Chapter 11:

"Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?"


We now return to the perspective of MIZUTAMI SUMIKO who’s own self-description of THE MAIN CHARACTER might be less accurate than a description of TOMBOY KAISERBOO with only TWO DAYS UNTIL THE CULTURE FESTIVAL.

The usual heat wave that arrives at the start of November disguises the fact that it’s mid-autumn and the sun sets pretty early in the day. Wandering all day is fun, but I guess it’s time for me to start heading home. Nii-chan used to yell at me for skipping school and staying out late, but he’s been so busy recently that’s he become too tired for all of that. I almost miss it. And since he’s so tired, and because I did kind of piss him off today, I guess I should make him dinner or something.

I head to the Nishi-Dori Konbini, a small store that’s not too far from my apartment. It’s down on the road by the station - this time of night, the streets are pretty packed while the last of cicadas swirl beneath the streetlamps. I can’t prove it with scientific certainty, but I always feel like I’m going in the opposite direction when I walk through crowds. I'm swimming upstream by my lonesome, so I stuff my hands further in my jacket pockets and duck my head slightly.

The konbini is at the top of a small slope on a side-road packed between a few residential houses. As I head up the hill, I see a familiar figure standing in front of a tall stone wall lining the road. Long legs, dark hair to her shoulders, goofy smile…Saito Michi, that’s her name, one of the members of the Historical Research Club. She’s laser-focused on a small cat strolling across the top of the wall. I have to admit, the whole thing is kind of cute, her face especially, but before I can say hi, the cat bounds away down the wall, and so does Michi along the road. The two disappear down a hill and I shake my head and smile.

Michi had been waiting just outside the konbini. As I approach, President Miyata Miyuki of the History Club leads her three charges out of the store and speaks in a commanding tone.

“I’ve identified twenty-nine different chicken products in the average konbini, so if we each take seven, we’ll be able to taste every product in a single night. That will help us rank them.”

“That leaves one left over,” fish-eyed Hayashi Hanzo points out. "And why do you want to rank them anyway?"

“Good math,” Miyata answers, ignoring his latter question. “As a reward, you can have the extra.”

Hanzo just frowns.

“I will not be eating the extra," Yasuda 'the Wrath' Junko declares in her deadpan voice. "For chickens are nervous birds, and I don't wish to become craven."

Hanzo side-eyes her, then side-eyes me. The rest of the group is too focused on the chicken question, so only Hanzo notices me. He gives me an awfully amused look and rejoins the conversation about the chicken.

Maybe I’ll eat that goddamn chicken, how about that?

The usual electronic chimes go off as I enter the store. I sigh in relief at the air conditioning, though everything feels just a bit too bright and too clean. When you live your whole life in grime, anything too sanitized and corporate and indicative of bigger things takes on a sense of unreality. But good food is good food - I have to force myself to move past the delicious-looking imported Russian candies and Iranian confectionaries, Chinese chips and Laotian snacks.

In one aisle, the thief known as Kato Ryoko sits in a crouch, eyeing a thousand yen bill (no doubt stolen) in the light to see if it’s legitimate. When she lowers it, she finds my frowning face. I have no love for thievery; she gives me her shark-grin and shrugs. The chimes go off again as someone else enters; Ryoko smiles even wider at the thought of an incoming fresh wallet. Just give me a chance to kick your ass, Ryoko.

I shake my head and arrive in the aisle with ramen. I’m not that good at cooking, but this is real life - I’m not a klutz who turns toast into black chunks or sets off fires or anything. And I don’t make cookies for people like Hayashi Hanzo, either, thank you very much. But in any case, for tonight, I’m competent enough to put noodles into a pot of boiling water-

“Freeze! No sudden moves, hands up!”

I don’t freeze, because this is a familiar voice barking out its command at the front of the store, probably at the cashier, but the shelves block my view. I set down the ramen and slink over to the front of the aisle. My heart picks up - I’ve somehow crossed paths with a real life robbery. This doesn’t happen everyday, even in the undercity of San-Machi. My breathing comes out shallow, excited - I’m either going to stop a robbery or die trying.

I poke my head around the aisle, and then all I can do is sigh. Life can be so disappointing.

I step out to confront the robber. “What are you doing, Haruki?”

Hair-Trigger Haruki keeps a hand in his jacket pocket, mimicking a pistol. The alleged weapon is aimed at the hapless cashier, a college-aged girl who’s cowering with her hands up with a nametag saying Kabashima. 

“Mizutami Sumiko,” Haruki growls. He’s wearing shades to hide his identity, and is sporting an odd blue necklace with a jade-colored gemstone in the middle, but I recognize that scratchy bit of stubble and his natural, arrogant pose anywhere. Well, that and the giant black pompadour that reminds me of a ship's ram. “What’s it look like I’m doing? I’m a Senko, I’m a Hiroi-koi, I take what I want, when I want!”

“P-Please,” Kabashima the cashier chokes out. “My b-boss says he already paid this month’s rent to the Bandit King-”

“Is Ren here right now?!” Haruki roars. “No, Ren’s not here! Haruki’s here, Haruki's in charge! If I want to rob a store, I'm gonna rob a store. I just want my goddamn respect!”

“Relax,” I say. “Let’s take this outside, Haruki. I’ll beat your ass and we can go home before anything drastic happens-”

The jade seems to glow for a moment and then Haruki swivels towards me and then there’s a real gun pressed into my forehead.

I stand there, at a loss for words. The world has retreated and retracted until nothing remains beyond my rising heartbeat and the cold steel and the slight hum of the fluorescent lights above us. Everything else washes away. Nothing exists beyond this moment here and now.

Haruki holds a Japanese-made pistol, the Taifu x04. I’m not sure how it made its way over to Shikishima. But it’s here nonetheless.

His finger’s on the trigger. If he pulls it, it’s over. Everything’s over. Just like that.

I decide not to do anything.

I stand there, waiting, feeling a bead of sweat roll down my forehead. Haruki’s sweating, too, as the enormity of the situation finally hits him. Neither of us say anything. He’s taking too long, and he knows this, because he narrows his eyes.

And then there’s a commotion at the back of the store as two girls tussle their way out of the bathroom.

“I don’t see why you had to go in with me!” Saito Fuumi says, so Mizushima says, “You went in there to hide from the History Club, I wanted to hide too!” so Fuumi says, “It was just a single stall, we were ass to ankles in there!” so Mizushima says, “Think of it as an interesting story to tell one day! And it could’ve been worse, I could’ve groped you, groping is in nowadays, at least in the anime community, and maybe giving you a good rubdown would increase our chances at survival!” so Fuumi puts her in a headlock so Mizushima puts her in an armbar and then they both stop when they see the gunman at the front of the store.

They awkwardly separate themselves from each other.

Mizushima coughs into her fist. “You were in the middle of something-”

I swat away the Taifu x04, which goes off with the sound of thunder and strikes an overhead light, kicking off a storm of sharp sparks while glass shards rain down around me. Fuumi, Mizushima, and Ryoko all scream and flee towards the door while the cashier hits the panic button beneath the counter to call for the Hantei. I palm strike Haruki in the chest; the pistol goes flying out of his hands. He leaps away and retrieves the switchblade from his jacket; I raise my hands in a fighting stance.

Haruki leaps and jabs with the switchblade, trying to puncture my stomach, my chest, maybe even a slash on the arms to claim victory. I fight best in open space, but the front of the konbini is an enclosed environment, limiting my movements. Glass crunches beneath my sneakers as I backpedal, staying just out of range of his switchblade. Haruki grows angry and puts his back into the next jab, and then I have him.

I sidestep his knife, grab his arm, and do a full body turn. Haruki’s momentum carries him forward; I pull his arm over my shoulder and use the momentum to lift him off his feet. His eyes go wide as I hurl him overhead, right into one of the konbini’s glass windows. He shatters right through and lands on the asphalt outside.

I catch my breath, opting not to pursue. Haruki’s clothes are torn open and there are trickles of blood in one too many spots; he also opts not to continue. He stands and limps out of there, no doubt heading for his motorcycle at the vacant mall lot not too far from here.

I sigh and look down, seeing my expression displayed a thousand different ways in the broken shards - a stupefied face, grinning in spite of herself, because she’s not sure how else to react. Another dozen shards show her trembling hands.

To give myself something to do, I decide to check on the cashier. Hopefully she’s high-tailed it out of here, but when I peek over the counter, I find her unconscious from fright on the ground.

I guess I better stay until Hantei shows up. I leave a coin on the counter and start eating some potato chips, a thousand different Mizutami Sumiko’s gazing up at me in a constellation of broken glass strewn across the floor.

Steward McOy