The Phantom Doctor

Chapter 8

The Two Detectives

On top of the kidnapping of Taiji Aikawa and the theft of the secret documents from his father, Taiji’s schoolmates Toshio Ono, Taro Saito, and Yoichi Kamimura subsequently went missing.

Needless to say, these events inflicted considerable distress on their parents and caused a great commotion at school. The police responded with a sweeping mobilization to track down the culprits. The newspapers printed pictures of the four boys alongside the stories, whipping up a frenzy of interest.

The case was soon the talk of the town.

Among the concerned parties, none was more distressed than Taiji’s father, the chief engineer at Toyo Manufacturing. Classified documents about the production of critically important machine parts were stolen along with Taiji. While deeply apologetic that such an inexcusable blunder had taken place under his own roof, he was too worried about Taiji to sit still.

The police, of course, were doing their utmost in the manhunt for the criminals. In the meantime, Toyo Manufacturing was not about to retire to the sidelines and leave everything up to the authorities. Especially when it came to the loss of official papers that involved national security, the company had a duty to do everything in its power to resolve the issue.

At a meeting of the Board of Directors, acting on a proposal from Chief Engineer Aikawa, they resolved to put renowned private detective Kogoro Akechi on retainer and have him take up the ongoing search for the perpetrators in cooperation with the police. Aikawa had already visited Detective Akechi’s office and asked him in person.

Detective Akechi readily agreed to the company’s request, with the understanding that the clues were so thin on the ground that this would likely prove a difficult case. No matter how famous the detective, the investigation was unlikely to bring the offenders to justice quickly.

Under this cloud of mental anguish, two and then three days went by without any good news from the police or Detective Akechi. Aikawa and the rest of the employees grew more frustrated and increasingly on edge.

Five days had passed since the classified documents were stolen. That afternoon, a curious individual came to the front lobby of Toyo Manufacturing. He requested a meeting with Chief Engineer Aikawa, saying he wished to discuss the theft. The business card brought to him by the secretary identified the visitor as “Private Detective Kozo Tonomura.”

This was the first time Aikawa had heard of the man, but he decided to hear him out and instructed his secretary to show him to the conference room.

He went to the conference room first and waited for his guest there. When Kozo Tonomura arrived in the company of the secretary, Aikawa had to stop himself from staring wide-eyed at the man.

Kozo Tonomura appeared to be a man in his fifties with a severe case of kyphosis, commonly known as a hunched back. Indeed, the large protuberance swelling along his spine bent his body nearly in two. His head jutted from his shoulders as if perched at the end of a gooseneck, with only his face turned upwards.

Not only his stature but his visage was no less intimidating. His wild head of hair must have last been cut many years before. Thick and twisted brows perched above bright and goggling eyes like a pair of caterpillars. A permanently curled upper lip exposed badly projecting front teeth, and an unkempt beard covered his cheeks and chin. It was the sort of face that couldn’t help but freeze any onlooker in his tracks.

He was wearing an old black suit that had last been in fashion several decades before. Leaning forward, using the crooked branch of a tree as a cane, he tottered into the room, raising the immediate question of whether he was physically fit to do the job of a detective.

“I am Chief Engineer Aikawa.” Recovering his wits sufficiently to pose the question, while glancing back and forth between the business card and the man’s face, Aikawa asked, “You are Kozo Tonomura, I presume?”

“Yes, I am Private Detective Kozo Tonomura. I’ll get right to the point. Aikawa-san, I have no doubt that you hold dear the life of your son and wish to retrieve your company’s secret documents as soon as possible.”

Tonomura heaved his body into the nearest chair. He planted his cane in front of him, rested his chin on the handgrip, and stared up at the chief engineer.

“But, of course—” Aikawa started to say, not grasping what the man was getting at.

Spittle flying from his protruding front teeth, Tonomura launched into a long-winded diatribe. “If so, then you’re going about this all the wrong way. I heard you put Kogoro Akechi in charge of the case. What chance does that greenhorn have of unraveling these mysteries, eh? Hah! The disposition of this crime does not belong in Akechi’s inexperienced hands. How many days have passed since the theft occurred? Five whole days spent accomplishing nothing! The police are, well, the police. But what is a supposedly great detective like Akechi doing to fix this mess? Aikawa-san, why not hand the investigation over to me? I guarantee to save those four children and return the documents to you in half the time it will take Akechi. Why, I already have my eyes on the likely suspects.”

Who was this man to belittle a great detective like Kogoro Akechi as a greenhorn? Was he in his right mind? Aikawa could hardly believe what he was hearing.

“Wait a minute. What exactly are you getting at? Are you saying you already have the suspects in your sights?”

“I do. I have more clues in my hands than Akechi and his like dare even dream about. How about it, Aikawa-san? Hand Akechi his walking papers and hire me instead. I will deliver results within ten days, produce the purloined documents and the children, safe and sound.”

As cool as the proverbial cucumber, Tonomura made these claims with preening confidence, clearly without a doubt in his mind that every word he spoke was true. Though sporting the strange face of a fool, deep within those goggling eyes glowed the pointed and shining light of a truly conniving individual.

Listening to the man and taking in his appearance, Aikawa came to the conclusion that he could not dismiss this mysterious person out of hand.

“Tonomura-san, if what you are saying is true, we will happily avail ourselves of your services. However, our company entrusted the matter to Detective Akechi. We are not about to break our contract with him on the spur of the moment and hand the responsibility to you. We will take your proposal under advisement for now. After raising this matter with the board, we will get back to you with an answer.”

In response to Aikawa’s measured and mild-mannered explanation, the eccentric detective interrupted in his gruff and presumptuous voice, clearly wishing to forestall any such delays.

“No, you are quite right. Well, then. Could you perhaps summon Kogoro Akechi here? Every second counts in the ongoing search for these ne’er-do-wells. At this rate, they might slip out of our grasp for good. Now is not the time to kick up our feet and put things off to later. To start with, give Akechi-kun a call and have him come right over. I will wait. I can better take the measure of the man with him standing in front of me. He is known far and wide as the great detective. One look at me and he will undoubtedly comprehend the greatness of my abilities.”

Ah, what self-confidence! What hubris! Inundated by Tonomura’s torrent of words, Aikawa had already resolved to talk things over with the company director. If nothing else, the man was sure of his convictions. If even half of his claims proved true, it was an avenue worth exploring.

In the end, the result of their discussion was for the company to grant Tonomura’s request and place a call to Detective Akechi.

Aikawa’s secretary quickly contacted his office. Fortunately, Detective Akechi was in and answered the phone himself. After being given a detailed description of Kozo Tonomura, he promised to leave at once.

Thirty minutes later, as Chief Engineer Aikawa and Detective Tonomura waited silently in the conference room, Detective Akechi strode in, wearing his usual bright smile. Aikawa-san introduced the two detectives to each other. The formalities dispensed with, Tonomura launched into the matter at hand.

“Akechi-kun, you came to this case with an especially weak hand, didn’t you? From what I can see, you haven’t yet produced a single useful clue to speak of.”

Akechi responded to this abuse without the slightest show of anger. He instead flashed an amused smile. “Ah, you are right on the money. Convincing evidence has so far eluded me.” He added with a chuckle, “However, that is not to say I am making no progress. I have tackled cases this complex many times before and have never failed to solve any of them.”

“Hah! So you lack no pride in your work too! But not turning up any evidence at this late date is such a pity. I have my eyes fixed on the targets even as we speak. After this, I only need to track them down. When it comes to clues, I have two or three productive leads firmly in my hands. How about it, Akechi-kun? Ready to throw in the towel? As I just told Aikawa-san, ten days from now, I will produce the documents and the children. A mere ten days, Akechi-kun!”

With a triumphant air, he bared his discolored front teeth and hissed like an angry alley cat. Showering his surroundings with spittle, he jabbered on.

Akechi observed him without interruption. A smile on his face, he answered in a calm voice, “Isn’t ten days a tad too long? I intend to get the job done in half the time. I will ferret out the criminals in five days, at least.”

As those words sunk in, Tonomura glared at Akechi with wide eyes. His unsightly visage growing all the more grotesque, he barked, “What? Didn’t you admit a minute ago you had no clues to go on? And yet you claim you will solve the case in five days? Stop spouting irresponsible nonsense!”

“There is nothing nonsensical about it in the least. I will uncover the evidence, locate the criminals, and return the documents and the children. Frankly, to accomplish that much, five days may be a tad too long. When I agree to conclude an investigation within a certain amount of time, I always follow through as promised.”

“Hmph. So all you’ve got is a time limit? No concrete objectives? What a useless detective! All right, then. In that case, I’ll get the job done in four days.” With a pinched and flushed face, the much-vexed Tonomura shouted, “Four days!”

“Very well. I shall promise to do so in four days too,” Akechi said without the slightest change in the tone or volume of his voice, as if he already had the miscreants in the palm of his hand.

“Damn you, Akechi! Anybody can make empty boasts, but not me! I will deliver on my promises.” Tonomura stood in front of Akechi and bared his teeth like a mean dog about to snap at him. He held up three fingers. “Three days. I will wrap everything up in three days. Today is the ninth. I am prepared to bring you irrefutable proof by the evening of the eleventh.”

“Fine. Then I shall deliver the goods on the evening of the eleventh as well,” Akechi crisply stated.

Given the strange circumstances, by this point, clearly neither one of them was about to back down.

The Gentle Reader surely harbors similar concerns at this juncture. This Tonomura fellow seemed to be holding all the cards, yet claimed at first that bringing the case to a conclusion would take him ten days. No matter how great a detective he might be, how could Akechi do the same without any evidence of his own? Had he climbed too far out on the limb this time?

Chief Engineer Aikawa had thus far listened without interruption to the quarrel between the two detectives. But now, having no idea how long the argument would go on, he interposed himself between them as tactfully as he could.

“Now, now. There’s nothing to be gained by arguing over time limits. Given the current situation, what do you say we put you both on retainer? The two of you working separately toward the same goal should recover the documents and locate the children and capture the criminals all the faster. Our intent here is not to turn this into a competition. But seeing the lengths Tonomura-san has gone to render his assistance, it would be remiss of us to refuse such an offer. Would you be agreeable to such an arrangement, Akechi-san?”

Akechi replied calmly to the proposal. “Of course, Aikawa-san. Such childish squabbles must be hard on the ears. I have no objections to the terms you have laid out. But let us make a contest of it, my search for the perpetrators alongside that of this Tonomura-kun here. I admit to starting with a distinct disadvantage, having yet to lay my hands on a single clue. That does not concern me in the least. Quite the opposite. I find myself all the more motivated to get to work.”

“How about it, Tonomura-san?”

Tonomura sniffed and said, his unpleasant voice barbed to the end, “Akechi-kun may be less than worthy as an opponent. But if he wishes to toss his hat into the ring, I too shall rise to the challenge. However, Akechi-kun, perhaps it is not too late to admit defeat? Your odds of winning this particular engagement are nonexistent!”

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