The next morning, Shiraki Teruo led Takenaka Chihiro to the home of Nishikawa Akira. They gently dismissed the servants tending to him, revealing a man that was blind and slowly dying.

Takenaka knelt down and unpacked the food he had brought. He gently fed the dying man, speaking to him for some hours as Shiraki waited outside. When the cook emerged, he had a sober expression on his normally jovial face.

“Is it your brother?” Shiraki said.

“No,” Takenaka replied. “Nevertheless, I spoke to him, cared for him a time. He mistook me for someone else, I think–a family member. I did not correct him. I think you will agree, Shiraki-san, with Rule 67: a lie can sometimes be a great kindness.”

Shiraki had a brief, unpleasant thought of Masako, dying in his arms as he assured her that their stillborn son was alive and healthy. “Yes,” he said softly.

“But he did admit that, during his years as a blacksmith, he once ran into another smith with the same name, another Nishikawa Akira, in a place far from here. It is not much, but I will follow where it leads.”

Shiraki nodded. “If your travels ever bring you back here, Takenaka-san, you will find yourself among friends.”

“I never hesitate to make them, if I can,” the wandering chef said. “It is my rule number one.”

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