Shining Path


Chapter 6

Hirose Konosuke generally took no notice of the young kids that filled the mall; they were just extras, as he'd have said back at the studio. But the sound of raised voices on the other side of the food court attracted his attention. Casually, because everything done wearing a zoot suit is supposed to be casual, he turned to get a closer look, then moved closer. Crows, not normally flocking birds, will join forces to harass a hawk or an owl. This looked like much the same thing – several teenagers surrounding some kind of victim. Nobody else seemed to take any notice; if anything, the other teens were shunning the group.

Konosuke leaned against another pillar, closer to the circle of boys and girls, and he saw what was inside the circle: a human girl, obviously way out of her element. A very attractive human girl, actually – three-dimensional and animal, just his type, if he were foolish enough to moon over human girls. Well, there wouldn't be much left of this one in a little while if somebody didn't do something about it. He counted three 722 girls in the group and five phthalate boys. That wasn't a good score; it meant that at least two of the boys were not under their respective girlfriends' eyes at the moment, if they even had girlfriends. Then those two (at least) would be both free and obligated to try impressing each other. He also counted eight seru to one human, and that wasn't a good score either. Just like people say, now when Konosuke would be kind of pleased to see those two officers from before, the police were nowhere to be found.

The zoot suiter sighed. It looked like the person to intervene would have to be him. He straightened up and walked toward them. The thought that the kids might simply be left alone to sort things out for themselves had never entered his head. Some of the group turned and sneered in open hostility as he approached; the human girl, who was being restrained by two of them, fixed moist puppy eyes on him but said nothing.

"Oh, look at what totally just crawled in now, Ken. Three sixty-one green, even. What do you want dethka?"

"Nothing, nothing... fine evening tonight, isn't it?"

"Hey yeah fine evening now dog fine evening for minding one's own business."

"Indeed, indeed." He just stood there grinning at the kids.

"You a looking-for-something boy dog?"

"In a manner of speaking. As a matter of fact, I'm a studio talent scout. Maybe we can do business. I admire your bravery."

"What?" The tall phthalate boy showed a flicker of confusion, but hid it quickly.

"Seeing as how you're bothering a human yakuza's daughter right in front of a mall security camera. Me, I'd be afraid to do that. Maybe you're slippery enough the robocops leave you alone, but those guys with the missing fingers, their other ones have a really strong grip – oh, is it just you didn't read her skirt?"

The tall boy sneered. "Hey now the cameras here're all fubaru anyone can see – you a blind boy?"

"The one in my buttonhole isn't, ah, 'fubaru.' And I like getting five-star reviews on my channel as much as the next hep cat."

"Buddy's a damn gargoyle? We don't like gargoyles." Nobody liked gargoyles, actually.

The girl and boy harassing the human let go of her and came to stand close to Konosuke, their fists clenched at their sides. Konosuke felt rather than heard two more slip up on his other side. The human just stood there dumbly instead of taking the chance to depart; and one of the boys said "Hey actually Ken we like gargoyles a lot you know–"

"Hey yeah I forgot we do."

Before they could elaborate on what they liked about gargoyles, Konosuke casually reached out with the same double-framed motion he would use to switch off a shorting flood circuit, grabbed the waistband of the nearest phthalate boy's trousers, and pulled it sharply to one side, disconnecting the smart-elastic strip before he let go. At his studio they called it the Sakiko Maneuver after an actress who, honestly, was not notably good at much else. The Screen Actor's Guild training manual described it in a section poetically titled "What The Shrine Maiden Did To The Salaryman." Either way it was something you'd normally see about three minutes into a movie, right at the start of the first action scene. If the writers didn't care about plot and just wanted someone to remove someone else's pants in a hurry---

In this case the Sakiko Maneuver was even more efficient than usual because of the slippery phthalate mixture soaking the boy's clothing. In the blink of a frame Konosuke's victim was hobbled at the ankles and nude from there to navel. As the first boy grabbed at his trousers, missed, and fell forward on his face, Hirose Konosuke turned smoothly and did it to two more of them. The remaining two managed to get out of striking distance and assume baritsu poses. Konosuke eyed them warily. He had a healthy respect for baritsu, but these kids sure didn't seem to carry any of Hitoshi-kun's easy, muscular confidence. Posing, exactly.

Two of the 722 girls were trying to help their fallen boyfriends, while those worthies attempted to wave the girls away, cover themselves, and regain their feet and their dignity, all at once. The third girl was clutching a phone and yammering excitedly into it. She hopped from foot to foot with the glee of a cub reporter scenting a big scoop.

"–like ripped his pants totally off – yeah, totally square – well ex-cuse me I have to settle my copyright bill and find a node – totally uploading it dethyo, call me back–"

Konosuke had probably made at least one phthalate boy's future career in network reality television right there, not that he expected to be thanked for it. He himself would have his face blurred when the clip hit the Net, because he worked in the movie industry. There was a gentleman's agreement about that. The human girl was likely under somebody's protection too, judging by the code on her skirt. Everyone else would have to make their own peace with video stardom, and they'd be too busy doing that to worry about revenge for a while.

The one called Ken'ichirou sized up the situation, and decided to cut his losses. He muttered a deprecating curse, breasted through a fire-exit door, and vanished down the dark hallway behind, with the one other boy who was still standing (the brains of the outfit, of course) right at his heels. One of the stripped boys had found enough presence of mind to kick off his pants and free his feet, and he followed with the three 722s. The remaining two boys dressed themselves with some difficulty, and followed more slowly, each holding up his trousers with one hand. Then the door slammed shut, leaving Konosuke and the human girl looking at the discarded pair of trousers sitting in a puddle of lubricant. The door alarm failed to go off. It was fubaru.

The human girl tried to thank Hirose Konosuke profusely, but he had to vent at least a little of the stress he'd been hiding. "What in the nation are you doing in this place, are you trying to get yourself beaten up – or worse – or are you just stupid? Where do you even think you are?"

She mumbled something indistinct about having a good time with friends.

"Well, you don't have very many friends out here alone in that outfit, that's for sure. Those 722s thought you were trying to horn in on their territory. You'd have better brought your boyfriend, or at least, better if you didn't show up in school uniform, because that has a meaning, you know? What if I hadn't been around, or hadn't cared to do anything?"

She shrugged. "You were and you did. Thanks."

He just looked at her. Wondered what he could possibly say. "You shouldn't trust me, either. Older men who meet girls in the Quarter – if you're smart you'll get back on that subway and swish your little organic skirt back to – is it Ichinokou Collegiate?"


"Oh, of course." He had misread the barcode, but just slightly.

"My father is not yakuza," she said, like that was the most important subject they could discuss right now.

"Maybe not, but there's just one tiny stripe different between that bar code and the one for flower arranging. Or did you think all the other members of your club at school signed up because they really wanted to study traditional culture?"

"Oh." That did explain a lot of things she hadn't understood about the flower arranging club, actually.

"Are you really a talent scout?"

"No. And anybody who says they are is lying – you should know that."

"Oh. Right."

Then she asked him his name and for some reason he told her his real one.

"Hirose Konosuke," she said, and her eyes were big enough to be seru eyes. "Hirose Konosuke. I'll remember that. Thank you again, senpai."

"You be careful now, kid. You're in the Quarter now, and it's not a great place for humans. You see many other humans here?"

"I don't see humans or seru, I only see people." Maybe she thought that was what a modern girl ought to say, or maybe she thought it was polite; it didn't improve Hirose Konosuke's estimate of her intelligence.

As he watched her walk off toward the escalator to the subway station, Konosuke worried that she might not even get that far without doing something stupid and attracting the wrong kind of attention again. But she made it, got on the stairs, and descended out of his view, and then there was no point continuing to watch. It occurred to Hirose Konosuke that he hadn't asked the girl's name. Well, that didn't matter – he would probably never see her again.

It did matter, but it was no problem because her name came up on his phone the first time she called him. She said then that the computer listed three people named Hirose Konosuke in Tokyo, but he was the only one with an address in the Quarter. Her name was Kumi. Matoike Kumi.