The Bronze Devil

Chapter 7

The Devil and the Detective

The residents of the Tezuka household were Tezuka-san, Shoichi and Yukiko (his little sister), the houseboy and the maid, along with a family that had been displaced by the war. That family consisted of Hirabayashi-san (a salaryman) and his wife, as well as their son Taichi (a junior high school student), Taichi’s two little sisters (too young to attend school), and Hirabayashi-san’s sister-in-law, Miyako.

Joining the eleven of them that evening were the eight police officers stationed around the property. Detective Akechi and Yoshio had not yet arrived, but excluding the three younger girls, any nefarious lookouts would have observed at least sixteen people milling about. No matter the number of ne’er-do-wells, they would certainly think twice about showing up amongst such a crowd.

Or so Tezuka-san must have wished to believe.

And yet the audacious monster somehow snuck undetected into the manse and made its loathsome presence known before the sun went down, a strange and unsettling occurrence that defied all logic and rationality.

A woman’s scream rang out from the kitchen. Everybody nearby jumped up and ran over to find Miyako white as a sheet and sinking to the floor in a swoon.

Miyako had passed by the bathroom when she sensed something moving around inside. Opening the door wider, she saw a big bronze statue standing in the dimly lit corner of the washroom.

Guards stood watch in the yard. Practically every room in the house was occupied. No one could imagine how that monster could sneak into the bathroom without anyone laying eyes on it. Miyako was so alarmed she thought she was seeing a ghost.

But this was no ethereal ghost. Shoichi and Taichi Hirabayashi and the monster crossed paths less than thirty minutes later.

The Tezuka manse was a large building filled with long and winding hallways. The gloomiest place in the house was the hallway in front of a shelf-lined storage room. The room itself was no more than ten by ten feet. The shoji sliding doors to the storage room faced a windowless wall. There were no windows in the room itself. No surprise then that the place was dark even at noon.

Walking down the hallway, Shoichi and Taichi noticed that one of the shoji doors to the storage room was ajar. Shoichi peeked inside and saw the silhouette of a large person standing there.

“Is that Hirabayashi-san?” Shoichi ventured, unable to make out that man’s features in the darkness.

Instead of answering, the shadow lurched forward, accompanied by the whirring sound of engaging gears. The same unforgettable sound Shoichi heard in the grove of trees at the back of the yard. With a start, he took a closer look. There was the monster, appearing very much like a bronze statue.

The two boys froze for a moment before they came to their senses and dashed back down the hallway. Seeing Hirabayashi-san and his wife in the next room they passed, they shouted, “That thing is in the storage room!

Plucking up their courage, the four of them linked arms and cautiously approached the storage room. At the same time, having been alerted by the pounding of their feet, Tezuka-san and the houseboy hurried toward them from the opposite direction. Behind them were two policemen.

“Shoichi, what’s going on? Did you see something?”

Too flustered to say anything, Shoichi pointed at the shoji doors to the storage room.

His father and the two police officers stepped closer to the shoji doors. The police officers drew their pistols. Seeing where Shoichi was pointing, they leveled their guns and charged into the storage room.

Nerves on edge, Shoichi expected gunfire or a physical struggle to erupt at any moment. He didn’t hear a sound, except for a click as the officers switched on the light inside the room.

Their fears allayed, the rest of them crowded around the shoji doors and peered inside. Aside from the police officers, it looked the same as it always did. The monster Shoichi had seen with his own two eyes had vanished. The Bronze Devil once again disappeared like smoke.

One of the officers gave Shoichi an examining look. “That’s strange. Are you two sure you saw something? Whatever was in this room, it didn’t have enough time to make a clean getaway. We came down the hallway from this direction and you from the other, trapping anything in that room between us. There’s one way in and no windows. Anybody running out of that room would have been in plain view.”

“Hey, I wasn’t imagining things. There was definitely something like a bronze statue moving around in there.”

“Yeah. I saw it too,” said the older Taichi. “And we heard that sound like whirring gears the whole time.”

The other adults didn’t disagree with them. The eerie atmosphere left them all shaken. Science couldn’t explain how this metal man had disappeared into thin air. It really must be an apparition. None of them wanted to believe in ghosts, except at this point only the supernatural made sense.

The strangeness was far from over. Even stranger events would soon occur, and this time before the eyes of Detective Kogoro Akechi.

Certain that the monster had secluded itself somewhere on the property, Tezuka-san added more guards to watch the storehouse. Teams of two police officers took up positions on three sides. The entranceway itself was shaped like a spacious vestibule. A long bench allowed Tezuka-san and Hirabayashi-san and two more police officers to sit there with an unobstructed view of the storehouse.

Meanwhile, Shoichi and Taichi and the houseboy kept up a constant patrol of the vicinity. Every light in every room in the manse gleamed brightly. The vestibule and storehouse were wired for electricity as well.

Every so often, Tezuka-san unlocked the doors to the storehouse and went inside and confirmed the contents of the safe. Every time he checked, the Luminous Watch was right where it was supposed to be. The walls of this reinforced storehouse were surely too sturdy for any kind of devil to breach. Or perhaps it was staying true to the written appointment it left behind and was waiting for the clock to strike ten.

A little past six o’clock, Detective Akechi arrived, along with Chief Inspector Nakamura from the Metropolitan Police. Yoshio wasn’t with them. Detective Akechi had said that Yoshio would be accompanying him so there must be an important reason for his absence.

Tezuka-san showed them to the storehouse. After retrieving another set of chairs, he recounted everything that had taken place so far that evening.

“Such an alarming turn of events prompted me to phone your office but apparently you had already left.”

“I apologize for that. I met with Nakamura-kun and invited him to come along, hence the delay. By the way, may I assume that the item in question is still secured in the storehouse?”

“I saw to it myself, and have been inspecting the storehouse on a regular basis. I’ve observed nothing out of the ordinary.”

“There’s no tunneling going on beneath the floorboards, for example?”

“Nothing of the sort. Along with my inspection, the police conducted a thorough investigation this afternoon.”

“Meaning that only a human being possessing superhuman strength could break into this storehouse.”

“Exactly. Though this assailant might well possess superhuman abilities. As we witnessed earlier, it appears to be quite capable of disappearing into thin air.”

Tea and biscuits were served. The men passed the time in idle conversation. Nothing out of the usual took place as the clock ticked inexorably toward ten o’clock.

Past nine, Tezuka-san grew increasingly uneasy. He checked the safe obsessively, jumping back to his feet as soon as he sat down, pacing back and forth.

“Akechi Sensei, Nakamura-san, I simply cannot relax like this. I’m going to spend the rest of the time before ten o’clock right in front of the safe. As you can see, the wrought iron gates provide a clear view. Keep an eye on the doors and leave them unlocked. When the time comes, you can all rush inside in a flash.”

The rest of them held him back, protesting that he needn’t go that far. But in the end, citing his high state of anxiety, Tezuka-san would not be dissuaded from spending the remaining hour inside the storehouse, where he paced around and around the six-foot tall safe.

The inside of the storehouse was illuminated by an electric light and visible from the outside. At first, they continued their conversation through the wrought iron gates, but at length grew weary of the effort and lapsed into silence.

Inspector Nakamura glanced at his watch. He said to Detective Akechi under his breath, “It’s five minutes before ten.”

With such strong safeguards in place, it was hard to imagine that anything could go amiss. And yet nerves were on edge as the hour drew nigh. The sentries did not budge from their posts. The interior of the storehouse was always in view through the iron gates.

Tezuka-san continued to circle the safe. As he turned the far corner of the safe and thus temporarily disappeared from view, a harsh cry suddenly rang out. Everyone leapt to his feet. Through the wrought iron gates across the storehouse entranceway, an alarming scene played out before their eyes.

Tezuka-san stumbled into view from behind the safe, staggering backwards. Right on his heels, the monster lurched toward him.

Ah, there it was, the Bronze Devil, showing up out of nowhere. The ominous sound of grinding gears—eyes like black holes—the crescent-shaped mouth—the monster finally made its appearance before the great detective.

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