Together with two of the Street Gang Irregulars, Yoshio set up a command post at the back of the Tezuka manse in the most deserted part of the property. Next to the wall, beneath the branches of an overhanging tree, they spread out a straw mat. Snuggling together against the cold, the three of them stared at the falling dark.
It was now past ten o’clock at night. If the Devil was true to its word, it should have made its appearance inside the storehouse.
I wonder if Akechi Sensei nabbed the Devil already. If he did, he should send us a signal. I haven’t seen anything yet so the Devil may have made his getaway. Or the warning on that piece of paper was nothing but a scam.
No sooner did these thoughts cross Yoshio’s mind but a black shadow the size of a man appeared in front of the wall three dozen or so yards away, as if floating through the air.
“Ah! That’s him!” Yoshio reflexively gripped the shoulders of the two street kids on either side of him.
Though the night was dark and moonless, the silhouette stood out against the white concrete wall. The black shadow had a most peculiar shape. This person or thing wore a black baggy overcoat with an upturned collar that hid its chin. The brim of its hat was pitched low over its eyes. The pale face of any ordinary person should be visible beneath the hat, but this countenance was pitch dark.
And not only that—it was walking straight toward them! It walked with a stiff and mechanical gait. If they listened closely, ah, what was that sound they heard? Yes, the grinding and whirling of gears.
Yoshio signaled to his companions and got to his feet. Making sure he wasn’t spotted by his quarry, he set off after the monster. The street kids quickly sensed what he was up to. Hunching over and taking similar precautions, they scurried along behind him.
A little way on, they came to a large burned-over plot of land. Sections of a broken concrete wall surrounded a field that contained little more than scattered piles of bricks. Barely visible on the far side of the field was the soaring concrete smokestack of the factory that once stood there.
Unaware that he was being tailed, the monster continued along with its long, tottering strides. Now and then, the grating sound of meshing gears rose to a fevered pitch. And just as suddenly quieted to a whisper, as if the monster had recalled an infuriating memory and growled in anger.
Yoshio and his companions couldn’t help but fear the monster was about to turn on its heels and with a whirl of motors come running after them. Luckily, the Devil did not once look back but kept moving straight ahead. The towering smokestack grew taller and taller. Without a doubt, that was where the monster was headed.
The small shed at the foot of the smokestack constituted the remains of the boiler room. Though half of the walls were broken down and the roof was missing, it retained the shape and form of a small brick building. The monster went inside.
“Whoa. That’s strange. Maybe there’s an underground room in there where the Devil hides out.”
From a distance, Yoshio cautiously peered into the brick shed. It was hard to make out in the darkness, but the monster hadn’t descended into any kind of basement. It sat down on the stone steps inside the shed and didn’t budge. Yoshio watched for a little while longer. The monster showed no signs of making any sudden moves.
Now, he thought to himself. He could race back to the Tezuka manse and give Akechi Sensei an update. Then they could summon all the police officers in the vicinity, set up a cordon, and trap the monster like a rat in a bag. The two street kids with him would stand watch. If the monster set off again, they’d shadow him wherever it went.
He whispered these instructions to them and darted through the darkness to the Tezuka manse as fast as he could.
For ten minutes, then twenty, the kids kept a nervous lookout. For whatever reason, the monster didn’t budge from the spot. What in the world was this mechanical being thinking? Before long, they sensed movement here and there around them, as shadowy figures approached from all directions.
“Hey,” Yoshio called out quietly. “A whole bunch of cops are on the way. The rest of the gang is here too.”
The faces of the Street Gang Irregulars loomed out of the shadows, acknowledging each other with shared nods. In the meantime, the police surrounded the brick shed. Then with the loud trill of a whistle, the officers all trained their heavy-duty flashlights on the interior of the building.
The report of a gunshot rang out. The order was to take the monster alive, so this was a warning shot. It didn’t strike the target.
Lit up by the bright beams, the Bronze Devil came abruptly to its feet. The menacing grinding of gears, like metal scraping against metal, resounded loudly from within its body. It shouted in the language of a machine, not the language of human beings. Its bronze mouth flapped open and shut, its pit-like eyes glittering with a mysterious light.
The huge frame, like a towering bronze statue, clomped toward the police cordon.
The police officers responded with a cry of surprise and hastily retreated, unleashing another menacing volley of bullets with their pistols.
The monster exited the brick shed, stood there, and took in its surroundings. Bathed in the glare of the flashlights, the air filled with the fierce sound of gunfire, it must have concluded there was no place to run. It turned toward the base of the smokestack. Grasping the rungs of the ladder bolted into the concrete, it steadily ascended the side of the chimney.
Did it intend to escape into the sky? No matter how high it climbed, it was surrounded on all sides. It couldn’t hide. There was no place to run. Perhaps when it reached the top of the smokestack, it intended to inflate its body like a balloon and float away into the night sky.
The smokestack was significantly taller than the chimney of a public bath. Quickly and without a pause, the monster clambered up the side like a mechanical monkey. Though it was soon beyond the reach of the flashlights, the rising black silhouette stood out clearly against the towering white chimney.
Steadily shrinking to a black dot, the monster finally reached the top. From high in the air, the sinister sound of screeching metal echoed down at them, as if it was laughing to scorn the earth-bound humans.