People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.

Logan Pearsall Smith, Trivia, 1917

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Tác giả: Haruki Murakami
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Truong Ngoc Tuan
Upload bìa: Minh Khoa
Language: English
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Chapter 8: Now The Strange Man
t was eleven o’clock in the morning when the man came. Now there are two types of eleven-in-the-mornings for a small-scale company like ours. That is, either absolutely busy or absolutely unbusy. Nothing in between. So at eleven A.M. we are either mindlessly working up a flurry or we are mindlessly daydreaming. In-between tasks, should there be such an animal, we set aside for the afternoon.
It was the latter sort of eleven A.M. when the man came. And a monumentally unbusy one at that. The first half of September had been insane, and then work fell flat off. Three of us took a month-delayed summer vacation, but even so the rest of the crew had been consigned to an agenda of pencil sharpening and other exciting tasks. My partner himself had stepped out to the bank to get a money draft, while someone else had repaired to the neighboring audio-equipment showroom to listen to new record releases. The secretary was left to answer the telephone as she thumbed through the “Autumn Hairstyles” pages of a women’s magazine.
The man opened the door to the office without a sound, and he closed it without a sound. Not that he made any conscious effort to move quietly. It was second nature to him. So much so the secretary had no awareness whatsoever of him. The man was all the way to her desk and peering down at her before she noticed him.
“There is a matter I would like to take up with your employer,” said the man. He spoke as if running a white-gloved hand over a tabletop.
What could have happened to bring him here? She looked up at the man. His eyes were too piercing for a business client, his attire too fastidious for a tax inspector, his air too intellectual for a policeman. Yet she could think of nothing else he could be. This man, a refined piece of bad news now hovering over her, had materialized out of nowhere.
“I’m afraid he’s stepped out at the moment,” she said, slapping her magazine shut. “He said he’d be back in another thirty minutes.”
“I’ll wait,” pronounced the man without a moment’s hesitation. A foregone conclusion, it seemed.
She wondered whether to ask his name. She decided against it and simply conducted him to the reception area. The man took a seat on the sky-blue sofa, crossed his legs, peered up at the electric wall clock directly before him, and froze in position. He moved not an iota. When she brought him a glass of barley tea a bit later, he was in the exact same pose.
“Right where you’re sitting now,” my partner said. “He sat there staring at the clock in the same position for a full thirty minutes.”
I looked at the sofa where I was sitting, then looked up at the wall clock, then I looked back at my partner.
Despite the unusually hot late-September weather outside, the man was rather formally dressed. Impeccably. His white shirt cuffs protruded precisely two-thirds of an inch from the sleeves of his well-tailored gray suit. His subtly toned striped tie, accented with a hint of asymmetry, was positioned with the utmost care. His black shoes were buffed to a fine gloss.
Mid-thirties to forty in age, five foot ten plus in height, trimmed of every last ounce of fat, slender hands without telltale wrinkles. His long fingers suggested nothing so much as a troop of animals that had retained deep primal memories despite long years of training and control. His fingernails were meticulously manicured, a clean, perfect arc at the end of each fingertip. Truly beautiful hands, if somehow unsettling. They bespoke a high degree of specialization in some rarefied field—but what that field might be was anyone’s guess.
His face was even harder to figure. It was a straightforward face, but expressionless, a blank slate. His nose and eyes were angular, as if scored with a paper knife in afterthought, his lips bloodless and thin. He was lightly tanned, though clearly not from the pleasures of the beach or the tennis court. That tan could only have been the result of some unknown sun shining in some unknown sky.
The thirty minutes passed very slowly. Coldly, solidly, rigidly. By the time my partner returned from the bank, the atmosphere in the room had grown noticeably heavy. You might even say everything in the room seemed practically nailed down to the floor.
“Of course, it only seemed that way,” said my partner.
“Of course,” said I.
The lone secretary was worn out from nervousness. Bewildered, my partner went over to the reception area and introduced himself as the manager. Only then did the man unfreeze, whereupon he pulled a thin cigarette out of his pocket, lit it, and with a pained expression blew out a puff of smoke. The atmosphere lightened ever so slightly.
“We don’t have much time, so let’s keep this short,” said the man in a hush. Out of his wallet he flicked a name card sharp enough to cut your fingers with and placed it on the table. The name card was hermetically laminated, unnaturally white, and printed with tiny, intensely black type. No title or affiliation, no address, no telephone number. Only the name. It was enough to hurt your eyes just looking at it. My partner turned it over, saw that the back was entirely blank, glanced at the front side again, then looked back at the man.
“You are familiar with the party’s name, I trust?” said the man.
“I am.”
The man advanced his chin a few hundredths of an inch and nodded curtly. His line of vision did not shift in the least. “Burn it, please.”
“Burn it?” My partner stared dumbfounded at the man.
“That name card. Burn it. Now,” the man spoke sharply.
My partner hurriedly picked up the tabletop lighter and set fire to a corner of the name card. He held it by its edge until half of it had burned, then laid it in the large crystal ashtray. The two of them watched it as it burned. By the time the name card was white ash, the room was shrouded in a ponderous silence such as follows a massacre.
“I come here bearing the total authority of that party,” said the man, breaking the silence at length. “Which is to say that everything I say from this point on represents that party’s total volition and wishes.”
“Wishes …,” mouthed my partner.
“‘To wish,’ an elegant word to express a basic position toward a specified objective. Of course,” said the man, “there are other methods of expressing the same thing. You understand, do you not?”
My partner did a quick mental translation. “I understand.”
“Notwithstanding, this is neither a conceptual issue nor a political deal; this is strictly a business proposition.” Bizness, the man enunciated, which marked him as a foreign-born Japanese; most Japanese Japanese will say bijiness.
“You are a biznessman and I am a biznessman,” he went on. “Realistically, there should be nothing between us to discuss but bizness. Let us leave discussions regarding the unrealistic to others. Are we agreed?”
“Certainly,” said my partner.
“It is rather our role to take what unrealistic factors that exist and to work them into a more sophisticated form that might be grounded in the grand scheme of reality. The doings of men run to unrealities. Why is that?” the man asked, rhetorically. He fingered the green stone ring on the middle finger of his left hand. “Because it appears simpler. Added to which, there are circumstances whereby unreality contrives to create an impression that overwhelms reality. Nevertheless, business has no place in the world of unreality. In other words,” the man said, continuing to finger his ring, “we are a breed whose very existence consists in the rechanneling of difficulties. Therefore, should anything I say from this point forward demand difficult labors or decisions of you, I ask your forbearance. Such is the nature of things.”
My partner was utterly lost now, but he nodded anyway.
“Very well then, I shall state the wishes of the party concerned. Number one, it is wished that you cease publication of the public relations bulletin you produce for the ‘P’ Life Insurance Company.”
“But—”
“Number two,” the man interrupted, “it is wished that an interview be arranged with the person actually responsible for the production of this page.”
Pulling a white envelope from his pocket, the man extracted a sheet of paper neatly folded in quarters and handed it to my partner. My partner unfolded the sheet of paper. Sure enough, it was a copy of a photograph for a P.R. bulletin that our office had done. An ordinary photograph of an idyllic Hokkaido landscape—clouds and mountains and grassy pastures and sheep, superimposed with lines of an undistinguished pastoral verse. That was all.
“While our wishes are herewith two, as regards the first of these, it is less a wish than a fait accompli. To be more precise, a decision has already been reached in accordance with our wishes. Should you have any doubts, please call the public relations head of the life insurance company.”
“I see,” said my partner.
“Nonetheless, we can easily imagine that for a company the size of yours, damages incurred by inconvenience such as this could be sizable. Fortunately, we are in a position—as you are no doubt aware—to wield no small degree of influence in this arena. Therefore, upon compliance with our second wish, granted that the person responsible gives us a report complete to our satisfaction, we are prepared to recompense you fully for your loss. Probably more than recompense, I would think.”
Silence prevailed.
“If you should fail to comply with our wishes,” said the man, “you will have no occupation in this or any other field, and henceforth, the world will hold no place for you, ever.”
Again silence.
“Have you any questions?”
“So, uh, it’s the photo that’s the problem?” my partner stammered.
“Yes,” said the man, choosing his words carefully, as if sorting through options on an outstretched palm. “Such is indeed the case. However, I am not at liberty to discuss the matter any further with you. I have not that authority.”
“I will phone the man you want to see. He should be here by three o’clock,” said my partner.
“Excellent,” said the man, glancing at his wristwatch. “I shall send a car here for him at four o’clock. Now this is important: you must speak of this to absolutely no one. Is that understood?”
Whereupon the two of them parted in a most biznesslike manner.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel