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 phone’s call history?” 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. The brightly colored spines of the Compendium of World Fantasy Literature on the floor stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the room.
The caller history was the first thing I checked after Shinokawa Chieko hung up. However, the number she called from was hidden, so I had no idea where she called from. She must have registered it as private beforehand to stop daughters from contacting 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.”
“Oh really?” I found myself turning to look at Shioriko.
She 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. She apparently keeps in touch with people in the industry as well.”
A certain Christmas card surfaced into my memory when Shioriko said that. We had learned about a message that Shinokawa Chieko had sent to the owner of Hitori Bookstore late last year. Hitori considered her an enemy and completely ignored the letter, but it was certainly possible that Chieko kept 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 get back to work…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 builder 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. This was especially important if she wanted to store a large number of books on the second floor. Shioriko agreed to have it repaired and reinforced shortly after.
That was the reason 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 downstairs. 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 know anything about Shioriko’s books. Are you already done with everything?”
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 it 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. Natrually, it was filled to the brim with 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. It was the sound Shioriko made when she tried to whistle, a habit of hers when she got really engrossed in something.
Again? I sighed.
I stretched and peeked over her shoulder and sure enough, there was an open book on her lap.
“What 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 knew she loved to to talk about them.
“It’s a 1966 novel that 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 on the pile books to keep…”
She handed the book over to me with both hands. I might have been my imagination, but she seemed unhappy about letting the book go.
This was the real reason it was taking so long to organize everything—Shioriko kept getting occupied with her books. She was normally able to quickly categorize large collections purchased from other people’s libraries, but evidently that didn’t apply nearly as well to her own.
“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 now that her eyes were 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.
Suddenly 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 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 looked towards the hall in confusion. She seemed 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 a book expert.”
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 things 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 was bouncing those thoughts around in my head as I dusted off the bookshelves when I faintly heard the door to the main house being shut. That was probably the visitor 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. They were likely going to pass the front of the shop if they left from the entrance of the main house.
I waited for a short while, and soon enough, a plump, middle aged woman with a cheap fleece jacket and 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 had a slight frown on her face and seemed troubled about something.
“What did she want to talk about?”
At my question, Shioriko tilted her head with the same expression on her face.
“…It was a special consultation about a rare book. She said I’d hear the rest when I meet the client directly, but all I know now is that she wants a book expert 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 surprise. 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 now.
“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 saw that it looked just like an account book. It was fairly old and the corners were completely peeled away.
“This a registry of customers that the shop used a long time ago. Now all of that is stored on a computer database, but everything used to be 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 was written, “care of Kishiro Keiko.”
“This must be her.”
“Then who’s this Kayama person?”
“It’s my first time seeing this name too. Assuming the registry is correct, probably lived in Kishiro’s house.”
“But she’s 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 made frequent orders 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 some involvement in this.
“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 greatly appreciate it. Next time I’ll thank you properly…I promise.”
Her confidential tone made me swallow nervously. She had said 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. Maybe this was something to look forward to…
My voice came out high pitched 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. That was a name even I had heard of before.
“Yes.” Shioriko nodded.
The sun was out and bright the next day, and things warmed up before long.
The cherry trees in front of the Kita-Kamakura station temporary ticket gates had already begun to bloom. I took advantage of the break in tourists crossing the street from the train station to drive the van through the intersection, passing underneath the flowers and red cherry blossom buds.
We were currently on our way to Kishiro Keiko’s residence.
“Daisuke, do you know about Edogawa Ranpo?” Shioriko asked me from the passenger seat in a tone that suggested she just remembered something.
“I haven’t read any of his works…but I do know the name at least.” Truthfully, I felt irritated by my own answer.
Due to a traumatic incident when I was a child, I had a strange “condition” which made me unable to read text for very long. Despite that, I still held an above average interest in reading. In fact, part of the reason I had become close to Shioriko was because I always listened to her talk about books.
I had meant to ask about Edogawa Ranpo yesterday, but a number of customers had come one after another to buy and sell books, which left us little time to discuss the subject.
“If I’m remembering correctly, he wrote the Boy Detectives Club series, right?”
I was part of the library staff back in elementary school and always saw books pass through my hands as people checked them in and out. Each volume had a group of boys along with some bizarre fiend drawn on the cover. The creepy, smiling yellow mask printed on the spines also made them recognizable from a distance when they were lined up on a bookshelf.
“I think it was the series with the Fiend with Twenty Faces…”
“Correct”, Shioriko nodded. “The usual pattern was that the Fiend with Twenty Faces, who didn’t like resorting to violence, would use skilled disguises to steal valuable works of art. The Boy Detectives Club, along with the famous detective Akechi Kogoro, would face him and put a stop to his plans. Ranpo aimed to have something like Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin mysteries, but for an audience of young boys.”
“I’m pretty sure that series had a lot of books too.”
There had to be enough to fill at least one row on a bookshelf. Besides the Fiend with Twenty Faces, I vaguely remembered invisible men and even aliens showing up in some of the books. However, they all had more or less the same type of story according to my classmates who had read all the books.
“You’re right. There was a time when publication was suspended, but the first volume The Fiend with Twenty Faces was published in the eleventh year of the Showa era and continued until Showa 25. Most of the books that Ranpo wrote in his later years belonged to this seri…”
“Hm? Wait a second. When did you say the series began?” I unintentionally cut Shioriko off.
The van had just finished climbing Kamakura’s hilly central road, and we were now gently going down the slope.
“…In Showa 11, or 1936. The same year as the February 26th Incident.”
I knew the series was old, but hadn’t expected it to be that old. The generation that read the books as they were released would have probably been even older than my grandparents.
“It’s true. To put it another way, the first volume was published about 75 years ago.”
“I bet not even regular readers would know the series was that old.”
“Probably. There were efforts made to change the design and titles to keep apace with the times. Sometimes even parts of the stories where chanced to lessen any sense of incongruity that readers might feel. But I believe the series just has a universal appeal that transcends any time period.”
There were indeed many boys who read the books in the library when I was in elementary school. The concept of a boys only detective club had a certain appeal to it, and were it not for my “condition”, I probably would have read them too.
“Did this Akechi Kogoro appear in any other books?” I asked with my hands still on the wheel.
If you were to discuss Japan’s most famous great detectives, Akechi Kogoro and Kindaichi Kosuke would top the list. It might have been in a drama or something, but I kind of remembered seeing Akechi facing off against a beautiful woman wearing black in an attic somewhere.
“Of course. Akechi Kogoro’s first appearance was actually long before The Fiend with Twenty Faces, it was in The D-slope Murder Case published in Taisho 14, or 1925.”
“Ah, I think I’ve heard of that one before.”
It probably got stuck in my head because of the letter ‘D’ in the title, but I had no idea it was based on an Edogawa Ranpo novel.
“And come to think of it, which era did Ranpo belong to anyway?”
“Well, he was born in Meiji 27, that is 1895, and passed away in Showa 40, or 1965. He made his debut in Taisho 11 at 23 years old.” Shioriko answered right on the spot.
The fact that she had all these dates memorized was another one of her amazing qualities. I wondered what went on in her head sometimes.
“In the final years of the Taisho era, mystery novels, or detective stories, as they were called back then, were not recognized as an established genre. In fact, before Ranpo, there were next to no authors who mainly focused on writing mysteries.
“At the time of his debut, Ranpo wrote as a so-called “classical” author, and published short story mysteries which placed a heavy focus on logical deduction.
“The stories he wrote differed greatly from those of the time, but in the world of mystery novels—detective stories—Ranpo was and continues to be an important existence. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the footsteps of Ranpo and those that followed him made the history of the genre in Japan.”
Shioriko paused to take a breath.
We were now stopped at the intersection in front of Tsurugaoka Hachimangū shrine. A group of foreign looking tourists crossed the street to pass under the San no Torii the moment the traffic light in front of us turned red. To our right was Wakamiya Oji avenue, at the center of which extended a stone path called the Dankazura that lead to the shrine. The cherry trees flanking the pathway were on the cusp of blooming and were truly a sight to behold.
“It’s beautiful…” Shioriko muttered to herself as she leaned forward in the passenger seat.
“Makes you want to go somewhere, doesn’t it?”
“It really does, especially with this lovely weather.”
A surprisingly positive response. I suddenly remembered what Shioriko had said about “thanking” me earlier. If we kept up this kind of mood, maybe I’d get the chance to invite her somewhere after work was over. Ah, but there was no telling what kind of reaction I’d get since this was Shioriko we were talking about.
“…Daisuke.” Shioriko was pointing to the windshield. The light had turned green without me noticing. I pulled myself together and stepped on the accelerator.
“…Going back to what we were talking about earlier,” Shioriko continued nonchalantly. “We also have something of a link to Ranpo, you know.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. She had my full attention now that we were talking about books.
“Ranpo managed a secondhand bookstore before his debut.”
I suddenly felt a sense of closeness with the Meiji era author. He must have carried around bundles of books like I did too.
“Ranpo actually went through a number of different jobs before he debuted as an author. It was only briefly, but he managed a bookstore on Dango Slope in Sendagi, Tokyo…the book The D-slope Murder Case was influenced by his experiences there. It’s a sealed room murder mystery set in a bookstore.”
So the D-Slope in the title was actually Dango Slope. I wanted to ask about what kind of sealed room mystery could happen in a bookstore, but unfortunately, there was no time for that. We had arrived at our destination.
“Looks like this is the place,” I announced, and parked the van next to the bamboo fence.
The address we were given had led to this house. The view was obstructed by the dense thicket of bamboo growing on the grounds, but a tiled roof could be seen between the leaves. It was located in a corner of a residential neighborhood just off the prefectural road. Despite being just a stone’s throw away from Hachiman shrine, there were hardly any pedestrians.
Shioriko and I stepped out of the van and followed the path down to the house until a splendid covered gate came into view. Next to it was a rusty red mailbox with a white label that said “Kishiro”.
Shioriko cautiously walked through the gate with her cane. The yard in front of the house was fairly large, but it was hard to see much of anything due to the bamboo thicket.
“…What an elegant house…” She sounded impressed.
But elegant as it was, it was a considerably old one-story house with its paint all but peeled away. I saw a shuttered oblong window and a balcony that faced out towards the yard. It gave off the impression of a western style villa that had been constructed in the Taisho, or perhaps early Showa era.
Strangely enough, it didn’t feel like anyone was living here. It was almost as if the house was waiting for us with bated breath; as if all signs of life had been smothered. Had I been a child, I probably would have figured it to be haunted house.
We heard the sound of footsteps approach the entrance shortly after we rang the doorbell, and before long, the same middle-aged woman from yesterday energetically opened the door. She was wearing the same fleece jacket as before, and on her youthful face was a pair of reading glasses.
“Welcome. I appreciate you coming all this way.” She smiled amiably at us. There was a bit of an unfamiliar accent in the way she spoke that made me think she wasn’t from the Kanto area.
“I-it was no problem. I’ve….come to talk about the request.” Shioriko hung her head down in a fluster.
It had been a while since I last saw this awkward side of her. I had been doing all of the customer service at the shop lately, so Shioriko hadn’t had to talk to many strangers for some time now. It was kind of a fresh scene for me.
The woman turned to me and faltered. I supposed that was only natural given my imposing size. Shioriko took the chance to introduce me.
“This is Daisuke….I mean, Go-goura, my assistant…”
I guess it wouldn’t make sense to introduce me as Daisuke to customers. Shioriko tried to correct herself and fumbled all the more, leaving our client with a puzzled expression on her face.
“My name is Goura. Pleased to meet you.” Left with no other choice, I took over and also bowed.
Now that I thought about it, Shioriko hardly ever faltered with me anymore, even when we talked about things besides books. I hadn’t noticed it before because we saw each other every day.
The woman ushered us into the house. The cracked floorboards sank a little as we stepped inside. The house was already old, but it must have also been considerably damaged by the earthquake last month. There was also that bit about collapsing bookshelves.
“W-well then, is Miss Kishiro Keiko…”
“She’s here, but before that…Shinokawa Shioriko, was it?”
“Miss Shioriko, Keiko asked me to show you the books here in the house first. We can discuss things further after that. Follow me.”
Kishiro Keiko’s younger sister went ahead without waiting for our response. The affectionate way she said Keiko’s name remained on my ears; they seemed to have a good relationship.
We passed by several rooms on the way, and each and every one of them was spotless. There was very little furniture and hardly anything that displayed the owner’s personality.
“That’s right, I haven’t introduced myself, have I? My name is Tanabe Kuniyo.” The woman suddenly said as if she had just remembered.
Shioriko looked like she hadn’t known Kuniyo’s name either, and lowered her head with a troubled expression.
“I’m two years younger than Keiko. My last name is different because I got married…but my husband passed away a long, long time ago from illness, and my son studies at a university in Tokyo. I’m currently living alone, and can’t work, so I plan to stay here with Keiko until her injury fully heals.”
“M-miss Tanabe…where did you live before?”
“Just Kuniyo is fine. I lived in Miyagi Prefecture.”
The atmosphere suddenly felt like it became heavy. Miyagi was one of the prefectures that was hit hardest by the earthquake. Tanabe looked at us and smiled.
“Ah, my town wasn’t too badly affected. It’s quite far from the sea, you know. All it did was knock a few pieces of furniture down at most, and not much else besides. In fact…I’d say it was worse for you, right? There are lots of heavy things in bookstores after all.”
Even I could see she was changing the subject. Perhaps she was just being considerate—or perhaps there was something she didn’t want to talk about in detail.
“It wasn’t so bad for us…a few bookshelves fell over though.”
“Ah, so it was the same as Keiko then. Did you injure your leg in the earthquake?”
I saw Shioriko freeze.
“No, this happened…before.”
She had actually been injured last year by an antiquarian book fanatic named Tanaka Toshio over a valuable first edition book by Daizai Osamu. It had mostly healed now, but Shioriko was not yet at a point where she could go about her daily life without a cane.
“This is it.”
Tanabe Kuniyo suddenly stopped to take out a key unlock the door in front of her. The fact that this door had a separate lock inside the house meant the collection here was likely worth a considerable amount.
The moment the door was opened, a cold, dusty draft carrying the smell of old paper swept out.
“Go in, please.”
At Kuniyo’s instruction, Shioriko stepped into the room, and I followed. What appeared was a wide western style room with bookshelves covering almost all the walls. There was a large desk and chair conspicuously placed in the middle of the room which made me think it was also used as a study. The wall on the opposite side of the entrance had a small window with metal lattices installed on it. Combined with the locked door, this was clearly a heavily secured room.
“Take your time and look around. I will bring Keiko here shortly.” Kuniyo left the room and shut the door behind her.
I surveyed the bookshelves around the room.
There weren’t just hardcovers, but also small sized paperbacks and plenty of magazine back issues as well. There was New Youth, Houseki, Koudan Club—all of them were old. Many of the titles had words like Murderer, Case, and Death in them, so I concluded this was a mystery collection.
However, the magazines were not ordered chronologically. Rather, they were placed in random places here and there on the shelves. Overall it felt very disorganized, like the books had been placed on a whim.
“There are a lot of Edogawa Ranpo books in here, aren’t there.” I struck up a conversation with Shioriko. Many of then had Edogawa Ranpo, or alternatively Edogawa Rampo on their spines. There were hardly any titles that I recognized though.
“It might actually be…everything…” Shioriko muttered. She sounded like she was trying to suppress her excitement.
“As far as I can see, this room contains every book that Ranpo ever published for adults in his lifetime—including all the magazines.”
“So you’re saying it’s an amazing collection?”
“That’s right. I’ve never seen such a comprehensive Ranpo collection in my life.”
Shioriko’s eyes were shining. She was like a kid in a toy store.
“Ah, Daisuke, look at that!”
Shioriko called for my attention in an unusually loud voice and pointed to the display case under the window. My eyes were drawn to the colored paper behind the case’s glass doors.
“The living world is a dream. The nocturnal dream is reality. -Rampo”
The words were written with thick, dark brushstrokes. The “temporal world” here probably referred to the real world. The striking way it was written certainly seemed impressive.
“Did Ranpo write this himself?”
“He may have. Similar papers with Ranpo’s pet sayings written on them often appear at the market place…but what I want you to see is actually right next to that!”
Shioriko tapped her cane and walked over to the shelf, bending forward to look at the object next to the colored paper, a creepily smiling mask. It was clearly made of low quality material, the once gold paint having almost completely faded away.
I felt like I had seen this mask somewhere before—after thinking a bit, I realized it looked exactly like the one I used to see on the spines of the Boy Detectives Club books series in my elementary school’s library.
“…It’s the Golden Mask.”
“He’s a villain who appeared in Ranpo’s novel, The Golden Mask.” As his name implies, he appeared wearing a golden mask to steal valuable works of art. You could say that his modus operandi was similar to that of the Fiend with Twenty Faces. The story was first serialized in Showa 5—1930, and continued until the following year. It was apparently a huge topic of discussion at the time.”
“Huh? You’re talking about the story right? Where does this mask come in, then?”
Obviously a real villain like that didn’t exist.
Shioriko answered without turning around.
“It’s was a promotional item.”
“In Showa 6, Heibonsha scattered golden celluloid masks from a department store rooftop as part of their campaign to promote the publishing of Edogawa Ranpo’s collected works. This is likely one of those masks. It’s been said that they no longer even exist…this is actually the first time I’ve ever seen one.”
Shioriko’s forehead and glasses were pressed to the glass as she effortlessly continued her explanation. While the mask certainly did seem like a rare item, there was still something else I was curious about.
“That seems like a pretty crazy way to advertise.”
Basically they were using character goods to promote sales. It was a pretty common way of doing things even today.
“It really was. However, the original plan was to distribute the masks from a plane. That particular idea came from Ranpo himself apparently.”
“Huh, from the author?”
Shioriko finally nodded and turned around. The area of her forehead under her fluttering bangs was slightly red; she must have pressed it against the glass too hard.
“Ranpo was a classic mystery writer right?”
Despite that, he had a over the top way of doing things. Not only that, characters like the Golden Mask and the Fiend with Twenty Faces didn’t seem very rational either.
“It’s true that the works Ranpo produced at the time of his debut made him fit to be called a classic mystery writer. However, it was when he came to write long serial novels for magazines that his style began to change and some distinctive elements started appearing in his stories. There were many at the time who praised these elements highly and saw them as a particular characteristic in Ranpo’s literary style.”
“That’s right…ah, like this for example.”
Shioriko pulled a thinly bound book out from the shelf next to the display case. The title, Pictorial Crime, was printed on its strange looking cover.
Shioriko then leaned on her cane and walked over to a chair to take a seat.
“What is that?”
“It’s Crime Pictorial, one of the appendices in Heibonsha’s Collected Works of Edogawa Ranpo. “
I felt embarrassed by my own idiocy. I had forgotten that horizontal text was read from right to left for older books. I mentally translated the title to “Crime Illustrated”.
I peeked at the pages as Shioriko thumbed through the book. There were various bloody drawings and photographs, with depictions of people being hanged and even dismembered bodies,collected into this gruesome book. There were also many images that had nothing to do with crime.
Shioriko suddenly stopped flipping through the pages. She was now staring at an image of a bound woman in the nude captioned Sadist and masochist, joyful torment for the pleasure of both! It wasn’t particularly graphic owing to the age of both the image and the text, but this was clearly S&M play.
Shioriko brought her face close to the page, eyes wide.
“Is this Seiu…? No…perhaps not.”
In the midst of her thoughtful mutterings, Shioriko finally remembered that I was still next to her, and suddenly slammed the book shut in a panic. It was a forceful enough reaction to make me embarrassed too.
“…Was it really alright for a book like this to be published back then?” I asked, trying to change the mood.
“It wasn’t alright at all. In fact, this appendix was banned shortly after it was released.”
That didn’t come as a surprise. This would have been shocking material even today.
“Why would they even include an appendix like this as part of the anthology?”
“I think it was included precisely because it was a complete collection of Ranpo’s work.” Shioriko replied. “By the time Heibonsha published this anthology, grotesque imagery like in this book had become accepted as normal for mystery stories—especially for Edogawa Ranpo.
“The logical puzzles in his earlier stories became less of a focus, and Ranpo produced more and more works with elements like abnormal psychology, fantastical situations, and stark brutality pushed to the forefront. One good example is a novella titled The Strange Tale of Panorama Island.”
“That one…is famous, isn’t it?”
I wasn’t confident, but it felt like I had heard the name Panorama Island somewhere before. I didn’t know it was written by Ranpo though.
“Yes. It’s one of his well known masterpieces. Ranpo himself called it an illusory story of crime. The protagonist obtains his doppelganger’s fortune and tries to use that immense wealth to create a fantastical world of dreams. A murder does occur during the events of the story, and while the process of solving that puzzle makes it a mystery novel, half of the book is spent detailing the construction of the protagonist’s Panorama Country.”
“In a word, it’s a manmade paradise. The protagonist carries out its construction on a small island and incorporates various elements from the natural world. At one point they take a swan mascot across a ravine and ride a donkey through a forest….”
“…It’s just like a theme park.”
It reminded me of the Kingdom of Dreams & Magic in Urayasu city in Chiba.
“I suppose it is.” Shioriko smiled. “I believe Ranpo had something of a longing for a separate world, removed from everyday life. That inclination of his is also likely related to the Boys Detective Club, given the mysterious villains that make appearances in nearly all of the books.”
I turned back to the colored paper in the display case— The living world is a dream. The nocturnal dream is reality. Those words sounded to me like a longing for the world of dreams.
For some reason, that reminded me of Shinokawa Chieko. It felt like this strange request was where she was going to make her entrance. She appeared with no warning and disappeared just as quickly—almost entirely like a fictional villain. This wasn’t just some story though.
My eyes suddenly stopped at the Crime Pictorial placed on the table.
“There’s something stuck in the book.”
There was a small slip of paper peeking out near the center of the book. I hadn’t noticed it earlier since it had been positioned near the binding.
“You’re right…I wonder what it is.”
Shioriko pinched the paper and pulled it out, revealing a used bookstore label. In addition to the title and the four-digit price, there was also the name of the store.
In front of Tsujidou Station
Shioriko and I exchanged glances. Hitori Bookstore was an antiquarian bookshop in front of Tsujudou Station. The owner was a man named Inoue who harbored an intense dislike for Shioriko and her mother. I had already met him once when we were dragged into an incident where an out of print book, The Dandelion Girl, was stolen from the vintage book exchange convention.
Honestly, he was someone I didn’t want to get involved with.
This meant our client, Kishiro Keiko, was also one of Hitori Bookstore’s customers. I couldn’t say if it was a coincidence or not, but I had a feeling it was somehow related to this request.
“So she did purchase these from Hitori Bookstore after all.”
“After all…? Ah…you once said that Hitori specialized in mysteries and science fiction, right?”
“No, it’s more than that. Hitori also has a special interest in Edogawa Ranpo. I haven’t talked to him about it myself though.”
“What do you mean?”
How did Shioriko know that if she never spoke to him about it?
The sound of the door opening cut her answer short, and a woman in a wheelchair was brought in from the hallway. She was wore metal framed glasses and had straight, graying hair that extended past her shoulders. A plaster cast was visible from under her beige dress.
She seemed like a calm person who loved books, and in many ways had a similar atmosphere to Shioriko’s.
“Keiko, this is Shinokawa Shioriko…she’s Chieko’s daughter.”
Kuniyo, who was pushing the wheelchair, whispered over Keiko’s shoulder into her ear. Their temperaments may have been completely different, but looking at them now made me realize that their eyebrows and the area around their mouths looked similar.
“P-pleased to meet you. My name is Shinokawa.”
Shioriko stood up from her chair and hesitantly introduced herself. Then, with a jerky, robotic movement she moved her hand in my direction.
“This is my assistant, Daisu…no umm…this is…”
She fumbled my introduction in the exact same way as before. Thinking about how it would be nice if she got more used to this, I bowed and also introduced myself to Kishiro Keiko.
“Please to meet you…my name is Goura.”
My eyes were drawn to the area around her neck. She had a scarf wrapped around it, but somehow the shape seemed a little off.
Kishiro Keiko smiled gently at us, and slowly opened her mouth to speak.
The voice that she managed to produce sounded extremely hoarse, almost like a cough. It sounded like she was saying something, but I couldn’t make out any words.
Now that looked at it again, she had a device attached to her throat under her scarf—that must have been what she was using to breath.
So that’s what it was. I had heard there were cases where people lost the ability to speak after undergoing surgery on their throats.
The reason Kishiro Keiko went out of her way to send her sister as an intermediary wasn’t just because she had injured her leg.
It was also because she was unable to speak.
We exchanged greetings in the library, and then went back through the hall to continue the discussion in the living room. The balcony right outside connected to a small garden. It hadn’t been seriously tended to, but there were some spring flowers in full bloom among the tall field of weeds.
The room itself was similar to the others in that there wasn’t much furniture. The only items of note were a cabinet, a round table, and an old brown CRT television.
It looked like the sisters had been spending their time here before we arrived. On the table was a book with what looked like a handmade felt book jacket, along with a set of lacing tools. Tanabe Kuniyo began to organize them in a hurry.
“I apologize for the mess. I’ll have some tea ready in a moment.”
She gathered the bundles of lace and needles together and stored them away in the cabinet. After that, she handed the book over to Keiko, who sat in her wheel chair in front of the table. Come to think of it, Kuniyo had a lace handbag yesterday when I saw her at the shop. Perhaps knitting with lace was just her hobby.
Suddenly I noticed the framed photograph on top of the cabinet. It was a picture of the open sea taken from a beach somewhere, but for some reason it looked like there was land floating above the horizon. I guess that was what they called a mirage. Kind of strange that it was the only photograph they had on display though.
Kishiro Keiko lovingly stroked the book in her hand. It looked fairly old, all of its pages having yellowed considerably with age.
“Keiko had an operation for her laryngeal cancer six months ago and had everything here taken out. She lost her vocal cords then, so she can’t speak anymore. “
Kuniyo twirled her finger near her neck as she poured hot water from a thermos into a teapot. Her explanation was so direct that I wasn’t sure what kind of expression to make in response. She certainly wasn’t one to hide her feelings.
“She’s now training to speak using her esophagus. Kazuhiro and I can understand her fine, but other people have a hard time making out her words.”
“Kazuhiro is…?” Shioriko timidly spoke up.
“Ah, I mentioned earlier, right? That’s my son who lives alone in Tokyo. If it weren’t for him, things could have turned out much worse in the earthquake…right, Keiko?” She asked her sister. Keiko nodded.
“I was finally able to connect to Kazuhiro’s cellphone in the evening on the day of the earthquake, but we couldn’t connect to the phone here no matter how many times we called. She didn’t have a cellphone either, so we had to find some other way to contact her.”
“Ah, I suppose there was a power outage here.” I said.
The family phone at my house became almost unusable when the power went out. Calling or texting anyone with my cellphone was also difficult and I ended up using the disaster message board service to get in contact with my mom.
“That’s right. But even if the phone had rung, Keiko wouldn’t have been able to move since she was pinned underneath the bookshelf. In the end, Kazuhiro drove his motorcycle here as fast as he could to check on her and managed to get her some help.”
Kishiro Keiko put her hand on her throat and tried to say something. I tried my best to make out her words, but soon she pulled out a memo pad and began to write as if she were carving letters onto the page. She wasn’t able to write quickly, it seemed.
“I felt helpless alone with the house so silent.”
“It must have been awful.” Shioriko responded empathetically, as if she had gone through the same experience. As someone who also had a large personal library, she couldn’t just see it as somebody else’s problem.
“Keiko, you don’t have to write everything out. If there’s something you can’t say, I’ll say it for you.
Kuniyo placed steaming teacups in front of us. Shioriko thanked her, and then turned back to Keiko.
“That library we saw earlier…were you the one who collected those books?”
I understood that to mean we were now going to discuss the issue at hand. Shioriko probably intended to ask about Kayama Akira, the name we saw in the customer register.
Keiko’s expression clouded slightly. It seemed the story behind the library wasn’t easy to explain.
“Truthfully, most of the books were collected by Mr. Kayama, but Keiko did add a few books to the collection when she moved in.
Kuniyo answered in her sister’s place. It was quite the surprise hearing Kayama’s name mentioned so suddenly. Keiko, on the other hand, shook her head, and whispered a few short words.
“Ah, it seems Mr. Kayama’s father purchased some of the books as well. What was his name again…Soukichi?
This time, Keiko nodded and wrote his name on the memo pad. Kayama Soukichi—yet another person’s name
“Umm, what does this all mean?”
The two sisters exchanged glances when Shioriko asked her question. After that moment of eye contact, Kuniyo began to explain.
“It’s a somewhat complicated story. This house was originally a villa that Kayama Akira and his father, Kayama Soukichi, managed together. The two of them loved a certain author…named Edogawa Ranpo, and apparently purchased this house in order to store their collection. Does that sound about right?”
Keiko silently nodded in response to her sister’s question. I would have never thought anyone would buy an entire villa just to store a book collection. Maybe that’s just how old collectors were.
“Mr. Kayama’s father passed away about thirty years ago, and it was around that time that time he and Keiko became acquainted. Keiko loved that author as well, and through that, they developed something of a relationship. Mr. Kayama passed away suddenly last spring from a heart attack.”
It took a moment for me to digest this information. In other words, both this house and its collection continued to be managed by Ranpo fans.
“You said it was something of a relationship…”
“He let Keiko live in this house and paid for her living expenses. Keiko was Mr.Kayama’s mistress until his wife passed away. When he died, he left behind this house and library to Keiko in his will.”
It looked like Shioriko had finally understood. She bowed deeply, her face reddened all the way up to her ears.
“I’m terribly sorry for asking such a personal question.”
“No need to apologize. There’s no point in trying to hide it now. Keiko chose that kind of life on her own; the rest of our family was against it the entire time.”
Kishiro Keiko serenely ignored her sister’s harsh words. She must have gotten used to being criticized.
My family had its own complex circumstances, so this story wasn’t entirely surprising to me. I was, however, interested in the fact that Keiko inherited both the library and the house. This was a particularly affluent neighborhood, even for Kamakura. After her lover died, she had come into a good amount of money on top of the book collection. I couldn’t imagine Kayama Akira’s true family letting this go without a fight.
Kishiro Keiko had to be more than just an ordinary, reserved bookworm if she could continue living in this house in the midst of an inheritance dispute. That pointed to her incredibly strong will, if nothing else.
Well, meeting women whose appearances belied their characters was nothing new to me. There was one sitting right next to me in fact.
“Do you by any chance like The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture?” Shioriko asked while looking at the cabinet.
She was probably trying to do something about the awkward atmosphere, but I didn’t understand the meaning behind her sudden question. Kishiro Keiko seemed confused as well.
“…What is that?”
“It’s one of Ranpo’s short stories. A mirage appears in it so…” She pointed to the top of the cabinet. Come to think of it, there was that photo of the mirage.
“Oh really? Keiko, what do you think?”
Keiko closed her eyes and nodded in response to her sister’s question. She had a slight smile on her face as well.
“Umm…could you tell us what you wanted to discuss today?” Shioriko continued. “I understand that it’s related to antiquarian books, but…”
“Keiko told me she wants to sell all the books in this house.”
Shioriko’s eyes went as wide as they physically could. She was literally at a loss for words. Her extreme surprise left Tanabe a little perplexed.
“I was told were many rare books here…is that not the case?”
“They’re more than just rare!” Shioriko forcefully shook her head, her long hair landing on my shoulder.
“The library here contains nearly every work that Ranpo produced for adults in his life! This includes everything from The Two-Sen Copper Coin first published in The New Youth magazine, all the way to the Tougensha anthologies published in his later years! It is an incredibly valuable collection!”
Now that we were talking about books, her words came out quickly and fluidly, almost as if she’d become a different person, like a switch had been flipped.
“But that’s not what your request is about, is it?” Shioriko continued to press for an answer without giving the sisters a chance to reply.
“Miss Tanabe, you mentioned this when you visited our shop yesterday. You said that if I were to take on and complete a special request, you would sell some books as a reward…am I wrong?”
“You’re as quick witted as I thought. Keiko, I think we can rely on her.” Tanabe Kuniyo said and turned to her sister.
Kishiro Keiko tilted her head and met Shioriko’s gaze. She seemed gentle enough, but there was something elusive about her. She opened her mouth to speak.
“She said… `I once heard from Akira that there was an incredible person at Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia that could solve any book related problems`.” Kuniyo interpreted for us after Keiko finished speaking.
“Did Mr. Kayama ever visit our shop in person?” Shioriko asked.
After a brief silence, Keiko opened her moth.
“He used to visit occasionally until about ten years ago. Keiko also ordered from the circular….? Is that right? She used that to order books and had them delivered here sometimes.” Kuniyo continued interpreting for us, occasionally stopping to clarify with Keiko.
That solved the mystery of the customer register. In short, Keiko used Kayama Akira’s name to purchase books. If her words were to be believed, then it meant she had never met with Shinokawa Chieko directly.
“Keiko says if you also have that skill, then she would like your help with something concerning one of Edogawa Ranpo’s works.”
“Please, let me help with this.” Shioriko replied instantly.
I honestly thought she would spend more time thinking it over.
While it was true that buying all the books in the collection we saw earlier would net us a considerable profit—something still felt wrong. What kind of request would be so important that she’d be willing to part with the precious collection that her lover had left her?
“To start, could you tell us in detail which one of Ranpo’s works this is about?” Shioriko’s eyes were burning with curiosity. She obviously couldn’t wait to hear the answer.
It made total sense, I finally realized. This was what Shioriko was really interested in. She probably found this request more intriguing than the library and everything in it. In the end, I supposed that was natural for a bookworm like her.
Kishiro Keiko’s expression suddenly changed, and she placed the book she had been holding the entire time onto the table. Due to the felt book jacket, the actual cover was completely hidden.
“This……Ranpo……please……is……” She said in a forceful tone without taking her eyes off Shioriko.
I only managed to catch a few of her words.
“This is a first edition of one of Ranpo’s books. Without touching it, can you please tell me what the title is…huh?” her sister seemed confused, but even I could understand Keiko’s intentions.
She was testing us. She wanted to know whether or not Shioriko had enough knowledge of books to solve her problem.
However, this test seemed unreasonable no matter how I looked at it. Excepting its thickness and age, there wasn’t anything special about the size or shape of the book. As far as I could see, this book didn’t have its own jacket, so the real cover should be right under the felt one.
No, wait a second.
If one of the books in the collection was here, wouldn’t that mean there was an empty spot for it in the library? Maybe she was asking Shioriko to remember the books she saw in the library and derive the answer from that. That would explain why Keiko purposefully had us see the library before we met her. Rather than a test of knowledge, this was more a test of memory—
“This must be a duplicate.” Shioriko muttered to herself as she stared at the felt book jacket. “The library we saw earlier should have contained every book Ranpo wrote for adult readers.”
After a moment, the woman in the wheelchair smiled. It seemed she really expected Shioriko to correctly guess the title. This wasn’t just a pure test of memory after all.
“Would it be fair to assume that the book on the table is complete, and that there are no damaged or missing parts?” Shioriko coolly asked for confirmation.
Kishiro Keiko nodded yes.
“It’s shirokuban sized too, meaning….”
Shioriko pressed her index finger to her forehead to try and draw out her memories. After staying still for about ten seconds, she finally, hesitantly spoke again.
“…I know the answer. This is a first edition of a novel published in 1930, Demon of the Lonely Isle.”
Keiko pulled off the book jacket. I leaned forward despite myself to see.
On the book’s cover was an illustration of a young woman holding a musical instrument, along with a strange looking man, and what appeared to be their baby. The title, printed in a handwritten style was— Demon of the Lonely Isle.
“Incredible…” I muttered, truly impressed.
Shioriko spun around to face me.
“It’s not just the cover either; the story’s incredible too! The characters hunt for the criminal behind a series of impossible murders, and in the process get thrown into a mystery involving a certain family’s coded message. It’s a masterpiece that pushed the limits of what a mystery novel could be. With elements like same sex love, and characters with deformities, Ranpo brilliantly took his own radical ideas for the time and weaved them into a story.”
“T-that’s not what I meant!” I tried to pull myself together.
While I was curious about the serial murders in the first half of the story, and the cryptic message afterwards, this wasn’t the the right time for that.
“How did you know what the title was?”
Shioriko blinked in confusion. The eyelashes above and below her eyes were so long…
“It was most likely published before the war going by how yellowed the pages were…” Shioriko began a somewhat unenthusiastic explanation. She must have wanted to talk about the story more.
“The fact that the book had no damaged or missing parts meant that it was originally published without a book jacket or slipcase. Add that to the shirokuban sized paper, and the only first edition print with that many pages that fits the criteria is, to my knowledge, Demon of the Lonely Isle…”
That made sense. With her level of knowledge and insight, Shioriko could tell which book it was without needing to see the cover.
I noticed the two sisters exchange significant looks from the corner of my eye. It looked like Shioriko had passed Keiko’s test.
Tanabe Kuniyo stood up and walked towards a door near the corner of the room. She opened the door to reveal a closet, and what appeared to be a large safe placed inside. It looked fairly old, but anyone could tell at a glance that it was extremely sturdy.
The door to the safe had a lock, a dial—and finally a plate with buttons for over fifty different characters. Just what was that supposed to be?
“There’s a rare item in here connected to Edogawa Ranpo stored in here. Isn’t that right, Keiko?” Tanabe Kuniyo turned around as she spoke.
Keiko nodded in response to her sister, and then turned to speak to Shioriko. Just from the movements of her lips, we could understand what she wanted to say.
—I implore you, please open this safe.
“First, I’d like you to inspect it yourselves.”
At Kuniyo’s request, Shioriko and I crouched in front of the safe. The ornament above the combination lock moved to the side when I touched it, revealing a keyhole underneath. Apparently we’d need more than just the right combination to open the safe; a key would also be necessary.
“Do you already know what’s inside the safe?” Shioriko turned around to Keiko in her wheelchair and asked.
Kishiro Keiko nodded with a mischievous smile. “Open……see……”
Open it and you shall see—she was telling us to look forward to finding out when we opened it. Shioriko turned back around with a disappointed expression and began to examine the safe again. I had been listening in on their exchange and was actually pretty curious about the contents of the safe myself.
Just because it was “a rare item connected to Edogawa Ranpo” didn’t necessarily mean it was a book. It could even be something like the mask or colored paper we saw earlier.
“Speaking of which, this safe is quite old.” I pointed out.
Kishiro Keiko responded by writing on here memo pad. –“Custom made for the former Japanese Military.”
So it was made sometime before the second world war. That would make the safe at least seventy years old.
“Why would something like that be…”
Writing down the answer to my next question must have been difficult, because Keiko then quickly whispered to her sister. Kuniyo told me what she said a moment later.
“Mr. Kayama’s father, Soukichi, was an influential businessman who even had dealings with the military. He obtained this safe in the turmoil following the end of the war. He used to say it was great for storing valuables because of its sturdiness and three separate locks.”
“Three locks…?” That was news to me. I’d seen the combination lock and keyhole, but…
“So this is also one of the locks…?” Shioriko put her finger on the plate with the neatly arranged buttons.
Now that I looked at it again, I saw that each button had a katakana character printed on it. I was curious about the button in the corner with “small” printed on it, but after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that was for characters in their small forms. There were even buttons here for diacritic marks on the panel.
“So the lock will open if we press these buttons in a certain order?”
Keiko silently nodded yes.
…Basically a password, then.
Taking into account the key, the combination lock, and the password, there certainly were three different locks. I had no idea safes made in the past could be so complicated. There had to be a limit to how far one could go for security.
“There’s an old safe at our house too, but it’s nowhere near this elaborate. This one might be special because it was a custom military order.” Shioriko muttered to herself as she examined the safe.
“Keiko feels frustrated that that she can’t open it. Mr. Kayama was the only one who managed the key and passwords. She says he never told her anything about them. The only thing we have now are the numbers for the combination lock.
“What about the key…do you know where that is?”
Kishiro Keiko took out her memo pad once again. She erased Kayama Soukichi’s first name, which she had written earlier, and wrote “House” in its place, making it “Kayama House.”
It looked like she was saying the key was with Kayama Akira’s legal family.
“I’m currently in contact with Mr. Kayama’s son, and there are plans to get the key from them…” Kuniyo had a bitter expression as she explained. Something must have happened.
Shioriko looked at Keiko. “In which case, you just want us to find the password. Is that right?”
Kishiro Keiko nodded and turned to her sister.
“…Keiko knows Mr. Kayama set it to something related to the author Edogawa Ranpo, but she doesn’t know how long the password is.”
The fact that she didn’t know the password length was concerning. Having no clues made our job all the more difficult.
Actually, wait a second.
Surely there were other methods besides figuring out the password and searching for the key.
“Umm, wouldn’t it be better asking a professional to open the safe?”
I often saw advertisements for locksmiths offering services like that. The service might cost some money, but it shouldn’t be beyond what these two could afford.
“We asked a professional to look at it before, but it was no good.” Tanabe Kuniyo sighed. “The safe is old, custom made, and uses unknown locking mechanisms, so breaking the locks would be a difficult task. We were given the option to break the door, but Keiko refused for fear of the slight chance that something would happen to the contents. We may be left with no other choice if nothing else works though, all things considered.”
Shioriko flinched, and I realized my blunder a moment later. Her role in this would disappear entirely if the safe were broken down. She wouldn’t be able to buy the books in the collection here, and the chance to see Edogawa Ranpo’s “treasure” in the safe would also disappear.
I made a promise to myself to stop getting in the way of the case from now on.
“…Could you tell me more about what kind of person Kayama Akira was?” Shioriko asked Keiko. “If you don’t mind me asking, I’d like to know about his personal history and his family. It may be helpful in discovering the password.”
After looking off into space to sort through her memories, Kishiro Keiko finally began to explain in a low voice. Her sister, Kuniyo, passed on what she was saying to us in spurts.
“He loved talking about books, was cheerful and loved mischief, like a young boy sometimes…… He became a fan of Edogawa Ranpo after reading one of his works in a magazine before the war……during his high school years he wanted to become a mystery writer……in the end he inherited his father’s business.”
“Which of Ranpo’s works did he enjoy most?”
Keiko continued her story in response to Shioriko’s question
“Let’s see…his early works like The Two Sen Copper Coin and The Psychological Test…? Classical mysteries like that…? As far as popular works went, he didn’t really…”
Tanabe Kuniyo stopped talking mid-sentence and all eyes turned to her.
“I’m sorry, this is a little difficult for me. Would it be alright if Keiko and I wrote everything on paper and delivered it to you later this evening or tomorrow?”
“Of course. That’s not a problem.”
The room fell silent.
Shioriko leaned on her cane and began to stand up. I supposed that was a sign it was time for us to go. It didn’t seem like there was anything else left for us to do here today.
“In which case, we’ll take our leave…” Shioriko suddenly stopped in the middle of her goodbyes. Tanabe Kuniyo was giving her a look that looked like she wanted to say something. Her older sister didn’t seem to have noticed.
“…Um, would it be alright if we looked around the library one more time before we leave? We might be able to find some clues in there.”
By all means, Keiko answered voicelessly.
Shioriko and I left the living room and returned to the library alone. Tanabe Kuniyo was probably going to meet us here shortly.
She began to look through a bookshelf near the door starting from the top. I thought she had just said that as an excuse to talk with Kuniyo without her sister present, but it seemed she really did intend to look through the library.
“This place isn’t very organized, is it?” Shioriko said suddenly.
“Huh? Ah, you’re right.” I got that impression as well.
Naturally, all the books in the library had fallen to the floor in a heap when the bookshelves toppled over during the earthquake. There was no doubt the mess here resembled Biblia’s right after the quake. It made sense that things were still messy since the owner of the collection had difficulty moving.
Or rather, maybe Kishiro Keiko didn’t intend to properly organize everything in the first place since she was going to sell it all to Biblia once the safe was opened.
I followed Shioriko’s lead and started to look through the bookshelves near the window. This particular shelf had quite a few gaps. In addition to Shinchousha Publishing’s Selected Works of Edogawa Ranpo lined up in front of me, there was also a differently colored, whitish book slipcase squeezed into the shelf. Its title, according to its cover, was Egawa Ranko.
The title sounded like Edogawa Ranpo’s name if he were a girl. There were hardly any stains, and it would be fair to even call it a beautiful book. I took the book out if its slipcase and showed it to Shioriko.
She put a finger to her glasses and took a closer look at the book in my hand.
“Daisuke, this is…”
“I was curious about the title. Is this a novel?”
“It is. Egawa Ranko is one of the characters Ranpo created, but…this book…it…”
Shioriko was interrupted by Tanabe Kuniyo walking into the room.
“My apologies. I hope I didn’t make you wait too long.” Her eyes stopped at the book in my hands.
“Oh? Is that a clue?”
“No…I’m afraid it isn’t.” It was hard to say I only took it out because I was curious. Just as I tried to put it back in its slipcase, the protective wax paper cover slipped right through my fingers.
“Ah!” Shioriko gasped.
Luckily I managed to bend down and catch the book before it hit the floor. Breathing a sigh of relief, I put the book back in its slipcase. It didn’t seem like a very valuable book to me, but it still might have been important in some way.
“You have to treat them carefully. These are still our books after all…here.” Tanabe Kuniyo held out her hand with an incredulous expression.
I lowered my head, apologized, and handed the book over to her.
Kuniyo put Egawa Ranko in a bookshelf near the entrance and shut the door. She then turned to Shioriko.
“I’d like you to keep this a secret from Keiko, but I have one more request for you.”
“…What might that be?”
“The truth is, I got a call from Mr. Kayama’s son yesterday. He told me he couldn’t find the key to the safe.”
“Huh…?” Shioriko and I exclaimed at the same time. That wasn’t what she told us before at all.
“Does that mean the key is missing?” I asked.
Kuniyo crossed her arms and looked up at the ceiling.
“The thing is, I don’t know for sure. Perhaps he didn’t search for it seriously, or perhaps he doesn’t want to look for it at all in the first place. This just a guess on my part, but I have a feeling Mr. Kayama’s son hates Keiko quite a bit. She did say she wanted to meet him just once after Mr. Kayama died, but he had been refusing contact until just recently.”
That was no big surprise. In fact, it would have been strange for him to like his father’s former mistress, who’d received his inheritance on top of everything else.
“He doesn’t like me either, so talking to him directly is impossible. I’d like to ask you to go to the Kayama house to confirm if the key really is missing…that is something you can do, right?
For a moment I stood dumbfounded by her unreasonable request. It was like she thought we were private investigators or something.
“That sort of work is…”
“I understand. We’ll do it.”
I was utterly baffled by Shioriko’s response. Getting involved in this nonsense, just what was she planning to do?
Well, I guess it’s not so strange if I think about it.
We’d lose our chance to buy the valuable collection here if we withdrew at this point. We’d also lose out on knowing what was inside the safe—and if Shinokawa Chieko had any involvement in this case.
It’s just, for some reason, I had an ominous feeling that wouldn’t go away. The feeling that we were being pulled out of our depth bit by bit. Considering the trouble that Shioriko had gotten into in the past, I’d need to remain extra vigilant. I resolved in my heart to do whatever it took to protect her on the off chance that something happened.
“There are two things I’d like to ask you.” Shioriko held up two fingers.
Tanbabe Kuniyo’s face pulled into a tense expression.
“…It’s been a year since Kayama Akira passed away last spring, correct? Why is Ms. Kishiro trying to open the safe now?”
“Ah, that.” Kuniyo’s tension evaporated and she let out a sigh. “Keiko actually always wanted to open the safe. She wasn’t able to make much progress, since Mr. Kayama’s family refuses talk to her. But with her illness and injury from the earthquake…these events caused a change in her mindset.”
“When you say she had a change in her mindset…”
“We don’t know what will become of us tomorrow. Keiko believes that if she doesn’t do what she wants to now, then she’ll surely regret it afterwards. We understand each other’s feelings because we’re sisters.”
Tanabe Kuniyo’s words were weighted with her true feelings. She too had left her familiar home and workplace far behind to come here.
“And? What was the second question?”
Kuniyo turned her gaze out to the window as she urged Shioriko on. Outside, Kishiro Keiko looked out towards the garden from the balcony, her greying hair fluttering in the wind. She seemed to be lost in deep thought.
“Do you know what is inside the safe?”
“…I haven’t been told.” Kuniyo answered with a far away look in her eyes.
The two sisters’ faces resembled each other to a mysterious degree when they made the same expression. I was sure their voices would have sounded similar too.
“All I’ve been told is that there’s something precious to her inside that safe…I’m fine with not knowing anything beyond that. And at any rate, I want to abide by Keiko’s wishes.”
Kuniyo shook here head as if waking from a dream and bowed deeply to Shioriko.
“I leave everything in your hands.”