The Bronze Devil

Chapter 1

The Grinding of Gears

The moon shown bright and clear on that winter night. A solitary police officer stood watch outside the police box adjacent the bridge abutment near Ginza Avenue. It was the dead of night, past one o’clock in the morning.

During the daylight hours, buses and cars and electric trams crowded this major thoroughfare. Now it was as deserted as a fallow field in the countryside. Aside from the glittering moonlight dancing off the two pairs of steel rails, there were no other signs of life. The entirety of Tokyo at that moment seemed as lonely as a graveyard.

The policeman stood beneath the red light that adorned the police box, attentively scanning his surroundings. With each breath, his mouth puffed out a cloud of white fog from beneath a dark moustache, his exhalations freezing in the cold.

What appeared to be a drunkard walked down the tracks between the shining steel rails, a big man wearing a blue suit and a blue felt hat. Despite the brisk weather, he wasn’t wearing an overcoat.

“Hoh,” the officer muttered. “This chap must have tied on one too many.”

There was something odd about the man’s gait. The officer’s assumption about the man being drunk was altogether reasonable. But on closer examination, inebriation could not explain his manner of locomotion. The man didn’t sway from left to right but walked like a man wearing artificial legs. And not the kind of artificial legs commonly associated with amputees.

More like machine-powered legs.

Shadowed by the brim of his hat, the man’s swarthy face showed no distinct features. He stared straight ahead, as if staggering along in a somnolent daze.

But, no, that wasn’t the strangest thing about him. What resembled glowing tufts of silver hung from his hands, swinging back and forth as he walked along, sparkling like jewelry in the moonlight. Not only his hands—the silver items dangled from the pockets of the man’s blue suit, such that his whole body glimmered with light.

Still standing some distance away, the police officer couldn’t make out what the objects were. Maybe strips of silver paper or strings of glass beads. In any case, he didn’t have any reason to arrest the chap and let him pass by. But as the man drew closer, the officer was in for a shocking realization.

The glowing objects were pocket watches, dozens of watches swinging on their chains from his hands and pockets.

Who was this man strolling past the police box in the middle of the night with nary a care in the world, bundles of watches hanging off his body? Was he a fool? Was he mad? Or possessed of a condition more frightening than mere madness?

The officer was later struck by a curious thought. “Those were indeed bundles of watches. And I’m pretty sure I could hear the whirring of gears. Yet even a whole bunch of watches couldn’t produce a loud sound like that.”

The only reasonable explanation was that the humming sound came from the watches. If so, the ticking of the second hands should have been overwhelming. Except the police officer was sure the unsettling sound he heard was closer to that of a big man grinding his teeth.

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