Volume 1 Chapter 3: The Correct Way to Steal a Moped I (Part 3)

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Volume 1 – Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, Sono Ichi

Chapter 3 – The Correct Way to Steal a Moped I (Part 3)


She was dragged into the theatre, half against her will.

On top of that, Asaba Yuuko, in her hurry to leave the house, had forgotten to bring out with her one other thing aside from her watch.

Her wallet.

For this reason, Suizenji had paid for her ticket. She wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but he also bought her a pamphlet, some cola, and a bag of popcorn. She asked him what he was up to, and Suizenji had replied with a giggle that it was to be part of the disguise.

She was now sitting on a seat near the back and on the left side of a nearly empty theatre, in a rather petulant mood. Sitting on her right was Suizenji. The screen had finished showing a news report of the state of affairs in the North and the movie had started rolling, but Suizenji did not so much as glance at the screen. Instead, he whipped out a small pair of binoculars and focused his attention on the back of two heads sitting near the center of the theatre.

Well... she did make the mistake of showing up at the ticketing counter the same time as Suizenji did.

This blunder of hers might ruin her chances of getting married, thought Yuuko.

What’s with his ‘what a coincidence’? She was sure Suizenji was involved in planning the events of today. He must have known, from the very beginning, that her brother and ‘the girl on the phone’ will be going to the Teikokuza Movie Theatre and that they will watch the 10:30 AM screening of the movie, hence was lying in wait for them near the ticketing counter. And, just as he predicted, they had appeared with Yuuko following close behind.

“—hey.”

“Hm?” Suizenji answered, with the binoculars still raised to his eyes.

“How much do you know?” Yuuko whispered.

“Let’s do an exchange of information and not hide anything from each other. We shall start with you,” Suizenji whispered back.

“Why me?”

“That’s because you’ll have less information than I do. It’ll be quicker if you shared whatever you have first.”

In a peevish tone, Yuuko replied, “—my brother had been acting strangely since last night, so I looked through his things. I found a magazine with a red circle on it and a Club Application Form filled in by an Iriya Kana. I then followed him and saw him meet ‘the girl who cries a lot’ at the bus terminal in front of the train station. ‘The girl who cries a lot’ was crying at that time. After that, she turned into ‘the girl who looks around’, and after that she became ‘the girl on the phone.” I reached this movie theatre only a few moments before meeting you. That’s all I know.”

Suizenji lowered his binoculars and turned to look at Yuuko.

“Just to make sure, the girl whom you call ‘the girl blah blah blah’ refers to Special Correspondent Iriya, does it not?”

Looking past the darkness that separated them, Yuuko pointed a finger at the girl sitting on her brother’s left.

“That’s her? That’s Iriya Kana?”

“You’re speaking too loudly.”

Yuuko gulped. She slid down lower in her seat and instinctively looked across to the center of the theatre where the two were sitting.

“Your information interests me greatly. This is the first time I have heard of Special Correspondent Iriya filling in a Club Application Form. I am also very surprised to hear that Special Correspondent Iriya had been crying, as it is rather hard to believe that she would.”

“It’s your turn now.”

A crease suddenly appeared in Suizenji’s brow. He once again lifted the binoculars to his eyes and leaned forward.

“Hey, it’s your turn.”

“Hush.”

“That ain’t being fair!”

“They’re talking now.”

He held one ear bud from his earphones to her and Yuuko realized for the first time that he had the other one in his ear the entire time. The other end of the cable disappeared into his bag.

Yuuko stuffed the ear bud into her ears.

She couldn’t hear anything, but it didn’t sound like the earphones were switched off. It was like being on the phone, except that the person on the other end was not speaking.

“What’s this?”

“Live coverage.”

Just then, her brother’s voice could be heard clearly over the earphones.

“—are you sleepy?”

Yuuko saw the head beside her brother’s shake from side to side.

Suizenji shot Yuuko a brief wide-eyed glance, a grin tugging at the corner of his lips.

“Before his date, Special Correspondent Asaba and I held a top-secret meeting at the diner Shimizu to come up with a strategic plan. The magazine which you found in Special Correspondent Asaba’s room was one of our sources of information during that meeting. However, that meeting had another important purpose: I needed to install a tiny wireless microphone onto one of his belongings.”

“Does my brother—”

“Of course he doesn’t know.”

Such a horrible thing to do, Yuuko thought. What did he take other people’s dates for?

She could hear her brother saying to her:

“—if you’re sleepy, go ahead and sleep.”

The head beside her brother’s shook firmly from side to side, but shortly after, it started to sway like a person rowing a boat as she nodded off. Eventually, her head drooped to her chest and there it remained, without moving an inch. Slowly, like a magnet, her head started to tilt towards her brother.

“Oh!” exclaimed Suizenji.

Yuuko could only watch with a slack jaw. Iriya, who looked like she was fast asleep, had rested her head against her brother. She could only see the back of their heads and couldn’t know for sure, but it looked like her entire body was leaning against her brother’s, too.

Suizenji balled his fists, and, like a second firing off instructions to his boxer from the corner of the boxing ring, said in a low voice:

“Special Correspondent Asaba! You have to kiss her here! You have to kiss her, for the sake of our future!”

Yet, her brother’s head did not move.

A long time seemed to pass by. Yuuko stared at the back of her brother’s head, feeling like she was being tossed about by huge waves of an emotion that she couldn’t put a name to. A terrible struggle must be taking place within her brother now and she knew that he would no longer have eyes or ears for the movie that was playing. However—

Will her brother kiss her?

Or will he not?

Does she want her brother to kiss her?

Or did she not want her brother to?

Just then, she heard the sound of the door opening quietly. Light streamed in from outside and the inside of the theatre became just a little brighter before becoming dark again as the door closed. Yuuko turned to look. The two people who had just entered the theatre took their seats in the back row on the extreme right of the theatre. Yuuko couldn’t see how their faces looked nor could she make out their features in the darkness.

—yet, she had a vague feeling that something was off.

The first thing she found strange was that they were both fully grown adults. This movie, if anything, was intended for young viewers, with the few movie-goers in the theatre looking like they were from middle school or high school. Furthermore, it was two adults on a date. She wondered if two adults on a date would choose to watch a movie like this.

The second thing she found strange was where they had chosen to sit. As the theatre was rather empty, many good seats in the middle section were still free. The couple had no good reason to choose to sit right at the edge of the theatre.

Well, she and Suizenji were also sitting at a corner of the theatre, but that was because they weren’t here to watch the movie. They had some other deep, dark reason to be there…

Which means that couple might have one too.

Perhaps the two of them intended to use the darkness of the theatre as a cover to do naughty things to each other, or something along those lines.

 

“Kya~~~!”

Shiina Mayumi exclaimed in pure delight, in a voice that was barely loud enough for Enomoto to hear. As if that was not outrageous enough, she also dared to jab a finger discretely in their direction as she continued speaking:

“Aw~~~ They all over each other, aren’t theyyyy~~~!”

“Be quiet. Don’t swing your feet. Act like you don’t know anything.”

“But just look at that~~~! I have never seen Kana-chan act that way before~~~~!”

“…Hey, maybe she really is asleep.”

“You think so too?” said Mayumi Shiina. Her voice had abruptly regained its usual composure.

Enomoto gave her a small nod. “I can’t imagine her being able to manage something quite as coquettish as that. She just doesn’t know how to,” he said, flatly.

“—well, they seem to be doing fine. They look like they’re getting along with each other very well indeed.”

“More importantly though, why on earth is Asaba still watching the movie?”

“What’s wrong with watching a movie at a movie theatre?”

“Don’t be stupid. The movie is always of secondary importance. Why else would a boy go through all that trouble to invite a girl to somewhere as empty and dark as a theatre like this?”

“Ehhh, I’m sure you’re wrong about that. It’s probably only a coincidence that not many people came to catch this movie at this timing. Asaba-kun isn’t that shrewd a person to plan something like this beforehand.”

“Naw, I won’t allow him to worm his way out of this one. I don’t care if it was a coincidence or not, but it isn’t every day that a girl offers herself up to you, ya know. Go Asaba, go! At least give her a kiss, knock her out with a kiss!”

“I don’t think that’s possible for Asaba-kun. But then again, it’s nice to be young, isn’t it? Once Asaba-kun overcomes that first bloom of youth he wouldn’t care less if he was on a train, or a park... Oh, but look how innocent he is now!”

Enomoto let out a sigh, his shoulders sagging dejectedly. He gazed up at the dark ceiling of the theatre. “—I guess. I probably have no right to criticize him. I remember being like him too, once.”

“Onee-san here hates liars, you know.”

“I ain’t bluffing.”

“Shall I let you in on something really interesting? All your victims from General Affairs, Accounting, and Public Relations intend to come together to form a plaintiff group to file a suit against you. I can’t wait to see the courts put you on the death row. You’ll be the first person in the world to be sentenced to death for sexual harassment.”

“Did you honestly think that Kimura, or whoever it was, was serious when they told you that? In any case, I was once like Asaba, when I was his age.”

“I don’t think so. Not you, at least.”

“When was the first time you kissed a man?”

Hidden by the darkness of the theatre, Mayumi Shiina flushed red. It was rather difficult to tell when the only light in the room illuminating their faces was from the screen that was so far away.

“It doesn’t matter when I did, does it?”

“Fine, you don’t need to tell me when you did, but I’m confident that mine came a lot later than yours. Look here, I will never forget when I kissed a girl for the first time, it was…”

“W-Wait. There’s no need to announce it here for the whole world to—“

“—in the autumn of my twenty-sixth year.”

After a period of inexplicable silence, Shiina Mayumi finally spoke up.

“Mmf,” she snorted. “I heard what you said that time, you know. We drank with everyone on the day we successfully got Iriya transferred into the school, didn’t we? Weren’t you boasting about being popular with the ladies even when you were young?”

“Why would you remember something like that? Anyway, I wasn’t lying when I said that. I was popular with the girls.”

“Chief Justice, Your Honor… The defendant is making lame excuses… He’s trying to hide the crimes he had committed in the past by making contradictory statements…”

“Well, I got confessed to a good couple of times and even received love letters from girls from other schools. I ignored all of them. Even if I didn’t ignore them, I most definitely did not go on a date with any of them. At that time, I told myself that it would look uncool to be seen flirting with girls— as if I really thought so, too! That was simply an excuse; the truth was that I didn’t have the balls to date any one of them.”

Shiina Mayumi, with a suitably suspicious look, continued:

“—balls? Why would you need them? Shouldn’t it be alright, since the other person has already confessed to you?”

“I was probably just being overly self-conscious. I grew up in the rural countryside, after all. All you needed to do was walk home with a girl; rumors would spawn and your friends will poke fun at you about it the next day. It doesn’t sound all that bad, but I hated it, which made me really annoyed when someone confessed to me. She’ll cry if I turn her down, too. Oh, by the way, turning all those girls down like that made me even more popular, for some strange reason. The girls would go, oh, Enomoto is different from all the other shy boys! I wonder who it is that he really likes! Man, you got to be shitting me. I harbored so many perverted fantasies at that age that I swear I could have burst.”

People often adopt a cheerful tone as they speak of their tragic events in their past. There was a smile on Enomoto’s lips as he spoke of his.

“It wasn’t as if no girl caught my eye at that time, ya know. But, when I turned around in the classroom to look at the girl who I did like, I would find her comforting the girl I turned down during lunch break. Then again, I would never have found the guts to confess to her. Meanwhile, some other guy will come by and sweep her off her feet. I agonized over it for quite a while, you know. I wondered why things kept turning out that way, and why things like that kept happening to me. After going through several vicious cycles, the conclusion I reached was that I should become a person that was ‘so cool and flamboyant’ that women will find really hard to get close to me and barricade myself in a bulwark of my own shitty pride. This was when my twisted personality was at its most extreme. I couldn’t undo the curse I placed on myself, not until I went to university.”

“Where’s that?”

“Some public university in my hometown. My folks said they’d pay my tuition fees if I went there.”

“And? Which goddess appeared before you to save you from yourself?”

“Ohhh, she was so adorable.”

—who, from where, and what was her name?

Those questions were already on the tip of her tongue, but Shiina Mayumi swallowed them. Enomoto had not revealed any names or anything tangible to her thus far. In other words, he was probably telling the truth when he mentioned that he was a university student with a certain complex.

Things were different for him now. Enomoto could well be the most dangerous man in the whole of Asia right now. Many people, both inside and outside of the country, were keeping tabs on him. On the other hand, she was someone who was far closer to the ‘front line’ than Enomoto was. If she knew the name of the woman who used to be with Enomoto and she landed in the hands of the enemy somewhere, they might inject a truth serum into her. Then, a woman whose maiden name was Komatsu Yukiko, who is married with two kids and living happily in a house on Kamishiro Avenue 3-65-2 in the Yahata Precinct of the Imperial Capital would open her fridge to make preparations for dinner and 4 kilograms worth of plastic explosive C-4 in her vegetable box might detonate. In this industry, you never know what might happen. Even more so in recent times.

“University was really different from middle school and high school. It was as if your class was now open to everyone in the country, surrounding you with unfamiliar faces. I felt like I was born again, ya know? I started talking to the girl who sat next to me at a foundation seminar, we started saying that we should go out sometime, and I went on my very first date with a girl. I racked my brains like mad trying to think of a place to bring her to that would make her happy, but I knew that my hometown didn’t have very many good dating spots, and I didn’t have a car, too. Well, even now I still have no idea what I was thinking then, but I was probably insane. I brought her to the place I frequented the most at that time.”

“And where was that?”

“A fishing pond.”

“F-Fish…”

“To fish for white crucian carp.”

“Huh.”

“Surprisingly, she seemed to like it. At first, she didn’t even want to touch the fish bait, but by the time we were done we had succeeded in reeling in two wrasses and she was beside herself with joy. We went home stinking of chrysalis powder, and, on the way home, she told me that she would definitely want to do this again. She may or may not have thought of it as a date, but I did, and if not for that success, I wouldn’t be standing here now.”

A short silence followed as the two of them watched the movie.

“—so? You shared your first kiss with her in autumn when you were twenty-six?”

“No, that’s another story.”

“Hey. Why are we having this conversation again?”

“You started it, didn’t you? We see Asaba getting cold feet and I said I knew how he felt but you didn’t believe me at all. Look here, when it comes to girls, the path I walked is one covered in blood. And yet I say, go forth Asaba! Knock her out!”

Just then, on the screen which wasn’t very wide, the protagonist of the show, Miyamoto Kyouko, let out a scream. Through the worn out speakers, the scream morphed into something that didn’t sound quite human as it reverberated across all four corners of the dark theatre.

Iriya’s head twitched. She then pulled away from Asaba’s shoulder, almost leaping backward in her hurry.

“Look at that. She woke up.”

I told you so, Enomoto seemed to say as he leaned back in his chair. Iriya must be looking down, as her head was now hidden by the back of her seat. Asaba was speaking to her, earnestly.

“I wonder what he’s saying.”

“He should just tell her that he was so captivated by the sight of her sleeping face that he forgot to watch the movie,” said Enomoto, with a chortle. He seemed to be in hurry to prove the fact that he was blind to his own faults.

“—right.”

There was a black bag at Enomoto’s feet. He pulled it up onto his lap, quietly unzipping it and underdoing its flap. He started pulling things out of it, one after the other. A portable wireless transceiver. A laptop. Connecting cables. Two earphones.

“Wait. What are you planning to start?”

“Look without turning your head. Suizenji is sitting at our ten o’clock, three rows from the back and two seats from the left, right?”

“Ah,” Shiina Mayumi made a short, small sound of surprise. She was so enraptured by the sight of Iriya sticking so closely to Asaba that she had completely forgotten about Suizenji.

“—right. And that tiny little girl sitting beside him is Yuuko-chan, then?”

“She only looks small because Suizenji is beside her. She should be almost as tall as Asaba.”

Enomoto was busily moving his hands. He stuck the earbuds into his ears, connected the wireless transceiver to the laptop with the cable and launched the tuning tool on the laptop.

“Do you remember Kajiwara saying that Asaba was emitting strange radio waves?”

“When you heard him say that, you told me not to bother about it, didn’t you?”

“That’s because it’ll be rude to interfere. Suizenji probably planted a microphone on Asaba’s bag or something so that he could listen in on their conversations. Since he went through so much trouble to do that, we should just… tune in.”

He already knew which frequency to tune into as Kajiwara had already informed him of that frequency in his report. It was UHF 398.605. Wireless microphones that were sold in the market usually utilized the same six channels, with UHF 398.605 being one of them. He had expected Suizenji to come up with something more elaborate, but he knew Suizenji probably had to make do with something off-the-shelf as he had no time between today and yesterday to make large-scale preparations. Enomoto couldn’t help but grin as he thought about how Suizenji must have stayed up all night, too.

He could hear Asaba very clearly through his earphones.

—e-erm, you often take naps during lessons too don’t you, Iriya?

“Well but of c—”

“Me too me too, I want to listen too!”

Just as Enomoto held out one ear bud to her, Suizenji suddenly got up from his seat, causing both Enomoto and Shiina Mayumi to immediately look down. Suizenji disappeared behind a door with a sign that said ‘TOILET’, but returned to his seat shortly after.

 

Her brother was talking to her.

—do you have a part-time job, or something? One with a shift that ends really late at night? Ah, erm. It’s really okay. Our school doesn’t allow us to take up part-time jobs but I know quite a few people who do, still.

Yuuko stared intently at her brother’s head, who had rested his chin on the backrest of the seat in front of him, as she absentmindedly listened to his voice. Suizenji returned from the washroom. Since she was blocking the way to his seat, she thought about answering, “like hell I would” if he asked her to move out of his way, but he plopped onto the seat on her left instead.

 

Enomoto made his decision swiftly.

“Let’s get out of here. Suizenji knows we’re here.”

“Eh? Ah, wait.”

Enomoto pulled the earbuds out of his ears and hurriedly tried to close his laptop, but was interrupted by Shiina Mayumi.

“W-Wait, what’s wrong?”

“Suizenji changed his seat. He was sitting on the right of Asaba’s little sister, but after he came back from the washroom he sat on her left, instead.”

“—so?”

“It’s weird. People don’t usually do things like that. I don’t like it.”

 

“Asaba-kun. Hand me the bag on the seat next to you.”

Yuuko ignored him.

“Asaba-kun,”

“Get it yourself.”

“Just give it to me, quickly. Do your best to look as nonchalant as you can.”

Yuuko was slightly taken aback. Nevertheless, she leaned sideways to grab the strap of his bag, acting like it was a huge bother to do so. However, the bag was so heavy that she was unable to lift it up with one hand. Since her feet didn’t even touch the ground, it was hard to look nonchalant as she struggled to hand the bag to Suizenji.

“What’s in it?”

“A wireless transceiver, a spare wireless transceiver, a palmtop computer, a CCD camera, a voice recorder with a memory card, a microphone amplifier, night vision goggles, an infrared projector, seven modified all-purpose lithium batteries, and, uh I can’t remember what else.”

Suizenji slid deeper into his seat and slowly started to move his hands. He opened his bag, took out the palmtop computer and connected it to the wireless transceiver.

 

 “You’re overthinking things. How does him switching seats lead to us being discovered?”

“He might be up to something. If he’s sitting on the left of Asaba’s little sister, he becomes harder to see from where we are now.”

“And what do you think he might be doing, hiding in Yuuko-chan’s shadow?”

“Like hell I would know. It might be too late once we find out. Even if we haven’t been discovered, we’ve stayed here for far too long. We should seize the opportunity to leave now.”

“Wait a little longer, for about five minutes more, just five alright? Kana-chan just woke up and we finally get to hear them talking, after all. It’s your job to listen to them too, isn’t it?”

 

“There was something weird going on here since last night.”

Suizenji had laid the palmtop computer discretely on his lap, his fingers tapping away furiously on the tiny keyboard on it.

“There have been strange encoded signals flying all over the place in the vicinity. The signals were scrambled, originating from multiple sources on the move despite not being very strong. There didn’t seem to be too many of them in the beginning, and the signals stopped transmitting at around 7 AM. Then, I started to pick some up every now and then at around 9 AM but 10 AM was when traffic experienced a surge. 10 AM was when our two Special Correspondents Asaba and Iriya had agreed to meet.”

Yuuko knitted her brows.

“—so?” she asked.

“It would seem like we aren’t the only ones who are monitoring our two Special Correspondents.”

“But.”

It could all be a coincidence. It could simply be fans of that genre who were completely unrelated to them, fooling about with wireless encoded signals. It just so happened that their conversation started to get really busy at 10 AM.

“One more thing. When I was out with Special Correspondent Asaba in the mountains during our summer vacation, there were several instances when we managed to intercept signals that resemble these. Unfortunately, it appears that there was a team watching us at that time. Now a similar group of people with the same equipment are following Special Correspondent Asaba and Iriya around.”

What’s that supposed to mean? Where in this universe can you find people who have such strange hobbies as your—

“Ah.”

There were two suspicious looking people in the room.

The couple who came to see this movie despite being fully grown adults, who chose to sit right at the corner of the theatre.

“R-Right, now that you mention it—”

“Don’t look.”

Yuuko was about to turn to her four o’clock to look, but she froze at Suizenji’s sharp whisper. Suizenji’s fingers had stilled, and he threw Yuuko a fleeting sideward glance with a grin on his face.

“So you noticed, too. You’re a promising young one aren’t you, Asaba Yuuko-kun? Please, by all means, join my club. Wait, if you do join us we’ll have two ‘Special Correspondent Asaba’s. What should I do?”

“What are you going to do?”

“Big Brother and Little Sister seem to be in bad taste. What do you think about Nao Nao and Yū Yū? Isn’t it cute to have names that sound like pandas?”

“No! I wasn’t talking about that, I mean, what if those two at the back—”

Were really sent here to keep an eye on us? What do you intend to do about it?

“I’ll blow their cover.”

He didn’t sound like he was joking.

“If those two really are who we think they are, we can assume they know who we are and that they know we’ve planted a microphone in Asaba’s bag. I pretended to go to the washroom just now to take a brief look at them; one of them seems to be busily working on something he had pulled out of his bag. He’s probably using his own wireless transceiver to intercept signals from our microphone. They wouldn’t draw too much attention to themselves if they just listen in anyway, and they probably wouldn’t have let this chance slip by. This is where we come in.”

Suizenji stuffed a hand into his bag and switched off the wireless transceiver he had been using for the microphone. Yuuko heard a beep through her headphones before they went silent.

“I’m going to burn out their receiver by blasting a high output signal in the channel that my microphone was tuned into. They should hear a frightfully loud noise via their earphones, and their circuitry might spark like a fireworks display. If they jump up in surprise it’ll be a dead giveaway. Okay, Yū Yū? Your job is to keep a sharp eye on everyone else in this theatre. I would like you to check if there was anyone else who jumped up other than those two behind. That, and our withdrawal and backup protocol. Once it starts, throw everything into my bag and make your escape via that door. Let’s meet again in a café on the other side of the road. If you wait more than thirty minutes and I still haven’t shown up, tell Special Correspondent Asaba that I have hidden a letter at ‘our usual place’. Do you have any questions?”

“—stop calling me Yū Yū.”

“Roger that.”

“I think both Onii-chan and the girl will notice if we make a big commotion.”

“I guess they would. I don’t care if they were to notice the commotion behind them, but it’ll be bad if they were alerted to the fact that we are here. Move to keep your identity hidden.”

“You can’t just keep telling me that I should do this and I should do that. That wouldn’t be fair. What would you be doing, then?”

“That goes without saying.”

In the darkness of the theatre, Suizenji laughed, dauntlessly. He took out a small camera equipped with a flash and autofocus. He proceeded to check on its battery and whether he had remembered to load it with film.

Then, he slid his hand through the armband on the camera, which had ‘Sonohara Radio Wave Newspaper’ written on it.

 

After a long while, Iriya nodded in affirmation. Her face was still red.

Such a long time had passed that Asaba couldn’t immediately recall what he had asked her.

“Ah. Erm.”

Right, part-time job.

“I see, so you’ve been working part-time. What kind of work is it?”

What did he want to do with this information? It was obviously so that he could take a job at the same place. He didn’t care if the shift ended late at night. He didn’t even care about how much the pay was. It was not as if he needed the money in the first place.

“It’s a part-time job at the base,” Iriya answered.

Her facial expression was extremely stiff, but Asaba wasn’t looking at her. Asaba didn’t have the balls to look a girl in the eye at point-blank range when talking to them in the first place. Instead, Asaba was thinking of things that were completely unrelated to the point at hand. He wondered if he was too talkative, if he was creating trouble for other people by talking, oh, wait, there was no one around him anyway…

—a job at the base.

Asaba’s thoughts were still off point, but it was now focused on something else. Suizenji’s face had popped into his head.

“Is it a job that I can do, too?”

He was certain that it was not Suizenji that he was asking her this for.

“You can’t.”

Iriya’s answer came straightaway.

“You definitely can’t.”

It became a little awkward after that.

Naturally, Asaba did not know why Iriya had spoken so firmly, and because he didn’t know, what she said made him feel small. Asaba was at a loss for words as he began to wonder if he had said something that got on Iriya’s nerves. Since he had lost all courage to continue the conversation, he fell silent. This time, it was Iriya who felt suffocated by the silence.

She looked at Asaba at the corner of her eye, bit down on her lip, and started to wring her hands in her lap.

Iriya was trying to say something.

The scene on the screen switched to show a scene at night, and the theatre grew even darker than before.

It was as though someone had timed it perfectly. At that very moment, a woman’s scream rose up from behind Asaba and Iriya.

 

It wasn’t the scream of terror one often heard in horror movies, but a scream of surprise upon being confronted with something that one completely did not expect. It wasn’t a cry that sounded very distressed, nor was it very loud. The truth is, only about half of the few movie-goers in the theatre actually turned back to look at once, Asaba and Iriya not included. Those who turned back to look did not expect to see anything interesting. After all, they thought it would probably some ugly bitch who got her boobs groped by a dirty old man or some clumsy fellow who spilled coke on his lap.

However, those who turned back managed to see something quite startling.

The first thing they saw was darkness. The next thing they saw was the light from the window of the projection room shining onto the screen.

In the darkness, they also saw a man.

And a woman.

Both had risen from their seats. The man grabbed the woman’s hand and dragged her along behind him as both of them tried to flee the theatre via the door on the left.

There was a second man.

He was large and imposing, about six feet tall. In his hand was something that was around the size of a blackboard duster, and he was making a mad dash towards the fleeing duo, eagerly stepping over empty seats as he went.

Actually, there was also a second woman there, too. To be more specific, it was a ‘girl’, rather than a ‘woman’. She was hugging a heavy-looking bag to her chest as she rushed out of the door on the right at the back of the theatre, almost falling over in her hurry to leave. Not everyone noticed her, however. The sight of the second man, whose reckless actions made him look like a soldier charging into battle, would render most people unable to take in anything else.

His clamorous footsteps finally made everyone in the theatre look behind.

The second man, however, was extremely fleet-footed. By the time Asaba and Iriya caught sight of him, he already had his prey right in front of him. While still in midair halfway through a jump over the backmost row of seats, he raised the blackboard duster to his face like he was taking aim at the duo that was trying to flee the scene from the door.

He was holding a camera.

A series of flashes pierced through the darkness of the theatre, one after the other.

It was a timing that must have been difficult to grasp. The duo he was targeting was already out of the door, and he had pressed the shutter in quick succession in a stance that wasn’t exactly very stable. Did he manage to pull it off? Did he manage to catch the duo on film? Even he himself would not be sure at the time.

Everything took place against the light from the projector.

The consecutive flashes from the camera momentarily blinded all movie-goers in the theatre as their eyes were already accustomed to the darkness. There were no exceptions.

Asaba had reflexively closed his eyes against the flash, and, when he opened them again, all performers involved in the incident had left the stage. The theatre was as dark as ever, with dust specks glittering in the light streaming in from the window of the projection room.

Only the door on the left at the back of the theatre swayed, ever so slightly.

 

“W-What was that, just now?”

He looked at Iriya.

Iriya tilted her head slightly, as if to say that she didn’t know either. The theatre was abuzz, and the murmur of voices in the theatre grew louder.

Someone said, “I smell something burning.”

Then, the projector stopped projecting images and light flooded the theatre.


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