The executive producer of Peter Lucas's latest film has had better days. Better years, really. He massages his temples, in an undoubtedly futile attempt to stave off yet another migraine, and takes a deep breath before addressing the cringing assistants standing on the opposite side of his desk. "Please define 'missing.'"
"He went out to lunch and never came back."
"What time did he leave?"
"At twelve thirty."
"Oh. He's only been gone three hours then."
"Two days ago, sir."
"So you're telling me that we're less than two months away from our premiere, 10 million dollars over budget, with evil aliens who still look like sickly hamsters, and our Mocademy Award-winning special effects designer is AWOL?"
The assistants nod.
Not again. "Find him. Now."
This time, the producer thinks, he's going to strangle Shinobu Morita with his bare hands.
Playing hooky isn't originally part of Morita's plan. Perhaps it would have been, if it had occurred to him: teasing his producers is almost as fun as teasing naive underclassmen. Morita's intentions that afternoon are entirely honorable, even humdrum: lunch at his favorite restaurant at Sawtelle and Olympic, followed by his regular stop at one of the Japanese bookstores for the latest magazines from home. Yes, a leisurely lunch break, but he means to be back at the production offices before nightfall. The asteroid field chase scene is proving to be an interesting challenge, and he wants to return to it sooner rather than later.
He pushes open the door of the bookstore, his mind still half on his work. Bells chime as he steps over the threshold; a blast of air-conditioned air raises goosebumps on his forearms. Behind the counter, the owner looks up from his Japanese paper and greets Morita warmly. The two men have become old friends in the five years that Morita's been living in LA.
"Morita-san! It's been a long time. Your magazines are in the back; let me get them for you."
The bookstore is deserted at this lazy hour of the afternoon; it's a weekday, after all, and most people are probably at work or at school. Sunlight spills through front windows; it gleams on the shrink-wrapped volumes of manga and bleaches the posters tacked onto the community bulletin board. There are advertisements for ESL classes and conversation partners; fliers for a festival in Little Tokyo; a postcard for a gallery opening in Santa Monica. Morita scans them idly as he waits.
When the owner emerges from the stockroom with a stack of magazines, Morita is gone. Only the swaying door chimes indicate that he was ever even there.
"I am sorry, Mr. Morita, but the Hanamoto exhibition closed three days ago. The next stop? This was the last city of its tour; it's already been to New York and Chicago. We do have a few copies of the exhibition catalog left. Would you like to buy one? They have some lovely color images, and it's the only catalog of Ms. Hanamoto's work."
Morita hands her his credit card.
As he walks back to his car, he flips through the glossy pages. His first thought is that she's too young for a retrospective, but that's what this exhibition is. It makes him furious; what are they thinking? It's too soon for her to be looking back; there's still so much that she's going to create in the future. But his anger fades when he reaches the catalog's last pages. Here, at last, are paintings he's never seen before, of places he's never been. Beside them, her earlier work looks like childish daubs. He wishes he could have stared at the real things; if they're this powerful on paper, they must be extraordinary in life.
Hagu's art is still growing.
It's his work that's stayed the same.
The hammer strikes the chisel; wood chips fly in every direction. Morita pauses to stare at the the half-shaped block of wood. He can see the sculpture that he's going to make; it's as plain to his eyes as the grain of the wood. He prepares to swing the hammer again.
"Yo," says Kaoru from the doorway of the studio.
Morita nearly drops the hammer on his foot. "Kaoru? When did you get here?"
"If you ever answered your cell phone, you'd know." Kaoru looks around until he finds a chair that's not stacked high with canvases or other art supplies and sits down on it. He's rumpled and weary, as anyone would be after a trans-Pacific flight. "Your colleagues told me you'd gone missing. Please tell me they at least looked for you here before they called me in a panic."
"I think someone tried to get past the security system. I was too busy to answer the door."
"Shinobu! What are you doing? You have a movie to finish. And I thought you liked working for Peter."
Morita considers his wreck of a studio. There are drying canvases leaning against every wall; wood chips everywhere; empty tubes of oil paints sitting on top of hasty charcoal sketches. His sculpture's not even half-finished, though he worked through the night under harsh fluorescent lights. Another day gone, and there's still so much he wants to make. He looks at the hammer and chisel in his hands, at the even grain of the block of wood before him.
His answer is glib, but it also happens to be true.
"I'm heading toward the light."