Chapter 1: Young, Robert F. The Dandelion Girl. Shueisha Bunko.
The freezing wind outside lightly shook the glass door at the entrance. The area should have been warmed by indoor heating, but perhaps due to the age of the building, my breath was still coming out white.
It was morning; the store had just opened for the day. There were barely any customers, and I was standing behind the counter, quietly tying hardcover books together with a cord. I had a random assortment of old literature collections, old diet magazines, and reference books with no covers—none of which were actually worth anything.
To be fair, I didn’t know enough about books to make bold statements like that, but I was at least capable of making rough assessments.
My name is Goura Daisuke. I’m an employee at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia, a secondhand bookstore that quietly does business in Kita-Kamakura. The seasons had changed twice since I started working here five months ago, and today was the 26th of December. It was almost the end of the year.
The Ofuna market district had been bustling with Christmas activity yesterday, but I didn’t have the chance to be involved in any of it. I had to work overtime until late in the evening and didn’t get back home until after everything was over. Christmas was the single busiest day of the year for the bookshop, so there really wasn’t anything I could do about that. Everyone did their annual cleaning this time of year, so there was always an increase in the number of books that customers brought in to sell. We now had an overwhelming number of books that still needed to be dealt with.
I say we, but I really only followed instructions since I was still learning the ropes. The shop owner was the one who actually decided what to do with the books.
I heard a strange noise just as I set the bundle of books on the counter in front of me. I looked towards the shelf for out of print books and saw a customer wearing a down jacket. Seeing as he also looked up with a puzzled expression, it was safe to say he wasn’t the one who had made that noise. Obviously wasn’t me either, which left the only other person in the shop.
I turned to look behind me.
Biblia was a fairly small store, but there was still a lot of space behind the counter relative to its size. It was necessary in order for us to organize the books we had in stock and to manage mail orders. There were several rows of books piled up like a wall, high enough to completely hide anyone sitting behind them. In fact, there currently was someone hidden behind them.
Two old volumes of girls’ manga had been haphazardly placed on top the wall of books. Nishitani Yoshino’s Olympus Laughs and Cousin Alliance. It looked like the person behind the wall was piling them up…what on earth was she doing?
Before long, the cover of the manga she was holding came into view from behind the wall of books, followed by a white high-neck sweater. She stayed seated in her chair, but sat up to stretch widely with the book still in both of her hands.
She was a beauty well suited to the thick framed glasses she wore on the thin bridge of her nose. Her eyes were so tightly shut that her forehead creased, and the tips of her long black hair touched the floor.
From the way she bent backwards, I could clearly see the contours of her body. Being aware of how other people would see her was another of her bad habits.
Her pressed lips opened just slightly.
The person making strange sounds as she stretched was none other than the owner of Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. Her name was Shinokawa Shioriko, and she had recently taken over the shop, which had been founded almost fifty years earlier.
Although she wasn’t much older than I, who had only graduated from college this spring, she was also a “bookworm” who held an unparalleled knowledge of old books.
She cricked her neck, seemingly exhausted from managing web orders on the computer all morning. I watched her for a while until her eyes opened with a snap behind her glasses. She suddenly became aware of my presence.
Her face flushed bright red and she hid behind her book. I didn’t think there was anything to get so embarrassed about, but she had an extremely shy personality that didn’t quite suit someone in the service industry. Barring the times when people came in to sell books, Shioriko often made me deal with customers. She usually hid herself with her computer behind the wall of books and managed web orders and the like.
“Umm…did you want me to take these books to the storehouse?”
When I spoke up, she peeked out from behind her book and looked down at the bundle I was asking about.
“N-no…could please you take them to the car instead?”
“The car…you mean the van?” I asked.
Books that weren’t out on the shop floor were normally stored in one of the rooms in the main house.
“Yes…I was thinking of taking them out to the marketplace….”
“The market…the one in Totsuka?
“The marketplace” was officially called the Vintage Book Exchange Convention.
There were many different regional vintage book associations formed by bookstores that did business in the same area. The Vintage Book Exchange Convention was a system that allowed member stores to trade amongst themselves.
If someone had books that weren’t selling well in their own shop, they could put them up in the convention-owned meeting hall and invite people in the same industry to purchase them. The specific convention they belonged to didn’t matter so there were no problems with going to other marketplaces to trade if circumstances demanded it.
I looked at the calendar on the wall and tomorrow’s date, Monday, December 27th, was circled in red. Biblia was associated with the Shonan branch of the Kanagawa prefecture association, which meant that we used the western vintage books convention building.
Tomorrow was the last day a convention would be held in 2010.
“Tomorrow’s the day, I see,” I said. “It’s my first time going to the Totsuka book exchange.”
We came into a large quantity of manga last month, and at Shioriko’s instruction, put them up for sale at the Tokyo book exchange meeting. Her reasoning was that it would be better to present them in Tokyo, where there were more specialty manga stores.
“No…tomorrow’s actually…we haven’t finished organizing the books we got the other day. We’ll have to wait until the first meeting next year before they can be taken out to the marketplace.”
I was a little disappointed. Even if it was for work, I was hoping the two of us would be able to go somewhere together.
“I see…” I nodded and got back to work.
Shioriko called to stop me and held out a single book.
“Please add this to the bundle as well.”
She talked quickly without looking at me, and withdrew behind the shadow of her book. The plain slipcover she gave me had a book with a gray colored spine. It was Sakaguchi Michiyo’s Cra Cra Diary. I was told it was a series of essays by Sakaguchi Ango’s widow reflecting on their married life.
She bought another copy?
This was a special book for Shioriko. It was one that even she, who loved books more than anyone, couldn’t bring herself to like. Even so, she bought the book time and time again, only to dispose of it each time.
I took the book out of the slipcover and began flipping through the pages. The book was in good condition and there wasn’t any writing on the inside. That is to say, this wasn’t the book Shioriko was searching for.
Ten years ago, Shinokawa Chieko left her daughter a copy of Cra Cra Diary and disappeared. Her enormous knowledge of books surpassed even her daughter’s, and with her quick wit, she was not someone to be underestimated.
I felt for her that she was still only a child. Being snatched away from her mother before she even reached four years of age was too sad. I was afraid to look at her dark round eyes—afraid I would remember her. Perhaps even now, I was hardening my resolve not to see her again for who knows how many years.
My eyes fell on a passage from Cra Cra Diary. The author already had a daughter before she married Ango. She left the child with her own mother and ran away to be with him.
Shioriko took the book itself to be a message from her mother—that she must have run off to be with some other man. The book was later put up for sale at the market without her ever reading through its pages.
However, there was the possibility that her mother had left a direct message to her daughter somewhere in the book. Shioriko was now trying to find the book she once lost so that she could know for sure.
Since the book had yet to appear in her search, there was a good chance that someone still had it. Of course, there was also the possibility that it had been thrown away.
…I was already crying.
Even if without a stupid mother like me around, you still have your kind grandmother. I’m sure you’ll feel lonely; I know I will also miss you dearly. Perhaps you’ll one day understand my feelings when you grow up. I am prepared to bear all of your resentment, but know that I only want you to grow up healthy. Although I’m ready to leave you behind, you mustn’t cry when you remember me.
I spoke to the child in my heart and murmured.
Michiyo decided to leave her daughter for a long time even knowing that she would be making her daughter lonely and that she would be resented. She wrote down her true thoughts an almost cruel honesty. Did Shinokawa Chieko also have thoughts like that?
That person is Shinokawa Chieko…our mother.
What came back to me wasn’t the voice of Shioriko, but that of her younger sister, Ayaka. I’d previously found a painting on the second floor of someone who had a striking similarity to Shioriko and Ayaka was the one who told me who the model was. She was a student at a nearby prefectural high school and was younger than Shioriko by about ten years.
If Shinokawa Chieko disappeared ten years ago, it would have been when Ayaka was just about ready to start elementary school. She would have had to grow up separated from her mother just like the child in Cra Cra Diary.
Shinokawa Chieko, huh.
Since her surname was still Shinokawa, she must not have been removed from the family registry. Of course, it could also be that Ayaka called her that out of habit.
Thinking about it now, what was the relationship between their parents like? I hadn’t heard a single word from the Shinokawa sisters. What did the previous store owner, their father, think of his wife’s disappearance?
I wanted to know even more about this woman named Shinokawa Chieko. Knowing more would mean that I’d be able to understand Shioriko better. Part of the darkness she carried in her heart was related to her vanished mother—
I suddenly started to feel dizzy; I’d been staring at the passage in Cra Cra Diary while I thought. Although I did have an interest in books, I couldn’t read text for very long. It was something like a condition of mine.
Although the relationship between me and Shioriko, between someone who liked hearing about books and one who loved talking about them, could be considered good, a relationship tied together only by books somehow didn’t feel right. I didn’t think it was fine for things to be this way forever.
I felt someone’s presence at the counter when I closed the book and put it back into its case.
Looking up, saw a man in his 30’s holding out two books. It was the customer in the jacket who had been in front of the shelf for out of print books. The two books he had were Select Annual SF Masterpieces 2, published by Sogen Mystery Bunko, and Strange Tales, published by Bunshun Bunko. Neither of the books had covers and they weren’t worth much.
“Thank you very much.”
The man said nothing. We occasionally got customers who didn’t like to talk. While there were many extremely chatty customers who came to the shop, there were also many who were quite reserved.
“Pretty cold out today, huh.”
I tentatively struck up a conversation and the man’s eyes went wide for a moment. Perhaps he hadn’t expected me to remember who he was. I wasn’t someone who had an especially good memory or anything; this customer had almost accidentally left an impression on me. It was because he had the same large build as me as well as a similar hairstyle. There weren’t many people I could see eye to eye with.
I put his books into a paper bag and handed over the change for his payment.
“Are the ones on that shelf the only out of print books you have?” The man suddenly spoke up. This was unusual for him.
“Ah, yes. That’s right.”
“Are there any plans to replenish stock after this?”
“Were you looking for something in particular?” I asked.
I thought he was trying to point something out, but the customer shook his head.
“N-no, I just thought there weren’t many good books is all.”
He left it at that, sounding disappointed, and left the shop with his books.
I paused my work and went to the paperback corner. Pay attention if a normally quiet customer complains. It was something my grandmother, with her long years of experience running a diner, had taught me. Quiet customers only said something when they couldn’t take it anymore.
This doesn’t look too bad…
I was puzzled. Many of the books we dealt with were old out of print publications. There were some open spots on the shelf, but it didn’t feel like the books had changed from before. The situation didn’t seem too terrible.
“We certainly don’t have much selection…” I suddenly heard Shioriko’s voice nearby.
She had come out from behind the wall of books at some point and was standing next to me. She held a cane in her right hand to support herself. Shioriko had been injured in an incident involving the first print of Osamu Daizai’s The Late Years half a year ago, and her leg had yet to fully heal.
“Really?” I asked.
She put her fist near her mouth, a habit of hers when she was thinking.
“Um…which books did that customer buy just now?”
I told her the titles and Shioriko’s expression clouded even further.
“I knew it. We just can’t continue like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“The books that are selling are the ones we’ve stocked recently. No one’s really buying any of the other ones.”
Now that she mentioned it, I supposed it was true. Having stock go stale was a problem in and of itself.
“If we don’t rotate our merchandise…”
I was thinking along those lines as well, but there weren’t actually many options. Unlike other book stores, secondhand stores couldn’t choose what types of books they got.
“I think we’ll need to go to the market tomorrow after all.” Shioriko decided.
“But didn’t you say we’d have to wait until next year to sell the books?”
“We’ll still do that next year….but the market isn’t just for selling your own books, you know.”
Ah, right. There would be many other bookstores presenting their products at the market—they weren’t just there to sell things, they could buy things, too.
“We might just be able to find a bargain.”
The following day was just as windy.
We set out for the vintage book exchange in Totsuka at about ten in the morning. Vehicles that couldn’t fit in the parking spaces were supposed to be lined up in front of the building, so I parked the van at the very end of the line and walked to the building with Shioriko.
The convention hall was in an old four story building; the market was held on the second floor. I could see people coming and going through the open window.
Cra Cra Diary, the book Shioriko was searching for, suddenly resurfaced in my mind. It had been sold at the market along with other books from Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia a long time ago, and had apparently been purchased by some bookstore. There probably wasn’t anyone who’d remember where a cheap book like that ended up though. If there had been, then Shioriko would have already found it. All traces of the book stopped at this building.
“Let’s go.” Shioriko and I crossed the street together.
Her gait was more certain now than it was when she was discharged from the hospital. Slowly but surely, her leg was starting to recover.
We saw some trolleys for transporting books lined up at the building entrance. The entrance also functioned as a smoking area, it seemed. There were ash trays scattered here and there.
A man with thin, wiry hair was glaring at an ash tray near the entrance as he smoked a cigarette. His hooked nose and sharp eyes were certainly eye catching and gave off an intimidating aura. Metal-framed glasses kept his unkempt hair in place.
Suddenly, I felt a tug on my jacket. Shioriko had stepped behind me and was lightly pulling on my sleeve. It looked like she was bad at dealing with this particular person and didn’t want him to notice her.
Still, it wasn’t like she could just walk past him without saying anything at all.
She took a deep breath to calm her nerves and walked up to the man, bowing deeply. I followed her lead and also lowered my head.
“Ah…M-Mr. Hitori, it’s been a while…”
Hitori was evidently the name of his store. Bookstore owners were often addressed by the name of the shop they managed. I looked carefully at the nameplate on his chest and saw the words Hitori Bookstore printed on it. The name somehow sounded familiar.
Mr. Hitori didn’t bother acknowledging Shioriko’s greeting. He simply stubbed out his cigarette, pulled out another one from his coat pocket, and lit it.
What’s this old guy’s problem?
It seemed I was the only one appalled by his behavior. Finished with her greeting, Shioriko leaned on her cane and hurriedly entered the building.
Perhaps they had all just left or something, but there was no one sitting at the receptionist desk when we got there. Next to the desk, however, there was a shallow wooden shelf that held a number of nameplates. The nameplates were for all the stores that would be participating in the vintage book exchange. Shioriko picked up two “Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia” plates and handed one of them to me.
“Please pin it somewhere clearly visible.”
“Ah, of course.”
Excepting special occasions, the only people allowed into the building were vintage book association members. The nameplate was proof of that membership.
I tried to pin the badge to my chest and was perplexed. Flipping it around, I saw that there was no pin. Was there some sort of special way to fasten it?
The owner of Hitori Bookstore raised his voice. His irritation showed even on the wrinkles in his eyebrows. It was as if he was telling us to quickly get out of his sight.
“Thank you very much.”
I quickly thanked him, but he didn’t even bother looking at me.
“We can borrow this…”
Shioriko picked up one of the document clips scattered on the counter and handed it to me. I used that to affix the nameplate to my belt buckle. It didn’t look great, but there was nothing I could do about that.
We tried waiting for the elevator at the end of the short hallway, but it never came down. Left with no other choice, we decided to go up the stairs.
“Did something happen between you and that guy?”
I asked as we slowly ascended up the stairs. That Hitori seemed to dislike her a lot.
“A lot happened apparently and there was some bad blood between them…him and my mother, that is.” Shioriko answered quietly. “That’s why I don’t think he likes me either.”
I thought I could understand. Shioriko’s mother was the type of person who would do anything when it came to business. In the events concerning the purchase of Fujiko Fujio’s The Final World War, she even proved herself capable of breaking the law. It would come as no surprise if she also had disputes with other people in the industry.
“I’m not good with Hitori either…but I do still visit his shop often.”
“Eh? Why is that?”
She turned around at the stair landing. Her eyes shined behind her glasses and her pale face was tinged with a hint of red. It was almost like her depressed tone just now had been a lie.
“It’s because their selection is incredible! Hitori Bookstore deals mainly in mysteries and science fiction, but they also have an impressive number of magazine back issues and related material. It’s quite famous among enthusiasts in Fujisawa.”
I finally remembered when she mentioned Fujisawa. Of course I felt like I’d heard the name before; I had also visited once with her before.
“Is this by any chance the bookstore in Tsujidou? The one we stopped by one our way back last…”
“Yes! That’s the one! Wasn’t it amazing!?”
Shioriko nodded deeply and leaned forward, looking like she was about to fall.
“Now that you mention it…”
I ended up accompanying her last month as a result of a little bet we made. It couldn’t be called a date, but I did drive her around the prefecture to the bookstores she wanted to visit. Hitori Bookstore was one of the shops we stopped by on our way back. It was next to Tsujidou station in Fujisawa city.
The shop wasn’t much bigger Biblia, but the way the books were arranged from corner to corner was impressive. None of the books were stacked on the floor, and each one was wrapped in wax paper and neatly stored on a shelf.
Shioriko spent a lot of time looking through the shelves from end to end and eventually bought what seemed like a mountain of old books. The person at the register at the time was a middle-aged lady working part time. The shop owner did not show himself even until the very end. He might have deliberately stayed out of sight that time.
“Does he also act like that at the shop?”
“Hitori rarely ever says anything to me, but he does at least give me the right change.”
“Isn’t that a given?” It would be a crime if he didn’t give her back her change.
“You might be wondering why I go so often.” Shioriko suddenly turned around right as she began climbing up the stairs again. She was still obviously excited.
“It’s because their selection is just that amazing!”
Searching for books took precedence over everything else it seemed. I’d have expected nothing less from the bookworm.
The meeting space on the second floor was a lot wider than I thought it would be.
There were long tables set up in equal intervals, with piles and piles of books piled up on them. I saw shop employees turned buyers, walking around and weaving their way through the narrow space between tables.
“Anyway…let’s take a look around.” Shioriko took the lead and walked out to the assembly hall.
She was met with an “It’s been a while,” or a “How are you today?” each time she passed someone. They were lighthearted greetings like those of family members that hadn’t seen each other in a long time. Shioriko herself frantically returned all their greetings.
It seemed that everyone knew each other by sight here. People made small talk as they carefully perused the products piled high on the tables.
There were all sorts of products put up for sale. The relatively new books and manga stood out, but there were also plenty of literature collections and scholarly works. There were old car catalogs, dusty world maps, and even what looked like a graduation album from the Taisho era on display. Not only that, there were adult magazines with DVDs and 18+ fan magazines on display as well. There were also things here and there that I wasn’t sure should even be allowed to be sold here.
“Did I ever give you an in-depth explanation of the marketplace?” Shioriko asked.
“Ah, no, you haven’t. At least not explicitly.”
All I knew was that it was an event for people in the secondhand books industry to buy and sell books with each other. This was only the second time I’d been to a marketplace.
“Alright, I’ll give you a proper explanation then. We don’t want to hinder others, so let’s go over there.”
She pulled on my sleeve and walked towards the window. This was the window I saw from the road earlier. The cars lined up in rows below reflected sunlight off their roofs.
“There are several ways to do transactions at this convention. What’s happening now is known as bid placing. The buyers look at the books put out for sale and, when they find things they’re interested in, write the amount they’re willing to pay on a slip of paper.”
She began her explanation with an uncharacteristic lack of hesitation. It was almost like a switch had been flipped—Shioriko’s personality changed completely whenever the subject turned to books.
“Every stack of books has an envelope next to it…like for example, that table right over there.”
She looked towards the piles of manga stacked high on the table closest to us. There were about 30 books wrapped in cord on the table. They were arranged in stacks of four so that the spines were visible. I saw many recently serialized young adult manga like GANTZ and Berserk among them.
A yellow envelope, with the words “set of four” written on it in pencil, was attached to the centermost bundle. The numbers 4 and 9 were written right under that.
“The ‘set of four’ part refers to the number of books that are up for sale. Bundles of books are called sets. That set has four books, so it’s labeled ‘set of four.’”
I nodded. So some stores sold young adult manga in sets of four. A young shop employee stopped in front of the books and began inspecting the manga from top to bottom. After a while he snatched a blank form, scribbled on it with a pencil, quickly folded it, and inserted the paper into the envelope.
“I’m guessing he placed a bid just now?” I asked Shioriko after the shop employee left.
“Correct. He saw a book that he wanted and put his bid in the envelope. The person with the highest bid wins the right to buy the item. Of course, the money will go to the store that put the books up for sale.”
“How come the store names aren’t written on any of the envelopes?”
I asked her about something I had been curious about for a while. The envelopes all had a general description of the books along with the quantity. There were also some other numbers that I didn’t understand.
“The point is to hide the names of stores that put out items. There are two numbers on each envelope. One refers to the item itself and the other refers to the store that put it up for sale…”
She pointed to an empty desk alongside the wall.
“Whenever someone wants to put up some books for sale, they first need to fill out a registration form over there. Then, they drop the form into the locked box next to that desk. The shop’s name is written only on that registration form, so there’s no way to tell which products belong to which store.”
But I wasn’t the one who spoke up. A thin man with a black high neck sweater had appeared next to us without me noticing. His short, black hair was neatly parted, and he had a thin beard and wore metal-framed glasses. He looked like a peevish modern Japanese teacher, but was wearing a bright red apron for some reason.
“I see even Shinokawa properly teaches people from time to time.” He nodded seriously, sounding impressed. He seemed a little older than Shioriko.
“Ah, Renjou, good morning.” Shioriko greeted him with a smile.
“Is your leg starting to heal?”
“Yes, it’s much better now.”
She looked towards me as she was speaking. I turned to “Renjou” before I could be introduced and lowered my head.
“My name is Goura Daisuke. I’m an employee at Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia.”
“Ah, I’ve heard the rumors.”
The man stared at my face. Just what kinds of rumors had he heard? There was an uncomfortable silence.
“My bad. I never gave you my name. It’s Takino Renjou, written with the characters for lotus and cane. It’s kind of a strange name…I won’t mind if you laugh.” Takino Renjou smiled broadly as if inviting me to laugh, but I had no intention of doing so. I was more surprised by the fact that Shioriko had called him by his first name. I did remember her saying that she rarely had the opportunity to call members of the opposite sex by their first name—
No, if she said rarely ever, then there had to be at least a few.
“Renjou is the son of Takino Books in Kounandai.” Shioriko explained.
“We used to visit each other’s houses often when we were kids.”
Their parents were probably close as people in the same industry. Kounandai was two stops away from Ofuna on the Negishi line, and it wasn’t very far from Kita-Kamakura either.
“My younger sister and Shinokawa went to the same girl’s school. They were the ones that got along really well. Me and Shinokawa weren’t like that though; I was just an extra.”
“Not at all…you also helped me a lot, R-renjou.”
Shioriko earnestly denied it.
“No, I didn’t do much. Really.” Renjou looked at me seriously. He had noticed the delicate relationship Shioriko and I had and was teasing me a bit.
“So what brings you here today? Are you looking for books to buy?”
“Yes…I realized we didn’t have any good out of print books in stock and…”
“Out of print…” Takino muttered. “Yeah, they’ve been very hard to come by these days. I guess that’s because people find it easier to sell books themselves on the internet.”
“Is that so…I see. That’s a shame.”
“I did see some today though.” Takino added.
“Eh? Where are they?”
He started walking without even asking us to follow. He seemed to be a very carefree person. Shioriko and I followed after him.
“So where did you and my sister go to drink on your last day off?”
Takino looked over his shoulder and asked Shioriko.
“Ah…Ryuu said there was a bar she found recently, in Yokohama.”
“She’s a handful when she’s drunk. Sorry if she caused you any trouble.”
“Oh, she’s not like that at all…”
I was shocked by their conversation.
“Shioriko, you drink?” I whispered to her. I started working at Biblia half a year ago and never heard anything about that. I had just assumed that she never drank alcohol.
“I’m not really good with alcohol, but I do like going out a lot.”
That’s how it was. I regretted my carelessness. Had I known this earlier, I wouldn’t have worried so much about how to invite her out.
“Um…in that case, next time why don’t we—”
“Here we are.”
Takino stopped walking, and my invitation was cut off. We had arrived at a table in the corner of the convention hall with books lined up in stacks of five.
Shioriko’s face suddenly lit up. She put her hand on the edge of the table and brought her face closer to the book spines.
“These are nice aren’t they? They’d be good in our store.”
I also stared at the piled up books next to them. About 70 percent of the books were by Hayakawa and Tsogen publishing, and the rest belonged to other publishing houses. There were also some Sanrio SF books mixed in among them. The envelope near the bundles had “Science Fiction Publications” and “Sets of Five” carefully written on it.
“The topmost books look really good. There are even some that could probably sell for more than ten thousand yen.”
“Are they all science fiction?”
“There’s fantasy, and also horror books… like this, for example. We’ve even sold it at our shop before.”
She said that and put her finger on the spine of the topmost books in the bundle. There was Shadow, Shadow on the Wall by Theodore Sturgeon, and Other Days, Other Eyes by Bob Shaw. The books leaned forward at her touch, perhaps because of how loosely they were bound.
“Were these really purchased from Biblia?” Takino asked.
“They might have been…if one of our customers wanted to sell their books though, I would have liked them to bring it back to us…”
Shioriko sighed. It seemed we didn’t just need regular customers to buy good books, we also needed them to sell good books as well. The store wouldn’t have well-stocked shelves otherwise.
Takino suddenly wrapped his arms around our shoulders. He brought his face close as if to wedge himself between us. I thought he was going to say something, but he had a faraway look in his eyes and didn’t move. It didn’t seem like he was trying to huddle together.
“Um, what is it?” I asked.
“The truth is, I put out these books two days ago.” He whispered.
“I bought them from a customer when I was watching the shop last week. We don’t normally deal with these kinds of books, so I bought them to sell at the market.”
“What kind of customer were they?” Shioriko got caught up in the mood and lowered her voice.
“It was a plain woman with glasses and short black hair. The type that really looked like she loved books…her address was in Hongoudai. Sound familiar?”
“Then I guess it wasn’t one of Biblia’s regular customers. Well, bid on them if you’d like.”
Takino said that as he was about to leave us, but Shioriko called out to stop him.
“Renjou, does Hitori know about these books?”
I remembered the grumpy looking man we met at the entrance. He would probably desperately want these out of print books, since his store specialized in science fiction and mystery novels.
“I didn’t see him at the convention hall today…is he here?”
“We saw him smoking near the entrance.”
“I see…in that case, he might have put his bid in sometime yesterday. That guy was here to put up some of the products from his shop for sale, you know. He’s kind of hard to miss.”
Takino left it at that and went off somewhere else.
“…Hitori will pay a high price for books like these. We’ll need to be prepared in order to win this bid.”
Shioriko pinched the envelope that had “Science Fiction” books written on it. It looked like she was estimating how many bids where in there by the thickness of the envelope.
“There seem to be many other shops besides Hitori interested in it. It’s fairly popular.”
She tightly closed her eyes. It looked like she was making mental calculations.
That’s when I noticed a white haired man wearing a grey coat standing near the convention hall door. It was the owner of Hitori Bookstore that we happened to see earlier this morning. He was glaring sharply at Shioriko.
I felt a chill along my back. I knew that he had a bad relationship with Shioriko’s mother, but there was a chance that he also held resentment towards her daughter as well. I stood between him and Shioriko to hide her and blocked his glare.
He noticed me returning his gaze, and with an angry scowl, once again disappeared from the assembly hall.
“Daisuke, is something wrong?” Shioriko had opened her eyes again at some point.
“…no, not really.”
“Could I ask you to write down the price I’ll tell you on the bid slip? I can’t do it while holding the cane.”
“Ah, of course.”
I took one of the bid slips on the table into my hand. There were similar bundles of small memo papers at every table.
I thought about the owner of Hitori Bookstore while Shioriko instructed me on how to fill out the form. Just what had happened in her mother’s—Shinokawa Chieko’s time? It couldn’t be that they just didn’t get along; there had to be something more to it. Perhaps it was something that Shioriko herself was not even aware of.
The unsealing of the bids began at 11am.
That said, bidding didn’t stop for the entire convention hall. Sections were closed one at a time so that the envelopes containing the bids could be opened. The lots would then go to the highest bidder and the winning shop would be announced.
Once the first section was done, they would move over to the next section and begin the unsealing process there; bidding could still continue in the other sections in the meantime. Shioriko and I only were only interested in the out of print books from before, so we waited for the bids to be opened in our corner of the convention hall.
Red and white poles, similar to those used at construction sites, were set up between the tables. After that was done, the convention employees split up into groups of two or three to open up the envelopes one at a time. Takino, who we had spoken with earlier, was among them.
“Speaking of which, why is Takino also working?”
“He’s working as a manager today.”
“Manager?” I replied with a question.
“The vintage book exchange is usually run by managers, people who are sent out from shops affiliated with the association. This often ends up being a learning opportunity for those just getting into the industry, since they get to work with so many different shops. I used to be a manager myself until last year.”
She stopped at last year, which was when her father had passed away. She probably no longer had time to commit to managerial duties after she started managing Biblia alone.
“…this marketplace and association is unique to the used books industry in Japan. They say it was based on the bookstore guilds of the Edo era…but I’ve heard that cooperative trade guilds like this aren’t very common in the west these days…”
A thought suddenly occurred to me as I listened to her explanation.
“Do you think I could also be a manager?”
Shioriko paused slightly before replying.
“I believe you could…if you plan on continuing to work at Biblia for a long time, that is.”
My words got caught in my throat. I couldn’t clearly say that I wanted to do it.
“Ah, it looks like the bids were unsealed. Let’s go take a look.” Shioriko grabbed her cane and started walking.
The reason I started working at the shop wasn’t because I wanted to work at a bookstore. There was the fact that I hadn’t been able to find any other job, but more than anything else, I was drawn to this peculiar bookshop owner and the books she talked about. I didn’t even have the ability to read books in the first place.
I couldn’t confidently say that I was the right person to hire for the job, or even if I’d be able to do it right at all. It was the conclusion anyone would have come to.
“Ahhh,” Shioriko’s shoulders dropped as she stood in front of the bidding envelope by the out of print books. The entry with the highest bid had been posted, but it wasn’t the one we had submitted. The name “Inoue” was scribbled right next the numbers on the slip.
“…that’s Hitori’s name.” Shioriko said. In other words, Hitori Bookstore had won the bid and Shioriko had lost.
“It looks like he also put in a three-bid…”
There were three separate numbers lined up on Hitori Bookstores’ bid slip. All of them five digits. According to what I was taught earlier, people could enter multiple bids if they were bidding on an expensive lot. The rules here at the market had it so that a maximum of three bids could be put in for lots worth 10,000 yen or more—that was what we called a “three-bid”. Shioriko and I had also put in a three-bid earlier.
“Yes, and we lost to his high-bid…what a shame.”
“The highest amount in a three-bid is called a high-bid. After that come the mid-bid, with the lowest amount being called the low-bid….look at this please.”
Shioriko pointed to the highest number among the three listed. Someone had drawn a circle around it, meaning the lot had been won with Hitori’s high-bid.
Now that I looked at it, the entry with “Inoue” written next to it wasn’t much different from the amount Shioriko had asked me to write earlier—there was only a difference of 10 yen. We would have won had we increased our bid amount by just a little.
“We lost by just a hige…” Shioriko said bitterly.
I felt bad asking her so many questions, but there was too much industry specific jargon that I didn’t understand.
“Units of 10 yen are called higes”
“My plan was to put in a bid that was 1000 yen higher than what Hitori was likely to submit just in case, but it seems I misread him…”
“Maybe he correctly guessed the bid we were going to put in.”
Just like the way we tried to predict the bid Hitori was going to put in, Hitori must have guessed ours.
Shioriko however, shook her head.
“I don’t believe that’s the case. Hitori put his bid in yesterday it seems…this was purely due to a difference in buying power.”
Shioriko despondently touched the spines of the books. The opening of the bids was more or less completely done and people around us were beginning to take their items. Coming here turned out to be a waste of time.
A white haired man wearing a coat appeared and almost bumped into the table as he stopped his trolley next to it. Shioriko’s shoulders shook in fright. It was the owner of Hitori Bookstore, Inoue.
“What are you doing?”
“Keep your hands off my books.”
Shioriko took a step back at his threatening voice.
Shioriko lost her balance and I hurriedly supported her. It was too easy for her to fall over if she wasn’t careful. I glared at Inoue who was now loading his books onto his trolley.
“We were looking at the bids. Are there any problems with that?”
Inoue stood straight up and stared intently at my face. His brow was wrinkled even further in disagreeableness.
“You must be Goura.”
Why did he know my name? I didn’t remember ever introducing myself to him.
“You should be careful around that woman.”
He didn’t even wait for a response and pushed his trolley away, leaving the convention hall.
“What was that guy talking about?”
I didn’t know what he was trying to say. Why did I need to be careful around Shioriko?
“I’m alright now…people are staring at us.”
I came back to my senses. I still had my arm wrapped around her lower back from when I stopped her from falling over. Shioriko’s face was bright red and she was looking at her feet.
“Ah, I’m sorry.” I quickly let go of her.
“Oh, here you were, Shinokawa.”
Takino pushed his way to the crowd and approached us.
“The books that Biblia put up for sale ended up being a bō.”
Shioriko’s eyes went wide. It seemed something unexpected had happened.
“That can’t be right…”
“But they’re right over there. That pile of hardcovers.”
Since I couldn’t understand what was happening, I had to cut into their conversation.
“….excuse me, but what’s a bō?”
“They’re lots that didn’t get a single bid after they were put up for sale, but…” Shioriko answered.
I could now see why Shioriko was confused. That didn’t make any sense because Biblia hadn’t put anything up for sale this time.
“Umm…Renjou, are you sure that it belongs to us?” Shioriko asked.
“Yeah, the product registration paper had Biblia written on it. This way, follow me.”
We followed Takino over to the other side of the convention hall. There were barely any books remaining on the tables. I had no idea where they got the board from, but some shop owners had begun playing shogi in the corner after they finished putting away their merchandise.
“Here they are.”
There were some old books stacked on top of a table near the window. They were mostly practical guides, like sample letter collections, a guide on marriage customs, and accounting certification books. A good number of them were badly yellowed and not a single one looked like it was worth buying.
“What is this?” Shioriko asked in a whisper.
Takino said Biblia had put out these books, but she didn’t recognize them at all.
“Most of these were published about ten years ago…” She muttered to herself with her eyes shut.
“Either way, I’d like to clear this table. Could you quickly get them out of the way?” Takino was leaning on the window with his hand on his chin.
“But these books aren’t even ou—“
Before she could finish her sentence, Takino, who happened to be looking out the window, opened his eyes wide.
“Ah, I’m sorry! It looks like someone’s about to park illegally!” His loud voice rang out in the room.
As soon as he said that, the shop owners in the convention hall rushed over to the window to see what was going on. Shioriko and I moved to the end of the aisle. Now that he mentioned it, most of the cars were parked in the street today. We looked at each other now that our conversation had been cut off midway.
“What are we supposed to do now?”
“What should we do indeed…” Shioriko also looked like she was at a loss.
Organizing the counter was the first thing I did when the shop opened for the day. I cleared out some space and set down the books we ended up picking up from the book exchange. The storeroom in the main house was full, so there was no choice but to temporarily keep them in the shop.
A day had passed since the convention ended, but we still didn’t know where these books had come from. The association didn’t want to keep them, and disposing of the books would cost money. It wasn’t like throwing the books away without knowing who they belonged to was an option in the first place though.
The association decided to have us hold on to the books until they sorted this out since on paper, the books belonged to us. Not only did we fail to get the out of print books we wanted, we also ended up getting stuck with a heap of books that weren’t even fit to sell. Then, we even got stuck with a parking ticket on the van since it was parked on the road. Talk about getting kicked while we were down.
Still, I was curious about who could have put the books up for sale in Biblia’s name. It was hard to believe this could just be a mix up in the documentation, but I also couldn’t think of a reason why anyone would do it on purpose. Not even Shioriko, who was good at solving mysteries like this, could say she knew.
I crouched and stared at the books on the counter. Shioriko’s mother apparently had the ability to understand what kind of person someone was just by looking at the books they owned. I didn’t have the same ability, of course, but I figured that there might be something that could be found by looking at the covers.
My impression hadn’t changed much from when I first saw them. They were just a bunch of practical guides in terrible shape. That being said it wasn’t like there was nothing noteworthy about them. There were several titles that dealt with antiquarian books in the heap. Titles like The Art of Antiquarian Books, Registry of out of Print Books and Introduction to Used Books in Your Town. That was to say, the person who left these behind was someone who was interested in old books—
No, that makes no sense…
I shook my head and stood up. Those were the characteristics of the person who originally owned the books, not the characteristics of the store that put them up for sale. There was no point in looking at things from that angle.
Then, the door leading to the main house opened and Shioriko appeared. She was wearing a knit dress with a thin ribbon on her chest today. She looked cuter than usual, but also less cheerful than she usually was.
“Please put these books in vinyl covers and put them out on the floor. The price has already been labeled.”
She sighed and handed me a department store bag with eight or nine books in it. They all had price labels affixed to them in various spots.
“Where did you get these”?
“They’re out of print books that I took from my room…I already have duplicates and brought them here because they looked like they’d sell. There should be other books like this, so I’ll also bring those down later.”
In other words, she was pulling these books from her own personal collection. She must have decided to let go of them to fill the shelves. I emptied the bag and laid the books out on the counter. There were mystery and science fiction books like F.W Croft’s The Groote Park Murder and Anna Kavan’s Julia and the Bazooka. I had the vague feeling that I once saw her reading Julia and the Bazooka when she was still in the hospital.
There was also a strangely showy book among them. It featured an illustration of a young girl wearing a white dress under the title The Dandelion Girl, which was written in pink text. According to the subtitle, it was the second part of a foreign science fiction masterpiece collection, which meant it wasn’t written by a Japanese author. Looking at it carefully, I saw that it was published under Shueisha’s Cobalt imprint. I thought they focused mostly on books for middle and high school girls, but it seemed they also had books of value in second hand stores.
I looked over the book to check the price label attached to it—8,000 yen. This was easily the most expensive book among them.
“Why is this particular book so expensive?”
“Ah, that one!”
Shioriko’s voice suddenly rose sharply.
“That’s because it has Robert F. Young’s The Dandelion Girl in it! It’s a truly amazing story that even has elements of time travel!”
She shook her closed fists as she spoke. Shioriko always had a switch flip whenever she talked about books, but seemed to be especially excited this time. I guess she liked this story a whole lot.
I was also now excited and leaned forward. Time travel meant going back or forth in time. Of course I’d be interested.
“So do the characters go to the future or the past?”
“To the past I suppose…but it’s not the main character that travels through time. The protagonist is a very ordinary middle-aged man who happened to be staying at a mountain cottage for the summer holidays. His wife had something urgent come up suddenly which left him so bored that he didn’t know what to do with himself. It was on one of those uneventful days that he met a beautiful girl with blonde hair and a white dress on a nearby hill.”
I looked down at the cover of the book. So this was that girl. The dress kind of resembled the clothes Shioriko wore, but the hair color was completely different.
“The girl told him that she came from 240 years in the future using a time machine that her father built. She liked that hill in the protagonist’s era and time traveled back to the same period every day. From the perspective of those living in the protagonist’s era, it looked like she just happened to appear on the hill. Do you know what she said during her first meeting with the protagonist?
Shioriko brought her face closer to me, as if she were telling me a secret. I could see her eyes twinkling with excitement with her face so close to mine.
“Day before yesterday I saw a rabbit, and yesterday a deer, and today, you.”
My heart was pounding.
“T-that’s pretty nice. I-it’s amazing.”
“Isn’t it? Anyone would fall in love being told something cute like that right? “
She smiled without a hint of concern, clearly unaware of what she herself was doing.
“…What happened after that?”
“The protagonist ended up accepting it as just her imagination and played along with her story. Through their everyday conversations, the protagonist quickly found himself falling in love with the girl almost half his age. However, one day, she vanished without a trace. The protagonist felt conflicted between his feelings for the girl and his feelings of guilt for his wife. The next time he saw the girl on the hill, she was wearing a black dress.”
I thought for a moment.
“Was it because of her father’s funeral?”
“That’s right. Her father who made the time machine had passed away, and she now had no way to make replacement parts. She explained that she might not be able to time travel anymore and returned to the present prepared for the fact that she might never see each the protagonist again…”
Shioriko’s expression suddenly shadowed over as if she had remembered something.
“My father liked The Dandelion Girl and used to read it often. That’s why I also wanted to have my own copy as well…it wasn’t easy to find, though.”
She slowly stroked the cover with her index finger. The Dandelion Girl was in such good condition that it didn’t look like she had obtained it so many years ago. It was clearly a book that she treasured a lot.
“Are you really alright with selling it?”
“I’m sure there are other customers who would also want it…besides, I still have one more copy.”
I swallowed my words. She still had one more copy of an out of print book that took her a long time to find. The remaining book was most likely a memento of her late father.
“…how does the story continue?”
“The girl promised that she would try her best to come and see him again, and then she confessed her love to the protagonist before returning to the future. She never appeared on the hill ever again.”
“Wha-, is that it?”
The story really didn’t have much of a payoff. Still, if she had come back, he might have ended up doing something immoral.
“No, there’s more. The story continues from there.”
I was even more interested in Shioriko’s story. How would the story continue if the girl returned to the future and couldn’t meet the protagonist again?
Just as I was about to urge her to continue and tell me what happened next—
“Heey, when are you guys going to be done?”
A voice called out from the open door into the main house. A ponytailed girl had sat down at the end of the hallway and had one hand resting on her chin. She had distinctively large eyes and tanned skin and was wearing an old jersey and some work gloves. This was Shioriko’s younger sister, Shinokawa Ayaka.
“I’ve been waiting since Shioriko asked me to help take out some books. We’re still not done with the end of year cleaning, you know. We still have to clear out the ventilation fans, polish the bathroom tiles, and repair the paper doors! There isn’t much time until the year ends!”
Come to think of it, Shioriko had said earlier that she was going to take some books off the shelf. It was probably inconvenient for her to do it herself because of her bad leg.
“Ah, Aya, I’m sorry…:
“Sorry, it’s because I asked Shioriko about a book.”
I apologized and Shioriko hurriedly shook here her hands in front of her.
“No, it’s not Daisuke’s fault, Ayaka….I always end up doing this and…”
“—It’s the same either way!”
Ayaka tore apart our excuses.
“Really, it doesn’t even matter! I just want to get this over with quickly! Shioriko, come with me.”
Shioriko disappeared into the main house, dragged away by her sister. Left alone in the shop, I picked up The Dandelion Girl and turned to the opening page.
The girl on the hill made Mark think of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Perhaps it was because of the way she stood in the afternoon sun, her dandelion-hued hair dancing in the wind; perhaps it was because of the way her old-fashioned white dress swirled around her long and slender legs. In any event, he got the definite impression that she had somehow stepped out of the past and into the present.
Perhaps it was because it was a translated work, but the text definitely drew my interest. I missed the chance to hear the rest from Shioriko, but was still curious about how the story ended. I could read just the ending—no, that would be too boring. It was a short story, so maybe I’d be able to read it all in one go. But I was still in the middle of work, even if there were no customers at the moment…
The phone rang while I was still trying to make a decision. I picked up the phone, but before I could say the store name, the person on the other end began to talk.
“This is Takino from Takino books….err…is this Goura?”
“Yes it is. Thanks for your help yesterday.”
“What’s Shinokawa up to?”
“She’s in the main house right now. Should I call her over?”
“Yeah, if you could…..actually, wait! I can talk to you instead; there’s no real reason to tell Shinokawa directly. Do you have a moment?”
I had a bad feeling about Takino’s serious tone. I gripped the phone receiver.
“There were some books you guys bid on yesterday. They were out of print books that Inoue from Hitori Bookstore won.”
We lost the bid for those books by only 10 yen. Had we won, Shioriko would not have had to put up her own books for sale.
“The truth is, Inoue just left my my shop. I’m calling about those books.”
“He stopped by…your store?”
“Rather than saying he stopped by, it would be more accurate to say he stormed in…this is quite a problem.”
“Did something happen?”
The bad feeling I had grew worse.
“Yeah, this has turned into an incident, more or less.”
“Ah, My bad. If there are missing pages, or pages have been cut, or someone otherwise finds an extreme deficiency with their items after they win a bid, we call it an incident. Kind of like finding out you have a defective item after you’ve already purchased it. It seems Inoue found that one of the books that was definitely in the lot when he put in his bid was missing when he returned after winning the bid. It was a fairly expensive book, so he came to me first to get information about the books that were put up for sale.”
“So is the book just lost?”
“I’m not sure myself, but Inoue is certain that it was stolen. I personally don’t think that’s the case though. The only people allowed to enter and exit the assembly hall are association members, and we all know each other by sight. There’s no way it could have been stolen.”
Thoughts swirled in my head as I listened to Takino. I didn’t quite understand what he was getting at. What did this have to do with me and Shioriko?
Before that though, I had forgotten to ask an essential question.
“By the way, do you know which book is missing?”
“The Dandelion Girl, by Cobalt publishing, apparently. Have you heard of it?”
I couldn’t help my gasp of surprise.
“The Dandelion Girl…you mean the foreign romantic science fiction story?”
“Oh, you’re well informed. I heard that you didn’t know much about books.”
“Ah, it’s just a coincidence.” I replied ambiguously. The book was right in front of me, so it’s not like I was really well informed or anything.
“Was it really stolen?”
“Hm? What do you mean?”
“I mean, was The Dandelion Girl really one of the books he won in the first place? What if Hitori made a mistake…”
That was the first possibility that came to me. If he had made a mistake, then that would bring this to an easy conclusion. But Takino rejected that idea.
“I made records when I appraised the books just in case. I didn’t know much about out of print science fiction and didn’t appraise it highly as a result. The customer told me that I could buy the book for any price I wanted.”
“The person who sold it wasn’t an enthusiast?”
I was pretty sure Takino told us books were sold to him by a 30-something year old woman with glasses who looked like she loved books. If she were an enthusiast, she would have been pickier about the selling price.
“She told me she wasn’t interested in books as much as she used to be. Apparently, she got divorced and decided to move out. That’s why she wanted to quickly get rid of unnecessary things and get away from the house. It seems got into frequent arguments with her ex-husband even though they had lived together for a decade…she had quite a lot of complaints.”
These were pretty brutal circumstances for a Cobalt imprint book, but I guess that’s just how reality was.
“The question now is who could have stolen the book. Inoue, for some reason, suspects that Shinokawa did it.”
An unpleasant sweat ran across my back despite the cold inside the shop.
“W-why is that?”
“I don’t know. He was saying that Shinokawa’s daughter wouldn’t hesitate to do something like this—that she was two-faced just like her mother. I tried to persuade him that Shinokawa wasn’t the type of person to touch other people’s belongings, but…”
I could hear a sigh over the phone.
“I plan on informing the directors of the association about this incident. I told Inoue that too, but I want you guys to be careful just in case. Step in for Shinokawa if things start to look bad. Call me if it still seems hopeless after that.”
I couldn’t help but think about the accusation leveled at Shioriko.
Like Takino, I also had the firm belief that Shioriko would never steal anyone’s books. She herself had been injured by a man who would not only steal, but would do anything to get his hands on a first edition book she owned. She hated this sort of crime more than anyone else I knew.
The one thing I was concerned about was the fact that she had brought out The Dandelion Girl. Of all the books that Hitori bought, it was the one that had to disappear. With this timing, it would be hard to dismiss it as a coincidence a coincidence that Shioriko happened to pull The Dandelion Girl off her shelf today.
“Hello…are you still there?” Takino’s voice brought me back to my senses.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
“Right. It’s no big deal, but I couldn’t say this while Shinokawa was still around. I wanted to say that I’m glad you started working at Biblia.” Takino sounded serious.
“…Why is that?”
“Shinokawa is shy around strangers, and she becomes talkative when it’s about books. She’s very good at her job, but can’t open her heart to the other shop owners no matter how she tries. She hired other part timers in the past, but they tended not to stay long due to communication problems.”
I had heard a bit about this from Shioriko before. Apparently they couldn’t deal with her talking about books so much and quit.
“And then that happened, she injured her leg. All of us in the association were worried that the shop was going to fold….well, not everyone exactly. But it was a huge relief that the part timer who started in the summer had continued working, and the shop somehow managed to stay open.”
When he said that not everyone was worried, he was probably talking about Hitori. I suddenly remembered the conversation I had with him.
“Did everyone already know my name?”
“Hm? What do you mean?”
“Inoue called me “Goura” yesterday, but that was the first time we met.”
“There were rumors about you, but I only heard that there was a part timer who had miraculously worked there for a while. I don’t think anyone knew your name or your face. Even I, though I’m well acquainted with Shinokawa, only met you for the first time yesterday.”
“Is that so…”
That was even stranger. Where did he learn my name then?
“Anyway, Shinokawa trusts you. I say this because I’ve known her for a long time.Besides her father, you’re probably the guy she’s opened up her heart to the most. I’m serious.”
“But what about you?”
I got caught up in the moment and asked without thinking. It was almost in a brotherly way, but Takino seemed to be intimate with Shioriko. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he said they used to go out.
“Ah, I hear that a lot.” Takino clicked his tongue.
“I have a rule against talking to Shinokwawa too much. Both of us like books, so our conversations used to often go in that direction, but our tastes don’t match….if I had to say, she likes heart-rending stories, or should I say stories that are really bursting with emotion.”
Now that he mentioned it that did seem to be the case. The Dandelion Girl , which I still had in front of me might be considered a “heart-rending story.”
“I, on the other hand, prefer weird, or more nauseating stories. Stuff like horror and suspense, right. Shinokawa read a lot of that too, but she had a habit of looking for meanings within the violent stories. We had a huge argument about the interpretation of the final chapter of a book a long time ago, and we’ve been distant since then.”
“I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s a story about an absurdly violent delinquent…”
A light bulb went off in my head at that. I didn’t read it myself, but I did know the story.
“Are you talking about A Clockwork Orange by any chance?”
“You really do know a lot!” Takino’s voice rose excitedly.
“Yeah, we were arguing about whether or not that final chapter was necessary. I was of the opinion that it was completely unnecessary, and Shinokawa argued that it was. Did she talk to you about it?”
“Kinda, but not really.”
There was a small incident concerning Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange in this very shop about 3 months ago, but it wasn’t something I’d be able to easily explain.
The final chapter was one where the “absurdly violent” protagonists reformed himself and strived to become a better person. For a long time, only the version with the final chapter omitted had been sold in Japan.
“I don’t know what you mean by “kinda not really,” but you’re amazing. It’d be fine even if you started dating Shinokawa tomorrow, you have my blessings.”
“Wha-!!” I found myself shouting into the phone. Even I thought that was an overreaction.
“Well, that’s only if she’s willing to go along with it.”
That was true.
Even if I wanted to go out with her, Shioriko didn’t have any interest in relationships. She told me before that she never wanted to get married to anyone. She said that it was in case she ever turned out to be like her mother.
I turned around and looked towards the door leading to the main house to make sure that Shioriko hadn’t come back yet.
“What kind of people were Shioriko’s parents?”
My plan was to ask about the Shinokawa sisters’ mother, Shinokawa Chieko, in a roundabout way. Takino should know something since he had been involved with the family.
A sigh could be heard on the other side of the receiver.
“I’m guessing you want to hear about her mother’s disappearance.”
“You got me.”
“Let’s see…they had a good relationship. That was just how it looked to me though.” Takino spoke slowly as he reflected on his memories.
“Since her father was a fairly silent person, I talked a lot with her mother. She had a bright personality…and we both like books, so we often talked about them when there were no customers around.”
“So were the two of them the only ones running the shop?”
“I suppose. Shinokawa’s dad had been retired for as long as I could remember. I heard Biblia starting becoming really profitable when her mother started working there, but there were quite a few people, like Inoue, who weren’t fond of her.”
Takino went silent. He seemed hesitant about whether or not he should continue. Then, I heard some shuffling and the sound of other voices on Takino’s end. I heard him apologize and ask someone if they’d be able to wait for a moment.
“Sorry, that was a customer. Let’s talk again when I have more free time. Don’t forget to be careful around Inoue. Bye!”
Takino quickly ended the conversation and hung up. Biblia on the other hand, didn’t have any customers as usual. It was now dead silent.
Too many strange things had been occurring ever since we went to the marketplace yesterday. There were the books that were allegedly put up for sale by Biblia, the book stolen from the lot that Inoue won, and the fact that Shioriko was now trying to sell her own copy of The Dandelion Girl—something told me all of these incidents were related somehow.
But it wasn’t like I’d be able to figure out how they were all linked. First, it would be a good idea to consult someone who would be able to come to a conclusion and could understand what had happened.
“Excuse me…I’m back.”
Shioriko had once again returned from the main house. She was holding a paper bag like the one from earlier.
“Who was that on the phone?” She asked.
I realized that I still hadn’t put the receiver down. I set it in front of the phone and took the bag full of books from her.
“It was Takino.”
“Renjou? That’s unusual, did something happen?”
“The truth is, there was some commotion about theft at the market yesterday.”
“Eh! Really?” Her eyes went wide behind her glasses. No matter how I looked at it, she seemed genuinely surprised.
I gave her a brief summary of what I had heard from Takino, that The Dandelion Girl was reported to have been stolen. She asked if that book was really part of the lot that Hitori won, and quietly looked at the blue bag on the countertop. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking from her expression.
“Um…about the copy of The Dandelion Girl here….”
I wanted to ask if it were a pure coincidence or if there were some other circumstances, but while I was thinking about how to phrase the question, the glass door at the entrance suddenly opened.
A piercingly cold wind blew into the shop and a white haired man wearing a long coat buttoned up to his neck appeared. He wasn’t wearing glasses today, and was instead gripping a thick steel cane. This was unmistakably the owner of Hitori Bookstore.
Shioriko let out a frightened voice. I was also shocked into silence. I never expected him to show up so quickly. Inoue took large steps, barely using his cane, and approached us. By the time I thought to react, it was already too late.
His eyes fell on The Dandelion Girl, which now had a price tag on it, and his face turned red with rage.
“I knew you were behind this!” He shouted at Shioriko.
She hid herself behind me and tightly gripped my arm. She was unable to speak from shock and fear.
“…I’m sorry, what do you mean?”
I adjusted my posture and asked him as calmly as I could. I was ready to restrain him on the off chance that he flew into a rage. He didn’t look very strong, but that steel cane in his hand was bound to be a problem.
“You know damn well what I’m talking about. That woman stole a book from me at the convention yesterday. She stole it from the lot I won!”
“Y-you’re wrong…t-that’s my…”
“That doesn’t mean she stole it though.” I denied his accusation in Shioriko’s place. I could see her nodding a little from the corner of my eye.
“Don’t mess with me. You’re trying to tell me it’s just a coincidence?”
“…that’s what I think.”
I honestly didn’t know if I could say it was all just a coincidence, but I couldn’t insist on anything in this situation. I quickly added so he wouldn’t notice my doubts.
“I think it’s unlikely that someone would go as far as stealing a book with so many eyes watching.” I repeated what I heard from Takino earlier. Inoue’s eyes narrowed. It looked like I had somehow managed to calm him down.
“That Takino boy’s been running his mouth, I see…” Inoue clicked his tongue in annoyance.
“She did have an opportunity to steal the book, if that’s what you’re talking about. When I returned to the convention hall before the bids were unsealed, I saw her hiding behind your huge body. Was there anyone else nearby then?”
That caught me by surprise. Certainly, it was true that I had moved to hide Shioriko from his view when I caught him glaring at her. The books had been in a corner, so there weren’t many other eyes on us.
“Something like that can’t be used as evide-”
“It’ll become clear sooner or later when I open an investigation. You’re also going to share the blame for clumsily trying to cover for her. Do you honestly believe that woman’s innocent façade?”
I probably knew Shioriko’s other sides better than he did. Previously, in order to protect her first edition copy of Daizai Osamu’s The Late Years from a book fanatic named Tanaka Toshio, she concealed the truth from everyone around her—including the police, putting herself in danger in the process. When things came down to it, she also had the courage to follow through.
“She’s Shinokawa Chieko’s daughter; she’s similar to her right down to her appearance.” Inoue sounded frenzied. Looking at him now, his fingers and jaw were trembling.
I finally understood. The issue wasn’t just that he had horrible experiences with Shioriko’s mother. He was afraid because this girl who resembled her mother so much was just like her.
Shinokawa Chieko was the type of person who would resort to threats and extortion to get the books she wanted. Inoue might have been one of her victims at one point.
“Shioriko is in no way a criminal.” I declared. I had complete faith that it was true.
“What makes you trust her so much? Did you fall for her charm or something?”
I could feel her heart pounding violently on my arm as she tightly clung to me. There was something touching my elbow which made it even harder to focus on the conversation.
“No…it’s not that…” There was another reason.
“Alright, what’s your proof then?”
I couldn’t think of what to say. The truth was that I was also about to ask Shioriko what she thought earlier…but I would only trouble her if I asked for evidence now.
“What’s wrong? Let me hear it.” Inoue pressed for an answer.
Shioriko’s shaking which was being transmitted through my arm had now stopped. She was waiting for my answer with bated breath. It was clear we wouldn’t get past this if I didn’t answer.
“I know for a fact that she didn’t steal it.”
“What’s with that? I asked you for evi-”
“If she really were the criminal, she wouldn’t have stopped at just one. She would have taken each and every rare book!”
I was confused by my own words the moment I said them. That wouldn’t work as a defense at all. In fact, it sounded like I was criticizing her.
Inoue, however, let out a worn out sigh.
It seemed that was actually a good enough answer for him. That was unexpected.
“But if what you’re saying is true, then it means someone else stole the book.”
“That’s why you’ll need to find the real thief before the end of the year.”
“Huh?” I was at a loss for words. That was a completely unreasonable demand.
“If you can’t find the culprit by then, I’ll go to the police and have them investigate. I’ll hold on to this book until then. It’s evidence, after all.”
Inoue picked up The Dandelion Girl up from the counter and walked out of the store before we could stop him. He didn’t even bother closing the door. Shioriko and I were left alone in the shop, which was starting to feel chillier by the second.
This had turned into quite the mess. There was no denying that the book that was stolen at the market place had showed up for sale at our shop the next day. If Inoue continued to doggedly insist that Shioriko had stolen it, the police would likely lend him an ear. Rumors would also probably start circulating about this incident, and that would impact the shop’s reputation. It hadn’t even been six months since the Tanaka Toshio incident.
That being said, there was no way we’d be able to find the criminal that quickly. We were truly between a rock and a hard place.
Shioriko had let go of my arm and was looking up at my face. Her eyes were wet and she looked like she was about to burst into tears. Was Hitori really that frightening…no, I was probably the one that hurt her feelings. I shouldn’t have said that she would have stolen all of the books if she were really the criminal.
“Um…about what I said earlier…”
“If it’s alright with you, would you come drink with me this evening?”
I couldn’t believe my ears.
After closing the store for the day, we got on the Yokosuka line and headed over to Ofuna.
I had considered taking her to a more fashionable place, but Shioriko unexpectedly requested to go to the bar that I frequented near the station. We went down the station stairs and to a chain Japanese-style bar. A bar employee loudly welcome us the moment we walked through the automatic door.
There were fortunately not many customers in tonight. It was an atmosphere where we’d be able to drink in peace.
We moved over to a table for four on the far end of the room and sat across from each other. Shioriko handed me a drink menu, and when the server came to take our order, hesitantly asked if they had any Hakkaisan available. I hadn’t expected her to start with Japanese sake right from the beginning.
“I didn’t know you drank sake.”
“Other types of alcohol are no good…I can’t handle drinks very well.”
I had never heard of someone being unable to drink anything but sake. She might not have realized it herself, but wouldn’t that make her pretty strong with liquor? I ordered a beer for myself.
Even after we made a small toast, I still couldn’t believe that we were drinking together like this. I would have never imagined this could happen until recently.
Shioriko looked down the entire time and talked even less that she usually did. I didn’t know why she invited me out to drink, but there was something I wanted to tell her while she was still sober. I set down my mug. I still hadn’t apologized for the mistake I made in the shop.
“About what happened before…”
“Umm…thank you very much for your help earlier.” She suddenly lifted her head and looked at me.
“Huh? Why are you thanking me?”
“When Hitori came by earlier, you said everything to him in my place…it was a great help. That’s why I’m treating you today.”
I was confused…it seemed she was seriously thanking me. She lifted her glass up from the masu and took a sip.
“I…need to apologize.”
“What do you mean?”
“For when I said that you would have taken all the rare books if you were really the criminal…”
“Oh, that.” She clapped her hands as if she just remembered. The edges of her eyes had started to become a little red.
“Please don’t worry about it. It’s true.”
The tables ahead of and behind us were now empty, and apart from the employees, Shioriko and I were the only people left in the bar. We talked in subdued voices just like we did in the shop, and the atmosphere didn’t feel bad.
Shioriko was more relaxed now that there was some alcohol in her system. She wasn’t the type to become more talkative as she drank, but her gestures and expressions did become grander. She was a cute drunk.
“It’s almost the new year, isn’t it?” she said said solemly and looked up at the wall. There was an informational poster attached to the wall at the end of her line of sight. All you can drink for 3500 yen. For some reason there was a rabbit drawn on the festive poster.
“I wonder why they used a rabbit…”
“That’s the zodiac symbol for next year right?”
“Ah, I see.”
It certainly was going to be the year of the rabbit next year. I hadn’t thought of that.
“Day before yesterday I saw a rabbit, and yesterday a deer, and today, you.” Shioriko smiled happily and said to herself in a singsong voice. She looked so pleased about her clever thought that it was mesmerizing.
Come to think of it, I also wanted to talk about The Dandelion Girl.
“Oh right, The Dandelion Girl…”
“You want to hear how the story continues after the protagonist separated from the girl?”
There was actually something more important we needed to discuss about the book, but now that she mentioned it, I also wanted to know how the story continued. It seemed I was fairly drunk myself.
“The protagonist’s vacation ended and he returned to his old life. However, he never forgot about the girl. He later came to learn that he was still connected to her—just not in the way he thought.”
Perhaps it was because of the alcohol, but her voice had a more relaxed tone than usual. That way of talking wasn’t bad for this kind of story.
“The girl was keeping a huge secret from the protagonist you see. It was a secret that she could not tell him no matter what, one that was powerful enough to destroy their relationship. The protagonist even doubted himself when he learned of the secret, thinking, ‘Why didn’t she tell me? Why couldn’t she be open with me after all this time?’ The story ends with the protagonist once again reunited with the girl.”
“Hmm…wait, didn’t you leave out the most important part?”
Shioriko nodded and suddenly reached into her bag on the seat next to her. She took out a copy of The Dandelion Girl wrapped in wax paper and handed it to me.
“I think it’s best if you read that part yourself. It’s a very short story…but if you find you can’t read it, I’ll tell you the story next time.”
“Were you planning on lending me this from the beginning?”
Shioriko nodded again. She must have really wanted me to read it. I silently accepted the book and put it in my inside jacket pocket so that I wouldn’t misplace it. I had to treat it with care; it was a memento of her father.
“My father must have had similar thoughts…”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, ‘why couldn’t you have told me, why couldn’t have you been more open with me…’ All the things he would have wanted to say to my mother.”
I subconsciously corrected my posture. Even under the influence of alcohol, it was surprising for Shioriko to initiate conversation about her mother.
“Did your mother also have a secret?”
“I have no doubt that she was hiding something from us…my father started reading this book over and over again after my mother disappeared. It was almost like he was searching for some sort of hint. He wasn’t someone who let his feelings show, and he became even more withdrawn after she left. Perhaps he was even more upset than we were…”
I found myself agreeing with her. It was surprisingly difficult to understand what even family members were thinking, especially if they were the type who didn’t express themselves often. I also went through a similar experience.
As if to put an end to the discussion, Shioriko picked up her glass, filled to the brim with sake, and downed it in one gulp.
“Speaking of which, how are we going to find the culprit?”
I had originally planned to ask while the shop was still open, but I didn’t get the chance to because she’d stayed in the main house talking on the phone the entire time.
“Would it be better to consult with Takino after all?”
There was no reply.
“Y…yes….?” She slurred out an answer with her head shaking unsteadily. She was already a little drunk, and draining the glass just seemed to have made her dizzy.
“Do you want me to order water?”
“No…It’s fine.” Shioriko hiccuped. She didn’t look fine to me.
“About The Dandelion Girl, it’s fine.”
Oh, she was talking about the case. But that didn’t look like it was fine either. Her pronunciation was becoming even more incomprehensible.
“I…already know who the culprit is this time.”
“Eh?” I instantly sobered up.
“Are you serious?”
“I’m serious…there are a few things I don’t understand though…*hic*.”
I really needed to get her some water. Just when I started to look for an employee, Shioriko put both her hands on the table and fell forward. She was looking right at my face, but the tips of her hair had fallen into the fried tofu bowl. I nonchalantly moved the bowl out of the way.
“The culprit should show up at the store tomorrow…I’ve already made all the arrangements. Daisuke, please make absolutely certain to be there.”
“Of course. I’ll come into work either way.”
Shioriko smiled limply. I couldn’t help but worry if she had really solved the mystery.
Takino showed up at Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia in the afternoon the next day. He walked up to the counter with his hands in the pockets of his duffel coat.
“This place is as cold as always, huh.” Rather than greet me, he commented on the temperature.
“It’s because of the wind coming through the cracks…what brings you here today?”
“Shinokawa called me yesterday. She said she had something important to discuss about the Dandelion Girl case. Do you know where she is?”
“She’s on lunch break right now.”
Shioriko hadn’t seemed different at all this morning; it was almost like all the alcohol from last night had no effect on her. Going by how confident her declaration last night sounded, I supposed she was still expecting the culprit to come to the store.
I stared at Takino’s face. What if maybe he was…no, that would be ridiculous. I was overthinking this.
“I can go get her if you want.”
The door to the main house opened and Shioriko returned just as I got up and turned around.
“Ah, Renjou…thank you for taking the time to come here.” She lowered her head.
“I took the day off from working in the store today so it’s no big deal…what was the important thing you wanted to talk about?”
“I now have a rough understanding of what happened with The Dandelion Girl…but I was wondering if I could ask you to relay everything to Hitori Bookstore afterwards.”
So that’s what it was. By all rights it would be faster to have the victim, Inoue, present, but Shioriko wasn’t comfortable with him. That’s why she wanted Takino to act as an intermediary.
“Do you really know who did it?”
“I see…alright. I’ll pass it along to Inoue then.” Takino nodded and Shioriko lightly cleared her throat.
There was no way Takino could be the culprit if she was asking him to act as a go-between. Who on earth could it be?
“When I first heard about incident, I thought it was strange. Why was The Dandelion Girl the only book that was stolen?”
“Maybe because it was valuable?” I replied.
“There were many more valuable books in that lot. Despite that, the culprit ignored all of them and took only The Dandelion Girl. That’s what made me think it might have been someone who only wanted that specific book in the first place. From there, I hypothesized about who it could be.”
“Are you saying someone in the association could have done it?” Takino asked.
Shioriko shook her head. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in the association.”
“Hm? So an outsider, then?”
“I’ll explain my reasoning after, but yes, that is what I believe. The person who stole The Dandelion Girl was someone unaffiliated with the association.”
“Wait a second, outsiders aren’t even allowed into the convention hall, and anyone who does enter has to wear a nameplate. Surely someone would have noticed if there was some stranger hanging around. We all know each other’s faces and what store everyone belongs to.”
“That doesn’t mean there are no blind spots. There was at least one shop employee whose name and face were not known. I believe the criminal impersonated that person.”
“And who would that be?” I asked.
Shioriko stared at my face. We looked at each other for a full ten seconds before I finally realized what she meant.
“You mean…they impersonated me?”
“Correct. They took one of our nameplates and snuck in with that. They could easily claim to work at Biblia to avoid suspicion if anyone tried to stop them…it doesn’t seem like anyone actually did, however.”
“Still, there would have been at least some people who’d remember him, right?” Takino was still doubtful.
“Right, and there were. Daisuke, do you remember when you met Hitori near the entrance of the convention hall?”
Rather than calling it a meeting, it was more like I was completely ignored—no, he did say one thing to me.
“You mean when I tried to put on the nameplate with the missing pin and he told me it was broken…?”
“Exactly. I thought it was strange when that happened. Why did Hitori know that one of our nameplates was broken? Not even I knew that as the store owner.”
Now that she mentioned it, all the nameplates were neatly lined up on the shelf. He shouldn’t have had the chance to flip over all of the other stores’ nameplates.
“That man often hangs around the smoking area. Perhaps he happened to catch sight of someone going into the building and looking confused after picking up one of our nameplates.”
“But why wouldn’t he have stopped them if they were going into the building empty handed?” Takino crossed his arms.
“Because there’s no way to tell if someone is an association member until they put on a nameplate right?”
“What if I told you they weren’t empty handed?”
“I believe the books that Biblia allegedly put up for sale at the marketplace…were brought in by that person.” Shioriko continued.
“If they pretended to be working at an affiliated store bringing books to the market, they would have had a much easier time entering the convention hall without standing out.
“Let’s think about it in chronological order. Renjou brought the books to sell at the market on Saturday. On Sunday, Hitori put in his bid. Shortly after, the culprit infiltrated the convention with his own set of books. After registering the books for sale under Biblia’s name, they stole The Dandelion Girl. There were comparatively fewer people there that day, so they certainly had the opportunity to do it.”
That made sense to me. Inoue put in his bids after he put his own books up for sale. There wouldn’t be anything strange about someone wandering around the convention hall.
“Wait. Assuming this is true, how did this person learn how to fill out the registration form then? Just who are they, really?” said Takino.
Shioriko turned to look at me.
“Daisuke, could you bring out the hardcover books we were left with from under the desk? Just the ones closest to you are fine.”
“Ah, of course.”
I poked my head under the desk and pulled out just one of the bundles. I put them all face up on the floor so that the other two could see the covers clearly.
“There’s a high chance that the criminal already owned the books they put up for sale. If you look carefully, you’ll see that there are quite a few books related to the antiquarian book trade among them. There’s Akayami Masami’s The Art of Antiquarian Books, Iwao Junichirou’s Registry of out of Print Books, and Shida Saburou’s Introduction to Used Books in Your Town…”
“Couldn’t it be that he’s just an antiquarian book maniac?” That would make sense for someone who would steal an out of print book.
But it seemed Shioriko was trying to point out something else.
“Please take a good look at this.” She pointed to the cover of Introduction to Used Books in Your Town.
It was a bit faded, but I could make out the subtitle if I looked carefully. A Must Read Guide for Buying, Selling, and Doing Business.
“Maybe they worked at a secondhand bookstore.”
“That possibility does exist since this book is known as a business manual in the industry. Renjou, do you know of it?”
“Yeah, I read it a really long time ago. It’s a bit outdated now, but I think it’s a good book”
“If we also consider that they knew a lot about the system used at the convention, then we can conclude that the culprit may have worked at a bookstore affiliated with the Kanagawa vintage books association at one point. Judging by the publication date and how faded the book is, it would have been about ten years ago.”
“You…you can do the same thing your mother used to…”
Shioriko’s expression clouded at Takino’s awestruck comment. Being able to tell an owner’s characteristics by looking at the books they owned was said to be Shinokawa Chieko’s special ability.
“No, I’m not that…”
Takino must have realized that bringing up her mother was a mistake. He continued talking to smooth over the uncomfortable silence.
“Everything you said so far makes sense, but it’s still just a theory. Just because we know it was some outsider doesn’t mean we’re any closer to knowing who the culprit is exactly.”
I had the same opinion. Going by her logic, the pool of suspects had grown even wider.
“That’s how it seems right now…but let me continue. When the culprit entered the convention hall, there were a few things they absolutely had to have known.” Shioriko said that and lifted one finger.
“The first was that Biblia would not be attending the convention that day. The culprit would need to bring in their books, register them for sale, find the book they were looking for, and steal it. Doing all that would take quite a lot of time. If a real Biblia employee showed up halfway, everything would fall apart.
“The second was that they knew we had an employee who had never been to the marketplace. If you combine both of those points with the fact that the criminal was obsessed with The Dandelion Girl, only one person comes to mind.”
I thought about it for a bit, but couldn’t think of anyone.
“…meaning someone like that exists?” I asked her. “We decided not to bring anything to the market on Sunday morning, right? There shouldn’t be anyone besides us who could have known that.”
“No, there is one more person.”
“But we were the only ones here in the…” I went silent. Was that really true?
As I was tracing back my memories, the glass door suddenly opened and a man walked into the shop. It was the customer in the down jacket who had purchased two paperbacks before. It might have been just the harsh cold, but he seemed pale.
I suddenly realized it when I greeted the customer. That was right—this man was also in the shop that day.
“Sure enough, he’s here.” Shioriko turned to the customer and began speaking.
“The person who stole The Dandelion Girl from the used books exchange convention…it’s you, isn’t it?”
The man took a paper bag out of the pocket of his down jacket and set it on the table. I opened the bag and took out The Dandelion Girl, wrapped in wax paper.
“I’m very sorry.” He deeply bowed his head and apologized with a voice that didn’t quite suit his large body. Our ages were different but his build did resemble mine.
“Did you ask him to come?” Takino asked Shioriko.
“Yes. Remember when I asked you to give me the contact information for the person who sold you the out of print books on the phone yesterday? I called and left them a message—please bring The Dandelion Girl to Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia.”
“Huh? But the person who sold it to me was a woman.”
“And this man is that woman’s ex-husband…am I wrong?”
Come to think of it, Takino did say that she had gotten a divorce and was getting rid of the books since she was moving out…meaning that the ex-husband was the one who remained in their old home.
“How did you know that I was her husband…?” The man raised his head and asked. “I’ve been coming to this shop for a long time, but don’t think I’ve ever spoken to you.”
“I only learned about it recently myself. I realized when I saw the books that you brought to the convention.”
Shioriko crouched down and indicated towards the farthest book among the ones lined up on the floor. It was right next to The Art of Antiquarian Books and was titled Guide to Engagement Gifts and Marriage Customs. It was certainly a book that only someone getting married would have purchased.
“Which used bookstore did you work at before?”
The man’s shoulders shook. Perhaps he saw that there was no longer any point in hiding things. He cast his eyes down like he was making a confession.
“I started working at an old bookstore in Ofuna right after I graduated from high school. They mostly focused on manga and paperbacks, but occasionally dealt with out of production CDs and videos as well.”
“I’ve been there before…”
“Ah, I know it. It was on the first floor in the building along the Kashio River. It went out of business about three years ago I think.”
Shioriko and Takino reacted immediately. I was the only one who did not know it even though it was in my hometown.
“That shop was also where I met my wife. She worked part time there and also really liked books. Both of us collected lots of mystery and science fiction novels, and through the course of exchanging books, we naturally ended up dating. Our married life also went well for some years.”
The man spoke with a faraway look in his eyes. It seemed to be a relationship that started from having interests in common.
“Things started becoming strained after the bookstore shut down. The two of us had different qualifications and started working at different jobs. I continued collecting books as always, but she lost interest. As the number of books I had increased, little by little, so did our arguments. The books probably weren’t the only thing causing them, but sometimes I wondered…what if the shop hadn’t gone out of business like that?”
The man sighed once and turned towards Shioriko.
“How did you know where I used to work?”
“I got the feeling that you might have had experience working in a bookstore or library when you were here the other day.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you asked, ‘are there any plans to replenish stock after this’. There aren’t many people outside of the industry who would have phrased it like that.”
“Ah…” The man let out in a low voice.
Come to think of it, I didn’t know that phrase until I started working at the store either. I guess that was to be expected though, since I had never worked in a bookstore before then.
“That’s when I also figured out that you had a fixation on The Dandelion Girl. If we had the Cobalt version of the book, you likely would have bought that too.”
“You had it all figured out back then it seems…” The man seemed to have understood her explanation. I still didn’t get it, so Shioriko began to explain.
“The two books he bought that day were Annual SF Masterpieces 2, published by Sogen Mystery Bunko, and Strange Tales, published by Bunshun Bunko. Both of them contain Robert F. Young’s The Dandelion Girl. I do not think that was just a coincidence.”
“You mean the story can be found in other books?”
“Yes, but they’re all out of print. The Cobalt version, which has the title of the book on its cover, is the rarest of them all.”
I finally understood why she put up her own copy of the book for sale. She did it with the expectation that this customer would buy it the next time he came to the shop. It wasn’t just a coincidence after all.
“This book belonged to my wife…but it was my favorite.” The man had a lonely smile as he looked at it.
“When I found out that this was one of the books that my wife sold, I was completely blindsided by that…why couldn’t she have just given it to me instead of selling it? I called the store that she sold it to in a panic. I said I wanted to buy it at any cost, but was told that it had just been taken to the market.”
“Ah—that was my mother, I bet.” Takino scratched his head. “I usually ask her to watch the shop when I go to the market.”
“At first, I wanted to give up since there was nothing else I could do. I came here thinking I’d be able to buy myself another copy. I thought it would surely be in stock at Biblia…but in the end, I couldn’t find it here either.”
Something suddenly occurred to me and I opened the copy of The Dandelion Girl that the man brought in. On an old label attached to the last page was the name of the shop, Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. This book had originally been purchased here.
“I ended up buying other books that had the story printed in them, but reading those didn’t bring me any satisfaction. The one book I really needed was the one that my wife had…nothing else would work. That’s when I remembered the conversation I heard between you two in this shop. Maybe I’d be able to take the book back if I skillfully sneaked into the marketplace.”
“You say take the book back, but it wasn’t even yours to begin with.” Takino commented with an amazed expression. “Why would you go so far for a book that originally belonged to your wife?”
“I gave this book to my wife when we first got married. Along with a ring.”
No one said anything for a while.
I finally understood the reason why he so easily came to the store to return the book he’d gone to such great lengths to steal. He must not have found great satisfaction in taking back the book that was a memento of his marriage. What this man had wanted to take back was probably more than just the book.
“I bought The Dandelion Girl from Biblia ten years ago…your mother was the one who recommended it to me.”
“Eh?” Shioriko’s eyes went wide. “Was it really my mother that recommended it, not my father?”
“Yes, I told her that I was looking for a book for my fiancée and she told me The Dandelion Girl would be good. She told me she also gave this book to her husband when she got married.”
I remembered what Shioriko told me at the bar last night. After his wife left, her father read the book he received from her when they got married over and over again. I didn’t think he would do something like that because he was angry at her. He must have been reading it because he yearned for the times when she was still around.
“But our story wasn’t nearly as happy in the end…”
The man who had come in to return the book muttered softly.
It didn’t even take me a single night to finish reading The Dandelion Girl. There were a few times I felt dizzy reading it, but ultimately I was glad I did. It was no surprise to me that a mother and daughter had unknowingly both recommended the same book to two different people.
Shioriko had said nothing at all about The Dandelion Girl since the day the culprit visited. She was clearly giving off signals that she wanted to avoid the subject. She must have had complicated feelings now that she knew it was a book her mother had originally given to her father.
It had first passed from her mother to her father, and then from her father to his daughter. Now I was in possession of it. It didn’t seem like she was going to ask for it back for the time being, so I was going to have to keep holding on to it for a while.
In any event, he got the definite impression that she had somehow stepped out of the past and into the present…
For some reason, I couldn’t get that line from of the book’s opening lines out of my head. It wouldn’t be strange, for example, for someone to get that impression if they met a girl whose appearance strikingly resembled her mother’s, many years ago. If they were both just beautiful, it might evoke a nostalgic feeling and nothing else. But if the mother was someone to be terrified of, then perhaps the daughter would also evoke that feeling of terror.
I paid a visit to Hitori Bookstore the next evening. The building vaguely resembled Biblia and was situated right next to a local library. There were no other customers in the shop when I entered. The white-haired shop owner, putting a paperback into the shelf, glanced at me.
“What’re you here for?”
The Dandelion Girl was displayed on the shelf so that the cover could be seen.
“Is that the book from before?”
Inoue did not reply. Takino had taken the culprit to the police station yesterday, and the stolen book was returned to this store. He later told me that since the man returned the stolen item of his own accord and deeply regretted his actions, he would likely get away with only light punishment.
“I’d rather not chat with you here. If you don’t need anything from me, get out.”
“Could you return the book that you took from our shop?”
The case this time involved three different copies of The Dandelion Girl. The first one was the copy that was originally purchased at Biblia, then sold to Takino Books, and had finally found its way here. The second was the one Shioriko got from her father, which was now in my possession. The third was the one that Shioriko bought for herself, and that was the one Inoue took from our shop.
Inoue walked past me and went behind the counter near the door. The cash register in this store was right next to the entrance.
“Here, take it.”
He handed over the book, which was wrapped in wax paper. He didn’t apologize for suspecting Shioriko.
“…by the way, where did you learn my name?”
I asked him while accepting the book and Inoue froze. I still hadn’t figured out the answer to that question. There weren’t any other customers in the store, but Inoue still looked around before leaning closer to me.
“Have you ever met Shinokawa Chieko?”
“You’ve never talked to her over the phone or sent her any mail either?”
“Right.” I was confused, but nodded my head. “I thought no one knew where she was. She hasn’t even contacted her family for the past ten years…”
“Hah.” Inoue snorted as if that were ridiculous. “Do you really believe that story?”
“…what do you mean?”
“That girl you work for, she’s always been in touch with her mother. The fact that she hasn’t heard from her is just an act.”
“Huh? No way that’s true. It’s impossible.” I decisively denied it. I didn’t know what happened between him and Shinokawa Chieko in the past, but this was bordering on delusion. I had been by Shioriko’s side long enough to know for sure if here words and actions were all an act.
“You think?” Inoue reached under the counter, pulled out a small white card, and handed it to me.
It didn’t look like he was going to offer an explanation, so I took a look at the card he gave me. It was a Christmas card made of thick Japanese paper folded in two. I flipped the card over and looked at the sender’s name.
“I don’t like that woman, but we are more or less old acquaintances. I get letters like this from her every once in a while.”
“But not even…her family…”
“That’s why I’m saying you’re being lied to. Read the rest.”
I hesitantly opened the card. There was a faded image of a church like building printed on it. On the bottom half of the card was a short message written in blue ink. It was frightening how similar it was to Shioriko’s handwriting.
To Inoue Taichirou,
It must be cold over there.
Please stop scaring my daughter every time you see her.
Same goes for Goura Daisuke who’s working there now.
He seems like a good kid, so try to get along with him.
I heard he couldn’t read books though.
A shiver ran down my spine. How did she know my name—no, anyone could find that out with a little research. More importantly, how did she know about my condition? That wasn’t something I told just anyone. The only people who knew were my family and relatives, longtime friends—and Shioriko.
There’s no way.
This was supposed to be completely impossible.
“It’s best for you to keep your guard up around that mother and daughter.” Inoue whispered in a low voice as if he were afraid of someone overhearing.
“You’re done for if they ever latch on to your weakness. That’s my warning to you.”