No, I'm still on semi-hiatus. (2015 was a busy year but 2016 is the year when my graduate thesis is the least of my worries, so don't get your hopes up for a speedy update schedule anytime soon.)
The good news is that the final two volumes in the Allison series, Story of a Single Continent/Hitotsu no Tairiku no Monogatari (someday I'll figure out a consistent translation for the title) is being released in Korean, which means:
1. I am definitely going to finish translating the entire series, and
2. Story of a Single Continent will be translated much faster than if I were to work from the Japanese version.
This also means I'm going to hold off on pdfs/epubs for Meg and Seron until I've finished Story of a Single Continent, so I can release one definitive collection for the entire 19-volume series. Then I'll finally be done with the series for good. :)
Anyway, this chapter is the second-to-last update for the volume. Enjoy.
Chapter 8: The Photographs
Two cars and a motorcycle were traveling down the village road.
Larry rode slowly to avoid crashing into the cars and mumbled to himself.
“So we’re finally done talking to the leaders. But still…”
“Right. The cops told us to keep a low profile too. Just… please find whoever killed our friend.”
“We’ll do what we can.”
The conversation between Jenny and the leader of the Wolves ended in less than a minute.
Seron, Jenny, and Neil left the leader’s house, rejoined the others, and gave their report.
Larry called the police from a nearby phone booth and asked if they had found the culprit. He did not receive a satisfactory answer.
After discussing their next plan of action—
—the group finally gave in to their gnawing hunger and decided to go back to the villa.
Once they returned, the newspaper club washed their hands and went to the kitchen. Neil was also invited to eat, so he sat beside Jenny.
As soon as they sat down, Mrs. Ruf brought in a large, thin pizza. The first one was a meat-lover’s dream, topped with a heaping helping of bacon and sausage slices.
“There’s plenty more coming, so eat up! I’ll put on different toppings every time.”
When she cut the pizza with a knife, everyone rushed in and grabbed a slice.
Once everyone had a slice on their plate, there was only one left on the platter.
“If you’re gonna eat it anyway you might as well grab it now, Lia.”
“You are the most understanding man in the world, Larry. Thanks a bunch.”
Natalia took the final slice. Everyone was so starved that they ate in utter silence. The moment they finished the first pizza, the second came in. It was topped with tomato slices, ham, and basil.
As the pizzas came in one after another, the group discussed the progress they had made so far.
“It’s mission accomplished, for now.” Said Seron.
“More or less. But we haven’t solved the problem. It’s not over until we catch the killer.” Larry nodded, reminding everyone of the root of their problem.
“Indeed. But our actions were not without purpose—we’ve even given Jenny a brand-new title.” Nick said with a smile.
“You’re still bitter about that? And how long are you gonna keep your hair up?” Asked Jenny. Nick had not yet untied his hair. He smiled and said he would let it down after lunch.
“I think it looks pretty cool, Nick.” Said Natalia. “By the way, where’d you learn those wicked moves? Mr. Kurtz was all impressed on the way back. It’s called staff-fighting or something?”
Meg joined in as well. “It is. It was very surprising! You can do it if you try, Nick! —I am sorry, is my Roxchean speaking strange?”
“Why don’tcha ask Seron? Says he knew about this for a while.” Said Jenny.
“You really did know this, Seron?” Meg asked, turning.
“I saw him practice before, during equestrian class.” Seron said, gulping down his tea. “You said you’ve been learning since you were a kid, Nick?”
As the others nodded, Nick smiled and reached for a slice of pizza.
After the late lunch, the newspaper club and Neil found themselves relaxing as they discussed what to do next.
Though they wondered if they should go to the police again, Nick shot down the idea.
“It’s not as though we have any new developments for them.”
Everyone agreed. And there was nothing left to do.
“So now we just leave it to the cops. Unless the next murder or murder attempt happens in front of us, we can’t do a thing.”
Everyone had to nod. “Not that I’m hoping for another case.” Natalia added.
Someone suggested going out for a change of pace. But,
“It is not good to make Mr. Kurtz feel more sleepy anymore, I think.” Meg said. So the group decided to stay inside.
“You can go home now, Neil. Thanks.” Jenny said. Litner offered to take him and his bicycle home by car.
“Thanks so much, everybody.” Neil nodded, and left.
Ultimately, their plans for the afternoon were no different from the previous day’s.
“So that’s it then. Gotta let Mr. Kurtz rest too.”
Jenny’s suggestion was a siesta.
No one objected.
* * *
While the newspaper club and Kurtz, who had not slept a wink last night, were asleep—
“Thanks for waiting! Here’s your photos!”
The owner of the village photography studio came to the villa on a three-wheeled car and handed Mrs. Ruf a large cardboard box.
Inside were the newspaper club’s photos and the developed film.
Mrs. Ruf thanked the owner, paid a handsome fee, and received the box.
“I’ll show them once they’re all awake.” She said to herself, and put the box on a table in the parlor.
* * *
“Ruf, huh. This is the place.”
Hartnett leaned out the window of his black sedan and scrutinized the name on a panel outside the premises. His gaze then fell on the massive villa and the garden bursting with flowers in bloom.
“An honest-to-goodness mansion. So this is what they call a villa…” He grumbled, and stepped off the Jones Motors car.
Litner greeted Hartnett and led him to the parlor, informing him that everyone was asleep.
Hartnett idled in the parlor, drinking tea and examining the luxury furniture. He noticed the cardboard box on the table.
But he did not open it without permission.
Eventually, he dozed off in one of the expensive chairs decorating the room.
* * *
Like the previous day, the newspaper club woke up around five in the afternoon.
When they heard about the visitor they went to the parlor and found Hartnett. He woke in a hurry and rubbed his eyes.
“Hey there. I decided to take you up on your invitation.”
The newspaper club sat down around Hartnett and explained the progress they had made in the afternoon, then asked Hartnett about his assignment.
“I showed the wanted poster to most of the big establishments in town, but I got nothing. I’m going back to the Capital District tomorrow morning.” He replied, shaking his head.
Mrs. Ruf spoke up just as Hartnett and the newspaper club were starting on tea.
“Oh! Miss Jenny, your photographs are here. I left them on the table for you. I’m so terribly sorry; memories do get worse with age.”
Six sets of eyes turned to the cardboard box.
“Let us quickly look at the photographs.” Meg said excitedly. Jenny opened the box.
She set aside the film and pulled out the bundle of developed black-and-white photographs. They were printed on large B3 photo papers, measuring at 25 by 38 centimeters.
“Let’s flip through these before dinner. Anyone who’s wasted film on a bad shot has to do ten laps around the track.”
“What track?” Asked Larry.
“Fine. Ten laps around town.”
“So, whose is this?” Asked Jenny.
At the top of the pile was a photo of the park fountain and a sheep statue. The image was focused on the sheep on the left side of the shot and the fountain was out of focus.
“That’s mine.” Said Natalia. Then she furrowed her brow. “Why’s that one first? It’s the last one I took.”
“The order gets switched around when they’re developing, so your last picture comes to the top of the pile. This one’s not bad.”
“Not surprising.” Natalia grinned. “I’m good at everything.”
The next 20 photos depicted unremarkable things like scenes of the countryside or Larry and his motorcycle.
Jenny checked each photo, one after another. She passed the ones she had seen to the next person. Hartnett was last in line; he threw each picture an uninterested glance before piling it up with the rest.
Then came Larry’s photos.
“Well, I got the exposure right.”
Larry had indeed gotten the exposure right, but all of his photos were of his motorcycle.
“Ah, those would be mine.”
Nick’s photos included close-ups of a sheep’s face, shots of a pouting Jenny, and Kurtz, Litner, and the car. Occasionally the photos were too dark, too bright, or out of focus.
“It’s not as easy as swinging a staff.”
“You need more training.” Jenny said.
Next came Jenny’s photos. She had chosen mostly the same subjects as Nick, but her exposure and focus were perfect.
“That’s the president for you.”
“Flattery won’t get you out of special training hell, Nicholas Browning.”
Next came Seron’s photos.
About half were shots of pastoral landscapes. The rest depicted the flowers in Hannah’s yard.
Like Natalia’s, they were decently done and unremarkable. Meg was not in a single photo.
“Hm… kinda hard to judge.” Jenny admitted. Hartnett, who had ended up in charge of organizing the photos, straightened the pile on the desk.
Last came Meg’s photos.
The photo where Seron was supposed to be pushing the cow was taken with too shallow a depth of field, and the cow was out of focus. As for Seron, even his friends barely recognized him.
“My gosh… I am very sorry, Seron.”
The photos of the flowers at the Lawrence manor, on the other hand, were perfectly in focus. Jenny was impressed.
“Nice work, Megmica. I can feel your love of flowers emanating from these photos.”
“Hee hee. It is good to be praised.”
Finally came the last photo.
It was the picture of the garden, taken from outside the gates.
“This one’s pretty good too.”
“Thank you, Jenny.”
The last photo was also passed all the way to Hartnett.
Hartnett gave the photo a glance. “Is that it?” He asked, placing it at the top of the pile.
He picked it up again.
Hartnett brought the photo all the way up to his eyes—specifically, he focused on the right side of the image. He paused for several seconds, but the newspaper club did not notice.
“We should go out for another photography session. Next time we’ll go as a group.” Jenny said. Everyone agreed.
“AH!” Hartnett cried. The newspaper club flinched. Meg, who had picked up her cup of tea, spilled a little on her shirt.
“What might be the matter, Mr. Hartnett? You gave us a fright.”
“Where?!” Hartnett demanded, his face pale. “The house in this photo—where is this house?!”
“In the area. Is something wrong?” Seron replied.
Hartnett held out the picture to Seron, pointing at the right side of the image.
“This man right here!”
Seron stared at the profiled face of Hampleton the gardener beside the flowerpots.
“Yes. He works at this house as a gardener—wait, you don’t mean…?”
He understood the implications quickly. Seron stared at the Confederation Police investigator before him.
“Yes! That’s exactly what I mean!” Hartnett replied resolutely. “This is the one! This is the man I’m looking for!”
“Ah!” “Hm?” “Huh?” “What?”
Everyone but Seron cried out in surprise.
“What’s going on, then? We wanna know too.” Natalia said on everyone’s behalf. Hartnett threw the photo down on the table. Everyone scrutinized Hampleton.
“This man here! He’s the assassin the Confederation Police has been hunting down! Look at this.” Hartnett pulled out of his jacket a wanted poster.
Below the title of the poster were photos of an intimidating middle-aged man. The photos were taken from the front and the side.
The middle-aged man with a full beard, and the photo of Hampleton. There was no resemblance in their profiled faces.
Naturally, the man on the wanted poster looked younger and more threatening. He looked completely different from the skinny and beardless Hampleton, even accounting for the passage of time.
“You sure? They don’t look alike at all.” Natalia said.
“Me too… I do not see it that way…” Meg agreed. Nick simply tilted his head.
Seron examined the two photos again. Then he finally relented. “I can’t see the resemblance, either.”
“Lemme see.” Jenny finally said, reaching for the photos. She gave each a three-second glance. “It’s the same person.” She said matter-of-factly, as if she had just taste-tested the difference between salt and sugar.
“What makes you so sure?” Asked Seron. Jenny’s answer was immediate.
Seron compared the photos again.
He understood immediately.
The man in the wanted poster, and Hampleton in the garden—
Both had large, wide ears that curved inwards, with dangling earlobes.
Their ears were identical.
“People have differently-shaped ears, and once you finish puberty your ears never change shape for the rest of your life. They only discovered this recently, though.” Jenny explained.
“Yes! We found him! Excellent! Yes!” Hartnett cheered, filling the parlor with excitement.
“Mrs. Hannah is in a dangerous place!” Meg interjected, cutting the cheers short.
“The house is a short distance from here, and belongs to a Mrs. Hannah Lawrence. The man here is named Hampleton. He works as a gardener for Mrs. Lawrence and has her complete trust. Naturally, he must be keeping his past under wraps.” Seron explained.
“You’ve been a big help, Seron. Damn it! I can’t believe that phony tip turned out to be real!” Hartnett replied, trembling.
“If it turned out to be real, I don’t believe you could call it a phony tip.” Nick pointed out. But his comment went ignored.
Meg was sounding almost hysterical. “Wh-wh-what can we do?! It is dangerous! Mrs. Hannah is in a dangerous place! It is very dangerous!”
Hartnett got his emotions under control and took a seat once more.
“I couldn’t have done this without you guys. Thank you. Now that we know the truth, I promise I’ll do whatever I can for Mrs. Lawrence.”
“Then!” Larry piped up. “Then this guy’s the one who killed the local kids?”
“We can’t say yet.” Hartnett replied. “We’ll question him after we arrest him.”
“Right.” Larry mumbled.
“But what are you going to do? Wait for reinforcements?” Asked Jenny. Hartnett looked like he had swallowed a bug.
“It takes at least three hours by car to the closest Confederation Police station. I suppose I could ask the local police for help, but…”
“The gardener’s gonna notice the second he spots the police cars. And he’ll take Mrs. Lawrence hostage for sure. We don’t know how far this guy’s willing to go.” Larry pointed out. Hartnett nodded.
“Couldn’t we get Mrs. Lawrence to come to this villa, then?” Asked Seron. Hartnett and Meg turned.
“Megmica and I had a pleasant chat with Mrs. Lawrence yesterday. We could give her a phone call and say we want to give her copies of our photos and thank her for her hospitality. It’s reason enough to invite her without arousing suspicion.”
“You’re right. But does anyone else live with her? Any maids or other servants?”
“Not as far as we can tell. Although I can’t be certain…” Seron trailed off. Suddenly, Jenny stood and ran out of the parlor.
Ten seconds later.
“I just asked Auntie! Mrs. Lawrence doesn’t have any live-in servants. She just gets someone to clean the place once a week. The gardener lives there, though.” Jenny said as she returned.
“Great. Thank you, Jenny. Now we just need to call herover and surround the house.” Said Hartnett.
“I’ll help.” Seron volunteered. “I can make the call and invite her for dinner.”
Because they could not think of any other plan, they went through with Seron’s idea to call Hannah over.
The newspaper club said nothing to Mr. and Mrs. Ruf save for the fact that they wanted an extra serving of dinner to be prepared. But they explained everything to Kurtz and Litner, who were shocked but in agreement with the plan.
“But,” Kurtz added, “if Mrs. Lawrence does not accept the invitation, I can’t let you leave for her home. Until this incident is finished, I will not let any of you leave the villa, Miss Jenny.”
If Hannah were to ask for a ride, Kurtz, Hartnett, and Seron would go to pick her up.
“Wait, so what if Mrs. Lawrence declines by phone?” Asked Natalia.
“The Confederation Police will launch a raid on the house and surround the premises. We’ll make sure nothing leaves the building. We can even deploy snipers if necessary.” Hartnett said reluctantly.
“That is horrible! It is very horrible!” Meg gasped, but Hartnett refused to yield.
“We’ll never get another chance like this. If we lose him now, we might have to wait another 15 years before we find him again.”
“I know this… I know this, but please do not let Mrs. Hannah cannot be hurt! I am begging you!” Meg pleaded. Hartnett smiled and winked.
“Don’t worry about it. He still has no idea we’ve found him out, remember? He’s found himself a safe position as a gardener, so he has no reason to out himself now.”
“Y-yes, that is true.” Meg replied, sounding a little less panicked. When Nick saw her relief, he pointed out to Seron Hartnett’s lie.
“That would be true, if only not for the fact that the man has already taken three lives. If he truly is the culprit, he must be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. We are in a race against time.”
“Yeah. I know. So I’d better do a good job of inviting Mrs. Lawrence over.”
“I have every confidence that you will, Seron.”
* * *
“Good evening, Mrs. Lawrence. This is Seron Maxwell. Do you remember me? My friend and I visited your home yesterday morning to take some photographs.”
<Oh my. Yes, I certainly remember, Seron. You came with your lovely Bezelese friend, Megmica.>
“Yes. Do you have a moment?”
“We’ll be having a small dinner party here at the villa managed by the Ruf couple. We happened to receive the developed photos just now, and Megmica insisted we had to have you over for dinner and share the photos. I’m terribly sorry being so sudden, but would you like to join us?”
<My, my. That sounds wonderful.>
“Thank you. I’m sure Megmica will be pleased.”
<The pleasure is all mine. I’d been looking forward to chatting with her again. What time shall I be there by?>
“Would seven o’clock be all right?”
<That sounds perfect.>
“Would you like us to come pick you up by car, Mrs. Lawrence?”
<No thank you. Old people like me should walk around while we still can. But perhaps I could ask for a ride back afterwards?>
“Certainly! We look forward to seeing you soon, Mrs. Lawrence.”
<Thank you. See you soon.>