Chapter 1:

A usual day at work

Guarded Love

“All clear. How about you?”
“All clear. Wait, no. Someone entered the premise. Backstage area, east entrance. A short man in a trench coat with a fedora, all light brown.”
“Seriously, how clichéd can you get?… Anyway, Shuuichi, Steve, you are closest, escort him out.”

With that command, I moved form my patrolling route to intercept the trespasser. ‘But really, how can you be so stupid and try that?’ Entering the off-limits area of a large concert with security very much present was never a good idea, no matter how much you got pushed to gather snippets of gossip, aiming for some kind of scoop. Was the monetary reward really that enticing to some people?
Not minding it very much, I sped up some more. ‘East area should be the changing rooms. Does he want to take pictures there, or what?’ Okay, maybe it was time for a more forceful removal. Upon arrival, I saw the suspicious figure standing stock-still, as a giant loomed over him. Over two meters tall, with large, muscular frame, Steve must have arrived before me. Being pulled in an uncomfortable hug — if you want to call it that — the trespasser was unable to move. “Target secured.”
“Good work. Please go and hand him over, I will take over here.”
To reply, Steve gave me a small nod. Still holding our target the same way, he carried him away. AS he had his hands literally full, I phoned back via radio.
“Target secured. Steve is handing him over. Covering his area until return.”
“Understood. Continue your work.”

Minimal chatter on the radio helped with coordination. I had to take over his post, since he was patrolling the changing rooms. Can’t leave those unguarded. Walking along the corridor, I spied movement from the corner of my eyes. ’Was the other guy only a decoy? Still, so much going on… shouldn’t be a surprise.’ The current event was our company’s annual stage concert, showing off the new talents and old-time favorites. Essentially, one big promo-action, catering to investors and high ranking executives. Even a newbie in security like me got drafted for it. …Though my usual duties would have sent me here anyway.

Taking care not to tap of the possible other person, I moved along as if nothing had happened, looking around the corner. The passageway was empty. However, there were two doors, each leading to a bath room. Deciding upon the men’s room, I entered, and closed the door soundlessly. Out of all the stalls, only one was occupied. ‘Let’s try something.’
“How long do you intend to sit there and take a shit! Get back to work!” I shouted loudly, banging against the door with my fist.
A shriek came from the inside. “J-Just five more minutes.”
“Huh? Maybe turn your comms on, and tell me again! You could at least listen to what’s going on.”
“Y-yes, in a second.”
Naturally, this would lead to nowhere, but I was just playing for time. These toilets had locks that could be opened from the outside with special tools, just in case something broke and a person was locked inside. Before we started work, I had asked one of the maintenance crew to borrow me a set.

Perhaps his agitation had made the man not hear the tools working, or his mind flustered, as he froze up when he saw me swing open the door, oblivious how it could have happened. The second trespasser was sitting on the toilet — still fully clothed, mind you — and had a laptop on his thighs. Peering over the screen, I recognized one of the changing rooms being displayed on it.
“Installed a camera in one of the rooms? Not bad, looks like you got some skill.” The perpetrator’s face paled. “Now, either you tell me where you planted that device, remove it, and quietly move along to the police station, or I will forcibly drag you there, adding obstruction of justice to your charges of espionage, stalking and trespassing.”
Upon hearing my statement, the face in front of me rapidly drained of color, until it was almost snow-white. No way I could actually do something like that, or singlehandedly decide on it. But being able to pull of a convincing bluff like this was useful, as it prevented having to get rough. Although, I might have overdone it, as he was completely frozen up.

“Alright, so the forceful method it is.” I stepped forward, and tightly grabbed his wrist.
“N-no, please don’t.” He started freaking out a bit. “Please, I’ll cooperate, so please, d-don’t turn me in.” He pleaded. At least he was in working order again.
“That depends on your behavior from now.” I let go of his wrist, and glared at him. At least at times like these, my mean expression was useful for some thing.
“Y-Yes.” He scrambled up, and walked in front, out of the bath. I followed him to one of the rooms. Recalling the time schedule for the events, it belonged to the band currently on stage. ‘Someone must have leaked documents of today, or he got lucky with the timing. Nice. Now we also have to look for a potential insider.’ Grueling to think about the work ahead of us, in the time the guy managed to unlock the door. I glanced through the room, but nothing seemed off.

He quickly removed the installed camera. We left the room, and the guy asked cautiously “So, can I go now?”
“Not quite.” “B-” “I’ll escort you out. Did you really think I’d let you roam around here now?” Upon hearing this, he let his objections go, instead looking relieved. We slowly made our way towards the east exit, when we came across a returning person.
“This is?”
“Please take him out too Steve.”
“Wha-” In his moment of shock, the guy has already been grabbed by Steve. “What is the meaning of this!? What about our promise!?”
“I never made a promise with you. Also, did you really think we’d just let you go like that? Are you an idiot or something?”
“!” Getting over his shock, he tried to struggle free. But there was no escaping Steve’s hold, as I knew from first hand experience during our sparring sessions.
Ignoring his cries, I turned on the speaker of my radio. “Another person secured, being handed over. Installed a camera, might need interrogation.”
“Understood. Please continue.”

With the imminent danger removed, it was back to patrol.
‘Not that it would take much to make him crack. He’s a complete amateur. Probably hired as a throwaway pawn. Still, this many people try to pull something during this event, every year apparently. Sigh. Why can’t they just learn from history.’
At least after this, it was just usual patrols without much interruption in my perimeter, and the event concluded peacefully.


“Good work, everyone. Cheers!”
“Cheers!!!” Everyone clanged their glasses together.
Since we had a very large event, involving most of the company, the higher-ups decided to reward everyone by footing every bill tonight. This applied to everyone involved: not only the security department, but the bands, models, managers, organizers and so on too.
Each devision usually kept to itself, and had organized some form of get together for everyone involved with them. We, the security staff — minus some of our higher ranked people who had to play nice with executives, those poor souls — gathered in a large izakaya which was reserved for us.
Since everyone was in party mood, and it meant they all had some kind of alcohol in their glasses. I was one of the few exceptions, as I was not yet legally allowed to drink, and instead had water. Talk about disappointing.

“Hey, what’s with that expression? Don’t worry. Next month, you can drink with us properly.”
The person talking to me was Smith, a coworker. One of the higher ranking people, she had led to communications tonight, giving orders and organizing our routes. She had also been the one I reported to. A nice superior, she had also done most of the training for the recruits this past year. Generally easy going, but still organized when it counted.
“Don’t be so half hearted. Come on guys, support me here.”
She turned to face the people around us. Before the toasting, people had found themselves together in groups. Ours consisted of members which I had grown accustomed to. A few new recruits like me, who had joined last year, and some of our trainers and seniors that thought us the skills of trade.

The people of our circle that hadn’t split off yet turn to face me.
“I mean, we could get you some if everyone keeps quiet.”
“Usually I would agree, but this isn’t one of our outings, the company sponsored it. So we should be more careful.”
“What are you talking about? As if they are gonna count every drop we drink here. So, bottoms up it is!”
“Did you at least keep count of how much you had yet? It only started and you are drunk.”
“I ain’t drunk yet, I can keep going and going! Hick.”
“That’s what every drunkard says.”
The usual bickering and chit chat ensued.
“Well, let’s ignore that guy for now. How do you feel? It has been almost a year since you joined us. Feel any changes since then?”
“Yes. It got easier to work alongside others in an organized manner.”
“…That’s all?”
“Yes. To be honest, I still think of myself as a newbie.”
“Come on, there is something as too much humbleness.”

Smith was appalled by my response. She quickly spun around, and grabbed another recruit. “How about you, Hanami? Surely you wouldn’t give me a boring answer like him.”
“Wha-!” The unsuspecting girl shrieked upon the sudden contact. While they both may be women, Smith was overdoing it again with the contact between them. I could understand her intentions though. She wanted to get the shy girl to overcome some barriers.
Mustering her courage, Hanami tries to speak up. We turn to her, and she faces down, avoiding eye contact while muttering her response. “Maybe… confronting people. Today, he grabbed that one guy-”
“No, not about him. Ignore that Shuuichi guy, he’s no fun. I mean you.”
“D-Don’t worry about me. After all, I haven’t made much progress.”
“What are you talking about, you are remarkable. Right, Shuuichi?” The last part was stressed forcefully. ‘First you exclude me, now you rope me in.’ But, right now it didn’t concern Smith, it was Hanami’s turn.

“You may be shy, but that is alright. You look at situations from another angle, and notice things we miss.” It was true. Despite her demure statue, she helped us pick out potential dangers.
“Yes yes, he is right. You know, I thought about promoting slash moving you to another post. Observation, organizing and so on, more my direction. What do you say?”
“N-no. Someone like me…”
“Come on, don’t talk about yourself in that way. Right Steve?” She involved more people to give her a confidence boost. Pretty much all of us were supportive of each-other, so more people that had overheard parts of the conversation had gathered around.
“Yes. I wanted to thank you, for the job two weeks ago. Without your help, I wouldn’t have gotten the perpetrator.” Steve’s words were always impactful. While he may not be the quickest nor smartest, his bulk meant he was perfect for the job on the front-lines. He assisted many rookies before, making him well liked and well respected. Sure, him giving a positive reinforcement should be helpful.

“Ah, no. No need to-”
“Thank someone like you? What are you talking about?” More people started chiming in. “With your observations we caught many trespassers. That’s our hawk after all!”
“Hawk? Since when? I thought we called her eagle eyes?”
“No, please-”
“Come one, give yourself some credit.”
While my coworkers tried to give Hanami some mental support, she franticly tried to evade all their gazes and shrunk at the added attention. She breathed deeply to calm down. ‘Despite her nervousness, she has talent for this job. Direct confrontations are basically out of the way, but…’
“Ah. Someone is coming this way.”
‘People coming this way?’ I moved to see the way she viewed. I didn’t see anything noteworthy in the crowds around us… until I meet the eyes of someone. The person noticed me too, and waved.
“You may be right. I’ll head over there. Thanks.” Taking this as my cue to leave, I excused myself and moved, leaving behind the increasing praises on her. She had Smith with her, so she would be alright. Despite her starting all of this, if it gets to much, she will cut everyone of.

Careful not to bump into anyone, I moved past the groups, and found the person that was looking for me. Always being wary of her surroundings, it is no wonder she noticed me approaching. She quickly stepped through the people talking, and stood in front of me.
“Yo.” ‘Carefree as ever.’
“How was the gathering with the higher ranking people?”
“Boring, as always. Completely business minded, those guys. Always obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder, how to make things more cost-effective, empty lip service, bla bla bla.”
“Aren’t you too somewhere up there?”
“Kind of, but I wasn’t that desperate. Anyway, let’s talk about fun stuff.”

The cheerful woman in front of me was Himura Seiko. A close friend of my sister, and long time acquaintance. She helped me out getting this job with her recommendation, which meant a lot around here. Without any recommendation, you weren’t even getting in. And despite being a few years younger than Smith, she was ranked above her. The latter played it of with saying they have different roles and specialties, which was true. Luckily, they got along good enough, ensuring no bad blood.

“You were looking for me?” If I came upon her, I would understand it. But looking for me directly, it meant something was going on.
“Directly to business? Now now, don’t be so cold to me. Let’s talk some.”
“Himura-san, -”
“Eeeh, who is that?”
“…Seiko. We are at work, and you are my superior, therefore-”
“Don’t mind the small details. It’s not really a secret we know each other privately. I recommended you, and info tends to fly around.”
Knowing the only thing I would get from continuing to press my point in this conversation was a headache, I gave up with formality.
“Seiko, if you are looking for me, it must be something important that can’t wait until tomorrow. So let’s get it out of the way first.”
“Cheh, party-pooper.” She seemed a bit displeased by it, and took a sip from her drink. She had probably intended to joke around it and tease me until she revealed the information. By no means am I against her antics, but knowing it could be something important, I wanted to be aware of it as soon as possible. “It’s easy, the boss wants to see you tomorrow.”

“The boss?”
“Yep. Didn’t say any reason, just you should meet him first thing in the morning. I don’t think it is anything bad for you, but he seemed… urging.”
“Any idea what it might be?” With him, I never knew what it was. I couldn’t get a read on him, which made me nervous.
“Not really. But I can tell you he won’t throw you out. Otherwise, he would have handed me your letter.”
I started to mull over what the case might be. ‘The only thing currently coming to mind was the camera guy I caught. Maybe he wants some testimony, or my opinion. It could turn into something larger after all. Still, for the info to travel that quickly to him…’
My train of thought gets interrupted by a hefty slap on my back.

“What are you brooding about? This is a party for good work, get into a better mood. Also, you didn’t screw up while doing a big event like this, you should be happy.”
“Even if it was bigger, it was essentially the same work as always. I just can’t shake this feeling. I bet boss is scheming something.”
“I wouldn’t put it past him.”
“Would at least be the norm.”
“Agreed. It is his favorite past-time after all.” Several people passing by chimed in hearing me mention him, before going on their way once more. Our boss was notorious for his erratic behavior. ‘How is this devision surviving?’
“Cheer up some. Here, lemme get ya some booze.”
“I’m off.”
“Don’t let me keep you from the important people.”
I waved my hand with my back turned to Seiko while I walked away. Couldn’t let her do something illegal when she might be watched by other high ranking staff. At least, it looked like she didn’t drink too much. ‘So she really knows how to show restrain when it counts.’
When she is visiting my sister’s place, or went out to drink with her, she would always drink till she dropped. By now, or already several years back, it had become her second home with how often she stayed the night…

Trodding through the crowd, I waved the faces I recognized goodbye.
“Already leaving?”
“Have to head to work early tomorrow.”
“Uwah, that sucks. Take care.”
Some sentences like these were exchanged. It might have been a party, but I didn’t feel like it anymore. Worry kept nagging in the back of my mind. I knew it would show my face, so I left, as to not down the mood around me.

Outside of the building, I headed for a nearby apartment complex. It belonged to the company, which was also relatively close. It allowed for the people living there to have short commuting times. The izakaya here was frequented often, as it was a short distance home for many of us.
Anyway, it meant I had a short way home. When I arrived, I undressed, put my clothes aside, and took a shower. Leaving the bath, I checked the time: 23:34. For many still early, but I had to be at work early, meaning it would be a short night. Not wanting to waste much more, I check my phone to see if I got any important messages. Seeing none, I set my alarm, and laid down to sleep.