“I had no idea that a place like this even existed in Japan,” Kaori gasped.
Ryo couldn’t help but agree as he drove up to their destination, a giant mansion in the outskirts of Tokyo. The building was constructed of brick and stone and was three floors high. Towers and rooftops that spiraled into cones along with a variety of gargoyles sitting on the edges of the grounds only added to the gothic feel of the place.
“Mick said that this guy was from a rich family and that he moved to Japan fifty years ago,” Ryo said. “Apparently, he had this house imported, piece by piece, from the United States and he added onto it over the years.”
“Wow,” Kaori replied as Ryo parked the car. “It really does look like a haunted house. Say, Ryo, you were just kidding, right? About there being ghosts here?”
“Maybe I was,” Ryo smirked at her. “Maybe I wasn’t. Are you scared, Kaori-kun? I could take you home.” Kaori narrowed her eyes at him, and put her hand back on her sword.
“Not a chance, Ryo,” she said. “If I go home there won’t be anyone to keep Casanova in line. I’m not letting you fool me that easily.”
“Well it was worth a try,” Ryo laughed. “Let’s go find the others.”
The two of them got out and handed the paper invitations that Mick had given them over to a butler standing near the door and were escorted in. Once inside, they were surprised by the opulence of the interior. Numerous oil paintings were on the walls and other pieces of art, like vases and statues, were on display on stands and glass cases. The furniture was comprised of wood and leathers, and the floor was tiled with a black and white checkerboard design. Ryo and Kaori looked up to see a domed ceiling with giant crystal chandelier above them.
“So pretty,” Kaori said. “This place doesn’t seem creepy once you go inside.”
“Yes, but it is a little overdone, don’t you think?” Ryo sighed. “I guess some people just enjoy spending money and making sure that everyone knows it.”
Kaori chose to ignore him while exploring her surroundings. Soon, the two of them were guided toward a large ballroom area which was already filled with people in costumes and masks. On one side of the room, tables held a bounty of food and across from them stood a makeshift bar, complete with bartenders. A series of smaller, round tables stretched out from banquet tables.
“Kaori-san, Saeba-san over here.”
Kaori looked over to see Miki standing next to one of the tables of food and waving at them. Kaori and Ryo walked over toward her.
“Ah, Miki-san, there is a lot of food and it all looks so good,” Kaori said. “But where is Umibozu-san?”
“Falcon is here,” Miki said. “He’s sitting at one of the corner tables. I was just getting ready to get some food and some drinks for us before joining him.”
“I can’t really blame him for hiding,” Ryo smirked. “I wouldn’t want to be seen in those chaps either.”
“Let it go, Saeba-san,” Miki said with a glare.
“Where is everyone else?” Kaori asked.
“I saw Saeko-san and Reika-san walk off with a group of men a few moments ago,” Miki replied. “And Mick and Kazue-san are over there, talking to some of the other guests. Hey, Kaori-san, would you and Saeba-san like to join Falcon and me?”
“Sure, we would….” Kaori started. She stopped, however, when she realized that Ryo had disappeared. Both Miki and Kaori turned their heads to search the room.
“I wonder where Saeba-san went,” Miki said. Suddenly, they heard the familiar sound of the shrill screech of a woman, and Kaori gritted her teeth.
“I said no and I mean no!”
“Come on, just one drink.”
“I think I just found him,” Kaori said, marching off in the direction of the sound.
“Forget him, Kaori-san,” Miki said, holding out a hand to stop her. “Why don’t we just get some food and join Falcon? We can have fun on our own without him.”
But Kaori did not hear her and continued on her trek toward the source of the screeching. Eventually, she saw a young woman race off as best she could in her long gown and heels with Ryo close behind her. Kaori grabbed the handle of her sword and was ready to chase him when Mick and Kazue appeared behind her, accompanied by an older man with greying hair.
“Ah, Kaori, I’d like you to meet one of my old clients and the reason why we were invited to this party,” Mick said. “Mr. Abernathy, this lovely woman is a friend of mine, Kaori Makimura.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” the man said, holding his hand out to shake one of Kaori’s. “Mick, I see that you haven’t changed. You’ve only been at this party for ten minutes and already you have two beautiful women in your company.”
“Oh, beautiful?” Kaori said, putting her hands to her cheeks and blushing. “Oh no….”
“But it’s true,” Abernathy replied. “You’re a lucky man, Mick.”
“Ah well,” Mick said sheepishly, putting his arm around Kazue. “I’m just fortunate to have a lot of beautiful female friends. But Kazue, here, is my one and only.”
“Mick,” Kazue breathed, her eyes lit up with happiness. She wrapped her arms around one of his and rested her head against his shoulder. Mick responded by smiling back at her and holding her even closer.
Watching this scene between Kazue and Mick produced a twinge of jealousy in Kaori’s heart and she immediately felt guilty for it. Desperate to find something else to think about, she put on her best smile and turned toward Abernathy.
“Abernathy-san,” Kaori said. “Mick said that you know the owner of this mansion who is also hosting this party. What is he like?”
“Yes, I know him. His name is Bruce Tremwell. An interesting man, I can tell you that,” Abernathy replied. “I met him many years ago when I was a teenager. He is polite and friendly even though he is rather reserved and private in regards to his personal affairs. He is also very well read and is knowledgeable on a variety of esoteric subjects including the occult.”
“The occult?” Kaori echoed. “You mean things like ghosts?”
“Yes, an obsession he developed at an early age, from what I understand,” Abernathy continued. “He is an expert on the realm of the supernatural.”
“I wonder what his wife is like,” Kazue mused. “She must be an interesting person herself to put up with a hobby like that.”
“Actually, Mr. Tremwell never married,” Abernathy replied.
“Oh, was he also the philandering, perverted type?” Kaori said, rolling her eyes.
“Also?” Abernathy said, quizzical. “Well, no, Mr. Tremwell was not free and easy with the ladies, if that is what you mean. Everyone I’ve met who has known him has said that he was always a gentleman. But for some reason, he never fell in love with any of the women he courted. I know that there was a rumor once that some woman, who he had met here in Japan, had stolen his heart, but I guess nothing ever came of it because he always remained single.”
“Oh,” Kaori said, lowering her eyes. “I’m sorry, for….”
“Do not worry about it,” Abernathy said with a smile. “No harm done, I say. After all, it’s not as if Mr. Tremwell would have had a chance to hear your words.”
“But isn’t this his party?” Kazue asked. “Isn’t he somewhere around here?”
“No, Mr. Tremwell never attends these galas in person,” Abernathy said.
“So, you’ve never actually met him, Mick?” Kazue asked, turning toward him.
“No,” Mick said. “Not in person. Mr. Abernathy is the only one I know around here who has actually met him.”
“And I must confess that it’s been long time since I’ve seen him in person,” Abernathy added. “We have maintained a correspondence over the years, but I have not laid eyes on him since I was a teenager. Mr. Tremwell became something of a hermit these last couple of decades, and I do not think many people have seen much of him at all. Only a few of his most loyal and trusted servants see him regularly.”
“Really?” Kazue responded. “But you were able to get invitations to this party….”
“Yes, because I asked him for some extra ones in one of my latest letters to him,” Abernathy interrupted. “Not because I asked him in person.”
“How sad,” Kaori murmured. The others looked at her, surprised.
“Kaori-san….?” Kazue said.
“He has all of this money, knowledge and power, but he has spent all of these years alone,” Kaori continued. “He shut himself off from the world and never had the chance to experience love with another person. That is a sad way to live. I doubt that he really deserved that kind of life.”
“Unfortunately, you are correct, Miss Makimura,” Abernathy nodded. “Mr. Tremwell is known to be a generous man and has contributed a great deal of money to charitable causes. To be honest, I have never understood why he never committed to a woman and became a recluse. I know that Mr. Tremwell was considered to be a handsome man, and as I said, he has always been a gentleman. I am sure it would not have been difficult for him to find a woman to love.”
“Maybe…maybe the person he loved did not love him,” Kaori continued, her eyes downcast. “Maybe since he couldn’t be with the love of his life, he couldn’t face living in a world where people all around him were happy with the people they love. I suppose it would be easy to give in to a desire like that, to lock yourself away from everyone in an effort to avoid focusing on that kind of pain.”
Kaori fell silent and continued to keep her eyes planted on the floor. Mick quickly grew concerned at her words and her somber demeanor and reached over to touch Kaori’s arm.
“Kaori,” he said. “Are you….?” Kaori looked up and smiled at him.
“Ah, what am I saying?” she said with a laugh. “It’s not like I ever met Tremwell-san, so I can’t really know the reason behind his decisions. Don’t mind me. Anyway, thank you again, Abernathy-san, for allowing Mick to invite all of us to this party.”
“You are very welcome, Miss Makimura,” Abernathy replied. “I hope that all of you have fun tonight.”
“Go away! Quit following me!”
The four of them looked to see three more women dressed as maids rush by them with Ryo close behind them, his arms outstretched and a grin on his face.
“Don’t go,” Ryo said as he ran. “Your Casanova is waiting for you.”
“Excuse me, Mick, Kazue-san, Abernathy-san,” Kaori said with a scowl, her face turning red. “I need to take care of something.” She then pulled her sword out of its sheath and eyed the blade with a sardonic grin on her face.
“Ah, ah Kaori, that isn’t a real sword, is it?” Mick asked, nervously. Kaori turned to glare at him for second before resuming her quest to catch up with Ryo.
“Mick, I must say, you do know the most…interesting people,” Abernathy said. “Are you sure that nothing serious will happen?”
“Oh, don’t worry, this kind of thing goes on all the time,” Mick laughed again.
“Indeed,” Abernathy replied, raising his eyebrow. He then turned to continue talking to Kazue while Mick watched Kaori stomp away from them.
‘Kaori, those words you spoke just now….’
Mick silently shook his head. He had noticed that Kaori had been subdued and distracted for the last three months, but had not found a way to get her to talk about what was on her mind. He had invited her and Ryo to this party partially as a way to help cheer Kaori up and partially to see if he could finally get her to open up about what was bothering her. As he reflected on what Kaori had just said, Mick was beginning to have an idea of what was going on, and he was worried about the state of Kaori’s heart.
Mick held Kazue a little closer to him as she continued to converse with Abernathy. He decided that he would make sure to have a talk with Ryo at some point during this party.
‘He might be aware of Kaori’s state of mind, but he probably doesn’t understand the real implications of it…But I am going to make sure he does by the end of the night, no matter what.’
In a corner of a room overlooking the ballroom area, a man stood in the shadows, watching the guests below. He had noticed Kaori almost as soon as she arrived, and his eyes and ears had been following her ever since. He had listened to the conversation she had had with Mick, Kazue and Abernathy, and a smile reached his lips.
‘Kaori Makimura, is it? I think you are the one I have been looking for all this time. Yes, in fact I am sure of it.’
His smile melted away as feelings of guilt crept into his heart. He knew that Kaori’s role in his plan would mean the end of her life, and a part of him felt sorrow at having to sacrifice a woman like her in the pursuit of his goal. But despite his regrets he remained determined to go through with his designs for her.
‘Soon…soon I will see you again, my beloved Maiko.’
‘Because Kaori Makimura will be the one to bring you back to me.’