The following scene took place the morning after that frightening monster appeared in the form of a bronze robot and threatened Shoichi in the back yard of his house.
In the western-style study of his Chiyoda Ward office, Detective Akechi Kogoro and Yoshio Kobayashi sat at the big desk in the middle of the room. The desk was three feet deep by six feet wide. The engraved backrests lent the chairs a Victorian ambience, as did the ceiling-high bookshelves lining all four walls and the gilt lettering embossing the spines of more than a few of those books.
Kogoro Akechi rested his chin in the palm of one hand and raked the other through his unkempt hair. Across from the great detective sat his young assistant, the rosy-cheeked Yoshio. Yoshio was holding forth with great zeal.
“Sensei, members of the Boy Detectives Club are giving me all kinds of grief about this case! They can’t understand why you are staying silent and aren’t taking action!”
(Those of you who have read the first book in this series will recall that Yoshio formed the Boy Detectives Club together with several of the fifth and sixth graders from his elementary school and was the leader of the group.)
“Well, others won’t settle for simply complaining about the matter. Even as we speak, clients are on their way here. Whether man or machine, this Bronze Devil, as it has come to be known, is a monster of unknown origins. A worthy opponent, if I do say so myself. Yoshio, it’s been a while since we could really strut our stuff.”
Detective Akechi took a draught from his favorite pipe, a pose that lent a few years to his otherwise youthful appearance. Slowly breathing out a column of purple smoke, he flashed Yoshio a playful grin.
“Sensei, it’s got to be a bronze mannequin with some kind of drive mechanism inside. Bullets bounce right off it. So how could this mechanical doll simply disappear like smoke? That’s the one thing that doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“There are plenty of theories being bandied about. I think we can safely dismiss any notions about it being a ghost. Or, for that matter, a Martian. A human being is definitely behind it, a devious and brilliant human being that came up with a devious and brilliant plan. I look forward to a battle of wits with this fiendish intellect.”
“Except to win such a battle, we must first reveal its secrets.” Yoshio’s flushed cheeks grew redder with fervor.
“Indeed. You’ll see. As I said, clients are on their way. The notoriety of the Bronze Devil is in large part due to the increasing difficulty of each heist it pulls off. And now the devil dares to advertise the crime it is about to commit. Such cunning turns conventional wisdom on its head. In this case, the recipient of such a pronouncement is bound to end up on my doorstep asking for advice. I’ve got the feeling that such a client is going to show up today.”
Detective Akechi abruptly stared off into space, then treated Yoshio to another of his mischievous smiles. “Oh, is that the doorbell I hear? Someone has undoubtedly come to confer about this case.”
Yoshio jumped up from his chair and ran to the front foyer. He returned a short time later in high spirits. “Sensei, you are right. Shoichi Tezuka and his father. I showed them to the living room. Shoichi is a friend of Shinozaki-kun, a member of the Boy Detectives Club. Shinozaki-kun told Shoichi about you.”
When Detective Akechi and Yoshio entered the living room, a well-appointed gentleman in his forties and a handsome young lad wearing a school uniform rose from their chairs to greet them.
Having concluded with the introductions, Tezuka-san eyed the rosy-cheeked Yoshio and said, “I take it you are Kobayashi-san. I heard from Shinozaki-kun much about your accomplishments. You and Shoichi here would appear to be no more than a year or two apart in age. To achieve so much at such a young age is truly impressive.”
Shoichi then chimed in with praise of his own. Yoshio’s ruddy cheeks grew all the redder.
They all sat down. Shoichi and his father recounted the history of the highly valued family heirloom that was the Royal Luminous Watch, their encounter with the Bronze Devil, and its promise to return that very night to steal it. Tezuka-san placed on the table the leaflet the devil had left with Shoichi the night before.
“Hmm.” Detective Akechi picked up the leaflet and muttered under his breath. “These certainly are strange characters.”
“They are, aren’t they? One is left with the ominous impression they were penned by a madman. At first glance, they would seem to be symbols or hieroglyphs. But examine them carefully and it becomes clear they are Japanese katakana characters.”
“Tomorrow night. Ten o’clock, it says. Followed by, Luminous Watch.”
“By itself, tomorrow night at ten o’clock wouldn’t be much to go on. But when it comes to that watch-crazed demon, the note likely means it intends to steal the watch at ten o’clock. No other plausible interpretation springs to mind.”
“Tomorrow night at ten o’clock would be this evening. Have you informed the police?”
“I did so last night. I am acquainted with Chief Inspector Nakamura of the Metropolitan Police Department so I requested a meeting. Though when I mentioned your name, Inspector Nakamura said that he certainly would not object to your being there.”
“Indeed. Inspector Nakamura is a good man. By the way, Tezuka-san, where might this Luminous Watch be presently?”
“It’s being kept inside a steel safe inside a concrete storehouse.”
“Hoh. Sounds like a secure location.”
“A thief would have to first break down the concrete walls and then break into the steel safe. A whole gang of them couldn’t simply waltz in there and walk off with it. I considered placing the Luminous Watch in a safe deposit box at the bank, except transporting it there posed an even greater danger. Better to leave it where it was and hire a security detail of a half dozen or so and have them keep watch at strategic points around the storehouse. The actions of the average thief would hardly justify taking such drastic measures, but when it comes to facing off against that creature, even the police are pulling out the stops.”
“Understood. Yoshio and I shall pay you a visit, then. There are a few preparations I need to make. No matter how many of these monsters come calling, I don’t expect them to make an appearance in broad daylight so we’ll be over at sunset.”
Having secured Detective Akechi’s cooperation, Tezuka-san and Shoichi happily took their leave. After seeing them off, Yoshio whispered something to Detective Akechi and then left in a hurry. The detective sat down at the telephone and commenced dialing.