Chapter Three: The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture
We ended up leaving Kishiro Keiko’s home in a hurry, because the moment Shioriko saw her mother, she quickly bowed to our client and walked out of the house without another word.
Kishiro Keiko, who had been sitting in her wheelchair near the flowerbed, had an uneasy expression that concerned me. I wondered what they had been talking about before we arrived.
Shioriko got in the van near the gate and fastened her seatbelt as soon as she sat in the passenger seat. I got a strong sense that she didn’t want to breathe the same air as her mother for even a second longer than she had to. For the time being, I decided to get in the driver’s seat.
“So we’re just going to go back like this?”
The job of delivering the key was done, but I felt it would be better for us to wait and see what would happen next—and more importantly, this was the first time Shioriko had seen her mother in ten years.
“Of course. Please start driving as soon as you can.” She spoke as if she were uttering a curse.
“Is it OK for you not to say anything to her…to your mother?”
“I have nothing to say to her.”
“But you’ve been this furious with her all this time, right? You might not get another chance to talk to her again.”
I didn’t want to witness an argument between a daughter and her mother, but surely that would be better than going home like this. I had a few things I needed to ask Shinokawa Chieko myself.
Shioriko sat stone still and kept her seatbelt fastened. If she was that reluctant, then by no means was I going to force her. However, just as I thought to drop the subject for today and started up the engine, I heard a tapping sound on the window.
Shinokawa Chieko, still wearing her black coat, peered inside the car.
After a moment’s hesitation, I rolled down the driver side window.
“…What is it?”
“If you’re going back to Kamakura, can you take me with you?” Chieko said with a carefree smile.
“I was planning to stop by the house to see Ayaka. We talked over the phone a moment ago and she told me to do whatever it took to get there.”
I remembered Ayaka saying that she wished her mom would at least stop by to say hello. I was sure “just get over here” was the first thing she said when she got the call, even if she had “a lot to complain about.”
There was no reason to refuse given the circumstances, and since Shioriko didn’t say anything, I let Chieko into the back of the van.
Although we were well past the cold season, the atmosphere inside the van felt awfully chilly. Not a single person said a word.
The intersection Tsurugaoka Hachimangū shrine was fairly crowded for a weekday. The cherry blossoms along Wakamiya Oji Avenue were in full bloom, and it seemed their petals were ready to scatter at any moment. There were many people who stopped to take pictures with their phones and cameras.
Shinokawa Chieko was the one who finally broke the silence. Her voice sounded so similar to her daughter’s that it confused me for a moment. Looking back through the rearview mirror, I saw her sitting straight up with her gray pants set together. Her posture too, resembled her daughters.
“Why were you at Kishiro Keiko’s home?” I took it upon myself to ask since Shioriko was keeping silent.
“To talk about the safe, of course.”
“There were rumors that Kishiro wanted to meet me, so I went to visit her in person. She’s trying to get that safe opened, apparently. You took on that request, didn’t you, Shioriko?”
Her daughter did not reply. If Chieko only went to her house after hearing the rumors, then that would mean her visit wasn’t necessarily related to this case. There was no telling if what she was telling me was the truth though.
“So you were acquainted with Kishiro before? Or put another way, did you know about the safe before?”
“It was my first in-person meeting with her…though we have spoken over the phone before. …And Daisuke, shouldn’t you be questioning my relation to Kayama Akira before asking about the safe? That would make it easier for you to understand what’s happening.”
“Ah, you’re right.”
I voiced my honest admiration despite myself, perhaps because her voice was so similar to the one I was used to hearing. I noticed Shioriko glaring at me in a foul mood from the passenger seat, but despite what it seemed, this wasn’t just a friendly chat with Chieko.
“Since I have some time on my hands, I’m considering searching for the password myself. It shouldn’t take me more than half a day to figure it out.”
Shioriko jolted in her seat and suddenly turned around. Chieko narrowed her eyes into a smile. The wrinkles around her eyes somehow made her even more captivating.
“I see you’ve finally decided to look at me. It’s not all that strange though, is it? That request was originally for me after all. As far as Kishiro is concerned, it doesn’t matter who gets the safe open. She was telling me she’d sell the collection to whoever found the password first.”
Something didn’t feel quite right about her last statement. If that was all it was, then the two sisters wouldn’t have looked so troubled. Perhaps there was something else going on behind the scenes—something the sisters were having trouble dealing with. Using that to her advantage would be in character for Shinokawa Chieko.
“Speaking of which, they had me take a little test when I was there. One where I had to identify a book with the cover hidden. They made you do it too, right, Shioriko? Did you answer correctly?
“…Yes,” was the very reluctant reply.
“It was simple, wasn’t it. I don’t think it even took a second to think about it.”
Shioriko’s eyes widened slightly. It had taken her a couple tens of seconds to find the answer.
I found myself glancing at Chieko in the rearview mirror again. From what she said earlier about finding the password in half a day, and now this about taking less than a second to pass the test, it seemed all she had been doing today was brag. Was she really as clever as they said?
“Was it that simple a question?” I asked.
“Telling apart Ranpo’s earlier works by sight is nothing if not trivial. What kind of book did they use for your question?
It was like she was asking us to test her. I searched through my memory as I drove.
“It was a shirokuban?…book published before the war. I think…”
“It never had a slipcase or a cover. And was fairly thick.” Shioriko added in an extremely sharp and cold tone.
“Demon of the Lonely Isle, I bet. Published in Showa 5.”
Chieko answered the moment she heard the description. It truly didn’t take even a second.
“Also, Ranpo’s collection of critiques, Demon Words, published in Showa 11 would fall under that category.”
“Oh……” Shioriko swallowed in the passenger seat.
“But it would have been simple to tell them apart right away from the subtle difference in format. I’d expect at least that much from my daughter.”
Shioriko bit her lip as she listened to her mother go on happily. It was clear that she hadn’t even considered there were two books she could have chosen from. I thought Shioriko was more than plenty knowledgeable about books, but it seemed her mother was at a level beyond that.
The van arrived at Kita-Kamakura station and we passed by the front of Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. The curtain on the front door was shut and a sign with “temporarily closed for business” scribbled on it was attached to the door. I recognized Ayaka’s handwriting.
“Oh my…” Shinokawa Chieko laughed a little. I didn’t understand how she could laugh in a situation like this where there was no guarantee she’d be welcomed home. The younger Shinokawa sister harbored her own complicated feelings for her mother.
I drove around the shop to the parking space for the main house in the back and saw Ayaka standing there wearing a dark blue school blazer. She ran over to the van the moment it stopped with her gray skirt fluttering in the wind.
“Mom! Welcome home!”
Ayaka was grinning from ear to ear and shouted as she opened the van door first. It was a more intense welcome than what I had been expecting. Shinokawa Chieko returned a smile, completely unperturbed.
“It’s been a while, Ayaka. You’ve gotten so big.”
“I sure did! Let’s go! Come on in!” She pointed to the entrance.
Somehow or another I missed my chance to withdraw and found myself sitting in the Shinokawa living room. Ayaka began to prepare tea without a moment’s hesitation as soon as the four of us sat around the low table.
“Why are you wearing your uniform?” I whispered to her.
I was pretty sure she got out of school at noon today.
“Mm—, I wasn’t sure what else would be good to wear, so I figured this was the best choice since I’m in high school now…”
“It looks good on you, Ayaka. The tea is delicious too.”
Ayaka shyly scratched her head at her mother’s praise. Shioriko remained silent as always. I was half expecting her to explode in anger at any moment.
“Mom, are you going to stay for dinner tonight? I’ll be making it, so…”
“I’ll be meeting some people for work this evening, so I can’t.” Chieko declined with a vague excuse.
I glanced at her from the side—just what had she come here to do?
“I see…that’s too bad.” Ayaka said a little crestfallen. Shioriko set her teacup down with a clang. It seemed this little exchange had been her final straw.
But Ayaka suddenly cut in and held up three fingers before Shioriko could do anything.
“Mom, I have three questions for you!”
It didn’t seem like she was imitating Shioriko, but sometimes the gestures Ayaka made resembled her sister’s.
“Oh? what might they be?” Shinokawa Chieko asked.
Ayaka lowered her first finger.
“Where were you and what were you doing these past 10 years?”
“I was traveling around many different countries for antiquarian book related work.”
That didn’t feel like a good answer, but Ayaka nodded and accepted it without complaint.
“Did you read my emails?”
“I read them all…there were some circumstances that prevented me from replying though.”
“What kind of…”
I stopped myself from demanding more details on what exactly those “circumstances” were. It wouldn’t be right for an outsider like myself to lose my cool when the one asking the questions remained level headed.
Ayaka folded her last finger.
“Why didn’t you leave a book for me? You left one for Shioriko.”
A heavy silence filled the room. This was probably the question she had wanted to ask the most. Ayaka wanted to know if her mother cared less about her than her sister. I leaned forward and waited for Shinokawa Chieko’s answer as well. If she continued with the condescending replies like she had until now, even an outsider like me would not be able to stay silent.
“I did leave on for you though.” Her mother answered with a perplexed expression.
“…Huh?” Ayaka tilted her head.
“I left one book for each of you…Shioriko, you knew about it right?”
Shioriko looked away when Chieko addressed her.
“…I have it.” was her reluctant answer.
“What? W-wait a minute. You’re kidding, right?”
“I’m not. Aya, you used to cry so much every day, saying you didn’t need this stupid book and throwing it down the hall.”
“Arrgh, I can’t remember anything like that at all! Did that really happen?”
“You were still young and…it was a lovely book…but the story…” Shioriko’s expression clouded.
“Just what kind of book was it?” Ayaka grabbed her sister’s arm and shook it.
“You didn’t throw it away right? Where is it? I want to see!”
“I found it when I was organizing the second floor. It’s right above my desk on…”
Ayaka dashed out the room without waiting to hear the rest. She must have been in a great hurry, because we could hear the sound of her crashing into things upstairs. In an improbable coincidence, Ayaka had ended up in possession of Shioriko’s Cra Cra Diary, and Shioriko had ended up with Ayaka’s book.
Ayaka returned in the blink of an eye and held out a greenish book for her sister and mother to see. A village, perhaps one in Europe, was printed on the cover.
“Is this it? This picture book?”
The two of them nodded at the same time. The book was Anno’s Journey by Anno Mitsumasa. I couldn’t believe. There’s no way this book could have been fun for a girl whose mother had disappeared. There was nothing wrong with the picture book itself, but there was something to be said about the person who gave it as a present.
“Wooow! Thank you, Mom!”
Ayaka, however, seemed extremely pleased with it. Everyone’s eyes turned to the book when she placed it on the low table and began to turn the pages. We were presented with a bird’s eye view of village scenery that changed bit by bit as we continued through the book. There were no words in this book; the story was told entirely through pictures.
“It’s a story about the main character as he journeys on his horse. He’s drawn somewhere on every page…look, like that for example. Trying to find where he’s hidden is always fun.” Shioriko pointed as she explained.
“Ayaka, you weren’t one to read so I thought you’d enjoy something like this.” Shinokawa Chieko offered and explanation.
“Yeah, I do like it…I don’t think I would have appreciated it back then though because of everything else that happened.” Ayaka replied.
Shioriko continued on with her explanation.
“The people the protagonist visits lead vibrant lives. He gets the chance to experience a sports festival and buy things at the open-air market.”
“You’re right. There are also a few references to famous paintings from Courbet, Millet, and the like. I’m actually quite fond of this picture book.” Shinokawa Chieko said.
The atmosphere between the mother and daughter had changed the moment they had a book between them. They certainly got along in the strangest ways.
Suddenly Ayaka stretched out her hand and closed the book, Shioriko and Chieko raised their heads.
“Mom…do you want to come back home?”
“…I thought you only had three questions?” Chieko replied with a teasing smile, but soon expression soon turned serious. She clearly realized this was an important question.
“Sorry…I don’t have any plans to return home right now.”
It didn’t sound like she was really sorry to me.
Suddenly Ayaka stuck out her chest. Her small form seemed to have grown bigger for some reason.
“You know…to be honest, it’s fine if you don’t force yourself to come back.” She said in a carrying voice. “I really wanted to see you before, but now I don’t need to anymore. Shioriko is doing a good job with the store…and I can take care of chores. We’ll be fine with just the two of us even if you’re not here.”
Neither her words, nor her expression conveyed any criticism for her mother. No one else spoke; we could only listen carefully.
“I understand that there are things you want to do, and that you have to be at other places. But listen, if you’re going cut off contact and stay away from us like you have until now, I might not want to see you anymore, you know? …And if that happens, then I won’t welcome you to the house anymore.”
For the first time, Shinokawa Chieko took off her sunglasses and faced her daughter. She looked at her as if she wanted to burn her face into her mind, and after some time,
“You’ve really grown, haven’t you, Ayaka,” she said somberly.
The three of us moved over to the dimly shop once Shinokawa Chieko told us there was something she wanted to talk to Shioriko and me about. The inside of shop was dyed in the colors of the afternoon sun shining in from behind the curtain.
“It doesn’t look like much gets sold off these shelves…ah….I see….so that’s going on…” Still wearing her black coat, Chieko muttered to herself as she walked around the shelves. It seemed almost like she was having a conversation with the books.
“What did you want to talk about?” Shioriko asked in a harsh tone.
Her mother took a book out of one of the large piles of books in the aisles and began flipping through its pages.
“I’ve got some business until tomorrow at noon, but I’ll be back in Kamakura after that. I’m thinking of looking for the password myself then. What do you say to splitting Kishiro’s collection between us, since you were the ones to find the key?”
“I refuse.” Shioriko answered instantly.
But the reality was that we had no authority to stop her if Chieko decided to get involved anyway. I was sure she understood that as well.
“If you don’t like that, then you’d best hurry and figure it out then. I have to say it’ll be quite the challenge seeing as you’ve never even met Kayama Akira before.”
I realized I was gritting my teeth as I looked up at the store clock. If she was going to return tomorrow at noon, then we didn’t even have twenty-four hours left.
“How close were you to Kayama Akira?” I asked, remembering what she had told me in the car.
Shinokawa Chieko smiled.
“Very up front with questions, aren’t you? Did Inoue from Hitori Bookstore not tell you? You found the key at the Kayama house with his cooperation, right?”
“Yeah, but I mean…”
“He’s a capable person, that man. A bit clumsy though.”
“…And that’s how you threatened him.” Shioriko added scathingly.
Despite the provocation, Chieko didn’t seem the slightest bit flustered as she turned to me.
“I heard about the bookshelf you found inside the door in the study. That key wasn’t the only thing you found, right?”
“There were Boys Detective Club books from before the war in there as well…Did you know that Kayama Akira had books hidden in his study?”
“I did not. I just had a feeling. Kayama told me once before that reading Ranpo for the first time at 11 years old was his introduction to books aimed at young boys. I just thought he’d naturally want to always keep those books close at hand.”
“You seem to have had a good relationship with Kayama.”
“Of course. We were close friends for a time, and I occasionally talked with him when I was out of the country too. I learned many things from him. Getting information from customers who love books is a necessity for any bookstore…I know you’re not good at that sort of thing, Shioriko. Just looking at these shelves is enough to see that.”
It sounded like she saw him more as just a convenient source of information than as a close friend.
Shioriko frowned in annoyance.
“I assume you know that Kayama wanted to become a novelist when he was still in school.”
“…Yes.” I nodded.
“He apparently wrote a number of stories that featured cryptograms and surreal mysteries and submitted them to magazines. It wasn’t just early Edogawa Ranpo that he loved by the way, Kayama was also a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe. He used to laugh and tell me that his writing style was completely different from what was popular at the time.”
I had heard the pen name Edogawa Ranpo was a play on the name Edgar Allen Poe…but I still didn’t know what kind of author he was.
“Poe was a 19th century American writer and poet. He was well known for his horror stories, but he is also said to be the originator of the modern mystery and cryptogram, with stories like The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Gold-Bug. It wasn’t just Ranpo either, Poe had an influence on a lot of literature… It just shows on your face when you have doubts, doesn’t it, Daisuke.”
Shinokawa Chieko explained effortlessly. That part of her was also similar to Shioriko.
“…What do his aspirations to become a novelist have to do with this case?” Shioriko asked in a low voice.
Personal feelings aside, it seemed she had recognized that there was no choice but to talk to her mother. We needed to get our hands on as much information as possible, no matter how insignificant, if we were to have any chance at opening the safe by noon tomorrow.
“I’m explaining what kind of person Kayama Akira was. You need to know more about him to find clues for opening the safe, right?”
I found myself agreeing. We had basically been using antiquarian books to follow the life of Kayama Akira up until this point. We now knew a lot about the man and his family even though we had never met before.
But why was Chieko going out of her way to give clues to Shioriko when she was the one who said she could open the safe by noon tomorrow?
Her behavior didn’t make sense—what was her actual goal?
“Kayama wanted his ability and his love of novels to be recognized by society, but in the end, he wasn’t able to achieve those things through his writing. He eventually sealed everything off and never showed anyone the things he wrote in the past.
“But the shape of those two feelings changed, and with the success of his business, he branched off to collecting books in secret. This way, he could live out his dream no matter which direction his life took.”
Shinokawa Chieko returned to the counter and placed the book she pulled out earlier on top of it. It was Edogawa Ranpo’s My Dreams and Reality. That title was definitely a reference to that quote from earlier—The living world is a dream. The nocturnal dream is reality. The book itself seemed to be fairly old too.
“This book is too expensive, you should sell it for half this price.” She looked at her daughter from across the counter, seemingly expecting her to ask a question.
Perhaps feeling invited by that, Shioriko opened her mouth.
“Do you know what’s inside the safe?”
“I wasn’t told anything about it. I don’t think anyone besides Kishiro herself knows, though I do have a few ideas myself. What do you think it is?”
“For someone who already has such a valuable collection to have something they treasure this much…perhaps it’s something like a previously undiscovered manuscript.”
“I think that’s a good guess. Undiscovered manuscripts for The Two-Sen Copper Coin and The Human Chair have been discovered after all. Do you mind if I tell you the conclusion I’ve reached?”
We both nodded without thinking.
“There would have been no reason for Kayama to be so obstinately secretive if it were just an ordinary manuscript. By gathering all of the available information, I personally think there’s only one thing it could be.
“…The first manuscript for The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture.”
“………….Impossible. That’s absurd.”
After a long silence, Shioriko was the one who finally spoke. Her voice shook slightly at the end of her sentence. It seemed she thought what her mother had suggested was utterly preposterous.
I remembered hearing about The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture before as well. The report we got on Kayama Akira said that it was one of the stories he valued highly, and Kishiro Keiko herself said she liked it as well. The photo of the mirage in the house in Yukinoshita was supposed to have been a reference to that.
“That’s the story with the mirage…right?”
The two similar-looking women turned to look at me, eyes shining.
“In Showa 4.” They spoke at the exact same time, and then fell silent.
They were truly people who loved to talk about books. Shioriko glanced at her mother and then continued talking.
“It’s a fantastical story that was published in Showa 4 that Ranpo had a great love for, apparently. Its popularity among fans is also high, and indeed, it is considered one of his masterpieces.
“The protagonist travels to see a mirage at Uezu, and encounters a strange man carrying a large pasted rag picture on his steam train back. A pasted rag picture is a type of work on cloth or cotton that has a three-dimensional effect. Even today you can see them used for decorated hagoita paddles.
“In that pasted rag picture was a beautiful woman and an old man who greatly resembled the man that owned the picture. According to the man’s story, the old man was his older brother, and he, having fallen madly in love with the woman in the picture, entered the picture through the use of a mysterious telescope. Unlike the woman who was part of the picture in the in the first place, the living older brother ages and gets older through the years. Holding the pasted rag picture with his brother inside, the man disappears into the night. It’s a short, yet very interesting story. I can let you borrow it if you’d like.
“Ah, yes. I’d appreciate that.” It seemed like a slightly scary, strange tale.
“So where did that first manuscript go?”
“It didn’t go anywhere… The manuscript was destroyed…by the author himself.”
“Wait, Ranpo destroyed the manuscript himself?”
“Yes. Regardless of how popular Ranpo was, he had an abnormally low opinion of his own works. There was a time where he was so tormented by disgust in himself that he stopped writing and went on a wandering journey. The initial manuscript of The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture was written during a trip to Kansai around Autumn of Showa 2…”
So he wrote a story about a traveler while he himself was traveling. That must have been why he chose that theme in the first place.
“Ranpo attended a writers’ association meeting in Nagoya with that manuscript. The then longtime chief editor of the magazine New Youth, Yokomizo Seishi, was the one who asked for the manuscript, but…”
“Oh yeah. He was also Ranpo’s editor right? This Yokomizo Seishi…”
I remembered hearing he was a close friend of Ranpo’s and that they had a friendship that spanned decades.
“That’s right. However, Ranpo had little faith in his own work, and chose to tear the manuscript up in the middle of the night and dispose of it in the hotel toilet.
“The version of The Traveler with the Pasted Rag picture that we read today was rewritten a year and a half after this incident. The concept is the same, but it seems the story itself is considerably different. Ranpo claims that his first draft was poorly written, but…”
…That may not have been the case considering how poorly he rated himself.
Shioriko’s excitement was understandable because it meant that there might be an even greater masterpiece in existence. It was the sort of thing any Ranpo fan would be dying to read.
“In the end, the only testimony we have about the manuscript being destroyed is from Ranpo himself.” Shinokawa Chieko interrupted.
Shioriko turned and shook her head incredulously. “Ranpo had no reason to lie. And more importantly, there’s also testimony from Yokomizu who had been staying in the same room. Ranpo confessed what he did immediately after throwing away the manuscript… He was reported to have said he wanted to crawl into a hole right after the fact.”
“Ghostwritten Confessions, right? If that’s the essay you’re talking about, then I read it too. However, Yokomizo only saw Ranpo fumbling around for his bag and leaving the room—and didn’t see him again until after he returned to the room. It may not necessarily be true that Ranpo returned to the room immediately after throwing the manuscript away.
“Doesn’t it make sense that, when pressed for an answer, he claimed the manuscript was disposed of in the toilet so that no one could find it? Even if he did throw it away, it’s possible he didn’t toss it in the toilet, but in another location where a third party could have found it.”
“That’s not a hypothesis, it’s fantasy. How could the manuscript have possibly made its way into Kayama Akira’s hands? There would have been an uproar if it ever showed up in the vintage book marketplace.”
Unlike Shioriko, who was getting increasingly angrier, her mother seemed to be having fun with this conversation.
“Then what if it never appeared in the marketplace? What if it was never purchased from a bookstore, and it was something the Kayama family had from the very beginning?”
“The very idea is ridiculous. For something like that to…”
“Do you know where Kayama’s father was from?”
Startled, Shioriko found herself at a loss for words.
Chieko smiled as if to say, you finally understand?
“So it looks like you do know…he was from Osu in Nagoya.” The place Ranpo lodged at in Showa 2 was Osu…and it just so happened that the place he stayed, Osu Hotel, used to be part of the red-light district. Kayama’s father would have been working there in his hometown at the time.”
Her theory was starting to make sense in my head. Inoue told us before that Kayama Soukichi and Akira came from a town called Osu which was known for its red-light district. And thinking of it now, the report Kishiro sent us also said Soukichi went from job to job when he lived in Nagoya and worked as an inn employee for a time.
“Are you saying that an employee who was a Ranpo fan just happened to find it?”
“I’d say perhaps that was the starting point for his collection. Kayama Soukichi found a strange manuscript one day, gained admiration for Ranpo as an author, and then voraciously began reading works from popular authors after that. The manuscript was eventually inherited by his son who shared the same interest.”
“Surely that can’t be more than a guess.” Shioriko’s opposition was notably less fierce now.
As someone listening from the side, even I had to admit that Chieko’s theory was sounding more and more plausible. Shioriko herself had done similar things before, using her knowledge as a bibliophile to discover secrets from old books. But for her mother to say she knew the truth about something that happened in the early Showa era…there had to be a limit to everything. We were talking about an event from 80 years ago here.
“You’ve talked to Kishiro about this, right? Did she have anything to say about it?”
I was the one who asked the next question.
“She neither confirmed nor denied my theory. All she said was that she didn’t think it was what I was hoping for.”
Shinokawa Chieko’s smile broadened as she remembered that conversation.
“Doesn’t that mean it can’t be the manuscript?”
Kishiro’s answer was roundabout, but it did have its implications.
“Not necessarily. She didn’t deny it completely, after all.” Shinokawa Chieko’s voice bounced like a little kid’s. She seemed so full of life when talking about old books that it made her feel somehow youthful.
“Regardless, we’ll know for sure if you can open the safe. I’m looking forward to this from the bottom of my heart. If it really ends up being the initial Pasted Rag manuscript, wouldn’t you want to read it at any cost?”
I didn’t respond, but Shioriko, having been lured in, nodded. She seemed to regret having done that and looked away from her mother.
“Well then, it’s about time I get going. Try your best until tomorrow, alright?”
Shinokawa Chieko put her hands into the pockets of her black coat and walked towards the glass door at the entrance. Then, she stopped in place, and after a little hesitation, looked over her shoulder at her daughter.
“Whether you believe me or not is up to you, but…I’ll give you a hint.”
Shioriko had a complicated expression on her face. She hadn’t asked for a hint, but she also didn’t say she didn’t need one. She probably couldn’t say that.
“In the last international phone call I had with Kayama several years ago, I asked him about the safe. What he told me was that he intended to make it a challenge for Keiko.”
“…A challenge?” Shioriko whispered.
“He wanted Keiko to have fun opening the safe after he passed away. The idea was that she’d get some “treasure” if she found the key and figured out the password. That’s why he was taking time to prepare things beforehand. Kayama even told me he had made arrangements to have the solution sent after a while if she couldn’t find the answer.”
“Oh, what happened to that solution then?” I couldn’t help interrupting.
We wouldn’t have received the request in the first place if Kishiro had been sent the solution.
“It seems he passed away before the preparations were completely done. It seems there were no arrangements made to deliver the solution, so that’s where all this confusion came from.”
Considering one side of Kayama Akira, it wasn’t all that strange that he’d prepared this sort of game for Kishiro. However, what I was hearing here was that his preparations took a long time. We hadn’t seen a single thing so elaborate that it would take years to prepare in this case so far. The sofa and the hidden bookshelf in the Kayama house were both there before he met Kishiro.
“I was also able to get him to tell me a little about the password. He said he planned on making it a name that no one else but him would know.”
I turned this information over in my head. None of us knew the whole story, but the fact that Chieko was able to ‘get him to tell her’ probably meant she had held an interest in the safe from before.
I suddenly heard the rattle of the door opening, and reflexively looked up. The woman in the black coat was nowhere to be seen, and all that was left was the sunshine illuminating the floor through the curtain.
She went as far as giving us a hint
I pulled door and curtain closed. Something about all this was making me feel really uneasy.
She had said herself that it was up to us whether or not we believed her. She could have said all that just to confuse us.
A harried voice called me from inside the store. I turned around and looked at the counter towards Shioriko. She seemed incredibly flustered and was getting ready to go to the main house.
“Get the van ready right now! We’re going back to the Kayama house!”
The first thing Shioriko did as we sped away from Biblia was call the Kayama house. She explained that there was something extremely important we needed to investigate and asked for permission to check the study again, and that any amount of time was enough. Finally, she stressed that anyone else who came to see the study should be made to wait, and that no one should be let through.
“…Did something happen?” I waited for her to finish the call before asking.
“There’s a chance that my mother is going the house as well…”
“Huh? But why?”
“Do you remember what she asked us earlier? About if we found anything besides the key in the hidden bookshelf. I’ve been thinking about that this whole time. You told her we found several pre-war books, but she didn’t seem to care at all. What she probably wanted to confirm was if we had found any other clues.”
Chieko hadn’t said anything then, so it hadn’t occurred to me to follow up.
“I should have searched every corner of that hidden bookshelf instead of just stopping when I found the key. That…that was thoughtless of me.”
“But there’s no guarantee that your mother is going to show up, is there? You might be over-thinking this. And even if she does go to the house, she wouldn’t be allowed into the study because of your phone call just now.
“…I just hope that’s true,” Shioriko said with some lingering unease.
It ended up taking longer than expected to get to Daigiri in Fujisawa City. I avoided the closed railway crossing near Ofuna Station, and passed over an overhead bridge, but then we got stuck in a traffic jam caused by an accident. That said, it wasn’t like we lost a whole lot of time. Assuming Shinokawa Chieko went to the Kayama house as soon as she left, we’d still have plenty of time to catch up…or so I thought.
“…Your helper stopped by to examine the study earlier, but she’s gone now.”
Shioriko stood frozen in her tracks as the housekeeper explained at the doorway. Her fears had come to pass; Shiokawa Chieko had made it here before us.
“Why did you let her into the study? She asked you to make everyone else wait, didn’t she?” I loudly questioned the housekeeper.
The housekeeper looked at Shioriko with a troubled expression.
“You called me again right after the first call…you said that you decided to have your mother check in your place instead and asked me to lead her to the study as soon as she arrived.”
That made no sense. There couldn’t have been a second phone call.
“…It was my mother. She was the one responsible.” Shioriko muttered regretfully.
I finally realized what had happened. Shinokawa Chieko had chosen the right timing and impersonated her daughter with a second phone call. Their voices were remarkably similar, and anyone would have been fooled unless they happened to be acquainted with both.
She foresaw our visit to the Kayama house and knew that we’d call beforehand.
In the end, the “hint” she gave us was probably a strategic move to lower our guard. All she really had to do was keep whatever clues she found to herself and we’d have no way of figuring out the password.
And when we were escorted to the study, Shioriko and I found ourselves in for yet another surprise. The room looked completely different from how we left it. We had explained what we found to the housekeeper and closed the hiding spot the last time, but now all of the wood panels on the door had been taken off, revealing a number of shallow shelves. All the shelves were empty, and even the Kobunsha Boys Detective Club books had been taken out.
I looked around the room and saw the four books tossed on the sofa. Knowing that they weren’t taken away was at least some measure of relief.
“Can you tell me who returned home first after we left earlier this afternoon?” Shioriko asked.
“The son was the first to return, but he left the house again about thirty minutes ago…”
“Before my mother arrived?”
“Thank you very much. We can take it from here.”
“I see. In which case, please inform me when your business has concluded.”
The housekeeper left the room and closed the door behind her. Shioriko brought her face close to me and whispered.
“My mother wasn’t the one who did this.”
“What do you mean?”
“She would never treat books like that.” She pointed to the books tossed on the sofa.
She had a point. Someone who knew the value of those books wouldn’t have done that.
“In that case, who…”
The door suddenly opened once again, and a young man wearing a black jacket and tight leather pants walked into the study. He seemed to be around the same age as me, and he had the same oval face and thick lips as Kayama Yoshihiko. One could even call him handsome. His waxed hair was styled to look naturally ruffled.
A surprised expression floated onto his face for a moment when he saw us, but he soon broke into a smile.
“Oh, hey there. Are you two the rumored bookstore people? I heard you left at around lunch.” The man started an overly familiar conversation with Shioriko.
“Y-yes…my name is Shinokawa from Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. We came back because…there were a few things we needed to check. This is my assistant Goura…”
“Relaaax, ya don’t have to be so formal. Name’s Wataru. Nice to meet you.”
This was one of the rare times where Shioriko introduced me without stumbling, but the man gave us his name before she could finish.
Thinking about it now, I remembered seeing Wataru at the very bottom of the Kayama family tree. He was Yoshihiko’s only son, and seemed to have a lighthearted personality that was completely different from his serious parents.
He stared at and around Shioriko with a strangely obscene gaze, focusing especially on her knit sweater and ample chest. He was being so blatant about it that even being near him was starting to bother me.
“Umm…do you mind if I ask you about this door…?” Shioriko asked timidly, seemingly unaware of where Wataru was looking.
“Sure. What do you wanna know?” Wataru said, taking a step forward.
Shioriko uncomfortably took a step back.
“Do you know who exposed all the shelves…hidden in the door?”
“Oh this? That was me. I was out with some friends from school this morning and Negi, the housekeeper, told me you found some old books in the study after you left. I wanted to see if there was anything else that was rare hidden in here. Also…and I don’t think I’m wrong here, but you’re from that old bookstore in Kita-Kamakura, right? The one next to the station?”
Wataru took another step forward, and Shioriko took another step back. Her upper body swayed every time her cane touched the floor.
“Y-yes………that’s right. Shioriko was practically whispering as she drew back even further. She was shaking really badly now.
“I go to a private university in Kitakama, and take the Sukasen line every day. I see you at the train station sometimes. I have to say, you’re a real hidden beauty!””
The “hidden” part was wholly unnecessary.
Wataru was about to get closer to Shioriko again, but I took a half step forward to block him. He raised his eyebrows in displeasure and looked up at me. This was his first time seeing my face.
“Did you talk to the person who came here before us?” I asked, forcing myself to stay calm.
“Nope. I was way out near Fujisawa Station. Who are you talking about?”
In other words, he and Shinokawa Chieko missed each other.
“Was there…anything else in the shelf…besides…the books?” Shioriko asked, trying to stay hidden in my shadow.
Wataru tried to move around me so he could see her face better. It kind of felt like they were circling around me.
“Yeah, I guess there was something like that.”
“Could you show it to me?” Shioriko suddenly became excited.
“I’ll tell you now, it’s nothing valuable. In fact, I took it to an antique shop just to see how much it was worth, but they said it was a fake and didn’t want to buy it. I came back here just to put it back.”
I didn’t really get it, but at the very least he didn’t seem to be talking about a book. This man hadn’t gotten anything for his trouble, and it was a certain fact that Shinokawa Chieko never saw whatever he had. Wataru had left before she had arrived, and returned only after she left.
“But it could still be important…will you please let me see it?” Shioriko bowed.
An unpleasant smile appeared Wataru’s face.
“Alright then, why don’t you go out with me sometime in exchange? On a date, I mean.”
“What!?” I raised my voice. “What is that supposed to mean!? What kind of joke is that!?
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t asking you…or are you her boyfriend?”
“Well…not exactly…” I hesitated. It hadn’t been long since I asked Shioriko on a proper date myself.
It made me feel pathetic that this guy was able to say that three minutes after meeting her, when it had taken me more than half a year.
“So what do you say? You want to see this right?” He lightly tapped the pocket on his leather pants.
Shioriko kept looking at her feet with an uncomfortable expression. Obviously I couldn’t allow him to force her on a date, but it wasn’t as if I could tell him to get lost either. I couldn’t think of a good way to get us out of this.
“I bet working at a shop like that is a real pain. You should get some fresh air sometimes. I mean, don’t you get tired of having to mess around with old books everyd—”
Shioriko’s head suddenly shot up. Wataru blinked in surprise, startled by her sudden and complete change in demeanor.
“If you were to go on a date with me…” She began. There was no hesitation in her voice now. “I think you’d have no choice but to listen to me talk about old books the entire time. For example…”
She pointed to the Kobunsha Boys Detective Club books that had been strewn on the sofa. The rest of the Kobunsha and Poplar first editions were stored in the sofa itself.
“There are twenty six books in that series. Not only have I read them all, I can talk about their writing, their conditions at the time of publishing, their binding, the particularities of their illustrations, and their current value in the antiquarian book market for quite some time. Assuming there are no breaks, I could continue for at least ten hours…even longer if we take time to eat and rest. Do you still want to go on a date with me regardless?”
I could practically see Kayama Wataru’s dreams wither and die inside him. Shioriko wasn’t a “hidden beauty” he wanted to date anymore. He looked at her in disappointment.
“What the hell…you’re a maniac.”
After clicking his tongue, he glanced at me almost in passing. You’ve got some weird tastes, was what the look in his eyes told me. I mean, I did love listening to her talk about books, but ten hours straight would still be rough.
“Forget what I said about the date. Do whatever you want with this thing. Take it with you and bring it back later if you want.”
Kayama Wataru took something out of his pocket and slipped it into my hand before quickly leaving the room. The item he gave me, still warm with his body heat, was a large, unfamiliar coin. It was lighter than it looked. The amount, two sen, was written on the center, and when I flipped it over, the words Taisho 20 were written around an image of a dragon. Given that it looked brand new despite it’s apparent age, it was probably fake like Wataru said. I showed it to Shioriko.
“It’s a two-sen copper coin.”
“Oh, so it’s a two-sen…wait a minute, you said two-sen copper coin?” I was pretty sure I had heard those words several times now. It was the title of one of Ranpo’s short stories if I was remembering correctly.
“The Two-Sen Copper Coin is a masterpiece that is recognized as the very first mystery published in Japan. I’m sure Kayama Akira made this replica as homage to that.”
“What kind of story is it?”
“The protagonist is a poor young man who lives with his friend. He happens to obtain a hollow two-sen coin by chance that contains a slip of paper with a secret code inside of it. His friend is convinced that if he solves the code in the coin, he’ll get his hands on a large sum of money, and in the end, brings home a large amount of cash. The uniqueness of the code, the skillful way of storytelling, and the unexpected ending make it a masterpiece that never gets old for me.”
I absentmindedly began to examine the two-sen coin while I listened to her explain. Looking at it carefully, there was a strange line going around the edge—almost like it was meant to come apart. I put my fingernail into the line and tried to separate the top and bottom. It split cleanly in two, revealing a small cavity inside.
“It’s just like in the story.”
“This must have been custom made. There’s a paper inside of it too.”
I took the thin, folded up paper out, and carefully unfolded it on the low table so it wouldn’t tear. There was a list of characters written vertically—
Namuabutsu, Namudabutsu, Mi, Amida, Nami, Namumi, Danamudabutsu, Naadabutsu
“To think he’d go this far…I can’t believe it.” Shioriko muttered in a hoarse voice. It seemed she couldn’t hold back her excitement.
“What is this?”
“This will spoil a trick used in the book, do you still want to know anyway?”
“Huh? Oh, of course.”
“The secret code that appeared in The Two Sen Copper Coin was composed of the six characters in Na-mu A-mi-da Bu-tsu. Starting from the left, if you arrange these six characters in order into two columns with three characters each. The characters become replacements for braille dots.”
I thought about the braille alphabet. Now that she mentioned it, she was right. Braille used dots arranged in a 2 by 3 table.
“Each set of comma-separated characters is regarded as a single letter, and in the original book, the code contained a hint on how to find a hidden fortune. This one is clearly different from the original though…it may even be something that Kayama Akira created himself.”
It couldn’t imagine something this elaborate being meaningless. If the code in the original book was a clue that led to treasure, then maybe this code—
“So is this the challenge in question? The one to Kishiro.”
“There’s a good chance…that this is the password to the safe.”
Sitting on opposite sides of the low table staring at the code, the two of us looked at each other and smiled. No one besides us knew the secret of this copper coin. All that was left now was to solve the code by converting it to braille, and we’d be able to open the safe.
Shioriko and I borrowed the replica two-sen coin from the Kayama house and returned to Kita-Kamakura as fast as we could. That was because Ayaka, who had been minding the store, had called with a cry for help because the store was so busy. We already had Kishiro Keiko’s request to deal with, but now we were also falling behind on work.
Shioriko evaluated the mountain of books that customers brought in, and I replenished the shelves with the books we purchased. Time passed in the blink of an eye, and we were still frantically running around trying to get mail orders sent out when it came time to close the shop.
Shioriko said she would spend the night carefully going over the code, and would contact me if she solved it. I dragged my tired body along and went home for the night.
After eating dinner with my mother, I sat next to the window in the living room and opened up a thick book, Japanese Mystery Anthology 2: Edogawa Ranpo Collection, published by Sogen Mystery Bunko. Shioriko had let me borrow it since The Two-Sen Copper Coin, The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture, and The Human Chair were included in this anthology.
None of the stories were particularly long, so I was able to read all three in one go. While the stories themselves were different, they gave me the same sort of impression after I read them. The thought had crossed my mind before, but each story felt somehow disconnected from reality—it was like they were dreams given form. Even the opening for the mystery The Two-Sen Copper coin felt like that.
“Boy, that thief makes me jealous!”
That was the sort of remark my roommate and I exchanged at the time. That’s how desperate we were for money.
I speak of the days when Matsumura Takeshi and I lay idly about our one-room apartment, our heads filled with nothing but foolish daydreams. We lived in a cramped six-mat room, furnished with two beaten-up paper-ply desks lined up side by side.
We lived on the outskirts of Tokyo, and the room was on the second floor of a shabby-looking shop that sold wooden clogs. There we were, just the two of us, with our empty wallets and nowhere to turn. That’s when we heard about the thief. Everybody was talking about the robber extraordinaire with his ever-so-clever scam. We couldn’t help but feel envy and admiration—even at the thought of something that was so profoundly wrong!
And like a daydream come to life, there was an uproar when they finally found the thief’s fortune. It was certainly apt to say that their ‘heads filled with nothing but foolish daydreams’.
I drifted deep in thought with the book still open.
Perhaps it wasn’t just the characters in the story who were like that, but also people who loved Ranpo. There was Kayama Akira, who hid the existence of his lover and his hobby no matter the cost, Kishiro Keiko who lived in the house in Yukinoshita with bated breath, Shinokawa Chieko, who abandoned her family and didn’t return until a decade later—and people like Shioriko as well—I wondered how the world looked in their eyes. Did they feel like they were living out a story in their lives, like there was a blurred line between dreams and reality?
That left a dark, vague sense of unease in my heart.
I felt someone’s stare, and looked up to see that my mom, who should have been watching television, had turned to look at me.
“What is it?”
“You look just like your late grandmother when you’re thinking with an open book like that…”
Now that she mentioned it, I often saw my grandma doing that. She was someone who enjoyed reading at the end of the day.
“Well doesn’t that make you happy…”
“I’m not happy about it at all. Things have really calmed down since she died.” She replied, but her lonely expression belied her words.
My mom and grandma both had irredeemably stubborn personalities, so they always bumped heads every time they saw each other. But my mom had lost her rival once my grandmother had died, and often remarked that things had calmed down these days. I suppose that was just how much she remembered her.
“You’ve gotten better at reading than before, haven’t you.”
I looked down at the book in my hands. I still felt a little nauseous, but she was right. The amount I could read in one sitting had increased.
“Well, I guess that’s only natural if you work at a bookstore every day. But what I want to know is when you’re getting married.”
I slowly closed the book, trying to hide my irritation. She had started saying things like that to me recently. There was no one in the world who’d be happy about their mother asking about their relationships.
“What are you talking about…don’t get any weird ideas.”
“But you’ve been talking with the shop owner over the phone a lot these days, right?”
“Only about work. There was the earthquake and we’re busy with all sorts of things.”
“Oh, that’s all it is?”
My mom turned back to the TV without asking me anything else. She was now watching a report about cleaning up the post-earthquake debris.
“I’m sure your grandmother would be overjoyed if you were able to read again. She was always worried about you until the day she died.” My mom muttered with her back still to me.
I didn’t say anything. It was hard to respond to the sudden, serious change in topic.
Suddenly my phone rang. It was a call from Shioriko. I went out to the hallway before answering to escape my mom, whose eyes were shining with curiosity.
“How was your evening, were you able to crack the code?”
Silence. I thought the connection cut off at first, but there was still the faint sound of her breathing. I walked into my room and turned on the light.
“I can’t solve it. I can’t figure out the code.”
“Would you mind listening to me for a little bit?” She continued weakly.
I had turned on the computer in my room and was staring at the image Shioriko had sent me. It was a picture of a table that she had taken with her phone.
“His……Uejima?” I tried reading the parts I understood out loud.
“I tried substituting the characters with dots, but there are still parts I can’t read.”
“Maybe it’s a place name. Like ‘something Uejima’.”
“I thought of that possibility, but couldn’t find any place names that met that criteria…but what if Kayama used an original braille alphabet so using the conventional system won’t work…”
Shioriko usually solved mysteries like this on the spot, but even she seemed to be thoroughly puzzled by this one. I frowned and wracked my brains…
“Do you think Kayama could have made a mistake? Like what if he wasn’t very experienced with braille…”
“That’s what I thought it was at first, but you remember the books on braille he had in his study, right? I also asked Yoshihiko earlier, and he told me that Kayama used to be the director of a braille language support group, and that he even had experience translating things into braille himself.”
In other words, he knew what he was doing when he made this. I leaned back on the chair that I had been using since I was a child.
“I also called Kishiro’s house, and apparently she didn’t know braille at all. That’s why I think this probably wasn’t meant to be a complex puzzle. I was so sure that there was a hint in Ranpo’s works, but…”
Even still, there was nothing to be gained from talking to someone totally ignorant like me. I had just finished reading the Two-sen Copper Coin after all.
“Don’t you think it would be better to ask someone more knowledgeable for advice? Not me…but Inoue, for example.”
The first person that actually came to mind was Shinokawa Chieko, but she was the last person in the world we’d turn to for help.
“I don’t want to.” She stubbornly said. “I think you’re better, Daisuke.”
“I don’t want to talk to anyone else about this. It feels like I always find the solution I’m looking for when I talk to you…I don’t understand why, but this won’t work with anyone but you…” The last part of that sentence came out as a whisper.
I was really glad we weren’t talking face to face right now. I wasn’t confident that I’d have remained coolheaded if she were next to me. I took a deep breath and stared at the image once again. I made the decision to stick it out and talk to her about everything I could think of until she figured it out.
“In that case, what if he used braille that was used in the Taisho era. Maybe that was different from what we have now.”
“The foundation for braille in Japan was established in the Meiji era, so that can’t be right either.”
That idea was instantly shot down, but I didn’t feel discouraged. I didn’t need to find the answer myself. Helping her think this through was good enough.
“Then what about…”
“Wait a moment. Daisuke?”
“Why did you ask about the Taisho era?”
Thinking about it now, why did I? Kayama’s replica coin was made in modern times, so that didn’t have anything to do with the the Taisho era. But it kind of felt like I had seen something from that era somewhere. It might have even been today.
“Oh right, it was on that two-sen coin. The year Taisho 20 was written on the back, so…”
“What!?” The strength of her response surprised me. I soon heard the faint sound of metal in the background. She was probably looking at the coin right now.
“You’re right…Taisho 20…but…why….oh!”
I heard a thump. It sounded like like something heavy being dropped on a desk. Knowing her room, there was no doubt it was a book. I heard her turning some pages, but then it suddenly became dead silent.
“I got it.” She sounded overjoyed this time.
“I think I’ve cracked the code.”
We weren’t able to go to Kishiro Keiko’s house until after 11am. The main reason was because we were waiting on a convenient time for her, but we had also been kept fairly occupied by work at Biblia all morning. There was work left over from yesterday, so we had woken up early in the morning to take care of that.
We asked Shinokawa Ayaka to mind the store, and this time, just in case, Shioriko tried to explain the details before we left. But Ayaka suddenly interrupted her partway.
“Yeah…OK. I think I get it. I get that it’s something I won’t totally understand even if you explain everything. This gist is basically that if you open the safe, you’ll be able to buy lots of good books and get to see an amazing treasure, right? That’s why you gotta give it your all, Shioriko! For the sake of our family finances!”
And so Ayaka sent us off with high expectations. It seemed Shinokawa Chieko’s visit, or more precisely, reading Anno’s Journey together, had restored their relationship to how it used to be.
After arriving at the Kishiro residence, we got out of the van and walked towards the gate. Shioriko had a large tote bag slung over her shoulder today. Apparently she was going to need it to explain the code. I myself hadn’t heard the details of how she solved it, and had no idea what the answer she found was. I did ask, of course, but her enigmatic answer was that she couldn’t solve it with The Two-Sen Copper Coin’s code, but did use The Two-Sen Copper Coin to find the solution.. Perhaps the particulars this time were too complex to easily explain.
I could see the bounce in her step even as she limped along with her cane. While she was excited about getting the chance to buy that large collection, she seemed even happier about having solved the code, and looking forward to seeing what was inside the safe more than anything else. All she had talked about on our way here was whether or not the legendary first manuscript of The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture actually existed. She didn’t necessarily support her mother’s theory, but did reluctantly acknowledge it. If the manuscript did exist, she was going to want to see it.
We went under the gate, and soon saw people standing near the entrance. Tanabe Kuniyo was speaking to a man in a black hoodie. Going by their similar facial features, he was probably her son, the “Kazuhiro” she had told us about before. He had a small wheeled suitcase sitting at his feet. His mother noticed us first, and she waved to us and lightly pushed her son to urge him forward.
“Well, Kazuhiro. Make sure to stay safe.”
Kazuhiro only nodded, and pulled the suitcase handle with him as he began to walk away. He silently bowed his head when he walked past us. Unlike his mother, he seemed to have more of a quiet personality.
“G-good morning….was that your son?” Shioriko asked after Kazuhiro left.
“That’s right. He’s on a break right now so he stopped by to help around.”
“Is he going on a trip?”
“No, he isn’t. There are only plastic water bottles in that suitcase. I told you before that he lives in Tokyo, right? A lot of stores over there still don’t have water stocked, so he buys some from here and takes it back with him.”
That was understandable. There was a report a few weeks ago that a higher than standard amount of radiation was detected in the tap water, and supermarkets were sold out of mineral water all at once. The aftereffects of that still remained in some places.
This area wasn’t impacted as much, so there wasn’t too much of an uproar here.
“Anyway, come in. Keiko’s waiting.” Kuniyo said.
Kishiro Keiko was waiting for us in the same living room as before, wearing a loose housedress as she always did. The first thing Shioriko asked was if Kishiro wanted to open the safe first, or if she wanted to hear about the password. She replied through her sister, saying she wanted to hear about the password first. I was grateful for that, since I had been dying to know for a while now.
Shioriko sat down, and first put the replica two-sen coin on the table.
“Do you recognize this replica? It seems to have been something Kayama Akira had made.”
After getting the pleasantries out of the way, she went right down to business. Her “switch” had been flipped early this time, perhaps because of her excitement.
“Hmm. Keiko, don’t you already have something like this?”
At her younger sister’s question, she shook her head. Kuniyo interpreted her answer.
“…She said that there’s a real one in the library, but she’s never seen this one.”
I supposed it made sense that Kayama Akira would have needed to own a real one in order to make a fake.
Shioriko opened up the replica coin and unfolded the paper with the password.
“What amazing craftsmanship.”
“I agree. It’s quite elaborately made…the code inside was based on braille, as I explained yesterday, but there was one part that I was completely unable to read.
Shioriko took out a paper from her bag. It was the deciphering page that she has sent me yesterday. This time, however, the third and forth spaces which had question marks had “contraction marker” and “yo” written in their respective margins.
“I wrote my interpretations of the two parts I couldn’t understand right outside the boxes here.” She pointed to the fields.
I could understand the “yo”, but didn’t quite get what “contraction marker” was supposed to mean. Since no one else asked, I was left with no choice but to speak up myself.
“So what…exactly is this contraction thing?”
“That’s used to indicate a contracted sound. You know how there are some sounds that you get by appending a small ‘ya’, ‘yu’, or ‘yo’ to a character, right? For example, ‘ki’ plus a contracted ‘ya’ becomes ‘kya’. The same principle also applies for other words like ‘ryu’ …those are called diphthongs.”
I thought the way her lips moved when she gave examples was cute, but I of course didn’t say anything.
The contraction mark indicates that the next character is a diphthong. In this instance, the two spots here mean that character yo gets a small ya, yo, or yu appended to it to make a diphthong.
A diphthong with yo…I tried to pronounce it in my mind, but wasn’t able to visualize how it could even work.
“Does something like that exist?”
“Not at all. That’s why I was having trouble solving the puzzle.” Shioriko replied.
I finally understood what she had been agonizing over last night.
“I couldn’t see it as anything but a mistake in how the contraction mark was used, but there was also the fact that Kayama Akira had known expertise in braille. That’s when I realized…that the mistake itself was part of the challenge.”
Shioriko paused and looked around at us.
“The truth is, there was once someone who used the contraction marker in the exact same way almost ninety years ago…Kayama Akira took inspiration from that mistake and used it to make the code.”
Shioriko took a worn booklet out from her bag. On its cover was the title New Youth, and if I was remembering correctly, it was a mystery magazine from long ago. She opened the book, flipped to a page with a tag on it, and showed it to us. The title on this page was Original Detective Story: The Two-Sen Copper Coin. The author, was of course, Edogawa Rampo.
“The one who made a mistake…was Ranpo?”
“That’s right. Ranpo was the one who made a mistake in his code in his debut work.”
I couldn’t believe it. But thinking about it some more, I remembered Shioriko telling me when we were reading the report on Kayama Akira that there was a critical flaw in his debut work—that must have been referring to this.
“This is the version of New Youth that the Two-sen Copper Coin was first printed in. This is the volume that marked Ranpo’s birth as a mystery writer.”
Shioriko took one more book from her bag as she explained. This one had a yellow cover and had three titles lined up vertically along the side—The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, The Dwarf, and Incident at the Lakeside Inn.
“This is part of an anthology that Tougensha published in the later years of Ranpo’s life, but I want you to pay special focus to the part around where the diphthongs appear in the code.”
“The code…it’s different.”
“That’s right. The braille contraction mark was used incorrectly when this story was first published. It was only corrected in the Tougensha anthology after the war. The code that Kayama Akira created was exactly the same as the original, incorrect one—and this was the hint he left for us to solve it.”
She pointed to one side of the hollow two-sen copper coin, the side with the date.
“The date on this coin is Taisho 20, but that is, in the first place, impossible.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“This coin was in circulation until the Showa era, but it was only minted between Meiji 6 and Meiji 17. They were no longer in production by Taisho 20. The year Taisho 20 was when The Two-Sen Copper Coin was published in New Youth. My belief is that the date on the coin was a hint to tell us that the code was based on the Taisho 20 version…to tell us to use the incorrect version to solve the code. The fact that he purposefully used antiquated characters for Namu Amida Butsu most likely also pointed to this fact.”
I finally understood what she meant when she said she solved the code using the Two-Sen Copper Coin. Ranpo’s original publication itself was the clue.
For a while, no one said anything. Kishiro Keiko leaned on the armrest of her wheelchair and waited to hear the rest with a faraway look in her eyes.
“So the answer to the code is…?”
Shioriko took out a pen and added a “yo” right under the question mark on the paper.
“…What does that mean?”
“I’m not certain myself…Miss Kishiro, do you recognize it?”
She only blinked in response…it an was an answer that could be interpreted either way. I was curious about why she wasn’t giving us a clear answer.
“…Anyway, why don’t we open the safe? The first thing we should do is check whether or not the password is right.” Tanabe Kuniyo said. She was right, there was no guarantee that this was the right password. Shioriko and I stood up and opened the door in the corner of the room. Kishiro Keiko moved her wheelchair to a position where she could see the safe inside.
“Alright, I’ll open it in Keiko’s place.”
Our client’s younger sister turned the dial, inserted the key and turned it. Two of the three locks had been undone, but there was no reaction from the safe. Finally, Kuniyo referenced the note in her hand and keyed in the password.
Shioriko was leaning forward next to me, putting her full weight on her cane. Her dark eyes shined fiercely behind her glasses, not wanting to miss even a moment of what was to come. At some point I also saw myself clasping my hands together.
An audible click echoed through the room the moment she pressed the final button. With a slight creak, the thick, metal doors slowly swung open, revealing a second, wooden door. She opened that door to reveal an old bundle of paper folded in two sitting on a shelf. There was nothing else in the safe.
Tanabe Kuniyo picked up the bundle and passed it to her sister. We all gathered around the wheelchair. The papers she had on her lap seemed to have been folded with the back facing outward. It had been torn in the past, and there were clear traces of it having been repaired with another paper under it.
Kishiro opened the bundle with shaking hands, revealing the large-boxed Japanese gridded paper completely filled with fountain pen scrawls. However, the author and the title were clearly legible.
The Woman With the Pasted Rag Picture
Kishiro Keiko looked at it with a somewhat nostalgic look in her eyes, but then suddenly hugged the manuscript tightly. She kept her head down like that for some time.
“The title…it’s different.” I whispered to Shioriko.
The “man” that the protagonist met in the steam train had been changed to a woman. It was a woman traveling with a man in the pasted rag picture…I thought that was also interesting in its own way.
Hearing no reply from Shioriko, I checked to see what she was doing. She was next to me frozen stiff and completely overcome with surprise, shocked that a supposedly nonexistent manuscript was now in front of her.
“…Could I ask you to leave Keiko to herself? Just for a little while.” Tanabe Kuniyo whispered in our ears.
True, even though she was selling the rest of the collection, Kishiro Keiko had finally obtained her lover’s memento that she had longed for all this time. I didn’t have a problem with leaving, but—
“Shioriko, is that alright with you?” I poked her arm.
She finally came back to reality.
“Huh? Yes, of course….will there be a chance for me to look at it later?”
The last part of that was aimed at Kishiro Keiko. Shioriko waited for her to nod before going out to the hallway. I followed after her.
“Alright, then…take your time, Keiko.” Tanabe spoke to her older sister and closed the sliding door behind her. Then, she led us to the library a distance away where we were met by the collection of mystery books from before.
“You have my deepest gratitude for everything you’ve done for Keiko. As promised, you may buy all of the books here. Please take the time to look through them as you please.”
“No…we should be the ones thanking you.” Shioriko finally smiled and gave a short bow. It may have been my imagination, but she seemed to have a triumphant look on her face. She probably felt satisfied that she was able to solve the case with her own strength before her mother arrived.
Suddenly, the shrill sound of a ringing phone came from the living room. Tanabe Kuniyo grimaced.
“And just when things finally settled down…I’ll need to step out for a little bit. Excuse me”
She restlessly left out to the hallway and closed the door behind her. Shioriko and I were now the only ones left in the library.
“The books on the shelves haven’t changed at all since the last time. There isn’t even a single book missing…it’s almost like nothing’s been organized since then…”
Shioriko spoke to herself as she aimlessly looked around at the shelves. I was pulled into it and followed her example, but books were actually the furthest thing from my mind. This case was almost over. I was going to go on a date with her.
“…Where do you think we should go on our next day off?”
The library was quiet as always, but Shioriko did not respond, and instead stared silently elsewhere. It felt like she was thinking particularly hard about my question.
“Daisuke, over there.” She cut me off and pointed to a shelf near the entrance.
Perhaps it was because they were haphazardly filled, each level on the shelf had a wildly different number of books. The one she was pointing to was completely packed and left no empty spaces. In it was the book I had picked up before, Egawa Ranko.
“What about Egawa Ranko?”
“No, not that…right next to it…”
“Gentlemen of the Sky? Or do you mean Murderer’s Maze?” I read the titles of the books to the right and left of Egawa Ranko.
I didn’t notice it before, but Shioriko’s face was deathly pale.
Suddenly, she changed direction and walked over to another bookshelf. She pulled out a book and handed it to me. Anthology of Detective Fiction: Volume Three. Though It was a considerably old book, its cover hadn’t even been wrapped in wax paper, and it didn’t seem to be in good shape.
“Take that and come with me!” Shioriko opened the door and stepped into the hall.
She was still using her cane, but her gait was sure. I might have been strange to say, but I was once again truly impressed how much she had recovered.
She stopped in front of the living room and pulled open the sliding door without a hint of hesitation. I didn’t get the chance to ask if it was alright for her to do that. Kishiro Keiko, who had been sitting next to the window in her wheelchair, turned around in surprise.
Her younger sister was nowhere to be seen, perhaps because her phone call had ended. However, there were now things tossed on the round table that hadn’t been there before—the fleece jacket that Tanabe Kuniyo was wearing, and also a cheap looking cellphone.
Shioriko took a pen and a notepad from on top of the cupboard and pushed them into Kishiro Keiko’s hands.
“I want you to answer my one question.” She asked in a controlled voice. “There should be a breaker…or a maybe even a fuse box in this house; either one is fine. Where is it?”
I was taken aback. Breaker? What did she mean by that? But then the pen and paper began to tremble slightly in Kishiro Keiko’s hands, and soon they dropped onto her lap.
I now realized that the manuscript from the safe was also nowhere in sight. Where had it gone, I wondered.
“Thank you very much. Daisuke…we need to go. I hate to ask, but could you hold onto my bag for me?”
“Sure…but where are we going?”
“To the train station. We still might just be able to make it.”
Not only was the road to Tsurugaoka Hachimangū shrine congested, the sidewalk was too. It was, after all, a Saturday right in the height of spring. We passed by a tour group that seemed to be heading towards the Tomb of Minamoto no Yoritomo as we hurried to the train station on foot.
“Why are we going to the station?” I called out to Shioriko’s back in front of me.
“Because we might be able to catch….the person that took the manuscript.”
Her breath was already starting to become ragged. She walked at the same pace as someone who didn’t need a cane, but it seemed walking long distances was still difficult for her.
“When you say ‘catch’, are you talking about Tanabe?” I couldn’t think of anyone else. She was the only one missing from the house.
However, the answer I got was unexpected.
“…Not Tanabe. I’ll tell you the details later.”
Who on earth was it then? I hated to ask her while she was so tired, but there was one more thing I just had to know.
“What was the purpose of that question earlier? The one about the breaker.”
“It didn’t really matter if there was a breaker or not….what I wanted to confirm was how long she had been living in that house.”
It still didn’t make sense to me even after that brief explanation.
The red torii gates of Hachimangū shrine then came into view. A countless number of cherry blossom petals floated in the air, carried by the ocean breeze. Shioriko pointed to the dankazura, the shrine path that extended Hachimangū shrine, as soon as we reached the Wakamiya Oji intersection.
“Here…go…first….” She seemed to be telling me to go ahead and stop them.
I went across the pedestrian crossing the moment the light turned green. In order to quickly slip through the throngs of tourists, I ran across an elevated section of the shrine road. The blossoming cherry trees rustled every time the wind passed through them.
There were stairs installed in several places on the raised path that led down to the road on the left and right. I caught sight of a familiar person standing right in front of the stairs closest to the intersection, next to the stone lanterns. It was a young man wearing a black hoodie.
He was supposed to have gone back to Tokyo; what was he doing in a place like this? Was he perhaps the one Shioriko was talking about—
Now that I looked more carefully, there was also someone else next to the stone lantern. She had a large leather bag off her shoulder and was wearing a nice, tailored jacket and skirt. She was currently closing the fastener on her suitcase after pulling out a hat to put on.
The way she was dressed was completely different from before, but that was Tanabe Kuniyo. Going by the suitcase at her feet, she was clearly here to set off on a journey.
So did she meet with her son earlier to have him pick up her luggage?
In which case what she said about the water bottles was a lie.
And that conveniently timed phone call from earlier…that must have been prearranged so she could leave the house in secret. The cellphone that had been left on the living room table came to mind. Kishiro Keiko was probably the one who made the phone call.
But for what purpose?
It was then that Shioriko caught up to me. I decided to speak in her place since she was still out of breath.
The first to turn around was her son.
With a confused expression, he bowed. Come to think of it, this Kazuhiro’s surname was also Tanabe. His confusion about why we were even here was plastered on his face.
“…Good day.” I returned the greeting
I actually wasn’t sure what to ask first, but then Tanabe Kuniyo tapped her son lightly on the shoulder.
“Kazuhiro, it’s alright. Thanks for the help with my luggage…I’ll leave the rest to you. Take care.”
Kazuhiro lightly nodded. After a little hesitation, he turned to her and replied.
“You too, Auntie. Have a safe trip.”
Then, after a short bow towards us, he jogged across the street, and continued to walk towards Hachimangū shrine. It seemed he wasn’t going to the station, but returning to the house in Yukinoshita.
I was utterly baffled. I hadn’t misheard. He definitely called her that. If she wasn’t his mother, then could it be—
“Miss Kishiro Keiko,” Shioriko finally spoke up. Her shoulders were still heaving. “Do you have time for a short chat…?”
“…I supposed I do.” The woman we previously knew as Tanabe Kuniyo—Kishiro Keiko, nodded.
“The café on Komachi street might be good. It might be crowded at this time of day though.”
Going along with Kishiro Keiko’s proposal, we went into an old cafe on the corner of Komachi Street. It was busy, but there were still some seats open. We were led to a table with a view of the courtyard.
“This café has been around for many years now; I used to come here with Akira from time to time.”
Kishiro Keiko spoke to us after making her order. Her voice was now a little deep and sounded a bit raspy—this was probably her natural voice. It wasn’t just her clothes that had changed; her expression and her calm, collected way of talking felt like they belonged to an entirely different person.
“Is the lady in the wheelchair your younger sister?” Shioriko asked.
“She is. She’s the real Tanabe Kuniyo. We sisters exchanged our clothes and hairstyles and switched places.”
“And what about her illness?”
“That was completely true. In fact, almost everything we said about each other was true. Kuniyo was putting on a performance, but she did find it fun. She spent her life frantically working and raising children until they were old enough to go to college, but fell ill as soon as they left home, you see. That was about half a year ago. I actually stayed in Miyagi prefecture for a while to take care of her.”
That brought to mind the conversation we had with Kayama Yoshihiko—when he told us that Kishiro Keiko was absent when his lawyer went to visit her house. It wasn’t that Kishiro herself had been hospitalized, but rather that she had left the house to take of her sister. I remembered hearing that they had no other close relatives, since both their parents had died.
“And then, as soon as she was discharged from the hospital, she got injured in the earthquake. That’s when I decided to take care of her in my house. Kuniyo also didn’t ask any questions when I wanted her to switch places with me. She’s always been reliable like that.”
The faraway look in her eyes resembled her wheelchair-bound sister’s almost exactly. Or maybe that was only because Kishiro Keiko’s younger sister had been imitating her in the first place. Going by her story, it would mean that she only began living in the house in Kamakura only a month ago. I now understood why Shioriko had asked her about the breaker earlier.
If she had really been living in that house for ten years, then naturally she would have known where the breaker was located.
“But how did you find out? We thought our performances were quite good, ourselves.”
“I didn’t have any doubts at first….but on that day we came to see you, when we entered your living room, I felt a sense of incongruity.”
Kishiro Keiko’s eyes went wide. I was listening from the side and couldn’t believe my ears either. I was hearing this for the first time.
“That early on? Why?”
“It was when you were hurriedly tidying up the first edition of Demon of the Lonely Isle along with the knitting tools. You handed the book over to your sister then. I was curious about why you did that.”
“What do you mean?”
“There was only one place around that table that had enough room for the wheelchair. In other words, your sister would always occupy the same part of the table no matter what. Even if she had temporarily left the living room…the book should have already been in reach from that spot when she returned. That’s why I was confused. There should have been no reason to go out of your way to give her the book.”
“…You are indeed correct.” Kishiro Keiko nodded as she thought back. “I was sitting in the other seat reading the book. My sister was the one who was knitting lace. She likes to knit various things…like the phone cover, for example, since there wasn’t much else to do.”
“Was there anything else?”
“There was also the time we were talking about the earthquake,” Shioriko smoothly continued. “Your sister told us she ‘felt helpless and alone with the house so silent’, but the phone in the house was an old type black rotary phone. That kind of phone could function on just the power from the phone line. It should have still rung even if the power was out… You said you tried call her and your nephew several times to confirm their safety, so I found it unnatural that you were unable to connect at all.
“Thinking about it now, that was actually what your sister experienced in her home in Miyagi prefecture, wasn’t it? You contacted your nephew in Tokyo using that black phone and he rode all the way to Miyagi on his motorcycle to help his mother….am I wrong?”
Kishiro Keiko smiled.
“That’s more or less correct. While the bookshelves at my own house did collapse, they fortunately didn’t fall on me. It was quite dangerous though.”
I was listening attentively to Shioriko while she explained. We had seen and heard all the same things, but there was so much that I hadn’t even noticed. Her powers of insight never ceased to amaze me.
“It’s now that I notice that hardly anyone involved in this case was acquainted with you. The sole exception was Inoue from Hitori Bookstore, but even he last saw you many years ago. The conditions were just right for you to pull off a switch.
“What finally convinced me completely was Egawa Ranko, which I only noticed earlier today. You didn’t return the book to where Daisuke had taken it out, and instead put it right between Murderers Maze and Gentlemen of the Sky. I did not think that was entirely a coincidence.”
“Maybe that’s because it used to be in that spot and I just found myself putting it back.”
“Umm…what is this about?” I hesitantly asked, unable to keep up with the conversation.
“Egawa Ranko, Gentlemen of the Sky, and Murderer’s Maze…were all collaborative works that Ranpo worked on with other authors. It would be strange for someone who knew little about books to put them all together on purpose, right? Especially when there were so many other free spaces on that same shelf.” Shioriko explained.
Now that she mentioned it, Inoue had also mentioned those books before. He told us that Shinokawa Chieko sold Kayama Akira first print collaborative works.
“But you didn’t react at all that time when I almost dropped Egawa Ranko. That’s why I thought that you knew nothing at all about books.” I said to Kishiro Keiko.
The smile suddenly disappeared from her eyes.
“I was being cautious around you.”
“Huh?” I doubted my ears for a moment. I would have never imagined that someone could have those thoughts about me.
“You were working with this Shinokawa, after all. I suspected you were only pretending to be ignorant to lower our guards…in fact, I still think it’s a possibility.”
“B, but why would you think…”
“You checked up on me the first time I visited Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia, right? That time when you pulled back the curtain on the door.”
Actually, now that she mentioned it, that did happen. But it was only because I wanted to see what she looked like as she passed by the store. I was curious about what kind of person was coming to us with a request.
“There was no deep meaning to it. I was just curious.”
“But I still had my doubts. When I saw you holding Egawa Ranko, that doubt turned to certainty. Imagine, a complete amateur happened to find the single most expensive book in the library. That doesn’t seem like a coincidence, right? That’s why I had to force myself not to scream when you were about to drop it.”
“That was just a coincidence.” I said sullenly.
I had only picked it up casually because the title looked like a female version of Edogawa Ranpo. There really was no deeper meaning.
“There is no reason for us to lie to you right now. I can guarantee it…Daisuke knows nothing at all about antiquarian books. He is a true amateur.”
Shioriko threw out a lifeboat for me, and while I knew she was trying to defend me, that statement left me with another set of complex feelings. However, Kishiro Keiko seemed satisfied with that.
“…but it was thanks to this amateur’s lucky accident that Shinokawa was able to see through who I really was. Perhaps there are things that can only be seen precisely because you aren’t knowledgeable.”
My hand stopped as I was about to pick up my cup of water. I felt a sharp prick deep in my heart. Was that really how it was? I at least didn’t think it was until now.
The conversation paused when our drinks were delivered to the table. The server placed three coffee cups on the table one after the other.
“Did you originally make that report on Kayama Akira in order to hand it over to us?” Shioriko now asked a different question.
Kishiro Keiko brought the cup to her lips to buy some time.
“That was something my sister wrote herself, but it was based on my story. We did it to help her memory.”
“There were many things she had to memorize after we decided to switch places. About the Kayama family, about Edogawa Ranpo…she took my stories and put them on paper to help her remember. Since it was so well done, I thought it would be faster to give it to you instead of explaining it in person. You found it useful, right?”
We nodded. Indeed, that explained why the report itself sounded so objective. Kayama Akira wasn’t an irreplaceable existence for the writer; the contents of the report was nothing more than a list of facts they had to memorize.
“My sister did a good job, but we were able to succeed because I followed up when she couldn’t keep up with or had a hard time answering a question. I instructed her on how to nod based on the questions I asked her. Do you know how we did it?”
I was surprised by the hint of pride in her question. Shioriko brought her fist to her lips, and after thinking about it for a short while, spoke again.
“Did she perhaps nod yes by default…and shook her head only when you included the word “certainly” in the question?”
Kishiro Keiko nodded with a smile.
“That’s right…you’re as excellent as I thought. Not even the people who already knew us, like the Kayama family and even Inoue, noticed.”
She didn’t seem frustrated that Shioriko got the answer right. Maybe talking about her methods was fun.
Suddenly, the sun went behind the clouds. We all turned to look outside towards the verdant courtyard. It had only gotten a little darker, but the atmosphere in the cafe felt like it had changed completely.
“Were all these great lies you told all for the sake of opening the safe?” Shioriko asked as she stared out the window.
“Of course.” Kishiro Keiko’s tone became forceful.
“I always wanted to take out what was in the safe after Akira passed away. I also wanted to know about the password. But the Kayama family refused to talk to me. I understood why, so my initial plan was to give them time, but…”
“…Then the earthquake happened.” Shioriko finished the sentence for her.
Suddenly a scene similar to the one in the courtyard surfaced in my mind. It was the day we first visited Kishiro Keiko’s person’s house. Partway through the conversation, she had looked out to the garden from the library.
We don’t know what will become of us tomorrow. If we don’t do what we want to now, then we’ll surely regret it afterwards.
That was her own resolution, having seen her family suffer from an illness and an injury before her eyes.
“Yes. And that’s why I used my sister. I thought it would be difficult for the Kayama family to refuse a request from someone in her condition…and indeed, that’s exactly how it went. It did come as a surprise to me though, that the son, Yoshihiko, was not given custody of the key and password.”
Kishiro Keiko chuckled as she spoke.
…Was that really all it was?
I couldn’t help but think there was another reason why she switched places with her sister. Assuming different identities was a common motif in Ranpo’s stories. What if she wanted to experience something from a Ranpo story? In the same way that Kayama Akira “enjoyed” having multiples selves.
“Did my mother realize…about your true identities?” Shioriko asked timidly. Perhaps she felt uneasy about her mother’s actions.
“She might have realized something. But she didn’t say anything. The only thing she told us was, ‘I don’t mind who you sell the collection to, but are there no plans to let go of what’s in the safe?’”
A chill ran down my back. Her real aim was the contents of the safe—she must have deliberately given us the hints as a strategic move to get it into her hands.
“Do you plan to go on a trip with that manuscript?”
Kishiro Keiko nodded, and let her gaze drop down to her hands. She had the same vaguely unfocused faraway look from before.
“Akira granted my wish. That’s why I intend to go around to various places in his memory. Just like The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture. I will be away for some time, but I will make sure your purchase of the books gets handled appropriately. My sister and my nephew will take care of everything, including the house. Please ask them about it later.”
Kishiro Keiko took out a plastic file case from her leather bag and set it on the table as she spoke. Inside it was the manuscript bundle from before.
“Can you tell us what your wish was?” Shioriko glanced at the case, but did not try to touch it.
I thought that was odd. She had wanted to know what was in the safe so much, and even told me she wanted to read Ranpo’s legendary manuscript no matter what it took. It felt like her attitude towards the manuscript had undergone a complete change ever since the safe was opened.
“I have a feeling you already know.”
“I believe I do…at least about the manuscript’s secret.”
“Huh? A secret?”
I stared at Shioriko’s expression from the side. Suddenly she turned to look at me, causing me to almost fall backwards.
“Daisuke, did you bring the Anthology of Detective Fiction?”
“Ah, yes I did.” I opened the tote bag that Shioriko had asked me to hold earlier since that was where I was keeping it. I handed over Anthology of Detective Fiction: Volume Three to her.
“Excuse me. I had to borrow this from your library.”
“I don’t mind, I already decided to sell what was in that house after all. But even still, I’d like you to valuate the books fairly.”
“Of course.” Shioriko replied and opened the book to the first page.
The title, Idle Chatte, came into view. The delicate smell of old paper mixed with the scent of coffee in the air.
Kishiro Keiko smiled knowingly, but Shioriko turned to the only one who didn’t understand the meaning—me—and began to explain.
“This book was first published in Showa 3. The “current year” referenced in the passage refers to the previous year, Showa 2”
I have not written anything this year in the literal sense. It is due to this that none of my works are published in this anthology. Of course, I had no plans to contribute anything, but my editor, perhaps thinking I must have been feeling lonely, recommended I at least write a foreword.
Ranpo clearly conveyed the fact that he was only writing because he had no choice. The year Showa 2 sounded familiar. Unless I was mistaken—
“This was the year the first manuscript for the Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture was written, right?”
“Correct. Naturally, this was written before the story was redone and officially published in Showa 4. As is written here, Ranpo did not release anything in Showa 2, and instead wandered from place to place…please look at the latter half of the foreword.”
…For example, The Matchlock, Face without Lips, and the Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture—the latter of which was dreamed up in Kyoto and was written almost entirely in one night at the Hyakkaen in Uji, and was eventually hurled into the toilet at Nagoya’s Osu hotel.
“Oh, this is…” I organized the contents in my head. The title of the work he “hurled into the toilet” was clearly written as The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture. There was no doubt he was talking about the first manuscript. But the manuscript here was The Woman with the Pasted Rag Picture—
“Ranpo had no reason to lie about the title of the work that he threw away, meaning the title of the original manuscript was not The Woman with the Pasted Rag Picture. In other words…”
Shioriko lightly tapped the plastic file case that had the manuscript in it with her finger. “This is a fake. This is Kayama Akira’s own manuscript, isn’t it?”
The noise in the café got louder as our table fell silent.
Kishiro Keiko silently opened the case and took out the manuscript bundle. It looked very old from what I could see, and had some tears at the edges along with small stains and discolored spots.
“Is that really a fake?” I asked.
Kishiro Keiko nodded.
“Akira told me he put in a special order for this writing paper. He used Ranpo’s handwritten manuscripts as a reference and replicated the design down to the stains. He told me to look forward to it…and indeed, it is incredibly realistic.”
Even after all these years, Kayama Akira’s perfectionist personality could be felt in the things he had made. I could understand why it took so long for him to prepare this.
“Look.” Kishiro turned one of the pages of the manuscript and showed us the back. The name Ejima Hisyou was written in the corner using the same ink as the front side. That seemed to be the author’s name.
I repeated it to myself—Hisyou Ejima. That was the name of the password to that safe.
“Was that Kayama Akira’s pen name?” Shioriko asked Kishiro.
“That’s right. I believe he came up with it back when he aspired to become a writer.
“I suppose he never told you himself then.”
“That’s correct. He never did tell me much about those days, just that he found he had no talent for writing and abandoned that path. He apparently burned everything else he wrote…and this is the only novel of his that remains. He picked up his pen one more time only for the sake of granting my wish.”
It was like the fog had cleared, and everything fell into place. Kayama Akira had put his own work into the safe. He made his pen name that no one else knew the password, and made preparations to have it opened after he died. I had my doubts about his strange methods, but in the end, he did it all to leave a present for his lover.
The reason he went to such extremes to secure it was so that it wouldn’t fall into the hands of anyone but the intended recipient. There was no question that it was a rare, one-of-a-kind item, but it had no value for anyone beside Kishiro Keiko. It was kind of like that replica two-sen copper coin in that sense.
“…What was your dream in the end?” I asked. She still hadn’t told us what it was.
Kishiro abashedly looked down and put her hands together.
“People’s thoughts tend to become more childish the older they become, perhaps we remember the good old days more often. The dream I used to have of being in one of Ranpo’s works never left my mind even after all these years, just like the man in the pasted rag picture. It was an absurd dream, I know…I talked to Akira about it too.”
The living world is a dream. The nocturnal dream is reality, I suppose
I was sure Kayama had not laughed one bit when he heard that. Rather, he began to make careful preparations in order to fulfill her dream.
There was some confusion due to the fact that he couldn’t complete is preparations, but in the end, the present he left behind was now in Kishiro Keikos’s hands.
“This story is probably about a woman who resembles me…and just as in the real Pasted Rag, I plan to slowly read through it on my journey. As a reader, from start to finish.”
Kishiro gently rubbed the Ejima Hisyou signature with her finger as she spoke.
“I would have loved for him to tell me more about the story….there’s no longer any way for me to know the meaning of this strange pen name.”
“…Miss Kishiro.” Shioriko’s voice deepened and suddenly became more serious. This was her habit when she was about to say something important.
“Was The Great Golden Nugget the first Ranpo novel that Kayama Akira ever read?”
Kishiro Keiko looked bewildered for a moment.
“That’s right…but how did you know? He rarely ever talked about his childhood.”
“This was something my mother apparently heard from Kayama himself. His introduction to Ranpo’s novels was a children’s book that he read at eleven years old. Kayama was born in Showa 3, so the only story being serialized in the Boys Club magazine in Showa 14 when he was eleven was The Great Golden Nugget.”
Now that she mentioned it, we were told that Kayama’s first exposure to Ranpo was from a magazine. Shioriko must have come to that conclusion by putting together all the information from the various things we heard.
“The Great Golden Nugget is about a secret code that points to a hidden treasure and the scramble that breaks out for it. Akechi Kogoro and Kobayashi Kid shows up, but the Fiend with Twenty Faces and the Boys Detective Club do not. Perhaps due to that, it is not a highly well known title…”
“Perhaps so. It’s true that he often used to say that book was his starting point. Even though it was mainly a kids’ adventure book, it was also the first story he ever read that had elements of mystery in it. He of course went on to read other books, but always said that one was unforgettable.”
That was similar to what Inoue from Hitori Bookstore said—that The Boys Detective Club series was his first experience with mystery novels. There were probably people like that in every generation.
“Do you remember the name of the protagonist in The Great Golden Nugget? The boy with the code…his name was Miyase Hujio…”
Kishiro Keiko did not reply, perhaps because she did not remember.
“He was the same age as Kayama at the time, and was similarly an affluent boy who lived in a western style house like him. Perhaps Kayama saw himself in the protagonist, and felt something in his heart.”
Shioriko took out a pen and paper out from her bag and began writing so Kishiro Keiko could see.
I finally understood the meaning after staring at it for a short minute. This was an anagram.
Kishiro Keiko, unable to stand it anymore, burst out laughing.
“He really was like a child,” she dabbed at the tears in her eyes with a handkerchief.
Shioriko and I turned around and walked away after we saw Kishiro Keiko off at the ticket gate. Now we needed to go back to the Kishiro estate to discuss purchasing the books with Kishiro’s younger sister and nephew. It seemed management of everything, including the library, had been left in their hands.
We passed the bus station and headed down Wakamiya Oji avenue. The lovely cherry blossoms in full bloom from earlier were in our minds, so the plan was to look at them on the walk back. That alone kind of made it feel like a date.
We went across the pedestrian crossing in front of the Ni no Torii which towered above the road. This particular gate continued all the way to Hachimangū shrine, and also functioned as the entrance to the shrine. There were more tourists than before. They were here to view the blooming cherry blossoms, same as us.
“It’s beautiful…” Shioriko said as she stopped right underneath the gate.
Her hair fluttered in the in the sea breeze. It felt like the wind was especially strong on this road, perhaps due the fact that there was a straight path to the sea. The countless petals in the floating in the air made it hard to see.
Maybe it because of those petals, or perhaps some other reason that we did not notice the woman in the black coat in time. She was practically right in our faces by the time she said anything to us.
“…Are you two headed to the station?” Shinokawa Chieko asked.
Shioriko’s expression suddenly stiffened. Now that I thought about it, it was actually past noon now. I supposed it wasn’t too much of a surprise that Shinokawa Chieko would show u around now.
“Did you go to Kishiro’s house?” I asked.
“I did indeed. I found her younger sister and the empty safe…what a shame.”
It didn’t look to me that she was especially disappointed though. The way she didn’t turn her gaze away from her daughter for even a moment felt unsettling to.
“The safe didn’t have Ranpo’s handwritten manuscript in it. Your guess was completely off the mark…and we also get purchasing rights to Kishiro’s library.” Shioriko’s tone was taunting. It wasn’t often that I saw her like this.
“So you’re saying it wasn’t the first manuscript of The Traveller with the Pasted Rag Picture? I’m having a hard time believing that. What on earth was in the safe, then?”
“I’ll tell you what was in it.” Shioriko began to explain with a clearly thorny attitude.
There really wasn’t anything to hide here, but I was a privately surprised by how willing she was to talk–I couldn’t help but feel like she was somehow baited into the conversation.
Shinokawa Chieko’s blinked a few times after Shioriko told her about everything that had occurred up until we saw Kishiro Keiko off at the train station.
“…Is that it?”
“Yes, and I have nothing more to say to you. Let’s go, Daisuke.” Shioriko tapped her cane and began to walk away. I followed after her. The woman in the black coat glanced at her daughter as she passed her by.
“I suppose it was too much for you after all, Shioriko.”
Shioriko turned around when she heard that disappointed whisper. The two of them were now standing closer to each other than before.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Kishiro Keiko isn’t someone so easy to deal with. She’s not a bad person, but she’s also the type who will do whatever it takes to protect what’s important to her…”
Shinokawa Chieko chuckled and pointed to herself and her daughter.
“In fact, she’s just like us in that regard.”
I was shocked. There was in fact a time where Shioriko deceived everyone around her in order to protect a valuable Daizai Osamu first print, but that information was naturally never made public. I was supposed to be the only other person who knew everything, including the fact that the book still existed.
“Enough beating around the bush. Tell me what you really want to say.”
Faced with her daughter’s chilly tone, Shinokawa Chieko raised her index finger. She looked almost exactly like Shioriko did when she was solving a mystery.
“Why did Kayama Akira put nothing in the safe besides the replica first manuscript? I want to know what you think.”
“Because it was the thing he treasured the most, right? It’s not like there was some complicated…”
“Kayama Akira created the replica manuscript to fulfill Kishiro Keiko’s wish relatively recently at best. However, something had been stored in that safe for many before even that. What happened to the object that was in there before?”
Shioriko looked like her mind had gone blank. Now that I thought about it, Kishiro Keiko did tell us that she only told Kayama Akira about her dream to be in Ranpo’s world after she had gotten on in age. But Akira had ostensibly talked to Hitori about the object in the safe years before that point. We had yet to see anything that could fit the bill.
“Did Kishiro Keiko show you the entire manuscript? She probablt only showed you one or two pages, am I right?”
In place of an answer, Shioriko’s shoulders shook. Her mother had guessed completely right. From our perspective, we didn’t consider prying too deeply to verify everything about keepsake the late Kayama had left behind for his lover…it seemed that had become our blind spot.
“…What do you think happened, then?” Shioriko groaned.
Her mother took a step forward, and smiled gently as if she were about to embrace Shioriko. I was watching from the side, and found myself unable to look away.
“Surely you already know? It’s true that Kayama Akira wrote the novel for his lover, but that doesn’t mean he wrote everything from start to finish. There’s a good chance that the manuscript of The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture that he inherited from his father was only partially intact. Isn’t it possible that Kayama Akira filled in the missing pieces with his own writing? He would have also been able to grant Kishiro Keiko’s wish that way, right? Better than creating a fake manuscript from scratch, anyway.”
“That’s nothing more than a guess…”
“And it’s also the most likely possibility. Or do you have any better ideas?”
Shioriko didn’t seem to have anything to counter with.
Suddenly, a thought popped into my head. This woman wasn’t just sharing her thoughts here, was she? Somehow it almost felt like she was trying to tempt Shioriko.
Shinokawa Chieko faced her daughter and held out her hand. Her pretty hands that belied her age were pointed forward like a blade.
“Let’s go, Shioriko.”
“Let’s go after Kishiro Keiko. We might be able to catch her if we leave now. You want her to show you the manuscript, right? Even if it’s just a fragment, you must want to read a never before seen, unreleased manuscript from Ranpo’s prime. Surely you’re interested.”
Color returned to Shioriko’s face. No doubt she was no seeing herself reading the manuscript. I could almost see the traces of a smile on her lips.
But Shioriko shook her head to shake that image off.
“I have the store to take care of. And in the first place, why would I ever want to travel…”
“Taking a short break shouldn’t be a problem. We’d only be on the road for a few days. I talked to Ayaka earlier, and she told me she’d be more than happy to support us traveling to renew our relationship. She said she’d mind the shop for as long as she…”
“I don’t want to renew anything with you!” Shioriko screamed shrilly.
It was loud enough that the tourists around us looked in our direction. It might have been the first time I had ever seen her so shaken.
“Yes…I supposed doing that would be difficult. I did leave you behind for ten years after all.”
But Shinokawa Chieko did not lower her hand. She continued to whisper in a gentle voice that felt like it reached straight into my brain.
“I don’t mind if you hate me. Let’s go together, Shioriko. I’ll tell you all about manuscripts like Pasted Rag…I’ve seen many things in these past ten years. There are countless things in this world that you don’t know about, Shioriko. Doesn’t that rouse your interest?”
Shioriko didn’t reply, but her eyes gave it away. This was a chance to talk about books for as long as her heart desired with someone who was more knowledgeable than her. Of course she would be interested.
I was shocked at the unexpected direction this conversation had taken. It seemed Shioriko was gradually getting overwhelmed by her mother’s words.
A dark unease suddenly began to spread in my heart.
If Shioriko went on a journey with her mother now, I had a feeling that it wouldn’t end after just a few days. Would it be a week? A month? Or would she ever return to Biblia again?
“Let’s go, Shioriko! There’s no time left!”
Lured in by her mother’s suddenly urgent voice, Shioriko slowly began to raise her free hand. She had a vacant look in her eye, almost like she was in a dream.
The living world is a dream. The nocturnal dream is reality.
Ranpo’s words hit me like a like a lightning bolt. I knew I couldn’t let her keep going.
I found myself calling her name. She suddenly stopped moving, but I wasn’t sure what to say next; my mind was a mess. I glanced at her.
I could see that behind her glasses, the light had returned her eyes. She was already back to her usual self.
“I can’t go after all.”
“Why not? Do you have something even more important than the Pasted Rag manuscript?”
“…I do.” After thinking for a while, Shioriko returned with a quiet reply. Just what did she have in mind?
As I stood there looking confused, she suddenly turned to me.
“I have a date with Daisuke on our next day off.”
I wasn’t entirely sure if she said that because she faithfully wanted to keep her promise or if she really thought our date was that important. All I did know was that it would be a while until I could ask her.
Regardless, Shioriko and I went on a date on the next day off. Since she didn’t have any particular place she wanted to go, and since in we didn’t have any concrete ideas on what we were supposed to do on a date in the first place, we decided to wander around Minato Mirai in Yokohama. It was originally an old harbor, so there were lots of sightseeing spots and had no lack of places to eat.
Shioriko was wearing flower print skirt that cut off above her knees, which was rare for her. Her hair was tied up and I could see the nape of her neck and she was also wearing making that was more neatly applied than usual. When I mustered up the courage to tell he she looked pretty, Shioriko replied with almost too much honesty that it was all her childhood friend, Ryuu’s doing.
We went from place to place, taking breaks in intervals so Shioriko wouldn’t overburden her injured leg. But no matter where we went, we always ended up either talking about the people involved in the most recent case, or about Edogawa Ranpo’s books.
Neither of us had any idea where Kishiro Keiko had gone. Her sister, Tanabe Kuniyo was going to live in the house in Yukinoshita with her son until her injuries were healed. As promised, Biblia was able to purchase the entire library, and now everything was being kept in our storehouse. According to Shioriko, half would be sold at the vintage book exchange, and the other half would be gradually sold in store and through mail orders.
We weren’t really sure how things ended up between Inoue of Hitori Books and Kayama Naomi. What we did know was that she was still working at his store. All we could do is pray that things turned out well between them.
I learned various things about the Boys Detective Club from Shioriko afterwards. It was especially interesting to hear about how some books were rewritten before and after the war. That said, it was no surprise she didn’t spend ten hours talking. I’d say it was only about two.
After we had dinner at a reasonably priced Italian restaurant, Shioriko said she wanted to ride on the Ferris wheel. The Ferris wheel, which also doubled as a gigantic clock was one of the famous attractions in the area, but unfortunately, do to the aftereffects of the earthquake, we found that it did not run at night.
We ended up deciding to walk around a little more before going home since it was already pretty late. We walked down the promenade and made our way to JR Sakuragicho station. They were reusing an abandoned rail line here, so tracks could still be seen above ground. There weren’t many people here, perhaps because it was a weekday.
Maybe due to the wine we had at the restaurant, Shioriko and I were able to hold hands rather easily.
“Daisuke, did you have fun today?” She was in a good mood and suddenly asked me straight. She did tell me she wasn’t good with wine, so she was probably still a little tipsy.
Just as I was about to say I was enjoying it…
“I had fun! It was great!” Shioriko exclaimed. Then she pursed her lips and began to clumsily whistle her usual tune. It was a habit of hers that rarely showed up outside of when she was immersed in a book.
I was tempted to ask if this was more fun than reading, but decided not to say anything.
There was one question that was lingering on my mind though. What would have happened if I hadn’t called Shioriko’s name when she met her mother on the raised path that day? Would she really have taken her mother’s invitation and gone to a trip to follow the legendary Ranpo manuscript?
Would I be able to stop her the next time something like this happened? Or would she suddenly disappear, just as her mother did.
We had no idea where Shinokawa Chieko was now. She disappeared into Kamakura station soon after Shioriko refused her. There was no telling if she was able to catch up to the woman that held not a pasted rag picture, but a handwritten manuscript.
I would probably never forget the sharp, chilling look she gave me as she was leaving. It felt like she was committing everything about me to memory.
Now that I think back, I get the feeling that one of reasons Shinokawa Chieko returned to Kamakura was for Shioriko. She must have wanted a partner with whom she could exchange as much of her knowledge and thoughts as she wanted. She surely didn’t expect any problems with her own daughter.
I probably earned the wrath of that unfathomable woman by getting in the way of her plans, and had a feeling that she was going to show up again one day. There wouldn’t be any harm in making some preparations before then. There were a few other things about her that concerned me, so I was going to have to chat with a certain person soo—
“Daisuke, are you listening?” Shioriko was questioningly staring t my face. Her posture was a little unsteady because of her cane.
“Sorry. Did you say something?”
“I was saying that I’d like to come here again.”
It seemed having to repeat that made her feel embarrassed. She was speaking softly and looking at the ground. She was starting to sober up, but we didn’t let go of each other’s hands.
“…So do I.”
I thought to myself as I felt her warmth on the palm of my hand. There was no guarantee that her hand would always be nearby. I had to tell her what I really felt.
We stopped at a small iron bridge on the promenade. It was a cold, calm evening, without the usual spring wind.
“Please go out with me.”
I wasn’t as smooth as she was when she was solving mysteries, but I was able to say the words.
“I’ve always loved you.”