Anyway, this story takes place when Naru is still a child, and is about his meeting with the man who will teach him magic tricks. Personally, I see it as akin to the beginning of a superhero origin story. XD But more than anything, it's really cute!
Many thanks to witchuntress again for finding and sharing these scans!!! Now please enjoy~
Angel with a Bicycle
The hall was packed with people.
The bowl-shaped floor sloped downward towards a platform set before a blackboard. In the large classroom, a series of long desks and benches were arranged like stairs, and an audience with zealous eyes was tightly crammed into them.
Practically leaning forward in their excitement-- Noll thought, as he examined his surroundings from the edge of the hall. Even Gene sitting next to him, and Hinnells sitting next to Gene, were gazing intently at the top of the platform.
On the platform were a man and a woman. The man’s name was Jackson; he was a researcher and member of SPR, an organization which Noll’s father and Hinnells were affiliated with. It wasn’t like Noll and Gene were members of SPR too, but for the time being, Gene was Hinnells’s experimental subject, and Noll accompanied him, so they were in and out of Hinnells’s laboratory frequently. They had met Jackson there several times.
Having finished a long, drawn out lecture, Jackson now stood triumphantly at the side of the platform. Sitting quietly on the platform was Madam K. As her face was covered by a veil, her features were hard to make out. According to Jackson’s introduction, the Madam was 43 years old, and an ESP user rarely seen as of late. She was not one of those who sought attention by pretending to be a psychic; rather, she did not like attention. She only showed herself before an audience like this and offered herself solely for the sake of research, and that was why she went by the pseudonym of Madam K, Jackson had said.
Madam K was facing a long, thin card as if in thought. Several times, she almost lowered her pen, only to hesitate. Before her, set against a microphone, was a single envelope. Just a while ago, a member of the audience who had raised their hand and come forward had prepared that envelope. On the other side of the platform stood a whiteboard. There, six large cards were lined up. The cards were notebook-sized so they could be seen easily by the audience, and six symbols were drawn on them. A circle and star, a square and diamond, a double circle, and a triangle. The circle, star, and square were in black, and the diamond, double circle, and triangle were in blue. These cards with black and blue shapes were lined up alternately on the whiteboard. Circle, square, star, double circle, diamond, triangle.
“Just like this”, Jackson had said a little while ago, indicating the whiteboard. He had brought a volunteer from the audience up on the platform, pointed out six cards lined up there-- these ones were biscuit-sized-- and instructed them to line them up alternating between black and blue, as they were on the whiteboard. While Madam K was blindfolded and turned to face backwards, the volunteer lined them up, inserted them all in a row in a long, thin plastic folder, and placed that in an envelope. Said envelope was sealed before the audience’s eyes by the volunteer, and was placed leaning against the microphone ever since. The point was to have Madam K guess the order of the cards within the envelope.
After thinking, Madam K began writing something on her card. As if unable to decide, she tilted her head several times, then presently, she turned the card over and began writing again, this time all in one go. Then she placed the card in an envelope she had prepared herself.
“Are you done?”
The Madam nodded at Jackson’s voice, then used glue to seal the envelope.
“Do you have confidence?”
“If the Lord wills it.”
Madam K’s voice was low and quiet. It was as if she had muttered it. Jackson gave her a broad smile, then with an exaggerated gesture, pointed to the envelope set against the microphone.
“Now then. --Will someone please lend a hand in opening the envelope? I will not lay a single hand on it. Anyone?”
A man in the front row promptly raised his hand.
“Very well, we will ask for your help. Please come forward and open the envelope. Then will you please rearrange the cards on the whiteboard exactly the way they have been inserted into the folder?”
Once he’d come forward, Jackson handed the man a pair of scissors. Appearing to brace himself, the man opened the seal, then faced the whiteboard. He rearranged the large cards. Square, diamond, circle, double circle, star, triangle.
“Thank you,” Jackson said, and returned the man to his seat.
Then he turned Madam K around.
“Now then, please open your envelope.”
The Madam nodded, then solemnly took the scissors in hand. Noll tilted his head slightly. Then, at the same time, he heard a very low sigh from behind him. Turning around a little, he saw an elderly black man shaking his head with a disappointed expression.
The Madam cut the edge of her envelope. Then she tried to take out the answer card, but it seemed it would not come out. The envelope that stored the Madam’s card was small. It was mostly the same size as the card. She shook the envelope several times, felt around inside with her fingertips, then as if giving up, the Madam once again used the scissors. She cut through the middle of the envelope and the answer card right along with it, then she took out the answers that had now become split in two. She lined these up on top of the desk, then gently placed both hands on her lap. Jackson peered down at them, then with a smile filling his whole face, once again asked the audience for a volunteer.
“Now, let’s have someone verify this. --Ahh, Madam K, please do not move your hands. Just keep them right on top of your lap. As everyone can see, the Madam still has her hands lowered. Alright? Please keep watch over her. Now will anyone come forward?”
This time a young woman came up on the platform. She peered at the cards Madam K had lined up and read them aloud.
“...Square, diamond, circle, double circle, star, triangle.”
“Ohhh,” Noll heard Hinnells raise his voice from nearby. The hall became filled with similar voices. But in the midst of this, as if mingling with the voices of awe, he heard another sigh from behind him. This time it sounded very deep. When Noll turned around, he saw the old man behind him had rested his chin on top of his hands folded over his walking stick, and was shaking his head slightly. Then he stood, passed in front of the applauding audience member beside him, and went out to the aisle. The audience was clapping while looking at the top of the platform. Weaving his way through them, he left the hall at a slow pace, using his cane while dragging one leg.
Noll stood up. Gene, who had been applauding while blinking, looked up at Noll in surprise. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked in a soundless voice. Gene looked between Noll and Hinnells sitting beside him. Hinnells was clapping enthusiastically with a smile across his face.
‘Cover for me,’ Noll communicated, and left the hall. He jogged toward the entrance, then looked left and right. He could not see the old man anywhere, but the sound of his cane could be heard from the right. Chasing after the sound, he finally caught up after coming out into a courtyard. Noll left the building, and as he looked across the courtyard with its manicured lawn and yew trees, it was right when the old man had sat down on a sunny bench.
Noll began to head over...and then realized that he didn’t know what to do next. He’d chased after the man without thinking, but now that he was here, did that mean he had to talk to him? And say what?
Noll stood frozen between the doorway and the bench. He didn’t have much experience talking to complete strangers...let alone a stranger who hadn’t even noticed his presence yet. This was because as long as Gene was with him, he had no need to speak himself. As he remained at a loss as to what to do, the old man raised his face. His eyes caught sight of Noll.
The old man smiled, showing white teeth. Noll felt a little relieved at this, but he still didn’t know what to say. Not even knowing where to begin figuring out what to say, he was literally at a standstill, but the old man came to his aid.
“Didn’t you come to see Madam K’s lecture? --That’s right, there was a pair of adorable twins sitting right in front of me. You’re one of them, aren’t you?”
“What’s wrong? Did you get tired of watching Madam K’s experiment?”
“No,” Noll murmured. Then he mustered his courage and raised his face.
“You were sighing, weren’t you?”
The old man widened his eyes in surprise.
“Was I? No--” he began, but then as if realizing something, he let out a small sigh.
“...You’re right. I might have done something like that. But what of it?”
“You sighed and left your seat, so I wondered why.”
“Ahh,” the old man smiled.
“You must be Madam K’s fan. So you came to chastise the rude fellow who sighed and left in the middle of her experiment, did you? In that case, I apologize--”
“That’s not it.”
The old man tilted his head to the side. Noll sought for the right words.
“Something felt strange. Then right at the same time, you sighed.”
“Yes. About Madam K.”
The old man smiled and pointed to the bench beside him. But Noll shook his head.
“...There was something strange about Madam K? Why do you think so?”
“Weren’t you the one who was sighing because of it?”
“I suppose that would depend on why you thought it was strange.”
“Because,” Noll began, and sought for words in earnest.
“I wondered why Madam K opened her envelope herself. Before that, they had a man come forward to open the other envelope. So I thought, why not just have him open her envelope too?”
The old man looked interested.
“I would think the reason they brought multiple audience members forward was to show that no one was in on it. You could have one person do everything, but that person might be a friend of Madam K’s. I’m sure Jackson kept using different volunteers to show that wasn’t the case.”
“But...the envelope was different.”
“Different? But I think that envelope was right in front of our eyes the whole time?”
“That’s not what I mean. The envelope that Madam K used and the envelope the answers were in were different. The envelope with the folder with the answers inside was normal-sized. But, the envelope that Madam K used was small.”
The old man raised his eyebrows.
“So you’re wondering, why didn’t they use the same kind of envelope?”
Noll nodded. But that wasn’t all. To begin with, he couldn’t help but have a strange feeling from the moment Jackson brought out the cards. He’d thought, ‘Why would he do that?’ and couldn’t be satisfied.
“‘Why would he do that?’ What do you mean by that?”
“I mean...I can’t explain it very well, but... Jackson said that Madam K has ESP. She guesses the cards that the audience lines up. But I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be precognition, clairvoyance, or telepathy.”
“You’re very well-informed.”
The old man laughed, revealing a row of white teeth.
“In other words, you can’t tell what he’s trying to prove by lining up those cards?”
Noll felt slightly relieved.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean.”
“Mm, I agree with you there.”
“And besides, if he wants to show that she has precognition, I think it would be better to have her write down her prediction before having people come forward and put their answers in an envelope. And if he wants to show that she’s clairvoyant, couldn’t he have people choose cards, and have her just guess them, without having to bother putting the cards in an envelope?”
The old man nodded, eyes sparkling.
“That’s an excellent idea. You’re exactly right. I also think that if he’s going to bring audience members forward, he might as well have her guess their names, without using those cards.”
“Yeah, really,” Noll nodded.
“Somehow, I just felt like all sorts of things were strange... --And then you sighed and left, so...”
“I see,” the old man nodded. Then, while he seemed to be in thought over something, Noll heard a ‘voice.’ He turned to look behind him. ‘Hinnells is getting suspicious. Come back,’ called the voice.
“I have to go back.”
“Do you live in Cambridge?”
The old man nodded, and taking his wallet out of his pocket, he pulled out a single card and handed it to him. It was a very simple business card. Only a name and address were printed on it.
“If your mother and father will allow it, come visit. --That’s right, I think I might be able to clear up your confusion.”
From a while after that, Noll spent his days scrutinizing the card. He wanted to go, but he felt nervous. ...And for some reason, Noll didn’t tell anyone about the old man. Partly because no one asked, but also because Gene and Dorey, and even his father who heard everything from Gene afterwards, didn’t seem to feel any doubt towards Madam K, so he didn’t feel like bringing it up. It was just too much trouble to explain his own doubts. And considering he already had someone he’d finished explaining it to and who agreed with him, it felt even more of a hassle.
But, he was reluctant to visit the address and call on Vianney himself. He felt somewhat anxious about it, and he would probably be at a loss as to what to do once he did visit. Though if he could drag Gene with him, there would be no problem...
After several days spent gazing idly at the card, he finally came to a decision on the tenth day. Vianney might have already forgotten about it, he thought. The more days that passed, the higher the possibility of that happening. If he didn’t come to a decision now, he would have to remain unsatisfied forever. And so, he set off for the shopping district alone.
He imagined that the address on the business card was a little off the high street. With a rough idea of where he was going, he checked the address of each shop, building by building, searching for the one he was looking for, until he reached a four-story building in an alley branching off from the high street. The address indicated the second floor, but this was a store, not a private residence. There was no show window or sign, so he couldn’t tell what kind of shop it was. On the window facing the street was the shop’s name, “Vianney,” but there wasn’t anything that would tell him what type of business it was.
After worrying a little over what to do, he nervously opened the door next to the tailor shop on the first floor. From there, a dark staircase stretched straight upwards. He climbed quietly, trying to hide the sound of his footsteps, and there, facing the landing, was a door with only the name “Vianney” written on the glass. He peered through the transparent glass to look inside. He saw several display shelves. The store had a calm appearance that gave the impression of a library or museum; it didn’t seem like the sort of place frequented by children. ...But it would be stupid to turn back because of something like that.
Telling himself that, Noll quietly opened the door. At least, he meant to open it quietly, but a bell rang, flustering him a little. On one half of the small shop, several showcases were lined up. Further in, there were bookcases that reached all the way to the ceiling, and in front were desks, small tables, chairs and sofas. But he could see no sign of any customers. Hearing the door bell, the lone person in the room, an old man facing a bookcase, turned around.
Vianney smiled broadly, flashing teeth so white they looked almost fake.
“So you really came. --Welcome.”
Noll nodded vaguely. Vianney beckoned him towards a small table.
“Sit. Did you come alone?”
“You must have lenient parents.”
At that, Noll realized he had left without telling his parents anything, but he decided to keep silent.
“Would you like something to drink? Milk maybe?”
“No, I can’t stay for very long.”
“I see,” Vianney smiled.
“Then, let’s get straight to the point. Boy-- no, that’s rude of me. What’s your name?”
“Davis. It’s Oliver Davis.”
“Roger that. So, Oliver, I gather you’re still curious about Madam K?”
“I see,” Vianney laughed, and sat down in front of Noll. A mat was laid out on top of the table, and on top of that was one box of playing cards.
“Do you remember what Madam K did?”
“There were six cards. She had an audience member line them up, and then she guessed them.”
“Is that all?”
“Remember, you must follow the proper sequence of events for these things. That’s a shortcut. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir. ...Umm, there were six cards--”
Noll began, then corrected himself.
“They had cards with six types of designs for each of them.”
“Good. That’s right, there weren’t just six cards, but cards with six types of designs.”
“They said they would have the audience line them up, and she would guess them. Madam K wrote down the order of the designs on a long, thin card.”
“Was that before she had the audience line up the cards? Or after?”
“After. --Mr. Jackson brought an audience member forward, and had him line up the cards. Then the audience member put them in a folder, and put the folder inside an envelope. Then he sealed the envelope himself. The envelope was placed leaning against a microphone. Because Mr. Jackson told him to do it.”
“You have a wonderful memory. --And?”
Noll tried to remember every single thing that had occurred. Laughing, Vianney rubbed at his chin with a sinewy hand, then he stood up, brought some note paper and a pen over from a desk, and opened the box of playing cards.
“Let’s try it ourselves. We don’t have the Madam’s special brand of cards, but we can use these instead.”
Vianney pulled out the cards, placed them on top of the mat, and smoothed them across the table. From left to right. With just that simple motion of Vianney’s hand, the cards spread out in a neat arc. ‘Huh,’ Noll thought, blinking lightly.
“Six types of cards, yes?”
Vianney selected six cards from among them.
“Two red and black Jacks, two Queens, and two Kings. The Madam’s cards were all different, but it’s the same in theory. Why don’t you try it first?”
“That’s right. You’ll play the roles of Madam K and Jackson. Go on.”
Though at a loss, Noll told Vianney to line up the six cards.
“But, black goes after red, and red goes after black. Make sure the same colors aren’t next to each other.”
Vianney nodded, changed the order of the six cards, then lined them up side-by-side and turned them face down.
“Okay. We can omit the envelope. Here you go.”
Vianney held out a finely folded sheet of note paper to Noll.
“I don’t know the answers.”
“Honest, aren’t you? That’s alright, just take a guess.”
Nodding nervously, Noll lowered his gaze to the note paper.
“Write your answers there, and when you’re done, wrap it in another sheet of paper.”
Noll nodded and wrote on the sheet of paper. When he finished writing, he began to wrap it up in another sheet of note paper. But something suddenly felt off. Something was different. Noll thought for a while, and then realized what it was. He hurriedly turned the paper over and began writing on it all over again. Vianney smiled.
“Excellent. You’re really quite something.”
Noll didn’t understand what made Vianney say that. He wrapped the paper in another sheet of note paper and handed it back. Vianney opened it, and flipped the cards over at the same time, but of course, they didn’t match.
“...Sorry to say, you’ve missed the mark.”
“Now then, let’s switch roles. This time I’ll be Madam K.”
Noll received the cards from Vianney, then turned them over and lined them up just like Vianney had done earlier.
“Now then, I’ll write down the answers here like you did.”
While shielding it from view, Vianney wrote on the sheet of note paper that had been finely folded into a card. Then he wrapped it in another sheet of paper and took a pair of scissors in hand.
“Earlier, you got the order wrong just once. You’re supposed to open the audience’s card first. Go on and open it.”
Noll turned the cards over as he was told. Vianney stared at them, and then, despite the fact that the paper wasn’t even sealed, he used the scissors. He cut it in two places, then took the pieces of paper from inside and lined them up. Vianney laughed.
“I got it right. Red Queen, Black Jack, Red King, Black Queen, Red Jack, Black King.”
Noll stared at the cards Vianney indicated.
“Oh? Is there something different?”
“Madam K only cut in one place. You cut in two.”
“That’s right, there’s the problem.”
Vianney spread his hands.
“How old are you, Oliver?”
“Nine years old. Almost ten-- in about four days.”
“Then maybe you’ll understand if I explain it like this? There are six types of cards here. If we were to line up these six cards in order, do you know how many patterns there would be?”
Noll tilted his head and began to count the patterns under his breath while looking at the cards. Vianney laughed lightly.
“Why, there’s no need to count them. It’s the factorial of 6, so 720. --I’m sure soon enough, you’ll learn this in school and have to worry your head over it too.”
“If you simply line up the six cards, there will be 720 patterns in all. The point is, there are just that many. Let’s say that Madam K is just guessing randomly and calling that a prediction. In other words, she would just be writing the order of the six designs at random. Doing that, one normally wouldn’t get it right. Just like you couldn’t earlier. And that’s why everyone says she’s amazing for getting it right.”
“Normally, you would very seldom get it right. To say how rare it is, there’s a way of thinking called Probability. The total number of patterns is 720. The audience lines up the cards at random-- which means that, of the 720 patterns, they choose just one. Separately, the Madam writes down one pattern of symbols that she guessed at random. Just like you did, Oliver. In other words, the Madam also chose one pattern, but according to calculations, she would only be right once out of 720 trials.”
“1 out of 720...”
“Right. That’s just how difficult it is. By lining up six types of cards, you really only have a 1 out of 720 chance of getting it right. The adults all know this. Regardless of whether they know the actual number is 720, they understand that there are many possibilities, and that the probability of the Madam guessing the right pattern is incredibly small. That’s the key.”
“The truth is, there aren’t even 720 patterns. Among the cards, there are black and red ones. You’re told to line them up alternating between colors. A black card cannot come after another black card. You have to line them up alternating black, red, black. Just because of that, the number of possible patterns shrink sharply. The exact number would be 72. That’s one tenth.”
“But, you still only have a 1 out of 72 chance of getting it right.”
“Right. You’re a sharp one. --That’s exactly right. However, the Madam wrote answers on both sides of her card.”
Vianney pulled the note paper forward.
“Alright? Watch. --Let’s say there’s this pattern. Red J, Black J, Red Q, Black Q, Red K, Black K. Ready? Did you write it down?”
Noll nodded. RJ, BJ, RQ, BQ, RK, BK.
“Earlier, you turned the card over and wrote your answers the same way you did on the front. From left to right, Red J, Black J, Red Q, Black Q, Red K, Black K. However, the Madam probably didn’t write it that way. On the back, she wrote it from right to left.”
Vianney wrote down symbols on the back of the paper from the opposite direction.
“Do this, and-- watch. Red J is on the back of Red J. Black K is on the back of Black K. Alright? If you turn the card with JJQQKK around, reversing it, it becomes KKQQJJ-- the opposite.”
Noll blinked. He stared at the paper.
“If you line up six cards alternating between color, there are 72 patterns. 36 patterns where red comes first, and 36 patterns where black comes first, with a total of 72. But if you reverse it like this, it’s the same whether red or black comes first. There’s no need to double the number. There are only 36 patterns and the reverse.”
“720 becomes 36...”
“Right. The audience thinks there are a great many patterns, but really there are only 36. No, but that’s still impressive enough. Because you’d still have to make 36 guesses to get the right answer. You might mess up 36 times before you finally get it right. --Jackson wouldn’t be able to impress his audience with something like that.”
“So that’s why you need the scissors.”
Vianney laughed and took the scissors in hand.
“Alright. For example, let’s say I wrote JJQQKK. Now if the audience’s chosen pattern is the reverse of that, all I’d have to do is turn the card over and present it with a straight face. However, let’s say the audience created a completely different pattern. For example, QQKKJJ. No matter how you turn it over, it won’t be the same.”
“This is where your brain and the scissors come into play. You cut here.”
Vianney put the scissors to the paper.
“The card splits into QQKK and JJ. When you take these out of the envelope, you just have to shift their places like this. Stick QQKK behind JJ. Then you get the correct answer.”
“I get it,” Noll muttered.
“That’s why Madam K opened her envelope herself.”
“Perhaps. --Or let’s say, the audience created this kind of pattern. QKKQJJ that starts with black. In this case...”
“Wait,” Noll said, and looked at the pattern of the cards.
“You should cut it in the middle, right? Cut in the middle, and reverse the piece that has QJJ. Then stick that in front of QKK.”
“Good! You really catch on quick.”
Vianney smiled broadly.
“Now if it were Black J, Red J, Black Q, Red K, Black K, Red Q?”
“You would have to cut it in two places. Make a cut two spaces from the left, and reverse JJ. Then cut off the Red Q from the right end and stick that next to it. The middle three letters go after that. This makes RJ, BJ, RQ, BQ, RK, BK.”
“Mm,” Vianney nodded with satisfaction.
“If you use the scissors and the reverse in this way, there is really only one pattern. 720 becomes just 1.”
“But, depending on the situation, you might have to make three or four cuts.”
“Right. That’s what will happen. --For example, BJ, RK, BQ, RQ, BK, RJ. You’d have to cut in four places.”
“Wouldn’t it seem strange if you cut it up in so many pieces?”
“Absolutely, it would. --That’s why Madam K doesn’t want this pattern to be chosen. If it were, she would have to cut the card into small pieces.”
Noll tilted his head.
“Alright, the actual pattern doesn’t matter, but for example, let’s say the pattern that the Madam wrote as her prediction on her card was JJQQKK starting with red. This is a winning pattern. It’s like the Ace of Spades. Because if this were drawn, it would literally be right on the mark. The pattern she would be next happiest with would be its reverse; the Ace of Clubs, so to speak. Depending on how you look at it, it’s not beyond manipulation. If you just flip it around, it becomes a winning pattern. --But on the other hand, there is a pattern that Madam K would absolutely not want to be drawn. There is a Joker. That would be QJKQJK that starts with red.”
“That would be...four places.”
“Right. This is a Joker. If this is drawn, the Madam would have to use the scissors four times. Once would be fine. Twice might also be fine. Three times...well, let’s say that can be overlooked. But if you use the scissors four or five times, that would not pass.”
“Oliver, what should you do when you want to avoid getting the Joker?”
“Put a mark on it?”
“You’d be wrong there, young one. --You take the Joker out of the deck from the beginning.”
“The audience chooses a pattern on their own, so there’s no way to remove it.”
“Really? Wasn’t there a blackboard out in front?”
“Eh?” Noll murmured. Vianney’s thin face softened.
“He said to ‘line them up like this,’ and pointed to a pattern that had already been prepared there. That was QJKQJK.”
“I get it. ...The audience wouldn’t normally choose a pattern that’s already there.”
“That’s exactly right. Of course, there are people with contrary personalities, so it’s not an absolute. However, in cases like this, most people would want to avoid using that same pattern. Gently inducing someone to choose or not choose a certain pattern without them realizing...in my world, we call this a ‘force.’”
Laughing, Vianney lined up the cards.
“Madam K wants to avoid drawing the Joker. That’s why she removes it by putting it up as an example from the beginning. She forced the audience not to choose the Joker. Moreover, the Joker that was used as an example, QJKQJK-- if the audience dislikes this pattern, it becomes very difficult to choose a pattern that is similar to it too. A pattern similar to the Joker is, conversely, a pattern that is dissimilar to the correct answer. A pattern similar to the Joker might be, for example, JKQJKQ; if you cut this once in between JK and QJKQ, it can transform into the Joker. But to get to it from the correct answer, you would have to use the scissors four times, so it is an undesirable pattern. If the audience dislikes the Joker, they will inevitably avoid patterns similar to the Joker, so at the same time, they circumvent patterns that require four or three uses of the scissors. This means that it also becomes difficult for patterns that need three cuts to be drawn.”
“If you’re unlucky, and have to use the scissors three times, then it’s not a trick. In a magic trick, three times would be inexcusable. But Madam K doesn’t have to worry about that. If she used the scissors three times, and the audience seems dissatisfied, she would just have to say this: ‘Oh, do you doubt my abilities? Then I will ask for a different volunteer and show it to you again.’”
Vianney raised a hand and laughed.
“...Is it clear now?”
“But you shouldn’t rush to quick judgements, young one. I don’t know whether Madam K really used these methods. I’m only pointing out that it can be explained.”
Noll tilted his head. But if it could be explained like this, then wouldn’t that mean Madam K deceived her audience? As if seeing through his confusion, Vianney chuckled.
“Madam K may have used these methods, or she may not have. I don’t know for sure, and I have no way of verifying it. I am only pointing out that one could do the same thing she did without having ESP abilities.”
“Are they different things?”
“Indeed they are. When you call someone a liar, you must have unmistakable proof that they’re lying. But, like you, one would think ‘why don’t they let the audience open the envelope?’ They should have made an audience member open her envelope. And they should have kept the back of the card blank. They should have had a larger envelope prepared, so she could take the card out without having to cut it. That way, even people like me would be able to accept it. When I think of that, it’s very disappointing.”
“Very much so. Jackson said he was going to prove the existence of ESP. But to me, it didn’t look like proof. If only because I could do the same thing, without using mysterious powers like ESP. Of course, Madam K might not have resorted to such trickery. She might have really used ESP. But as long as you can do the same thing without using ESP, just because you can guess the pattern of the audience’s choosing, that doesn’t prove that ESP exists. It might be real, or it might be fake. In that case, the audience has no choice but to believe what they want to believe. People who think ESP is real will believe that it’s ESP. Those who think it’s not real will say that it’s a trick. In the end, whether or not you do the experiment, nothing changes. People will only believe what they already believe.”
Noll nodded vaguely. He felt like Vianney just put into words the frustration he often felt when visiting Hinnells’s lab along with Gene; something like a sense of futility-- ‘What will any of this amount to?’
“So that’s why you don’t believe in ESP, Mr. Vianney?” Noll asked.
“Not at all,” Vianney said, eyes widening as if he’d been asked something surprising.
“I’m not a denier. Even I think it would be wonderful if abilities like ESP really existed. But, I don’t want to believe in that experiment. I think it would be delightful for ESP to exist. That’s why I don’t want to be deceived by other people and made to think that it does. And so I’m distrustful. Because I want to joyfully accept from the bottom of my heart that ‘It really does exist.’”
‘Huh,’ Noll thought. This way of thinking was very different from that of the researchers around him. To tell the truth, Noll had abilities like that himself, but for whatever reason, the behavior of believers generally creeped him out. Vianney’s way of seeing things was much more refreshing. On whether or not they believed, they would be at opposite ends, but it was strangely similar to his father’s attitude of “If its existence makes things more fun, then I want to believe in it.”
“Mr. Vianney, are you a researcher?”
“I’m a magician. Or perhaps I should say I was.”
“That’s why, truthfully, I shouldn’t be saying these things. Magicians aren’t supposed to reveal the secrets to their tricks. That’s common knowledge among magicians. This time was special. ...Well, it’s not like that was really magic anyway, so I’m sure it can be forgiven.”
“It’s not a magic trick?”
“At the very least, it’s not a method thought up by magicians. In a probability of 1/10000, if you can’t get it right 10000 times in a row, then you can’t call that magic.”
Noll nodded, then looked around the interior of the store. On a nearby shelf, a round, silver ball was displayed. Beside it, a silver tube and a bouquet made of dyed feathers. Pulling a bouquet out of a tube-- he had seen a magic trick like that before.
After giving him notice, Vianney lit a pipe.
“I was a magician. Despite what I am now, I used to be rather known in Las Vegas. Ventriloquism and a little stage magic. I traveled all over America and Europe with that act.”
“But then,” Vianney smiled bitterly, pointing to his leg.
“As you can see here. There are people in the world who can’t tell the difference between sitting in a car and a bar. Oliver, you should be careful when walking the streets too.”
“And so I retired. After all, I can’t go up on stage while holding a cane. Even if I hold a hat in one hand, the hand that pulls the rabbit out would be occupied.”
Vianney raised both his hands in jest.
“So that’s how I came to retire, and settled into being just an old man running a magic shop.”
“Can’t you do magic without standing up?”
“It’s not impossible. There are tricks that can be performed while sitting, after all. We call that ‘close-up’ magic. Actually, I prefer close-up magic. The problem is, it’s a gentle magic.”
“Mm. Because it’s the kind of magic where you make expensive rings and wristwatches disappear, performed in places like luxury hotels and luxury liners. So the magician himself must be a gentleman. But as for me, I’m a little too tanned to be called a gentleman.”
Vianney laughed and leaned forward a little.
“What a close-up magician needs is quality of character. He must be noble, like yourself. Are you Asian? Chinese?”
“My mother was Japanese.”
Vianney spread both hands in a sign of welcome.
“The Japanese have very nimble fingers. Finger techniques are known as ‘sleight of hand.’ It’s usually the Japanese who steal all the sleight of hand awards at magic conventions.”
“Huh,” Noll muttered, then looked at the clock. He had been there longer than he’d thought.
“I have to go home.”
As Noll stood, Vianney used his cane and stood up too. He saw him off to the door. At the door, Noll turned to the old man.
“Um...can I come again?”
“You’re very welcome to. But don’t think that you’ll get to hear the secrets behind tricks all the time. This time really was special.”
“Next time, I’ll come as a customer.”
“Then you’d be even more welcome.”
“Oh right,” Vianney said, raising one hand.
“In that case, I’ll give you this, as thanks for our fun time together.”
Saying that, Vianney leaned against the wall and let go of his cane, then put both hands together. He moved his upper hand over the other, and then a box of cards lay on the palm of his lower hand.
Noll blinked. Because just seconds ago, Vianney hadn’t been holding anything. As he looked at Vianney in surprise, Vianney laughed, revealing white teeth.
“A blue Bicycle. They’re cards used by magicians.”
“Right. Take a look at the package. See the angel riding a bicycle? This is Bicycle. Though you’re still small, so even Bridge Size might be too big to handle.”
Saying that, Vianney placed the blue Bicycle in Noll’s hands.
“I can really have it?”
“Of course,” Vianney laughed.
“--Didn’t I tell you? The Japanese are wonderfully talented at sleight of hand.”
-I kept going back and forth on how to translate the title “Jitensha no Tenshi.” Angel of a Bicycle? Angel and a Bicycle? Angel on a Bicycle? I finally settled on this translation because the title could be a reference to the angel riding a bicycle printed on the cards, but also a reference to Naru, the “angel” who now owns his very own “Bicycle.” XD
-As Vianney says, the Bicycle brand of playing cards is known for being popular among magicians. Here’s what Naru’s deck probably looks like:
-There are parts in the description and deconstruction of the trick that confused me because there seem to be inconsistencies in the writing. I wasn’t sure if Fuyumi Ono made a mistake or not, but just in case, I translated those parts very literally. So if you spot a mistake, please know that it’s hers, and not mine. XD;
-As for connections to other stories, both Hinnells and Vianney were mentioned in the story “Eugene” as some of the few people in Naru’s “inner group.” Naru also sneaks out of school to attend Hinnells’s seminar in that story. Dorey, who is mentioned briefly, is a character from the story “Confession for a White Crow.”
-Also, please note that there are no official spellings for these names, so the ones I chose are just my best guess. Vianney’s first name “Jean” uses the French pronunciation (like “Jan”).
-I should also note that at this point in the timeline, SPR is only aware of Gene’s abilities, which is why Naru is only accompanying Gene to his experiments at SPR. (This is explained in “Confession for a White Crow.”) No one is paying much attention to Naru at this point, so it’s possible that Vianney is the first person to truly recognize his potential. :)