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Toshokan Kakumei, page 302

I'll be off next week, celebrating Christmas with my family. Happy holidays! - melithiel
--
Pedestrians in the area had long since fled from the sudden gunfire, and drivers must have noticed the disturbance and detoured to avoid it, for the street was deserted. In any case, she had accepted from the beginning that she would be disrupting traffic and disturbing the peace. And she accepted the consequences.

One more left! Iku reloaded with her last magazine.

*

Touma jerked around.

"Touma-sensei?"

A smiling young man was holding up his Library Force badge.

Touma breathed a sigh of relief.

"Welcome to Osaka. I'm with the Kansai Library Force. Thanks to your, um, drastic disguise, it took us a while to find you. We even got here before the Improvement troops."

"Ah, well, this was..." Touma grew flustered.

The man put an arm around his shoulders, guiding him across the crosswalk the instant the light changed. "First things first. Let's get you into the consulate-general. ...Though your appearance might take a little explaining. What a remarkably clever tactic, though."

He led Touma into the building, and just like that, they were in an elevator on the way to the 19th floor.

"What about Kasahara-san?"

"We'll get a report on her status once we're inside the consulate-general. They'll call my cell phone."

Thus did Touma at last achieve asylum.

*

Toshokan Kakumei, page 301

There were still more than thirty minutes until noon. Iku casually turned right and kept walking, putting the American consulate-general at her back. She might have drawn suspicion if she had turned around and headed back north the way she had come.

She entered a side street, hurriedly unfolded her map, and carefully traced a route back to the last intersection she had crossed. From there she crossed Midousuji Boulevard to the triangular block, then circled around to the back of the American Building. By the time she made it, it was 11:50.

~

In the shadow of the building, she counted down the minutes until noon.

At last there was only one minute to go--then thirty seconds.

Iku exploded into action, sprinting across the crosswalk directly in front of the American consulate-general. She stopped in the open plaza at the end of the triangular block, between Midousuji Boulevard and New Midousuji Boulevard. Heads instinctively turned at her sudden movement, all belonging to the Improvement troops. There must have been fifteen or sixteen in front of the consulate-general alone.

Draw their attention away from everything except you.

And then proclaim--

"This is the Kantou Library Force! We're right here, you bastards!!"

Iku reached into her shoulder bag, drew out the submachine gun, and pointed it toward the sky.

She put her finger to the trigger, and pulled until it was out of bullets.

The Improvement troops, with trained reflexes, all immediately took cover.

It gave her a second to reload. Without looking, Iku swapped in one of the spare magazines she had thrust into the pockets of her jeans. She sent another burst skyward. Some of the Improvement troops made to emerge from their hiding places; she aimed her gun down at the asphalt and swept it from side to side. They took cover once more.

Toshokan Kakumei, page 300

Iku followed the map and headed south, finally reaching a three-way intersection. It was the place where Midousuji Boulevard and New Midousuji Boulevard met up.

She could see the American consulate-general on New Midousuji Boulevard, connected to the American Building which took up an entire city block. There was a police presence, just like at the embassy. However, there were also a number of men who looked even more dangerous than the police. They were disguised in suits, but she could tell right away that they were Improvement troops. Somewhere nearby was probably one of those familiar vans.

The Improvement Special Agency had set up a wide net around the American consulate-general, for out of Touma's list of countries he might seek asylum in, it was the closest to Osaka Station.

"Good thing we saw this coming..."

America was also the only country on Touma's list that owned the building that housed its consulate-general. The other countries had their consulates-general in multi-use buildings of one kind or another. Since the American consulate-general would be the easiest building for Touma to leave after he had claimed asylum, the Improvement Special Agency had figured that it would be at the top of Touma's list. Touma and Iku had outsmarted them, however, and decided to try once more for Britain, having been thwarted at the British embassy in Tokyo. Even if the British consulate-general was under surveillance, it was only two kilometers from the American consulate-general, according to the map. If she caused a commotion at the American consulate-general, the surveillance team would rush over to back up their comrades.

"...But maybe I shouldn't cross here."

Iku could almost look across the two streets and see her objective, the American consulate-general. Between them, the three-way intersection made a triangular block, containing tall buildings and a police box. There were crosswalks leading to this block across both Midousuji Boulevard and New Midousuji Boulevard, but if she crossed now, she would be under surveillance by the Improvement troops. Even at this distance, Iku could tell that they were observing the pedestrians carefully.

Not to mention that Iku would be crossing from Midousuji Boulevard, coming from the north. It was the direction the Improvement troops were watching most closely.

Toshokan Kakumei, page 299

It turned out that cross-dressing was extremely effective camouflage. He walked through the bazaar, buying a pastry and drink at a convenience store, and exited on the opposite end. Still no one gave him a second glance. He crossed the street and entered Nanba shrine. After paying his respects, he took up a position on a convenient bench, taking his pastry out of its bag and nibbling. The bench was in front of a pond toward the back of the grounds, and the shrine was enclosed behind a high wall, only a sliver of Midousuji Boulevard visible through the gate. There was no sign of surveillance within the shrine.

At last, it was noon.

Suddenly, Midousuji Boulevard exploded with activity. He walked over and placed himself casually in the shadow of a fine camphor tree next to the gate, and peered out from his hiding spot. The scattered Improvement troops had regrouped and boarded their van, which ignored the light and took a screaming illegal right turn onto the street south of the shrine. Midousuji Boulevard was a one-way street heading south; no U-turns were possible. They would probably turn onto Yotsubashisen Boulevard, a one-way street heading north. A sea of cars suddenly put on their brakes and honked their disapproval.

Touma waited for the noise to die down, then stood. He left the shrine and headed for the crosswalk--and that was when it happened.

A hand descended onto Touma's shoulder.

*

Toshokan Kakumei, page 298

It's nothing compared to what she's been through for my sake, he chided himself.

He bought his subway ticket--a day pass, just in case. He went through the ticket gate and went down to the platform where the train to Tennouji--the southbound train--would arrive.

Even when the train slid into the station and Touma boarded, he was just another of the female passengers. The army of matrons were a force to be reckoned with.

He got off after a five-minute ride at Honmachi, two stops away from Umeda. The next stop was Shinsaibashi. Touma's destination lay on Midousuji Boulevard halfway between Honmachi and Shinsaibashi. According to the map, it was about a half-kilometer walk.

What with one thing and another, by the time he got back aboveground at Honmachi Station, there was only a half-hour left until noon. I had better hurry, he thought, and started walking down Midousuji Boulevard. Touma's destination was across the street from the Nanba Shrine, on the 19th floor of the building on the south corner of the block.

It was the British consulate-general.

As he approached the building, he saw one of the vans that he had learned to recognize, parked on the side of the road. He saw the uniforms of the Improvement Special Agency here and there, but none of them gave him a second look.

He walked boldly and briskly, looking only in the direction he was heading. Osakans walk fast, dawling, had been the last piece of advice the army of matrons had given him, and he tried to follow it.

He had seen on the map that there was a wholesale bazaar behind the building, so he had planned to approach from that side first, but he had gained confidence in his apparent invisibility. He daringly crossed right in front of the building and from there went back toward the bazaar. The Improvement troops ignored him completely.

Toshokan Kakumei, page 297

She looked back over her shoulder once. Just as the army of matrons had predicted, Touma blended almost too well into the crowd, fading into the scenery so well that she could only recognize him by the purple sweater he wore.

Surely he would be all right. Surely this would work. They had been aided by so many people. The Library Force had striven so hard. If it didn't work, all that would be for naught.

Once she had left the bridge, she walked a while until she found a bookstore, where she bought a pocket map of the Osaka metro area. The one given to them by the shop owner in Shinjuku had gone to Touma, but Iku needed one too.

She had been walking in the right direction, as it turned out. But it was almost an hour until they had agreed to meet, and with Iku's legs, it would only take her twenty minutes to get there. She thought about buying a handy book and taking it to a coffee shop, but she would never forgive herself if she became engrossed in the book and lost track of time.

She should use the extra time for reconnaissance, she decided, and turned her feet toward her destination.

*

After Touma parted ways from Iku, he headed for the Umeda subway station and the Midousuji Line.

None of the people who passed Touma recognized him. He had mixed feelings about the fact that he was so well disguised as an Osakan matron, but he supposed it was better than the alternative. --Though he couldn't help but be unnerved to see large, pendulous breasts every time he looked down.

Toshokan Kakumei, page 296

"Thank you so much. Words aren't enough to express our gratitude."

They both bowed, and the supportive army of matrons smiled cheerily at them.

"The pleasure was ours--it's not every day we get to have so much fun. Be sure to visit us again!"

~

When they left the break room, Touma and Iku looked like nothing so much as mother and daughter, or possibly grandmother and granddaughter.

It was now after eleven o'clock. They exited Hanshin onto the second-story pedestrian bridge, then stopped.

Iku spoke first. "You'll be alright if we split up here?"

"Yes. I've done book tours here, so I'm a little familiar with the area. If I have a map, I should be fine."

"Okay. Then I'll see you at noon, like we planned."

Touma extended his hand.

"I'll be praying for the chance to shake your hand once more."

"Yes, sir."

Iku bit her lip, and gripped his outstretched hand tightly. Here at the end, there were so many things she wanted to say, she couldn't decide on one. When she looked at Touma, disguised as a plump old woman, she didn't feel like laughing at all now.

"It was an honor to serve as your escort."

In the end, that was all she could think of to say.

Because that's what Doujou would have wanted to say.

"I'm grateful to the both of you," Touma said, and gently released her hand. Then he walked across the wide bridge toward Osaka Station, disappearing into the throng. Iku climbed down from the bridge.

Toshokan Kakumei, page 295

"You can put the clothes you came with in that purse. Your shoes, too."

The women folded Touma's clothing with practiced hands and put it in the bag, along with the map.

"You could walk right by the Improvement troops and they wouldn't recognize you," someone said glibly. Iku and Touma bowed their heads in gratitude.

"You said money was no object, so we went ahead and added it all up for you. You wouldn't think so, but it takes a lot of money to look that cheap!"

"Bring it on!" Iku pulled out Doujou's wallet and waited.

"The sweater was 25,000 yen, the bra and padding were 35,000, the pants were 18,000 and the shoes were 20,000. The makeup was the most expensive--we used the best brands. If the gentleman doesn't need them again, you can keep them, honey." She continued to chatter as she listed out each item, ending with, "Your total is--168,250 yen!"

"All right!"

Iku had enough with her. She forked over 170,250 yen, and got 2,000 back in change.

"Here's your receipt. I rung it up already on one of the registers."

Iku took it gratefully and shoved it into Doujou's wallet, which was now bulging with various receipts.

Touma still looked like he was in shock, but managed to rise, clutching the purse.

Toshokan Kakumei, page 294

The first thing that dazzled her eyes was a sparkly purple sweater adorned with a rose made of rhinestones. Underneath was a bra, padded to create the illusion of breasts sagging with age. Under that was his bulletproof vest, so he looked much plumper than usual. His pants seemed to be a simple beige at first glance, but a line of leopard print ran up the sides. His shoes were a solid color, but they were bedecked with more rhinestones.

On his head was a curly, shoulder-length brown wig, and on his face was a matronly layer of makeup so marvelously thick that it hid even his stubble.

He sat stunned in front of a full-length mirror, unable to rise from his chair. On his lap was a black purse embellished with a beaded butterfly; presumably he would be carrying it. It too was encrusted with rhinestones, of course--the handle even had a fringe of Swarovski crystals.

"Isn't it a bit...gaudy?"

Like that's that biggest issue! she thought, but kept it to herself as she made a more polite objection.

"Trust me, honey, this is the least conspicuous getup in Osaka," a woman answered confidently. "Maybe it's even a little drab. But wherever you go in Osaka, you'll see a dozen women who look just like this. It's camouflage, dawling, camouflage."

True, Touma now looked like nothing more than an Osakan matron. His transformation was so flawless that he could probably use a women's bathroom without comment.

"When people get to be his age, men and women start to look more and more the same. Stubble turns white and doesn't show as much. We didn't even have to use theater makeup!"

Toshokan Kakumei, page 293

The woman took them down a few floors, then dragged them into a break room.

"Look sharp, dawlings! I've brought you a verrrry interesting customer!"

"Honey, whatcha doing on this floor?"

"Wait, isn't that...?"

"Don't worry your pretty little head about it! This little lady, she told me she wants us to make him 'the least conspicuous man in Osaka,' and that money is no object! Let's get down to it!"

The women had been in the middle of other work, but at this they all cried, "All right!" and started assigning duties. All Iku and Touma could do was watch nervously from the corner. Where did all that excitement come from suddenly? Is this the fabled Osaka spirit?

But when the women who had left the break room came back, the real torment started. Mostly for Touma.

~

"Voilà!"

When Iku saw what the women had conspired to do, she clapped both hands over her mouth. She was trying to keep herself from bursting into laughter. Laughing now would deeply wound the vulnerable Touma.