The Poison Pin in the Coach
車中の毒針 [Shachu no Dokubari]
Synopsis by Ian McArthur.
Date of first publication: 1891. A detective mystery in 14 parts. Adaptation of the 1881 tale Le Crime de l’Omnibus by French mystery writer Fortuné du Boisgobey.
A mysterious woman begs to board a full, late night coach in Paris. The coachman refuses her a seat, but when a male passenger offers to give up his seat and sit outside with the coachman, the coachman relents and allows the woman on board. When the coach reaches its terminus, the woman and a young artist, Motokichi Kanô, are the only remaining passengers. When Kanô and the coachman attempt to wake the woman, they realise she is dead. Kanô gives a statement to the police and is allowed to go home, but realises he has left his walking stick in the coach. He returns to the coach and finds a pin of the type used by women in their dress. He takes the pin home.
Kanô’s art student Itô arrives the next morning and while waiting for Kanô to finish a painting of his still-life model Onobu, Itô teases Kanô’s cat with the pin, pricking the cat. The cat dies instantly. They deduce that the pin is poisoned. Itô persuades Kanô not to go to the police, but to allow him to attempt to find the killer because his hobby is detective work. Ito keeps the pin and departs.
Kanô keeps an appointment at the opera with his retired businessman acquaintance Mr. Yamada and Yamada’s daughter Otaka. Yamada is toying with the idea of marrying Otaka to Kanô. From their box at the opera, Kanô notices two people in the audience who glance at Yamada and bow to him. Yamada feigns ignorance of them, saying he once had business dealings with the man who is a shonky lawyer, that he thinks his name was Tsuchiya, but recalls little else about him. Kanô recognises the man as the one who gave up his seat on the coach for the dead woman and the woman with him as the one who sat beside the dead woman. A servant of Yamada brings a telegram advising of the death in Germany of Yamada’s brother, Ichizô Yamada. Yamada immediately leaves the opera. Following the performance, Kanô attempts to follow the two people spotted in the audience, but they realise they are being followed and evade him.
Surmising they might have something to do with the death of the woman on the coach, Ito visits a pub to seek the assistance of a drinking acquaintance called Tsuchiya in an attempt to locate the two people.
He informs him of the need to identify the dead woman and gives him the pin. An old, mostly deaf man is the only other customer in the pub and Tsuchiya tells Itô there is no possibility the man can overhear them.
The next day, Tsuchiya takes Itô to the boarding house where the dead woman lived and urges him to talk to the occupants to find out her name. Ito chats to the woman’s landlady and together they visit the morgue to identify her. A doctor has pronounced the woman dead from a heart ailment. Ito learns that the dead woman was Okatsu Suzuki from Italy. The landlady takes the body and oversees burial arrangements.
Tsuchiya visits Yamada. He has been hired by Yamada to determine whether Yamada’s dead brother had descendants. Tsuchiya advises that the brother had a daughter named Okatsu by a mistress called Otomi Suzuki when living in Turin 20 years before. He tells Yamada that the brother’s will stipulates that his fortune, amounting to at least a million yen, should go to the daughter Okatsu. But Tsuchiya goes on to explain that this fortune can now go to Yamada since Okatsu has been found dead. Tsuchiya obtains a promissory note from Yamada stating that if Tsuchiya can obtain documentary proof of Okatsu’s death, Tsuchiya will gain a 20 percent share of the fortune. He explains to Yamada that this step will circumvent French law, which insists that if the beneficiary of a will cannot be located or proven dead, other family claimants can not receive the money until 30 years have elapsed.
Kanô is having difficulty painting Onobu because she is crying. Onobu confesses that her sister Okatsu has not visited her for three days and she is concerned for her safety. Ito arrives and informs them that the dead woman is also called Okatsu. On hearing this, Onobu faints just as Yamada and Otaka arrive at the studio unannounced. On recovering, Onobu is distraught and returns home. Itô tells Yamada about recent events. Yamada thus learns that his brother had two daughters. Back in the Yamada, home, Yamada is visited by Inoue, a clerk to his brother Ichizo in Germany. Inoue informs Yamada that the two daughters are from the same former mistress and that the will states that the money should go to both of them.
Kanô and Onobu visit Okatsu’s grave. There they meet Okatsu’s former landlady Chiyo Nagashima. Chiyo notices a woman in the cemetery whom she knows and goes over to greet her. The woman explains that she is passing time in the cemetery while waiting for a friend to return home nearby. The woman, who is really Tsuchiya’s wife, is shocked to learn from Chiyo that Okatsu has a younger sister.
Yamada visits Tsuchiya. He accuses Tsuchiya of not informing him of the existence of a sister to Okatsu. He offers to pay Tsuchiya 1000 ryô to release him from any further obligations, and demands the return of the promissory note. He accuses Tsuchiya of killing Okatsu. Tsuchiya denies this, but pleads with Yamada, implying he should allow him to fix matters concerning the remaining sister. Tsuchiya says he would rather keep the note than receive a mere 1000 ryô. After an angry Yamada leaves, Tsuchiya’s wife accuses Tsuchiya of stupidity in not accepting the 1000 ryô as the best offer under the circumstances. Tsuchiya convinces his wife to talk Onobu into visiting their house so they can kill her.
Onobu boards with an Italian beggar gang boss called Kinzô. Tsuchiya’s wife calls on Onobu and convinces Onobu that Kanô is a good-for-nothing womaniser and that she should have no more to do with him. She succeeds in convincing Onobu to come to her house.
Kanô and Itô call on Onobu, but the beggar gang boss Kinzô informs them she has gone away with an unknown woman. While they wait in her room for her to return, the clerk Inoue enters. Inoue explains how he has just arrived from Germany. He tells them he has come to inform Onobu of her inheritance. On hearing this, Itô says he now realises why Okatsu was killed and can surmise who did it. Ito deduces that the same women who evaded Kanô on the night of the opera must be the one who has taken Onobu away. He warns of the possibility Onobu will be killed. He departs, saying he will again ask Tsuchiya to help him find the woman.
Unable to find Tsuchiya at the pub, Ito encounters the deaf man Mr. Kimura who was in the pub the day Itô first asked Tsuchiya to help him. Kimura reveals to Ito that he is a detective who only poses as a deaf old man in order to glean gossip at the pub. He knows Itô is interested in the Okatsu killing and offers to take him to Tsuchiya’s house. He informs Itô that Tsuchiya is not to be trusted and that Tsuchiya has been in prison several times already. He also says Tsuchiya had known all along that the dead woman was Okatsu, but needed to use Itô to visit the morgue to obtain proof of Okatsu’s death so that he could gain part of the inheritance from Yamada. While Itô waits outside, Kimura resumes his disguise as a deaf old man and calls on Tsuchiya. During the visit, he tells Tsuchiya that there is gossip at the pub that Itô has informed the police that Okatsu was poisoned. Thinking Kimura cannot hear, Tsuchiya tells his wife to inform Onobu that they will all depart on an early train for Italy.
Kimura poses as a coachman and takes Tsuchiya’s wife and Onobu to the graveyard for one last visit. On the way, he stops outside Kano’s house and insists that Tsuchiya’s wife enter the house. When she refuses, he forces her out of the coach and into a confrontation with Kanô, Itô, and Inoue. There, he takes off his coachman’s disguise to reveal himself as the deaf old man who has just visited her home. He tells her that he knows she was the killer of Okatsu and demands that she hand over a poisoned pin which he surmises she now holds. He threatens to use force on her if she does not hand it over and confess. Unable to deny anything any longer, she takes out the pin, stabs herself, and drops dead.
It is May, three months later. Onobu has married Kanô. Onobu is sitting in the living room knitting and doing embroidery when Kanô enters and kisses her. He has come back from the court where Tsuchiya has been sentenced to death for the killing of Okatsu and Yamada has been sentenced to life imprisonment after the promissory note was found during a police search of Tsuchiya’s home. ‘That all happened three years ago,’ Black concludes. ‘I have heard that they have since had a baby boy. I do not know what will happen to the couple, but I join with you, dear readers, in wishing them a long and happy life together.’