[You may want to check the warning on this blog's translations.]
Another translation from the Boy Science Detective stories by KOSAKAI Fuboku. Previously we had:
here. The story does give away the (very obvious) culprit in the previous story. So you might want to read 'The Scarlet Diamond' first, if you care about that.
Footnotes look like this and you'll have to scroll down to the end of the story to find the annotation they're pointing to (or search for "footnotes").
As always, I've put the translation after the break: so click through for the actual story.
A FIGHT IN THE DARK
by KOSAKAI Fuboku
by KOSAKAI Fuboku
The Disappearance of a Lump of Platinum
As the culprit in the scarlet diamond case unexpectedly turned out to be Toshio Tsukahara’s uncle, if my readers were hoping for the capture of a villain, they may perhaps have been disappointed; but my next account is a case in which through Toshio’s detective skills a band of precious metal thieves, which had for years run wild throughout Tokyo, were neatly rounded up.
It was a late night in October. Actually, as the time was 2 a.m., perhaps I should say it was an early morning. I had just fallen asleep, and opened my eyes to a loud knocking at the door of our combined office and laboratory.
‘Toshio, Toshio,’ a woman’s voice was calling to Toshio again and again.
‘Toshio,’ I said, and woke him from the bed next to mine where he was sleeping.
Toshio answered, ‘I heard. That’s Aunt Kimura’s voice.’ He hurriedly put on western clothes and went to open the door.
Aunt Kimura, as Toshio called her, was not a relative. She was the wife of Eikichi Kimura, the owner of a small precious metal goods workshop one block away from Toshio’s house. As Toshio often visited, they were very close.
‘Toshio, something terrible’s happened. Just now thieves have broken in on us and got away with a precious lump of platinum. Please come quickly!’ she said, her face pale.
‘Where was it stolen from?’
‘Well now, calm down and tell me about it. While you do that, I’ll be getting ready,’ Toshio said and set himself to checking the items in his detective bag.
Aunt Kimura, panting for air, told her story, as follows. An order had come in yesterday from the house of Count Tsumura: by the day after tomorrow a lump of platinum, handed down over generations in the count’s house, was to be made into a bracelet and engraved.
As thieves had occasionally targeted this lump of platinum before, the Kimuras were asked to be very careful. Aunt Kimura’s husband worked with his assistant , a man called Takeuchi, until twelve. After that, Mr. Takeuchi meant to work on alone through the night to finish the urgent commission.
Then, however, after Mr. Kimura went to bed, just as he was just dozing off, a strange noise came from the direction of the workshop. He leapt out of bed and opened the workshop door. Inside, it was pitch black; but there was a strange, pungent, bitter sweet smell. With a sudden fear he switched on the light and was shocked to see his assistant Mr. Takeuchi collapsed at his workplace unconscious, and no sign of the lump of platinum.
‘He immediately thought of calling the police; but it was the dead of night, and then, you were likely to find the thief faster than the police, we thought, and came to ask your help,’ Aunt Kimura said, peering at Toshio.
‘Don’t worry, aunt. I’ll definitely get the platinum back for you.’
Ten minutes later we reached the Kimuras’ house. The assistant, Mr. Takeuchi, had by now already regained consciousness and was able to talk without trouble.
From what he told us, about forty minutes after Mr. Kimura left the workshop, someone suddenly broke the glass from outside. When Mr. Takeuchi looked up in surprise, a cold draught of air with a horrid smell to it was hissing in through the broken window. As he sat there, he lost consciousness, and only when he came to under Mr. Kimura’s ministration did he learn that the lump of platinum had disappeared.
Toshio had a seemingly reflexive dislike to this Takeuchi and before now had often said to me, ‘He’s a creep.’ Now, as he listened to his story, he fixed him from time to time with a sharp look, so that I wondered if he was not perhaps looking on him as a suspect.
After hearing Mr. Takeuchi’s story, Toshio followed Mr. Kimura to the workshop. An unpleasant smell attacked our senses. The workshop was next to the living room, about one foot lower, with a floor of hardened earth, an eight jo room with walls on three sides, separated from the living room by a sliding door. There was a window-opening on the north side fitted with two windows. On the outer side of this opening there were iron bars fixed. The work bench was placed about two feet from this window. On it there was row on row of bottles and tools for fine work. That was not all. There were shelves fixed to the three walls; and on these too various bottles and chemical appliances were arrayed in profusion.
Toshio took the magnifying glass out of his detective bag and started by examining the floor. But as there were apparently no footprints that seemed likely to give a lead, he moved on to examine with great interest the glass fragments that had fallen on the inside of the window, and to measure the size of the hole in the broken pane. After that he opened the window and looked at the bars. He found that two of them had been filed through and bent out to left and right.
Then he examined the door sill. In addition, he got his torch out and shone it on the ground outside. On the ground, the grass was quite covered with splinters of glass that had fallen on this side too. Toshio stared for a while at these shards, clearly deep in thought.
‘They know their business, these thieves,’ he said in a mocking voice. When Toshio talks like that, he always means exactly the opposite. In other words, ‘They know their business, these thieves’ can be understood as ‘These thieves have no idea’.
After that, Toshio carefully examined all the things on the workbench and in its drawers, one by one. Then with the same energy he examined the things on the shelves, taking the lid off anything like a box to look inside. Almost as if the platinum could be hidden somewhere in the workshop, he searched till his eyes were red, as they say. Finally seeing an earthen teapot and cups sitting on a tray on the lower shelf on the west side, he asked Mr. Kimura, ‘Who drinks this tea?’
‘I do,’ said Takeuchi, who had come in. There was definitely an element of mockery for Toshio in his tone, and I too got a little annoyed.
Toshio lifted the teapot’s lid and looked inside, ‘Considering you’re only drinking tea, Mr. Takeuchi, it has a pretty tasty colour,’ he said unabashed. His tone was distinctly ironic.
After finishing his search inside the workshop, Toshio went through to the living room and said to Mr. Kimura, ‘That’s my search of the workshop done.’
‘Were there any clues?’ Kimura asked, looking searchingly at Toshio.
‘There’s still an important search to do, so I can’t say anything until that’s done.’
‘And what’s that?’
‘A body search of you and Mr. Takeuchi.’
‘What? Do you think we took it?’
‘I don’t think anything; but to search properly we have to make sure of everything.’
‘But, I mean, there’s no way I would steal it; and as for Mr. Takeuchi, he’s been here a whole half year and he’s a man with references for honest behaviour, so that there’s surely no need to do that to him.’
Toshio said a little sulkily, ‘If you don’t want a body search, I’ll withdraw from the case. Let the police do it.’
Mr. Kimura and Mr. Takeuchi gave up and let Toshio search them. Takeuchi in particular showed his displeasure. In response Toshio maliciously took exaggerated care, investigating the pockets of Takeuchi’s western clothes one after another. But the lump of platinum did not turn up from the search either of Kimura or of Takeuchi.
‘That finishes the external body search; now comes the internal one.’
‘Huh?’ Mr. Kimura said in surprise. ‘What do you mean “the internal search”?’
‘If you split the lump of platinum into bits, you could swallow it. So it could be hidden inside the body.’
Mr. Kimura looked dazed and said half jokingly, ‘In that case are you going to cut our stomaches open?’
‘Uncle Kimura!’ Toshio said sternly, ‘Please drop the comedy! When I say I want to look inside your bodies, that’s because it’s something I have to do. We’re going to go to Dr. Okajima in Surugadai and have him look at both your bodies with X-rays. So please get the car ready.’
Toshio’s words were so forthright that Mr. Kimura without replying sent Aunt Kimura off running to the nearby garage. On Toshio’s orders I phoned Dr. Okajima. It was still before daybreak; but the doctor cheerfully answered that we could come over. Dr. Okajima was a doctor of medicine. He had taught Toshio when he studied medicine, and had been as fond of him as his own child. So if Toshio wanted something, however hard the problem, he only had to ask. That was why Toshio ordered the car before asking whether it suited the doctor.
In due course the car arrived. The four of us raced through the almost empty early morning streets towards Surugadai. We were all sunk in silence; but Mr. Takeuchi’s face in particular looked as if he had found a worm in his apple.
Jolted this way and that by the car, I let my thoughts run over the case. To go as far as using X-rays for the search, as Toshio had announced, must have some deeper reason. In which case either Kimura or Takeuchi had perhaps swallowed the platinum. Fast as the car ran, I could hardly wait to see the form of Dr. Okajima’s examination.
I wonder if my readers have seen the inner parts of a body examined with X-rays. To do that you stand the person in question on a base, light him from behind with Röntgen radiation, put a plate of barium platinocyanide in front and look at that.
When barium platinocyanide meets Röntgen radiation, luminescence occurs. As the rays pass easily through clothes and flesh, but not through metal or bone, those appear as shadows on the plate. So if Mr. Kimura or Mr. Takeuchi had swallowed the platinum, it should definitely show up as a shadow.
Now, however, even though Dr. Okajima examined them zealously, there was no shadow that might be the platinum in either of their bodies.
‘Toshio! Neither of them swallowed it,’ the doctor said with an earnest expression.
‘Thank you very much. That sets my mind at rest,’ Toshio replied smiling with apparent relief. My expectations had been quite mistaken. I could not detect the least disappointment. Toshio turned to Mr. Kimura and Mr. Takeuchi, who were getting dressed, ‘Uncle Kimura, Mr. Takeuchi, you’ve been truly helpful.’
Kimura smiled, but you could almost read ‘Well what did you expect?’ in Takeuchi’s surly face.
‘Right then, that decides the direction of the investigation. My next move is to set off after clues at once. I’ll be borrowing the car; so please take the train back.’
With that Toshio immediately took his leave of Dr. Okajima. He more or less pulled me with him by the hand as he left. ‘Niisan, we’ve got to hurry. We’re buying bread on the way and then going to Mr. Kimura’s house. Tell the driver to go at top speed.’
If we were going to Kimura’s, we could have taken the others too. Once again, I guessed, Toshio’s dislike for Takeuchi was behind the decision.
We bought bread in a shop, just now opening for the day, in Awajicho. Then the car raced at a thrilling speed through the almost empty early morning streets. I saw that all Toshio’s attention was fixed on the road ahead. He was bent forward, saying not a word. Finally my patience reached its limit, ‘Hey Toshio!’ I called.
As if he had just come out of a trance, he turned to me, smiled brightly and leant against the car’s arm rest.
‘What are we buying the bread for?’ I asked.
‘I’ll have breakfast when we get to Aunt Kimura’s.’
‘That’s right. There’s really good tea at aunt’s house. Even Mr. Takeuchi likes to drink it.’
I remembered the earthen teapot in Kimura’s workshop that Mr. Takeuchi used for his tea.
‘Do I get breakfast too?’
‘No. Your next destination is an errand to the central police station.’
‘Huh? The central police station? Then you’ve spotted the thief?’
‘I don’t know anything yet. But it could turn out that there’s a big arrest to be made.’ Toshio’s eyes were shining.
A little later I asked again, ‘Earlier you said that you had a reason for going to use X-rays; but is that the truth?’
‘Of course it is.’
‘I can’t say now.’
‘I mean, neither of them had swallowed the platinum, had they?’
‘I knew that from the start.’
‘Huh?’ I said in surprise. If he knew that neither of them had swallowed the platinum, what was the point of putting Dr. Okajima to all that trouble? However I looked at it, I could not make any sense of it.
The car soon reached the Kimuras’ house. Aunt Kimura had caught the sound of the car and came running out.
‘Toshio, how was it?’ she asked.
‘Neither of them had swallowed the platinum. As I had something I needed to do on the way, I came on ahead; the others should arrive later.’
We told the driver to wait and went on inside.
‘Aunt, where does Mr. Takeuchi live?’
‘Shiba ward, Shinbori-cho 10, on the second floor of a greengrocer’s called Kaito.’
‘Would you mind giving me an envelope?’
Aunt Kimura brought him an envelope. Toshio scribbled something in pencil in his notebook, then tore the page out and put it in the envelope.
‘Niisan, please take this to Mr. Oda in the central police station: he was definitely on night duty last night. When you’re done, it may turn out that I won’t get back until around ten. Wait for me at home, please.’
When I got up, Toshio turned to Aunt Kimura and said, ‘Aunt, I’m hungry. So I’d like to eat this bread I bought in the workshop. You wouldn’t have some cold tea?’
‘I would. The tea I brewed earlier has already cooled.’
At the central police station Detective Oda was on duty, it turned out. Oda was on the best of terms with Toshio; and Toshio spoke of him as ‘Uncle P’. P was the first letter of the English word ‘police’, apparently. Oda, I gathered, did not like this ‘Uncle P’ nickname; but as Toshio had helped him to success several times before this, he would certainly not get angry at what Toshio said.
When Mr. Oda (or ‘Uncle P’) saw it was a letter from Toshio, he opened it immediately; as he read it, his expression beamed.
‘Very good. Tell Toshio I’ll take care of everything on our side of the business,’ he said.
I waited alone in Toshio’s combined office and laboratory. A little after nine Mr. Kimura paid a call. He seemed knocked out by the loss of the valuable lump of platinum. There was no trace of his usual cheerfulness in his face.
‘Mr. Ono, if I don’t get the platinum back by tomorrow morning, I don’t know what I’m to do,’ he said to me, his face filled with anxiety.
‘Now, now, don’t worry. I’m sure Toshio will get it back.’
‘But Toshio is only busying himself with me and Mr. Takeuchi. By wasting time on that X-ray exam and the like, during all that he’s let the thief get right away, I’m sure.’
At a loss how best to soothe him, I stood racking my brains for an answer.
Just then, Toshio came in, with sweat standing out on his brow. ‘Uncle Kimura, I’m glad you’re here. Sorry about that business back then. How was Mr. Takeuchi?’
‘He came back with me; but a little later he said he was worn out, so he was going to get a little sleep in the room he lodges in, and went home.’
‘Was he angry?’
‘Well, you did make a fair drama, Toshio. This is the first time in my life I’ve been X-rayed.’
‘It’s not something you should be having done from time to time,’ Toshio said with irony.
‘Well then Toshio. Have you got a line on the thief yet?’
‘Huh?’ Mr. Kimura and I shouted out together, exchanging glances.
‘Who is it?’ Kimura roared.
‘There, there, do calm down. Before I tell you, I’d like to offer you some tea.’
‘Tea, you say? This is no time for tea. Quick let me know who the thief is?’
Toshio made no answer, but took a bottle down from the shelf of chemicals and tilted it to pour its contents into a beaker. After that, cutting up small a narrow strip of platinum, he brought it to where Mr. Kimura could see.
‘Uncle Kimura, this tea is rather an odd one. I can do a mysterious trick with it. Are you ready? We put this into it. In it goes.’
So saying, Toshio put the little piece of platinum strip into the liquid. At that, the platinum, with a faint sound, dissolved before our eyes.
‘Is it aqua regia?’ Mr. Kimura asked. Aqua regia is a mixture of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid.
‘That’s right; but this is the tea Mr. Takeuchi drinks.’
‘Huh? What? So in that earthen teapot of Takeuchi’s there was aqua regia? The platinum was dissolved in it? That’s terrible!’
These words were hardly out of Kimura’s mouth, and he ran off in panic without a glance back.
‘Niisan, you and I should go to the Kimuras’ house too.’
When we reached the front of the house, Mr. Kimura came running out. ‘Toshio, Takeuchi took the teapot home with him, they tell me. Quick, do something!’
‘Uncle, no need to panic. Niisan, go fetch the car!’ Toshio said calmly.
The three of us riding in the car hurried to Mr. Takeuchi’s – let’s just call him Takeuchi from now on – hurried to Takeuchi’s lodgings in Shiba ward, Shinbori-cho. The trees that lined the road shone with beautiful colours this Indian summer day; but Mr. Kimura’s thoughts were fixed on the road ahead and he was more or less speechless.
When the car reached its destination, he practically jumped out. He sprinted into the vegetable shop where Takeuchi lodged. I was about to follow him out of the car, when Toshio gripped my arm and said, ‘No need for you to get out. Takeuchi’s already gone. Any moment now Uncle Kimura will come back with a downcast expression. So just wait here.’
In a while Mr. Kimura did come out, his face quite pale.
‘Toshio, what am I to do? When I asked the shop owner, she told me that Takeuchi suddenly changed lodgings this morning. He didn’t leave his new address. He just took his belongings and left.’
‘Uncle, don’t worry, don’t worry. I know exactly where Takeuchi has gone; so I’ll get the platinum back safe. Right. The next thing is to drive to the central police station.’
‘The central police station?’ Mr. Kimura said, round eyed.
‘That’s right. It could turn out that Takeuchi has already been arrested.’
Mr. Kimura’s face for the first time gained some colour at this reassurance.
As the car was passing Shiba Park, Mr. Kimura turned to Toshio and asked, ‘Toshio, how did you discover that the platinum had been dissolved in aqua regia in the teapot?’
‘Oh that? As to that, I’ll start by telling you my observations as I made them. Firstly there wasn’t one footprint on the floor of the workshop that looked like it had been made by someone coming from outside.
And then there were those glass splinters. If the window had been broken from outside, there would have to be lots of glass splinters inside; but when you looked closely there were more glass splinters fallen on the grass outside than inside the room. So I knew that that glass had been broken from inside.
If it had been broken from inside, it could only have been Takeuchi that broke it. In that case it was certainly Takeuchi that stole the platinum. Well then, just where could he have hidden it? I put everything into searching for it, opening drawers and looking inside the containers on the shelves.
But I couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally right at the end, the last place you’d think to look, I took the lid of the teapot. When I did, there was a strange pungent smell. I had a sudden idea. The smell of anaesthetic in the room – it was there to disguise the smell of this teapot. The platinum was hidden inside the pot.
That was my idea; but I didn’t know what Takeuchi would do if I said it then and there. That was when I asked you, “Whose tea is this?” When I did, Takeuchi replied before you could answer. So finally knowing that Takeuchi was the thief, I took you to have X-rays taken.’
‘Huh?’ Mr. Kimura asked with a puzzled face. ‘If the platinum was in the teapot, surely there was no need to take X-rays?’
‘That’s true as far as it goes, but — Ah, we’ve reached the central police station. Let’s talk about that after, at leisure.’ Toshio said, and without a moment’s interval he opened the car door and sprang out.
At the central police station Detective Oda, or Uncle P as Toshio called him, was waiting for us. He greeted us with a face full of smiles. For a while he and Toshio had some murmured conversation apart. As lunchtime had come round by the time they were done, we had a lunch of udon along with Mr. Oda. Mr. Kimura was as ever somewhat dazed; but Toshio was chattering in the highest of spirits.
Just as we finished eating, Detective Oda’s subordinate Mr. Hatano came in. He came in wearing a square sleeved Japanese overcoat and talking breathlessly. Seeing us, he hesitated a bit. At that Mr. Oda said, ‘Hatano, these people are all in our confidence. Don’t worry and tell us what you’ve got!’
‘Following your instructions, I kept watch on the vegetable shop in Shinbori-cho. Takeuchi came home with the teapot. Thirty minutes later a rickshaw arrived and Takeuchi got in carrying the pot and a wicker trunk. The rickshaw raced off at high speed in the direction of Shinagawa, and I ran after it.
After that we went beyond Shinagawa, crossed through Oi-machi and came to ** in Omori. I was fairly worn out with all that distance. But finally the rickshaw stopped at a detached house built in western style, out between the fields. Takeuchi sent the rickshaw back and carried the pot and trunk into the house. I watched the house for a while and my impression was that there was nobody inside.
Asking at the nearby houses, I found that nobody knew who was living there; but at night five or six men would gather there and do what looked like experiments in a corner room on the lower floor of the house. Hearing that, as a first measure, I rang the Shinagawa police station and had two plain clothes policemen keep watch on the house. Meanwhile I came back for further orders.’
‘Good work, good work. Well then, it really looks like till night comes there’s nothing to be done, right? So get some rest there!’ Mr. Oda said.
When Mr. Hatano had left, Detective Oda said, ‘Toshio, you’ve heard how things are. This evening at seven we’ll gather forces, and aim to get there around eight. Will you go home in the meantime and come out again? Or would you prefer to put up with the wait, long as it is?’
Toshio asked Mr. Kimura what suited him. He replied that he did not want to go home until he had got the platinum back from Takeuchi. So the three of us decided to stay and wait for around six hours at the police station.
Waiting is pretty hard work. At times like this the clock hand seems to move slower than ever. When it finally came round to four, Toshio suddenly turned to me, ‘Niisan, I’m just going out on a bit of business. Please keep uncle company. I’ll definitely be back by six.’ The words were hardly out of his mouth and he was gone, running without hesitation out of the room, leaving us dumbfounded.
The hours of boredom finally came to an end as six o’ clock came around. I was just thinking that it was getting a bit dark here when the lights came on. At that moment as promised Toshio came in, smiling cheerfully.
‘Niisan, when I met with Uncle P just now, he said that since we have to demand real activity from you tonight, he wanted you to really tuck in and stock up on energy.’
When we had eaten, the clock struck seven. Detective Oda sent several able policemen on ahead to dispose the forces, and the three of us set off after, riding along with him.
When we reached Omori, it was already dark there. In the room that looked like a laboratory in the western house in the middle of the fields, seven men had gathered and were busying themselves with what looked like some kind of experiment. When, on Mr. Oda’s orders, Toshio, Mr. Kimura and I, standing in the cover of the trees, peered into the laboratory, Takeuchi was inside.
Moments later Takeuchi with great self satisfaction brought out the earthen teapot and passed it to the man who seemed to be the boss. The boss took the lid off the teapot and sniffed at it. Then suddenly his complexion changed and his face filled with anger. We saw him swing the pot up high and before we could take in what was happening suddenly splash its tea onto Takeuchi. — The cry of ‘Aargh!’ that followed came not from Takeuchi but from Mr. Kimura. It had been a very loud shout, and the men inside all at once looked our way.
At that moment Toshio took out a police whistle and blew a single ‘Peep’. When he did, the lights in the laboratory suddenly went out and the whole house, inside and out, was enveloped in pitch darkness.
As to what followed, I leave it to my readers’ imagination. Some of the villains were captured inside the house. Others ran away; but after a heavy fight they too were captured by the policemen on lookout. I too mixed in and add my own little strength to twist the arm of one of the villains. When I looked closely it turned out, ironically, that it was Takeuchi.
About thirty minutes later a total of eight criminals had been crammed into the police van. Detective Oda was delighted. ‘Thank you very much, Toshio. One of these is a major precious metal thief that central has been hunting for several years. I’ll come by to thank you some time soon. For now you can go back in the car,’ he said, as he drove off in the police van.
Mr. Kimura, after seeing the dissolved platinum spilt, was not looking exactly cheerful. Toshio pulled him over to the car, ‘Right then, Uncle Kimura, as promised I’ve got your platinum back,’ he said, handing a whitely shining lump to Mr. Kimura.
‘B—, but how did this—ʼ Kimura said, almost gripping the platinum.
‘The trip to the X-ray inspection was so that I could get this back,’ Toshio explained, ‘That was the only way I could get Takeuchi out of the building. I went back ahead of you from Dr. Okajima’s house, met with aunt and, pretending to take breakfast, exchanged the real mixture in the pot with simple tea. After that I put the real thing in a different pot, took it to the Yamamoto laboratory in Asakusa and had them return it to its original state. At four I left the police station to collect it.
Just now the boss of the thieves saw that it was only tea in the pot and thought Takeuchi had switched it. In his anger he threw it over him. — Well, let’s hurry home and give the good news to aunt.’
1. jo: jou (畳), a traditional measure of area, used for rooms in Japanese houses. The number of jo indicates how many tatami mats it would take to cover the floor. According to Wikipedia an eight jo room would be about 3.64 m by 3. 64 m.
2. Surugadai: area in northern central Tokyo (Chiyoda).
3. Awajichou: also in Chiyoda, west of Surugadai.
4. Shiba: now part of Minato Ward (near the harbour).
5. aqua regia: so called from its ability to dissolve precious metals.
6. Shiba Park: also in Minato Ward.
7. square sleeved Japanese overcoat: kakusode. This was typical plain clothes wear for Meiji era policeman; so it might be being used metonymically for ‘plain clothes’ here.
8. Shinagawa: ward of Tokyo south of the Minato (Harbour) ward where Takeuchi lodged.
9. Ooi-machi: a district in Shinagawa
10. Omori: Oomori, a district south of Shinagawa.
11. Asakusa, a famous district in the northern part of central Tokyo, east of Ueno.