The Phantom Doctor

Chapter 9

The Beggar Boy

A short time later, Detective Akechi and Detective Tonomura left Toyo Manufacturing through the front gate.

Tonomura offered no parting pleasantries. He glared at Akechi, fire in his eyes. Bent over at nearly a right angle, he stabbed the ground with his twisted cane with each unsteady stride.

That was when a boy darted out from behind the stone gateposts. With his long, straggly hair, soot-stained cheeks, and tattered shirt and trousers, he appeared to be nothing more than a grubby beggar boy of fourteen or fifteen.

The beggar boy exited the gate and glanced up at Detective Akechi, who stood there watching the departing Tonomura. Akechi looked down at the beggar boy. Their eyes met. They exchanged knowing smiles. Oh, so were Detective Akechi and this unkempt kid acquaintances? They surely wouldn’t be exhibiting such friendly faces if they didn’t already know each other.

But the beggar boy said nothing and took off after Tonomura. His shoulders rounded over, the hunchback detective leaned on his cane and shuffled forward with ungainly steps. Almost as if accompanying him, the beggar boy tagged along a short distance behind. From afar, the strange pair might have been taken for a parent and child.

After Detective Akechi return to his office, he retired to the downstairs study and began to read in a rather casual fashion. He showed no signs of leaving the office to continue the investigation.

After dinner, he again retreated to the room. This time, he spread papers across his desk and commenced working on a series of complex mathematical equations. This was one of Akechi’s hobbies. When he had free time and something pressing on his mind, he had the habit of amusing himself by tackling the kind of math problems that would make the average person’s head spin.

Well, when it comes to pastimes, there is no accounting for taste.

But should Akechi be whiling away the hours like this? Didn’t he promise to bring the malefactors to justice in a mere three days? At that very moment, his rival Tonomura was surely hard at work, focused on the goal before him. In the meantime, Akechi was wasting precious time amusing himself with unrelated math puzzles that had nothing to do with the case at hand.

What in the world was Akechi thinking?

However, that evening around eight o’clock, an unexpected event took place.

Outside the window of the study where Akechi was absorbed in his calculations, a shadow shifted from behind a tree in the dark yard. The unkempt beggar boy brought his face up to the glass and peered inside. Having surveilled the interior, he raised the sash and quietly crept into the room.

Ah, the same boy who’d tailed Detective Tonomura earlier that day. Why was he sneaking into Detective Akechi’s office? Perhaps Tonomura ordered him to threaten or harm Akechi. But Detective Akechi, of all people, was so absorbed in his calculations that he couldn’t be bothered to notice the window opening and another person entering the room.

When the beggar boy climbed down from the window sill and planted his feet on the floor, Akechi abruptly raised his head and looked at him.

Akechi should have reacted with a start and expressed surprise at the sight of the boy standing there. Caught in the detective’s gaze, the beggar boy should have gulped and fled the way he came. But nothing of the sort happened. The most surprising thing was that neither the detective nor the beggar boy appeared at all perturbed. They looked at each other and grinned.

Things only got stranger after that. Without so much as a by-your-leave, the beggar boy strode over to the desk and whispered something in the detective’s ear. Not just a word or two. More like a paragraph. Then he raised his head with a bright smile.

Detective Akechi listened closely to what the beggar boy had to say, nodding along the way. Without a word, he raised his right hand and made a curious gesture. Also saying nothing, the beggar boy backed away from the desk, returned to the window through which he’d entered earlier, nimbly vaulted over the sill, and disappeared into the night.

And so, the first day of the investigation came to an end with Detective Akechi confining himself to the study and doing little else. The second day was pretty much a repeat of the first. The detective didn’t take a single step outside of the house. He instead took things easy as usual, absorbed in his math problems. To the casual observer, he would have presented the picture of a man bored silly with his surroundings.

Come evening, at precisely eight o’clock, the same thing happened as the night before. The beggar boy snuck into the house through the window, whispered into the detective’s ear, and then departed the same way.

The Gentle Reader might reasonably wonder what was going on. Had Detective Akechi indeed thrown in the towel on his contest with Tonomura and abandoned the search? Such a turn of events would be hard to believe. Then why couldn’t Akechi even be bothered to leave the office? Perhaps Akechi was planning to take his competitor by surprise with totally unconventional methods and means.

In that case, what might those means and methods be?

And who was this curious beggar boy to start with? At first glance, nothing more than a squalid street kid. But then wouldn’t that make walking up to Akechi and whispering secrets in his ear even stranger and more unexpected?

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