Chapter Two: The Boys Detective Club
We ended up going straight to Shioriko’s house after leaving Kishiro Keiko’s home in Yukinoshita. I invited Shioriko to a cafe on Kobukurozaka Slope, but she apologetically turned me down. Her cousin, whose wedding she had attended the other day, was stopping by for a visit it seemed. The unfamiliar car in the parking space must have belonged to her.
I started to think over the day’s events after returning to my house in Ofuna. At first it was about the request we were given—specifically what the contents of the safe could be. But before long, and without me noticing, my thoughts had turned to Shioriko.
It felt like I hadn’t made much progress with her because I had gotten too satisfied knowing that she trusted and relied on me. This upcoming summer would mark the first year since I had met her. I’d known from the beginning what kind of relationship I wanted to have with her, and from the way she talked about “thanking” me earlier, Shioriko probably had some idea how I felt.
Those were the sort of thoughts on my mind when I got the call from Shioriko. She wanted to tell me that Kishiro Keiko had sent her the material on Kayama Akira that she asked for earlier today. It sounded like she wanted to show me as soon as possible, so I offered to go over to her house right away.
“Only if you’re not too tired”, was the response.
Even if I were tired, I still wanted to talk to her again.
I rode my scooter over to the Shinokawa house for the second time today. The sun had completely set now, and the air felt cold on my skin.
I heard Shinokawa Ayaka call out from inside when I pressed the doorbell at the entrance.
“I’m a little occupied right now, so just come in.” She was probably making dinner.
Sure enough, the faint scent of stew wafted into my nose as soon as I opened the door. Looked like Japanese food was on the menu tonight.
I noticed an old pair of somewhat familiar sandals in front of the door. These couldn’t have belonged to Shioriko’s cousin, meaning some other guest was here.
“…All I’m saying is that Shioriko got Cra Cra Diary from Mom. I didn’t even get a note, let alone a book, you know? I’m telling you she doesn’t know how lucky she is!”
I heard Ayaka’s voice from the kitchen. At first I thought it was another argument between the sisters, but then I heard a man say ‘I suppose that’s true’ in response. Just who was Ayaka talking to about her complex family history?
“Keep this between us, but someone came here from Yukinoshita yesterday saying she wanted to talk to Shinokawa Chieko. I think Mom’s back in Japan now. Wish she’d at least stop by to say hello…
“I also have lot to complain about, but even if I am mad, I hardly remember since she left ten years ah…hey, Goura. My sister’s waiting for you upstairs.”
I took off my shoes and walked into the kitchen to see Ayaka in front of the table grating some yams. Sitting on the chair next to her was a short, gentle faced man stringing green beans. He looked to be in his late fifties, and had a wrinkled bald head and wide, inquisitive eyes. The mesh vest he wore over his threadbare red shirt looked like something a fishing maniac would wear.
“…What are you doing here?”
Shida raised his head when he heard my voice. He was a homeless book hunter who lived under Kugenuma Bridge and a frequent customer of ours.
“The owner called me here. Said she was organizing her personal collection and could sell me some of her duplicates for cheap.”
Speaking of which, we were in the middle of organizing Shioriko’s collection. The picnic cloth at Shida’s feet was tightly packed with books. His specialty was in out of print publications. There were still plenty of books that would need to be taken out of the storeroom.
“And then we happened to run into each other. Shida said he wanted to help out since he was already here.”
“Well, that’s just while we chatted. I’ve cause this young lady enough trouble, you see.”
“No you haven’t! All I do is listen to your complaints.”
The two of them exchanged grins. I had no idea they had such a friendly relationship. Shinokawa Ayaka’s communication skills never ceased to surprise me. She was probably good friends with all of our regular customers.
I glanced at one of the books visible in Shida’s makeshift bag as they talked. It was Yokomizo Seishi’s The Case of the Honjin Murder Incident at the Black Cat. The Case of the Honjin Murder was pretty well known. I hadn’t known it was out of print though.
“This one has a rare cover. Incident at the Black Cat was only part of the title for a brief period.” Shida noticed my gaze and began to explain. “You can borrow the book if you want to read it.”
“I’ll have to pass on that.” I shook my head.
That looked like a full-length novel, so reading it to the end would be a real challenge.
“Ah, that’s right. You can’t read books. I don’t know about your condition or whatever, but don’t you think you should do something about that if you want to keep working here?”
Just as I was about to voice my agreement, I realized something.
“Have I ever talked to you about my…condition?”
“I heard about it from this young lady. Can’t remember when that was though.” Shida pointed to Ayaka with the green bean in his hand.
Ayaka then looked up at the ceiling to remember where she heard it from. “My sister told me about it a while ago. Sorry, was it supposed to be a secret?”
“No…not really. I wasn’t going out of my way to hide it.”
I just didn’t want everyone to know since I didn’t understand it very well myself. The only other people who knew were my family and longtime friends.
“Goura, are you going to stay for dinner after your work with my sister is done? I’ll make some for you too.”
I thought about it for a moment. I wasn’t on dinner duty tonight, and my mother said she wouldn’t be home until much later this evening.
“Thank you…I’d be glad to.”
“You don’t need to be so stiff. Shida, what about you?”
“I’m good. I need to get to the net cafe to take a shower.”
“What’s up with that? Can’t you take a shower after dinner?”
“I don’t have much time left to use this coupon. There aren’t as many public bathes these days, so taking them has started to get tough. I’ll leave as soon as I finish these up.”
“But you could always use our bath instead. You wouldn’t be first though.”
“I’m glad you offered, but there’s no way. You can’t have a guy like me taking a bath in a house with two young women, right?”
“Well…I guess so…”
I kind of understood how Shida felt. I didn’t know if I would refuse like he did, but I’d certainly be hesitant. Shida stringed the last green bean and stood up from his chair.
“By the way, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask. Has anything happened recently with the old man at Hitori?”
I hadn’t expected to hear that name all of a sudden.
“What store is that?” Ayaka asked while mixing the yams with sliced tuna. It looked like she was making maguro yamakake tonight. It definitely wasn’t a dish I’d think a high school girl could make.
“It’s in Tsujidou. The guy who runs it is a real pain, but the store itself is pretty nice. Did you know your sister goes there a lot? I’ve run into her a few times now.”
“Shida, you go to Hitori Bookstore often?”
That was a surprise. I had no idea.
“What, you didn’t know? It’s close to where I live and pays well for mystery and science fiction books. I go there all the time.”
Come to think of it, I remembered hearing that Hitori had quite a few out of print books. I guess it wasn’t so strange that Shida visited often.
“Does he know that you frequent our shop as well?”
“Well yeah. He asked me a lot of strange questions when I went there this morning. Like what that guy Goura was up to, and what kind of customers came here, and if the shop owner has changed recently…”
“What the hell? Why does he want to know all that?” Ayaka frowned.
“I thought it was strange too and asked him that myself, but he wouldn’t give me a straight answer…So what’s really going on? Did something happen with that old man?
“Nothing recent…there was a bit of trouble a while ago, but that’s already been resolved.”
The incident with the stolen copy of The Dandelion Girl had happened a few months ago. The culprit was found and the book was returned. We hadn’t had met with the owner of Hitori Bookstore since.
“That so? I wonder what he was going on about then.”
“Yeah, I wonder…”
Suddenly, I remembered the Crime Pictorial we found in Kishiro Keiko’s house with the Hitori Bookstore label stuck in it. There was a good chance that she and the owner of Hitori Bookstore were acquainted. Maybe it had some relation to the case we had taken on.
I left the kitchen behind and climbed up the stairs with those worries on my mind.
I found Shioriko sitting on the floor waiting for me when I got to the second floor. She was wearing a thick cotton shirt over a plaid skirt—the clothes she normally wore at home.
“Sorry for having you come over so often.”
“It’s no problem…I hope I’m not intruding.”
The scent of shampoo or perhaps body soap lingered in the room, reminding me of what her sister, Ayaka, had said to Shida in the kitchen a moment ago. That he wouldn’t be the first to use the bath.
I sat cross-legged in front of Shioriko and told her about everything I had heard from Shida. She looked straight at me and listened carefully until the end.
Perhaps it was because she just came out of the bath, Shioriko’s forehead and the tip of her nose were extraordinarily red. I let my gaze wander so as not to stare.
“I think we should set aside the matter with Hitori for now. We can ask Ms. Kishiro about it the next time we meet.”
Shioriko handed me a thick manila envelope. Stuffed inside of it were a number of reports. The dense writing belonged to Kishiro Keiko, whose writing we first saw this afternoon. This seemed to be the detailed account of Kayama Akira’s history that we had asked for. One of the sheets contained his family tree.
The numbers marked their birth years and deaths. There were four members of the Kayama family alive today. Keiko’s lover, Kayama Akira, was born in 1928 and passed away in 2010.
“He was significantly older than Ms. Kishiro…”
She was closer in age to Kayama Yoshihiko and Naomi. There was no doubt that the two found their father having relations with a woman their age extremely unpleasant. I carefully began to read through Kayama Akira’s personal history.
He was born in the Naka ward of Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture, the same birthplace as his father, Soukichi. Akira’s father moved between various jobs, including rickshaw driver, inn employee, and street vendor, at one point landing his family in extreme poverty. It was after this that Soukichi decided to take his family and move to Tokyo where he found both success and a stable income in the rubber manufacturing company he established.
Owing perhaps to Kishiro Keiko’s personality, the report was written in a coolheaded and objective manner.
“The military deals we were told about likely happened after he set up this company.” Shioriko muttered.
I took the next page into my hand.
Kayama Akira enrolled at a national university when he grew older. After graduating, he helped out with his father’s business for some years, but then moved on to found an educational institution where he garnered acclaim for his management of a vocational school.
Even I knew the name of this school. The main campus was in Yokohama, and you could see its buildings from the Toukaidou line. Quite a few people from my own high school enrolled there every year. I was pretty sure the same organization also ran a private middle and high school along with a private university.
The report also said that he had received a medal from the government, recognizing his many years of effort in education, the year before he died. It was his son, Yoshihiko, who currently acted as the dean.
What a distinguished life.
He was certainly a man of note. Everything I read pointed to him as being an exemplary educator. It was almost hard to believe that he kept a separate home and had a mistress on the side.
The final paper contained the addresses and contact information for the Kayama family and the schools they managed. Their home was in Daigiri, Fujisawa.
The last part contained a list of Ranpo books and Kayama Akira’s opinions on them. He enjoyed Ranpo’s earlier classical short mysteries like The Two-Sen Copper Coin, The Psychological Test, and The D-slope Murder Case. He didn’t care much for popular novels like Spider Man, and Vampire, but loved short stories with strong fantastical or grotesque elements like Inhuman Love, and The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture.
This was much more detailed than what we were told before, and a lot easier to understand too.
“When someone says classical mystery, what kind of novel does that refer to exactly?” The term had come up several times today, but I didn’t have a concrete image of what it actually meant.
“It’s difficult to define simply…but basically it’s a mystery that can be solved entirely through logic when all the clues are also provided without deception. In other words, it’s a type of story that places a heavy importance on fairness.”
“That makes sense.” I nodded. Now I had a good mental image to work with.
“Truthfully, even Ranpo’s earlier works aren’t strictly fair when viewed from a modern perspective. Ranpo was famous for his unique plots and storytelling style, but his weakness was in keeping the details consistent.”
“For example, when he wrote serialized stories in magazines, characters that were supposed to die somehow stayed alive to the end. Searching for inconsistencies that got corrected in later volumes is actually quite fun.
“In fact, there was even a crucial mistake in Ranpo’s debut work. It was corrected in his later years, but I’m sure he wasn’t the only one who noticed…”
Shioriko looked like she noticed the conversation getting derailed right as she was getting worked up. She quickly apologized and turned her attention back to the report. I apologized myself for bringing up an unrelated topic in the first place.
“By the way, Daisuke. What’s your opinion on this report?”
“Huh? …well, it’s pretty comprehensive, isn’t it?”
I picked the papers up off the floor and flipped through them again. It covered all of the basic information about Kayama Akira—almost like the results of a background check. But despite all that…
“Too comprehensive, right?”
Shioriko shuffled over to sit next to me.
“Kuniyo delivered it to me an hour ago…not even two hours after we left the house in Yukinoshita. Don’t you think Kishiro Keiko wrote all of this a little to quickly?”
“If she’s a fast writer, then maybe no…?”
The image of Kishiro Keiko writing suddenly surfaced in my mind. I remembered just how much trouble she had writing. It didn’t make sense for her to have made a report like this so quickly.
“Meaning…you think she prepared this information on Kayama Akira beforehand?
“That’s what I believe.” Shioriko nodded and raised her index finger.
“And one more thing. The person who made the suggestion to gather and deliver this information to us was not the same person who wrote it. That was the younger sister, Kuniyo. There’s the possibility that she was also the one who instructed Ms. Kishiro to arrange the meeting with us.”
“Then what about her asking us to look for the key at the Kayama family’s house? Was that…”
“Yes. I suspect it was all part of her plan from the start. The truth is, Kuniyo told me she had talked to Kayama Yoshihiko again when she came here earlier to deliver the documents. She told him about our shop and made plans to have us meet tomorrow evening.”
Kuniyo was being way too forceful…too efficient. It was hard to believe she didn’t intend to have us meet the Kayama family from the very beginning.
“There’s something strange about all of this, don’t you think?”
Kuniyo could have told us that she wanted us to get the key from the Kayama family the normal way. There had to be some reason why she was resorting to these roundabout methods.
“I don’t fully understand the circumstances, but I believe it’s still true that our clients want us to open the safe. However, we should be cautious of their movements just in case.”
“What do you think is inside the safe?”
I found myself leaning forward, and could faintly feel Shioriko’s warmth in front of me.
“Assuming the story that it’s a rare, Ranpo related item is true, it’s probably not an ordinary antiquarian book. There’s a good chance it’s something from Ranpo’s estate, or perhaps a handwritten manuscript. At the very least it’s something that would go for a million yen or more at the market place.”
“That much…? How did you come to that conclusion?”
“Daisuke, do you remember how you picked up Egawa Ranko at Ms. Kishiro’s house?” Shioriko suddenly changed the subject.
I nodded, puzzled. “I remember…you said that was a novel, right?”
“Right. It’s a collaborative relay novel that started in Showa 5 and had contributions from contemporary mystery authors over the following six years. The first part was written by Ranpo himself—the theme was of course chosen by him as well.
“It’s about a beautiful girl, Egawa Ranko, whose parents were brutally murdered when she was young. The story chronicles her unfortunate life as she gets sucked into a world of violence and pleasure.
“It was a project that could even be called something of a game, but collaborative mystery novels were fairly common at the time. Egawa Ranko is especially notable because its authors were well renowned. The second part was written by Yokomizo Seishi, with the next sections by Yumeno Kyusaku, Kouga Saburou, Oshita Udaru, and Morishita Uson respectively…”
Yokomizo Seishi was a name that I saw just a little bit ago. He was, of course, the author who created Kindaichi Kosuke…or at least I was pretty sure he was.
“Did Edogawa Ranpo and Yokomizo Seishi have a good relationship?”
“Of course. Ranpo was first introduced to Yokomizo through an acquaintance, and they became good friends afterwards. In fact, it was Ranpo who encouraged Yokomizo to write mysteries and was the impetus for his debut. Yokomizo worked as an editor for a magazine in his youth and actually worked with Ranpo for a time. They kept in touch for about forty years until Ranpo passed away.,
“So that’s how it was…”
I had no idea. That is, I had no idea that the fathers of Akechi Kogoro and Kindaichi Kosuke had such a close relationship.
“And what is it about that book?”
“Egawa Ranko is considered the most valuable amongst Ranpo’s first edition novels.”
The room fell silent. After a moment, I timidly spoke up.
“…how much is it worth?”
“Taking into account its good condition, at least one million yen. If they have a rare book like that out in the open, whatever’s in the safe is probably worth even more.”
A chill went down my spine. I only touched that book in the first place because I thought it looked unimportant. Shioriko was the only one who gasped when I had almost dropped it.
“…Tanabe Kuniyo probably wasn’t aware if of its value.”
She had put Egawa Ranko back onto the bookshelf rather roughly after I handed it to her. She was naturally astonished at my blunder, but didn’t seem particularly frightened. I was sure she would have been livid had she known its true value.
“I suppose so. It’s common to see a book collector’s family have no interest in books.”
I glanced at Shioriko. Her explanation sounded like she was talking about other people, but the truth was, the Shinokawa sisters were the same. The older sister was an extreme bookworm, but the younger sister hardly read books at all. That said, they didn’t have a bad relationship by any means….and come to think of it, the two families were also similar in that the younger of the two sisters took care of the injured elder.
The love the siblings had for each other was the same even if their hobbies differed—that was normal for families, I supposed.
I didn’t even get a note, let alone a book, you know?
Ayaka’s earlier words echoed in my ears. Why didn’t her mother leave anything behind for her? Was it because her second daughter, who was different from the others and didn’t read books, wasn’t as important?
I raised my head when Shioriko called my name. Her face was now even closer to mine, close enough that I couldn’t even get her in focus. I knew full well she was just really into our conversation and had no other intentions. Still, I found myself clenching my fists over my knees.
“I asked Ayaka to take care of closing up the shop tomorrow, and intend to visit the Kayama family in the evening. What I want to ask is…Daisuke, will you be able to…?”
“Oh. I’ll drive you there, of course.”
Shioriko placed her hand on her ample chest and sighed in relief. My gaze followed the movement, and lingered despite my best intentions.
“Thank you very much. I looked the address up earlier, and their house seems to be at a distance from the train station. The area is fairly hilly and I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with it. I’ll be sure to thank you properly for this so…what’s wrong?”
“Oh, it’s just…how are you planning to thank me?” I was a bit surprised by her question and ended up blurting it out.
“Oh,” She opened her mouth. “Oh no. Did I not tell you?”
“It’s a bonus.”
All of a sudden my vision went white.
“A bonus. You know how I’ve had you take me to lots of places already, right? You’re even helping me organize the books in my collection and well, I can’t afford to give you a lot but…”
Shioriko timidly brought her fingers together as she tried to explain. It was a really cute gesture, but I still too frozen to even care.
It wasn’t that I was angry. I just felt a little disheartened that my feelings hadn’t gotten across to her—and also ashamed because I had let my imagination run wild after she first mentioned thanking me. My mind was in utter chaos.
“I didn’t do all that because I wanted to be thanked.” The words came out harsher than I wanted them to.
Shioriko’s eyes went wide behind her glasses.
“Do you mean to say you don’t need…” The miserable way her words trailed off at the end hurt to watch.
Still, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want the bonus. My salary wasn’t all that great to begin with.
“I was hoping the two of us could go somewhere together after this case was over. Not as thanks or anything…but as a date.”
I had gone places with Shioriko before, but this would be the first real “date”. The reason I had been hesitant to bring it up until now was because she once declared that she never wanted to get married.
“A date…” Shioriko muttered weakly.
I waited for a little bit for her answer, but she didn’t tell me if she wanted to go or not. It looked like she was too shocked to speak. But I was sure she clearly understood my feelings now. There was no turning back.
“Please think about it.”
I stood up and quickly left the room, almost tripping as I rushed down the stairs.
Shioriko and I arrived at the Kayama family’s house a little earlier than our scheduled time. It was located on a quiet hill, right at the end of a complex series of roads. We got off the van and stepped onto the grounds only to find ourselves dumbfounded by the ornate brick and iron gate in front of us. A winding cobblestone path extended beyond the gate into a grove, and that alone told us how large this estate was.
Shioriko was wearing a light colored spring coat today.
Since we were told to use the side entrance to get to the house, we went in that direction instead.
Thinking about it now, Kishiro Keiko’s house had also been pretty big. I supposed it wouldn’t make much sense for the Kayama family’s actual house to be even smaller than their villa. The people we were going to meet here were quite literally elites.
The house came into view after some time. It was a large, two story, western style building with a reddish brown roof that contrasted starkly with its white stone walls. The house was beautifully maintained, but it also looked like it had some history to it. I wouldn’t be too surprised if someone told me it was listed as a cultural property by the city and prefecture.
“What a lovely house…it’s like something out of the Boys Detective Club series….” Shioriko sighed in admiration. “It almost feels like the Fiend with Twenty Faces could leap out at any moment…”
Normally I’d tell her that wasn’t a compliment, or something to that effect, but I felt horribly tongue-tied today. I didn’t know how I was supposed to behave around her after what I said last night. I told her to think about it and ran away, but had totally forgotten that I was supposed to spend the entire day with her today.
Shioriko on the other hand didn’t seem any different from usual. It would be weird of me to ask if she was really thinking about what I said, so all I could do was watch her for now.
She held onto her cane and stood up straight when I pressed the brass doorbell at the entrance to the house. Soon after, the slider on the door’s viewing window was pulled back to reveal the eyes of a man with metal framed glasses. The deep wrinkles etched on his forehead clearly showed what he thought about is.
The man closed the slider, and then left us there in silence. After a while, just when I was starting to get the feeling that he was going to make us wait forever, the sturdy door slowly began to open.
A thin, oval faced man with thick lips stood in the doorway. Judging from his drooping chin and receding hairline, he looked to be in his fifties. The well tailored sweater and slightly wrinkled pants looked normal enough, but they fit so perfectly that it felt overdone. He reminded me of a department store mannequin.
“Good evening…we’re here on behalf of Kishiro Keiko. My name is Shinokawa…”
“Ah, from the bookstore. Where is Tanabe?” He spat the name out.
“It’s just…us today.
Tanabe said she didn’t want to come with us because her presence would only make things more complicated. Looking at the unpleasant expression on this man’s face, that had probably been the right choice. It didn’t look like he was going to be any friendlier with us though.
“My name is Kayama Yoshihiko. Let’s not stand here and talk. Please come inside.”
Yoshihiko led us to a parlor dyed with the colors of the evening sun. The furniture here were all large antiques, and to be honest, it was hard to feel comfortable. The two of us took the loveseat, and Kayama Yoshihiko sat down on the armchair across from us. The way he settled perfectly into it showed how long he had lived here.
“This is quite a magnificent house…” Shioriko murmured words of praise.
“An American architect apparently built it for himself at the beginning of the Showa era. My grandfather purchased it many years later, but there’s still a lot of furniture from before the war.” Yoshihiko explained matter-of-factly.
Suddenly, the door opened and a short haired woman looked into the room. She looked a little younger than Yoshihiko, and although I doubted they did it on purpose, she wore the exact same sweater he did.
“Dear….oh.” She noticed the guests in the room and respectfully bowed. This was probably Yoshihiko’s wife, Hidemi. Yoshihiko waved his hand to stop us just as Shioriko and tried to stand up and greet her.
“They’re here from Kamakura on an errand. We’re almost done so there’s no need to prepare anything for them.” He said to his wife without batting an eye.
She seemed to have understood what he meant, and closed the door after a quick nod our way. It was hard to blame them given the circumstances, but it seemed the people here really didn’t like Kishiro Keiko.
“Let’s get started, shall we? I was told you came hear to search for the key.”
“I told Tanabe this too, but we couldn’t find a key in this house, and we don’t know what the password is either. My father never mentioned anything at all about the safe. That, and we don’t have any interest in the safe to begin with. I recommended she hire a professional to open the safe…but she didn’t want to do that for some reason.”
“…S-she’s worried that the item in the safe could get damaged so…” Shioriko made herself small and answered without meeting Yoshihiko’s eyes. She somehow reminded me of a schoolgirl getting scolded by a teacher.
“While we’re on the subject, what’s inside that safe anyway? I wasn’t told anything besides it’s a rare Edogawa Ranpo item.”
“That’s really all we know as well…”
“So you’re cooperating with them without knowing anything? Why did your shop take up their request then?”
“Your father…that is, Kayama Akira…um, he used to make frequent purchases from us. Kishiro Keiko found out about us through that…and asked us to find the password.” Shioriko’s explanation was awkward as always, but she managed to get it done.
She then had to explain that we would gain the right to purchase the books in Kishiro’s library and would be allowed to examine the contents of the safe if we successfully opened it.
For some reason, the wrinkles on Yoshihiko’s forehead went away. He put a finger on his temple and looked at the corner of the table.
“…Did my father and grandfather really collect old mystery novels at that house in Kamakura?”
“I haven’t worked with them directly, but…Kayama Akira’s name and the address for the house in Kamakura were written in our customer registry. Um…I don’t mean to pry, but did you not know about this?”
“I had no idea…” He muttered with a sigh.
That felt like the first humanlike response from him today.
“I didn’t know that house even existed in the first place. It was an incredible shock when I saw the will after my father suddenly passed away. It was for everyone. My father’s legal advisor was the only one who knew the whole story, apparently…”
Shioriko nodded halfheartedly next to me. It seemed she wasn’t sure if she should interject now that Yoshihiko had suddenly begun talking about his life story.
“In the end, everything was carried out according to the instructions in the will. It would greatly trouble us if this information were made public…I’d like for you to keep that in mind.”
“O-of course. Please don’t…worry about us…”
Unfortunately, the shop owner once again stammered at the most inopportune time. The wrinkles on Kayama Yoshihiko’s forehead deepened further. He seemed even more worried now.
I now better understood the situation. It was obvious that this was a family of means, but that didn’t mean they were going to contest the inheritance going to Kishiro Keiko.
The reason was that Yoshihiko was afraid that the story of his educator father’s long lived affair would come to light. It seemed he had quite a few things to worry about now that he had inherited the position of school chairman. He probably only agreed to meet total strangers like us in the first place because he was afraid of provoking Kishiro.
“I was told you visited…Miss Kishiro’s house in Kamakura.” Shioriko said.
“My first time was after the earthquake. I had only spoken to her over the phone until that point.”
“Why did you suddenly decide to meet her?”
That was a good question. Tanabe Kuniyo did tell us that he been refusing contact until just recently.
“Because I couldn’t continue to refuse someone who was not only injured, but gravely ill as well.” Yoshiko replied. “I thought it was strange that we hadn’t heard anything for the past six months. Our lawyer visited the house several times, but she was never there. She may have already been admitted into the hospital by then.”
That matched up with what we already knew. Kishiro Keiko underwent surgery about six months ago.
“She seems convinced that we have the key and password. I’m not sure how to make her understand that is not the case. I told her we looked for the key and couldn’t find it but…” Yoshihiko shook his head. I saw a slight amount of sympathy for Kishiro Keiko in him.
“Umm…did you ever investigate her personal life or family…?”
I remembered how Shioriko said we needed to be cautious of their movements last night. She was probably trying to gather more information on the sisters.
Yoshihiko didn’t quite understand why she was asking, but he didn’t hesitate much before his reply.
“I did investigate her background, in fact. She, along with her sister and nephew, came from Miyagi Prefecture. Her parents died some twenty years ago, and she has no other living relatives. You already knew that much, right?”
“…She didn’t tell us much about herself. I was thinking it would be…worthwhile to learn more about her and perhaps…find something that could lead to the password…I don’t mean to pry…b-but could you tell me how your father first met Kishiro Keiko…?”
Shioriko may have sounded as timid as always, but her question was bold. Yoshiko’s expression soured, but perhaps having realized there would be no point in evading the question, he began to explain with a scowl.
“From what I understand, she didn’t come from a wealthy family and attended university with funds provided by a scholarship foundation. One of the of the trustees for this scholarship was my father. There was an open friendship party with the trustees in attendance around the time she graduated…the story is that’s where they got to know each other. She apparently intended to go on to graduate school and aimed to become a researcher.”
“A researcher…you say.”
“Her major was in modern popular fiction, with a special focus on mysteries. That naturally included Edogawa Ranpo.”
I supposed it made sense that the topic of school majors would come up at a party like that. This must have been where they both unexpectedly discovered each other’s love for the same author.
“According to our lawyer, the two only met up regularly to discuss their hobbies for several years after they met. My father was the one who treated her to meals and also recommended her for a part time job, amongst other things. He did similar things for other young people was well. That was just his personality; he liked to help people…”
Yoshihiko paused for a moment, and looked up at the ceiling as he searched his memory.
“She later finished graduate school and became a lecturer, but that wasn’t enough to live off of, so she continued to work at her part time job. Eventually that took a toll on her health and she lost her job, leaving her at the brink of homelessness. That’s when my father offered her the house in Kamakura…this was 25, maybe 26 years ago.”
“…And this was after your grandfather, Kayama Soukichi, passed away, correct?” Shioriko asked.
I was reminded of the family tree. 25 or 26 years ago would have been around 1985. Kayama Akira’s wife was still alive at the time.
“That’s right. My father was the only one who frequented the house in Kamakura at that time. At first she was employed to manage the library, but in the end, he was still a man…”
A hint of disappointment showed through his bitter smile. Kayama Akira was supposed to be a father Yoshihiko could be proud of. His disappointment probably stemmed from the pride he had in him.
“…Did your father ever talk to you about Ranpo? To his family, that is.”
“No, not at all.” Kayama Yoshihiko flatly denied it. “In fact, we had no idea that he even had a hobby of reading mystery novels. He spent most of his time in his study when he was at home and didn’t keep even a single Ranpo book in there. He was too serious, taciturn, and I hate to say it, not a very interesting person. At least that’s how he seemed to me.”
I thought that was strange.
Kishiro Keiko told us before that he was someone who ‘loved talking about books, was cheerful and loved mischief’. That was the complete opposite of what Yoshihiko just told us. It was like he was describing a totally different person. Where could such a huge difference have come from?
“You know, my father, being the way he was, severely restricted what we could do for fun. He wouldn’t let us buy comics with our own money and hardly ever let us watch television. The only books we were allowed to read were biographies of influential people, encyclopedias, and children’s books that our parents chose.”
“Oh no…” Shioriko gasped.
For someone like her who spent countless hours reading whatever she wanted since a young age, that would have been literal hell. Just thinking about it put her at a loss for words.
“…Was your father the one who set those rules?”
“No, that was mostly my mother’s influence. She was the first daughter of a high ranking military officer, and had a strictly disciplined upbringing as you’d expect. That’s why she was strict with her own children…and well, I suppose my father had the same opinion since he never said anything about what she did. And this is with him going so far to hide his own collection of mystery novels.”
“But why did he need to hide them in another house?” I suddenly asked. It was something that had been bothering me for a while now. “He could have just kept them here right? But he instead hid it from his own family and moved everything to another house.”
“I don’t know the details about his circumstances since it happened so long ago. Maybe he was afraid it would harm his professional reputation if others learned about it. Ranpo’s books for adults had many depictions of cruelty after all. Like young women getting chopped to pieces, and then covered in plaster and used as decoration, for example…”
I still wasn’t convinced. Kayama Akira had gone too far, not having even a single novel besides Ranpo in his house. There had to be some other reason.
“Come to think of it, the Boy Detectives Club series was the only exception.” Kayama Yoshihiko suddenly said as if he had just remembered. “My father was the one who got them for us. He bought the books from different stores until he had 25 or 26 volumes total. Even as tame as those books were, my mother objected to them, saying they were too shocking. But…I suppose he bought them anyway as an Edogawa Ranpo fan.”
“If this was when you were a child, then the books you read were likely from Poplar Publishing’s Edogawa Ranpo Boy Detectives Collection.”
Shioriko suddenly looked up when the conversation turned to books. Her attitude changed completely.
“And given the number books, your father only purchased originals that Ranpo wrote for boys. I’m assuming they had a spider, or perhaps a helmet mark on the spine. Is that correct?”
Yoshihiko lightly nodded.
“As expected of a bookshop owner, you’re quite well informed. That’s exactly right. We had few other things to do for fun so we used to read those books over and over.”
“And this house has such a wonderful atmosphere too…I’m incredibly jealous! It feels like the Fiend with Twenty Faces could jump out on us at any moment…” Shioriko looked around the parlor said the same thing she told me earlier.
I half expected our host to get angry, but unexpectedly he leaned forward, seemingly in a good mood.
“It’s like you can almost see the Fiend peeking out of the window, and sometimes it feels like you might even find one of his mysterious calling cards right?”
“Did you also play Boys Detective Club…?”
“Of course. I acted as the club leader. My sister and other kid in the neighborhood were club members. There was one time where we dug lots of holes in the yard in case the Fiend attacked, and my mother got really…”
Kayama Shuuichi came back to his senses suddenly cut his impassioned story short. He cleared his throat once and settled back down into his chair. It was like he had put on a mask; his earlier unpleasant expression returned.
“Either way, I graduated from those kinds of games by middle school.” He said as he got up from his chair and looked down at us in out seats. “Let’s end the pointless conversation here. Just tell her we couldn’t find the key.”
He was clearly trying to get us to leave, but Shioriko did not falter. Her switch was still active.
“There are two things that I’d like see. We’ll take our leave after that.”
Our host’s eyes narrowed. He was clearly wary.
“What are they?”
“If you still have them, first I’d like to see the Edogawa Ranpo Boy Detectives Collection books.”
“There’s something I want to check just to be sure…it won’t take long.”
Yoshihiko looked away and thought about it, and finally reluctantly nodded.
“Well, I suppose that’s fine. They should still be in the bookshelf in the storage room. What was the other thing?”
“I’d like to see your father’s study.” Shioriko said smoothly, almost as an afterthought.
The storeroom in question was located in a corner of the residence. It was a small, north facing room filled with dust covered furniture and old electronics that looked like they belonged in a museum. They all looked like they had value as antiques, and could probably fetch a significant amount of money if they were sold. The reason I thought like that was because I was an ordinary person, I supposed.
The bookshelf stood next to an antique television set with a built-in stand. Edogawa Ranpo books were crammed onto the shelf alongside old encyclopedias and English instruction materials. There were indeed two different marks printed on the book spines. Some had a spider mark, and others, a helmet. The smiling mask that I knew—the golden mask, was nowhere in sight.
“These were published before the mark was changed to the golden mask.” Shioriko explained in a whisper.
It was a more concise explanation than usual, but perhaps she was being considerate of Kayama Yoshihiko, who was standing next to her with his arms crossed. His mood seemed even worse than it was before. I felt it was understandable. He went along with Shioriko’s demands for now, but we had no idea when he would change his mind.
“Daisuke, could I ask you to take out a few books and show me their copyright pages? Starting with the with the books that have a spider mark.”
She couldn’t take the books herself because one of her hands was occupied by her cane.
It seemed the books with the spider mark made up the first half of the series, and the ones with the helmet mark made up the second half. I pulled out The Fiend with Twenty Faces, The Boys Detective Club, and The Invisible Man one by one and opened to the copyright page.
“It looks like you read the first half of the series quite a lot.” I struck up conversation with Kayama Yoshihiko to maybe relax the atmosphere a little.
“Because I was already in middle school by the time my father bought the second half.” His response was chilly, but I could feel some semblance of self control in his voice. He sighed a little.
“These were published in the early Showa 40s as I thought. …Daisuke, could you give me a few books with the helmet mark next?”
This time I took out The Professor of Magic, The Evil Doll, and Curse of the Fiend with Twenty Faces and did the same thing. These were more similar to the Boys Detective Club books that I read when I was a kid.
The name “Kayama Yoshihiko” was written in large letters next to the cover illustration of children holding walky-talkies. Now that I thought about it, the other books had his name on them too.
“Did you write your name on all the books?” Yoshihiko’s expression became even more serious than before when I asked him the question.
“I got fed up with my sister taking my books all the time…I was still I kid then. I ordered her never to touch any of the books with my name on them…anyway, are you done yet?”
“I’m sorry. I’m done now. Daisuke, that’s enough.”
I put Curse of the Fiend with Twenty Faces back on the shelf where it was before. Shioriko turned around to Yoshihiko and respectfully bowed.
“Thank you very much…we’ll go to your father’s study next.”
“Before that, why don’t you tell me what were you checking just now?”
“Just the copyright pages…it seems all the books were published during your childhood. I have reason to believe your father bought all of these books for you.”
“Well, yeah. Was that not obvious? I’m asking why you needed to check in the first place.”
Shioriko fell silent. After some time, she finally shook her head with a troubled expression.
“May I answer that after we see the study? I believe it would be better to explain after I get some things in order.”
Yoshihiko had no choice but to show her to the study if she put it like that. He lightly clicked his tongue and walked out of the room. Shioriko leaned on her cane and followed after him. I wasn’t sure if she really needed to get things in order or if she just wanted to stall for time by having him show us the study. Either way, she was amazing, I thought.
The difference between Kayama Akira’s study on the second floor was apparent right from the entrance. It had a beautiful door, furnished with long, horizontal panels, that looked heavy and enormous. Shioriko couldn’t open it with one hand so I had to help her push it open.
“It’s made entirely of Hinoki cypress. I had a lot of trouble opening it myself when I was a kid since it was so heavy, but this was my father’s hobby. All the furniture inside is made of cypress too.”
We entered the study while listening to Kayama Yoshihiko’s explanation. The room was wider, and had a higher ceiling than I expected. The walls on the left and right sides had bookshelves built into them. Right across from the door was a large desk that was the same color as the door. It was set up so that people who entered the room would face the owner sitting behind the desk upon entering. Next to the door were some couches and a coffee table similar to the ones on the first floor. The layout reminded me of a principal’s office.
“This room is the only one that’s remained exactly like it was when my father was alive. Like I said before, there’s no key here. We already searched through this room once just in case.” Yoshihiko warned us.
Shioriko turned her attention to the bookshelves.
“Did your father spend a lot of time in here?”
“He always returned here immediately after dinner and stayed until it was time to sleep. He did some of his work here as well, and often used this room to talk with important guests.”
The bookshelves contained many books related to history and education, with the Japanese Ideology Compendium and Meiji Literature Collection books packed tightly into the shelves especially standing out. There were also biographical dictionaries, foreign dictionaries, and materials on braille and sign language—the sort of books an intellectual could be expected to have. However, there was no trace of the man’s actual interests. It looked entirely like a library bookshelf.
“Are these all the books in your father’s personal collection? At least in this house.”
“Did others in the family read these books?”
“My wife and I often borrow some for research. My father always said we could read them freely when he was alive…wait, what are you doing now?”
Shioriko was standing in front of a shutter door in the corner.
“Do you mind if I take a look a look inside?”
Sigh, Kayama Yoshihiko exhaled. He seemed to really be trying to keep himself calm.
“…Go ahead. We’ve already organized it so it’s empty though.”
Shioriko opened the shutter doors before Yoshihiko even finished his sentence. The interior looked like a storage closet. She leaned her upper body into the closet, cane and all, seemingly in search of something. After a moment, Shioriko closed the shutter doors again.
“…I see.” She nodded to herself. It didn’t seem like she was going to provide any further explanation.
“What were you looking for just now? How about you give me an actual explanation this time.”
Yoshihiko Kayama’s tone was sharp. It looked like his patience was wearing thin. Shioriko remained unperturbed as she began to explain.
“I thought something was strange ever since we saw the collection in Kishiro’s home. Why did it contain only the books that Ranpo wrote for adults?”
“What do you mean?” I asked as I always did.
Shioriko moved away from the closet and approached the desk before she continued.
“There wasn’t a single book for children like the Boys Detective Club books. It was such an expansive, thorough collection, but only those books were neatly missing.”
Now that I thought about it, I didn’t remember seeing any of the books I was familiar with like The Fiend with Twenty Faces or the Boys Detective Club series in that collection. They would have definitely left an impression had they been there.
“Those books are for a different target audience. I don’t see what’s so strange about that. Is it really that important?” Yoshihiko said with an exasperated expression. “I can’t even imagine my father collecting the Boys Detective Club books. Those suit him less than the books for adults he loved to read.”
But despite what he said, Yoshihiko still kept his Poplar publishing collection in good condition. I thought it was a good match if we were talking about being things not being suitable.
“You said the collection had Ranpo’s classical mysteries right? Those were worth quite a lot. Maybe it wasn’t that he disliked children’s books.”
“Objective value aside, is it really so strange for someone to collect books they loved as a child? There’s an extremely good chance the Kayama Akira became an Edogawa Ranpo fan because of the Boys Detective Club series.”
“How do you know that?”
I hadn’t heard about this from anyone. It wasn’t written in the report we had either.
“We were told that he became a fan of Edogawa Ranpo after reading his works in magazines before the war, right? However, he was born in 1928…or Showa 3. The earliest he could have learned to read, even assuming he was a fast learner, would have been around Showa 10.
“The Fiend with Twenty Faces was a hit at the time, and Ranpo had stories for both children and adults serialized at the same time. The final serialized work for adults before the war, Spirit Tower, ended in Showa 15, meaning…”
“Oh, I see.”
I finally understood. Kayama Akira was only twelve years old in Showa 15.
“It would have been too early for him to start reading stories for adults, and…no, there are some exceptions to that….”
She seemed to have realized halfway through her sentence. I suppressed the urge to laugh. Shioriko herself was one of the “exceptions” who read books for adults in her childhood.
“…E-excuse me. Do you mind if I open these?” She turned to Yoshihiko and asked.
He waved dismissively as if to say ‘do whatever you want’. Shioriko began to open the drawers one after another to check their contents.
It was some time before she spoke to us again.
“…Now I’m convinced. It wasn’t that Kayama Akira wasn’t fond of the Boys Detective Club. Rather, he adored the series so much that he wanted to keep it somewhere in this house…always within reach.”
I remembered the Edogawa Ranpo Boy Detectives Collection books in the store room.
“You’re talking about the Poplar Publishing books in the storeroom, right?”
Kayama Yoshihiko grimaced at my remark. “Don’t be ridiculous. Those aren’t my father’s books; they’re mine.”
“That’s right. Those books belong to you.” Shioriko agreed. “And in the first place, the Poplar publishing books are too new. As a long time fan, it’s only natural to assume Kayama Akira had books from a different publisher that were much older.”
“Wait, there were different publishers?”
I was under the impression that the same company published all the books.
Shioriko, who had her head down up until this point, glanced at my face and smiled. It somehow felt like this was where the real story was going to begin.
“That’s right. We have Kodansha, which first began publishing before the war, and Kobunsha which published up to Iron Man Q. They’re most famous for their Boy Detectives: Edogawa Ranpo Collection. I believe that one of these two versions—or perhaps both, are hidden in this house somewh…”
“There’s no such thing. That’s impossible.” Kayama Yoshihiko denied it on the spot. “My father died a year ago. Someone would have found it by now no matter where he put it.”
“That would have been true had he simply put the books somewhere. But let’s suppose he hid them somewhere…for example, in a secret bookshelf.”
“Absurd. This isn’t some Ranpo book. There’s no way someone would go out of their way to make something like that.” Yoshiko snorted in derision.
While it was certainly a wild story, I couldn’t bring myself to reject the idea so quickly. In fact, Kayama Akira might have enjoyed making a secret bookshelf, hardcore Ranpo enthusiast that he was. It was like the way kids who loved the boy detectives dug pitfall traps in the yard. Kishiro Keiko was the one who said her own lover was mischievous like a young boy—
“You told us earlier that you couldn’t find the key, correct?” Shioriko continued. “Your father hid everything about Ranpo from his family. If we assume that both his Boys Detective Club books and the key to the safe are in the same location, then…”
“That’s enough.” Yoshihiko interrupted in disgust. “What you’re saying is nothing more than your imagination. Do you even have any proof that my father had his own collection of the Boys Detective Club?”
“…Look at this, please.” Shioriko pulled out a small object from a drawer she had left open and set it on the desk.
“I believed there would be proof of this collection somewhere. That’s what I was searching for.”
“What is this?”
“It’s a BD badge. Isn’t its design lovely?” She answered brightly—but I could see it was a BD badge just by looking at it.
“Umm…what I mean is, what kind of badge is it?”
“The “B” stands for “boy”, and the “D” stands for “detective. That’s the abbreviation for the Boys Detective Club. It appears frequently in the series as the club’s official badge. It has lots of other uses as well.”
The badge suddenly reminded me of the golden celluloid mask we saw in Kishiro Keiko’s library. That was also a real item that originally appeared in a story, meaning—
“Is this also a promotional item? Like, was it used for advertising?”
Shioriko’s eyes went wide. Joy and surprise spread across her face.
“That’s exactly right! Do you already know about it?
“I didn’t, but just somehow…”
“You somehow knew? You’re amazing, Daisuke! You really are!”
A strange feeling began to slowly well up inside of me. When was the last time she unreservedly praised me like this?
Shioriko continued her explanation as I basked in the after glow.
“It was originally made in Showa 30 for a prize contest in the Youth magazine that Boys Detective Club ran in. The badge proved to be extremely popular, which led to it being included in supplemental material and other prize contents. It eventually became available for mail order purchase as well.
“The badge designs varied slightly depending on when they were sold, but I think this particular one was a special present for people who read the books.”
“A special present?”
“Yes. In Showa 30, each of the books in Kobunsha’s Boy Detectives: Edogawa Ranpo Collection came with a claim ticket. Anyone who collected three of them and mailed them to Kobunsha would receive a BD badge in exchange. “
I organized this information in my head. If Kayama Akira kept a special badge like this in his desk, that meant…
“He owned at least three of Kobunsha’s books, right?”
I didn’t know if he actually had a hidden bookshelf, but there was reason to believe he at least kept the books somewhere.
She’s amazing as always.
I was truly impressed. When I said she was amazing, it wasn’t like what she said about me, who somehow managed to piece things together. With only a few clues to work with, she was slowly discovering the extent of Kayama Akira’s collection. Her extraordinary wealth of knowledge when it came to books let her see connections that weren’t apparent to ordinary people.
I turned to Kayama Yoshihiko. He was completely silent, but didn’t seem to be angry anymore. He stared intently at the badge.
“I’ve…seen this before. A long time ago.” He whispered to himself.
“When did you see it?” I asked.
“I think it was in my first or second year of middle school…my sister was wearing a badge similar to this one when we played outside with a friend. I thought it was weird because of its strange design…but I wonder why I didn’t recognize it as a BD badge. I loved the series so much at the time too.”
I didn’t think it was all that strange. If he didn’t know that the badge existed, it was no wonder he didn’t recognize it. This was all the more if he had stopped reading the Boys Detective Club series by then. More importantly, I wanted to know why his sister had the badge in the first place.
“If it’s alright with you, can we talk to your sister as well? Where does she currently live?”
Yoshihiko smiled bitterly at Shioriko’s question.
“My sister lives here. She came back home after her divorce.”
So she’d been married. Thinking back on the family tree, her name was Kayama Naomi.
“She’s always been childish. She’s at her part time job today and said she might have to work overtime. Her line of work is similar to yours, in fact.”
“What do you mean…?”
“She works at a used bookstore. I told you earlier, right? My sister and I used to play Boys Detective Club with a kid from our neighborhood. He quit his corporate job and opened his own bookstore. You might know him.”
Kayama Yoshihiko took a breath and told us the name of the store.
“He runs Hitori Bookstore in Tsujidou.”
Shioriko and I left the Kayama house and set off once again. This time, our sights were on Tsujidou. Kayama Naomi had picked up the phone when her brother called, but she apparently wasn’t able to leave work. After some hesitation, we made the decision to go to Hitori Bookstore in person.
We were ambushed by traffic the moment we got onto the highway, with taillights stretching out on the highway’s as far as the eye could see. The sun was starting to come down. It was almost night.
The living world is a dream. The nocturnal dream is reality.
Ranpo’s words came to mind. Still, it was still too early for me to start dreaming. I needed to focus on reality right now.
“So what did you think?” I asked Shioriko in the seat next to me.
After what Shida told us yesterday, we thought Hitori Bookstore might have some relation to this case, but neither of us could have imagined it was something like this.
“I knew it. I had a feeling it was something like this…but now I’m convinced.” Shioriko nodded, satisfied.
I was curious about what she had known.
“What do you mean?”
“I told you yesterday, didn’t I? That Hitori…Inoue has a special interest in Edogawa Ranpo.”
“Ah.” I turned to her. “I’ve actually been meaning to ask. How do you know that?”
“I once mentioned how Ranpo once managed a bookstore on Dango Slop in Sendagi, right? The name of that bookstore was Sannin Bookstore. It was given that name because Ranpo started the store with his two younger brothers…I believe the name Hitori Bookstore is a pun off of that.”
That sounded reasonable to me. He called it Hitori Bookstore because he was the only one who ran it—although he did have his childhood friend working there part time now. There was a good chance that the two of them were Ranpo fans since they played Boys Detective Club together when they were kids.
“Wait, didn’t we meet Kayama Naomi before? I’m thinking it was autumn last year.”
I had agreed to take Shioriko out to whatever stores she wanted as a result of a “bet” we made, and Hitori Bookstore was the last shop we visited. The owner was out at the time, but there was a middle-aged woman tending the register.
“Yes, you may be right.” Shioriko nodded, but then her expression hardened.
“Hitori probably knew.”
“He knew about the secret that Kayama Akira kept from his family…and about Kishiro Keiko too. Do you remember the book in Kishiro’s house that was from Hitori bookstore?”
There must have been an unexpectedly complicated relationship if Kayama Akira was one of Hitori’s customers… Not even his son, Yoshihiko, knew anything about his secre—
“Do you think Naomi knows? Considering she works at the bookstore.”
According to her brother, she married into a textile producing family, but returned home after her divorce three years ago. She had been working at Hitori Bookstore ever since, making it a continuation of the long-standing relationship with the neighboring Inoue house.
“I’m not sure yet…but it’s hard to believe she didn’t know anything at all. There is also the issue of the BD badge.”
“So you also think she borrowed it from her dad?”
“She may have taken it out in secret…but of course, there’s also the possibility that she got it from somewhere else. That said, Naomi was in elementary school during the Showa 40s. She would not have been able to get a hold of a BD badge that was released in the 30s in real time.”
Regardless, it seemed we were going to have to ask her directly. The original request was to search for the key to the safe, but things were starting to head in a strange direction. I didn’t know if the “secret bookshelf” containing the Boys Detective Club series actually existed, but maybe we’d be able to find some clue this way.
The traffic light turned green, and traffic finally began to move.
Hitori Bookstore was in a quiet corner near Tsujidou Station. We parked the van on a road near the store, and stepped outside. It was already past the store’s closing time. There was a “closed for business” sign attached to the door, but we could still see lights illuminating the inside of the store. I saw a woman in an apron dusting off bookshelves through the glass door at the entrance. She was thin with a slight build, and had her long hair tied in a bundle behind her back. We were told she might be working overtime, be she didn’t actually look all that busy.
“Daisuke, Hitori’s car isn’t here.” Shioriko pointed to the monthly rental parking spot next to the store.
I didn’t know what kind of car Hitori drove, but there certainly was one spot open.
“Maybe he’s doing a house call.”
If that were the case, then I could understand why she looked bored. She was waiting for the shop owner to return to help him organize whatever books he returned with.
In any case, it was good fortune for us that Inoue was out right now. That man would never welcome Shioriko with open arms.
Kayama Naomi turned around when we opened the door. Her oval face resembled her brother Yoshihiko’s in some ways. She had attractive almond eyes, but they were wrinkled with the weariness that came with age. She was definitely the person we talked to before.
“Welcome back, Ichiro—oh, excuse me. We’re already closed for the day.”
Hearing her call him “Ichirou” surprised me. That’s probably what she called the shop owner, whose full name was, I believe, Taichirou Inoue. I didn’t think there was anyone in the world who’d have a pet name for him though.
“U-umm…we’re from Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. Do you…have a moment to talk? It’s about a somewhat complex issue.”
“You have business with me?” Naomi had a troubled expression.
Judging by her reaction when Shioriko announced the name of the shop, she didn’t seem to know about the bad relationship Inoue had with the Shinokawa family.
“Yes…the truth is, we spoke with your older brother, Yoshihiko, earlier today…” Shioriko awkwardly began to explain our circumstances.
She told Naomi how we got a request from Kishiro Keiko to find the key to the safe and to figure out the password. She also told her how we went to her house to find more information and that we were currently looking for a secret hiding location that might have something related to Ranpo.
Naomi grimaced when she heard who our client was, but she patiently listened to what Shioriko had to say until the very end.
“…I’m sorry to say that I don’t know anything to help you.” Naomi told us up front. “My dad hardly ever spoke to me…he wasn’t the type to dote on his daughters. He wouldn’t have told me about it even if he did build a secret hiding spot. If my brother doesn’t know, then I don’t think anyone does.”
I couldn’t tell if she was lying or not. Shioriko nodded in understanding and continued the conversation. It looked like she was getting used to Naomi.
“You liked the Boys Detective Club series right? I was told you used to play pretend with other kids in the neighborhood.”
“Yeah, I did. That really brings me back.” Naomi suddenly grinned.
It was a childish, rather than youthful smile. Naomi gave off a composed impression, but perhaps this was her true self. Her brother did call her childish after all.
“My brother was the club leader and Ichirou and I were members. I was always jealous of the books my dad bought for my brother. I couldn’t borrow his books very often, so I got them from the library instead and secretly read at night…”
Naomi’s expression clouded.
“But my mom eventually banned me from reading any of the books.”
“Huh, why?” Shioriko gasped. She was especially sensitive to stories about reading being restricted.
“Because one day, we dug holes in the yard at my suggestion during a game of Boys Detective Club. My mom yelled at all of us when she found the holes, but I was the only one who got stricter punishment later. She said girls weren’t supposed to read vulgar books for boys and I wasn’t allowed to borrow any books from the school or the local library as punishment. This continued until middle school.”
Shioriko was utterly shocked and was at a loss for words. She must have imagined how she’d feel in Naomi’s place. I took over the conversation next.
“Don’t you think she went too far?”
“Yeah. I didn’t think there were any parents as strict as mine at the time, but I guess my mom was just raising me the same way she was raised.”
Kayama Yoshihiko told us before that his mother was raised strictly as the eldest daughter in her family. Naomi, too, was the oldest daughter of the Kayama family.
“When I think about it now, I can kind of understand my mom’s feelings. As the daughter of a military family, she must have had a lot of unpleasant experiences after the war. She always had to be conscious of how she appeared to others, and probably felt strongly about keeping discipline. My dad was half like her in that regard.”
What did she mean when she said “half”? But before I could ask, Naomi’s mood improved and her face lit up.
“But being restricted wasn’t nearly enough to discourage me. I secretly borrowed the books I wanted and read them in bed in the middle of the night….and also continued to play Boys Detective Club with Ichirou.”
“What’s your favorite book in the series?” Shioriko asked after finally recovering from her earlier shock.
“Well, there were a few books in the series for girls, right? I liked Conjurer on the Tower…and especially The Magic Doll. I was drawn in by the strange title about a doll at first, but I couldn’t stop reading before long.”
“I also love that one!” Shioriko’s eyes shined behind her glasses. “It’s one of Ranpo’s excellent latter works that deals with the unique theme of dolls! The Boys Detective Club face off against a villain who has the power to turn people into dolls a little bit at a time. That scene where the beautiful half doll girl explains how great it was to become a doll was wonderful!”
“It really was great. The girl detective Hanazaki Mayumi disguised herself as a boy and slipped into the villain’s hideout in the latter half…”
“With Pocket Kid, right?”
“Yep! And underground base actually had a jungle and they we attacked by a gorilla…I remember my heart really pounding when I read that.”
The two woman got all fired up and left me completely out of the loop. Still, there was something I was curious about so I asked Shioriko the moment I got an opening.
“How come there are girl detectives when it’s the Boys Detective Club?”
“Most of the magazines that the Boys Detective Club was serialized in were for boys, but there were several stories published in the girl’s magazine Girl’s Club. Female characters appeared more often in those stories to match the magazine they were published in, you see. Hanazaki Mayumi’s role was something like the beloved “older sister” of the group, and she had the authority to lead the group during emergencies.”
Shioriko smoothly answered with no hesitation, and without missing a beat turned to Kayama Naomi.
“I was told you had a BD badge in the past, was that something you got as a present?”
Naomi tensed up. The store fell dead silent.
“No, it wasn’t. I used to take it out of my dad’s drawer and went to play with it. Of course I always returned it to its original location one I was done.”
“Did you ever ask your father why he had a BD badge?”
“No. I would have hated it if he hid the badge afterwards…and I didn’t really want to know anyway.”
That sounded like a lame excuse to me. Anyone would be curious after finding an item like that in their otherwise stern father’s drawer. There’s no way she wasn’t interested in knowing.
“Did you ever hear anything from your father about his Edogawa Ranpo collection?”
“Never.” Was the curt reply. Her attitude seemed to change every time we asked about her father. “You’re talking about the books in that person’s house in Kamakura, right?”
“Yes…umm, have you by any chance met Miss Kishiro Keiko…?”
“She sent me a few letters after my dad’s mourning period. She must have thought I’d be easy to work with since we are both women. I sent all the letters back without opening them though.
Naomi turned her chilly gaze to us.
“I want to know why you’re working for her.”
“That’s…it’s like I said before…”
“My dad used to buy books from your store, right? You must have already known about that woman if you agreed to take on this kind of request from her. You kept my dad’s immorality hidden from our family all this time.”
Shioriko looked like she was being overwhelmed by Naomi’s quiet fury.
There’s no way we could meddle in a customer’s family circumstances, and in the first place we had never met Kayama Akira or Kishiro Keiko before this.
I stopped short just as I opened my mouth to defend Shioriko. There was a person half hidden in the shadows standing behind the glass door at the entrance. A thin man with wiry hair. There was no mistake, that was the owner of Hitori Bookstore, Inoue.
“I hate my dad.” Kayama Naomi vented. “He was always silent, and only acted like he was strict. Bu despite all his talk, he left discipline to my mom and pushed all the unpleasant duties on to her. He placed a really high importance on appearances, and even though he vehemently opposed my divorce, he was going around with a mistress…”
I finally understood what she meant when she said he half resembled her mother. She meant he was only strict with other people, and not with himself.
“You wouldn’t understand how it feels for your parents to betray you.”
I heard Shioriko swallow. I couldn’t remain silent. Naomi wasn’t the only one in the world who had been betrayed by a parent.
“Um, excuse me, but…”
I snapped shut at her sharp rebuke.
“Certainly your father may have done things worth criticizing. It may have also been true that he placed too much value on keeping appearances. There certainly are flawed parents who betray their children. I also have my circumstances…and cannot bring myself to love my mother.”
Shioriko spoke slowly with weight on every word.
“But I don’t believe Kayama Akira was such a person. After listening to everyone’s stories, I feel he was someone who greatly cherished his family…”
“There’s no one in the world who’d believe such superficial words.”
“No, what I mean is…”
“Please leave. I don’t want to listen to you anymore. Like I said before, I don’t know anything about my Dad’s books.” Kayama Naomi said forcefully.
The silence hung in the air.
I couldn’t tell if what she said was the truth. Perhaps she really didn’t know anything. If that were the case, then we would have no more clues to follow.
Inoue’s silhouette outside the store stayed unmoving as always. There was no doubt he was listening in on us. The fact that he hadn’t shown a reaction was unsettling.
Shioriko bowed deeply and walked towards the entrance. I bowed as well and quickly moved around her to open the door. Shioriko noticed Inoue outside when she stepped out and stopped in her tracks.
Inoue was gripping his usual thick cane, his face expressionless. My unease intensified, and I positioned myself between the two of them.
They silently faced each other for some time.
Finally, Inoue took large strides passed Shioriko and entered the store, closing the door behind him. He locked the door with a cold click, and left the two of us standing out on the deserted road.
The high pitched voice continued to ring in my ears well after the call ended. I put my cellphone back in my pocket and walked across the Shinokawa house hallway. My break time had come to an end some time during the conversation.
“You’re lunch break’s over now.” The shop owner told me when I returned to the store.
She was sitting in front of the computer and smiled at me from over her shoulder.
“I just got a call from Shinobu. Her family in Totsuka sent her a lot of soba noodles and she wanted to stop by on the way to the obstetrician to give us some….she asked me to tell you she said hi.
I expected Shioriko to give me some sort of reply, but she remained silent.
Shinobu was, of course, Sakaguchi Shinobu. She lived with her much older husband who had his own special circumstances. They had been regulars ever since Shioriko solved a case surrounding Introduction to Logic, a book that her husband, Sakaguchi Masashi, owned.
“Food’s ready.” I stood in front of the counter with my apron still on.
I heard the sound of a creaking chair from the other side of the pile of books. Shioriko stood up to go to the main house.
“…Is something wrong?” I turned around and asked her.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I was just thinking…you’ve seemed down since yesterday.”
She hardly spoke in the van after we left Hitori Bookstore yesterday, and was even more uncommunicative than usual today.
Shioriko looked at the ground for a while. She looked like she was trying to find the right words.
“…I enjoyed myself yesterday.”
“Hm?” I asked.
“I enjoy so much about learning about people through their books…but didn’t take the people I learn about into enough consideration. Everyone has things they dislike being asked about.”
Including me, is what it felt like she wanted to say. I thought about it for a moment. While it certainly was true that everyone had things they didn’t want to talk about, well—
“Sometimes the person themself doesn’t know if they truly hate something.”
Love and hate weren’t such simple things. I wasn’t convinced that Kayama Naomi yesterday had nothing but hatred for her father either. Shioriko was the same.
“Thank you…very much.”
She thanked me and disappeared into the main house. Just as I started to wonder how much of what I said reached her, someone opened the door. A short, bald man wearing sandals entered the shop.
“Yo, now a good time?”
Shida placed a number of wrinkled 1000 yen bills on the counter. It seemed he had come to take some more profitable looking books out of the collection Shioriko was getting rid of. This was the payment for that.
“Could you give me a receipt with that?”
“Of course.” I began to write up a receipt like he asked.
Suddenly, I remembered that Shida was a frequent customer at Hitori Bookstore. Maybe he would know something about Kayama Naomi.
“Hey…Shida. Have you ever talked to the part-timer at Hitori Bookstore?”
“Ah, Naomi? Why do you want to know all of a sudden.”
I was shocked that he was on a first name basis with her.
“Do you two know each other that well?”
“Of course not, you nitwit. I just remember the old man over there calling her that. ‘Naomi…I mean, Miss Kayama, we need more coins in the register.” I heard him say. It kind of sounded like he accidentally called her the name he used when the two of them were alone together. I did hear they were childhood friends though.”
An aside—Shida was surprisingly good at impersonations.
Ichirou and Naomi
I saw their faces in my mind—were they really just childhood friends? I already knew that their families had been acquainted for a long time, but it seemed there were some other circumstances here as well.
“And as far as talking to her goes, we only exchange rumors. And that’s only when the old man isn’t there…business hasn’t been doing too good, apparently.”
“So actually rumors, then.”
“Sales have fallen compared to how they used to be a long time ago. It’s not enough for them to shut down, but as someone who works there, she can tell business conditions aren’t good.”
It was probably similar to the situation here at Biblia. Once of the reasons we accepted Kishiro Keiko’s request was so we could buy the books in her collection. A large purchase like that would translate into a good amount of profit for the store. The expenses for the house repair, along with the bonus she was going to pay me were probably weighing on Shioriko’s mind.
“Hm? How long ago is ‘a long time ago’, exactly?” I asked.
Though I did now that Naomi started working at the store three years ago after her divorce.
“About fifteen years go. She helped out at the shop for a couple months back then.”
“I see…ah, here you go.” I handed Shida the receipt. “So is Inoue married?”
“He isn’t right now, at least. He lives on the second floor above the store, but I haven’t seen any sign of other family members living there… maybe he has something going on with Naomi.”
Shida had guessed what I was thinking exactly. That possibility was always on my mind since our conversations with the siblings yesterday.
“Did something happen between you guys and that shop?” It was more a confirmation than a question.
As I worried about how much I could tell Shida, he continued.
“I heard a rumor a while back that you accepted a job outside of buying and selling books. Is it something like the time I asked you guys to find my book for me?”
There was once a time when we found one of Shida’s stolen books for him. This was back when Shioriko was still in the hospital.
“About that, well…”
“…You remember the advice I gave you, right?”
The advice Shida gave me after Shioriko solved his case was ‘That shop owner of yours is so amazing, it worries me. It’s best you stay cautious.’ His words had been in a corner of my mind ever since. I believed there was something I could help with even if I couldn’t read books, and had remained by her side for these past months.
“Alright, that’s good then. Anyway, about Hitori Bookstore…”
The sliding door rattled open. As I looked up to welcome the customer, my eyes went wide. A white haired man wearing a thin coat, cane in hand, stood at the entrance. His eyes looked wide at me.
“I need to talk to you and the store owner,” said Inoue of Hitori Bookstore.
Shioriko and I sat across a low table from Inoue.
We asked Shida to mind the shop for just thirty minutes and moved to the living room in the Shinokawa house to continue the conversation. Ayaka wasn’t home today. I was the one who placed the green tea on the table because Shioriko’s leg was still injured.
Thinking about it now, this would be our first relaxed meeting with Hitori. His white hair and cane made him look like an old man, but the fact that he was Kayama Naomi’s childhood friend meant he was somewhere in his fifties. He must have gone through some hardship in his life.
As if the tea was the trigger, Inoue cut right to the chase.
“I paid a visit to Kishiro Keiko today.”
Shioriko and I glanced at each other for an instant. His voice was hoarse, but there was none of the usual hostility.
“Oh…you were acquainted with Kishiro Keiko…after all?” Shioriko was shrinking back and looked upward when she asked.
“Yeah. Although she seldom showed up in public so our meetings were very infrequent. I last met her fifteen years ago…she’s lost a lot of weight to her illness since then. She’s changed.”
His voice was tinged with sympathy. I never thought I’d see this man, of all people, looking worried for someone. It seemed we only knew one side of him.
“So was…umm…Kayama Akira…Hitori Bookstore…” Shioriko’s voice sounded like a whimper. Come to think of it, Hitori was the one person she was absolutely terrible at dealing with. I could see he was starting to get irritated, and decided to continue in Shioriko’s place.
“Was Kayama Akira a regular customer at your store?”
“He was. He was my benefactor.”
“Benefactor?” That was unexpected.
“Shinokawa Chieko really hasn’t told you two anything?” He turned the question back at us. Shioriko vehemently shook her head now. I followed up with an explanation.
“Shioriko’s mother hasn’t contacted her even once over these past ten years, that I can guarantee. …She did call the shop a few days ago, but didn’t stay on the phone for long.
I told him about what Shinokawa Chieko told me over the phone. Inoue listened without interjecting. He slowly opened his mouth to speak once I was done.
“…Kishiro was also saying that you didn’t know anything. Her original request was for Shinokawa Chieko, but the person who showed up was actually her daughter.”
Inoue sat up straight and turned his sharp gaze to Shioriko.
“You said that you didn’t like your mother. Is that correct?”
Shioriko looked up. For a moment, the fearful look in her eyes disappeared.
“Yes. I hate her.”
A decisive answer. Inoue nodded in agreement.
“As do I…since fifteen years ago.”
If I remembered correctly, fifteen years ago was also when Kayama Naomi worked at Hitori Bookstore for a period. Was that a coincidence, or—
“Did something happen?”
“It’ll take a while to tell you the whole story if I start from the beginning. Will that be a problem?”
Shida’s face appeared in my mind for a moment. We promised he’s only have to watch the shop for thirty minutes, but that probably wasn’t going to be possible. I’d have to apologize to him later.
“Please. I want to know what happened.” Shioriko implored.
“I grew up in a neighborhood very close to where the Kayamas lived. My parents were ordinary middle school teachers, but they got along well with Akira and his wife. In fact, they actually had actually known each other since before any of us were born.
“But it was a different story for us as kids. The Kayama siblings went to far away private schools from kindergarten onward and had hardly ever crossed paths with kids from ordinary families like mine. It was only in elementary school that we began to play with each other…and that only happened because of the Boys Detective Club series.
“They had apparently wanted to make their own boy detectives club, but didn’t have enough members—no friends in the neighborhood, you see. That’s when Naomi called out to me. I had heard about the Boy Detectives Club on TV and radio dramas, but had no idea they were originally books. They insisted I try reading it, so I borrowed the books from the library and ended up reading them all at once. Eventually I came to play often with the Kayama siblings, especially Naomi.
“That was my first experience with Edogawa Ranpo, or rather, my first experience with mysteries and detective novels. I’m sure there were kids like me everywhere back then. I took to reading a lot of Holmes and Lupin books translated for kids after that, and by the time I was a teen, I was reading any classical mystery I could get my hands on, both Japanese and foreign. At the same time, I also expanded my scope to fantasy and science fiction novels as well. The point is, l couldn’t stop reading.
“After I graduated, I even found a job at a large bookseller in Ikebukuro. I wanted to work someplace that dealt with books, of course. It was around that time that I first found an interest in antiquarian books and steadily began buying mysteries, detective stories, and magazine back issues
“With my own personal collection and the books I purchased from my connections, I returned to my hometown and opened my own bookstore 22 or 23 years ago. I named my own shop Hitori Bookstore in reference to Ranpo’s Sannin bookstore. It wasn’t because I was a rabid Ranpo fan at the time, but he was a nostalgic writer from the best days of my childhood. Yet at the same time, I started and ran the store alone…that was the meaning in the name.
“Sales were phenomenal for a while after the store opened. Books practically flew off the shelves. But that came to a sudden end and before long, even selling a single book became a struggle…why do you think that happened?”
Inoue suddenly turned the question to me. Naturally I had no idea. Seeing that I was incapable of answering, it was Shioriko who threw me a lifeboat.
“Perhaps the customers who came to your shop at first were professionals, enthusiasts who targeted new bookstores. They bought up all the rare books specifically and left behind ones that had little value…it’s not an uncommon occurrence.”
“That’s exactly right.”
Inoue let out a big sigh and took a sip of tea, which was no longer steaming.
“I had to put all my focus on making sales when I first opened the store, and naturally didn’t put enough thought into the finer details. It was made worse by the fact that my previous workplace sold only new books which left me with little experience setting prices myself. That’s where they got me. Your mother was actually one the customers that showed up on the first day. She cleaned me out of all my old Shunyodo Publishing books.”
“…S-sorry” Shioriko apologized.
I could practically see Shinokawa Chieko gleefully buying out everything in the store. I had no idea that newly opened stores went through baptisms like that.
“Nah, it was naiveté. I had relied on my experience up until that point and underestimated what it took to buy and sell used books. I also didn’t understand how difficult it was to run a bookstore in the countryside even at the best of times.
“In order to replenish my stock, I had no choice but to buy from others. The business wouldn’t be viable if customers only bought books and didn’t sell any. But by the time I realized that, my already meager capital had been exhausted…and that’s when Akira appeared.”
Inoue closed his eyes at the nostalgic memory.
“Though at the time I still called him Uncle Kayama. He was nothing more than the father of my friends in the neighborhood back then.”
“So did you know that Kayama Akira was an huge Edogawa Ranpo fan?” I asked.
“There’s no way I could have known. All he told me was that there was something he wanted to show me in secret, and took me to that house in Yukinoshita. Kishiro was already living in the house at the time and worked as a caretaker for his collection. She was a quiet, intelligent, and strong-willed woman.
“When I entered his library for the first time, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a treasure trove of prewar mystery novels. Akira offered to sell me his duplicate first print books and magazines for cheap. He had back issues of New Youth, and Profile…and most importantly, a first print of Yumeno Kyuusaku’s White Hair Boy.
“I sold those books as fast as I could to make money, and then used those funds to purchase more books from the Jinbouchou Vintage Book Marketplace as a stop gap measure.”
That reminded me of the time Biblia put a large quantity of old Fujiko Fujio manga up for sale. Books that were highly popular could bring in lots of money, all the more so if business conditions were good.
“He rescued you…”
“That’s right. He laughed and told me it was an investment, and in exchange, I would give him priority purchasing rights if I ever obtained any rare Ranpo goods from then on. I only learned this later on, but he hardly ever purchased from bookshops in the prefecture. And when he did buy books, it was only through a catalog, with Kamakura as the delivery address. He was meticulous in his purchasing habits so that other people didn’t find out about his hobby. That’s when I understood he bent his own rules for me.”
“Umm…what kind of person was Kayama Akira?” It was something I had been curious about this whole time.
“What do you mean?” Inoue looked puzzled
“Both Kishiro and his children gave us wildly different descriptions of him…I don’t know who the real Kayama was.”
Was he a serious educator with a stern personality, or a Ranpo fan with a cheerful personality…I couldn’t reconcile the two images.
As if to say so that’s what it was, Inoue nodded.
“Akira became very talkative about books after showing me the house in Kamakura. That said, lots of people are chatty when it comes to discussing their hobbies. It’s not that the normal Akira was a lie…it’s just that people’s personalities can seem drastically different depending on the time. I don’t think it’s all that strange.”
I glanced at Shioriko to my side. She was also one of those people whose personalities changed and became talkative when it came to their interests.
“But why did he hide it?” Shioriko suddenly asked, not tripping on her words as much compared to before. She seemed to be getting used to Inoue now since he wasn’t a threat.
“Kishiro Keiko’s existence was one thing…but was there some reason why he hid his hobby for decades?”
“I don’t think there is a single specific reason, but one of them would be how his father, Kayama Soukichi, raised him. I never met him in person, but from what I hear he’d been hard working since his younger days. Soukichi was apparently the one who taught his son to keep his public image clean. I also heard that he was the one who originally wanted the mystery novel collection moved to the house in Kamakura sometime around Showa 30…”
“That’s around the time…Kayama Akira got married right?”
Inoue’s eyes went wide when Shioriko pointed that out.
“I see you’ve inherited that good intuition from your mother. Most likely they didn’t want the newest addition to the family to find their shocking mystery novel collection. Soukichi was born in the Meiji era, so perhaps his sensibilities towards mysteries was different from those of later generations.”
We had heard that Kayama Akira’s wife was a strictly disciplined, serious woman, so I could see why there were things they didn’t want her to know. Still, I didn’t feel fully satisfied with this explanation. Even taking his circumstances into consideration, did he really have to go so far?
“Do you know where Soukichi and Akira came from?” Inoue asked as if he had read my expression.
“If I remember correctly, it was Nagoya, Aichi prefecture…”
“Yeah, specifically Ōsu in Nagoya…I don’t know the details, but it seems it used to be a pleasure quarter. I doubt even his children know that.”
It was my first time hearing the term pleasure quarter, but I could guess what it meant—an area with an abundance of brothels. It was possible that Kayama Soukichi worked in prostitution-related work. The extremes the two Kayamas went to preserve their honor was probably because of those memori—
“But I don’t think that was the only reason either. I never confirmed it with the Akira himself, so this is really just conjecture on my part.”
“What do you mean?” Shioriko looked puzzled.
“Even with his circumstances, Akira had no reason to keep his secret hidden until he died……I think there was some part of him that found it exciting.”
“His life in his home in Daigiri, his life in the house in Yukinoshita…he could have multiple faces, just like the Fiend. It’s a common motif in Ranpo’s stories for characters to become other people, for them to have multiple identities. They even say that Ranpo himself wished to transform himself…perhaps Kayama Akira saw himself in Ranpo’s characters.
Meaning he so thoroughly hid his hobby precisely because he was a Ranpo fan. It felt like the layers of complexity in Kayama Akira’s life only made our job more difficult.
“Do you know what’s inside Kishiro Keiko’s safe?”
“I don’t know for sure. Akira never showed me.” Inoue said. He did to have an interest in it though. “There’s no question that it’s something more valuable than the rest of the collection. Maybe it’s something he inherited from his father…he was always guarded when it came to the safe.”
Inoue sipped his tea and took a breath.
“…Everything I’ve told you so far is the set up. The set up for what happened between Shinokawa Chieko and I, that is. You may have already guessed, but it’s deeply connected with the Kayama family.”
Shioriko and I found ourselves sitting straight up. It was now time to hear the main story.
“The first time I met Shinokawa Chieko was on the day I opened Hitori Bookstore…the day she came to my shop to buy out all my books. I didn’t know who she was at the time, of course, but she should have already married into the Shinokawa family by then.
“She was a cunning woman, but there was no denying her skill with antiquarian books. I heard she had carried out big purchases and expanded Biblia’s sales even from when she was still working part time. We were about the same age, and often saw each other at vintage book association events. She was someone who motivated me, and our relationship was good enough that we’d stop for a chat whenever we met.
“I also managed to stabilize my sales and was confident that I could continue to stay in business. That was because I had several regular customers like Akira and had built solid relationships.
“It was around then that Naomi decided to temporarily live apart from her then husband and moved back home. This was about fifteen years ago. She had married the inheritor of a textile business in Kansai, but couldn’t put up with her husband’s constant womanizing anymore.
“But even with those circumstances, her decision to return home to live separately wasn’t looked upon favorably. She was ashamed and told me she fled without even having enough money. I couldn’t let her go and offered her a job at my store, since I also happened to want someone to help me. My knees were starting to go bad and it got painful during the colder months.
“Meanwhile, my relationship with Akira continued. I mainly communicated with him through Kishiro, and chose to meet him elsewhere whenever I obtained a rare item. While I did feel guilty about it, considering how Akira wanted to keep Kishiro’s existence and his hobby secret from his family, I did not believe I had any right to say anything.
“It was around that time that that she showed up at the store. Akira had apparently purchased books from the Biblia catalog a number of times—with Yukinoshita as the destination address, of course. But for some reason, that woman was investigating Akira’s background…”
That didn’t surprise me. Shinokawa Chieko was easily capable of that much. I had no doubt she soon discovered the identity of Akira’s mistress, Kishiro Keiko.
“I will never forget what happened that day. She was silently looking at bookshelves, casually observing Naomi and me. Then, the moment Naomi left to take her break, she turned to me and said, ‘Introduce me to Kayama Akira. I’ve been having a great deal of trouble getting in contact with him.’
“She said that Biblia had obtained some rare Ranpo books and she wanted to show them to Akira no matter what. She knew Akira didn’t want to go to the bookstores near his home, and that I had a working relationship with him. So she requested that I act as a go-between.”
“That was a threat…not a request.” Shioriko muttered with a dark expression.
“Naturally. The implication was that she would reveal Akira’s secret to the entire Kayama family if I didn’t agree. She even knew that I was hiding it from Naomi…how she managed to do it is still something I wonder about to this day. I know it’s impossible, but it was like she figured everything out just by looking at the books on the shelves…”
I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was impossible. Shinokawa Chieko was said to have the ability to discern the character and personal history of people through the books they owned. Even the books a bookstore had on its shelves could give her clues about the owner’s personality.
“So how did you respond?”
“I was reluctant at first, but then she continued. She said, ‘I hear Kayama Naomi is considering getting divorced. It would be a shame if something got in the way of that.’ How did she even know about our relationship?”
So there really was something between the two. They were more than just childhood friends after all. Shida’s guess had been spot on.
As I nodded to myself, Shioriko hesitantly spoke up.
“You said relationship, but…”
“You seriously don’t know?” Inoue looked dumbfounded.
“What I just said. Naomi’s and my relationship.” He spat out.
“…What do you mean, exactly…?” Shioriko asked seriously.
I found myself looking up at the ceiling. I had forgotten how unbelievably dense she was about love. The time we went on a house call for the girl I used to date, she hadn’t realized until it was clearly explained to her.
“Are you an idiot?” Inoue clicked his tongue and looked away. He looked embarrassed. “She and I were considering getting married back then. It was of course something we kept discreet…and is still today.”
At Inoue’s hasty explanation, Shioriko turned red up to her ears. She bowed her head with such force that it almost looked like she was going to fall out of her chair.
“I-I’m very sorry…I thought it was strange, but…that’s what it was…of course, now I see…” She muttered incoherently,
Inoue had a bitter smile as he looked at Shioriko. It was my first time seeing him smile uncondescendingly.
“You really are different from your mother…you have regular human flaws.”
I thought back to what Shinokawa Chieko told Inoue, that it would be a shame if something got in the way of the divorce. That was probably another veiled threat. If Naomi found out that Inoue was concealing her father’s secret, then their relationship would have likely crumbled in an instant. She was using that threat as insurance.
How did she find all of that out?
I felt more of a bottomless discomfort, rather than anger. I clearly understood why Inoue was so cautious of the Shinokawa family and why he held such a deep animosity for them. Perhaps he feared that they would see right through all the things he wanted to keep hidden.
“I introduced that woman to Akira in the end. From what I understand she then sold him a number of Ranpo books in excellent condition…all of them first editions of collaborative works.”
When I heard the word “collaborative work”, what came to mine was that white slipcase. The most valuable book in Kishiro Keiko’s collection, the one I had almost dropped.
“You mean like Egawa Ranko, right?”
“Yeah. There was also Gentlemen of the Sky, and Murderer’s Maze. Akira was delighted in a big way, and began to take an interest in Shinokawa Chieko…he gradually began to buy more and more from Biblia. On the other hand, Akira’s distance with me began to get wider. It’s pathetic, but I wanted nothing to do with her by then.”
“What happened to Kayama Naomi?” When I asked, Inoue grimaced. It looked like he was remembering the event as if it had happened just yesterday.
“She was suddenly taken back to her husband’s home one day. Persuaded by both families…it didn’t seem like her husband had changed at all though.”
I felt like I finally had a connection between what happened fifteen years ago, and Naomi’s divorce three years ago. After a long, circuitous route, she finally returned to Hitori Bookstore.
“You told her yesterday…that Akira treasured his family. Do you have any evidence for that?”
“Huh? Y-yes…kind of.” Shioriko replied. “I’m not completely certain, but I believe it will become a little clearer once we find Kayama’s Boys Detective Club books…”
“I talked to Naomi after you left yesterday. You’re talking about the Kobunsha books?”
“Yes. I got the impression that Naomi knew where they were hidden.”
“Is your evidence the BD badge?” Inoue pressed for an answer. “She often wore it when we played together. I was always jealous of her and always asked her where she got it from, but she never told me. And now that I think of it, it probably belonged to Akira. But I don’t see how that would lead to the books’ hiding spot. In fact, I don’t even know if there are books in the house in the first place.”
“Did Kayama ever talk to you about the Boys Detective Club series?” At my question, Inoue shook his head.
“I didn’t sell them. My store doesn’t deal with children’s books…but I couldn’t imagine Akira not having those books and thought they were in the house in Kamakura. If they aren’t, then I can understand why you’d think it was in the house in Daigiri.”
At the very least it wouldn’t be strange for the books to be at the Kayama family house. Whether or not Naomi knew about them was a different story.
“There is other proof besides the BD badge and…I’ve been meaning to ask you this at some point, but did you grow up reading the Poplar Publishing edition of the Boys Detective Club?”
“For Me? It was actually…a mix of Kobunsha and Poplar. My elementary school library had all Kobunsha, but those books got replaced with Poplar once they got too worn out to read. I think they also bought the Poplar editions of the books that Kobunsha didn’t do…but why do you ask?”
“Nothing really, I just wanted to confirm something…”, was Shioriko’s vagues reply. There must have been some meaning to her question.
“Do you thinks it’s possible that Naomi could have borrowed the series from someone else, or read the series outside the house?”
“To my knowledge, no. She told me that due to cram school and practice, the only time she had to read books was in the middle of the night. She was also barred from borrowing them from the library…and I don’t think she had anyone who could have lended them to her. I’m not sure she had any friends her age besides me in the first place…”
The more I heard, the more it sounded like an overly-controlled childhood. I don’t think I would have been able to stand it. Naomi’s complex feelings about her parents were totally natural.
“Um, what will you understand once you find the Kobunsha books?” I asked. Inoue seemed to have guessed to some extent, but I was having trouble following the flow of the conversation.
“…A link between Naomi and Kayama. That’s what you want to find out, right, Inoue?”
“That’s right.” He responded. “She thinks her father neglected her and ignored her in her childhood. I won’t say Akira was perfect…but I also don’t think he was indifferent to his daughter.”
“I think so too.” Shioriko agreed.
“But I don’t have any way to prove it. My words defending him wouldn’t be believable, as someone who kept this secret for all these years. But after hearing the exchange yesterday, I believe it’s something you can do. I don’t mind if you do it while searching for the key. Can you clear up Naomi’s misunderstanding of Akira? It’s my way…of repaying his kindness.”
His words sounded sincere. This was definitely something already looked into and was worried about for a long time. Worried enough that he felt compelled to ask the daughter of Shinokawa Chieko, who had driven him into a corner before, for help.
“If you’re willing to cooperate, then there is one way to find Kayama Akira’s Boys Detective Club books. Shioriko answered after taking some time to consider.
“However, I cannot guarantee it will clear up the understanding…and I fear your relationship with Kayama Akira may get exposed.”
Hitori Bookstore’s owner considered it carefully. Naomi criticized our shop earlier for keeping her father’s adultery secret. That wrath could also be pointed at Hitori.
“Now that Kishiro has made contact with the Kayama family, I’m sure she would find out someday anyway,” He finally responded gravely. “This way is preferable to doing nothing like I am now…so how do you plan on finding the books? Do you already have some idea of where they are?”
“To some extent…but that doesn’t mean I won’t need to do a thorough search. There’s also no guarantee that the hiding spot will be easy to access.”
“Then what are you planning on doing?” I asked. I couldn’t help feeling that it was all too vague—was she really going to find it like this?
“There’s only one way,” Shioriko suddenly raised a finger. “We’ll have Kayama Naomi show us.”
Shioriko and I visited the Kayama House the following Friday. We arrived at around noon, and none of the residents were at home. Guided by old woman who seemed to be the housekeeper, we first headed to the study.
Kayama Yoshihiko had given us permission to search through the house today, and it was all thanks to Inoue. He vouched for us by saying that Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia was trustworthy and that he wanted us to be allowed to do as we pleased. He spent a long time convincing Yoshihiko that we might be able to discover Kayama Akira’s valuable books. The conditions were that an observer would need to be present when we opened any furniture with doors, and that we were not allowed to move things without permission.
“Is the study the first place you would like to check?” The housekeeper asked us. The observer in question would apparently be her.
“A-actually…would it be alright if just the two of us take a quick walk around the house? We won’t open anything without permission, of course…” Shioriko put on her best smile.
The housekeeper stared fixedly at her.
Shioriko was wearing a plain colored long skirt and a white, high collar blouse with a knitted sweater. It was an especially unassuming outfit that made her look like an office worker in plain clothes.
“In that case, I will be in the dining room on the first floor. Please call for me if you need anything.”
It seemed she decided to trust us for now. The housekeeper left the room and closed the door behind her. Due to the room’s thick walls, we didn’t hear her footsteps as she walked away.
The view from this house, which was situated partway up a hill, was stunning. This place was in a suburb of Fujisawa, close to Kamakura and Sakai. I could see other houses settled in the greenery of trees from here.
“What are we going to do now?” I asked as I continued to look outside.
I actually didn’t know what the plan was in any detail. Shioriko and Inoue made arrangements over the phone, but because they didn’t know how things would turn out until the last second, I never got to hear the plan.
Kayama Naomi would have to come here to show us the location of the Boys Detective Club books, but I heard she was going to be working at Hitori Bookstore today.
Shioriko checked a message on her phone, and shortly after walked over to the corner of the room and opened the storage closet without the slightest hesitation.
“Is it OK for you to open that?” I was shocked. Wasn’t she the one who said she wasn’t going to open anything without permission?”
“It’s necessary…Daisuke, come here.” She beckoned to me with her finger as if I were a child.
Puzzled, I walked over to Shioriko, only for her to push me from behind. I found myself standing in the closet.
“Wha—?” I turned around in a fluster to see that Shioriko was also in the closet with me. She had her back to me and was closing the shutter door behind her. That said, it didn’t become dark immediately; there was still some light that leaked in through the shutters.
“We will wait for Kayama Naomi here.” Shioriko whispered. “I just got a message from Inoue. Naomi left Hitori bookstore and is on her way here. I don’t know when she’ll arrive so…”
He head was right under my chin. Her waist length black hair was tickling my chest. The fragrance of her skin filling up the narrow space made me feel dizzy.
“B-but why do we have to hide here?”
“So she can show us where the hiding spot is. Naomi is likely going to open it for us soon.”
Things were finally coming together for me. We weren’t going to just ask Naomi to show us, we were going to spy on her when she opened the hiding spot.
“How do you know it’s in this room…or rather, how do you know Naomi’s going to come out of her way to uncover the hiding spot?”
“The fact that it hasn’t been found in the year since Kayama Akira’s death, and the fact that he used to spend a lot of time in this room when he was alive makes it very likely that the books are hidden in here. The truth is, Naomi was led here, and the reason she’s going to come here…is because of a letter.”
This afternoon, Inoue mentioned to Naomi that he heard we were going to her house to search for Boys Detective Club books at her house. But Inoue also added something else, that he sent a letter to Kayama Akira concerning his thoughts on marrying Naomi, and although he was told the letter was hidden in a place no one would see them, Inoue was still concerned that Biblia would find them…”
And having heard that, Naomi probably wanted to come here and see for herself. But—
“…Does that letter actually exist?”
“I don’t know. Inoue was the one who came up with the idea when we discussed finding something that could reliably get Naomi to open up the hiding spot. I understood that there was no other way, but this would be nothing short of a dirty tactic if it turned out to be a lie. Naomi already didn’t like us, but was Inoue going to be alright after doing something like this?
Bump, Shioriko fell onto me backwards. It looked like she had lost her balance a little. The moment the back of her head hit my my chest, she almost involuntarily jumped forward.
“Sorry…it’s difficult to use my cane here. Sorry…ah” In the process of forcefully trying to move away from me, she bumped her head on the door.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes…” Shioriko rubbed her forehead. I was worried about how she was swaying.
“I don’t mind if you lean on me…since it’s hard to stand.” I whispered.
After hesitating for a short time, Shioriko slowly relaxed and leaned against me. The warmth and weight of her body against me almost made me lose my composure.
“This is somewhat comfortable…thank you.”
The two of us fell silent. The only sound in the closet was the sound of our breathing.
“It feels kind of strange…waiting in silence.” Shioriko mumbled uncomfortably.
It’s not like we were Boy Detectives. The very fact that two supposedly good adults were hiding in someone’s closet was strange.
The two of us tried to think of a conversation topic while keeping an eye out on the situation in the study—but it was Shioriko who spoke first.
“Umm…about what you told me before, about going on a date with you…”
My heart stopped for a moment. She was really, of all times, bringing that topic up here!
“When you said that…you meant with me, right?”
“Yes…and it’s not like there’s anyone else.”
“…I guess so.” Shioriko suddenly took a deep breath. Somehow it felt like things weren’t looking so good. I waited for her to continue with bated breath.
“It’s hard for me to understand these things…unless they’re said to me clearly. We’ve gone out to places before, right? Were those, perhaps…dates?”
I couldn’t believe she was asking the person she went out with a question like that, but she was undoubtedly completely serious.
“Uh, well…I mean, it’s hard to say.”
Going places with her was simply fun. It was difficult to put into words what my plans were for those times.
“I’m extremely dense when it comes to these things…I never know what to say, or how to choose the right timing…I don’t understand it myself, but it’s hard for me to think about things like love or marriage…or maybe I don’t really want to think about them. Even though I like reading about them in books…”
The more I listened, the more my heart gradually fell. Shioriko did tell me once before that she never wanted to get married. Because of that, there was no way she was going to fall in love.
“So, I guess…what I want to say…” She was saying a lot, but in other words, she was turning me down.
Even so, I had no regrets. As long as she didn’t hate me, I could always wait for another chance and invite her again. I really didn’t expect things to go that well with her anyw—
“I’ll do it. I’ll go on the date.” Shioriko had turned around at some point and was looking up at me.
Even in the darkness, I was momentarily taken by her dark, pretty eyes.
“In the end, I don’t really understand it no matter how long I think about it…but I think it might be alright if it’s with you. That’s why I’ll do it. I’ll go on the date.
“Yes. After this case gets settled, the weekend after that.”
“You actually mean it?” I felt bad for insistently asking her to confirm.
Shioriko nodded seriously.
I was sorely tempted to take a guts pose. This didn’t mean we were dating; it was just a promise to go on a date—but the one I was going with was that Shinokawa Shioriko. Considering everything that had happened so far, it felt like I had made tremendous progress.
“Alright then, is there any place in particular you want to…”
Just as I started to get excited, Shioriko put a finger to her lips. I snapped my mouth shut and turned to look through the shutter door.
The heavy door opened and Kayama Naomi slipped into the room. It looked like she had come as fast as she could, as her shoulders were heaving under her light jacket. She double checked to make sure there was no one in the hallway before closing the door behind her.
The housekeeper had probably told her that we were already in the house. The first thing Naomi did was run to the desk near the window, and pull the drawers one after the other. Her hand suddenly stopped for a moment, and she took out a small silver object out from a drawer.
It was the BD badge that Shioriko found before. However, Naomi quickly pulled herself together and tossed the badge back. It seemed she didn’t find what she was looking for in the desk.
She looked around the room one more time, her eyes finally settling on the closet where we were hiding.
I held my breath. Yoshihiko told us that this closet had already been cleaned out, but what if Naomi didn’t know that? It would be all over if she opened the door on us.
No, she shook her head and looked away from the door. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Naomi slowly made her way to the lounge suite. Just like the one on the first floor, there were large, leather sofas facing each other. Including the table, all of the wooden furniture was made from the same material, Hinoki Cypress, I remembered Yoshihiko telling us.
At first I thought Naomi was taking a short break, but that did not seem to be the case. She got down on her knees and stuck her hand under the small gap between the floor and one of the sofas. She seemed to be tampering with something under there. Finally, the sofa cushions popped up without a sound.
There was a hidden compartment in the sofa—the hiding spot really did exist, and Naomi had known about it all along.
“I knew it…The Human Chair…The Black Lizard? Wait, maybe it’s The Great Golden Nugget…” Shioriko was excitedly muttering to herself. Somehow it felt like I had heard of the Human Chair before.
Naomi must have heard her, because she suspiciously began to look around the room.
“Let’s go, Daisuke.” Shioriko spoke up, and opened the closet door.
Kayama Naomi froze when Shioriko appeared in front of her.
We first turned our attention to the strange looking sofa, which had dozens of books stored face up in the large empty space underneath the cushions. There was The Invisible Man, Fiend from Space, The Fiend with Forty Faces—and even The Magic Doll. The book covers had drawings of boys and villains, with the title Boys Detective Club, and the author Edogawa Ranpo printed on them. Both the art and the lettering felt a little different from the Poplar Publishing version. These looked like they were from an older era.
“These are from Koubunsha…” Shioriko muttered to herself, and then bowed to Naomi.
“Please forgive us. We knew you would be arriving and waited for you here…are these the Boys Detective Club books that belonged to your father? The books you loved to read were these Koubunsha prints, not the Poplar books that your brother owned, right?”
Kayama Naomi’s eyes went wide. It took a moment to overcome her shock, but she soon responded.
“How did you know?”
Naomi wasn’t the only one surprised. How did Shioriko know which edition Naomi had read? Did she find some clue in the conversations we’d had?
“I thought something was odd when we talked about the Boys Detective Club at Hitori Bookstore the other day.” As she spoke, Shioriko bent over and picked up The Magic Doll.
The cover featured the boys just like the other books, but there was also an eerie looking blank white face glaring out from behind them. It was quite striking.
“Excuse me,” Shioriko excused herself and set her cane down to sit on the armrest. With both of her hands now free, she began to flip through the book. The pages were neither yellowed, nor torn, and it was easy to see with a single glance that it was well cared for. Showa 32, November 15th, First Printing was written on the copyright page. This was a first edition book.
“Matsuno Kazuo’s design and Ishihara Joujin’s illustrations are splendid…this is as good as I thought it would be.”
“What do you mean…?
“The stories in the Boys Detective Club books were often revised between versions, but there were also times when even the title was changed…this version and the Poplar edition have different titles. The Poplar edition is known as The Evil Doll.”
But now that I thought about it, there certainly was a book titled The Evil Doll in the Poplar collection we saw earlier. It left an impression on me because I looked at its copyright page. There was also that conversation about the title and how unique the theme was.
“Your brother, Yoshihiko, wrote his name on each and every one of his books, and you were sternly warned not to touch them, weren’t you? It would have also been difficult for you to sneak them out and read in secret, right? …Ah, thank you very much.”
Shioriko handed over The Magic Doll. Naomi silently accepted it, and opened the book. Her expression seemed to soften just the tiniest bit.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but if it’s alright, would you be able to tell us what about what we have here? I’m extremely interested in learning more about this strange sofa.”
Kayama Naomi closed the book and caressed the cover with a nostalgic look in her eye. She stared at the odd sofa as she began to explain in a soft voice.
“Just like you said, for some time I wasn’t allowed to touch my brother’s books even after he had stopped reading them himself. I still hadn’t read the latter volumes then…and considered secretly borrowing them from his bookshelf. But knowing how high-strung he was, I was scared of him getting mad at me and couldn’t do it. My mom also banned me from checking out the books from the library, and I didn’t have any friends I could borrow from… even Ichirou didn’t have his own copies of the books.”
Inoue did tell us that he borrowed the books from the library at his elementary school, which had a mix of Poplar and Koubunsha editions. That was probably why he didn’t notice when Naomi used the Koubunsha titles for the books.
“It happened while I still wanted to read the books I hadn’t yet and was itching to do something about it. I was on my way back after a trip to the restroom in the middle of the night and was passing by the door to this study when I heard a strange sound. Wondering what it could be, I opened the door just a crack and saw my dad kneeling in front of this sofa, which he had just bought at the time.
“At first I thought he wasn’t feeling well, so I was going to ask if he was alright, but then I saw the side of his face…and I wasn’t able to say anything. He looked like a completely different person.”
“A different person, you say…?” Shioriko asked
“My dad…was grinning. He looked like he was enjoying himself like a child from the bottom of his heart.”
That was a surprising answer. I was wondering what kind of terrifying face she had seen.
“My dad then pulled the lever under the sofa and began to gleefully store Boys Detective Club books that had been on the table into it. He really did look like a kid who just got his hands on a new toy.
“I had never seen my dad like that before, and to be frank, it terrified me. It was like the Fiend with Twenty Faces has infiltrated this house…you know how he disguises himself and sneaks into houses to steal treasure, right? I closed the door in a hurry and ran back to my room.
“But the next day my father was back to being the unwelcoming, strict person he always was. It was like what I had seen the night before was a dream…I didn’t what his reasons were, but there was one thing that I knew even as a little girl. That I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my dad, about what I had seen.
“But I couldn’t hold back my desire to read the Boys Detective Club books hidden in the sofa. I waited for the times he wasn’t home and borrowed them in secret. It was much easier to sneak into my dad’s study than my brother’s room since he was away from home so often.
“Sometimes I took the BD badge that was with the books out to play too. I thought Ichirou at least would know it well, but…oh, go right ahead.”
Kayama Naomi nodded to Shioriko, who seemed like she wanted to ask if it was alright to look inside the sofa.
Shioriko, who was now seated with her cane to the side, began to search under the raised cushions. I could practically see the happiness radiating out from behind her; Kayama Akira must have looked like that when Naomi saw him that night.
“Do you believe that your father didn’t notice what you were doing?”
Shioriko asked as she opened a wooden box that had been placed with the books. Inside the box were a number of smaller paper boxes, with letters “BD” printed in black over red background, meaning this was likely where the BD badge from before used to be stored. Shioriko picked up a small memo book next to the box and began to flip through the pages.
“No one in my family could have noticed. I was extremely careful about it and…hey, wait a minute. How did you two know that I would be coming into this room to open up the hiding spot?”
Naomi’s voice suddenly sharpened. Now that she had calmed down, it seemed she was starting to reevaluate the entire situation.
Shioriko turned around, still holding the notebook.
“Well…Inoue from Hitori Bookstore…” She answered hesitantly.
The color of Kayama Naomi’s face changed.
“You mean, what Ichirou told me was…” She was no doubt referring to the letter.
I didn’t know what to say.
The door to the study opened just as an unpleasant silence descended over the room, and a thin, crane like man with white hair wearing a light beige coat walked in. His pockets looked strangely stuffed, maybe because he had books in there or something.
“Ichirou…” Kayama Naomi murmured.
Hitori Bookstore’s owner turned his gaze to the sofa that was stuffed with books.
“So it really did exist…”
“What does this mean? What…about the letter?”
“What I said about the letter was a lie.” Hitori unflinchingly answered his childhood friend’s question. “I never sent Uncle Kayama…Akira, any letters.”
Slowly, surprise began to spread across Naomi worn-out face. It was almost like watching a giant hole open up.
“You conspired with these people to make me reveal the hiding spot?”
“That’s right. It was my idea, and I asked them to assist me.”
“Akira was one of my customers, and I kept the fact that I sold him books quiet from the Kayama Family. I also knew about Kishiro Keiko’s existence, of course. I am in Akira’s debt. He was my benefactor who rescued me from a bad spot…I told you before about a regular customer who helped me when the store fell on hard times, right? That was him.”
He grew impassioned as he explained, but Kayama Naomi’s expression was frozen in contrast.
“I won’t say that Akira was a saint with no faults. However, I also don’t believe he was emotionless. That’s what I want you to understa…”
“Stop it already. I don’t want to hear any more.” Naomi shook her head forcefully. “There’s nothing for me to understand. You already tricked me and made me open this sofa. I’ve already had enough.”
Inoue looked to Shioriko for an answer. It really seemed like we hadn’t learned anything new after this discovery. Shioriko did say before that there was no guarantee, and in the end it looked like that was how it was going to—
“Do you really believe your father didn’t notice?” Shioriko suddenly spoke. “I find it hard to believe that someone who went to such lengths to hide his collection would not have measures in place to detect disturbances.”
“…but he would have said something to me if he did notice, right?”
“And what if he didn’t have the confidence to do that?” Shioriko continued in an accusatory tone. “Both the sofa’s mechanism and the books inside were a huge secret for him. Therefore, if he wasn’t completely confident, it would have surely been difficult for him to…”
“And what if I say that’s nothing but your imagination?”
“It is not…please look at this.”
Shioriko held up the blackish memo book that she had been holding since earlier. It had the same mark as the BD badge on the cover, with the words Boys Detective Club written in gold lettering.
“What is this?” I asked.
“It’s the Boys Detective memo book. After the war, it was released as a bonus by the New Youth magazine which serialized the Boys Detective Club. Together with the BD badge, it was extremely popular with children in the Showa 30s.”
So something like that existed too. Shioriko opened to the first page and showed us. On it was a picture of Edogawa Ranpo with an autograph and a message that said, “You Too Can Become a Detective”. It certainly seemed like something elementary school kids would want.
“Was this memo book originally placed on top of the books?”
“Now that you mention it, it was. I was afraid to take it out because it looked easy to stain, but why do you ask?”
Shioriko flipped through the memo book to the last page, which seemed to be where the book’s owner was meant to write their name and address. Only the column for the name was filled out in thin blue ink that looked like it came from a fountain pain.
“That’s your father’s handwriting, isn’t it?”
“Y, yes…b-but, why…? Naomi was shaking so much that she was finding it hard to speak.
“It was probably your father’s way of sending a message…to tell you that all of the books here belong to you. That he knew that they would be indispensable to boy, no, girl detectives.”
Shioriko used her cane to stand up and handed the memo book to its original owner. Naoko, still holding onto The Magic Doll, accepted the memo book with both hands as if it were a fragile item.
It was kind of like a game, secretly leaving a present in a hiding spot for someone to find. Or perhaps to Kayama Akira, it really was a game. One with his daughter who he didn’t regularly talk to otherwise.
I turned my thoughts back to the BD badge left on the desk. Kayama Akira must have put it there many years ago, and probably took it out to appreciate it, and maybe gazed at it sometimes. There was no way to prove it now, but what if he actually put it there for his daughter to wear?
“I often found my mom and dad arguing with each other when I was young.” Naomi muttered as she stared at the novels and the memo book. “Or rather, it wasn’t so much that they argued as much as it was my dad getting argued down. He was always silent…and I always thought that even if he had a different opinion from my mom, he would never say anything.”
Naomi paused and looked up.
“But I wanted him to say something. He didn’t say anything even when I was taken back to my husband. I think my mother felt lonely, having a partner who never shared his feelings was basically the same as being alone…”
Inoue, who had been standing without moving, suddenly took something out of his pocket and flung it on the low table in front of the couch. It was a fairly thick envelope, with the name Sir Kayama Akira printed on it as the recipient. It was clumsy, but I could see the great effort made to make it look polite.
“This is…?” Kayama Naomi dubiously asked Inoue.
“It’s a letter with my thoughts about marrying you…I thought it would be best to put it in a letter because it was so important. But in the time that I hesitated to send it, Akira passed away…he and I are the same in not being able to say what we think.”
So there actually was a letter—it wasn’t a total lie after all. Inoue took out several more envelopes and papers from his pocket and tossed them on the table. Then he did the same with his other pocket. The half-written letters and unsealed envelopes spilled over to the floor. Like the first envelope, they all had the same handwriting.
“I even wrote letters to you a long time ago…and considered sending them when you lived with your husband in Kansai. I had been hearing rumors that your marriage wasn’t going well.”
Kayama Naomi vacantly gazed at the bundles of letters. There was no trace of emotion on her pale face.
“I see none of these have stamps on them.”
“Because I never mailed them. They would have been delivered had I done so.” Inoue answered bluntly.
I knew he was an awkward person, but surely there was a better way to say that.
“I’m going back to the store.” Kayama Naomi whispered. It sounded like there was something stuck in her throat.
“When I heard you sent a letter to my dad, I was so happy…I was even looking forward to seeing what you wrote.” Holding the book to her chest, Naomi ran out of the door to the study.
Inoue silently saw her off and began to gather the scattered envelopes and letters.
“You’re not going to go after her?”
“I’ll follow her in a bit. She’s headed to my store anyway.”
Inoue took the letters that should have held his feelings from many years and violently rolled them up and stuffed them into his pocket.
“I will apologize to her for lying about the letter. I don’t know how it will go, but she didn’t say she was quitting the store, so I think she’ll at least be willing to listen.”
“I’m sorry, it’s my fault that…”
Shioriko began to apologize, but to stop her, Inoue deeply bowed his head.
“No, you did well in clearing up the misunderstanding. I should thank you.”
“We were just fortunate…and umm, is it alright if I ask you something?”
Inoue, who had already started to leave, turned around.
“What is it?”
“Did the nickname Ichirou come from the Boys Detective Club?”
He was taken aback by the question for a moment, but soon returned a broad smile. I was the only one who didn’t understand what this meant.
“…There’s one club member named Inoue Ichirou who often shows up in the Boys Detective Club series. He was also in The Magic Doll. He was well known for being both smart and reliable.” Shioriko explained.
Hitori Bookstore’s owner’s name was Inoue Taichirou—only one character longer.
“That’s right. Naomi invited me to the Boys Detective Club game because my name was similar to Inoue Ichirou’s. If I had a different name, she might have called out to some other kid. The link between me and Naomi was Ranpo…and you could also say that Naomi was the connection between me and Ranpo too.
Leaving it at that, Inoue turned his back to us and walked out of the room.
The study fell quiet once again.
“Do you think things will be alright?”
“Perhaps…what happens next will be up to the two of them.”
Shioriko sat down on the floor and began to search inside the sofa once again. In the meantime, I closely examined the sofa mechanism. The cushions were being held up with a cylinder that, perhaps due to how well it was cared for, hardly had any dust or stains on it.
“Oh right. What was that Human Chair you mentioned earlier?”
“…The Human Chair was one of Ranpo’s early short stories.” Shioriko looked up at me through her glasses as she explained.
“The story begins with a letter sent to the protagonist, a beautiful woman. The sender introduces himself as a furniture maker, and details some of his sordid experiences in the letter. He writes about how he spent day after day making chairs, until one day, he decided to conceal himself in one of the chairs he created before having it shipped out. At first his plan was to secretly steal from the location where the chair was delivered, but eventually he began to find pleasure in the contact he had with people through the chair.”
“…That’s one hell of a story.”
From what I could see, many of Ranpo’ stories were eerie fantasies or focused on the darkness in people’s hearts. It was kind of hard to explain, but it felt like his stories gave form to dreams that were disconnected from reality.
“It really is. The reversal at the end was also something else…it’s one of Ranpo’s many masterpieces. The plot point of someone hiding themselves appears in some of his other works too. There was Black Lizard where Akechi Kogoro faced off against a lovely lady thief, and The Great Golden Nugget, which was one of the Boys Detective Club Series books published before the war…” Shioriko suddenly fell silent mid-sentence.
“What’s wrong?” I was startled. It was rare for her to stop partway when she was talking about books.
“There doesn’t seem to be a key here…”
I forgot that we had originally come here to find the key to the safe. Shioriko had taken everything, including the box the BD badge used to be in, out of the sofa and placed it all on the low table. The hiding spot was completely empty; there was nothing left to remove.
“So we’re back where we started then?”
If the key wasn’t here, then all of the work we put in so far was for nothing. We got so many people involved and all we found was the Boys Detective Club books—it really took the wind out of my sails.
But Shioriko shook her head.
“No, I don’t think so. Look at this, please.” She pointed to the stack of books on the table.
At first I thought they were all part of the same collection, but then I saw that a few of them were different. They were all in good condition, but I couldn’t really say there was a sense of unity in them.
“Some of these are from Poplar Publishing.”
Four of the books had either the spider or helmet marks on their spines. They were M the Electric Man, Curse of the Fiend with Twenty Faces, The Airborne Fiend, and The Great Golden Nugget.
“Kayama Akira seemed to have a certain rule for his collection…that all his books had to be initial first edition prints. These four were compiled in a collection of Ranpo’s later works, but it was actually Poplar that first published them as standalone books.”
I organized all this in my head. Put another way, Kayama Akira’s fixation on collecting first prints resulted in having various publishers and imprints included in his collection.
“Many of Ranpo’s works were first published as standalone books as part of Kobunsha’s Boy Detectives: Edogawa Ranpo Collection series, but there are some books that were published even before that. The Bronze Demon and Tiger Fang that you see here are two such examples. By the way, don’t you think there’s something strange about this collection?”
Hesitating, I looked closely at the books one more time. She asked me if I thought something was strange, but how was an amateur like me supposed to—no, wait a minute. She was right, it was strange.
“The Fiend with Twenty Faces and The Boys Detective Club are missing…”
This collection was missing, of all things, the most famous books in the series. Not only that, it had fewer books than even Kayama Yoshihiko’s Poplar collection.
“That’s right. The four books published before the war: The Fiend with Twenty Faces, The Boys Detective Club, The Monster Professor, and The Great Golden Nugget are all missing from this collection.”
I felt my thoughts clear up. What Shioriko said just now reminded me. She had explained some things about the Boys Detective Club series when we first stepped into this room a few days ago, and if I remembered correctly—
“The books before the war were published by a different company, right?”
“That’s exactly right! Those four books were published by Kodansha. Someone of Kayama Akira’s generation would have no doubt read the Kodansha books as a child. Considering his rule of collecting only first editions, those should have been the very first books he purchased. The fact that none of them are here means…”
I finally understood the point she was making. The books in the sofa were all the Kobunsha and Poplar editions that were published after the war. In other words, the pre-war books were concealed in a different hiding spot. There was a chance that the key was hidden there.
“Do you know where they are?”
Shioriko slowly stood up and walked around, holding a finger to her temple. This might have been the first time I ever saw Shioriko so perplexed.
“I’m certain it’s somewhere in this study…meaning…Naomi…” Shioriko stopped muttering to herself and suddenly began to walk to the door.
Thinking she was about to leave for the hallway, I hurried around her to open the door for her—but before I could, she pulled my sleeve to hold me back.
“…Something felt off about the story Naomi told us earlier.”
“The door and walls of this room are thick. Thick enough to say they are basically soundproof. You didn’t hear Inoue’s footsteps when he showed up earlier, did you?”
“Naomi said that she peeked into the room because she heard a strange sound in the middle of the night. There’s no way she would have heard anything if her father was making a normal amount of noise.”
“That just means what he was doing was incredibly loud, right?”
“If that were the case, then he would have been more cautious about sound leaking outside. And in the first place, what did he have in this room that could be so noisy?”
“Well…the sofa opening, for example…wait, that can’t be right.” I denied it myself.
That didn’t make any logical sense. Naomi saw her father use the mechanism to open the sofa, meaning it shouldn’t have made any sound before that point. Not only that, even now the sofa hardly made any sound when it was opened. And this was decades after it was first constructed—it must have been even quieter new.
“Correct. That sound couldn’t have come from the sofa. Moreover, Kayama Akira was moving his collection into the newly purchased sofa. Considering the fact that he was likely transferring it from its previous hiding spot…and putting all that information together…”
Shioriko touched the door. It was solidly built and had number of long panels running across it. A loud crack suddenly rang through the room when she put her fingers on the edge of one of the eye level panels. The decorative top part of the panel had come loose.
I finally understood what she was doing and moved to help. I pulled rest of the edge out, and the rest of the panel came completely off. A shallow bookshelf came into view.
“You mean the door itself was the bookshelf…?”
No wonder the door was so heavy. All the other panels probably had shelves behind them too, where they used to house Kayama Akira’s collection. The strange sound that Naomi heard had come from the door itself.
On this shelf were four books with yellowy covers facing outwards. They looked to be even older than the Kobunsha books in the sofa, and each of them was placed in large vinyl bag. They were respectively: The Fiend with Twenty Faces, The Boys Detective Club, The Monster Professor, and The Great Golden Nugget—there was no doubt that these books were from Kodansha.
“Incredible!” Shioriko’s cheeks flushed red with excitement. She took The Fiend with Twenty Faces on the far right into her hands.
“I’ve never seen such well-maintained Kodansha first prints! There isn’t a single tear or stain on the cover! Children’s books from before the war are extremely hard to find in good condition, you know.”
Even I knew the reason why. No matter the time period, kids always treated books carelessly. I’d like to think that when I was a kid—back when I could still read books—I would have been the same.
“The dust jackets are in color?” I asked as I looked over her shoulder.
On the cover was a group of pensive looking boys and what looked like a stolen jewel along with a sinister looking man glaring at them. It seemed the boy detectives had been facing off against the fiend since the very beginning.
“That’s right. There are multicolored drawings on the other side of the dust jackets too. For something from the Showa 20s these books are very well made. The drawings under the dust jacket are lovely too. …Hold on to this for a moment.”
Shioriko placed the book up on my palm and used one hand to pull both the vinyl bag and the dust jacket off. On the cloth cover was the fiend, dressed in a silk hat and cloak. It didn’t look like a seventy-year-old drawing. The illustrator had good taste.
“This is…expensive, isn’t it?”
“Of course. Fans of the Boys Detective Club live far and wide, and as a result, the demand is also high. I can’t say for certain since I haven’t looked inside, but if we were to put all four books for sale in our shop, they would sell for 1.5 million yen or more.”
I found myself dumbfounded by their sheer cost. Why would anyone pay so much for a work that everyone knew—no, perhaps it was because this was a work everyone knew.
“Ah.” Shioriko let out a small gasp next to me, and reached out between The Boys Detective Club and The Monster Professor. What she held up was an old iron key.
“We finally found it.” Shioriko turned to me, grinning broadly.
The two of us went straight to Kamakura in the van as soon as we left the Kayama house. In order to verify if this key belonged to the safe, we’d have to hand it over to Kishiro Keiko. At any rate, it meant we had taken a step forward.
“I’ll need to apologize to Aya…” Shioriko mumbled to herself as we went down the slope and onto the highway.
Ayaka only had school for half the day today, and wanted to go shopping in the afternoon. We had told her that we would be back soon and asked her to watch the shop. It seemed this was going to take a while longer.
“Yeah.” I hazily nodded with my hands still on the steering wheel. Something else was on my mind right now—Kayama Akira.
No matter how I looked at it, the hidden bookshelf we found built into the door was not something an amateur made. There was no doubt it was a special order that Kayama Akira paid a lot of money to commission. I was having trouble reconciling the fancy house he lived in with the ridiculous contraption he had made.
Kayama Akira was strict with his own family, and at the same time, kept a lover on the side. He left a message for his daughter in the Boy Detectives memo book, and also saved a young bookstore owner from bankruptcy. Inoue and Naomi likened him to the Fiend with Twenty Faces, and it certainly did seem he had many faces to him.
It wouldn’t surprise me if we discovered yet another side of him in the future.
Shioriko and I reached the house in Yukinoshita after another thirty minutes. The younger sister, Kuniyo, was the one who met us at the entrance, but the atmosphere around her felt unusual compared to the last time we met. She seemed somehow fidgety and distracted. I was sure Shioriko noticed it too.
Regardless, she soon led us into the living room. Kishiro Keiko was nowhere to be seen, and like before, there were three chairs around the large, round table, along with a gap left open for one more person. That was the place for the wheelchair to go.
“Keiko’s out in the garden right now, you see…she’ll meet with us later,” Kuniyo explained.
Although the thick curtain over the window made it difficult to see clearly into the garden, it did seem to be open going by the way the edge of the curtain fluttered gently in the breeze.
There really was something strange going on. Kishiro Keiko, who should have been waiting impatiently for the key, was still in the garden and had yet to show herself.
Shioriko opened the closet door where the safe was in, and slowly sat in front of it, key in hand. I casually looked around the dimly lit room.
Perhaps I’d be able to find a clue to help me understand this strangeness. However, hardly anything seemed to have changed. The only thing was that the items on top of the cabinet—the frame photograph, black telephone, and tissue box—all had lace on them. Which reminded me, knitting lace was Tanabe Kuniyo’s hobby. To be honest, it didn’t really suit the room. I hadn’t seen lace covers like that since I was a kid.
“It was the key to the safe as I thought.”
I turned to Shioriko. The key we found earlier fit snugly into the keyhole in the safe.
“All that’s left now is the password. I tried a few things I thought of, but none of them seemed to have any effect. We’ll need to renew the investigation in this.”
“I see…I’m counting on you then.” Tanabe Kuniyo glanced at the window to the balcony to her side. There seemed to be no sign of Kishiro Keiko.
“Is there a guest in the garden?” Shioriko stood up and affixed her walking stick into her hand as she asked.
“Well, actually…” Kuniyo mumbled, but provided no further explanation.
Shioriko turned her sights to the window. When she did, it became apparent that there was someone standing there. There was a silhouette of a woman with long hair, who for some reason, reminded me of Shioriko for a moment.
We exchanged glances, and Shioriko reached out a slim hand and slowly pulled back the curtain.
“Ah…” A hoarse sound leaked out from Shioriko’s lips.
I stood thunderstruck.
The person standing out on the balcony was a middle-aged woman wearing a black coat and light sunglasses. Her hair, which was longer than her daughter’s, fluttered in the wind. I hadn’t seen her up this close the other day.
“It’s been a while, Shioriko.”
Said Shinokawa Chieko.