Choice of Betrayal
By Takashi Yama


- Yuko's view -

In the middle of the night, a dull grey light seeps through my closed eyes, awakening me from unconsciousness.

My hands and feet are tightly bound with some pieces of rope. I attempt to untie my feet somehow, but there is no sign of movement from them. They are unfailingly tied, like a piece of fishing-line to a hook.

A gag increases the amount of saliva beneath my lips. There is only a slight vibration in my inner throat, though I'm trying to say something. Something just under my chest makes breathing difficult. A numb pain near my solar plexus spreads like a magnetic field.

Unconscious of whether I'm breathing or not, the insignificant amount of air I manage to breathe helps me stay in a state of awareness.

Is this a dream? But I have an uneasiness that it might be true ...

"Are you awake?"

"Can't breathe, ..."

"Sorry ..."

I probably went to bed last night as usual, didn't I?

It's really quiet here.

The dim light leaking through a piece of cloth which blindfolds me, doesn't give me any clue to guess where I am ...


- Takayuki's view -

I got an e-mail from a woman who was named Hillary. She ordered my artwork some days ago. I was very pleased when the mail arrived because the paintings which she asked about were a series of my favorites.

' Hi, I found your lovely paintings on the internet when I was looking for my favorite kind of art. I would like to purchase some of the paintings you have for sale.
Are the paintings below still being sold?
- Street in Paris, London view, Fruits.
It is wonderful to imagine that your artwork could be hanging on the wall at our new house. We are now moving to our new house in South Africa, from here in the US.
The payment will be a certified US international money order.
I look forward to your reply.

I'm Takayuki Ninomiya, a painter and single. I was living with my girlfriend Yuko. Our lifestyle was already so-called 'cohabitation'. I had met her at an IT-related company where she was working, and where I was a part-time employee. But I'd left the company. 

I replied to the e-mail from the woman named Hillary:

'Thank you for your e-mail and appreciation of my works. Those will fit your new villa, I think.
All the paintings you selected are still available, so you will be able to buy them. The prices are as follows:
Street in Paris - US $400
London view - US $400 
Fruits - US $200
Postage from Japan to South Africa takes about US$100-150. If you buy all of the paintings as a set, then I'll pay the shipping.
Thus the total amount will be US $1,000.
A US international money order is okay for payment, but I would like to confirm the money order before the paintings are sent.
Thank you for your interest.
Takayuki Ninomiya'

The woman who wanted to buy three of my artworks at the same time, was moving to her new villa in South Africa. She and her husband had been looking for some paintings suitable for their new house. It seemed that they found the website exhibiting my works through a link they found on the internet.

I sometimes had some e-mail inquiries on my website from overseas. People who hung artwork at home were more often likely to be foreigners than Japanese, so I was used to dealing with inquiries by mails from abroad.

But sometimes Yuko didn't agree with me.
"Is the 'Street in Paris' a size F10 painting, Takayuki? 400 US dollars, uh.. then 40,000 yen at 100 yen a US dollar? It is too cheap!" she complained.

"Really? "Who would pay so much for stuff which was painted by an unknown artist?"

"But in the future, you are going to be famous, then is it okay to sell yourself cheaply now? And are those your favorites, aren't they?"

I understood what Yuko meant. What she wanted to say was that I should not sell my own favorite works so easily, even if I was not a famous artist.

Was a lack of confidence in my career as a painter the problem, or our different business senses? But, I couldn't complain about money matters, as I was rather financially dependent on Yuko. A bloodsucker, some might call me, rather than an artist.

"Should I be proud that there are those who want to buy my works, Yuko?"

"Yeah, much better than those who sell nothing at all," she said a bit cynically.

"My motivation to draw depends on encouragement from those who buy my works," I told her, making no excuses.

"Could be." 

Yuko already seemed to have given up the idea that I could help to support our living expenses.
"I want to make a profit like this, just this month at least," I said.

A few days later, a reply came from Hillary.

'That's right. I would like to purchase those pretty paintings.
They might be suitable for the walls of our new house.
I will let my husband, who is coming and going between United States and Johannesburg, know about the payment, please wait for a while.

Hillary and her husband were moving separately, so the payment by US international money order would be sent to me from her husband.

"What's an international money order?" asked Yuko.

"Well, it can be used as a substitute for cash, a so-called cheque, a sort of money. Remittances from abroad have handling charges, so a money order is less effort and expense," I said a little boastfully, thankful to know more than her for once.

"Well, I would rather they use a bank transfer."

"A bank transfer would be troublesome, and anyway, she's the customer and that's how she wants to pay."
I trusted the sale to Hillary, so I didn't want to go against her intentions.

Selling through the internet was different from regular face-to-face commerce sales. Ordinary customers wouldn't pay before a shipment of artwork ... they might be rich?

And the next day, Hillary sent another e-mail, including information about the payment which seemed to have already been sent from her husband.

'How are you?
My husband already sent the payment to your address, on his way from South Africa to West Africa, because of a conference he had to go to there. Before the trip, he forgot to send it to you.
The payment will arrive soon.

It seemed that her husband had sent the payment. The information from Hillary alleviated my worry a little, though I thought "What sort of conference will be held in West Africa?"

I was doing the packaging of my artwork in order to post them as quickly as possible after the money order arrived.

"There was a suspicious person who was standing and watching this apartment yesterday morning," Yuko said anxiously.

"Morning? I've never seen anyone suspicious."

"Wearing sunglasses and ... he didn't look to be Japanese."


"Yes ..."

Yuko rarely worried about such a tiny thing, so I became worried a little bit too, because Yuko's intuition was often right.

"Well, we should be careful when we go out."

"Yes, I feel something strange ..."

- Yuko -

It was Kobayashi-kun who called.

The relationship with Kobayashi had been going well since his informal ceremony to join the company. There were not as many new employees in this company as other companies. He was one of few guys who were willing to talk to me.

"Are you busy now?"

"So, so.."

The heat-up around IT had been cooling down recently, a pity as I was already old enough that I should be asked to manage for the section.

"Well, didn't you get married recently, anyway?" I asked him.

"Yeah, it was last month, but I still feel like I'm single," smiled Kobayashi.

"Oh, you just got married!" I smiled making fun of him.

"Oh, yeah." Kobayashi seemed embarrassed. 

I had been keeping up with him not only as a colleague but also as a male friend, like one of my girlfriends.

His presence in the office had often been a relief. We might have seemed to be a couple by others. When other colleagues learned about his marriage last month, they asked me whether it was OUR marriage, actually.

"How many children are you going have?" I asked suddenly, and Kobayashi's face turned red.

"Uh ... Hmm ..." Though I asked him questions to tease him on purpose, Kobayashi answered with a smile.

"So, how is your boyfriend?"

I was flustered by the question that he'd never asked. It wasn't Kobayashi-kun's typical style of chatting. I was surprised and a little shaken.
"Oh, yeah, still ..."

Somehow, as the atmosphere was strange, I looked down toward my desk to start work again.

"Take care." Kobayashi moved away, so he also might have felt some discomfort or difference from my usual attitude.

Alone, alone ... There were no women in my division, other than myself. I was thinking about marriage with Takayuki in my head. If we get married ...

We were already living as a couple, and our lifestyle would not change even if we got married. And how were we seen by others? The situation was that I was supporting him, a guy who had almost no income. That was our reality ... it was so hazy, and indicative of our lack of goals ...

"Saito chief?" one of my subordinates whispered standing before my desk.

"Oh, now what?"

"The data, but ..." He might have seen my blank face.

I received the USB stick from him, and felt a little embarrassed.

"Hello, I'm home."

"Hi, welcome home."

Every day, I just continued to get older, but honestly it was difficult to find happiness living with Takayuki. What does he think of our future? I was thinking about it seriously while looking at his face.

"Is something on my face?" Did he recognize my sensitiveness, so seldom seen?

"What?" Takayuki was looking at me and was wondering curiously.

"Oh, I...," I came to myself and was looking for some words to respond.

"Well, I didn't see the queer character today."

"So ..." 

I replied unconsciously, mostly.


- Takayuki -

A few days later, an envelope with an international money order arrived.
"Hey, I got something."


It was a light brown envelope with only the address written on it. The writing of addressee was so untidy you couldn't imagine that was written by a woman. And the sender's name and address were missing.

I quickly ripped open the envelope while suppressing my excitement. It was so rare to get money for my art, that I wanted to see the evidence of the sales.

"Wow, there are some ... Uh-oh? Something is wrong ......"

Four international money orders of US $650 were in the envelope, in spite of the fact that the requested amount of payment was US $1,000. So it was more double than what it was supposed to be.

"Hey, I think it's more than what you asked?" Yuko happily asked.

"Yes, very much so, but why ..." I was wondering with the money orders in my hands.

Bank transfer had been the usual for international business for me, so I had never seen money orders in real life. The printing technology didn't seem so different from those of Japan that I'd seen samples of on the internet, but they seemed to have rather bright colors in comparison, I thought.

"It's a pretty classy design."

I immediately wrote an e-mail to thank Hillary, and at the same time I asked about excess money orders.

'I got the money orders today. I will take them to the post office to cash tomorrow.
By the way, you've overpaid. The total amount of money orders sent is US $2,600. The total payment you need to pay is US $1,000. The remainder of US $1,600 should be sent back to you, or cashed to a bank transfer.
Please let me know what I should do.
Takayuki Ninomiya'

I was thinking to steal the surplus of US $1,600, secretly. But in the end I honestly asked her why her husband had sent more than asked, because I thought it was simply a mistake or some other explainable reason. For example, an anticipating thought, encouragement for a poor artist from rich patrons ...

While I waited for the reply, I hoped.

'I'm sorry, my husband went ahead and made the payment before checking with me.
It was his misunderstanding causing the excess payment, a transport company told him it would cost as much because of shipping from Japan to South Africa.
But if you are still willing to pay shipping, as you originally wrote, it would help us out.
Please exchange all of the money orders into cash as soon as possible.
US $1000 is for your artwork, and a bank transfer back to us for US $1,600.
Sincerely yours.

"Hmmm ..." 

The response asking me to send the excess money back, which was honestly unexpected, and was not what I'd hoped for. But the exchanged money ought to be sent back to them as soon as possible. Though I was a little disappointed, the money for my artwork would stay with me.

"Three paintings were bought anyway," murmuring so to myself, I was thinking to exchange those money orders to cash.

- At a post office nearby.

"Excuse me, their watermarks are invisible so a little more investigation is necessary. One moment please." The postal clerk disappeared into a room behind.

"It is taking too long. I thought that they had a rare opportunity for handling money orders." I was complaining to myself about the clerk dallying over the orders I brought to cash.

In a moment, another clerk, an older man came to me. "Oh well, actually ..."

"There's a room behind to check them in detail......"

I was taken into a dark room behind the counter.

- The postal inspector, Nobuhito Satake.

A man dressed in a dark blue suit was waiting in the back room. He seemed to be in his late 30s, a business card was in his outstretched hand. I received the name card from him gingerly.

"Please come in ..." His voice showed he doubted my honesty.

"Yes," I sat on the chair he indicated.

The postal inspector was taking some time, preparing to record the conversation, but
after a while, he started to speak.

"Well, these international money orders ......" 

"Yes ...?" I murmured anxiously.

"These are fakes.., counterfeited money orders," he spoke calmly, watching for my reaction.

I was really upset, I had never even thought about such a thing.

They were counterfeited money orders that were carefully forged. And here I was trying to exchange them into cash. I didn't anticipate that I would ever be involved in such a crime.

The woman named Hillary was trying to cheat and exploit me in order to avoid any evidence in her own hands. The fact made me feel uncomfortable, and amazed by her impressive cunning.

"Recently, the post office has been careful about these kinds of criminal activities. So ... some questions.., okay?"

The inspector grilled me about the whole story, and I explained all I could in detail.

"Okay then the person named Hillary sent these to you to purchase your artwork, and after exchanging them into cash, she ordered you to send the excess cash back?"


"Then, you have no acquaintance with the suspect, do you?"

"No, only e-mail exchanges."

"Okay" The inspector considered for a while.

"So now, the suspect does not know that we recognize the counterfeiting?"


"Well, could you give us the information about the envelope which was sent to you, and the e-mail address which the suspect has been using for this transaction, also any other potential evidence?"

"Oh yes, I will inform you later." And so my interrogation by the postal inspector was finished.

A few days later ...
Ding, dong! Ding, dong!

"Yeeeeesss ...coming"
Yuko opened the door, with an annoyed look on her face. Who was here so early in the morning while she was busy getting ready?

"Is Takayuki Ninomiya here?" A man in a suit, and wearing sunglasses was standing there.

" Takayuki ...A customer of yours??? " Yuko called me anxiously.

"Sorry, I'm so early." He took the sunglasses off. "I came here instead of Inspector Satake."

He passed over his business card to me, a bit awkward because I was holding my toothbrush.

[ The Postal Inspection Advisor, Yasushi Kanemoto]

"Something happened again?"

"Oh sorry, calling by telephone was possibly better but ..." 

Kanemoto explained there had been similar incidents happening at other post offices in the same way; fooling artists into cashing money orders and sending back excess cash. According to the post office's analysis on the e-mail from Hillary, she'd been involved in similar cases, as the same server was being used.

It seemed that those e-mails were sent from a few suspects or a group. The envelope containing the counterfeit money orders had a fake postmark, and were likely posted by one of the suspects or someone related to them. Other money orders with the same serial numbers were found. Except for the serial numbers being the same, the orders were very skillful reproductions. 

Kanemoto continued anxiously, "A foreign group seems to be involved in these incidents. Online shopping is convenient for everyone and it is susceptible to this kind of crime."

"They are targeting Japanese who are relatively wealthy and honest, and ...," he suddenly stopped talking.

"So what?" I asked.

"Have you seen anyone suspicious hanging around recently?"

I remembered that Yuko had talked to me about a suspicious guy standing near our apartment before.

I turned to Yuko, who was standing behind me.

"Yeah, I saw a suspicious man, just like yourself, who was wearing the same kind of sunglasses."

Kanemoto sub-inspector was wryly smiling, but then he looked back at me seriously.
"If something else happens, could you contact the police too, please."

"Is there something else likely to happen?" I was worried.

"There is information that some members of the group are already hiding in Japan, but this information cannot be made public," Kanemoto again told us to be careful, then left.

That he visited at such an early time in the morning indicated that the situation was not so good.

A week later.

There were no more e-mails from Hillary. The investigation by the post office and the police continued, and I had stopped sending e-mails to Hillary after my first trip to the post office.

"Well, it was a good learning experience for my business. I'll insist on bank transfers from now on, as you said," I said while glancing at Yuko.

- Yuko -

The next day.

I was chatting with one of clerks of the general affairs department in our office.
"Hey, aren't you going to get married to that guy you are dating?"

"Well, it doesn't seem it will happen yet."

"You know Kobayashi-kun, your colleague?"


"Recently he got married. As far as I know, it he seems he married a foreigner, a blond woman."

"Oh, really?" That was totally unexpected, and I couldn't image how he'd made advances to the woman.

"He has such a boyish and kind face."

I felt a little upset. Actually, I'd been interested in him. How did he manage to find a foreign wife? And here I was, a perfectly good Japanese woman, right under his nose. 

"Also, there might be more paperwork than the usual ..."


" ...because of the procedures between their countries."

"Complicated paperwork just for marriage?" I was thinking that I would not mind such a small thing if there were a man who was willing to get married to me.

"But I suppose he can speak English fluently, so ..."

"Wow." I felt that I was losing Kobayashi, even as a friend.

He seemed the type to bring out maternal instincts in women, but I'd never imagined him as being fluent in a foreign language.

"Are they going on a honeymoon?"

I was wondering that he was still working late at night almost every day, though only a month had passed since his marriage.

"Is he so busy?"

"I think so."

"I would get angry with his boss, if I were his wife," she said.

"I will call his boss to complain!" I replied.

"You have to! Ha ha ..." She went back downstairs to her own department, laughing loudly.

While walking back to my section, someone called out.


Speak of the devil, right after gossiping about him, here was Kobayashi walking down the stairs from the upper floor.

"Hello," I said.

"How are you?"

He was holding some documents written in English, I guessed he had been taking them to the general section. I supposed they were something he needed for his wife's visa application.

"Is your wife ..? Oh, never mind," I kept walking to the stairs.

Kobayashi's questioning eyes followed my back.

"I'm home."

"Welcome back, you're early today."

"Yeah, I feel a little sick"

"Are you OK? Did you catch a cold?" Takayuki asked anxiously.

"No, just a little tired, so don't worry."

"So ... what do you think, the post office gave me back this envelope, but I won't hear from Hillary again, so should I throw it away?" saying so, Takayuki took the envelope from a bookshelf, and waved it toward the trash can.

"Huh?" I glanced at it. The address was written in a particular hand. I'd never bothered to look at the envelope before. 

I blinked. The writing seemed familiar somehow. Like the hand writing of Kobayashi at the office.

"Is that..?" But I couldn't put the rest into words. If Kobayashi-kun had written this, then was he connected to the counterfeit money orders!?

"No.. nevermind," I murmured.

"What are you thinking?"

"Oh no, nothing."

I said nothing about Kobayashi to Takayuki, even if the writing looked the same. Anyway, I didn't want Takayuki knowing how I'd felt about Kobayashi. Although we'd never touched each other, my thinking about him wasn't good. I was already in a relationship.

"Okay." Takayuki threw the envelope into the trash.

After Takayuki's snoring began, I carefully left my bed and retrieved the envelope from the trash, and stashed it into my handbag secretly.

"I will check this carefully at the office tomorrow," I mumbled to myself, and quietly returned to bed, like nothing had happened.

Kobayashi had married a foreign woman, and he was able to speak English fluently. The counterfeit money orders came in an envelope written in similar handwriting to Kobayashi, and because the postmark was fake, according to the authorities, they might have been posted anywhere. Even right here in Japan. I felt uneasy. 



That voice.

"Urr ....." Almost impossible to make any sound.

To be continued...


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( Copyright by Takashi Yama )

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