The early morning light brushed against the snow-capped roofs of the small village that hid at the bottom of the mountains. The sound of the temple bell stilled the air as if a spell had stopped time. The windows were frosted like a spider’s etching against the clear sky. Little huts breathed through their chimneys. The smell of wood and food slowly danced across the crisp wind, which blew lightly between the wooden walls. Like clockwork, old men opened their doors with pipes pressed between their lips. They greeted each other with light bows. The children scampered off to school at the other side of the village. The children believed that they could escape the spirit that commanded the cold if they ran fast enough. And almost certainly, one of them would trip and fall on the fresh snow, reminding them that they could never escape.
Two officers were sweeping the powder off of the red brick path and the tiny two-seater police cars. The officers wore thick winter clothes in a desperate attempt to stay warm. Every so often, one of them stopped and blew into his gloved hands, then proceeded to rub them together vigorously to create fire. It never happened, unfortunately.
“This is ridiculous,” said one. He worked on the path. “How could it be even colder than yesterday! It snowed the day before, yet it’s colder now? What do you want with us!”
The other looked at his partner who was now shaking his broom at the sky and said, “It’s pretty much your fault that we’re both here, Taka.”
“How?” Taka lowered the broom and pointed it at him. The fog from his lungs was growing increasingly agitated. “It’s your fault, Haru! I told you not to be seen! Yet you insisted on wearing that ridiculous red scarf!”
Haru stopped brushing the tops of the cars and turned to him. “You wanted the fucking ramen! You should have snuck into the kitchen, not me!”
“You knew where it was! Plus, you wanted it too! And because of your so-called good luck scarf, we had to starve during our last shift and sweep all this shit up!”
“My girlfriend gave me this scarf!”
“What girlfriend? We’ve never seen her, Haru!”
Haru could not believe what he heard and threw his broom on the snow-covered lawn. “Okay. That’s it.”
They wrestled along the path, cursing at each other’s families for a good three minutes when a woman approached them. Haru and Taka stopped immediately and stood, wiping the snow patches off from their jackets. They greeted the woman with a bow. She bowed back slightly and walked passed them without uttering a word.
“That’s the deaf woman from yesterday, right?” Taka straightened as she approached the steps of the front door.
“Yes. There’s something to her, and I don’t mean her good looks.”
The woman with no name climbed three short steps before reaching the twin wooden doors. The doors were modestly designed with large squares carved into them and long panes of glass that ran along sides. The doorknobs were frozen to the touch and shaped like lotus flowers just before the bloom. She took a deep breath and let herself in. The station was still rubbing the sand off from its eyes. The stench of brewing coffee stained the dry air, like some cheap air humidifier.
Among the desks were Kazu and Ryo. Ryo was sipping from his clay teacup while Kazu inspected the remaining contents of his beaten aluminium cup. The two turned to the door; she gave a slight bow; they bowed back.
“Escort her, Kazu.” He ordered.
“Yes, Sir. To your office or the other room?”
“The other room this time.”
Kazu walked over to the woman and gestured her to follow him. As they passed Ryo’s office, the woman’s expression turned darker ever so slightly. Ryo noticed she pursed her lips as they approached an almost bare room. This room was small and had one simple table in the middle with two chairs on either side. An incandescent lamp hung low from the ceiling, almost like it was begging to be swatted by a large cat. There were no windows looking out to the snow this time. Kazu pulled out a chair, awaiting her to sit. He left the room and came back with a cup of fresh tea.
Two minutes had passed until there was a knock at the door. Ryo wondered why he had to knock; she was deaf. He and Kazu entered the room with another woman in a navy blue business outfit. This woman looked like she was in her 40s. The wrinkles and the white roots of her hair showed it. Ryo pulled out the other chair and sat. Kazu stood by the door while the middle-aged woman stood beside the Captain.
“It’s good to see you after a night’s rest,” Ryo said. The middle-aged woman translated Ryo’s words into sign language. “Oh, sorry. This is Ms Mika, she is a sign language teacher. She’s a friend of one of the officers in another station. We asked her to help us with a case.” Mika signed.
“Hello.” The woman with no name signed.
“Hello.” Mika signed back.
Kazu and Ryo both raised their eyebrows. “What did she say?” Kazu asked.
“She said, hello.” Mika realised that this was going to be a long day of what did she say?
“Ms Mika, please translate everything we say from now on. Even our mumblings to each other.” Mika nodded to Ryo. “What is your name, Miss?”
“My name… Rui.”
“Finally some progress!” Kazu was overly thankful.
Ryo clasped his hands and leant forward slightly. The shadows over his eyes grew darker as he went under the light. “Ms Rui, do you know why we escorted you to an interrogation room instead of my office?”
“No,” she answered. She looked straight onto Ryo without blinking. She wasn’t looking at him but at something beyond this material plane.
“When we asked you to come back today, you agreed without complaint.” Ryo stopped for a bit trying to see how Rui was reacting to the situation. She hasn’t flinched, though he could tell that her anxiety was growing, yet who wouldn’t be in this environment? “There was a murder yesterday, Rui.”
She didn’t move. Her eyes stayed straight. “Tell me how he died.”
Ryo stood up and gestured Kazu to come over. “Kazu, start from the beginning.”
“Yes, Sir.” Kazu took the seat and unfolded a brown folder filled with papers and photographs.
Ryo stood by the door, this time, arms crossed. Looking at Rui, she had grown more beautiful.
“We received a call,” Kazu continued. “Around three hours after you left the station, a hiker and his two dogs came across the victim. The hiker said that the body would probably never be found. The victim would be buried in the snow forever if it wasn’t for the dogs.”
The pictures showed a man in his late 20s lying in the pale red snow. “Now here’s the thing, Ms Rui,” Ryo said. “You asked us how he died, but we never mentioned that the victim was a man.”