The first to act, Detective Akechi sprang toward the door. No sooner had he seized hold of the iron gates but a clanging report rang out. The interior of the storehouse plunged into darkness.
The light in the vestibule remained on. The glow barely illuminated the deep recesses of the storehouse. It was impossible to make out what going on between Tezuka-san and the Bronze Devil.
Detective Akechi took a flashlight from his pocket, yanked open the gates, and rushed inside,
Inspector Nakamura followed a half-step behind him. The thin beam from the flashlight provided a less than revealing view of the inside of the storehouse. They heard what sounded like the Bronze Devil and Tezuka-san grappling together in one of the shadowed nooks and crannies but the light didn’t reach them.
Then came the thump of a body hitting the floor next to the safe. Detective Akechi directed his flashlight toward the sound, revealing a scowling Tezuka-san sprawled on the ground. As Inspector Nakamura rushed over to help, Detective Akechi’s flashlight illuminated the front of the big safe.
“The safe!” Tezuka-san cried out, struggling to his feet.
The door to the safe yawned open, the drawers inside yanked asunder. Tezuka-san grabbed one of the drawers. “It’s gone! The Luminous Watch is gone!
Ah, so the devil kept its word and stole the famous jeweled watch. But what escape route could it have possibly taken? The vestibule was lit up by an electric light. Every eye in the vicinity was trained on the entranceway. Nothing suspicious had entered or exited the door. The windows in the storehouse were intact and reinforced with irons bars. The monster must be somewhere inside the storehouse, trapped like a rat in a sack.
Hearing the tumult from the hallway, Shoichi and Taichi and the houseboy rushed to the storehouse, accompanied by Hirabayashi-san and two police officers.
Knowing the safe had been cracked, Detective Akechi dashed to the door. He called out, “Have the houseboy fetch a new light bulb on the double! Hirabayashi-san, take care of Tezuka-san! You two police officers—accompany him and make a thorough search of the storehouse. The rest of you, keep your eyes peeled. If you see anything suspicious coming or going, raise the alarm!”
Hirabayashi-san and the two officers dashed into the storehouse. A minute later, the houseboy arrived with a spare lightbulb. With all of them inside, Detective Akechi shut the iron gates with a loud clang. Standing squarely in front of the doorway, he carefully surveyed the interior.
Inspector Nakamura replaced the broken bulb with the one brought by the houseboy. Light flooded the interior of the storehouse. Hirabayashi-san was holding up Tezuka-san in one corner. The bloody gash in Tezuka-san’s forehead did not appear to be serious.
Inspector Nakamura went to the window, took a firm grip of the iron bars, and called to the officers posted outside, “Did you see anything unusual or amiss from your position?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” they answered.
“Good. Keep your eyes on the windows, walls, and roof. Give a shout if you see anything strange.”
Along with the outdoor lights located around the yard, the six officers also carried flashlights, making it unlikely that anything would escape their notice.
With the new lightbulb burning brightly, the search inside the storehouse began in earnest. The Bronze Devil was nowhere to be found. Along with Hirabayashi-san and the reinvigorated Tezuka-san, Inspector Nakamura, the two officers, and the houseboy searched every inch of the storehouse.
Bulky kimono boxes and chests of drawers and various tools and implements were stacked around the storehouse. They opened each box and inspected every piece of furniture. The walls behind them, the floor beneath them, and the ceiling above—any place a human being could hide was given a thorough going over. They did not see the monster anywhere. They confirmed as well that no secret escape hatch or tunnel existed.
While the search was going on, Detective Akechi didn’t budge from the entranceway, his sharp eyes taking in everything around him. With the rest of them fully engaged in the inspection of the storehouse, the monster had no avenue of escape.
Their efforts ended almost an hour later, having produced nothing. The officers posted around the perimeter of the storehouse spotted not even a rat fleeing from the windows, the walls, or the roof. Those in the vestibule swore that no one had exited through the wrought iron gates. The thick floorboards showed no irregularities, making it unlikely the monster had burrowed beneath the ground. In short, front and back, left and right, up and down, they found not a single gap in their defenses.
The storehouse itself was sealed as tight as an iron vault, and yet the big metal beast inside had evaporated from sight.
What could account for such a phenomenon? This creature was simultaneously visible to the human eye and as immaterial as a ghost. Such a thing should not exist. Perhaps all those conducting the search had been mesmerized. But considering everyone’s grave responses to the situation, that was unlikely. Many observed the frightening form of the monster. What plausible explanation remained now? Here was a puzzle that defied all simple solutions.
For Tezuka-san and the members of his household, to say nothing of Inspector Nakamura and his officers, it was like they were living through a waking nightmare. All they could do was exchange dumbfounded glances with each other.
Even Detective Akechi did not appear ready to offer any answers. He sat on the bench in front of the storehouse vestibule. Raking his fingers through his tousled hair, he sank deep into thought. Except, wasn’t this a habit Detective Akechi indulged in when struck by a revealing new idea? So did that mean he had begun to make sense of this incomprehensible crime?
Indeed. At that moment, our Detective Akechi was pondering the impossible. He had already mostly unraveled the event inside his head. But he was not one to speak precipitously without hard proof.
Later that evening, Inspector Nakamura said in a joshing manner, “The antics of this monster must have even you fit to be tied.”
Detective Akechi said nothing. He only responded with a smile.