Volume 1: Miss Shioriko and the Peculiar Guests (originally translated by TehPing at hellping.org, this chapter fully edited by ND)
Chapter Four: Dazai Osamu, The Late Years (Sunagoya Bookstore)
Before anyone realized, it was pitch black outside the window, and the other colors seemed diluted, as if dissolved into the scenery. A sudden evening shower descended like it was midsummer.
With the shop devoid of customers, I arranged the contents of the glass case, and at the same time listened to the sound of rain falling on the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. The wagon stacked with 100 yen paperbacks was covered with a waterproof sheet. I looked over at the nearby Kita-Kamakura Station platform, and saw that people were waiting for the buses under the platform’s roofs. Only a few of the boarding platforms were sheltered, however.
I noticed that there were still books scattered on the counter, and as I hurried back into the shop, the door leading to the main house opened. A 16 or 17 year old girl appeared, dressed in a T-shirt with a wide hem and jeans. Having washed her face after returning from school, her bangs were blown dry, and tied up with a band. This girl was Shinokawa’s little sister, Ayaka Shinokawa.
“Ahh, it’s raining!” she exclaimed.
In the past, she would have rolled her eyes at the sight of me, but recently, we’ve become rather friendly. Recently, I felt like her attire had become a little too unreserved around me, and it made me worried about her. Had she completely forgotten that I was an outsider?
“Any customers today?”
“Not many… it’s a weekday today,” I answered as I continued with my work in front of the glass case.
“Doesn’t look like we’re doing so well. Our shop’s not going to close down, is it?”
I merely frowned at her calm, yet ominous statement and said nothing. I started working here a month ago, and even I noticed that sales had decreased. Besides, it had been two months since the shop owner, who should be the one doing the sales, last appeared in-store. It was no wonder things were slow.
I placed a book, wrapped in wax paper, on the shelf. The cover, which was slightly faded and whitened, was imprinted with the title The Late Years. The yellow paper wrapper around it announced recommendations from Haruo Sato and Masuji Ibuse.
“Eh? That book!?”
Ayaka Shinokawa had yelled in surprise.
“Isn’t that the expensive book we had in our house a long time ago? Who’s the author again? He’s famous. D—Da—Da…”
I helped her finish what she wanted to say. This was the collection of Dazai Osamu’s first works, published in the 11th year of the Showa Era—but sadly, I didn’t know what they said, since I couldn’t read.
“So we’re selling this one too? My sister used to insist that she would never sell this book no matter what happened. Are our sales really that bad?”
I glanced at the girl’s face through the reflection of the glass case before I locked it.
“…Were there any customers that wanted to buy the book recently?”
“Nope, not at all,” she said, shaking her head sideways with a little laugh. “You sound like my sister now. She would always ask me that too…to let her know right away if any customers showed interest in the book. So is there something going on with it?”
“No… not at all,” I lied.
The details were a secret between Shinokawa and me.
Shinokawa’s younger sister was right beside me, staring at The Late Years behind the glass. She then muttered, “…this is from the safe in my sister’s hospital ward.”
“Has this book always been so clean…?”
I stopped what I was doing for a moment. Although she didn’t resemble her older sister much, she was unexpectedly sharp. She noticed things that didn’t occur to me right away.
“The edges were a lot dirtier the last time I saw it, I think.”
I didn’t want her to get involved in this. How could I stop her from looking into it further…? Just as I was thinking about what to do, a blue-white light flashed outside the shop, followed by a tremendous clap of thunder.
Ayaka Shinokawa let out a strange cry. She didn’t sound shocked, but rather amazed. Ayaka tottered over to the glass sliding door, and looked up at the dark, thunderous clouds.
“That was amazing. It must have landed nearby!”
There were a lot of hills in Kita-Kamakura; it was not an uncommon sight for the metal towers built on the peaks to be struck by lightning.
My thoughts somehow went to Shinokawa, hospitalized. Right now she must be looking up at the sky alone in the hospital ward. Maybe she didn’t like the lightning. On that day two months ago, Shinokawa was pushed down some stone steps. It was a stormy day, just like how it was now.
I learned Shinokawa’s secret a week ago, right after the Sakaguchi couple left the room.
“…You were pushed down? What do you mean?”
It was hard for me to immediately comprehend when she suddenly said something like “pushed down”.
“Before I go on, there’s something I want to show you.”
She undid the first button of her pajamas as she said so. Her collarbone was clearly visible just below her head. I widened my eyes and my body stiffened, and she reached her hand into her chest right in front of me.
She took out a little key she wore on her neck, and handed the key to me, the warmth of her skin still lingering.
“…Please take out what’s in the safe.”
She pointed to the safe beside her bed. There was certainly a small safe under the rack, but it never occurred to me that there could be something inside until now.
I followed her instructions and opened the safe. There was a rectangular object wrapped in purple cloth that felt very light in my hands. I sat back on my seat, undid the wrapping, and uncovered a book sleeved in wax paper. Inscribed on the cover was the title The Late Years, and a recommendation by Satou Haruo was printed on the sleeve.
It was in considerably good condition for an old book, and I could tell it had been handled with care. The Late Years was a title that sounded familiar and if I remembered correctly—
“The Late Years is the debut collection of works by Dazai Osamu. This is the first edition, which was released by Sunagoya Bookstore in Showa 11.”
I nodded. I had never read it before, but it did seem interesting.
“My grandfather obtained this book from his friend. My grandfather handed it down to my father, and my father to me. It’s not for sale—it’s part of my personal collection.”
I tried flipping through the pages, and quickly noticed there was something wrong. A number of the pages were stuck together and it didn’t look like there was any way to read the book one page at a time. I had never seen a book like this.
“Was this book printed incorrectly?”
Shinokawa shook her head. “It’s uncut.”
“Books are normally printed like this first, and have the top and side edges cut off afterwards. An uncut book is one that was released before it went through the cutting process…it was very common to see books published like this in the past.
“Then how do I read it?”
“You cut it open with a paper knife before you read it.”
I see. As I marveled at this, my hands stopped flipping—that meant that nobody has ever read this copy of The Late Years before. Was it because it was a very valuable book?
I found something strange again. Just when I flipped to the inside cover, I found fine writing written there.
To all living things, live on with confidence
We are all to become sinners.
The name Dazai Osamu was written on the side. Suddenly, the book gave off an ominous feeling.
“Is this… the real thing?”
I knew the answer before she nodded. This was obviously different from the fake signature I saw in Sōseki’s Complete Collection. It felt as if an author from the past, whose name was the only thing I knew about him, had suddenly come to life in front of me.
“The Late Years was published when Dazai was 27 years old. It’s an anthology of previously published short stories, but there was no story titled The Late Years.”
“Then, why is it called The Late Years?”
“Dazai intended for it to be his defining work when he wrote it. He and a woman tried to drown themselves together before he became active as a novelist. It was at Koshigoe, which isn’t far from here. Of course, he went on to have many other suicide attempts.
I knew about that part. I heard he jumped into the Tamagawa Canal together with his mistress.
“There were only 500 copies of the first edition printed. These beautiful books were all released in uncut form, and each one had a cover to go with it, as well as a signature. I suppose there are no other existing copies of this edition left… I have no intention of doing it, but if it were sold at our shop… it would be sold at over 3 million yen.”
I gulped. Up until this point, I had never touched such an expensive item, let alone a book.
“But to me, the value of this book has nothing to do with the price. What Dazai Osamu wrote on the inside cover is the most important thing to me.”
I looked down at Dazai’s handwriting one more time. To all living things, live on with confidence. We are all to become sinners—the characters were written in thin, shaky letters. The word sinners looked like it was written with more force than the rest of the sentence. I couldn’t explain why, but the words had an impact on me.
“He must have written those words to encourage an acquaintance when he gave them this book. This particular line can be found in other signed books…the word sinners must have been weighing heavily on his mind at the time. Although that line does not appear in this book, it does show up in a short story titled ‘Seagull’.”
I mouthed the word sinners over and over again.
“Is he saying that everyone is evil?”
“Not necessarily. My understanding is that as human beings, we are all sinners…”
So he was saying that since we were all sinners anyway, we may as well live with pride—it was hard to tell if he meant that optimistically or pessimistically.
“I like the line because it feels like he was referring to himself. Then again, I tend to like lines like that…”
My eyes went wide. This was my first time hearing Shinokawa talk about her own thoughts. Her ideas on sin were unexpected… perhaps it had something to do with her love of books.
“There is someone who likes this line, too, a zealous fan of Dazai… that man pushed me down the steps.”
She lowered her head and stared at her legs, outstretched to the front.
“…Who is that?”
“I don’t know his real name or who he is… the only thing I could conclude was that he wanted this, The Late Years.”
I didn’t notice the light of the sun outside beginning to fade as Shinokawa calmly explained what happened to her.
“As I said before, this book is not for sale. It’s something I got when I inherited the shop. My father told me that I could do whatever I wanted with it when the time came… but I always kept it inside the house, and never showed it to anyone else… except for once.”
“Do you know of the Museum of Literature in the Hase area?”
I nodded. I went there once. The building, a modified old Western-style house, displayed original drafts of famous works and other artifacts related to the authors. It was clearly a museum for literature, and it was the tourist attraction of Hase along with the Kamakura Buddha.
“Last year was the centennial of Dazai Osamu’s birth, and the Musuem had an exhibition. The Museum asked if they could display my copy of The Late Years, so I lent them the book.”
I vaguely recalled hearing about this somewhere—or rather, I saw it somewhere. Either way, I knew about this.
“I might have seen this on the internet. It said that our shop lent some books for the exhibition…”
That was when I first started work here. When I searched for the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia on the internet, I found this post in a forum full of old book hobbyists. They were probably referring to this copy of The Late Years.
“Yes, that is the one…”
Shinokawa’s face showed a gloomy expression as she nodded.
“The Museum hid the fact that it was our bookstore who lent the book, but someone discovered it. My grandfather and father would sometimes show this book to customers visiting our shop. The problem is that a lot of people now know that I have the book. I received an email after the exhibition ended.”
She opened her laptop, and the LCD backlight brightened the dim room a little. I stared at the screen, and saw an anonymous email sent to Shinokawa.
To Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia, Miss Shinokawa.
Hello, my name is Oba Yozo.
I was passing through Kamakura a few days ago, and happened to see Dazai Osamu’s The Late Years at the Literature Museum along the way, courtesy of your shop. It was a breathtakingly beautiful book, and the words of advice written together with the signature were captivating.
To all living things, live on with confidence. We are all to become sinners.
Please sell the book to me immediately and keep this email anonymous. Please reply to this email with the sum of money you want, your bank account, freight method and all related information.
“…I thought it was a prank when I first saw this.”
I could not help but interrupt. The message was filled with excitement, but there didn’t seem to be anything strange about it.
“Because of this name. Oba Yozo… this is the name of the protagonist in the short story Petals of Buffoonery, which was one of those collected in The Late Years.”
So that was how it was. I nodded. So this was a fake name.
“It was also strange that a deal involving so much money was not made through phone, but by email… either way, I had no intention of selling the book. So I wrote a reply, stating that this book wasn’t for sale, but part of a personal collection. Then, I got another email less than 5 minutes later.”
She pointed at the email folder; the next email was titled Please state your price, and it seemed he just decided to go ahead with negotiations. She then pointed at the next message, titled The importance of that book to me. Then, she pointed at the next one—and at this point, I felt a chill on my back.
Oba had sent hundreds, no, thousands of emails in that folder. I don’t know many pages went by before we finally reached the last page. He had the obsession of a stalker, but directed at a book rather than at a person.
“I did discuss this with the police, but these emails alone weren’t enough for the police to get involved. He’d used a free email account from overseas, and they couldn’t ascertain his identity… when I was wondering if I should just ignore him, he came to the shop.
At that time, the rainy season hadn’t ended yet, and I was alone in the shop. A man in a suit carrying a large tourist’s bag bent down and entered through the sliding door.
I couldn’t see his appearance clearly as he had a large mask and sunglasses on. He was very tall, and he didn’t seem very old.
“My name is Oba Yozo.”
He gave his name softly, took out a bundle of cash from his bag, and left it on the counter.
“There is four million yen here. Please sell the book to me.”
He tried to persuade me.
“My desire is to collect the first edition works of various authors, but the first editions of Dazai’s works are especially important. This copy of The Late Years with its author’s words inside would be perfect for a collector like me. I’d buy it at any cost.”
I was shocked and I only just managed to cut him off, before returning his money… I repeated what I said in the email, that this was a book my father handed down to me, that I was personally attached to it. That I absolutely would not sell it to him. After I said that, he asked me:
“You won’t let go of it no matter what?”
…I told him that’s right, and he leaned his body forward.
“I’m attached to this book too. No matter how many years, or how many obstacles, I will get my hands on it.”
And then he left. I felt very tired all of a sudden… he would certainly come by again, and I didn’t know what I was going to do to convince him.
That day, after I closed the shop, I went to my father’s friend’s house that was nearby. I was going to return a book my father borrowed when he was still alive… it was raining heavily that day, and I was hurrying up the stone steps. I was using an umbrella, holding his book in my other hand. I was practically looking only at my feet at the time.
Just when I was about to finish climbing the stone steps, I found that man standing right at the top. I raised my umbrella, and just when I was about to lift my head and see his face, he pushed my shoulder.
I lost my footing and rolled all the way down to the bottom. My body couldn’tmove at all, and I realized that I was seriously injured. I wanted to call for help, but my state of mind was fuzzy… I heard the sound of someone walking down the steps.
“What? You didn’t bring the book?”
I heard dissatisfaction in his voice. The rain was very loud, but I could tell that this was the voice of Oba Yozo. His voice was very unique, deep yet clear… somewhat like yours, Mr. Goura.
“Where is it?”
I finally realized that he was after The Late Years. Of course I wasn’t going to hand it to him.
“I hid it in a safe place. I’m not telling you where it is.”
I spoke with as much strength as I could muster. Actually, I locked it in a cupboard, so it wasn’t really safe… I just wanted to keep that book away from Oba’s clutches as well as I could.
It seemed Oba wanted to say something else, but the sound of a car approaching came from afar. He hurriedly whispered into my ear.
“Don’t tell anyone about this. If you do, I’ll burn your bookstore. Stop being stubborn and hand me that book over quietly… I will contact you again soon.”
That was all I could remember, and I found myself lying on the hospital bed when I woke up. I never told anyone else about this, and I put The Late Years in the hospital ward’s safe. There are people in the hospital all the time, so it’s a lot safer than leaving it in my house. He never contacted me during these two months, and of course, I never contacted him…
“H-Hang on a second.”
I, who had been listening silently up till this point, interrupted Shinokawa.
“In other words, you never told the police either?”
I was shocked by her attitude; she seemed to think her answer was obvious
“Why? You were nearly killed…”
“Because I have no idea who or what kind of person Oba Yozo is,” she answered. “Even if the police start to investigate, they can’t arrest him immediately. If he finds out that I reported it to the police, he might really burn the bookshop or something… I know he’s determined, and I want to completely eliminate the risk of losing the shop.”
“B-But, if you leave that kind of person alone…”
“Yes, so if he appears at the shop again, then I’ll call the police. This whole time, I’ve been thinking of what to do in this room.”
She suddenly lifted her face, and her gaze behind her glasses was filled with intense willpower. Her dark eyes were wide, just like it was in the moments before she unraveled all book-related mysteries. She reached her hand over and clasped mine tightly.
“Can you help me to lure Oba Yozo out? I don’t know what will happen, but you’re the only person I can ask, Mr. Goura.”
Her white hand was very warm, and I was rooted to the ground, thunderstruck. You’re the only person I can ask; the line echoed in my ears. It was probably rare for an introverted person like her to open her heart to someone else. Not to mention, she was asking me directly.
“…Alright. I’ll help you.”
Of course, my answer was a definite yes—I nodded and held her hand tightly. Her slender fingers were completely enclosed within my fist.
“Thank you… erm, sorry… for getting you involved in this…”
“It’s fine…but allow me to have one condition.”
She tilted her head.
“Can you please tell me what’s in Dazai Osamu’s The Late Years? I’ve never read it.”
Her expression immediately brightened, just like whenever she saw a book—no, perhaps she was smiling brighter even than that. Affected by her, I smiled too.
“Of course… I’ll definitely tell you about it after this is all over.”
Our relationship was maintained through books. It was a relationship between one who wanted to talk about them and one who wanted to hear about them. After a lot of conversations in this ward room, all the while maintaining this baffling relationship, we somehow seemed to have closed the distance between us. At least, I had become a reliable person she could trust, and of course I trusted her too.
“Then, how do we lure him out?” I asked.
Oba Yozo also must have considered the risk of getting arrested by the police, and he would definitely try to avoid contact with us as much as possible.
“Oba Yozo wants to get this book no matter what. Did you know that a thief broke into my house?”
“Eh? …Ahh, yes.”
I remembered Shinokawa’s little sister mentioning this in passing when I just started working there. The thief didn’t steal anything, if I remembered correctly.
“I don’t have any proof, but I feel like that was related to Oba… he figured he would steal it rather than make a deal for it. By then I had already moved The Late Years here.”
I felt it was likely, too. Oba Yozo would go to any lengths to complete his objective, and naturally that included breaking into people’s houses.
“Right now, the thing he really wants to know is where The Late Years is… so to lure him out, we need to set up bait.”
Shinokawa took out another cloth covered package from the mountain of books beside her. She unwrapped it and pulled out yet another book wrapped in wax paper. My eyes went wide. It was The Late Years, sleeved in yellow—an exact duplicate of the book I had on my lap.
“Is that another first edition printing?”
It too was in an uncut state. Wouldn’t that mean it was also incredibly valuable?
She shook her head.
“This is the HOLP reprint from the 1970s… a replica. It’s hard to determine if it’s the real thing without looking inside.”
I stared at the reprinted version of The Late Years. As a book, it looked similar on the outside; no, the reprint’s version had firmer pages, and there were fewer stains on the cover—I felt it lacked the antique feel and gravitas of the original.
“…Will someone think of buying it even if it’s not the original?”
“The reprint is similar to the original version; there are some hobbyists who would want to read it. It was made with a lot of attention to detail, though there were many releases… even though I have the first edition, I still bought a few reprints.”
‘’Is that so?’’ I was a little skeptical, and she continued.
“Please price this book at 3.5 million yen and place it in the glass case at our shop. I’ll update the news on the shop’s homepage, stating that the first edition of The Late Years, in perfect condition, is in stock… once he knows that the book he wants is up for sale, Oba Yozo will surely come to our shop to buy it. He would come by once, simply to check the condition; if he does, please call the police, Mr. Goura.”
I understood what she meant. This reprint version would be the bait to lure out Oba. We could use the real one as bait, but it might get snatched away. This sounded decent, at least—but would things turn out the way we want so easily?
“But I don’t know what Oba looks like.”
“If there is a tall and unfamiliar customer requesting to buy this book, he’ll be the one. Not many people can spend 3.5 million yen just on one book.”
“But what if a regular customer wants to buy it?”
“Then please tell the customer that the book was already sold. We can’t allow a reprint version to actually be sold for that price.”
“And what if Oba makes a call to inquire?”
“Then please pretend to not know anything and tell him ‘I placed it in the glass case according to the shopkeeper’s instructions. We do not accept mail orders’. Then the only way for him is to come in person.”
I folded my arms once she finished her words. I didn’t mean to nitpick, but there were risks in our plan, and I just wanted to put to rest as much unease as I could.
“Then, Shinokawa, can’t you wait till you’re discharged?”
“…Why do you ask?”
“Because he might end up doing something reckless. While he might come to the shop, there’s a chance he could come to the hospital and hurt you.”
She seemed to be taken aback by this, and her expression was a little stiff.
“You can’t run like this, right? It would be better to do this plan once you can walk just like before… right…?”
My voice diminished; Shinokawa’s hands were clenched as they rested on her lap. Did I say something wrong?
“There is no point waiting… even if we wait, the situation isn’t going to change in the slightest,” she said hoarsely.
“I didn’t just get a fracture… my spinal nerves were damaged, and the doctor said that there will be lingering problems after I’m discharged. It’ll be a long time before I can walk how I used to. Possibly… I may never get to walk freely for the rest of my life…”
The atmosphere in the ward seemed frozen.
The rain continued to fall outside.
Dazai Osamu’s The Late Years was placed in the glass case with a tag beside it: 3.5 Million Yen, perfect condition, includes signature—though it was in fact the reprint version.
I stood in front of the glass case and reflected over Shinokawa’s words. What happened to her legs shocked me as much as the issue regarding Oba Yozo.
I may never get to walk freely for the rest of my life.
She did not want the police to interfere, wanting to find Oba herself so that she could settle things personally.
Shinokawa’s little sister had gone back inside to the house, and I was the only one present in the shop. She did not know anything about Oba Yozo, but of course she knew how severely injured her older sister was.
Speaking of which, when I first came to this shop, she put me in a choke hold whenever I asked about Shinokawa’s injury. This was surprising, considering how she’d rattle on about other things that I didn’t even ask about, but perhaps this was her way of expressing concern.
Shinokawa said that what bothered her the most was whether she could hide the Oba issue from her little sister.
“My little sister’s personality is that she can’t keep things to herself… maybe she’ll tell someone else, and more importantly, if Oba appears, she won’t be able to handle him calmly.”
In other words, I looked more calm when speaking, and I could be firm when talking with him. I felt a little tense, but the announcement regarding The Late Years was already uploaded to our shop’s homepage. The way things were, Oba could appear at the shop anytime now.
The door opened violently, and I jumped.
“What’s with that scary expression?”
I relaxed my shoulders; the one who appeared was Kosuga Nao. She was the girl who stole Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen from the book hunter Shida last time. It seemed her love of reading awoke after she returned the book and apologized to him, and she would occasionally come by the shop since then.
She was dressed in a half-sleeved blouse and a uniform skirt. This was the first time I saw her in a school uniform. Like Shinokawa’s little sister, she was studying at the high school I graduated from.
“I have to go to a friend’s house to prepare for the culture festival, but it suddenly started raining… let me shelter here for a while, yeah?”
She entered the shop while talking in that boyish manner of hers, and the water droplets dripped down the ends of her short hair. I hurried to the back of the counter; it would be bad if the books got wet. From the inside house, I retrieved a towel and threw it at the girl standing in front of the glass case.
“Sorry, and thanks.”
Kosuga Nao received the towel cheerfully and wiped her hair as she peered into the glass case.
“Oh, is this the rumored book worth 3.5 million Yen?”
“When did it become a rumor?” I asked in surprise.
“Oh, that’s just how I thought of it. I saw this on this shop’s website last night… even if it’s not the first edition, you can still buy this book elsewhere, right? Will anyone actually buy such an expensive book?”
“…There’ll be people who’d want this.”
One person, at least, though he was an anonymous fanatic stalker.
She seemed to have lost interest, and turned her back towards the glass case as she looked at me.
“Speaking of which, has Shida-sensei passed by here recently?”
“I haven’t seen him this week.”
“I think he’ll come by here. I think he wanted to discuss a purchase.”
Ever since the book theft incident, Kosuga Nao and Shida had maintained a mysterious relationship. I heard that they would borrow books from each other, and would occasionally share their thoughts at the riverside. Kosuga admired Shida’s knowledge of book-related issues, and started calling him sensei. Having suddenly gained a new student, Shida was tentative, albeit somewhat delighted.
“When’s the culture festival?” I asked. Now that she mentioned it, they usually began preparations once summer break ended.
“Two weeks from now, from Friday to Sunday. If it’s convenient for you to come by…”
But then something occurred to her, and she turned to look outside of the shop unenthusiastically.
“…Do you still remember that guy named Nishino?”
I frowned. There was no way I could forget about him.
“Ahh. What did he do now?”
That classmate who pretended to be friendly with Kosuga, but actually hated her. I only talked with him once and didn’t come away with a good impression of him.
“Once summer break ended, the news that he rejected me and said all these bad things about me spread around the school. Everyone even knew he gave my phone number and address to some stranger. Did you tell anyone from our school about what happened last month?”
“Hell no. I never told anyone.”
Not a lot of people should have known about this; besides the two parties involved, the only ones who would have known were Shinokawa, Shida and I. And nobody was eavesdropping on our conversation—
I looked back to the door leading into the house. Now that she mentioned it, Shinokawa’s little sister had been nearby when Shida came to the shop and talked about Kosuga Nao. Shida never mentioned the book theft, but I guess he mentioned the name Nishino. I remembered Shinokawa saying that her sister was really bad at keeping secrets. This was troubling.
“Sorry… someone else might have heard by mistake.”
“Ah, it’s fine. Don’t worry, I was never going to hide it,” she said, shaking her head. “Nishino’s very popular, but apparently he had said some really cruel things behind other people’s backs too. The news involving me spread so quickly, and all the girls in our year ignored him… it seems he’s had a hard time getting along with the boys. That guy has been practically alone ever since then, and it seems like he’s left the light music club…”
I’ve seen guys who were very popular in school have their reputations plummet because of certain incidents; it was even scarier when a bunch of girls ganged up on them. I could only say he got exactly what he deserved.
“I pass by Nishino looking bummed in the hall sometimes, and somehow I don’t really feel like gloating. I feel bad, actually, that this happened because of me…I wonder why?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much if he hasn’t said anything to you himself.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
I think I could understand why she felt like that though. It was because that boy, Nishino, no longer meant anything to her personally. There was none of the bravado she had when she went to apologize to Shida.
Kosuga Nao suddenly narrowed her eyes as she looked outside the window. I followed her actions and looked over to where she was staring. There was still a downpour outside the window.
“What is it?”
“Someone was on the road just now, looking over here, but he ran off.”
I immediately walked out from the behind counter, ran down the narrow aisle, and opened the glass sliding door. The large droplets of rain continued to fall upon the pavement, and there was nobody I could spot on the opposite side. Perhaps he turned the corner.
“What kind of person was he?”
“Well… he was dressed in a raincoat, and had a hood on… so I couldn’t see his face clearly. It’s probably a guy though. Did he do something?”
I closed the sliding door silently. No ordinary customer would run away like that.
Perhaps Oba Yozo had appeared.
“I waited a little while after that, but that guy never came to the shop.”
It was the second day, and I was in the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. The weather today was exceptionally bright and not many customers came by in the afternoon. I was alone in the shop as always with The Late Years replica just as it had been yesterday. Currently, I was on the phone.
“Erm…are you alright?”
I heard Shinokawa’s weak voice from the receiver. She deliberately made her way to the corridor on the wheelchair, and made a call to the shop.
“What do you mean?”
“…About bringing the book back with you… after the shop closed.”
Then I understood.
Last night, after closing the shop, I brought the reprint copy of The Late Years to my house in Ōfuna and stored it in the safe my grandmother used to run her business. If Oba Yozo snuck into the shop when the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia was closed, the plan to lure him out with the reprint would fail.
“Don’t worry. Nothing happened.”
I was a little nervous; there was a possibility that I could have been attacked during my trips, but I didn’t see anyone suspicious.
“I’m really sorry… for getting you involved in this…”
“Don’t worry about it. I told you I’d help, after all.”
“Erm… please do not push yourself too much, Mr. Goura…if anything happens to you, I would…”
I instinctively tightened my grip around the receiver. What came after “I would…”? I pricked my ears, listening carefully, only to hear the sliding door being opened.
“Ah, it seems that there’s a customer here… I’m hanging up for now.”
And so I did. It was really a pity to hang up like this, but I had no time to worry about it. Perhaps Oba Yozo had appeared. With the receiver in hand, I looked over.
“Hello, Mr. Goura! Ah, are you on the phone? Keep talking, don’t mind us. Just continue on. There’s nothing big from us here!”
The shrill voice pierced my brain, and there appeared a petite woman with a bright one-piece skirt and an aging man wearing sunglasses. Both of them entered the shop, their arms locked together.
“It has been a while. Sorry to trouble you the last time.”
The man—Sakaguchi Masashi spoke. They were the Sakaguchi couple. Mr. Sakaguchi had wanted to sell his copy of Vinogradov/Kuzmin’s Introduction to Logic once, and his wife came over to take it back. Their ages and personalities were very different, but they got along well with each other.
“Welcome. Is there anything you need?” I asked.
I could see that Sakaguchi Masashi was not wearing a business suit, but something else; he did not have a tie, and he was dressed in a jacket and very creased pants.
“I just retired from my company a few days ago, so…”
“We’re going to request passports! Since we never took a honeymoon trip…”
“…We intend to go to Europe for a week.”
“We thought we should drop by and say hi before we leave! We just visited the shop owner at the hospital before coming here.”
“O-oh, I see…then, thanks…”
My brain was a little jumbled by this explanation from utterly contrasting voices. Suddenly, Sakaguchi Shinobu spoke seriously.
“We want to see all sorts of things together now that we have the chance…before Masa’s eye disease worsens. The doctor said…”
Sakaguchi’s clear voice rang, overpowering his wife’s voice.
“Don’t call me Masa. Even when we’re travelling.”
“Ah, my bad.”
Teehee. Shinobu chuckled as she covered her mouth. But it didn’t seem Sakaguchi was too unwilling to be called this, and it wasn’t them but me who felt a little awkward as I watched. Their arms were locked together since they came in, and they didn’t seem like they’d break away anytime soon.
“I really want to thank you and Miss Shinokawa.”
Sakaguchi stared at my face from behind his sunglasses. The color of the lens were darker than when we last met.
“If I had not met you two, I wouldn’t have been able to reveal my secret.”
“Ah, that’s not exactly…”
I was a little embarrassed to receive his thanks so directly. Also, though they said “we”, they should be thanking Shinokawa only. She completely understood the reasons behind everything back then, just from a single copy of the Introduction to Logic and a little bit of conversation she chanced upon. I was just standing beside her, looking amazed.
“Well then, I guess it’s about time we left.”
After talking for a little while, the Sakaguchi couple passed through the glass door. I found that the wife was walking a little faster, and I noticed that their arms weren’t locked together just because they were close. Sakaguchi Shinobu was pulling Sakaguchi Masashi along, whose eyesight was weaker than it was before.
“…Please come by when you have the time.”
I called out while facing their backs. Both of them returned a smile and walked out of the glass door. Just when I was about to continue my work—
“Hey, what’cha doin’ squatting down there? Are you alright?”
Sakaguchi Shinobu’s voice rang as she stood outside the glass door. There was still another person outside.
I hurried out of the shop—and then, the man dressed in a raincoat turned away from me and dashed off. Watching his strides, it seemed he was relatively young, but as he did not have his hood on, I could only discern his hairstyle. His hair was short, not dyed, and didn’t seem to have any features that stood out.
I yelled, but he did not stop, and subsequently disappeared around the corner. The shop was still open, so I couldn’t chase after him. I turned back towards the Sakaguchi couple.
“Did you see that man’s face just now?”
For an instant, both of them turned to look at each other.
“…No, he was crouched at the sign, and his back was facing us.”
Sakaguchi Shinobu pointed at the rotating signboard.
What was he doing down there? I spun the sign over, and found it was splashed with some smelly liquid. Some volatile chemical, or—
My face went pale. The sign was soaked in gasoline, and on a closer look, there was a small item dropped near the base of the sign. It had to be something the escaped man brought along.
It was a disposable lighter.
“…I think it’s better to explain to the police what happened up until now regarding Oba Yozo.”
I spoke into the receiver to Shinokawa, who I was just talking to earlier. I sent her an email, and requested that she call me back.
“It would be too late if the shop burned down.”
It was an hour after the Sakaguchi couple left. I shuddered to think what would have happened if those two were not around. This whole shop might have been ash by now.
“Hm… that might be a good idea… in light of this…”
Shinokawa murmured as she pondered.
“However… there is something that bothers me.”
“What is it?”
“Did Oba Yozo really do this?”
“Eh?” I exclaimed into the phone. “What do you mean?”
“Oba probably thinks that the book is in the shop, so why would he do something that would endanger the book he wants to get?”
At that instance, I did not know how to answer.
“…Maybe he planned to start a commotion first, and then use that chance to steal it.”
“If he wants to instigate an incident, there are all sorts of ways to do this without putting the book at ricks… you could stir something up outside the shop, or something.”
“But he’s still the only person who could have done this, right?”
I didn’t really understand what was bothering her. I thought all these were absolutely trivial details.
“Right… then may I leave it to you to contact the police?”
I suddenly whiffed an intense stench. Something was burning. I lifted my head, and there was black smoke covering the outside of the glass window.
I threw the receiver down and grabbed the fire extinguisher I prepared beforehand. The white powder spurted out noisily from the tube, muffling the smoke that had risen all around.
Perhaps it was because the fire extinguisher was so old that the flames were not doused. The powder began to lose momentum before the flames could be stifled, and just when the flames seemed about to overcome it—please no, I thought, but then the flames were finally extinguished, and the smoke was the only thing left.
I heaved a sigh of relief and looked over. My vision was blurred because of a fog hanging in the hair, but I managed to find a man dressed in a raincoat, standing at a telephone pole ten steps away. He must have been the one from earlier.
The moment the man heard me, he took off, pushing off the telephone pole so hard he could’ve knocked it aside. There was no doubt he was the culprit, the man who injured Shinokawa, the man who wanted to burn the shop down. There’s no way I was losing this chance. I dumped the fire extinguisher as I gave chase.
I thought I’d catch up right away, as I was still confident in my legs—but, he was faster than I was, and the distance increased slowly. He was right in front of me, but I wasn’t sure I could catch him.
“Damn it…” I said, gritting my teeth.
But then, two bicycles appeared at the fork. One of them was a commuter’s bicycle with a large and broken basket, while the other was a high-speed cross country bicycle. Their riders were a bald man and a man pretty like a magazine model, respectively—the book hunters Shida and Kasai.
The fleeing man almost crashed into Shida’s bicycle.
“Watch out!” Shida shouted.
The man suddenly stopped for a moment to avoid crashing into the two. I took advantage of that to quickly grab hold of his raincoat.
“Let go of me!”
The man turned around, trying to dislodge my fingers, but I do have a dan in judo. I grabbed him by his wrist and kicked his feet out from under him, before slamming his back on the asphalt road. Then I held him down and restrained his movements above his shoulders.
“Behave yourself! Oba!”
I pushed him hard as I yelled. I peered at his face, and close-up, he was a lot younger than I imagined him to be. I could say he was in his teens, and there was still some innocence left on his face. Though this was the first time we’d met—no, taking a closer look, I feel like we’ve met before.
“Who the hell is Oba?! You’re pushing too hard, you asshole!”
The boy groaned in pain, and my eyes widened. His hair had been dyed black again. I realized that the person I was restraining was Kosuga Nao’s classmate—the boy called Nishino.
Events went smoothly after that.
The police hurried onto the scene, whisked Nishino away, and performed investigations in front of the shop. There was no damage other than the burn marks on the signboard and the fire extinguisher powder making a mess of the road.
I didn’t have to ask Nishino why he did this, because he had a lot to say before the police arrived. Leaving aside the insults and slander, his whole rant could be condensed to a single sentence.
“…So, basically, he had a grudge against you,” said Kasai, after the police left. He looked surprised.
Shida, Kasai and I were surrounding the counter in the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. They just so happened to arrive at the shop to discuss books with me, and accompanied me as we waited for the police to leave—they even watched over the shop while I was explaining the situation to the police.
“Yeah, guess so,” I said, sighing.
What happened to Nishino was—he became isolated by the other students at school, because someone learned some private things and started rumors behind his back. Of course, he suspected Kosuga Nao, though there were “other culprits”.
As he was tailing Kosuga Nao, he arrived at this shop—and did nothing. The suspicious person Kosuga Nao spotted the previous day, and the one peeping into the shop, was Nishino.
Upon seeing Kosuga Nao talk with me so easily, Nishino realized that I was the man who spoke with him during summer break, and “realized” the answer. He decided that only I knew that about him revealing Kosuga Nao’s personal information, and so I was the culprit. He said he didn’t really want to burn the shop down; he just wanted to take revenge on me.
“You didn’t realize from the start? You’ve met before, haven’t you?” Shida asked.
“He was blond the last time I spoke to him.”
I guess he only bleached his hair during summer break. The school rules forbade students from bleaching their hair, and he dyed it black before September.
“Anyway, it’s a good thing you caught him. There might have been no end to him if you’d let him go,” fumed Shida.
He was in a foul mood for a while, because Nishino told us his plans after setting fire to the shop. He was going to do the same to Kosuga Nao’s house, and if that happened, the fire might not have been as successfully put out.
“Anyway, isn’t everything settled? He’s been taken away, and all that,” Kasai said, smiling, and Shida nodded in agreement.
I wanted to smile along with them, but this didn’t mean all the shop’s issues were solved. I was back at square one regarding Oba Yozo, since it seems he hadn’t done anything the past two days. The ones who came to this shop were familiar people like Shida.
I sent an email to Shinokawa, telling her about Nishino’s arson attempt. Because of the situation, I didn’t tell the police about Oba. I planned to make a trip to the hospital later and discuss what to do going forward.
“Oh? Isn’t this the first edition of The Late Years? You managed to get a book like this?” Shida exclaimed as he stood in front of the glass case.
“Well… this actually belongs to the shop…” I stammered. Kasai might not know books too well, but I didn’t want to show this to Shida, who had a keen eye for them.
“You have a look at it too, Baron. It’s not often you get to see an uncut first edition book.”
“Huh. Is it really that valuable?” Kasai approached the glass case, too.
“Are you kidding? I mean, of course it is… wait. Isn’t this just a replica?”
His voice, agitated, rang through the shop. Were we found out? I clicked my tongue privately; after all, we never could’ve have fooled Shida.
“So you can tell?”
“Of course! The pages are too fresh! Why are you selling this? You don’t need to price a reprint this high, do you?”
“Well… about that… we didn’t display the real thing for safety’s sake, so we put up the replica instead…”
My explanation was vague, and Shida expressed obvious doubt.
“That’s a strange thing for this shop to do… anyone could tell this is a fake immediately. At least dirty the cover a little.”
“It looks just like the real thing to me, though.” Kasai stood at the glass case, his hands on his hips, his head tilted forward. “Where’s the real one being kept?”
“With Shinokawa at the hospital.”
“So it’s just lying in the ward? That’s too careless.” The creases on Shida’s face deepened.
“There’s a safe in the ward room though.”
“…Let me tell you something.”
Shida leaned his body towards the counter, and my eyes automatically avoided his gaze.
“It’s very unnatural for an antiquarian bookshop to put up a fake. I don’t think Miss Shop Owner would deliberately attempt to fool a customer… is there something else going on?”
“No, it—it’s nothing…”
Shida ignored my reply and continued, “If it’s something I can help with, I’ll lend a hand. You guys helped me out once, after all.”
“I’ll help too, though I don’t really know much about books,” Kasai said cheerily.
I pondered this for a moment. Wouldn’t it be great to get these two in on it and enlist their help? Or should I discuss it with Shinokawa first? She doesn’t want to include any third parties besides me. In this end, this is her personal issue.
“…Please let me think about this for a moment,” I said. Just then a cellphone vibrated softly.
“Ah, sorry. I think it’s a customer.”
Kasai’s phone was ringing. He lowered his head and passed through the sliding door. Once outside, he started talking on the phone. I could clearly hear him state the price of a game console; a customer seemed to want one.
Shida and I stared at Kasai’s back. He was about my height; he was taller than the door frame, and through it, I couldn’t see above his ears.
“…The Baron seems a little weird today,” said Shida nonchalantly.
“Because he pretended not to know about the first edition of The Late Years; how could he not?”
“I thought he didn’t know much about books? He’s said that before.”
He’d previously stated that he was unfamiliar with them, as he mostly traded in games and CDs.
“I’d say that’s just him being humble. Can’t you tell from his name? He’s the Baron, you know?”
I wasn’t following. Wasn’t the Baron a nickname Shida gave to Kasai based on his appearance, or something? Seeing my bewilderment, Shida sighed, evidently amazed.
“To hear the phrases book hunter and Kasai, anyone who likes books in this industry would have realized… but never mind, I can’t blame you for not knowing.”
“What’s going on?”
“How can Kasai be a real name? It’s just a cool-sounding name he gave himself.”
Suddenly, I felt a chill up my spine.
“You’ve seen that guy’s card before, I suppose? Kikuya Kasai. That’s the protagonist’s name from Toshiyuki Kajiyama’s The Many Exploits of the Book Hunter Baron. The main character is a book hunter, just as its title implies. That’s why I call him Baron.”
I never imagined the name would come from something like that. But there was something that worried me. Someone else introduced himself as the protagonist of a novel—someone just recently.
Oba Yozo—the protagonist of a short story in The Late Years anthology.
I shook off the thought. No way… how could that be possible?
“Have you known Mr. Kasai for a long time?”
“No, not too long,” said Shida, shaking his head.
“Didn’t I tell you, when I came by in the summer, that I’d only recently met him? We haven’t even known each other two months.”
It was two months ago that Shinokawa was injured. Suddenly I saw a stranger in place of Kasai as I stared at his back. Not that it meant anything necessarily, but Kasai was a lot taller than an ordinary person.
Shinokawa had said that Oba Yozo was rather tall.
“…Does he live around here?” I did not look away from Kasai as I asked.
“He does, but… his story’s a little complicated. He and his family are from the Hase area, where apparently his ancestors are buried, and they were originally very wealthy. But they became buried under debt pretty quickly, and by his parents’ generation they had to sell their house and leave Kamakura. He lived for a little while in Tokyo until he returned to Kamakura for work.
My ears pricked up when I heard the word Hase; that was the place where the Museum displayed Shinokawa’s The Late Years. If his ancestors’ graves were all there, he must have paid visits, and it would be natural to visit the nearby tourist attractions while he was around.
When Shinokawa told me about Oba Yozo, I felt the situation was a little suspicious. Oba did not make any contact with Shinokawa these two months—he might have threatened Shinokawa into handing over The Late Years at first, but there was no way he could get the book without further action. What had he been doing all this while?
Maybe he had been doing what he needed to. First, he built a relationship with Shida, who knew Shinokawa, and kept an eye on the movements of this shop. After that he became acquaintances with me, the employee. Of course, all of this would have been to discover the location of The Late Years, and then take the book.
Of course, this was simply my imagination. I did not have any proof, and I couldn’t ask leading questions to find more.
All I could do was to try and get more info.
I walked away from the counter and cautiously approached Kasai. He was thanking the other party and ending his call. When he slipped his phone into his pocket, I pretended to talk to him normally. People tended to relax when they end calls.
“So, hey, Oba.”
Kasai tilted his head and turned to me. Unfortunately he wasn’t careless enough to answer “yes”.
He just pointed at himself and said, smiling easily, “I’m Kasai.”
His voice was clear, and my body froze in place. So it’s him after all, all my doubts became conviction; I shook my head slowly.
“No, you’re not Kasai. You’re Oba Yozo, but that’s not your real name either.”
“What are you saying? I don’t follow. What’s the matter?”
He probably realized I was trying to get him to slip, so his plan was to keep insisting that he wasn’t Oba—but he wouldn’t throw me off that way.
“What made you think I was even talking to you?”
I pointed at the road; there was a housewife passing by, going to do her shopping. Anyone would think it was someone else being addressed if they heard an unfamiliar name. If he really wasn’t accustomed to it, his response wouldn’t have been so immediate.
The silence lengthened, and the man before me narrowed his eyes slightly.
“…How unexpected. I didn’t think you were a famous detective like that woman, too.”
Kikuya Kasai—Oba Yozo—spoke with a mocking tone, and I glared at him wordlessly. This man severely injured her. This person is unpredictable, I told myself.
I was preparing to seize him when he muttered, “Can’t be helped,” and ran away.
He got on the bicycle parked beside the shop and took off at breakneck speed. I watched his large back disappear into the evening dusk. I was dumbstruck by his quick getaway, but then a chill flooded my entire body.
“Please help me watch the shop!” I called to Shida, whose eyes widened. I took out my cellphone and ran to the motor scooter parked in front. Now that he was in the open, Oba’s next step was obvious. He probably wants to get The Late Years, no matter what it took.
He’d asked me earlier, and I answered, carelessly.
The real copy of The Late Years, first edition, was with Shinokawa at the hospital.
Oba was headed for the hospital; I had to hurry up and tell her that danger was imminent. My fingers trembled slightly as I pressed the keys of the cellphone, and the instant I sent the message, I sped off for the hospital.
I was still heading for the hospital on my scooter when the cellphone in my pocket shook. I pulled it out, trying my best not to slow down. I lowered my head to glanced at the cellphone screen. It was a message from Shinokawa, and it was a very short reply.
I’m moving to the roof. Please help me buy some time.
I closed the cellphone and thought about what it said. Was she moving to the roof because the ward was dangerous? I could understand that, but why did she need me to “buy some time”?
I took the shortest path, and got to Ōfuna General Hospital in around 5 minutes. I parked my scooter near the main entrance, and found a familiar bicycle lying sideways on the flower bed.
I stopped in my tracks. That was Oba’s bicycle; even going as fast as I could, he managed to get there one step ahead of me. That man had arrived at this hospital.
A piece of cloth floated in front of me before I got going to the automatic sliding door. It was a purple fukusa; I waved it aside, but I found it a little familiar. It was the fukusa used to wrap The Late Years.
I lifted my head and stared at the building. All the windows of the wards were tightly shut, so this fukusa must have dropped from the roof. I didn’t know if it was let go on purpose, but I knew that Shinokawa would be at the rooftop. Hopefully Oba wouldn’t find her.
With a prayerful heart, I dashed through the corridor and ran to the elevator. I passed by the clinic’s front desk and found the lobby was deserted. The two adjacent elevators were headed upstairs.
I clicked my tongue and ran up the stairs. My footsteps rang loudly. In my heart, I deeply regretted letting Oba escape at the shop entrance. If only I had noticed it earlier—I ran over many platforms on the flights of stairs, and when I got to end, I kicked down the door viciously.
The concrete roof was a large, open space, surrounded by a white parapet. Night had fallen, and nobody would have come here on a whim. There were only two profiles in the darkness of rooftop.
I saw two people staring at each other; my limbs felt a little limp. One of them was Shinokawa, seated on a wheelchair, hugging The Late Years tightly in front of her chest. The other was the tall, curly-haired, handsome man—Oba Yozo, standing only a few steps away from her. He had found her.
I was about to charge right between them, but I froze. Oba was holding a large pair of scissors in his hands; he mentioned he brought them along whenever he went. The long sharp blades were pointed at Shinokawa’s face. She glanced at me with her pale face—don’t you move, it seemed to say.
“Yes, better that he not move!” Oba yelled. “I won’t damage the book, but I’ll show no mercy to people.”
He spoke with the “Kasai” tone that sounded showy, and yet affectionate. My mind couldn’t make sense of it; when I saw him, I just couldn’t believe the person speaking in front of me was really the one who pushed Shinokawa.
“…Even if you get the book, you won’t be able to escape.”
I tried my best not to provoke him, speaking quietly.
“Oh, really.” Oba snickered. “You don’t even know my real name. Once I get out of this neighborhood, even the police will have difficulty tracking me. After I change my face, I can start over again, wherever it is go. Overseas, even.”
I was frightened by the sheer scale of the plan he rattled away. Thinking about how he pushed Shinokawa and moved to Kamakura…I suppose it wasn’t so surprising that that he also approached the shop using a false name.
“…Do you really have to go this far just for a book?” I said, casually. Oba’s expression became belittling, and he glanced at me coldly, as if staring at living trash.
“Someone like you wouldn’t understand, even with this book right in front of you.”
The tip of the scissors in Oba’s hand were pointed at Shinokawa’s The Late Years.
“There are very few copies of this edition, and it’s practically a miracle for one to be preserved in such an intact state after being passed down. It’s shocking that there are people that don’t understand its value. This book doesn’t just have a story written in it; the experiences this book has been through is another story… I want that story.”
I faintly felt a sense of familiarity—Oba’s words felt similar to Shinokawa’s words. No, that was my imagination.
“Even if you have to rip it from someone else’s hands?”
“Nothing’s wrong with that. As the book says, To all living things, live on with confidence. We are all to become sinners …this line is a guiding light to people like me. And for me, nothing matters as long as I have books. I’d give up my family, my friends, my inheritance, even my name! This is what I live for! No matter what I have to give up, no matter how many years, I AM GOING TO GET THAT BOOK!”
Oba roared with bloodshot eyes, and I shuddered. I thought everything would be over once I caught the guy, but he obviously wasn’t going to be easy to deal with. Even if he were arrested and convicted, he might still try to steal The Late Years again. He would pursue me and Shinokawa for the rest of our lives.
“Her too, she’s the same as me. The impression from her I get is the same… we’d feel happy as long as we’re surrounded by books.”
“Don’t you dare associate her with you, you lowlife. You two are worlds apart.”
I recalled the ward filled with old books when I said that. It was true she liked books, but there was a decisive difference between her and this man: I knew she would never hurt or deceive anyone else.
“Enough talk. How about you try telling her to give me the book?”
It suddenly occurred to me that Oba wasn’t trying to force The Late Years from Shinokawa, afraid of blemishing the book. He knew that Shinokawa was clinging hard to this valuable item.
“…I don’t have that much time.”
Oba slowly brought the scissors to her face. Though he was playing safe now, he might do anything if Shinokawa didn’t hand the book over. Shinokawa would be in danger; she couldn’t even walk, let alone protect herself.
While considering this, I made my decision to charge at him. My priority was to protect Shinokawa, followed by The Late Years. There was some distance between us, but as long as I could grab a certain part of his body, I believed I could suppress him used all of his might to resist. I shuffled my feet slowly towards him and lowered my center of gravity slightly.
“Mr. Oba Yozo, I’m not really like you.”
Shinokawa, who had remained silent all this while, suddenly spoke, and I stopped in my tracks. She stared at Oba with steel in her eyes, and didn’t seem to even notice the scissors’ points. Faced with the sudden change, Oba, too, was taken aback.
“I’ve been thinking… to me, there are more important things than old books. So let’s end things here.”
She kicked the floor with her uninjured left leg. The wheelchair slid backwards smoothly, slammed into the parapet 1 meter away, and stopped. The distance between her and Oba had increased slightly, and when he moved to close the gap—
“Don’t get any closer!”
Shinokawa raised The Late Years like a shield. The texture of the paper was obviously aged, different from the texture of the reprint edition in the shop. As the veil of night gradually blanketed the roof, she flipped open the cover to reveal the inside. I could vaguely see the words written by Dazai Osamu—”To all living things, live on with confidence. We are all to become sinners”.
“Perhaps Dazai was trying to encourage someone when he gave this book away. I don’t know how it came to my grandfather’s hands, but I’ve been severely injured because of it. You will be arrested by the police… after 70 years, this book lives in a different age than in Dazai’s day, and now it brings happiness to no one.”
She reached her hand into her pajamas pocket, and took out something.
“Everything is because of this book, so—”
That clear stern voice rang through the darkness, and I shuddered. I could clearly make out what she was holding from between her fingers, and I cried out involuntarily when I realized. That was a disposable lighter.
“We’ll end everything here.”
Even as Oba shouted, the lighter ignited the book. The flames spread over the paraffin sleeve wrapped on the cover. She threw The Late Years over the parapet without hesitation.
Oba wailed as if he were being burned himself, and tried to climb over the parapet to chase after The Late Years. I hurried over and managed to grab Oba by his belt just before he leapt.
“You idiot! What are you doing?!”
The hospital was 6 stories high and certain death awaited anyone who jumped down. Even so, Oba continued to struggle and yell.
The Late Years dropped onto the roof of the entrance and burned away, smoking all the while. Its existence was no longer that of a book.
The moment Oba relaxed, I suplexed him onto the concrete floor, held down his wrist joints and exerted pressure on them. Our physiques were similar, but I managed to pin him down successfully. Evidently he never had training in martial arts.
There were footsteps coming from the stairs. Someone must have noticed the commotion; there would be people here soon. Oba continued to struggle under me, and his groans sounded rather like sobs.
I heaved a sigh of relief and looked over at Shinokawa. Her strength seemed to leave her as she collapsed back onto the wheelchair—I suddenly recalled the email she sent me. This must be what she was referring to when she said “help me buy some time”. She intended to burn The Late Years once she knew Oba would come to the hospital.
“…Are you really okay with this?” I could not help but ask.
I couldn’t believe that she would do this, she who considered books more important than her life. After thinking it over again, she spoke resolutely.
“Yes, I am… I had no choice but to do this.”
The book worth several million yen became ash and floated to the sky. As she watched it silently, I was surprised by how composed she was; it was as if she hadn’t lost anything at all.
Oba would not be able to threaten her anymore. Everything was over.
Shinokawa reached her hand out and picked up something. It was a leather business card holder for men, but it wasn’t my stuff, so it was probably something Oba dropped. Several cards dropped out from the folded card holder. She took one of them, and upon looking at it, her expression suddenly changed.
“Mr. Goura… this is…”
She spoke with a hoarse voice as she handed the card to me. I tried to bring my face as close as possible in the dimness of night. It was a driver’s license, and though the photo was Oba’s, the name was different.
So this was his real name! It was not Kikuya Kasai nor Oba Yozo. Well, it certainly was a plain name, so perhaps he’d used false names because of that.
But then I was startled. A month ago, I had come across a similar name. I lowered my head and looked at this man I disabled. He was as tall as me. I remembered Shinokawa saying that Oba Yozo had a similar voice to mine.
Shida told me that he was born in Hase of Kamakura, and that his ancestors’ graves were there. If that was true, then naturally this man’s grandfather must have lived in Kamakura.
“…Just to ask, is your grandfather named Yoshio Tanaka?” I asked softly.
This man called Yoshio Tanaka might be my grandmother’s lover—and the man below me might be related to me in blood. Tanaka curled his lips and looked up at me.
“Yoshio Tanaka is my grandfather…how did you know?”
“The Tanakas used to run a trading firm, started back in the Meiji era. I’d heard the family business was good and busy before my grandfather inherited it. I am the only Tanaka left… just look at me now.”
Toshio Tanaka spoke wryly and with a self-deprecating tone. His moustache was long, but there was a wild charm in it. Must be nice, being a handsome man.
“My grandfather named me. Isn’t it terrible? He just changed his own name a little.”
We were looking at each other through a transparent panel. Five days after Tanaka was arrested, I’d gone to visit him at the detention center.
According to the police, investigations were proceeding smoothly. He pled guilty to pushing down Shinokawa and breaking into the Shinokawas’ house; after committing so many crimes, including distress, unsuccessful theft, and intimidation, a sentence of jail time was beyond doubt.
They investigated Toshio Tanaka’s past, and found all sorts of problems—he’d worked at an antique bookstore for awhile once, stole some products and added them to his collection. After he was fired, he started an auction business on the internet and worked some scams that got him in trouble. Looks like he had a lot of criminal counts against him.
“Your grandfather… well, has he died?” I asked, after hesitating for awhile. One of the reasons why I started work at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia at all was because I wanted to hear news regarding Yoshio Tanaka.
“…It seems you all you ever ask about is my grandfather.”
“Ah, actually, my grandparents were on good terms with him. I think he’s visited my house before… I often hear his name.”
“Oh, I see.”
Tanaka didn’t look suspicious even at words like these, but just nodded.
“Grandfather died 15 years ago. That was a little while after he sold our house in Kamakura and moved our entire family to Tokyo.”
In other words, nobody knew of the relationship my grandmother had with Yoshio Tanaka. It was a bit of a pity that he died without anyone knowing the details, but I was a little relieved to know that grandmother’s secret would not be revealed.
“What kind of person was your grandfather?”
“He was very tall, and if you compare the photos, I look much like my grandfather when he was young. He was a nice person who took care of other people, and he had a huge set of relationships. He even knew movie stars, producers, I heard he ate and drank with them… wasn’t there a film studio in Ofuna?”
I nodded as I hid my expression. I already understood what sort of relationship my grandmother had with him.
“But the company business didn’t go so well, and everyone left. By the time I took over, our house was the only asset left. My parents worked hard, trying to earn back a little of our inheritance, so they left me in my grandfather’s care… the two of us practically spent our lives together. He really cared for me, and he talked about old books all the time. When he was young, he used to collect them, and he was the one who taught me the basic things about them… but our shop didn’t have a single old book left, at the time. He had sold them all. I started loving old books around then; but though I kept listening to him, I could never read. As a kid, I wanted to read, but couldn’t…”
As I listened, an inexplicable feeling rose within me. His childhood was somewhat similar to mine, and I involuntarily felt a kinship with him.
“Let me tell you something interesting… I’ve never told this to anyone else.”
Tanaka enthusiastically leaned over and placed his hands against the transparent panel. The police officer watching over us in the meeting room frowned but never said anything.
“Most likely, The Late Years originally belonged to my grandfather.”
I widened my eyes. My response seemed to delight Tanaka, and he continued.
“My grandfather often regretted… that because of financial hardship, he sold the uncut copy of The Late Years with the signature inside it, and I think he sold it cheaply. It seemed like it really cut him up inside.”
Now I finally understood why Tanaka was so obsessed with The Late Years. I guess he wanted to commemorate his grandfather through that book. I recalled the words Shinokawa said: I feel that these books, handed down as they are, will carry stories in them… and not only the stories on their pages.
However, there was not a single trace of this book left.
Deep down, I felt like something didn’t quite fit. I had the same feeling on the hospital roof, five days ago.
“Speaking of which, what about that woman? Is she still having fun, reading away in the hospital?” said Tanaka suddenly.
His tone was scathing, containing all his frustration. He was obviously still furious at Shinokawa for burning The Late Years, and I glared back instinctively.
“…Yes, she’s still in the hospital. But that’s your fault, isn’t it?”
This man had no right to talk about Shinokawa that way. Tanaka clicked his tongue, probably without a retort, and looked away.
“I thought she wouldn’t let go of the book unless I did that… she seemed to be like me in that regard. But I was mistaken. She doesn’t truly love old books. Anyone who does would never have done what she did.”
“What makes you so sure?”
Shinokawa definitely loved books, no matter who said otherwise. I understood such people; my family had its own bookwormy sort.
But Toshio Tanaka seemed set in his opinion.
“I can say this for certain. The way I know them, no collector would ever burn a book. They strive to keep them, no matter what.”
You still want to argue? I wanted to retaliate, but I couldn’t come up with anything.
They strive to keep them, no matter what.
The lingering sense of wrongness in my head, unresolved up until now, suddenly unraveled.
On that moment, five days ago—no, I felt something was amiss even before that. About the time “Oba Yozo” first came to the shop, about Shinokawa’s explanation for The Late Years.
I reflexively kicked the chair away and stood up.
So that’s how it is? There was no other explanation.
“What is it? You don’t look too good.”
Tanaka stared at my face suspiciously, and I shook my head slowly. There was no way I could let this man realize the truth.
“…I should head back now.”
I wanted to say that I would be back, but I resisted the urge. As long as the link we shared in blood stayed hidden, there was nothing I could say to this man, and there was no need for me to meet him in the future. I called out to the police officer, saying I wanted to leave the visiting room.
“I’ve been thinking, ever since I met you last month.”
Tanaka’s voice came from behind me.
“Have we met somewhere before? It’s easy for me to talk about things with you… I feel like our paths have crossed at some point.”
In that moment, I did not know how to answer. There had been crossed paths, but they were not our paths, rather our grandparents’ paths before us.
“No, we’re perfect strangers, and we never met before this.”
I knocked on the door of the ward, but there was no reply. I opened the door and entered.
Shinokawa was lying on the mechanized reclining bed, slightly lowered now. Her eyes were closed. It was a scene similar to the one I saw when I first arrived.
The gentle sunlight finally took on a tinge of autumn as it lit the room. Her silky face and hair on her wrists were a glittering white. Thinking that she really was very pretty, I pulled up a chair by her and sat down.
The legs of the chair rubbed against the floor, letting out a screech. So much mulling over everything had left me exhausted, and it didn’t occur to my tired mind to pull softly. The thin eyelids behind the glasses opened slowly.
Shinokawa perceived my presence beside her, and she hurriedly lowered her head in obvious embarrassment. She adjusted her glasses, hiding her blushing face.
“Eh, erm…sorry…I—I…didn’t hear that you were coming today…so…”
“Sorry my visit is so sudden.”
Her stare wavered nervously. However, this was freer expression than she’d shown a month ago, and I could understand her easily no matter what she said. I could see she was troubled.
As I pondered my words, my heart felt a little heavy.
“I went to meet Toshio Tanaka today,” I said.
Her black irises twitched, and she glanced at my face. Her mind was probably thinking about all kinds of things at the moment.
But that was all she said. She didn’t ask anything like what did you two talk about? so I had no choice but to continue.
“He said you were lying when you said that you loved books, Shinokawa.”
“Because you burned The Late Years.”
“…And how did you reply…Mr. Goura?”
“I asked him what made him so sure.”
“…That…erm…what exactly were you discussing?”
“We were discussing whether or not you loved books, Shinokawa. What else is there?”
She suddenly went silent. My voice and manner were terse, and I felt I was clearly presenting the reason I came here. She probably realized it, too, but didn’t want to tell me so.
“Shinokawa, do you love books?”
“…I should like to think so.”
That answer was as good as telling me the truth, at this point.
I pointed at the safe below the rack.
“Can I check what’s inside the safe again?”
She did not say anything, but only undid the button of her pajamas and reached her hand into her chest. The places on her skin that daylight hadn’t tanned looked pale. She retrieved a little key from the front of her chest. I took it and used it to open the safe.
There was something wrapped with purple fukusa inside. My worries had been confirmed.
I returned to the chair, laid the package on my lap and unwrapped it. A book revealed itself under the fukusa, and the title on the whitened cover was handwritten. Two edges remained uncut. And of course, there was the sleeve.
I cautiously opened the cover, and found the small handwriting on it—To all living things, live on with confidence. We are all to become sinners.
The copy on my lap was the first edition of Dazai Osamu’s The Late Years, supposedly ashes.
“I guess this one here is the real The Late Years,” I said. It was not a question, but a statement of fact. “The burned book was a fake.”
“…How did you know?”
Shinokawa’s voice was feeble.
“At first, I felt some things couldn’t be explained. Why…”
As I started the explanation, I grimaced. This sort of introduction didn’t feel right. She had always been the one revealing the truth, with me listening—but our positions have switched around, now. I was the one who solved this mystery.
“Why didn’t you make a police report, or failing that, couldn’t you have asked more people for help…? Even considering all the reasons you told me, Shinokawa, it was weird that we hunted for ‘Oba Yozo’ all by ourselves.”
“But what happened five days ago was the real spark. I mean… I warned you in advance through email, but why didn’t you ask the hospital staff for help?”
And she chose to move to the roof, where no one else was present. If she’d gone somewhere with people around, he wouldn’t have been able to threaten her.
“I was thinking that if all of that was deliberate, Shinokawa, all the moving somewhere nobody would be, the having a showdown with ‘Oba Yozo’… then there was only one reason for it. You wanted to show him the scene of The Late Years being burned. So that he wouldn’t appear again, you wanted to make sure that the memory was etched into him, to make him think that the book he wants doesn’t exist anymore… right?”
I stopped and waited for her reply, but a heavy silence drifted around. Not even a single excuse or explanation, and that infuriated me.
“But it would have been suspicious if all you did was call him over and burn the book. That’s why you made him find out where The Late Years is, made him come to the hospital to snatch it… Shida said before that anyone who loves books in this industry would have known that Kikuya Kasai wasn’t his real name. You’d have noticed it too, right? Of course, you knew that ‘Kikuya Kasai’ and ‘Oba Yozo’ were the same person, so you made use of the fact that sometimes visited the shop…”
I was getting to the crux of the matter, but she still committed no response besides lowered her head slightly. The quieter she was, the more frustrated I felt.
“You should have several reprint copies of The Late Years. When you told me about the reprints, you said that you ‘bought a few’… you prepared two of those copies. One to be displayed at the shop, and one to be burned here. The book placed in the shop was an easy fake, and even your sister and I could tell the difference… ’Kasai’ would’ve definitely seen through it, and your idea was for him ask me where the real copy is. I trusted him, of course, and told him where the real one was. Meanwhile, you made a painstaking disguise for the reprint edition you wanted to burn. You made the pages look old, and imitated the words Dazai personally penned on the inside cover… since you had the original with you, it wouldn’t have been difficult to make it look the same once you had all the tools. It was evening back then, and we all thought that was the real copy because we couldn’t see clearly… once we’d seen through the easy fake, the intricately disguised reprint copy looked just like the real thing. You’d planned that psychological ruse, too, I suppose? Toshio Tanaka and I both were fooled completely.”
I said everything I needed to say in one go, and finally caught my breath. There should be no problem with my reasoning, and the real copy of The Late Years here is the most damning proof.
Shinokawa, who sat stone-still on the bed, suddenly lowered her head even further. From where I sat I could hear her cry, as softly as a mosquito might.
“…I’m really sorry I lied to you like this…”
I looked away. Of course I would be furious after being led around like this, being used as a tool so nonchalantly. However, there was another reason why I was furious: because she was important to me.
“Why must you do everything by yourself?” I said. “You should have told me that you were keeping the real copy of The Late Years safe and that there was something off about Kasai right from the beginning. Did you really have to take such a risk?”
Five days ago, if she had been careless, that man would have stabbed her. If I had been in on the plan, I could have lured “Kasai” to the hospital more safely, and then she could burn the book. She planned such an elaborate trap, so why did she choose such a dangerous was to execute it? That was the part that infuriated me most.
“That’s because… I thought you’d decide not to help me, Mr. Goura…” Her voice was hoarse.
“Why do you think that? Of course I would have helped you, right?”
During this one month, I’d thought we were getting along well. She liked to talk about books, and I liked to hear about them. I thought there was something a little special between the two of us and I, at least, trusted her.
“That’s because… you don’t read books…”
She uttered these words with great difficulty.
“…I thought you might not be able to understand… the feeling of wanting to keep your favorite book with you, no matter what happened. That’s because… it’s just a book to you.”
I felt as if struck by lightning. I’d said as much on the hospital roof— Do you really have to go this far just for a book?
Those words had hurt her. In fact, I couldn’t say that the thought wouldn’t cross my mind after I started working here; after all, I never could get involved with books. And I didn’t really understand the feelings people who valued books as much as their lives; Shinokawa saw that clearly.
“So all I could do … was not trust you…”
Her words seemed to come from very far away, and I slowly stood up. My anger had dissipated completely. All that was left was a need to get away from here. In the end, it was me alone who was trying to build and keep a relationship.
“…Well, but it’d be hard to make that work. Bookworms mostly only like other bookworms.”
So that was how it was, grandmother.
I didn’t understand this person at all, and I wasn’t someone she could trust, either.
“E-erm, I am… really sorry…”
She widened her eyes. Her startled response surprised me a little.
“I’m returning this to you.”
I pressed the shop key, once entrusted to me, into her palm of her hand, which lay on the blanket. Then I took a large step backward to put some distance between us.
“Mr. Goura… e-erm, I still have things to talk about…”
I ignored the panic in her voice and lowered my head deeply. I didn’t want to hear her apologize any further. It would just hurt me more.
“I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you in this short time.”