Chapter 1: Demon of the Lonely Isle
I returned to Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia early the next morning, the day after Shinokawa Chieko’s appearance.
More precisely, I went to the second floor of the main house to help the store owner, Shioriko, bundle books and move them out. It wasn’t much different from what I normally did at work, but this was a personal request from her.
The second floor where Shioriko lived was made up of two attached Japanese style rooms. It came as no surprise for such an extraordinary bookworm to have every which corner filled with books.
“Did you check the caller history on the phone?” Shioriko asked from the other room.
Her voice sounded similar to her mother’s, which I’d heard only yesterday. I was still organizing her books and had just finished telling her about yesterday’s events.
“Ah, I did. She called from a private number though.”
I answered while binding a stack of hardcover books in their slipcases. On the floor, the variously-colored spines from the Compendium of World Fantasy Literature were eye-catching.
The caller history was the first thing I checked the moment Shinokawa Chieko hung up. She must have registered a private phone number beforehand because she didn’t want her daughters to contact her. That way she could “stop by again” whenever she wanted. It was a pretty selfish thing to do.
“…My guess is that she’s returned to take care of antiquarian book related business.”
“Is that so?” I turned around despite myself.
Shioriko was sitting on the floor with her back turned to me. I could see her stocking-covered ankles peeking out from under her long, checkered skirt. She was also wearing a knitted cardigan, perhaps to protect herself from the remaining chill.
“It’s because I know she loves this line of work. It seems like she keeps in touch with people in the industry as well.”
A certain Christmas card surfaced into my memory when Shioriko said that. We learned about a message that Shinokawa Chieko had sent to the owner of a bookshop called Hitori Bookstore at the end of last year. He considered her an enemy and completely ignored the letter, but it was not out of the question for Chieko to have had friendlier exchanges with other people.
“Why do you think she came back now?” She said it was for work, but I wasn’t convinced that was all there was to it.
“If she said it was for work, then that’s probably what it was.” Shioriko answered matter-of-factly. “There have supposedly been times where antiquarian book enthusiasts let go of their personal collections after large scale earthquakes. In fact, they say that there was a sharp increase in the number of books up for sale on the marketplace following the Great Hanshin Earthquake sixteen years ago. I can’t say how things will go this time, but I imagine she returned with the expectation of getting ahold of a large quantity of books.”
So that’s what she meant by “it was that kind of time.” Shinokawa Chieko was a worse person than I thought. It was like she didn’t see the earthquake as anything but a business opportunity.
“Let’s continue…there isn’t much time left.”
At Shioriko’s suggestion I got back to work. I took the bound copies of Compendium of World Fantasy Literature and carried them out to the hallway. The familiar creaking of the floorboards caused me to check under my feet almost unconsciously. It might have been my imagination, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the second floor was somehow sitting at an angle.
Shioriko and I were spending time these days moving books away from the second floor. The root cause was, of course, the recent earthquake. It wasn’t just the shop that was affected; a number of bookshelves on the second floor had been toppled as well. For a while there was hardly any place to stand because of all the scattered books.
We didn’t start organizing seriously until after the shop reopened, but the large cracks that that had appeared on the walls only complicated things further. Shioriko asked a construction acquaintance to take a look, and the recommendation was that in addition to repairs, it was good idea to reinforce the walls and floor to make them more earthquake resistant, especially if there was to be a large quantity of books stored on the second floor. Shioriko agreed to have the second floor repaired and reinforced shortly after.
Due to that, we now had to move Shioriko’s belongings away from the second floor. We were taking this opportunity to organize her collection a little and to get rid of any duplicate books. I arrived every morning before the shop opened to follow her instructions on which books to bundle and move down to the first floor. This wasn’t part of my job since I didn’t get paid. I was just helping out.
I carried the books downstairs and dropped them off in our new makeshift storeroom. Just as I was about to go back upstairs, I heard someone call my name.
A short girl wearing a white hoodie and wrinkled track pants stood in the hallway. She was clearly spending the day relaxing at home. Her hair which she had tied in a ponytail had grown quite a bit in the past six months.
“Good morning, Ayaka.” I greeted her. This was my first time seeing her today.
“Ahh, sorry, Goura.”
“Umm, sorry about what?”
“You know what I mean. You’ve been helping out every day, right? I don’t even know anything about Shioriko’s books. Are you already done organizing them?”
I could tell that Ayaka’s relationship with her sister was still strained by the way she spoke. She would have normally gone upstairs to see for herself.
“No…we’ve still got about half left.”
“Haven’t you been working at this for a while…?” Ayaka seemed puzzled.
“Well…there’s a lot to move.”
I left her with that and went back upstairs. While Shioriko and I were both involved in organizing her personal library, it was true that we weren’t making fast progress.
Shioriko was still sitting in the same position when I got back. I took a look around the room again. There was one bed, one closet, and one desk, but every other piece of furniture was a bookshelf. The scattered books had for the most part been carried out, and now every part of the room was at least visible.
There was a closet behind a sliding door that had been hidden until now, which was naturally stuffed with books. It was now time to organize those. Shioriko should have already finished sorting out which books to dispose of and which books to kee—
“Su—su—su, susu—, su—”
I heard something that wasn’t quite breathing, and wasn’t quite whispering either. She was probably trying to whistle. It was a habit of hers when she was really engrossed in something.
Again? I sighed.
I stretched and peeked over her shoulder and sure enough, she was reading a book open on her lap.
“What book is that?”
Shioriko suddenly turned around and shook the book back and forth near her chest. A smile played on her cherry blossom colored lips, and her dark eyes shined behind her glasses. Her slightly flushed skin made my heart skip a beat.
“It’s Kobayashi Nobuhiko’s Winter Myth! I lost it before and I’ve been looking for it ever since.”
I asked her what the book was about like I always did. I liked hearing about books and she never stopped talking about them.
“It’s a novel published in 1966 which chronicles the author’s experiences as a schoolboy during the mass evacuations during the war. The author, who acts as the class president for a group ruled by treachery and violence, is driven into a corner and…ah”
Shioriko suddenly came back to her senses. I snapped back to reality as well, just as I was about to get pulled into the story. She made herself small and shut her eyes tight.
“Thinking about how I found it after so long makes me so……umm please put this with the books we’ll hold on to…”
She handed the book over to me with both hands. I might have been seeing things, but she seemed to regret letting the book go.
This was the real reason it was taking so long to organize everything—Shioriko kept getting engrossed in her books. She was normally able to quickly categorize large quantities of books purchased from other people’s libraries, but evidently that didn’t apply nearly as well to her own collection.
“I’m sorry. I must be inconveniencing you…”
“Don’t worry about it. We can take our time with this.”
I took Winter Myth and put it at the top of the mountain of post-war literature. She really didn’t have anything to apologize for. Just spending time with her doing things like this was enough to make me happy. Unlike when we were in the shop, there were no customers to interrupt us here. It truly was just the two of us.
I was so happy that I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Shioriko had stopped working and was now looking up at me. I couldn’t calm down with her eyes focused on all of my movements.
“Is something the matter?”
Her gaze fell to her knees for some reason after she said my name. She fidgeted and put the tips of her fingers together. Neither of us said anything. Then the doorbell at the entrance of the main house rang downstairs; it seemed someone had come to visit.
“Daisuke, you’ve already done so much for me and…umm…later…”
My mouth vacantly fell open. Was it just me, or did it sound like she was inviting me on a date? Of course she probably wouldn’t consider it a date but—but what exactly did she want to tell me?
Bam bam bam, we heard noisy footsteps running up the stairs. Shioriko stopped talking and perplexedly looked towards the hall in confusion. She looked a little upset about the interruption.
“Shioriko!” An unusually flustered Shinokawa Ayaka appeared at the door.
“Right now, at the entrance…Mom!” She then took a deep breath.
Shioriko and I were frozen in place. Was her mother really returning so soon after our conversation yesterday?
However, Ayaka’s next words were entirely unexpected.
“There’s someone here who came with a request for Mom. I told her she wasn’t here, so now they want to talk to someone who knows a lot about books.”
I returned downstairs to start cleaning up the shop.
Shioriko was in the main house living room talking to the guest. There wasn’t anything left for me to do on the second floor, so I decided to get the shop ready for the day.
Since this guest had gone out of their way to ask for Shinokawa Chieko, it likely wasn’t an ordinary antiquarian book related request. It felt similar to—or perhaps might even more troublesome than the request we got last month to take back a stolen copy of Miyazawa Kenji’s Spring and Asura.
Maybe this is related to what happened yesterday…
I bounced those thoughts around in my head and was dusting off the bookshelves when I faintly heard the door to the main house being shut. It seemed the visitor was returning home. It wasn’t quite time to open the shop, but I pulled back the curtains to the glass door to take a look. The visitor was likely going to pass the front of the shop if they were leaving from the entrance of the main house.
I waited for a short while, and soon enough, a plump, middle aged woman wearing a cheap fleece jacket and holding a lace handbag came into view. She looked to be in her fifties and wasn’t someone I recognized. After a brief glance in my direction, she went on her way at a brisk pace.
That left me a little puzzled. I would have expected her to peek into the store if she had an interest in books. Maybe she wasn’t a book enthusiast.
The door leading to the main house opened and Shioriko appeared with her cane. She seemed troubled and was frowning slightly.
“What did she want to take about?”
At my question, Shioriko tilted her head with the same expression on her face.
“…It was a special consultation request concerning a rare book. She said I’d hear the rest when I meet the client directly, but for now all I know is that she wants someone knowledgeable about books to visit her.”
“Huh…When you meet the client directly…who was the person just now then?”
“She was an intermediary. Apparently, the actual client is our visitor’s older sister.” Shioriko answered while searching for something behind the counter.
I see. So the woman from earlier was just here to pass on a message.
“Why couldn’t the client herself come?”
“I was told she was injured by a collapsing bookshelf during the earthquake last month.”
That sounded a little fishy to me. Even if she couldn’t leave her house, she should have at least been able to call the shop. Why did she go out of her way to send an intermediary?
“Did you get the client’s name?”
“It’s Kishiro Keiko…”
I searched through my memories, but that was a name I had never heard before.
“Is she one of our customers?”
“I don’t know her personally, but I was told she often made purchases through the mail order circular in the past. Her house is in Yukinoshita.”
That was a shock. The person who managed the mail order circular in the past was none other than Shinokawa Chieko. Before internet sales became more common, mail orders were done by sending customers a list of available merchandise. They could place orders by phone or by postcard. It was kind of like ordering from a catalog.
Of course there were still shops that sent out circulars, but Biblia hadn’t sent any out for several years at this point.
“She must have visited the shop often, then.”
Yukinoshita was the name of a place in Kamakura. It was in the same district as the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine.
“It’s possible…there were plenty of customers that only used the circular to make orders…ah, here it is.”
Shioriko took a thick, black leather notebook from out of the drawer.
“What is that?”
I peeked from the other side of the counter and noticed that it looked just like an account book. The book was fairly old and the corners were completely peeled away.
“It’s a registry of customers that the shop used a long time ago. Now all of that is stored on a computer database, but before that, everything was documented here.”
Shioriko explained as she flipped through the pages of the registry. The addresses and customer names were written in smaller characters than I would have expected. The pages were pre-organized in alphabetical order, but there were still visible blank spaces here and there, likely so they could be filled in later. There were also many entries that were crossed out—perhaps those were people who had moved to some unknown location or had passed away.
Shioriko turned to the page for names starting with ki and traced down the list with her finger. However, there wasn’t a Kishiro to be found.
She turned back the page and checked through the names again.
“What if she changed her maiden name after getting married.”
“Doubtful… I believe she was unmarried. She’s been living alone her entire adult life according to her sister. It was only last month when she got injured that her sister moved in to help arou…ah.”
“What is it?”
“Here. Look at this please.” Shioriko was pointing to an entry on the previous page for names that started with ka.
Kayama Akira—the address was in Yukinoshita 6 Chome. After the address number was written, “care of Kishiro Keiko.”
“This must be her.”
“Who’s this Kayama person?”
“It’s my first time seeing this name too. Assuming the registry is correct, probably lived in Kishima’s house.”
“But I thought she had always lived alone, right?”
“It could just be that her younger sister didn’t know about it…”
Even still, something felt off. Why would a customer who often purchased books through the circular not have her name properly recorded in the register?
“This is my mother’s handwriting. She was the one who wrote both the address and the name.”
We both fell silent.
There really was something strange going on. The details of this request were unclear, the existence of this person named Kayama was a riddle—and somehow, it seemed Shinokawa Chieko had a part in this behind the scenes.
“Do you think this request has some relation to your mother’s return?” I asked Shioriko.
“I can’t say for sure yet. The timing is certainly convenient, and given the keen nose she has for antiquarian book related things…it might not be just a coincidence.”
“Are you going to meet the client?”
“I will.” Shioriko’s answer was unexpectedly decisive.
“If my mother is trying to do something, then I can’t afford to remain idle. I agreed to visit Kishiro Keiko tomorrow afternoon.”
That seemed like a wise decision to me. Shinokawa Chieko was the type of person who would even resort to blackmail to get the books she wanted. I had only met her yesterday, but could understand Shioriko’s apprehension.
“And with that, um…Daisuke, and this is only if it’s convenient for you…” Shioriko looked at the ground and spoke hesitantly.
I knew what she wanted to say.
“Ah, I’ll go with you of course. Since we’ll be driving.”
“That’s what I planned to do from the start. I’m off tomorrow and don’t have any plans or anything.”
“I appreciate it. Next time I’ll thank you properly…I promise.”
Her confidential tone made me swallow nervously. She was saying something similar earlier when we were on the second floor, but what did that mean exactly? There seemed to be something she resolved to tell me. Perhaps this was something to look forward to.
My voice came out in a falsetto and I reflexively cleared my throat. It was hard for me to even ask how she planned to thank me. For now I’d have to save that for after I had “calmed down in various ways”.
“Also, what was that about a special consultation? Did the client’s younger sister say anything about it?”
“There wasn’t anything particularly…concrete, but I was told the author is involved in this request”
“And who was that?”
Shioriko suddenly got a faraway look in her eyes. This must have been an author she was fond of.
“It was Ranpo.”
I repeated what she said to me despite myself. That was a name even I had heard of before.
“Yes.” She nodded.
“It was Edogawa Ranpo.”