The Bronze Devil

Chapter 9

The Street Gang Irregulars

The following events took place the evening of the same day the strange incident occurred in the storehouse of the Tezuka manse.

The skies were growing dark over a large field in Ueno Park. A youngster put his fingers to his mouth and let loose several loud whistles. He was wearing dirty khaki-colored clothes and wooden clogs. His head was bare, revealing the vagrant child’s rosy cheeks. His was a familiar face. Ah, but of course. This was none other than Yoshio Kobayashi.

He was dressed in a different outfit, but it was definitely Detective Akechi’s young assistant. Clearly he had not accompanied Detective Akechi to the Tezuka residence. What was he doing at the park in this strange attire?

The whistle was a signal. A short while later, a similarly disheveled boy of twelve or thirteen darted out from a grove of trees across the way. He was two or three years younger than Yoshio, with a scraggly head of hair and a wan complexion.

As he drew closer, the lad flashed a friendly expression and said, “Hey, Yoshio! You got a job for us to do?”

“Yeah. I’ve got a favor to ask of you guys. C’mon, let’s get the gang together.”

Yoshio spoke to the unkempt street kid in an amiable tone of voice. They appeared to be on good terms. The kid had scampered alone from the trees, but a few minutes later, fifteen or sixteen more vagrants with rumpled clothes and dirty faces joined him.

“All right, guys. Let’s form a huddle here.”

As Yoshio requested, the children promptly lined up in a circle around him. He was clearly well-known to them. Yoshio cleared his throat and then launched into a rather peculiar lecture.

“All right, gentlemen—by which I mean all of you here—the gang bosses have you picking up cigarette butts. I don’t have a problem with that. But some of you are stealing as well. Don’t think you can fool me. I know what you’re up to. I also know that it’s not like you gentlemen want to become pickpockets and thieves. You don’t have a choice, right? You lost your fathers and your mothers. There aren’t any adults around to take care of you. But I’m telling you, if you keep going down that road, it’s not going to end well. So I’ve got an offer for you. I’d like you to join my Boy Detectives Club.”

“What’s the Boy Detectives Club?” the kids chorused.

“Hold your horses. I’ll explain. Have you guys ever heard of Detective Kogoro Akechi? He’s in the papers a lot these days.”

“Don’t know anybody called Akechi.”

“I do, I do. I heard Micchan’s big brother talking about him. A big shot private eye.”

A half-dozen or so of them recognized the name.

“Good enough. Listen, I happen to be an apprentice to that big shot private eye. In so many words, his junior assistant. As such, I’m also the boss of the Boy Detectives Club, made up of elementary and middle school kids like yourselves. Our job is all about collaring the bad guys and making the world a better place by doing the kind of stuff only we kids can do. I’ll give you an example. Are you gentlemen familiar with a bad guy called the Bronze Devil?”

“Sure.”

“Yeah.”

They all raised their hands like they were in a classroom. About a month had passed since that monster started making regular appearances in the papers. Such was the brouhaha it raised.

“We’re talking about facing off against the Bronze Devil itself. Sound scary to you?”

“No big deal. Hey, I’ve talked to him myself.”

Street kids were apt to tell tall tales like that. But unlike the typical child, none of them quailed at the thought.

“To tell the truth, this would usually be a job for the regular Boy Detectives Club. But our quarry this time is a cut above the normal. Detective Akechi wants me to make clear that any of you attending school are free to opt out. I’m not asking anybody to take any risks they don’t feel they’re up to. Except I know you’re all fine with being out and about in the middle of the night. You shouldn’t be, of course, but you grow up fast on the streets. That’s why I’m giving you this job. For the time being, we’re going to bypass the regular group, okay? Because I know some of them would look down their noses at you. So tonight, we’re forming a club just for you. We’ll call you guys the Street Gang Irregulars. You’ll be the Flying Squad of the Boy Detectives Club.”

Two or three of them responded with dubious expressions. “I don’t know about being called irregular. How about something more serious?”

“Maybe you gentlemen aren’t aware of Sherlock Holmes, the great British private detective. Sherlock Holmes organized a gang of street ruffians like yourselves and had them assist him in the crime-fighting business. He called them the Baker Street Irregulars. Now their distinguished service is known and respected around the world. Not a bad name at all, if I say so myself. Puts you in good company.”

Yoshio knew how to spin words into a convincing argument. Whether he’d won them over or not, they didn’t voice any more complaints.

“Now, about tonight’s job. We’ve learned that this Bronze Devil plans on sneaking into a certain house around ten o’clock. We’re going to hide behind the walls around that house. If any of you see the Devil running away, tail it. Not all of you at once. The first two or three who saw it. The objective is to locate its hideout. We’ll leave the rest to the police. How about it? Not a bad job, eh? I’ll be there at the stakeout with you. Pull this off and I’ll see if Akechi Sensei can’t get you out of the cigarette butt business. And get you enrolled in school, to boot.”

The street kids never shied away from an adventure. No one could best them when it came to tailing people. An adult would be spotted right away, but nobody paid attention to a twelve or thirteen-year-old street kid. Thanks to their size, they were quick on their feet.

All sixteen were on board. Yoshio didn’t have to ask twice.

Yoshio bought them train tickets. So as not to attract attention, he split up the Street Gang Irregulars and instructed them to board the train in separate groups of five or so. They rode the train to a station in Minato Ward near the Tezuka manse.

Already skilled at breaking and entering, the street kids knew well how to not stand out in a neighborhood like this. Without Yoshio giving them explicit instructions, they fanned out around the house in twos and threes. In a flash, they disappeared behind the surrounding walls.

The first part of the operation was in place by eight o’clock. After that, staying hidden for the next two hours in the chilly air along the side of the road was no ordinary evening activity. A typical child would come down with a cold at once. For these street kids, it was par for the course.

Along the way, they picked up cast-off bundles of straw and sheets of reed matting. Snug inside their makeshift cocoons, they eagerly waited for the monster to make its appearance.

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