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I'm not dead

My new job is really fun but really draining, and I've been out of town for so many weekends this summer that it's not even funny. Sorry to worry everyone, and sorry to leave you hanging on this book for so long. I will return to it, but I can't say for sure when.

Toshokan Kakumei, page 292

It looked like a floor that targeted people in the prime of their life. Iku approached a friendly-looking saleswoman who fit right into that target demographic.

"Excuse me?"

"Yes, how may I help you?" she replied amiably.

Iku launched into the speech she had polished over and over in her mind. "I have an unusual request."

"Yes?"

"And money is no object." Wow, that's something I never thought I would say! She was so nervous she was in danger of stammering.

"...I see." The woman's eyes were wide as she nodded.

"And in return, you can't breathe a word of this to anyone."

"Yes, ma'am."

"I want you to take this man and make him the least conspicuous man in Osaka."

Behind Iku, Touma bowed in entreaty.

The woman looked at Touma. Her face lit up in sudden understanding.

"...So what you're saying is, you want me to make him unrecognizable?"

She had caught on fast. It probably meant that she was familiar with Touma's story.

The woman grinned.

"If that's what you want, honey," she said, "you're on the wrong floor. Follow me." She led the two of them to the elevator.

~

Toshokan Kakumei, page 291

"So, here, I'm not gonna charge you for the refueling. How's this for the pickup service?"

Iku was prepared for the woman to try and rip her off, but the number she offered was actually within the bounds of reason.

"Thank you, I'm really sorry to put you through all this trouble!" She paid the bill, handed over the key, and signed the receipt that the woman had brought. "The car's just over here," she said, heading for the parking lot.

The woman stopped her. "Didn't I just say I had seen the cawr? I know where it is, so if you've got better things to do, go do them." She waved a hand brusquely at Iku, perhaps to cover her embarrassment. Iku bowed her head deeply and ran back to the elevator.

~

They then had to wait impatiently for the nearby department stores to open.

"Alright, ten minutes till! If we check out now we'll be right on time! Let's go!"

Iku slung the shoulder bag over her body; Touma folded the map and shoved it in his pocket. She had already split their cash and given half of it to Touma.

They checked out and joined the throng of people on the sidewalk, heading for the department stores. They'd head for either Daimaru or Hanshin depending on which light was green at the crosswalk.

They ended up going to Hanshin. Entering the nearly-empty department store, they took the elevator up to the floor selling Western-style gentlemen's apparel.

Toshokan Kakumei, page 290

The agency was close by, so they said someone would be by in twenty minutes. While she was waiting, Iku gathered the belongings they intended to discard. Most of it was the provisions the bookshop owner had gotten for them. It was regrettable, but they wouldn't be able to carry around the blanket, or the extra clothing.

She packed them inside a paper bag and placed them by the garbage can so that housekeeping would know they were trash. The only thing they kept was the map of Osaka.

While she was doing that, the front desk called; she had a visitor. It was the woman Iku had just negotiated with on the phone. She seemed a little grumpy, probably thanks to Iku's inconvenient request.

"I'm sorry, Touma-sensei, I'll be right back! I'll knock when I get back, so look through the peep hole and make sure it's me before you open the door!"

Iku stuffed what looked like enough money into Doujou's wallet, grabbed the car key, and headed out of the room.

~

"Coming to pick up your cawr is kind of a schlep for me, you know," said the young woman from the rental car agency.

Iku bowed her head sincerely. "I'm sorry, I'm really sorry! Thank you for coming."

"Well, we get a lawt of customers from this hotel, so I guess we can afford to do them a favor once in a while."

Stinging from the surliness in the other woman's voice, Iku started to settle her account in the lobby.

"I was just checking out the cawr in the parking lot. The gas tank's almost full. You musta filled her up in Suita or sumthin'." Unlike the hotel staff, her Osaka accent* was thick enough to cut with a knife. She pulled a calculator out of her bag and started punching in numbers.
--
* People in Osaka speak a slightly different dialect of Japanese than people in Tokyo; it's more melodic and verbs can be conjugated differently. (Listen to some examples and learn more on this page, which was created by one of my old Japanese professors!) I've chosen to render it in English as a New York City accent; I think it's a good cultural fit since both Osakans and New Yorkers are known for being a little brash. :o)

Toshokan Kakumei, page 289

She gathered her clothing and shut herself inside the bathroom. As she washed her face and brushed her teeth, she could hear the TV from the other room. Touma must have turned on the news. She could hear him flipping through channels, so he was probably looking for today's roaming report.

How would the events of yesterday be reported to the world? Iku hastily finished dressing and went back into the bedroom.

"Apparently I'm at a Tokyo hospital recovering from a heart attack," Touma said. "For my safety, they're not releasing the name of the hospital."

He laughed, and Iku laughed too. The tactic had Genda's fingerprints all over it. But the Improvement Committee wouldn't be gullible enough to believe the lie. She had to believe they would be searching for them in Osaka too. They had not passed beyond the need for caution.

Touma dressed, and soon breakfast arrived on a wheeled cart. A table near the window was pushed into the middle of the room and the cart was parked beside it.

They opened the sliding screen in front of the window and ate their breakfast. When they had finished, they called to have the cart retrieved. Once the room clerk had wheeled it out, Iku called the rental car agency where they had planned to drop off their car. She had arranged to return the car first thing this morning, but she couldn't leave Touma alone in the hotel, and there wasn't enough time to check out first.

She told the agency that something had come up and there was just no way she could return the car on time, and requested that someone come to Hilton to pick it up from her. At first they were very reluctant to do so, but when she offered to pay extra to cover the cost of refueling, a deal was struck.

"All right. When you arrive at the front desk, can you give me a call? Ask for Kasahara in room 3112."

Toshokan Kakumei, page 288

"It seems like the kind of lounge where there might be only foreign guests sometimes, so we wouldn't have to be on our guard as much..."

"No, there's always that million-to-one chance. It may cost us double, but the Force always says not to be stingy when it comes to security."

Compared to the time when Inamine had been kidnapped and the Library Force had bought an entire building in a new housing development to get him back, a few thousand yen was nothing.

Iku, who didn't feel like herself unless she had a few grains of rice in the morning, chose a Japanese-style breakfast. Touma, who had a small appetite, chose a rice gruel combo, then hung the menu on the doorknob outside. They requested breakfast at 8 AM, so they would wake up at 7.

They climbed into their beds and turned out the lights, and soon Touma's loud snores filled the room. He had plainly been exhausted.

Iku herself was too exhausted for the snoring to bother her, and quickly followed Touma into sleep.

*

And then it was 7 o'clock the next morning.

As soon as the alarm rang, Iku felt along the headboard for the alarm clock and turned it off. She reached under the covers and straightened her sleep-rumpled loungewear, then got out of bed.

"Sensei, it's morning. I'll go into the bathroom and get ready first."

Toshokan Kakumei, page 287

Since she rarely got chances to wear makeup on regular days (it would be ridiculous to wear it while on patrol, never mind during training), she wasn't bothered that she'd have to go without it tomorrow, but she was obviously a little concerned about her skin care.

She checked the collection of toiletries, wondering if there was some kind of aftershave lotion, and found one foil pouch each of makeup remover, face cleanser, and lotion. Fancy hotels are something else, she thought as she gratefully applied the lotion. Since she wanted to have some left for tomorrow morning, she only used about half, and propped up the remainder in a corner of the counter.

She dressed and left the bathroom, and found Touma looking at a long sheet of paper that looked like a form.

"What's that, Touma-sensei?"

When she peered over at it, it turned out to be a hotel door hanger. But it was much longer than the usual "Do not disturb" or "Please make up my room" signs, and a paper door hanger seemed strangely cheap for such a fancy hotel.

"It's a breakfast menu. If we hang it on our doorknob before 3 AM, they'll bring us breakfast tomorrow morning at the time we specify. I thought it would be nice to not have to go down to the lounge to get breakfast."

"It sounds great!" Iku didn't have to think twice. The room came with all-you-could-eat buffet meals, but the lounge she had glimpsed at check-in had seemed a little small (probably because there weren't that many executive rooms to begin with), so there was nowhere to sit where they would be hidden from other guests. There was no guarantee that one of the other guests wouldn't recognize Touma from the news.

Toshokan Kakumei, page 286

She would have to do it alone; there was no other option. And Doujou had told her that she could do it.

So I'll do it, all by myself. No matter what happens, I'll get Touma-sensei into his first-choice consulate-general. Extravagance, folly, and recklessness are the Library Task Force's core competencies.

Smiling was impossible, but she could face herself in the mirror. She had been told not to cry, so she didn't. No matter how worried she was about Doujou's condition.

Touma came out of the bathroom after about thirty minutes. Instead of a yukata, he was wearing a long button-down sleep shirt as loungewear. Iku picked up her loungewear and underwear and traded places with him, then started running a small stream of hot water into the tub.

There was a small wicker hamper on the counter, which Touma had perhaps used. "Wow, this might be the first time I've been to a hotel with a hamper in the bathroom!" There was a scale, too, but she decided not to mention this discovery. She took off her clothes and bulletproof vest and put them in the hamper, then put her towel and loungewear on top of them.

There were two bars of soap provided, so just for kicks Iku opened a fresh bar and washed her face. Apparently they'd have to share the shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, for there was only one small tube of each. She carried them over to the bathtub, which had filled to a satisfactory level, and sank her body into the hot water.

She soaked until her muscles had loosened, and then massaged them for good measure. It would be no laughing matter if her muscles were sore tomorrow. There were already purple bruises dotting her body from where she had been knocked around.

She washed her body and hair, let the water drain, then used the shower head to rinse off herself and the bathtub. She had just toweled off and dressed when she realized.

"I wonder if they have face lotion or something like that..."

Toshokan Kakumei, page 285

Iku glanced at the telephone on the bedside table. Once they had reached the hotel and had a chance to settle down, she had felt a growing desire to get in touch with the base.

Was Doujou alright? Was he out of surgery yet? She could find out the answers with one quick phone call.

But.

Iku walked over to the window, as if to put distance between herself and temptation. The window had a sliding paper screen in front of it, though it was still open. She could see the Osaka Maru building directly in front of her, familiar from the number of times she had checked the Osaka map, and if she shifted her gaze a little, she could see a slanted billboard for a famous Osaka consumer loan company that she had seen on variety TV shows. At Iku's salary, the view from the 31st floor was a rare privilege, but she was in no mood to enjoy it. After just a couple of glances, she pulled the sliding screen closed.

Iku sat down on the bed closer to the window. The mirror on the desk across from her reflected her weary visage.

Pinned to the collar of her shirt was a rank insignia two ranks higher than her own. I'll lend you mine, Doujou had said, pinning the insignia with two camomille flowers to her collar with pale fingers.

She pressed her fingers to the insignia. Doujou was here with her.

Don't cry. Smile. You're in charge from here on out.

It'll be okay. You can do it, Doujou had told her.

The cell phone she could use to call the Library Force was broken, and as a last resort she had sent a telegram. She decided she wouldn't try to contact the Library Force again.

Toshokan Kakumei, page 284

After the bellboy had guided them to their room on the 31st floor and left them, Iku bowed deeply to Touma.

"I'm sorry for springing that ad-lib on you like that."

"No need to apologize. I think I acquitted myself pretty well, if I do say so myself."

"Yes, you were perfect!" Iku said, setting the shoulder bag down on the bed.

She suggested to Touma that he take a shower. Since they didn't seem to have a choice, she had been resigned to go a day without a change of underwear, but when she emptied the paper bag of provisions that the shop owner had given them in Shinjuku, she found one set each of men's and women's socks and underwear, bundled together. The women's underwear, at least, must have been awkward for him to buy, she reflected gratefully.

"Sensei, the shop owner bought us some underwear."

"Oh, thank goodness."

Touma apparently hadn't undressed yet, for he opened the bathroom door and took the underwear. He'd probably cut the tag off with the complimentary razor.

"Have a good long soak in the bath, okay? You'll have some of your energy back once you've gotten warmed up again."

All would be lost if Touma collapsed on her now.

With the deep sound of water filling the bathtub in the background, Iku opened the shoulder bag and examined its contents.

As she had felt while she had fumbled through the bag on the train, there was one SIG Sauer P220, one submachine gun, and three spare magazines for each. A first-aid kit, a little thinner now that the triangle bandage had been used. There were scissors for cutting bandages inside, so she used them to cut the tag off her own underwear.