Those plans of having Tooru be our producer were blown out of the water after we had a huge quarrel......"

"Eh...... A huge quarrel?"

"The first time we met, Tooru talked about things like wanting pretty graduates from the idol academy to join us as our bassist and keyboardist...... I don't think he had listened to our music at all prior to that. In any case, he was trying to force us to accept his plan to transform the band into a typical business unit, so I began rattling on about how that idea was incredibly stupid, and ended up pissing him off......"

Of course he was going to get pissed off! What the hell did you think you were doing, saying things like that to a big-shot producer who's almost twenty years your senior? So...... that means, it was all just wishful thinking on my part?

"And after that, Tooru and I became drinking buddies."

"Oh well, I guess the only thing left is to try to find Tetsurou somehow—Ehhhhhh? What did you just say?"

Didn't you quarrel with him?

"Isn't there a saying that goes, 'Great affection is often the cause of violent animosity'?"

"That only applies to close friends, doesn't it!?" You quarreled with him on your very first meeting with him!

"Tooru's too busy to even clean his own ass after he's done on the toilet, so I'm not too sure I can get you an appointment with him. But I'll try to contact him anyway. I should do it sometime in the next two days."

"Thanks a lot, you're a great help."

The greatest asset a man can have is his contacts—it was only after I had entered the industry that I finally came to appreciate this fact. Back when I was young, I used to think, "That's what makes us impure as we gradually grow older!" But that's all in the past now.

"You don't have to thank me. You do know I'm not doing this for free, right?"

I was incredibly frightened when I saw the grin on Senpai's face.

"Urm...... well...... I don't think I'll be getting much money from this......"

"I never said I wanted money! How about paying with your body instead?"