chapter two — the blue rose
The train whistle sounded.
Holding his book bag in one hand, Kazuya rushed to the platform of the village’s single small station as it wobbled unsteadily from the vibrations of the approaching steam engine. It was the weekend, and the trains heading from the mountains into the city were packed with people. Villagers wearing their Sunday best elbowed each other onto the train. Kazuya joined the line and climbed aboard through a large iron door.
He walked through a narrow corridor and peeked through the glass windows of the small passenger compartments. But each one already had three or four travelers sitting down and making themselves comfortable while reading books or opening lunch boxes of roast chicken and bread. The train was crowded everywhere Kazuya looked, and he hesitated from entering any of the compartments. Besides, if he were to run into any older ladies with children, as soon as they saw the exotic boy from the Orient, they would start asking for his name, age, where he went to school, and every other detail of his life. He had already experienced that when he took the train to St. Marguerite’s after his ship arrived in Sauvure.
Kazuya found a compartment that contained only one young man sitting by himself, looking out of the window with his chin resting in his hand. Deciding that this place would do, Kazuya carefully opened the metal door, and politely asked, “May I sit here?”
The man, still looking outside the window, coolly replied, “Go ahead.”
Kazuya closed the door, and sat down in the seat across from the man, who appeared to be a noble. The man was dressed so impeccably in his fine silk shirt, silver cufflinks, and polished boots, that it made Kazuya wonder if even a woman would have gone to so much trouble to dress herself. And that pose of his—gazing outside the window, legs crossed, his head resting wearily in his hand—looked suspiciously affected.
The man sighed, then turned toward Kazuya.
Kazuya gave a shout and jumped out of his seat.
The man’s hair tapered to an unnatural point on the top of his head and glittered like a golden drill. It could be none other than Inspector Gréville de Blois.
When the inspector also realized who was sitting across from him, at first his mouth fell open in shock, and then a severely displeased look appeared on his face. “Well, it’s you!”
“That’s what I was going to say! Shoot, maybe I should move to another—”
“They’re all full.”
“…I guess so.” Kazuya reluctantly sat back down.
They both hung their heads in disappointment.
After a few moments of silence, the inspector spoke aloud what was running through both their minds. “This is truly tiresome. Must we even run into each other in a place like this?”
“My thoughts exactly.”
And then they said no more to each other. They turned their eyes toward the window and to their shopping lists, but after about half an hour, they eventually ran out of things to do.
“So, Kujou, how about some small talk?”
“Small talk? You and me?”
“Well, we’ve got nothing else to do.”
Kazuya grudgingly nodded, and the inspector faced him gravely.
Still, what could they possibly talk about? At first, they tried to discuss global affairs and the recent world war, but inevitably, a police inspector who was a member of the nobility in a powerful Western European country and a scholar of commoner background from an island country in the Far East had almost nothing on which they could see eye to eye. But since Kazuya was still in school and had the advantage in knowledge, he ran circles around the inspector’s arguments, and soon forced him to hastily change the subject. “That reminds me, Kujou.”
“Yes?” Kazuya replied breathlessly. He hadn’t had the opportunity to best someone in a debate for a long time, and he was feeling exhilarated.
“Speaking of the Great War. Do you know the reason that I’m heading to Sauvrème right now?”
“…How do you expect me to know that? I’m not Victorique. I wouldn’t know things that I’ve never heard before.” Kazuya added raggedly, “After all, I’m just a half-wit with a talent for the mediocre.”
“Why are you announcing that so proudly?” Inspector de Blois asked, frowning. “Anyway, I’m going to Sauvrème because I was called there by the Sauvure national police. The current superintendent is a man by the name of Signore. He’s reached a high post for someone of his age, and yet he’s also utterly without imagination. There’s a certain case that the national police has been racking their brains over, and they’re asking me, the great detective, to solve it for them.”
“Are you sure you’ll be all right on your own?” Kazuya asked with a touch of sarcasm, still bewildered by the sudden change in topic.
The inspector ignored him. “My boy, do you know what our country lost during the Great War?”
“What it lost? The war itself was won, but young lives were lost in battle, historical buildings were destroyed in the firebombing, and—”
“I’m talking about the treasure of the royal family.” The inspector clicked his tongue in disgust. “The treasury of the Sauvurean royal family was looted in the chaos of the war, and many historically valuable works of art vanished. It was believed that they had long since crossed the Atlantic to be snatched up by some nouveau riche collectors in the New World, but now it seems that they’ve been in Sauvure all this time. Which means…”
Kazuya was getting a feeling that he had heard a story like this very recently. As he thought back and tried to remember who had told it to him, the inspector continued, “Several years ago, some of those art pieces resurfaced on the Sauvure black market. And that’s not all. The valuables of the Romanov family were thought to have disappeared without a trace after they were relocated to Europe right before the Russian Revolution in 1917, but they also ended up on the European black market, along with some of the archaeological artifacts that were coming in from the colonies. And that black market appears to be in Sauvrème. We have received word that collectors from all over Western Europe have been secretly gathering in Sauvrème lately. But we haven’t been able to get any leads on them. That’s why the superintendent called for the assistance of my superior brain. What do you think?”
“What do I think…?”
“Marvelous, isn’t it?”
“Um, sure,” Kazuya said, nodding.
The inspector sighed and shook his head, then brought his hands up to his pointed, drill-like hair and lovingly began to adjust it. “Hmm…” As he stroked his hair, he gazed at Kazuya for lack of anything else to do.
And then he pulled out his pocket watch, lifted the cover, and gravely intoned, “One hour left.”
“Now it’s your turn. Tell me something interesting.”
“No, thank you!” Kazuya promptly turned away from him, and focused his eyes on the scenery outside the window.
Over the course of their conversation, the train had left the lush green mountain valleys and had advanced steadily toward the city. The foliage visible from the window was thinning out, giving way to gently-rolling plains packed with dense rows of houses lining streets that bustled with automobiles and carriages.
It sure is lonely to go shopping on your own, Kazuya suddenly thought to himself.
And then he began to think back to the previous two times that he had gone on unexpected journeys with his petite friend, Victorique de Blois. He had exploded in rage when she called him “stupid” in that letter, but by now the strangest thing had happened—his feelings of irritation had completely dissolved. Instead, all that was left were memories of Victorique’s incomparably strange behavior when they had gone traveling for the first time.
She didn’t even know how to buy a ticket, didn’t understand how much money she needed to bring with her, and had wandered every which way. While riding the train, she gazed out of the window in awe, and when they reached the station, her questions about this and that were endless. And when Kazuya whistled for a carriage, her eyes opened so wide….
Back then, Kazuya hadn’t known anything about Victorique’s circumstances. Therefore, when he had said to her, “You don’t get out much, do you?” she instantly fell into a silent sulk. But that sullen face of hers was still so adorable to him.
And their second trip together was thoroughly unpleasant. Victorique was in a foul mood from the start, and spent the whole time ignoring Kazuya. But at the very end, she had told him, “Kujou, let’s go home together!”
That alone made everything worth it for him. The indignation he felt toward her spitefulness, her devilishly sharp tongue, and her ill humor always had a way of dissolving like magic with no more than a handful of words from her….
Feeling someone else’s gaze on him, he looked up, and found Inspector de Blois staring intently at him with weary eyes.
Kazuya broke the silence. “Why do I have to be here with you?”
“Stole the words right out of my mouth.” The inspector’s eyes, the same green as his half-sister’s, were slightly wet; perhaps he was contemplating some melancholy thoughts of his own. He fixed Kazuya with a reproachful glare. “For God’s sake… Having to run into you like this really gets my goat.”
“The feeling is mutual.”
“I’m sick of looking at you.”
The steam locomotive continued to clatter down the rails, carrying the two disgruntled men.
Before long, an hour had passed, and the train finally pulled into its destination in Sauvrème.