Trading for the day had closed on a fairly steady note with some recovery late in the session, but overall the market was in poor shape. Lately the share price average had been around 1200. When it dropped below that, the associated securities companies launched into support buying to push it back, but there had been no real movement in any particular stock. During the latter part of January the average had recovered to 1300, but since then it had been falling again. Today the moming papers said the Tokyo Stock Exchange had finished the half year with results comparing unfavourably with figures ten years earlier. This summed up the position pretty well, Shigeo Segawa thought.
He had been right after all when he gave up his job as an authorised trader the summer before last. Had he hung on, his position today could be infinitely worse. The debt from his tebari fiasco could be much larger. At worst, he could be in jail.
He only had to think of it to boil up inside. Angrily he threw the newspaper on the netting shelf of the train. It was damned ridiculous reading through the stock market page so intently after all these months.
Now he didn't own a single share. He didn't have a single stock certificate. And he no longer worked for stockbrokers. Maybe one day... He couldn't give up hope altogether, but at the moment keeping himself fed was all he could manage. It was altogether beyond him to buy and sell shares of his own. The fluctuation of the stock market price average had nothing to do with him, really.
Shigeo Segawa closed his eyes and thought of the days when he had been a live-wire operator. He remembered a man who used to turn up every afternoon, watching the numbers on the blackboard and studying the Stockmarket News without ever placing an order to buy or sell. The man looked like one of those retired generals with worn-out tail feathers who walked around Kabutocho without any particular business, boasting about their outdated accounting skills and the fortunes they were supposed to have made during the New Tokyo period. He used to give these characters a cold look, almost a look of contempt. But now Shigeo Segawa felt he could understand them a little better.
Anyway, resigning from the Kadoi Securities Corporation had been the right thing to do, he was sure of that. But after thatthe second mistakethat was bad, and things got even worse after that.
The Chuo line express slid into Shinjuku station and pulled up without a sound. He was swept out of the train with the other passengers. As he dragged his heavy feet down the steps, a feeling of hopeless impatience began to take hold of him. It was terrible that he had to be the only failure in this whole crowd.
"Mr. Segawa! Is that you, Mr. Segawa?"
He heard the call from behind and stopped in the centre of the underpass.
It was Kazumi Yamaguchi, dressed in a beige suit, her long neck set off with a pearl brooch on a silver base. She didn't have a pretty face, but her bright nature and well developed, perfectly proportioned body, made her a very attractive woman.
"Hello there," Segawa said. "Well, this is a surprise. Haven't seen you for ages."
All sorts of feelings were stirring in him nowa kind of nostalgia mixed with embarrassing recollections and a king-size inferiority complex.
"I wondered what you were doing," she said warmly. "I heard you'd gone home for a while." "Well, yes."
"Anyway, I'm glad we've met today. I have something to tell you. In fact, I've been wondering if I should look for you at your old boarding house."
"What is it you want to tell me?"
It looked funny somehow. What on earth did this woman want from him after all these months? To him the name Kazumi Yamaguchi was in the past perfect tense.
"We can't talk about it here. Let's have coffee somewhere."
Though she was two years his junior, she immediately took charge. He followed her with a wry smile.
The last thing he wanted now was to face the past. These days he wished to avoid all his old class-mates, colleagues, his stock market acquaintances, his old girlfriends and anybody else he might have known.
But this woman might be an exception. Passing through the ticket office one step behind her, he had the queer notion that she might be on a mission of fate.
* * *
In the cafe they began like millions of others who hadn't met for some time.
"How are you these days?" he asked.
"All right, thanks. Nothing has changed."
"Are you still in the secretarial section at Sanei Products?"
"Oh, yes. The managing director has so much faith in me it makes it pretty hard to quit."
"What about getting married?"
"Still nothing. I'll probably end up an old maid," she said glibly.
He sensed something superior in her tone. Was it just a reflection of his own grudge against the world?
"To you all men are fools, anyway."
"Not all. Perhaps I'm the kind of woman who couldn't stay at home quietly, like ordinary wives... But let's not waste time on me. What about you? How are you doing?"
"I don't feel like talking about myself." He gave a sour smile.
Kazumi fell silent for a moment but kept her eyes on him. "You seem to have been through a rough time."
"You know I resigned from the securities corporation?"
"Yes. But it wasn't your fault the bottom fell out of the market. I myself kissed goodbye to all I had in the kitty. Only I gave up fairly early, so I didn't lose very much. But it was different with you. As a trader, you couldn't give up so easily... By the way, how big a hole were you in?"
"You put it pretty bluntly, don't you? I forgot this was your style ... Well, if you must know, I didn't damage the company very much and managed to resign quietly."
Stockbrokers' clerks caught in a tebari can be dealt with in three different ways.
Tebari is an illegal gamble often practised by authorised traders of brokerage houses. They open an account in the name of a non-existent client and start buying and selling shares as if on the orders of that imaginary customer. While they sell at a profit in a rising market they are doing fine, but if there is a sudden slump at the wrong time, they can find themselves in trouble. They are stuck with a bunch of shares they cannot sell and cannot pay for. This is when they panic, and some even resort to embezzlement, trying to cover up.
Clerks who `did a really big one' are sacked and then prosecuted. But even if they escape legal action, they can never get another job in the securities industry because their bad record is circulated among the brokers.
Those with smaller debts can find themselves in the opposite positiontied to the company for life without any hope of promotion. Their resignation is refused, and the monthly amount deducted from their pay towards repayment of their debt is so small it will never add up to the full amount. This way the company gets its pound of flesh under the excuse of paternalism.
The best alternative is when the guilty clerk is given the chance of a quiet resignation.
"So that's what happened," Kazumi said. "I also heard you started a business of your own."
"Yes. At the time I could still manage to raise some capital, and I also had some friends left. So, boldly I became independent. I was the boss..."
"That didn't come off either?"
"I kept trying for more than six months, but everything went wrong. And the rules of war say that in defeat the commander-in-chief must face the greatest disaster. The only thing left to my name was my debt, and to make things worse I got sick from overwork. Anyway, that's the story. Now let's hear about you."
"Wait a minuteI want to hear a little more." Kazumi looked as if she had an idea. "When you got sick, it was then that you went home, wasn't it?"
"Yes, but my father wasn't pleased. Right from the startever since I became a stockbroker's clerkhe opposed the idea. He didn't like me going into my own business either. `Get yourself a steady job, or I can't be worried about you any more'that was his attitude. Finally I got a job as a clerk with a small, shaky company. My father paid off my immediate debt, but I was left with no money at all. So I had no choiceI had to be grateful for a monthly salary of 25,000 yen."
"It must've been hard on you," she said.
Studying her fingernails, Kazumi remained silent for a moment. When she looked up, a little smile lurked around her full lips. "Well, how'd you like to try a job at 50,000 yen a month, plus bonus?"
Segawa swallowed hard. The figure she mentioned was exactly twice what he was getting now. Sometimes during his Kabutocho days he'd earned more than 500,000 yen a month through tebari, but he'd forgotten all about that.
Kazumi said, "They want somebody who has worked in business administration or as a salesman with a brokerage house---a competent man with a proven record. And they want a man under thirty. I understand there are quite a number of applicants still to be interviewed... When I heard about this job I thought of you straight away. You're just the man for it, don't you think?"
"Well, I suppose I did have a fairly good sales record. But I can't quite understand why they would want a former stock market trader. What for? I would'ye thought they'd be doing ordinary merchandising."
"It's a small firm, as far as I know. The name is Shinwa Trading Company. I've got the whole thing second-hand, so I can't tell you very much. But most likely they're engaged in ordinary trading. I'd say they're simply looking for somebody with selling ability."
"It'd mean if I did well I'd make over 50,000 yen a month." Segawa muttered as if talking to himself. "A small retainer, the rest is commission... Yes, that'll be it."
Kazumi shook her head. "No, you're wrong. I thought I'd made myself clear. The basic salary is 50,000 yenthere's no question about that."
"I can't believe it. There must be a catch in itsome unusual condition."
"I don't think so."
"Well, I hope you're right. It sounds very attractivetoo good to be true."
Segawa kept turning it over in his mind, mystified. Of course, there were many people who'd changed employment during the stock market slump. But 30,000 yen a month would be the most a man of his age and experience could expect to get in one of these stop-gap jobs. 50,000 yen was usually the salary of a chief clerk or section head in a big company ... Whichever way he looked at it, it seemed too good to be true.
"By the way, where did you hear about this?"
"Mr. Ogushi told methree days ago. He comes to our office every now and then on business. He asked me if I knew where you were because this job seemed just right for you."
"Mr. Ogushi said this, just like that?"
"Yes. Isn't that perfectly reasonable?"
Ogushi had been one of Segawa's class-mates at university. After graduating he got a job with the Shinei Manufacturing Company, one of the Sanei Group.
Segawa sat upright and said, "I may be too late. Ogushi would'ye heard of this some days before he told you about it, and there are many men of my age around who used to work for brokers before the stock market slump. They'd all jump at a job like this."
"Well, what about meeting Mr. Ogushi, anyway? He was kind enough to make the suggestion, and you never know, you may be lucky and come to an arrangement with them if the job hasn't been filled." Kazumi's voice became serious. "Actually, at first I couldn't make up my mind whether I should tell you about it. As you said, the salary of 50,000 yen seems to be well above the average. I wondered if there was something fishy about it. But thenand I hope I'm not offending youI mean, at present you've nothing to lose, really, and there's no harm in trying. That's what I thought."
"For 50,000 yen a month I'll do anythingas long as it's not illegal." He really meant what he said.
The following evening Segawa met Kazumi and Ogushi in a bar at Nishiginza.
In Segawa's memory Ogushi had been a rather untidy chap who didn't care much about his appearance and looked a bit of a fool. But now Ogushi was dressed neatly in a costly suit and gave the impression of being a very competent person. Segawa couldn't help feeling inferior.
After talking for a while about the latest doings of their mutual friends, Ogushi got to the point.
"When I heard about this job I thought of you straight away, and I mentioned it to Miss Yamaguchi. But to tell you the truth, I'm not sure I should recommend it to you. The company's name is not known to anybody. It's a small show, and yet it offers this unusually high salary of 50,000 yen... I have my doubts, I'm afraid."
"Look," Segawa said miserably, "I don't think I could ever land a job with a big company again, and even if I could, I'd have no hope of promotion. So this little company, even if it looks a bit doubtful, may turn out all right for me so long as it gives me a chance to make use of my skills."
This was his final conclusionthe result of chewing it over all night last night. After stumbling twice, a third time wouldn't make that much difference, he reckoned. Anyway, `falling seven times and getting up for the eighth'that's what life was all about.
"Yeah, you may be fight," Ogushi said, shifting in his chair. "Well, the man who brought this to my notice is a Mikio Sakai. I've known him casually for quite a while, but I've never been particularly friendly with him. He asked me if I had some friend from my university daysa man who was trustworthysomeone who could even become his partner, eventually."
"What sort of man is he, this Mr. Sakai?"
"He's about our agethree or four years older at the most. That's one of the things I don't like, to be honest."
"He's the owner and manager of the company?"
"Yes, that's it. He also hinted he had some powerful backinghe was pretty popular in various quarters and knew some people in the knowfor example, he could get imported golf gear and imported wine cheaply from some place... He looks like a bit of a wheeler-dealer to me."
Sakai might have an ally with the U.S. Army, Segawa thought. To another person this might look a bit dangerous, but not to him. He could sniff the sweet scent of honey all right. It all depended on how it was done. And who could do it better than a former stock market operator who had a well developed instinct for this sort of thing? He had full understanding of the meaning of the word `plus'. He couldn't help acquiring it in a job where he had to keep his wits about him if he wanted to make something on the side... Yes, there might be something wrong about Mr. Sakai, but there was a limit to what a man could earn by being completely honest.
"Are there any other conditions besides being trustworthy?" Segawa asked.
"Some knowledge of English, a driver's licence, and some skill with a camera would be an advantage, but that's not essential. That's what he said."
"I've had a licence ever since I became a stockbroker's clerk. As for photography, I've gained some experience mucking about with a single-lens camera."
Ogushi looked a bit bored. "In that case the only remaining question is whether Sakai likes you or not, right? His business is under his personal management, so I suppose he's entitled to choose people he likes."
"Yes, of course."
For his part, Segawa had already made up his mind. Sakai, although young, seemed to be a man of obvious ability. Even if there were some blank spots to be filled in, this must be a very worthwhile thing to try. He had always been something of a gambler, right from the beginningmoreso than the average person. Otherwise how could he have tried his hand at tebari, or established his own trading company?
And more than anything else, the 50,000 yen was very attractive. He couldn't say his present pay of 25,000 yen was terribly low, but actually it was much lower than an identical salary paid by a big company which provided good health and welfare benefits.
For Segawa, who at the height of the stock market boom had learnt to spend 200,000 yen a month without batting an eyelid, the very thought of 25,000 yen was an acute embarrassment.
Ogushi emptied his glass in one gulp and said, "Anyway, I gave Mr. Sakai a ring today. It seems that nobody's got the job yet, and once I told him about you, he said he wanted to meet you. He'd like you to go to his office tomorrow, if possible. Can you make it?"
Ogushi pulled two of his cards from his wallet. He scribbled a reference note on one and drew a simple map on the back of the other, together with the address and phone number of Shinwa Trading Company.
"Thank you very much," Segawa said sincerely.
"You don't have to thank me," Ogushi laughed. "When you make a success of this, you can take Miss Yamaguchi and me to dinner. You'll probably finish up earning more money than I do... Well, you must excuse me, I have to goI have some business to attend to." He made a gesture of stacking mahjong tiles. "By the way, how about us old school-mates going over to Ogino's place one day for a game of mahjong?"
This was a casual remark, and Segawa knew there was no malice in it, but the words cut him to the quick.
Shoichi Ogino was the last person he wanted to remember.
After Ogushi left them, Segawa and Kazumi had another mug of beer. Kazumi's face turned a beautiful cherry blossom pink.
"Mr. Segawa, would you like to go for a walk? I think I'm getting drunk."
"Where'd you like to go?"
"I like Hibiya Park. It's not too far from here."
Leaving the beer hall, the two walked towards the park. It was an unusually stuffy night for April. The park was full of young couples, and there was an air of romance about.
They walked on without talking. Segawa was keenly conscious of her perfume mixed with her body scent. Kazumi's eyes avoided hisshe seemed to be absorbed in studying the changlng colours of the big fountain. He recalled the day when he and Kazumi had touched each other for the first, time. The memory of it was burnt indelibly on his mind.
That was the day Shoichi Ogino and Eiko Murozaki got married. He and Kazumi had been invited to the wedding as representatives of their friends. He had prepared himself for it and yet, to say the words of congratulation was really painful. As the newly-weds were being sent off at Tokyo Station, he was conscious of a gaping hole inside him.
He had asked Kazumi to have a drink with him. At that time he was still on top of the wave and didn't have to worry about money. He could drink as much as he liked.
Kazumi kept ordering all sorts of coloured cocktails, like a child. Red Bloody Mary, Green Mint Flip, Purple-Blue Moon, Yellow Sidecar, Pearl Gimletthe colours of the fountain in Hibiya Park reminded him of those crazy cocktail colours.
"You're lonely, aren't you?" Kazumi had asked him. Under the influence of the drinks she brought her face close to his and spoke very softly.
"If I said I wasn't, I'd be lying."
"I know how you feel."
"You know how I feelwhat d'you mean by that? You don't meannoyou can't mean you and Ogino"
"Whether I like him or not is beside the point, but he's certainly the right man to get married to."
"Well, I never! But isn't this funny? We seem to be in the same boat."
Kazumi's eyes lit up defiantly all of a sudden.
"Hey," she said, "just to cheer up, how about beating them to the punch?"
"What d'you mean?"
"You know very well what I mean. I'm a fickle creature from way back, and you needn't worryyou won't be under any obligation. I'm not desperate, you knowjust a bit lonely right now. The same as you are."
He could clearly remember it to this day. Kazumi showed great form, and he didn't care whether her mood had anything to do with her rejected affections for Ogino. Until then he'd never suspected there was anything between them.
The fountain turned from red to green. Segawa's memory moved back further with each colour change.
Eiko's pale face appeared before him. Sometimes he had used this place for his dates with her. Both were still students when they kissed for the first time, and both were very shy. They trembled a little as their lips met, and their teeth made funny noises...
Kazumi's voice brought him back to earth.
"What are you dreaming about?"
"You've been thinking of another woman."
Woman's instinct, he thought.
"Shigeo." She called him by his first name. "Please stay with me tonight."
He examined her face with renewed interest. The eyes were filled with anger, shining in the dark like the eyes of a cat.
From the middle of the fountain a thick column of water rose strongly into the night sky.
© Copyright 1999 Akimitsu Takagi
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