The mysterious man took no notice of the three pairs of rapidly approaching footsteps and clanked along at a steady pace. Running as fast as they could, his pursuers quickly closed the gap to fifty yards. Now they could easily make out the glittering metal dangling from his hands.
One of the store employees narrowed his eyes and shouted, “That’s him! Those are our watches! He’s the thief for sure!”
They sprinted even faster. Again, the mystery man remained oblivious to their presence. Facing forward, he did not once look back. Only twenty yards separated them now.
The police officer roared in his most intimidating voice, “You there! Halt!”
Now the big man in the blue suit stopped in his tracks and turned to face them. He did not turn his head but pivoted his entire body.
The moonlight illuminated the mystery man’s face. And what a face! None of them would forget it for the rest of their lives. Not the face of a human being. The face had the sheen of dark blue metal. Not the black of iron but a color closer to the bluish patina of a bronze statue.
The large triangular nose, the crescent-shaped smiling mouth, and black holes where the eyes should be—the face resembled a three-thousand-year-old mummy excavated from an old Egyptian tomb.
So alarming was the sight that the three of them stood rooted to the spot. They could hear a heartbeat that wasn’t their own. It echoed from inside the monster before them, a sound like a giant clenching his teeth. Even all those watches wouldn’t make a sound like that. No, something inside the monster was definitely producing the eerie noise.
The whirring sound suddenly grew louder. Except this quite different sound issued from the monster’s crescent-shaped mouth. The grating sound of unknown origins, like metal scraping against metal, could only be the monster’s laughter. It raised its horrid voice and screeched with mirth.
The monster laughed for a long time. Then it spun around and fell to all fours. Still gripping the watch chains in its hands, it bounded away on its arms and legs like a giant dog.
What in the world was going on here? It was some sort of demon, after all. No human being could run like that on its hands and feet, unless it was, in fact, an otherworldly creature. Something worse than a demon. It did not run like a cat or dog but moved its feet and legs like the levers of a machine, such as a spring-loaded mechanism or a wind-up toy.
No sooner had the monster dropped to all fours than the police officer and two store employees exchanged startled glances. The monster’s blue hat fell to the ground, exposing its head and neck. The face wasn’t a mask. The material that composed the frightening visage wrapped all the way around its skull. The ears, the neck, and even the hairs on its head glittered with the same bronze blue light.
The curl of its hair resembled a tight perm, like the beaded head of a Buddha. Perhaps as with the legendary “Man in the Iron Mask,” this was a person wearing a mask that enclosed its entire head. Or rather, its entire body.
When it dropped to its hands and feet, that sound of metal turning against metal grew louder. Somewhere within its frame, gears meshed together at an alarming speed. That would account for its speed as well.
The pursuers were standing alongside the elevated tracks of the Japan Rail system. The monster ran under the rails and turned to follow the tracks. No matter how creepy the criminal, its pursuers weren’t about to let crime pay. Coming to their senses, they took off after it.
But when they came around the underpass and onto the cross street, the moonlight brightly illuminated before them a completely deserted stretch of road.
“Strange. It definitely headed this way.”
“You’re right. That’s what I thought too.”
The three of them stopped and craned their ears. But the grinding noise had vanished as well.
Houses and businesses, windows and doors locked and shuttered for the night, lined one side of the road. The other side was occupied by the vacant land beneath the elevated tracks. These lots had once been used as warehouse space. More recently, the wooden walls bordering the road had been removed. With those eyesores gone, the entire expanse could be seen at a glance.
Just to be sure, the three searchers explored the lots beneath the overpasses but couldn’t spot anyplace the big man might have hidden. The monster had vanished, leaving not even its shadow behind.
They split up in order to search every possible nook and cranny and still didn’t turn up a single clue.
This monster with the bronze head and iron fingers couldn’t have evaporated in a puff of smoke. Perhaps it inflated its body like a balloon and floated away into the sky.
The shop employee with a penchant for ghost stories was certain the monster had soared high into the sky like a kite escaping its string, and was equally certain he would see it glowing in the moonlight if he only knew where to look.
Well, Dear Reader, what is the true identity of this mysterious monster with the bronze head? Why did it run away on all fours? What are the implications of the whirring noises it makes? How in the world could it have vanished completely from view? And what motivated it to steal so many pocket watches and nothing else?
There are answers to all of these questions. None of them involve wraiths or specters. Our remarkably intelligent phantom thief is soon to match wits with Detective Kogoro Akechi and Yoshio Kobayashi. It surely won’t take them long to reveal the true nature of this seemingly supernatural monster. But first they will have to face one alarming incident after the next.