Before anyone realized, it was pitch black outside the window, and the other colors seemed diluted, ostensibly dissolved into the scenery. An evening shower had abruptly descended as if it was midsummer.
With the shop devoid of customers, I arranged the contents of the glass case, and at the same time listened to the sound of rain falling on the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. The wagon stacked with 100 Yen pocket books was covered with a waterproof sheet. I looked over at the nearby Kita-Kamakura Station platform, and saw that people were waiting for the buses under the platform’s roofs. Only a few boarding platforms were sheltered, however.
I noticed that there were still books scattered on the counter, and as I hurried back into the shop, the door leading to the main house opened. A 16-17 year old girl appeared, dressed in a T-shirt with a wide hem and jeans. Having washed her face after returning from school, her bangs were blown dry, and tied up with a band. This girl was Shinokawa’s little sister, Ayaka Shinokawa.
“Ahh, it’s raining!”
She exclaimed. In the past, she would have rolled her eyes at me, but recently, we’ve become rather cordial in our relationship. Her attire at this point seemed a little too unrestrained to me, and I was rather worried about her. Had she completely forgotten that I was an outsider?
“Any customers today?”
“Not a lot… it’s a work day today.”
I answered as I continued with my work in front of the glass case.
“So we aren’t doing so well after all. Our shop’s not going to close down now, right?”
As she calmly stated such ominous words, I merely frowned and refrained from saying anything. It was month ago when I first began work here, and I knew that the sales had decreased a lot compared to the past. Besides, it had been two months since the shop owner, who should be the one doing the sales, last appeared. It would have been a wonder if sales hadn’t decreased.
I placed a book, wrapped in paraffin, on the rack. The cover, which was slightly faded and whitened, had the words The Late Years. The yellow paper wrapper around it had the recommendations of Haruo Satō and Masuji Ibuse.
“Eh? That book!?”
Ayaka Shinokawa yelled out in surprise.
“Isn’t that the very expensive book placed at at my house a long time ago? Who’s the author again? He’s famous. O-O-O-O…”
I helped her finish what she wanted to say. This was the collection of Osamu Dazai’s first works, published in the 11th year of the Showa Era—but it was a pity that I didn’t know the contents of the book as I could not read.
“So this book is being sold too? My sister had already insisted that she would never sell this book no matter the situation. So the sales revenue has been really bad after all?”
While I was about to lock the glass case, I glanced at the girl’s face that reflected off it.
“…Have there been any customers who asked to buy the book recently?”
“Nope, not at all.”
She shook her head sideways as she chuckled secretly.
“You’re talking like my sister now. She would always ask me that too… Did any customer express their interest in buying this book? If there are any, contact me immediately. Hey, is there something important?”
“No… not at all.”
I lied. The details were a secret between Shinokawa and me.
Shinokawa’s younger sister was right beside me, staring at The Late Years behind the glass. She then muttered.
“I say, this is from the safe in my sister’s ward room.”
“Was this book so clean in the first place…?”
At that moment, I stopped what I was doing. While she did not seem like her older sister, she was unexpected sharp. She immediately probed into the critical points I did not think of.
“I think it was a lot dirtier the last time I saw it… at the edges, I guess.”
I didn’t want her to get involved in this. What do I do to stop her from looking on? —just when I was burdened by this, a blue-white light flashed outside the shop, and a thunderclap that shook the air followed immediately afterwards.
Ayaka Shinokawa let out a strange cry. She did not seem shocked, but rather amazed. She gently tottered over to the glass sliding door, and looked up at the black thunderous clouds.
“That was amazing. It must have landed nearby!”
There were a lot of hills in Kita-Kamakura; it was not an uncommon sight for the metal towers built on the peaks to be struck by lightning.
I inadvertently thought about the hospitalized Shinokawa. Right now, she must have been looking up at the sky alone in the ward room. Perhaps she hated lightning. On that day 2 months ago, Shinokawa was pushed down the stone steps; it was a stormy day, just like how it was now.
I heard Shinokawa’s secret a week ago, right after the Sakaguchi couple left the ward room.
“…You were pushed down? What do you mean?”
It was hard for me to immediately comprehend when she suddenly mentioned she was ‘pushed down’.
“Before talking about this, there’s something I want to show you.”
She undid the first button of her pajamas as she said so. The profile of her collarbone below the head was clearly visible to me. I widened my eyes as I stiffened, and she reached her hand into her chest right in front of me.
She took out a little key she wore on her neck, and handed the key with lingering skin warmth over to me.
“…Please take out what’s in the safe.”
She pointed to the safe beside her bed. There was certainly a small safe right under the rack, but up until this point, I never thought that there was something inside.
I followed her instructions, and opened the safe. There was a rectangular object wrapped in purple fukusa2 inside, and it felt very light in my hands. I sat back on my seat, unraveled the wrapping, and uncovered a book wrapped in paraffin paper in front of me. The cover had the name The Late Years printed in front of me, and Haruo Satou’s recommendation was printed at the top.
For an old book, it was in considerably good condition, and I could tell this was a previously owned book. I did hear of the name The Late Years before. If I remembered correctly—
“The Late Years is the debut collection of works by Osamu Dazai. This is the First Edition released by Sunagoya Bookstore in the 11th year of the Showa Era.”
I nodded. I’ve never read it before, but I was interested in it.
“My grandfather obtained this book from his friend. My grandfather handed it down to my father, and my father to me. It is not a commercial product, but rather my personal collection.”
I flipped through the pages a few times, and found something abnormal about this book. There were bunches of pages held together by strings on the sides, and I could only skip through the bundles, unable to read. This was the first time I saw such a book.
“…Is this book printed wrongly?”
She silently shook her head.
“Normally, a book is bound together by strings like this, and the fore edge, top and bottom are neatly cut away. An uncut book is a book that is published without any cutting…there were a lot of books printed in such a manner.”
“Then how do I read this?”
“Cut it open with a paper knife and read it like that.”
I see, As I marveled at this, my hands stopped—in this case, nobody read this copy of The Late Years before. Was it because it was a very valuable book?
I found something strange again. Just when I flipped to the inside cover, I found fine writing written there.
“To all living things, live on with confidence
We are all to become sinners.”
The name ‘Osamu Dazai’ was added on the side. Suddenly, I felt ominousness from this book.
“Is this… the real thing?”
I knew the answer before she nodded. This was obviously different from the fake signature I saw in Sōseki’s Complete Collection. It felt as if an author from the past, whose name was the only thing I knew of, had suddenly come to life in front of me.
“The Late Years was a book published when Dazai was 27 years old. It is an anthology of short stories he wrote before, but there was no story titled The Late Years.”
“Then, why is it called The Late Years?”
“Dazai intended for it to be his testament work when he wrote it. He tried to drown himself with a woman before he became active as a novelist. It was at Koshigoe, just a little near this place… of course, he went through many suicide attempts later on.”
I knew about that point. It seemed he jumped into the Tamagawa Canal together with a mistress.
“There were only 500 copies of the First Edition printed. These pretty books were all released in uncut form, and each book had a wrapper and signature on it. I guess there are no other existing copies of this edition left… I don’t plan to do this, but if it were sold at our shop… I’d intend to price it above 3 million Yen.”
I gulped. Up until this point, I had never touched such an expensive item, let alone a book.
“But to me, the value of this book has nothing to do with the price. What Osamu Dazai wrote on the inside cover is the most important thing to me.”
I again looked at Dazai’s handwriting. “To all living things, live on with confidence. We are all to become sinners.”
“He must have written those words to encourage an acquaintance when he gave this book. I saw a signature book with a similar line written in it… I think the term ‘sinners’ encompasses what the author was reflecting over. This book does not have a record of it, but this line did appear in the short story Seagull.”
I repeated the term ‘sinners’ in my mouth over and over again.
“…Is he saying that everyone is evil?”
“I do not believe in this entirely… my understanding is that those who live on have a heavy burden of responsibility.”
Because everyone has a heavy burden, we might as well live on with confidence. Is this what he meant? —I didn’t know if this encouragement was optimistic or pessimistic.
“I really like it because it seems like he’s talking about himself. This is the kind of line I’d like to hear…”
I inadvertently widened my eyes. This was probably the first time I heard Shinokawa talk about her thoughts. I was surprised by her comment ‘heavy burden’; perhaps she was saying that she liked the books.
“There is someone who likes the same line as I do, a fanatical fan of Dazai… that man pushed me down the steps.”
She lowered her head and stared at her legs, outstretched to the front.
“…Who is that?”
“I do not know his real name or identity either… the only thing I could conclude was that he wanted this, The Late Years.”
Unknowingly to me, the light of the sun outside started to look weaker, and Shinokawa began to calmly explain what happened to her.
“I did just mention that this book is not a commercial product, but something I got when I inherited this shop. Father told me that I could do whatever I wanted with it when the time comes… but I always kept it inside the house, and never showed it to anyone else… other than that one time.”
“…That one time?”
“Do you know of the Museum of Literature in Hase3?”
I nodded. I once went there before. The building, modified from an old Western-styled house, displayed famous original works and other materials related to the authors. It was ostensibly a museum for literature, and it was the tourist attraction of Hase along with the Kamakura Buddha.
“Last year was the 100th year anniversary of Osamu Dazai’s birth4, and the Musuem had an exhibition. The Museum requested me to display my copy of The Late Years, so I lent the book.”
I vaguely recalled that I did hear of this somewhere before—or rather, I saw it somewhere. Either way, I simply knew about this.
“I think I saw this on the Internet before. It stated that our shop did lend some books for the exhibition…”
That was when I first started work here. When I searched for Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia on the Internet, I found this message in a forum full of old book hobbyists. In that case, they were probably referring to this copy of The Late Years.
“Yes, that is the one…”
Shinokawa showed a gloomy expression as she nodded.
“The Museum’s exhibition hid the fact that our bookstore lent the book, but someone discovered it. My grandfather and father did show this book to customers visiting our shop before… but the problem is that now a lot of people know that I have this book. Once the exhibition ended, I received an email.”
She opened her notepad computer, and the background light of the LCD brightened the dim room a little. I stared at the screen, and saw an anonymous email sent to Shinokawa.
To Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia, Miss Shinokawa.
Hello, my name is Yōzō Ōba.
A few days ago, I was passing through Kamakura, visited the Literature Museum on the way here, and was able to see Osamu Dazai’s The Late Years provided by your shop. It was a beautiful book that took my breath away, and the words of advice written together with the signature were riveting.
To all living things, live on with confidence. We are all to become sinners.
Please sell the book to me immediately, and keep this email anonymous. Please include the sum of money you want, your bank account, freight method and all related information to this email.
“…When I first saw this email, I thought it was a prank.”
“Eh? Why do you think so?”
I could not help but interrupt. The message was filled with excitement within, but there didn’t seem to be anything strange about this.
“Because of this name. Yōzō Ōba… this is the name of the protagonist in the short story ‘’Petals of Buffonery’’ as part of the collection in The Late Years.5”
So that was how it was. I nodded. In other words, this was a fake name.
“It was also strange that a deal involving so much money was not made through the phone, but through email… either way, I had no intention of selling this book. Thus, I wrote a reply, stating at this book was not a commercial product in our shop, but part of a personal collection. Then, I got another email less than 5 minutes later.”
She pointed at the email folder; the next email was titled ‘Please state your price’, and it seemed he arbitrarily entered negotiations for pricing. She then pointed at the next message, titled ‘The importance of that book to me’. Then, she pointed at the next one—at this point, I felt a chill on my back.
Ōba had sent hundreds, no, thousands of emails in that folder. I didn’t know many pages went by before we finally reached the last page. He was as obsessed as a stalker, but he directed it at a book rather than a person.
“I did discuss this with the police before, but these emails alone weren’t enough for the police to get involved. He had used a free email account from overseas, and they were unable to ascertain his identity… just when I was wondering if I should ignore him, this man came to the shop.”
“At that time, the rainy season had yet to end, and I was alone in the shop. A man carrying a large tourist bag and dressed in suit bent down and walked in through the sliding door.
I could not see his appearance clearly as he had a large mask and sunglasses on. He was very tall, and did not seem very old.
“My name is Yōzō Ōba”
He gave his name softly, took out a bundle of cash from his bag, and left it on the counter.
“There is 4 Million Yen here. Please sell the book to me.”
He started to persuade me.
“I wanted to collect the first edition works of other authors, but I really want to get the first edition of Dazai’s work. This copy of The Late Years with the added author’s words is something perfect to a collector like me, and I like to buy it no matter what.”
I was shocked, and I barely managed to cut his words off before I returned the money to him… I repeated what I said in the email, that this was a book my father handed down to me, that I really liked it, that this was the only book I definitely would not sell. After I said that, he asked me:
“You won’t let go of it no matter what’?”
…I told him yes, and he leaned his body forward.
“I like this book too. No matter how many years and how many obstacles there are, I want to get it.”
He said these words before leaving the shop. I suddenly felt really fatigued… he would certainly come by the shop again, and I did not know what to do to convince him.
That day, after I closed the shop, I went to my father’s friend house that was nearby. I was going to return a book father borrowed when he was still alive… it was raining heavily that day, and I was hurrying up the stone steps. I was using the umbrella, and the book was in my clutches; I was practically looking only at my feet.
Just when I was about to finish climbing the stone steps, I found that man was standing right at the top. I raised my umbrella, and just when I was about to lift my head and see his face, he pushed my shoulder forcefully.
I missed my footing, and rolled all the way down to the bottom. My body could not move at all, and I realized that I was seriously injured. I wanted to call for help, but my consciousness was a little blurred… I heard the sound of someone walking down the steps.
“What? You didn’t bring the book?”
I heard him say this regretfully. The rain was really loud, but I could tell that this was the voice of Yōzō Ōba. His voice was very unique, deep yet clear… somewhat like yours, Mr. Goura.
“Where is that book?”
Ōba continued to ask me… I finally realized that he was after The Late Years. Of course, I did not want to hand it to him.
“I hid it in a safe place. I won’t tell you where it is.”
I answered with all the strength I could muster. Actually, I locked it in a cupboard, so it was not really safe… anyway, I just wanted to keep that book away from Ōba’s clutches as much as I could.
It seemed Ōba wanted to say something else, but the sound of a car approaching came from afar. He hurriedly whispered into my ear.
“Don’t tell anyone about this. If you do, I’ll burn your bookshop. Stop being stubborn and hand me that book over quietly… I will contact you again soon.”
That was all I could remember, and I found myself lying on the hospital bed again when I woke up. I never told anyone else about this, and put The Late Years in the ward room’s safe. There are people in this hospital all the time, so it’s a lot safer than leaving it in my house. He never contacted me during these two months, and of course, I never contacted him…”
I, who had been listening silently up till this point, interrupted Shinokawa.
“In other words, you never told the police either?”
“Not at all.”
I was shocked by her attitude as she seemed to think her answer was a matter of course.
“Why? You were nearly killed…”
“Because I have no idea who and what kind of person Yōzō Ōba is.”
“Even if the police start to investigate, they can’t arrest him immediately. If he finds out that I reported it to the police, he might really burn the bookshop or do something similar… I can feel his determination, and I want to completely eliminate the risk of losing the shop.”
“B-But, if you leave that kind of person alone…”
“Yes, that’s why if he appears at the shop again, I will call the police. I had been thinking about what to do in the ward room all this while.”
She suddenly lifted her face, and her gaze behind her glasses was filled with intense will. Her black eyes were widened, just like the moments before she unraveled book-related mysteries. She reached her hand over and clasped my hand tightly.
“Can you help me to lure Yōzō Ōba out? I don’t know what will happen, but I can only ask this of you, Mr. Goura.”
Her white hand was very warm, and I was rooted to the ground, ostensibly thunderstruck. I can only ask this of you, this line echoed in my ears. It would probably be a rarity for an introverted person like her to open her heart to anyone else. Also, she had asked this from me.
“…Understood. I’ll help you.”
Of course, my answer was a definite yes—I nodded my head and held her hand tightly. Her slender fingers were completely clasped within my fist.
“Thank you…erm, sorry… for getting you involved in this…”
“It’s fine…but I would like to ask for one condition.”
She tilted her head aside in surprise.
“Can you please describe the contents of Osamu Dazai’s The Late Years? I’ve never read it before.”
Her expression immediately brightened, just like the moments whenever she saw a book—no, perhaps she was smiling a lot brighter than that. I too was affected by her, and I smiled too.
“Of course… I will definitely describe it to you after this matter is settled.”
Our relationship was maintained through books. It was a relationship between one who wanted to talk about them, and one who wanted to hear about them. After a lot of conversations in this ward room, we still managed to maintain such an inexplicable relationship, yet seemed to have closed the distance between us. At least, I had become a reliable person she could trust, and of course, I trusted her too.
“Then, how do we lure him out?”
I asked. Yōzō Ōba too must have considered the risk of getting arrested by the police, and he would definitely try to avoid contact with us as much as possible.
“Yōzō Ōba wants to get this book no matter what… well, do you know of the story when a thief entered my house?”
“Eh? …Ahh, yes.”
I remembered Shinokawa’s little sister mentioned this in passing when I just started work there. It seemed, from her story, that the thief did not steal anything.
“I don’t have any proof, but I feel this was also a job ordered by that Ōba… he wanted to steal it rather than make a deal for it. At that time, I had already moved The Late Years here.”
I too felt that what she said was a very large possibility. Yōzō Ōba would go to any lengths to complete his objective, and naturally, he could also sneak into someone else’s house.
“Right now, the thing he really wants to know is where The Late Years is… so to lure him out, we need to create bait.”
Shinokawa took out another package wrapped in fukusa from the hill of books beside her. She unwrapped it, and another book wrapped in paraffin paper appeared in front of my eyes—I widened my eyes. That book was The Late Years with a yellow wrapper around it, exactly the same as the book on my lap.
“Is this another book?”
It too was in an uncut state. Would that not be an extremely valuable book?
She shook her head.
“This is the Home Library Promotion Publishing Reprint from the 1970s… a replica. It is hard to determine if it’s the real thing without looking inside.6”
I stared at the reprinted version of The Late Years. As a book, it looked similar on the outside; no, the reprint’s version had firmer pages, and there were less stains on the cover—I felt it lacked the antique feel of age and sombreness of the original.
“…Will someone think of buying it even if it’s not the original?”
“The reprint is similar to the original version, there are some hobbyists who would want to read it. This reprint was made very intricately too, and there were many releases… I have the original edition here, but I also bought a few copies.”
‘’Is that so?’’ I was a little skeptical, and she continued,
“Please price this book at 3.5 million Yen and place it in the glass case at our shop. I will update the news on the shop’s homepage, stating that the first edition of The Late Years, in perfect condition, is in stock… once he knows that the book he wants to get is going to be sold, Yōzō Ōba will definitely come over to our shop and buy it. He would come by once, simply to check the condition; if he does, please call the police, Mr. Goura.”
I understood what she meant. This reprint version would be the bait to lure out Ōba. We could use the real one as bait, but it might get snatched away. This was a decent plan at least—but will things turn out the way we want so easily?
“But I don’t know what Ōba looks like.”
“If there is a tall and unfamiliar customer requesting to buy this book, he would be the one. Not many people can spend 3.5 million Yen just on one book.”
“But what if a regular customer wants to buy it?”
“Tell the customer that it was already sold through pre-order. A reprint version will not fetch this price.”
“And what if Ōba makes a call to inquire?”
“Then please pretend to not know anything and tell him ‘I placed it in the glass case according to the shopkeeper’s instructions. We do not accept mail orders’. That way, he can only come to the shop.”
I folded my arms once she finished her words. I was not trying to nitpick, but there were risks to this trap, and I just wanted to remove as much uneasiness as I could.
“Then, Shinokawa, can’t you wait till you’re discharged?”
“…Why do you ask?”
“Because he might end up doing something reckless. While he might come to the shop, there is a chance he may come to the hospital and hurt you.”
She seemed to be taken aback by this, and her expression was a little stiff.
“I don’t think you can run away, right? It would be better to execute this plan once you can walk just like before…right…?”
My voice got softer; Shinokawa’s hands were clenched as they rested on her lap. Did I say something weird?
“There is no meaning in waiting… even if we wait on, the situation will not change one bit.”
She said hoarsely.
“I didn’t simply get a fracture… my spinal nerves were damaged, and the doctor said that there will be aftereffects after I get discharged. It will take a long while before I can walk like how I used to. Perhaps… I may never get to walk freely for the rest of my life…”
The atmosphere in the ward room immediately froze over.
The rain continued to fall outside.
Osamu Dazai’s The Late Years was placed in the glass case with a tag beside it: ‘3.5 Million Yen, perfect condition, includes signature’—however, it was a reprint version.
I stood in front of the glass case and reflected over Shinokawa’s words. What happened to her legs shocked me as much as the issue regarding Yōzō Ōba.
Perhaps I may never get to walk freely for the rest of my life.
She did not want the police to interfere, and wanted to personally find Ōba, simply because she wanted to settle things personally.
Shinokawa’s little sister had returned inside to the house, and I was the only one present in the shop. She did not know anything about Yōzō Ōba, but of course, she knew how severely injured her older sister was.
Speaking of which, when I first came to this shop, she would put me in a choke hold whenever I asked about Shinokawa’s injury. This was surprising considering she could rattle on about other things even if I didn’t ask, but perhaps this was her way of expressing concern.
Shinokawa said that the issue she was most troubled by was whether she could hide the issue of Ōba from her little sister.
“But my little sister’s personality is that she just cannot hide anything… maybe she’ll tell someone else, and more importantly, if Ōba appears, she won’t be able to handle him calmly.”
In other words, I looked more cautious when speaking, and I could be firm when talking with him. I felt I was a little tense, but the information regarding The Late Years was already uploaded to our shop’s homepage. As it stood now, Ōba could appear at the shop anytime soon.
Suddenly, the door opened violently, and I instinctively flinched.
“What’s with that scary expression?”
I relaxed my shoulders; the one who appeared was Nao Kosuga. She was the girl who stole the Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen book from the book watchman Shida the last time, and it seemed, after she returned the book to Shida and apologized to him, her love of reading awoke, and would occasionally come to this shop.
She was dressed in a half-sleeved blouse and a uniform skirt. This was the first time I saw her dressed in school uniform; like Shinokawa’s little sister, she was studying at the high school I graduated from.
“I have to go to a friend’s house to prepare for the culture festival, but it suddenly started raining… let me stay here for shelter for now, ‘kay?”
She entered the shop while talking with a boyish choice of words, and the water droplets dripped down the ends of her short hair. I hurried to the back of the counter; it would be bad if the books were drenched. From the inner house, I took a towel used for wiping, and threw it at the girl standing in front of the glass case.
“Sorry, and thanks.”
Nao Kosuga received the towel with a cheerful face, and wiped her hair as she peered into the glass case.
“Oh, is this the rumored book worth 3.5 million Yen?”
“When did it become a rumor?”
I asked in surprise.
“Ah, I already thought of it as a rumor. I saw this on this shop’s website last night… even if it’s not the original edition, the book is still available, right? Will anyone actually buy such an expensive book?”
“…There’ll be people who’d want this.”
One person, at least, though that was an anonymous fanatic stalker.
She seemed to have lost interest, and turned her back towards the glass case as she looked at me.
“Speaking of which, has Master Shida passed by here recently?”
“I haven’t seen him this week.”
“I think he’ll come by here. It seems he wanted to talk about some book purchase.”
Ever since the book theft incident, Nao Kosuga and Shida had maintained a mysterious relationship. I heard that they would borrow books from each other, and would occasionally share their thoughts at the riverside. Kosuga admired Shida’s knowledge of book-related issues, and started calling him teacher. Having suddenly gained a new student, Shida was reluctant yet delighted somewhat.
“When’s the culture festival?”
I asked. Now that she mentioned it, they usually began preparations once summer break ended.
“Two weeks from now, from Friday to Sunday. If it’s convenient for you to come by…”
She seemed to have remembered something at this moment, and turned her gaze towards the outside of the shop unenthusiastically,
“…Do you still remember that guy called Nishino?”
I frowned. Naturally, there was no way I could forget about him.
“Ahh. What did that guy do?”
That classmate of hers pretended to be very amicable with Nao Kosuga, but actually hated her. I only talked with him once, but I did not have a good impression of him.
“Once summer break ended, the news that that guy rejected me and said so many bad things about me spread around the school. Everyone even knew that guy revealed my phone number and email address to someone else… did you tell anyone from our school regarding what happened last month?”
“No way. I never told anyone.”
Not a lot of people would have known about this; besides the two parties involved, the only ones who would have known were Shinokawa, Shida and I. Nobody could have eavesdropped on our conversation—
I looked back at the door leading into the house. Now that she mentioned it, Shinokawa’s little sister was nearby when Shida came to the shop and talked about Nao Kosuga. Shida never mentioned about the book theft, but it seemed he mentioned the name Nishino. My little sister’s personality is that she just cannot hide anything; I recalled Shinokawa stating this about her sister, and it was really troubling.
“Sorry… someone may have heard of it unintentionally.”
“Ah, it’s fine. Don’t worry, I had no intention of hiding it at all.”
She shook her head hard.
“Nishino’s very popular, but it seemed he’s said some really cruel things behind other people’s backs too. The news involving me spread so quickly, and all the girls in our year ignored him… it seems he’s had a hard time getting along with the boys. That guy has been alone practically all this time, and seemed to have left the light music club band…”
I have seen guys, who were very popular in school, have their reputations plummet because of certain incidents; it is scarier when girls gang up together against them. I can only say such a situation is what he deserves.
“I passed by the dejected Nishino in the corridor, and never felt that he deserved it… I feel bad that he became like this because of me. What’s with this feeling?”
“…Since he never said anything, you don’t have to worry too much.”
“Hm…well, that’s true.”
I could understand what ‘this feeling’ was; that kid called Nishino was at this point some random person to her after all. That feeling was the opposite of that empty show of courage when she went to Shida to apologize.
Nao Kosuga suddenly narrowed her eyes as she looked outside the window. I too followed her actions and looked over where she was staring at. There was still a downpour outside the window.
“What is it?”
“Someone was at the road just now, looking over here, but he ran off.”
I immediately walked out from the counter, ran down the narrow aisle, and opened the glass sliding door. The large droplets of rain continued to fall upon the pavement, and there was nobody I could spot on the opposite side. Perhaps he made a turn.
“What kind of person was he?”
“Well… he was dressed in a raincoat, and had a hood on… so I couldn’t see his face clearly. It’s most probably a guy though. Did he do anything?”
I closed the sliding door silently. There was no need for an ordinary customer to run away.
Perhaps Yōzō Ōba had appeared.
“I waited a little while after that, but that guy never came to the shop.”
It was the second day, and I was in the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. The weather on this day was exceptionally bright, and not many customers came by in the afternoon. Like usual, I was alone in the shop. I was making a call through the telephone at the counter; The Late Years replica still remained in the glass case, just as it was the previous day.
“Erm…are you alright?”
I heard Shinokawa’s weak voice from the receiver. She deliberately made her way to the corridor on the wheelchair, and made a call to the shop.
“What about it?”
“…About bringing the book back with you… after the shop closed.”
I see, at this point, I understood.
Last night, after closing the shop, I brought the copy of The Late Years to my house in Ōfuna, and stored it in the safe my grandmother used to run her business. If Yōzō Ōba snuck into the shop when the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia was closed, the plan to lure him out with the reprint would fail.
“Don’t worry. Nothing happened.”
I was a little nervous; there was a possibility that I could be attacked during my trips, but I did not find anyone suspicious.
“I am really sorry… for getting you involved in this…”
“You don’t have to mind. I said that I would help you after all.”
“Erm… please do not push yourself too much, Mr. Goura…if anything happens to you, I…”
I subconsciously exerted strength into my hand that was holding the phone receiver. What was after the “I…”? I pricked my ears, wanting to listen carefully, only to hear the sliding door being opened.
“Ah, it seems that there’s a customer here… I’m hanging up for now.”
I immediately hung up. It was really a pity to hang up like this, but I had no time to be bothered by this. Perhaps Yōzō Ōba had appeared. With the receiver in hand, I looked over.
“Hello, Mr. Goura! Ah, are you on the phone? Keep talking, don’t mind us. Just continue on. There’s nothing big from us here!”
The shrill voice pricked at my head, and there appeared a petite woman with a bright one-piece skirt and an aging man wearing sunglasses. Both of them entered the shop, their arms locked together.
“It has been a while. Sorry to trouble you the last time.”
The man—Masashi Sakaguchi spoke. They were the Sakaguchi couple; previously, the husband wanted to sell his copy of Vinogradov/Kuzmin’s Introduction to Logic, and his wife came over to take it back. Their ages and personalities were different, but they were both able to get along well.
“Welcome. Is there anything you need?”
I could see that Masashi Sakaguchi was not wearing a business suit, but a different attire; he did not have a tie, and he was dressed in a jacket and pants that had lots of creases on it.
“I just retired from my company a few days ago, so…”
“We’re going to request for passports! That’s because we never had a honeymoon trip before…”
“…We intend to go to Europe for a week.”
“We thought we should drop by and greet you before we leave! We just visited the shop owner at the hospital before coming over here!”
“I-is that so…then, thanks…”
My mind was a little confused by the explanations that came from completely different voices and tones. Suddenly, Shinobu Sakaguchi spoke seriously.
“We want to see all sorts of things together now that we have the chance…before Masa’s eye illness worsens. The doctor said…”
Sakaguchi’s clear voice rang, overpowering his wife’s voice.
“Don’t call me Masa. Even when we’re travelling.”
“Ah, my bad.”
Ufufu. Shinobu chuckled as she covered her mouth. It did not seem that Sakaguchi was completely unwilling to be called this, and rather than them, I felt a little awkward as I looked at them. Their arms were locked together since they came in, and they did not seem like they’d break away anytime soon.
“I really want to thank you and Miss Shinokawa.”
Sakaguchi stared at my face from behind his sunglasses. The color of the lens were darker compared to when we last met.
“If I had not met you two, I would not have been able to reveal my secret.”
“Ah, that’s not it…”
I was a little embarrassed to receive such thanks directly. Also, though they said ‘we’, they should be thanking Shinokawa only, rather than both of us. She completely understood the reason why everything happened back then, just from a single copy of the Introduction to Logic and a little excerpt of conversation she chanced upon. I was just standing beside her, looking amazed.
“Well then, I guess it’s time for us to leave.”
After talking for a little while, the Sakaguchi couple passed through the glass door. I found that the wife was walking a little faster, and I noticed that their arms were not intertwined together simply because they had a good relationship with each other. Shinobu Sakaguchi was dragging Masashi Sakaguchi, whose eyesight had weakened as compared to before.
“…Please come by when you have the time.”
I called out while facing their backs. Both of them returned me a smile and walked out of the glass door. Just when I was about to continue my work,
“Hey, what are you doing squatting down there? Are you alright?”
Shinobu Sakaguchi’s voice rang as she stood outside the glass door and asked someone else. There was still another person outside.
I hurried out of the shop—and then, the male dressed in a raincoat turned away from me and dashed away. Looking at his strides, it seemed he was relatively young, but as he did not have his hood on, I could only figure out his hairstyle. His hair was short, not dyed, and did not seem to have any unique traits.
I yelled, but he did not stop, and immediately disappeared around the corner. The shop was still open, so I could not chase after him. I again turned towards the Sakaguchi couple.
“Did you see that man’s face just now?”
For an instant, both of them turned to look at each other.
“…No, he was crouched at the sign, and his back was facing us.”
Shinobu Sakaguchi pointed at the rotating signboard.
What was he doing down there? I spun the sign over, and found some liquid with some strange odor splashed over it. It seemed to be some volatile drug or—
My face immediately turned pale. The sign was soaked in gasoline, and on a closer look, there was a small item dropped near the scale. It was definitely something the escaped man brought along.
It was a one-time use lighter.
“…I think it’s better to explain to the police what happened up until now regarding Yōzō Ōba.”
I spoke into the receiver to Shinokawa, the same person who I had been talking to before this. I sent her an email, and requested for her to make a call back to me.
“It would be too late if the shop was burned down.”
It was an hour after the Sakaguchi couple left. I shuddered to think what would have happened if those two were not around. This shop might have become ash now.
“Hm… that might be a good idea… since this happened…”
Shinokawa murmured as she pondered.
“However… there is something I am concerned about.”
“What is it?”
“Did Yōzō Ōba really do this?”
I exclaimed into the phone.
“What do you mean?”
“Ōba probably thinks that the book is in the shop, so why would he do something that would endanger the book he wants to get?”
At that instance, I did not know how to answer.
“…Maybe he planned to start a commotion first, and then use that chance to steal it.”
“If he wants to instigate an incident, there are many ways to do this without putting the book in harm’s way… like creating a ruckus outside the shop or something.”
“But nobody other than him would have done such a thing, right?”
I did not really understand why Shinokawa was feeling confused. I thought she was simply talking about some trivial details.
“That is true… may I leave it to you to contact the police?”
Just when I was about to answer, I suddenly whiffed upon an intense stench. Something seemed to be burning. I lifted my head, and there was black smoke covering the outside of the glass window.
I threw the receiver down in a hurry and grabbed the fire extinguisher I prepared beforehand. The white powder let out a sound as it spurt out from the tip of the tube, covering the smoke that scattered everywhere.
Perhaps it was because the fire extinguisher was so old that the flames were not doused. The powder started to weaken in momentum before the flames could be stifled, and just when the flames were about to overcome it—no good, the instant I thought this, the flames were finally extinguished, and the smoke was the only thing left.
I heaved a sigh of relief and looked over. My vision was blurred as there was ostensibly a fog floating around, but I managed to find a man dressed in a raincoat, standing at a telephone pole ten steps away. He was probably the one I just saw.
The moment the man heard me, he immediately ran off while looking like he was going to knock the telephone pole aside. There was no doubt he was the culprit, the man who caused Shinokawa to be severely injured, and who wanted to burn the shop down. I definitely could not lose this chance, and dumped the fire extinguisher aside as I gave chase.
I thought I would be able to catch up immediately, as I was still confident in my leg strength—however, he was faster than I was, and the distance increased slowly. He was right in front of me, but perhaps I could not catch him.
Just when I was gritting my teeth, two bicycles suddenly appeared on the fork. One of them was a commuter’s bicycle with a large and broken basket, while the other was a high-speed cross country bicycle. The ones riding on them were a bald man and a pretty model-like man respectively—the book watchmen Shida and Kasai. The escaping man crashed into Shida’s bicycle.
Shida called out. The man suddenly stopped to avoid those two, and at that instant, I caught up and grabbed his raincoat by the collar tightly.
“Let go of me!”
The man turned around, wanting to remove my fingers, but I do have a ranking in judo. I grabbed him by his wrist, and did a suplex, slamming his back on the asphalt road. I then immediately held him down, and restrained his movements above the shoulders.
“Behave yourself! Ōba!”
I exerted strength in my wrists as I yelled at him. I peered at his face from close up, and he was a lot younger than what I imagined him to be. I could say he was in his teens, and there was still some innocence left on his face. This may be the first time we met—no, on a closer look, it seemed like we met somewhere before.
“WHO THE HECK IS ŌBA! YOU’RE USING TOO MUCH STRENGTH, YOU BASTARD!”
The boy groaned in pain, and I inadvertently widened my eyes. His hair was dyed back to black, and at this point, I then realized that the one I was restraining was Nao Kosuga’s classmate—the boy called Nishino.
The events were handled smoothly after that.
The police hurried onto the scene, whisked Nishino away, and did investigations in front of the shop. There was no damage other than the burn marks on the signboard and the fire extinguisher powder dirtying the road.
I did not ask Nishino why he did this, as he ranted a lot to us before the police arrived. Leaving aside the insults and slander towards me, his rant could be simplified to a single line.
“…To summarize things, he has a grudge against you.”
Kasai looked surprised after the police left. Shida, Kasai and I were surrounding the counter in the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. They just so happened to arrive at the shop to discuss books with me, and accompanied me as we waited for the police to leave—they even watched over the shop while I was explaining the situation to the police.
“It seems to be the case.”
I too sighed.
What happened to Nishino was—he was isolated by the other students at school, because someone checked on his private matters and scattered rumors behind his back. Of course, he suspected Nao Kosuga, and there must have been other ‘culprits’.
As he was tailing Nao Kosuga, he arrived at this shop—and nothing happened. The suspicious person Nao Kosuga spotted the previous day, and the one peeping into the shop was Nishino.
Upon seeing Nao Kosuga talk with me in a rather earnest manner, Nishino realized that I was the man who spoke with him during summer break, and finally ‘realized’. He knew that I was the only man who knew that he revealed Nao Kosuga’s personal information, and deemed that this man was the culprit. He said he did not intend to burn the shop down, but he just wanted to take revenge on me.
“Didn’t you notice from the beginning? You’ve met before, didn’t you?”
Shida asked me.
“He was blond the last time I spoke to him.”
It seemed he only bleached his hair during summer break. The school rules forbid students from bleaching their hair, and he dyed it black before September.
“Anyway, it’s a good thing you caught him. There might be no stop to his rampage if you let him go like that.”
Shida vented away; he was in a foul mood for a while as Nishino had stated his plan after setting fire to the shop. It seemed he wanted to do the same thing to Nao Kosuga’s house, and if that happened, the fire might not be put out as successfully this time.
“Anyway, isn’t this matter settled now? He’s taken away by the police now.”
Kasai advised with a smile, and Shida nodded in agreement.
I too wanted to smile along with them, but this did not mean all the shop’s issues were solved. I was back at square one regarding the matter about Yōzō Ōba, and he had not done anything for these two days. The ones who came to this shop were familiar people like Shida.
I sent an email to Shinokawa, telling her about Nishino’s arson attempt. Due to the change in situation, I did not tell the police about Ōba. I intended to make a trip to the hospital later and discuss future plans with her.
“Oh? Isn’t this the First Edition of The Late Years? You managed to get such a book too?”
Shida exclaimed as he stood in front of the glass case.
“Well… this actually belongs to the shop…”
I stammered. Kasai might not be familiar with books, but I did not want to show this to Shida, who has a keen eyesight regarding books.
“Have a look at it too, ‘baron’. It’s not often you get to see an uncut First Edition book.”
“Heh? Is it really that valuable?”
Kasai too approached the glass case.
“What kind of joke is that? Isn’t that to be expected… hey, isn’t this just a replica?”
An agitated voice rang through the shop. Were we found out? I clicked my tongue in secret; there was no way we could have fooled Shida after all.
“Ah, you knew after all?”
“Of course! The pages are too fresh! Why must you sell such a thing? There’s no need to sell a reprint version at such a price, right?”
“Well… about that… we didn’t show the real thing for safety’s sake, so we left the replica over there…”
I gave a vague explanation, but Shida showed an obvious look of disagreement.
“This is really a weird practice for this shop however… anyone can tell this is a fake immediately. At least dirty the cover a little.”
“It looks just like the real thing to me though.”
Kasai stood at the glass case, his hands on his hip, his head tilted forward.
“Where is the real item being kept?”
“With Shinokawa at the hospital.”
“So it’s left in the ward room? That’s too careless.”
The frowns on Shida’s face increased.
“There’s a safe in the ward room though.”
Shida leaned his body towards the counter, and my eyes inadvertently avoided his gaze.
“It’s very unnatural for an antiquarian bookshop to deliberately show a duplicate. I don’t think that lady shop owner would deliberately attempt to fool a customer… is there something going on?”
“No, it-it’s nothing…”
Shida ignored my reply and continued,
“If it’s something I can do too, I’ll definitely chip in. You guys did help me out before.”
“I’ll help too, though I don’t really understand about books.”
Kasai answered cheerily.
I pondered for a moment. Isn’t it great to reveal everything to these two and get their help? No, shall I discuss this with Shinokawa first? She doesn’t want to include any third parties other than me here. In this end, this is simply her private matter.
“…Please let me think through this for a moment.”
I answered both of them. At this moment, a slight vibrating sound could be heard from a cellphone.
“Ah, sorry. I think it’s a customer.”
Kasai’s phone rang. He lowered his head, passed through the sliding door, went outside, and started dialing. I could clearly hear him clearly state the price of a game console; it seemed there was a customer who wanted to buy one.
Shida and I inadvertently stared at Kasai’s back. The latter was about the same height as me,, was taller than the door frame, and I could only see the body below his ears.
“…That ‘baron’ seems a little weird today.”
Shida nonchalantly said.
“Because he pretended not to know about the First Edition of The Late Years; how could he not know about this?”
“Isn’t it because he’s not too clear about books? He did say this before.”
He did say before that he was unfamiliar with books, as he mostly traded in games and CDs.
“I’d say, you, that’s just him being humble. Can’t you tell from his name? He’s the ‘baron’, you know?”
I did not understand at all. Was the nickname ‘baron’ not something Shida gave Kasai based on his appearance? Just when I was perplexed, Shida sighed, ostensibly amazed by me.
“In this industry, when mentioning ‘book watchman’ and Kasai, anyone who likes books would have realized… but never mind, I can’t blame you even if you don’t know.”
“What’s going on?”
“How can Kasai be a real name? It’s just a name he gave himself just to make himself cool.”
Suddenly, I felt a chill up my spine.
“You’ve seen that guy’s namecard before, I suppose? Kikuya Kasai. That is the name of the protagonist in Toshiyuki Kajiyama’s The Many Exploits of the Book Watchman Baron. It’s a novel with a Book Watchman as a protagonist, just as its title implies. That’s why I call him ‘baron’.”
I never thought that this would be the source of the nickname. No, there was something I was more concerned by; someone actually introduced himself as the protagonist of a novel—I just heard of this recently.
Yōzō Ōba—the name of the protagonist in the short story of The Late Years anthology.
I hurriedly shook off the thought in my mind. N-no way, how can that be possible?
“Have you known Mr. Kasai for a long time?”
“No, not too long.”
Shida shook his head.
“Didn’t I tell you he was someone I knew recently when I came by in the summer? We haven’t known each other for 2 months yet.”
It was 2 months ago when Shinokawa was injured. Suddenly, I felt there was a stranger as I stared at Kasai’s back. I did not want to make a random guess, but Kasai was a lot taller than an ordinary person.
Shinokawa too said that Yōzō Ōba was rather tall.
“…Does he live around here?”
I did not look away from Kasai as I asked.
“That’s the case… but it seems his situation is a little complicated. He was originally born in a wealthy family in Hase, and it seems his ancestors were buried there. But soon after, they accumulated quite a large sum of debt, and by his parents’ generation, they had to sell their house and leave Kamakura. He then lived for a little while in Tokyo, and due to work reasons, he returned back to Kamkura.”
My ears reacted upon hearing the place called Hase; that was the place where the Museum displayed Shinokawa’s The Late Years. If his ancestors’ graves were all there, he would have paid a visit there. It would not be strange of him to visit the nearby tourist attractions while he was around.
I felt it was a little suspicious when I heard about Yōzō Ōba from Shinokawa, as Ōba did not make any contact with Shinokawa these two months—he may have threatened Shinokawa into handing over The Late Years, but there was no way he could get the book without any action. Then, what was he doing all this while?
Maybe he had been doing necessary things. First, he built a relationship with Shida, who knew Shinokawa, and kept an eye on the movements in this shop. After then, he became acquaintances with me, the employee. Of course, this would be if he did all these to find out where The Late Years is, and to get the book.
Of course, this was simply my imagination. I did not have any proof, and I did not have any interrogative skills.
I could only probe.
I walked away from the counter and cautiously approached Kasai. He was thanking the other party, ended his call, and just as he was about to slip his phone into his pocket, I pretended to talk to him normally. People will relax right when the call ends.
“Ah, Ōba, well.”
I asked, and Kasai tilted his head and turned to me. Unfortunately, he was not a careless person, and did not answer ‘yes’ instinctively, but pointed at himself and said with a natural smile.
He answered with a clear voice, and my body froze in place. So it’s him after all, all my doubts became conviction; I shook my head slowly,
“No, you’re not Kasai. You’re Yōzō Ōba, but that’s not your real name either.”
“What are you saying? I don’t understand at all. What’s the matter?”
He probably noticed he was being probed, and seemed to intend on insisting that he isn’t Kasai—unfortunately, this attempt to throw me off would not work.
“Why do you think I was calling you?”
I pointed at the road; there was a housewife passing by, going to do her shopping. Normally, when an unfamiliar name was called, anyone would think someone else is called. If he had not heard of this name, he would not have made such an immediate response.
The silence continued, and the man in front of me narrowed his eyes slightly.
“…How unexpected, I didn’t think you were a famous detective like that woman either.”
Kikuya Kasai—Yōzō Ōba said with a mocking tone, and I glared at him wordlessly. This man injured her badly; I told myself, this is someone who may do something unexpected. Just when I got ready to capture him,
“Can’t be helped.”
Kasai muttered, and ran out. He got on the bicycle parked beside the shop, and immediately escaped at breakneck speed. I watched his large back disappear into the evening dusk. I was dumbstruck by his quick getaway, but a chill immediately struck my entire body.
“Please help me watch the shop!”
I called out to Shida, who widened his eyes, took out my cellphone, and ran to the motor scooter parked in front of the shop. Since his identity was revealed, Ōba’s next step would be obvious. He probably wants to get The Late Years no matter the means.
I answered him carelessly when he asked me.
The real copy of The Late Years First Edition was with Shinokawa at the hospital.
Ōba was headed for the hospital; I had to hurry up and tell her that danger imminent. My fingers shuddered slightly as I pressed the keys of the cellphone, and once I sent the message, I immediately rushed to the hospital.
As I was dashing to the hospital on the scooter, the cellphone in my pocket shook. I pulled it out while trying my best not to reduce speed, lowered my head and glanced at the cellphone screen. It was a message from Shinokawa, and it was a very short reply,
“I am running to the roof. Please help me buy some time.”
I closed the cellphone and started to ponder over the content. Was she escaping to the roof as it was dangerous for her to be in the ward room? I could understand that, but what about ‘buy some time’?
I took the shortest path, and got to Ōfuna General Hospital in around 5 minutes. I parked my scooter near the main entrance, and found a familiar bicycle lying sideways on the flower bed.
I immediately stopped in my tracks. That was Ōba’s bicycle; though I gave full chase, he managed to get there one step ahead of me. That man had arrived at this hospital.
I was about to run to the automatic sliding door, but a piece of cloth floated in front of me. It was a purple fukusa; just when I was about to wave it aside, I found this a little familiar. It was the fukusa used to wrap The Late Years.
I lifted my head and stared at the building. All the windows of the ward rooms were tightly shut, so this fukusa must have dropped from the roof. I did not know if it was thrown down deliberately, but I knew that Shinokawa must have been at the rooftop. It would be best if Ōba did not find her.
With a prayerful heart, I dashed through the corridor and ran to the elevator. I passed by the clinic registration room, and found that there was practically no one to be seen on the lobby. The two elevators lined beside each other were headed to other levels.
I clicked my tongue and ran up the stairs. My footsteps sounded exceptionally loud. In my heart, I deeply regretted that I let Ōba escape successfully at the shop entrance. If only I had noticed it earlier—I ran up the many platforms on the flights of stairs, and kicked down the door at the end viciously.
The concrete roof surrounded by a white parapet was very spacious. At this moment, nightfall had arrived, and it seemed nobody would have deliberately made their way here. There were only two profiles under the roof shade.
I saw the two people staring at each other, and my limbs were a little limp. One of them was Shinokawa, seated on the wheelchair, hugging The Late Years tightly in front of her chest. The other was the tall and lanky handsome man—Yōzō Ōba, standing a few steps away from her. He found her.
I was about to charge right between them, but at that moment, I froze and stopped. Ōba was holding a large pair of scissors in his hands; it was the item he said he brought along whenever he went, and the long sharp blades were pointed at Shinokawa’s face. She gave me a glance with her pale face—don’t move, it seemed this was what she wanted to tell me.
“Yes, it’s better for him not to move.”
Ōba exclaimed with a loud voice,
“I won’t damage the book, but I’ll show no mercy for people.”
He spoke with the ‘Kasai’ tone that sounded pretentious and yet affectionate. My mind was a little confused; upon seeing him, I really could not believe the one talking in front of me was really the one who pushed Shinokawa.
“…Even if you get the book, you won’t be able to escape from here.”
I tried my best not to agitate him, and spoke quietly.
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t even know my real name. Once I leave this land, even the police will have difficulty tracking me. After I change this face, I can start again somewhere else. I can also go overseas and hide for a while.”
He rattled on about his plan, and the scale of this plan astounded me. Now that I think about it, since he pushed Shinokawa and moved away from Kamakara, it was not be surprising to think he would approach this shop with another false name.
“…Is there a need for you to go to this extent just for a mere book?”
I nonchalantly said. Suddenly, Ōba showed a belittling expression, and glanced at me coldly as if he were staring at living trash.
“Someone like you would not understand, even if this book is right in front of you.”
The tip of the scissors in Ōba’s hand were pointed at Shinokawa’s The Late Years.
“There are only a few copies of this version, and it’s practically a miracle for this to be preserved in such an intact state after being passed down. I’m a little surprised that you don’t understand this. This book not only contains the contents; the experiences this book went through is also a story too… I want to get that story as well.”
I faintly felt a sense of familiarity—Ōba’s words felt similar to Shinokawa’s words. No, that was just my thought.
“Even if you have to snatch it from someone else’s hands?”
“There’s nothing bad about that. This book also has this line ‘To all living things, live on with confidence. We are all to become sinners’ …this line is a blessing to people like me. As for me, nothing matters as long as I have books. I CAN GIVE UP MY FAMILY, FRIENDS, INHERITANCE, OR EVEN MY NAME; THIS IS MY TRUE IDEAL. NO MATTER HOW MUCH OF A SACRIFICE I NEED TO MAKE, OR HOW MANY YEARS, I MUST HAVE THAT BOOK!”
Ōba yelled with bloodshot eyes, and I shuddered. I thought everything would be solved once I caught this man, but he was obviously not someone that easy to deal with. Even if he were arrested and convicted, he might try to steal The Late Years again. Shinokawa and I will be pursued by him for the rest of our lives.
“This woman too is the same as me. She’s gives the same presence as me… we’ll feel happy as long as we’re surrounded by books.”
“Don’t you dare associate her with you, you bastard. You two are completely different.”
I recalled the ward room filled with old books as I said that. It was true she liked books, but there was a decisive difference between her and this man; I was certain that she definitely would not hurt or deceive anyone else.
“It’s about time to end our conversation now. How about you try to advise her to give me the book.”
I suddenly noticed that Ōba did not try to snatch The Late Years from Shinokawa, as he was afraid of dirtying the book. It was because he clearly knew that Shinokawa was clinging onto this valuable book.
“…I don’t have that much time.”
Ōba slowly brought the scissors to her face. Though he was being cautious, he could do anything if Shinokawa did not hand the book over. In that case, Shinokawa would be in danger, since she could not walk, let alone protect herself.
I made the decision to charge over during this time. My first priority would be to protect Shinokawa, followed by The Late Years. There was still some distance, but as long as I could grab a certain part of his body, I believe that I can suppress him even if he resist with all his might. I glided my feet slowly towards him and lowered my center of gravity slightly.
“Mr. Yōzō Ōba, I am different from you.”
At this moment, Shinokawa, who had remained silent all this while, suddenly spoke, and I inadvertently stopped what I was doing. She stared at Ōba with strong will in her eyes, and did not seem to have noticed the scissors tips. In the face of such a drastic change, Ōba too was taken aback.
“I had been thinking… to me, there are more important things than old books. Thus, I need to end things here.”
She kicked the floor with her left leg that was free. The wheelchair slid backwards smoothly, crashed into the parapet 1m away, and stopped. The distance between her and Ōba increased slightly, and just when the latter was about to approach her…
“Do not come near!”
Shinokawa raised The Late Years like a shield. The texture of the paper obviously looked aged, and was different from the paper texture of the reprint edition in the shop. As the roof was slowly covered by the shroud of night above, she flipped aside the cover to reveal the inside. I could vaguely see the words written by Osamu Dazai—”To all living things, live on with confidence. We are all to become sinners”.
“Perhaps Dazai wanted to encourage someone as he gave this book away. I do not know what happened when it reached my grandfather’s hands, but I was severely injured because of it. You will be arrested by the police… after 70 years, this book is living in a different era from Dazai’s time, and it’s become a book nobody can gain happiness from.”
She reached her hand into her pajamas pocket, and took out something.
“This book is the culprit behind everything, so—”
A clear stern voice rang in the darkness, causing me to shudder. I could clearly see what she was holding from between her fingers, and inadvertently cried out. That was a one-time-use lighter.
“Let us end everything here.”
The moment Ōba hollered, the lighter burned the book. At that moment, the flames spread on the paraffin paper wrapped on the cover. She threw The Late Years over the parapet without hesitation.
Ōba wailed as if his body was being burned, and tried to climb over the parapet as he chased after The Late Years that was thrown away. I too hurried over, and managed to grab Ōba by his belt at the last moment, when he was about to leap over.
“IDIOT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?”
This hospital is 6 levels high, and certain death awaited those who jumped down. Even so, Ōba continued to holler and struggle.
The Late Years dropped onto the roof of the entrance, and burned away as it smoked. It no longer existed in the form of a book.
The moment Ōba relaxed, I suplexed him onto the concrete floor, held down his wrist joints and exerted pressure on them. Our physiques were similar, but I managed to pin him down successfully. It seemed he never trained in any martial arts.
There were footsteps coming from the stairs. Someone must have noticed the commotion here; there would be people here soon. Ōba continued to struggle under me, and his groaning voice sounded like sobbing.
I heaved a sigh of relief and looked over at Shinokawa. She seemed to have lost her strength as she collapsed back onto the wheelchair—I suddenly recalled the contents of the email she sent me. It seemed this was what she was referring to when she said, ‘help me buy some time’. She intended to burn The Late Years once she knew Ōba would come to the hospital.
“…Is it really alright?”
I could not help but ask. I really could not believe she would do such a thing when she viewed books to be as important as her life. After thinking again, she concluded,
“Right…I had no choice to do this.”
The book worth several million yen became ash and floated to the sky. As she watched it silently, I was surprised by how composed she was; it felt like she did not lose anything at all.
Ōba would not be able to threaten her anymore. Everything was over.
Shinokawa reached her hand out and picked up something. It was a leather business card holder for men, but it was not my stuff, so it was probably something Ōba dropped. Several cards dropped out from the card holder that was folded. She took one of them, and upon looking at it, her expression changed drastically.
“Mr. Goura… this is…”
She spoke with a hoarse voice as she handed the card to me. I tried to bring my face as close as possible in the midst of this dim night. It was a driver’s license, and though the photo was Ōba’s, the name was different.
So this was his real name! It was not Kikuya Kasai nor Yōzō Ōba. Well, it certain was a plain name, and perhaps he used a false name because of this.
I was startled. A month ago, I had come across a similar name. I lowered my head and looked at this man I suppressed. He was as tall as me. I remembered Shinokawa saying that Yōzō Ōba had a similar voice to mine.
Shida said that he was born in Hase of Kamakura, and his ancestors’ graves were there. If that was true, naturally, the conclusion was that this man’s grandfather used to live in Kamakura.
“…Just to ask, is your grandfather named Yoshio Tanaka?”
I asked softly. This man called Yoshio Tanaka could be my grandmother’s lover—and this may be a man related to me by blood. Tanaka curled his lips and looked up at me.
“Yoshio Tanaka is my grandfather…how did you know?”
“The Tanakas ran a trading firm since the Meiji era. I heard the family business was bustling before grandfather inherited. I am the only Tanaka left…just look at me now.”
Toshio Tanaka remarked wryly with a self-deprecating tone. His moustache was long, but there was a wild charm left behind. I thought it was a good thing to be a handsome man.
“Grandfather was the one who gave me this name. It’s a bad name, right? He simply changed his name a little.”
We were looking at each other through the transparent panel. 5 days after Tanaka was arrested, I went to visit him at the detention center.
According to the police, investigations were proceeding smoothly. He clearly pleaded guilty to pushing down Shinokawa and breaking into the Shinokawas’ house; after committing many crimes that include distress, unsuccessful theft, and intimidation, there was no doubt that he had to serve jail time.
They investigated Toshio Tanaka’s past, and found all sorts of problems—in the past, he worked at an Antiquarian Bookshop for a while, stole some products and added them to part of his collection. After he was fired, he started an auction business on the internet, and started some scams that got him in trouble. It seemed there were a lot of criminal counts against him.
“Your grandfather…well, has he died?”
After hesitating for a while, I asked. One of the reasons why I started work at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia was because I wanted to hear news regarding Yoshio Tanaka.
“…It seems you just want to ask about Grandfather.”
“Ah, actually, my grandparents were on good terms with him. He seemed to have visited my house before… so I often hear his name.”
“So that’s how it is.”
Tanaka did not give a suspicious look even after hearing my words, and nodded,
“Grandfather died 15 years ago. That was a little while after he sold our house in Kamakura and moved our entire family to Tokyo.”
In other words, nobody knew of the relationship my grandmother had with this Yoshio Tanaka. It was a little of a pity that he died without anyone knowing the details, but I was a little relieved to know that grandmother’s secret would not be revealed.
“What kind of person was your grandfather?”
“He was very tall, and if you compare the photos, I look very similar to grandfather when he was young. He was a nice person, often took care of others, and had a relatively wide array of relationships. He also has contact with movie stars and producers; I heard he often ate and drank with them… wasn’t there a filming studio in Ofuna?”
I nodded as I hid my expression. I already understood what sort of relationship my grandmother had with him.
“However, the company business didn’t go well, and everyone left. By the time I took over, our house was the only asset left. My parents worked hard, trying to earn back a little of our inheritance, so I was left under grandfather’s care… the two of us practically lived together. Grandfather passionately took care of me and often talked about old books with me. When he was young, he was a collector of old books, and he was the one who taught me the basic knowledge regarding them… however, our shop did not have a single old book left at that time. He had sold them all. It was that time when I started loving old books; I just kept listening to him, but I could not read at all. I was a kid who wanted to read, but could not…”
As I continued to listen, I had an inexplicable feeling rising within me. His childhood experience was somewhat similar to mine, and I inadvertently felt a sense of familiarity with him.
“Let me tell you something good… I never said this to anyone else before.”
Tanaka enthusiastically leaned over and placed his hands on the transparent panel. The police officer watching over us in the meeting room frowned, but did not say anything in the end.
“It’s likely that The Late Years originally belongs to my grandfather.”
I widened my eyes. It seemed my response delighted Tanaka, and he continued on.
“Grandfather often lamented… that because of financial difficulties, he sold the uncut copy of The Late Years with the signature inside it, and seemed to have sold it cheaply. It seemed he really regretted over it.”
At this point, I finally understood why Tanaka was so obsessed with The Late Years. I guess he wanted to commemorate his grandfather through that book. I recalled the words Shinokawa said, I feel that old books that are handed down have their own stories as well, and not simply the contents of the stories within.
However, there was not a single trace of this book left.
I felt something was amiss inside my heart. I had this same feeling on the hospital roof 5 days ago.
“Speaking about which, what about that woman? Is she still leisurely reading books in the hospital?”
Tanaka suddenly said with a scathing tone, ostensibly venting his frustrations. It seemed he was still furious at Shinokawa for burning The Late Years, and at this point, I inadvertently glared back at him.
“…She’s still in the hospital. Isn’t that because of you?”
This man had no right to tell off Shinokawa. Tanaka clicked his tongue, probably unable to rebut, and looked aside.
“I thought she would not let go of the book if I did not do this… because she seemed to be someone like me. But I was mistaken; that woman doesn’t really like old books. Anyone who likes old books would definitely not do such a thing.
“Why can you be so certain?”
She was someone who definitely loved books, no matter whose opinion it was. I understood such people, as my family had a ‘bookworm’ too.
But Toshio Tanaka seemed to have his own opinion.
“I can say this firmly. As far as I know, a collector would definitely never burn a book. He would keep the book with him no matter the means.”
You still want to argue? I was about to argue back, but I could not say anything.
He would keep the book with him no matter the means.
The lingering erroneous sense in my head, which remained unsolved, suddenly linked together.
On that moment, 5 days ago—no, I felt something was amiss before that, when ‘Yōzō Ōba’ came to the shop, when she explained about The Late Years.
I unconsciously kicked the chair away and stood up.
So that’s how it is? There’s no other explanation.
“What is it? You don’t look good.”
Tanaka stared at my face suspiciously, and I shook my head slowly. There was no way I could let this man realize the truth.
“…I should head back now.”
I wanted to say that I would be back, but I resisted the urge. As long as the link between our bloodlines was not revealed, there was nothing I could say to this man, and there was no need for me to meet him in the future. Just when I called out to the police officer indicating that I wanted to leave the meeting room.
“I had been thinking ever since I first met you last month.”
Tanaka’s voice came from behind.
“Did you meet me in the past somewhere? I seem to be able to talk a lot when I’m with you… it seems like we once interacted with each other somewhere.”
At that instant, I did not know how to answer. There was interaction, but it was not us, but during our grandparents’ era.
“No, we’re unacquainted strangers who never knew each other before.”
I knocked on the ward room door, but there was no reply. I then opened the door and entered.
Shioriko was lying on the mattress of the reclining machine bed that was slightly lowered, her eyes closed. It was a scene similar to the one when I first arrived.
The gentle sunlight finally had some presence of autumn as it lit the entire room. Her silky face and hairs on her wrists were glittering white. With the thought that she was a pretty person after all, I pulled the chair to her and sat down.
The legs of the chair rubbed against the floor, letting out a screeching noise. I was tired from thinking over everything, and was not in the state of mind to pull the chair quietly. The thin eyelids behind the glasses then opened slowly.
Shinokawa’s detected my existence right beside her, and hurriedly lowered her head in ostensible embarrassment. She adjusted her glasses, and hid her blushing face.
“Eh, erm…sorry…I-I…didn’t hear that you were coming today…so…”
“Sorry for coming over so suddenly.”
Her stare wavered nervously. This however, was rather unrestrained compared to how it was a month ago, and I could understand her easily no matter what she said. I could see she was troubled.
As I thought about what I had to say next, my heart felt a little heavy.
“I went to meet Toshio Tanaka today.”
Her black irises twitched, and she glanced at my face. Her mind was probably thinking about all kinds of things at this moment,
But she merely said this. As she never asked ‘what did you two talk about’, I had no choice but to continue.
“He said you were lying when you said that you liked books, Shinokawa.”
“…Why is that so?”
“Because you burned The Late Years.”
“…What did you say regarding that issue…Mr. Goura?”
“I asked him why he was able to say that so confidently.”
“…That…erm…what exactly is that topic you talked about?”
“We talked about whether you like books, Shinokawa. Is there anything else?”
She suddenly went silent. My expression and voice were terse, and I felt I was clearly showing the reason why I came here. She too probably realized it, but had no intention of revealing it to me.
“Shinokawa, do you like books?”
“…I would like to assume so.”
This answer was practically the same as telling me the truth at this point.
I pointed at the safe at the bottom of the rack.
“Can I check what’s inside the safe again?”
She did not say anything, undid the button of her pajamas, and reached her hand towards her chest. Her skin that was not tanned by the daylight looked pale, and she took out a little key from the front of her chest. I received the key, and used it to open the safe.
There was something wrapped with purple fukusa placed inside. Unfortunately, it was just as I thought.
I returned to the chair, laid the package on my lap and opened it. A book appeared from within the fukusa, and the whitened cover had a handwritten title on it. The two sides of the pages remained uncut; it was left uncut. Of course, there was the wrapper.
I cautiously opened the cover, and found the small handwriting over it—“To all living things, live on with confidence. We are all to become sinners.”
The copy on my lap was the First Edition of Osamu Dazai’s The Late Years that was supposedly burned.
“I guess this one here is the real The Late Years.”
I said. it was not a question, but simply a confirmation.
“The burned book that time was a fake.”
“…How did you know?”
Shinokawa asked with a feeble voice.
“At first, I felt something inexplicable. Why…”
Just when I was about to start explaining, I grimaced. Such an introduction did not suit me at all; she had always been the one revealing the truth, and I would be the one listening—but our positions have switched around. Besides, I was the one who solved this mystery.
“Why wouldn’t you make a police report, or if you didn’t do this, couldn’t you have asked someone else for help…? Even considering all the various reasons you had, Shinokawa it was weird that you and I ended up looking for ‘Yōzō Ōba’ by ourselves.”
“But the decisive moment was what happened 5 days ago. After thinking about that… I already gave you a warning through email, but why didn’t you ask the hospital staff for help?”
And this person deliberately escaped to the roof, where no one else was present. If she had escaped to somewhere else with people around, that man would not have been able to threaten her.
“I was thinking if you did all of that deliberately, Shinokawa, you needed to run to a place nobody else would be at, and have a showdown against ‘Yōzō Ōba’… there was only one reason for this. You wanted to show him the scene of The Late Years being burned. You wanted to make sure that man doesn’t appear in front of you again with the memory etched deeply in him, to make him think that the book he wants doesn’t exist anymore… right?”
I stopped and waited for her reply, but a heavy silence drifted in this place. There was not even a single excuse or explanation, and that really infuriated me.
“But it would have been suspicious if you simply called him over and burned the book. That’s why you made that man find out where The Late Years is, made him come to the hospital to snatch it… Shida said back then, ‘Kikuya Kasai isn’t a real name’, ‘anyone who loves books in this market would have noticed this’. You already noticed it too, right? Of course, you knew that ‘Kikuya Kasai’ and ‘Youzou Ooba’ were the same person, so you made use of the fact that he entered and exited the shop…”
I was getting to the crux of the topic, but she still showed no response as she merely lowered her head slightly. I felt more frustrated by the lack of response I got.
“You should have some reprint copies of The Late Years. When you explained about the reprints to me, you said that you bought ‘a few copies’… you prepared two copies for this purpose, one to be displayed at the shop, and the book that was burned here. The book placed in the shop was just a flimsy fake, and even your sister and I could tell the difference… ’Kasai’ would definitely see through it, and your aim was to make him ask me where the real copy is. Of course, I trusted that man, and told him where the real one was. On the other hand, you deliberately made a disguise for the reprint edition you wanted to burn. You made the pages look old, and accurately imitated the words Dazai personally penned on the inside of the cover… since you had the original with you, it wouldn’t have been difficult to make it look the same once you had all the tools. It was evening back then, and we all thought that was the real copy because we couldn’t see clearly… after seeing the flimsy fake the last time around, the intricately faked reprint copy looked just like the real thing. You even used such a psychological effect, I suppose? Toshio Tanaka and I were fooled completely by you.”
I finished what I wanted to say in one go, and finally caught my breath. There should be no problems with my reasoning here; this real copy of The Late Years here is the most powerful proof.
Shinokawa, who remained still on the bed like stone, suddenly lowered her head at me. I could hear the teeny-weeny mosquito-like cry from here.
“…I am really sorry for lying to you like this…”
I looked away. Of course, I would be furious after being fooled this much, after being made use off so nonchalantly. However, there was another reason why I was furious; because she was important to me.
“Why must you do everything by yourself?”
“You should have told me the reason for protecting the real copy of The Late Years right from the beginning, and that ‘Kasai’ was weird. There was no need to make such a risk in the first place, right?”
5 days ago, if she had been careless, Shinokawa would have been stabbed by that man. If I had known about what happened, I could have lured ‘Kasai’ to the hospital more safely, and she could then burn the book. She planned such an elaborate trap, so why did she choose such a dangerous method? That was the aspect I was most infuriated by.
“That’s because…I thought you wouldn’t help me, Mr. Goura…”
She said hoarsely.
“Why do you think that way? Of course I would have assisted you, right?”
During this 1 month, I thought we were getting along well. She liked to talk about books, and I liked to hear about them. I thought there was something a little special between the two of us, and I at least trusted her.
“That’s because…you’re not someone who reads books…”
She uttered out those words with great difficulty.
“…I thought you may not be able to understand… the feeling of wanting to leave your favorite book with you no matter what you do. That’s because… it’s just a book to you.”
I was ostensibly struck by lightning at this point. I clearly stated that when we faced off against that man on the hospital roof—is there a need for you to go to this extent just for a mere book?
Those words hurt her. I could not say that I never had such thoughts ever since I started working here; after all, I was someone unable to get involved with books. I did not understand the feelings of someone who viewed books to be as important as their lives, and she clearly saw through this aspect.
“However, I thought I had no choice… but to not trust you…”
Her words seemed distant to me when I heard them, and I slowly stood up. My anger had dissipated completely; at this point, all that was left was the feeling to immediately get away from here. In the end, it was just me trying to to establish a continual relationship with her.
”That might be a little difficult, because all bookworms like those that are similar to them.”
So that was how it was, Grandmother.
I did not understand this person at all, and at the crucial moment, I was someone she could not trust.
“E-erm, I am… really sorry…”
She widened her eyes. This startled response however surprised me a little.
“I’m returning this to you.”
I forcefully stuffed the shop key that was entrusted to me into the palm of her hand, which rested on the blanket. And then, I took a large step back and put distance between us.
“Mr. Goura… e-erm, I still have things to talk…”
I ignored her panicked voice and lowered my head deeply. I did not want to hear her apologize any further, as it would dishearten me even further.
“I’m sorry to trouble you so much during this short time.”
- To those who read the ‘Book Girl’ series, the first volume ‘Suicidal Mime’ was based on his work ‘No Longer Human’
- Japanese textile used either for gift wrapping or for polishing during a tea ceremony.
- Note that this story was written in 2010. Osamu Dazai was born in 1910
- Also used as the protagonist in ‘No Longer Human’
- Original has it shortened to ほるぷ. Acronym is HOLP. As its name imply, the objective of this publishing group is to promote reading, either local works, or translated foreign works. Website: http://www.holp-pub.co.jp/