Chapter 24:


Purple Prose

Issei scrambled outside, the pupils of his eyes mere pinpricks: just ten feet away was Murasaki and three men in suits. One of them was gripping her arm while pulling the toy axe from her hand, and Murasaki, squirming, tried to break free, but the other two rounded on her.

Any bystanders who saw them promptly ran off, or simply avoided them.

Issei charged forward and seized the man’s hand, his fingers pushing into the webbing of his knuckles as he watched the man groan in pain.

He spared no mercy as he hissed through his teeth. “You got three seconds to let her go before you get hurt.”

One of the men wearing sunglasses and a trilby hat ran over, waving his hands. “Whoa whoa whoa–there’s no need to get violent!”

Issei glared. “Like you were getting with her?”

He gestured to the first man, who then released his grip, and Murasaki, her eyes brimming with tears, promptly ran behind Issei. He shoved away the man’s hand and threw his arm in front of her in a protective stance.

“Look,” the leader explained, “we’re associates of her father. He’s worried about her, you know? We just want to talk to her.”

As though she knew all along what they were after, Murasaki hid her face in Issei’s back and sobbed.

“I think you waived that right already,” Issei growled.

He chuckled as his comrades formed up. “I don’t know who you are, Beefstick, but do you understand what you’re doing? You’re going against the Tategoto family. He’s a wealthy man and he's got pull in Aomori. From this side, it looks to me like a man keeping a father away from his daughter. Sounds an awful lot like kidnapping to me.”

Issei didn’t relent. “And all I see are a bunch of thugs bullying a grown woman to do what she doesn’t want.”

The three men looked at each other. Some pedestrians stopped in their tracks, wondering what was going on.

The leader sighed. “Guess we have to do this the hard way.”

Rain fell.

Issei tensed up as he strutted forward. His minions circled to both sides as the leader got on the tips of his toes, his face inches from Issei's, his breath smelling like cigarettes.

He reached inside his suit. “I’ll give you another chance: you really don’t want to mess with us.”

To Issei’s horror, he heard two distinct clicks from inside his suit. “We’re packin'. You know what that means?”

Issei couldn’t tell if Murasaki heard, but she clutched his waist and trembled with each breath she took. “Don’t do it Issei…I’ll go with them…”

He glanced behind him. “Murasaki, you can’t! You mustn’t throw away your dreams like that!”

“I’ll throw them away if it means you won’t get hurt!”

Issei ground his teeth in frustration as the thugs grinned, knowing they had won. His eyes darted about as his instincts came to a crossroads. He could take the man in front of him, but if the other two were ‘packing’ as he had said, then there’s no way he’d make it out alive–worse yet, they might even hit Murasaki. Issei would never forgive himself if something happened to her. What should I do?

He had to think of something.

Wait–two people among the crowd were walking this way. Whether someone had brought them over, or it was just part of their job routine, or even pure luck, a man and woman wearing dark blue vests over light-blue buttoned shirts were coming down the road from a distance, each carrying a flashlight. They were in a pair, and glistening on top of their heads were firm hats housing a brass badge.

Issei bellowed with all his might. “OFFICERS! THEY HAVE GUNS!”

Alerted, they stopped in their tracks, turned their bodies, then began running.


The thugs turned around–Issei reeled back and drove his fist squarely through the man’s jaw, sending his body into the side of a bench, causing his torso to snap back and buckle his legs.


Issei grabbed Murasaki’s hand and they sprinted as fast as both sets of legs could match, breaths heaving as they searched for the entrance.

One of the thugs shouted–something cracked behind them like a thunderbolt, and in an instant it snapped against the pavement and Issei felt a shard of concrete bite his ankle.

“Oh my God!”

“It’s okay! I’m fine and you’re fine!”

For a brief moment, Issei looked back: just after that shot rang out, the officers had tackled the thugs to the ground from behind, one of them shouting “drop your weapon!”

Even still they ran, ran as much as their legs could take them, only stopping when they saw no signs of both the thugs and the police. Issei doubled over, wheezing, feeling a sharp sting catch in his chest. Murasaki, catching her breath, leaned to one side against a brick wall.

Then, as if she had just processed what just happened, Murasaki hung her head and cried, her tears falling with the rain. At once, Issei came towards her and wrapped his arms around her waist. It didn’t matter if it was pouring–they will hug in the rain.

“Issei–I was so scared! I didn’t know then that he had a gun, but I heard it–they were really going to hurt you–I couldn’t bear to have that happen. That’s why I…”

He rubbed her back as they swayed. “I’m sorry, Murasaki. I should have been there at the start. If I was, they wouldn’t have messed with you. Seeing them grab you so roughly like that really pissed me off. Even if the officers didn’t come over, I still would have defended you.”

“No! You can’t think that!” She rapped his chest with her balled hands. “You would have been hurt, or worse. If something happened to you because of me, I would never, ever be happy.”

Issei held the back of her head, feeling her damp hair brush against his palm. “I know…I’m sorry. I just didn’t want you throwing away all that you worked so hard for–I don’t want you to look like your university photo again.”

She sniffed, and her hands opened as they lay on his chest. “Thank you for saving me again.”

When was there a second time where I saved her from thugs?  

“Anytime,” he said. “How about we get out of this rain?”

Her head rubbed against his chest in a nodding motion. “Yeah.”