Delta In The Darkness - Scene 5
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Translator: Mr. Steak
At exactly four o’clock, Horokusa Junpei was standing in front of the main entrance to House Oumei Rokkaku. On the ground, large stones were arranged flat and flush with each other, and they sparkled as if they’d just been splashed with water.
Just about ten minutes prior, he’d received a phone call from Odawara Shizue. Despite being Sunday, the day was turning out to be quite a busy one for him. He’d received a request by phone for an unusually large job, so in order to perform the necessary arrangements for that, he’d intended to spend most of the day making various phone calls here and there, but when he was suddenly told by Odawara Shizue to come meet her immediately, he was left with no choice, so he abandoned the job for the time being and left the apartment.
There was an intercom, but before pushing the button, he looked around at his surroundings. This was the first time he’d ever come here.
Between the main gate and the front entrance to the mansion, there was a wide stone pathway extending perfectly straight for a distance of around one hundred meters. Visible to the right as you walked, there was an asphalt parking lot at a slightly lower level, in which three automobiles were parked. Opposite that, on the left side, there was a pond. This mansion’s main gate was left wide open at all times during the day. He’d even heard that children from the neighborhood would come play in the gardens sometimes.
Horokusa was not very well-read on architecture. It looked like it was probably built around the Meiji or Taisho periods, was the best he could estimate. Nevertheless, even for a complete layman, Oumei Rokkaku was a mansion with quite a curious look to it. If he had to describe it in a single word, “eccentric” would probably fit the bill. On the left side, two cylindrical towers stood, and between them was a spacious arched entryway. The curved surfaces of the tower walls were made of brick, with steel window frames drawing stark lines of brilliant green paint tightly across them. In addition to those, there was a circular decorative window affixed above the central arch, and it was difficult to distinguish the colors from outside, but it seemed to be made out of red and green stained glass. Overall, it had a magnificent air that brought to mind a cathedral, and a vertically structured design as if to pierce the heavens themselves, both of which cemented the entire section unmistakably as a modern Western-style mansion.
However, that was only the left half of the building. Immediately to the right, a single-story bungalow with white plaster walls was attached, and the roof, in a way that jarred the senses, was tiled in the darkest black. In one section, there was a wall made of wood paneling, but this was similarly black in color. At the very bottom of the wall was a low stone fence. Lining wall at a relatively high position, were wooden windows with delicate latticework. There was also an entryway on this side, consisting of three adjacent sliding doors, of a wider variety than usual. The atmosphere bore a strong resemblance to that of a traditional Japanese restaurant or inn. In other words, functioning as an exact parallel to the Western-style left half, a Japanese-style entrance had also been built.
As such, these two polar opposite structures were fused together through an intricately complex arrangement. No matter how closely you were to inspect it, you wouldn’t find a cutoff point or boundary line anywhere. The sides had been perfectly linked on a physical level and flowed directly into one another, but they nevertheless gave off a distinct impression of discontinuity. Perhaps due to the existence of a buffer zone where the halves met in the middle, that discomforting feeling was lessened slightly when taking in a single part. But when viewed as a whole, one was only confused as to why these two buildings were connected in the first place, though all the while paradoxically unable to point out any specific location that appeared unnatural. The fusion had been undertaken with such skill, that determining the location of a clear fault line was impossible. Naturally, the question of what in the world the building’s interior could be like, welled up in the mind of any viewer. In particular, how was the connection between Japanese and Western styles treated on the inside? At the very least, that was impossible to tell simply from looking at the exterior. This peculiar discomfort evoked in the observer (especially a Japanese one) was the most distinguishing characteristic of House Oumei Rokkaku.
Horokusa did not know this at the time, but according to a later explanation by Negoro Kichiei, who was well-acquainted with the mansion, the original building had been of Japanese construction and named House Oumei, with most of that section being completed in the late Edo period. Then, in the mid-Meiji period, a foreign architect drafted blueprints for an addition to the building, which came to be known as House Rokkaku, and despite being a small-scale project, included two three-story towers, a main lobby with an atrium, and a large banquet hall, as well as a study and guestrooms, not to mention a terrace facing the gardens on the west side. One could find many similar structures near the historical capital, but for such a building to be the private residence of one person was extremely rare, as it was truly a display of all the grandest luxuries available at the time.
Just as Horokusa was about to press the intercom button, the latticed sliding-door opened, and an old woman appeared from inside.
“Ah, good afternoon.” Horokusa bowed his head, flustered.
The petite old woman raised her face and scrutinized Horokusa. She was wearing an apron atop traditional Japanese clothes. Her hair was stark white.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Horokusa.”
“I’m Horokusa,” he repeated in a louder voice. “I was invited by the lady of the house.”
“I see, come on in.” The old woman inelegantly gestured toward the entrance with one hand.
Horokusa took off his shoes and changed into the provided slippers. He followed behind the old woman as they walked down a large hallway with wooden floors. Whenever there was a hallway breaking off to the left, Horokusa curiously glanced in that direction. The reason for this was, he wanted to know how the inside of the Western-style left half of the building looked. However, he never had the opportunity to sneak a peek at any Western-style hallways or rooms.
After a little while, we emerged into a hallway overlooking a spacious courtyard. The building surrounded the garden on three sides. Facing the garden on Horokusa’s right, a number of glass doors were lined up, and the hallway where he was walking still had wooden flooring, but across from the glass doors, on his left side, there was a narrow pathway made of tatami mats. In addition, there appeared to be sliding screen doors and formal Japanese sitting rooms further inside.
“Are we not supposed to walk on those tatamis?” Horokusa asked, pointing to the section of the floor to their left where the mats were spread out.
“Eh?” The old woman stopped and turned around to glare up at Horokusa.
“Is walking here not allowed?” he repeated the question.
“Walking there is no good,” the old woman answered bluntly.
“Commoners are to walk on wood.”
“Commoners?” Horokusa mumbled to himself. Of course, the old woman most likely couldn’t hear his softly spoken words.
As far as he could see, the hallway stretched on with wood flooring on the right, and tatami mats on the left. Perhaps it was arranged this way so that people of high status could be distinguished from those of low status. As wealth increases, such distinctions become more and more apparent; that was a quality that has never changed throughout human history. More than just the flawed logic of discrimination, this was merely another way that human affluence manifests itself.
The old woman stopped again, then stepped onto the section covered with tatami mats.
What? So walking on them was fine the whole time? Horokusa thought.
The woman fell to her knees and sat herself on the tatami. Then, she extended both wrinkle-covered hands and slowly slid open the screen door.
“Your guest has arrived,” the old woman said in a hoarse voice.
Inside the spacious sitting room, Odawara Shizue was kneeling.
“Horokusa. Please, come in.”
“Thank you.” He bowed his head, stepped onto the tatamis where only those of noble status were permitted, passed beside where the old woman was kneeling and entered the sitting room.
Behind him, the screen slid shut like an automatic door.
In the middle of the room, a single large table was set up. It was around twice the size of a billiard table. Of course, since this was a formal sitting room, it was low to the ground. Odawara Shizue was sitting at the opposite end. She was wearing an off-white Japanese outfit, which gave off a starkly different impression from when they’d met that morning. She looked much younger in a kimono.
“Please, sit down.” Shizue smiled with grace.
Since there was only a single floor cushion prepared on his side of the table, Horokusa sat himself there. He looked at his watch, which read 4:05.
“Your house is really big. Cleaning and upkeep must be difficult.”
“Yes.” Shizue gave a slight nod. The two were separated by a full two meters across the table.
“Um…” Horokusa looked up at her while correcting his posture. “I’m guessing… this isn’t about the private tutor business from this morning?”
“Correct.” Shizue adjusted her sitting position and nodded with a tense expression on her face. “To tell the truth, just one hour ago I received a strange letter, and I wished to consult you again…”
The envelope in question had already been placed on the table. Odawara Shizue took it in her hands and presented it toward Horokusa. He leaned his body forward and took it.
“May I take a look inside?”
After receiving permission from Shizue, Horokusa removed the contents of the envelope. A number of folded papers had been inside. They were all photocopied newspaper articles.
The sliding door opened behind him. Horokusa looked over his shoulder and saw a young woman bowing deeply on the floor, and then enter the room. She was carrying a tray with teacups on it. She was wearing an apron atop Japanese clothes, just like the other woman. She must be a maid, he thought. While she placed the teacups on the table, and until she left the room once more, Horokusa and Shizue were silent.
“These are newspaper articles about murders that occurred nearby over the past three years,” Horokusa confirmed with Shizue. “If I recall correctly, none of them were ever solved…”
“That is correct. I also have had very little memory of the incidents, other than the fact that they happened. However… please look at the sections underlined in red.”
Horokusa dropped his gaze.
There were certain sections of the photocopied articles which had been underlined in red pen. The first article was about the incident that occurred three years ago on July seventh, and there was a short red line under that date. In addition, the age of the elementary school victim, stating that she was eleven years old, was the only other thing underlined. The second article was shorter than the first and was about the incident two years ago. Just as before, there were two spots underlined, the date of July seventh, and the victim’s age of twenty-two. The third article was from last year, and this one was the shortest of all. The underlined sections were just as expected, the date of June sixth, and the age of thirty-three.
There had been nothing inside the envelope save for those three articles. On the outside of the envelope, “Miss Odawara Shizue” was the only thing written for the recipient, with not even an address by way of further description. On the back, nothing was written pertaining to the sender.
After briefly confirming those details, Horokusa Junpei slowly raised his head. Odawara Shizue returned his gaze with a despondent look in her eye.
“So, what does this all mean exactly?” Horokusa asked in a slightly joking tone.
“I do not know,” Shizue replied with a shake of her head. “I cannot even begin to imagine the meaning of this. But… Today is June sixth.”
“Right,” Horokusa nodded. Then, he looked down at the three photocopied articles once more. “The same date as the most recent incident last year. All three of these happened around this area, sure, but… Thinking rationally, this is probably just a coincidental collection of articles. Do you have any idea who might play a prank on you like this?”
“No, I do not,” Shizue answered with a gesture as if she was trembling. Her expression was stiff. “This has made me feel quite uneasy, so I thought to contact you first and foremost.”
“Have you told anyone else?”
“Well, what’s gotten you so worked up about this?”
“Today, I am turning forty-four years old.”
Translator and Editor Notes:
That’s the end of chapter 1!
Phew! That took a while 😛
I’m VERY excited to finally move into chapter 2! I wonder if you can guess who’s gonna get murdered. I know, it’s very subtle.
Brief comments on the scene:
Not my favorite, to be honest, mainly because of the dense-as-fuck exposition. But it’s necessary, since the murder will quite obviously take place in this mansion, it’s very important that we know every nook and cranny of the place in full detail.
We’ve been introduced to two maids, who have been conveniently age-coded for telling them apart easier lol. We’ve got “old maid” and “young maid”. So, I’m just gonna call it now, there’s no way the maids are gonna be the culprit. Cuz maids/butlers are always suspicious in mysteries, so they’re totally gonna be red herrings. Though, that said, the way it’s setting up that one maid being hard of hearing (or is she???) totally triggers my readerly instincts to be like “she’s faking it!!” But probably nah.
One thing I do love about this chapter is how it conveys the sense of “pomp” and formality in the scene with Shizue. All of the little things, like them being so far across the table from one another, the way the maids were acting, it gave off this really effective awkward feeling without having to directly be like “it felt awkward”, you know?
Anyway, that’s it for today. Thanks for reading! 😀
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