11-13-2011, 08:04 PM   #12

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

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CHAPTER 11

Aomame

THE HUMAN BODY IS A TEMPLE


The number of people who could deliver a kick to the balls with Aomames mastery must have been few indeed. She had studied kick patterns with great diligence and never missed her daily practice. In kicking the balls, the most important thing was never to hesitate. One had to deliver a lightning attack to the adversarys weakest point and do so mercilessly and with the utmost ferocityjust as when Hitler easily brought down France by striking at the weak point of the Maginot Line. One must not hesitate. A moment of indecision could be fatal.
Generally speaking, there was no other way for a woman to take down a bigger, stronger man one-on-one. This was Aomames unshakable belief. That part of the body was the weakest point attached toor, rather, hanging fromthe creature known as man, and most of the time, it was not effectively defended. Not to take advantage of that fact was out of the question.
As a woman, Aomame had no concrete idea how much it hurt to suffer a hard kick in the balls, though judging from the reactions and facial expressions of men she had kicked, she could at least imagine it. Not even the strongest or toughest man, it seemed, could bear the pain and the major loss of self-respect that accompanied it.
It hurts so much you think the end of the world is coming right now. I dont know how else to put it. Its different from ordinary pain, said a man, after careful consideration, when Aomame asked him to explain it to her.
Aomame gave some thought to his analogy. The end of the world?
Conversely, then, she said, would you say that when the end of the world is coming right now, it feels like a hard kick in the balls?
Never having experienced the end of the world, I cant be sure, but that might be right, the man said, glaring at a point in space with unfocused eyes. Theres just this deep sense of powerlessness. Dark, suffocating, helpless.
Sometime after that, Aomame happened to see the movie On the Beach on late-night television. It was an American movie made around 1960. Total war broke out between the U.S. and the USSR and a huge number of missiles were launched between the continents like schools of flying fish. The earth was annihilated, and humanity was wiped out in almost every part of the world. Thanks to the prevailing winds or something, however, the ashes of death still hadnt reached Australia in the Southern Hemisphere, though it was just a matter of time. The extinction of the human race was simply unavoidable. The surviving human beings there could do nothing but wait for the end to come. They chose different ways to live out their final days. That was the plot. It was a dark movie offering no hope of salvation. (Though, watching it, Aomame reconfirmed her belief that everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come.)
In any case, watching the movie in the middle of the night, alone, Aomame felt satisfied that she now had at least some idea of what it felt like to be kicked in the balls.
After graduating from a college of physical education, Aomame spent four years working for a company that manufactured sports drinks and health food. She was a key member of the companys womens softball team (ace pitcher, cleanup batter). The team did fairly well and several times reached the quarterfinals of the national championship playoffs. A month after Tamaki Otsuka died, though, Aomame resigned from the company and marked the end of her softball career. Any desire she might have had to continue with the game had vanished, and she felt a need to start her life anew. With the help of an older friend from college, she found a job as an instructor at a sports club in Tokyos swank Hiroo District.
Aomame was primarily in charge of classes in muscle training and martial arts. It was a well-known, exclusive club with high membership fees and dues, and many of its members were celebrities. Aomame established several classes in her best area, womens self-defense techniques. She made a large canvas dummy in the shape of a man, sewed a black work glove in the groin area to serve as testicles, and gave female club members thorough training in how to kick in that spot. In the interest of realism, she stuffed two squash balls into the glove. The women were to kick this target swiftly, mercilessly, and repeatedly. Many of them took special pleasure in this training, and their skill improved markedly, but other members (mostly men, of course) viewed the spectacle with a frown and complained to the clubs management that she was going overboard. As a result, Aomame was called in and instructed to rein in the ball-kicking practice.
Realistically speaking, though, she protested, its impossible for women to protect themselves against men without resorting to a kick in the testicles. Most men are bigger and stronger than women. A swift testicle attack is a womans only chance. Mao Zedong said it best. You find your opponents weak point and make the first move with a concentrated attack. Its the only chance a guerrilla force has of defeating a regular army.
The manager did not take well to her passionate defense. You know perfectly well that were one of the few truly exclusive clubs in the metropolitan area, he said with a frown. Most of our members are celebrities. We have to preserve our dignity in all aspects of our operations. Image is crucial. I dont care what the reason is for these drills of yours, its less than dignified to have a gang of nubile women kicking a doll in the crotch and screeching their heads off. Weve already had at least one case of a potential member touring the club and withdrawing his application after he happened to see your class in action. I dont care what Mao Zedong saidor Genghis Khan, for that matter: a spectacle like that is going to make most men feel anxious and annoyed and upset.
Aomame felt not the slightest regret at having caused male club members to feel anxious and annoyed and upset. Such unpleasant feelings were nothing compared with the pain experienced by a victim of forcible rape. She could not defy her superiors orders, however, and so her self-defense classes had to lower the level of their aggressiveness. She was also forbidden to use the doll. As a result, her drills became much more lukewarm and formal. Aomame herself was hardly pleased by this, and several members raised objections, but as an employee, there was nothing she could do.
It was Aomames opinion that, if she were unable to deliver an effective kick to the balls when forcefully attacked by a man, there would be very little else left for her to try. In the actual heat of combat, it was virtually impossible to perform such high-level techniques as grabbing your opponents arm and twisting it behind his back. That only happened in the movies. Rather than attempting such a feat, a woman would be far better off running away without trying to fight.
In any case, Aomame had mastered at least ten separate techniques for kicking men in the balls. She had even gone so far as to have several younger men she knew from college put on protective cups and let her practice on them. Your kicks really hurt, even with the cup on, one of them had screamed in pain. No more, please! If the need arose, she knew, she would never hesitate to apply her sophisticated techniques in actual combat. If theres any guy crazy enough to attack me, Im going to show him the end of the worldclose up. Im going to let him see the kingdom come with his own eyes. Im going to send him straight to the Southern Hemisphere and let the ashes of death rain all over him and the kangaroos and the wallabies.
. . .

As she pondered the coming of the kingdom, Aomame sat at the bar taking little sips of her Tom Collins. She would glance at her wristwatch every now and then, pretending that she was here to meet someone, but in fact she had made no such arrangement. She was simply keeping an eye out for a suitable man among the bars arriving patrons. Her watch said eight thirty. She wore a pale blue blouse beneath a dark brown Calvin Klein jacket and a navy-blue miniskirt. Her handmade ice pick was not with her today. It was resting peacefully, wrapped in a towel in her dresser drawer at home.
This was a well-known singles bar in the Roppongi entertainment district. Single men came here on the prowl for single womenor vice versa. A lot of them were foreigners. The bar was meant to look like a place where Hemingway might have hung out in the Bahamas. A stuffed swordfish hung on the wall, and fishing nets dangled from the ceiling. There were lots of photographs of people posing with giant fish they had caught, and there was a portrait of Hemingway. Happy Papa Hemingway. The people who came here were apparently not concerned that the author later suffered from alcoholism and killed himself with a hunting rifle.
Several men approached Aomame that evening, but none she liked. A pair of typically footloose college students invited her to join them, but she couldnt be bothered to respond. To a thirtyish company employee with creepy eyes she said she was here to meet someone and turned him down flat. She just didnt like young men. They were so aggressive and self-confident, but they had nothing to talk about, and whatever they had to say was boring. In bed, they went at it like animals and had no clue about the true enjoyment of sex. She liked those slightly tired middle-aged men, preferably in the early stages of baldness. They should be clean and free of any hint of vulgarity. And they had to have well-shaped heads. Such men were not easy to find, which meant that she had to be willing to compromise.
Scanning the room, Aomame released a silent sigh. Why were there so damn few suitable men around? She thought about Sean Connery. Just imagining the shape of his head, she felt a dull throbbing deep inside. If Sean Connery were to suddenly pop up here, I would do anything to make him mine. Of course, theres no way in hell that Sean Connery is going to show his face in a Roppongi fake Bahamas singles bar.
On the bars big wall television, Queen was performing. Aomame didnt much like Queens music. She tried her best not to look in that direction. She also tried hard not to listen to the music coming from the speakers. After the Queen video ended, ABBA came on. Oh, no. Something tells me this is going to be an awful night.
. . .

Aomame had met the dowager of Willow House at the sports club where she worked. The woman was enrolled in Aomames self-defense class, the short-lived radical one that emphasized attacking the doll. She was a small woman, the oldest member of the class, but her movements were light and her kicks sharp. In a tight situation, Im sure she could kick her opponent in the balls without the slightest hesitation. She never speaks more than necessary, and when she does speak she never beats around the bush. Aomame liked that about her. At my age, theres no special need for self-defense, the woman said to Aomame with a dignified smile after class.
Age has nothing to do with it, Aomame snapped back. Its a question of how you live your life. The important thing is to adopt a stance of always being deadly serious about protecting yourself. You cant go anywhere if you just resign yourself to being attacked. A state of chronic powerlessness eats away at a person.
The dowager said nothing for a while, looking Aomame in the eye. Either Aomames words or her tone of voice seemed to have made a strong impression on her. She nodded gravely. Youre right. You are absolutely right, she said. You have obviously done some solid thinking about this.
A few days later, Aomame received an envelope. It had been left at the clubs front desk for her. Inside Aomame found a short, beautifully penned note containing the dowagers address and telephone number. I know you must be very busy, it said, but I would appreciate hearing from you sometime when you are free.
A man answered the phonea secretary, it seemed. When Aomame gave her name, he switched her to an extension without a word. The dowager came on the line and thanked her for calling. If its not too much bother, Id like to invite you out for a meal, she said. Id like to have a nice, long talk with you, just the two of us.
With pleasure, Aomame said.
How would tomorrow night be for you?
Aomame had no problem with that, but she had to wonder what this elegant older woman could possibly want to speak about with someone like her.
The two had dinner at a French restaurant in a quiet section of Azabu. The dowager had been coming here for a long time, it seemed. They showed her to one of the better tables in the back, and she apparently knew the aging waiter who provided them with attentive service. She wore a beautifully cut dress of unfigured pale green cloth (perhaps a 1960s Givenchy) and a jade necklace. Midway through the meal, the manager appeared and offered her his respectful greetings. Vegetarian cuisine occupied much of the menu, and the flavors were elegant and simple. By coincidence, the soup of the day was green pea soup, as if in honor of Aomame. The dowager had a glass of Chablis, and Aomame kept her company. The wine was just as elegant and simple as the food. Aomame ordered a grilled cut of white fish. The dowager took only vegetables. Her manner of eating the vegetables was beautiful, like a work of art. When you get to be my age, you can stay alive eating very little, she said. Of the finest food possible, she added, half in jest.
She wanted Aomame to become her personal trainer, instructing her in martial arts at her home two or three days a week. Also, if possible, she wanted Aomame to help her with muscle stretching.
Of course I can do that, Aomame said, but Ill have to ask you to arrange for the personal training away from the gym through the clubs front desk.
Thats fine, the dowager said, but lets make scheduling arrangements directly. There is bound to be confusion if other people get involved. Id like to avoid that. Would that be all right with you?
Perfectly all right.
Then lets start next week, the dowager said.
This was all it took to conclude their business.
The dowager said, I was tremendously struck by what you said at the gym the other day. About powerlessness. About how powerlessness inflicts such damage on people. Do you remember?
Aomame nodded. I do.
Do you mind if I ask you a question? It will be a very direct question. To save time.
Ask whatever you like, Aomame said.
Are you a feminist, or a lesbian?
Aomame blushed slightly and shook her head. I dont think so. My thoughts on such matters are strictly my own. Im not a doctrinaire feminist, and Im not a lesbian.
Thats good, the dowager said. As if relieved, she elegantly lifted a forkful of broccoli to her mouth, elegantly chewed it, and took one small sip of wine. Then she said, Even if you were a feminist or a lesbian, it wouldnt bother me in the least. It wouldnt influence anything. But, if I may say so, your not being either will make it easier for us to communicate. Do you see what Im trying to say?
I do, Aomame said.
Aomame went to the dowagers compound twice a week to guide her in martial arts. The dowager had a large, mirrored practice space built years earlier for her little daughters ballet lessons, and it was there that she and Aomame did their carefully ordered exercises. For someone her age, the dowager was very flexible, and she progressed rapidly. Hers was a small body, but one that had been well cared for over the years. Aomame also taught her the basics of systematic stretching, and gave her massages to loosen her muscles.
Aomame was especially skilled at deep tissue massage. She had earned better grades in that field than anyone else at the college of physical education. The names of all the bones and all the muscles of the human body were engraved in her brain. She knew the function and characteristics of each muscle, both how to tone it and how to keep it toned. It was Aomames firm belief that the human body was a temple, to be kept as strong and beautiful and clean as possible, whatever one might enshrine there.
Not content with ordinary sports medicine, Aomame learned acupuncture techniques as a matter of personal interest, taking formal training for several years from a Chinese doctor. Impressed with her rapid progress, the doctor told her that she had more than enough skill to be a professional. She was a quick learner, with an unquenchable thirst for detailed knowledge regarding the bodys functions. But more than anything, she had fingertips that were endowed with an almost frightening sixth sense. Just as certain people possess perfect pitch or the ability to find underground water veins, Aomames fingertips could instantly discern the subtle points on the body that influenced its functionality. This was nothing that anyone had taught her. It came to her naturally.
Before long, Aomame and the dowager would follow up their training and massage sessions with a leisurely chat over a cup of tea. Tamaru would always bring the tea utensils on the silver tray. He never spoke a word in Aomames presence during the first month, until Aomame felt compelled to ask the dowager if by any chance Tamaru was incapable of speaking.
One time, the dowager asked Aomame if she had ever used her testicle-kicking technique in actual self-defense.
Just once, Aomame answered.
Did it work? the dowager asked.
It had the intended effect, Aomame answered, cautiously and concisely.
Do you think it would work on Tamaru?
Aomame shook her head. Probably not. He knows about things like that. If the other person has the ability to read your movements, theres nothing you can do. The testicle kick only works with amateurs who have no actual fighting experience.
In other words, you recognize that Tamaru is no amateur.
How should I put it? Aomame paused. He has a special presence. Hes not an ordinary person.
The dowager added cream to her tea and stirred it slowly.
So the man you kicked that time was an amateur, I assume. A big man?
Aomame nodded but did not say anything. The man had been well built and strong-looking. But he was arrogant, and he had let his guard down with a mere woman. He had never had the experience of being kicked in the balls by a woman, and never imagined such a thing would ever happen to him.
Did he end up with any wounds? the dowager asked.
No, no wounds, Aomame said. He was just in intense pain for a while.
The dowager remained silent for a moment. Then she asked, Have you ever attacked a man before? Not just causing him pain but intentionally wounding him?
I have, Aomame replied. Lying was not a specialty of hers.
Can you talk about it?
Aomame shook her head almost imperceptibly. Im sorry, but its not something I can talk about easily.
Of course not, the dowager said. Thats fine. Theres no need to force yourself.
The two drank their tea in silence, each with her own thoughts.
Finally, the dowager spoke. But sometime, when you feel like talking about it, do you think I might be able to have you tell me what happened back then?
Aomame said, I might be able to tell you sometime. Or I might not, ever. I honestly dont know, myself.
The dowager looked at Aomame for a while. Then she said, Im not asking out of mere curiosity.
Aomame kept silent.
As I see it, you are living with something that you keep hidden deep inside. Something heavy. I felt it from the first time I met you. You have a strong gaze, as if you have made up your mind about something. To tell you the truth, I myself carry such things around inside. Heavy things. That is how I can see it in you. There is no need to hurry, but you will be better off, at some point in time, if you bring it outside yourself. I am nothing if not discreet, and I have several realistic measures at my disposal. If all goes well, I could be of help to you.
Later, when Aomame finally opened up to the dowager, she would also open a new door in her life.
Hey, what are you drinking? someone asked near Aomames ear. The voice belonged to a woman.
Aomame raised her head and looked at the speaker. A young woman with a fifties-style ponytail was sitting on the neighboring barstool. Her dress had a tiny flower pattern, and a small Gucci bag hung from her shoulder. Her nails were carefully manicured in pale pink. By no means fat, the woman was round everywhere, including her face, which radiated a truly friendly warmth, and she had big breasts.
Aomame was somewhat taken aback. She had not been expecting to be approached by a woman. This was a bar for men to approach women.
Tom Collins, Aomame said.
Is it good?
Not especially. But its not that strong, and I can sip it.
I wonder why they call it Tom Collins.
I have no idea, Aomame said. Maybe its the name of the guy who invented it. Not that its such an amazing invention.
The woman waved to the bartender and said, Ill have a Tom Collins too. A few moments later, she had her drink.
Mind if I sit here? she asked.
Not at all. Its an empty seat. And youre already sitting in it, Aomame thought without speaking the words.
You dont have a date to meet anybody here, do you? the woman asked.
Instead of answering, Aomame studied the womans face. She guessed the woman was three or four years younger than herself.
Dont worry, Im not interested in that, the woman whispered, as if sharing a secret. If thats what youre worried about. I prefer men, too. Like you.
Like me?
Well, isnt that why you came here, to find a guy?
Do I look like that?
The woman narrowed her eyes somewhat. That much is obvious. Its what this place is for. And Im guessing that neither of us is a pro.
Of course not, Aomame said.
Hey, heres an idea. Why dont we team up? Its probably easier for a man to approach two women than one. And we can relax more and sort of feel safer if were together instead of alone. We look so different, tooIm more the womanly type, and you have that trim, boyish styleIm sure were a good match.
Boyish, Aomame thought. Thats the first time anyones ever called me that. Our taste in men might be different, though, she said. Hows that supposed to work if were a team?
The woman pursed her lips in thought. True, now that you mention it. Taste in men, huh? Hmm. What kind do you like?
Middle-aged if possible, Aomame said. Im not that into young guys. I like em when theyre just starting to lose their hair.
Wow. I get it. Middle-aged, huh? I like em young and lively and good-looking. Im not much interested in middle-aged guys, but Im willing to go along with you and give it a try. Its all experience. Are middle-aged guys good? At sex, I mean.
It depends on the guy, Aomame said.
Of course, the woman replied. Then she narrowed her eyes, as if verifying some kind of theory. You cant generalize about sex, of course, but if you were to say overall
Theyre not bad. They eventually run out of steam, but while theyre at it they take their time. They dont rush it. When theyre good, they can make you come a lot.
The woman gave this some thought. Hmm, I may be getting interested. Maybe Ill try that out.
You should!
Say, have you ever tried four-way sex? You switch partners at some point.
Never.
I havent, either. Interested?
Probably not, Aomame said. Uh, I dont mind teaming up, but if were going to do stuff together, even temporarily, can you tell me a little more about yourself? Because we could be on completely different wavelengths.
Good idea, she said. So, what do you want to know about me?
Well, for one thing, what kind of work do you do?
The woman took a drink of her Tom Collins and set it down on the coaster. Then she dabbed at her lips with a paper napkin. Then she examined the lipstick stains on the napkin.
This is a pretty good drink, she said. It has a gin base, right?
Gin and lemon juice and soda water.
True, its no great invention, but it tastes pretty good.
Im glad.
So, then, what kind of work do I do? Thats kind of tough. Even if I tell you the truth, you might not believe me.
So Ill go first, Aomame said. Im an instructor at a sports club. I mostly teach martial arts. Also muscle stretching.
Martial arts! the woman exclaimed. Like Bruce Lee kind of stuff?
Kind of.
Are you good at it?
Okay.
The woman smiled and raised her glass as if in a toast. So, in a pinch, we might be an unbeatable team. I might not look it, but Ive been doing aikido for years. To tell you the truth, Im a policewoman.
A policewoman?! Aomames mouth dropped open, but no further words emerged from it.
Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. I dont look the part, do I?
Certainly not, Aomame said.
Its true, though. Absolutely. My name is Ayumi.
Im Aomame.
Aomame. Is that your real name?
Aomame gave her a solemn nod. A policewoman? You mean you wear a uniform and carry a gun and ride in a police car and patrol the streets?
Thats what Id like to be doing. Its what I joined the police force to do. But they wont let me, Ayumi said. She took a handful of pretzels from a nearby bowl and started munching them noisily. I wear a ridiculous uniform, ride around in one of those mini patrol carsbasically, a motor scooterand give parking tickets all day. They wont let me carry a pistol, of course. Theres no need to fire warning shots at a local citizen whos parked his Toyota Corolla in front of a fire hydrant. I got great marks at shooting practice, but nobody gives a damn about that. Just because Im a woman, theyve got me going around with a piece of chalk on a stick, writing the time and license plate numbers on the asphalt day after day
Speaking of pistols, do you fire a Beretta semiautomatic?
Sure. Theyre all Berettas now. Theyre a little too heavy for me. Fully loaded, they probably weigh close to a kilogram.
The body of a Beretta alone weighs 850 grams, Aomame said.
Ayumi looked at Aomame like a pawnbroker assessing a wristwatch. How do you know something like that? she asked.
Ive always had an interest in guns, Aomame said. Of course, Ive never actually fired one.
Oh, really? Ayumi seemed convinced. Im really into shooting pistols. True, a Beretta is heavy, but it has less of a recoil than the older guns, so even a small woman can handle one with enough practice. The top guys dont believe it, though. Theyre convinced that a woman cant handle a pistol. All the higher-ups in the department are male chauvinist fascists. I had super grades in nightstick techniques, too, at least as good as most of the men, but I got no recognition at all. The only thing I ever heard from them was filthy double entendres. Say, you really know how to grab that nightstick. Let me know any time you want some extra practice. Stuff like that. Their brains are like a century and a half behind the times.
Ayumi took a pack of Virginia Slims from her shoulder bag, and with practiced movements eased a cigarette from the pack, put it between her lips, lit it with a slim gold lighter, and slowly exhaled the smoke toward the ceiling.
Whatever gave you the idea of becoming a police officer? Aomame asked.
I never intended to, Ayumi replied. But I didnt want to do ordinary office work, and I didnt have any professional skills. That really limited my options. So in my senior year of college I took the Metropolitan Police employment exam. A lot of my relatives were copsmy father, my brother, one of my uncles. The police are a kind of nepotistic society, so its easier to get hired if youre related to a policeman.
The police family
Exactly. Until I actually got into it, though, I had no idea how rife the place was with gender discrimination. Female officers are more or less second-class citizens in the police world. The only jobs they give you to do are handling traffic violations, shuffling papers at a desk, teaching safety education at elementary schools, or patting down female suspects: boooring! Meanwhile, guys who clearly have less ability than me are sent out to one interesting crime scene after another. The higher-ups talk about equal opportunity for the sexes, but its all a front, it just doesnt work that way. It kills your desire to do a good job. You know what I mean?
Aomame said she understood.
It makes me so mad!
Dont you have a boyfriend or something? Aomame asked.
Ayumi frowned. For a while, she glared at the slim cigarette between her fingers. Its nearly impossible for a policewoman to have a boyfriend. You work irregular hours, so its hard to coordinate times with anyone who works a normal business week. And even if things do start to work out, the minute an ordinary guy hears youre a cop, he just scoots away like a crab running from the surf. Its awful, dont you think?
Aomame said that she did think it was awful.
Which leaves a workplace romance as the only possibilityexcept there arent any decent men there. Theyre all brain-dead jerks who can only tell dirty jokes. Theyre either born stupid or they think of nothing else but their advancement. And these are the guys responsible for the safety of society! Japan does not have a bright future.
Somebody as cute as you should be popular with the men, I would think, Aomame said.
Well, Im not exactly unpopularas long as I dont reveal my profession. So in places like this I just tell them I work for an insurance company.
Do you come here often?
Not often. Once in a while, Ayumi said. After a moments reflection, she said, as if revealing a secret, Every now and then, I start craving sex. To put it bluntly, I want a man. You know, more or less periodically. So then I get all dolled up, put on fancy underwear, and come here. I find a suitable guy and we do it all night. That calms me down for a while. Ive just got a healthy sex driveIm not a nympho or sex addict or anything, Im okay once I work off the desire. It doesnt last. The next day Im hard at work again, handing out parking tickets. How about you?
Aomame picked up her Tom Collins glass and took a sip. About the same, I guess.
No boyfriend?
I made up my mind not to have a boyfriend. I dont want the bother.
Having one man is a bother?
Pretty much.
But sometimes I want to do it so bad I cant stand it, Ayumi said.
That expression you used a minute ago, Work off the desire, is more my speed.
How about Have an opulent evening?
Thats not bad, either, Aomame said.
In any case, it should be a one-night stand, without any follow-up.
Aomame nodded.
Elbow on the bar, Ayumi propped her chin on her hand and thought about this for a while. We might have a lot in common, she said.
Maybe so, Aomame agreed. Except youre a female cop and I kill people. Were inside and outside the law. I bet that counts as one big difference.
Lets play it this way, Ayumi said. We both work for the same casualty insurance company, but the name of the company is a secret. Youre a couple years ahead of me. There was some unpleasantness in the office today, so we came here to drown our sorrows, and now were feeling pretty good. Hows that for our situation?
Fine, except I dont know a thing about casualty insurance.
Leave that to me. Im good at making up stories.
Its all yours, then, Aomame said.
Now, it just so happens that two sort-of-middle-aged guys are sitting at the table right behind us, and theyve been looking around with hungry eyes. Can you check em out without being obvious about it?
Aomame glanced back casually as instructed. A tables width away from the bar stood a table with two middle-aged men. Both wore a suit and tie, and both looked like typical company employees out for a drink after a hard days work. Their suits were not rumpled, and their ties were not in bad taste. Neither man appeared unclean, at least. One was probably just around forty, and the other not yet forty. The older one was thin with an oval face and a receding hairline. The younger one had the look of a former college rugby player who had recently started to put on weight from lack of exercise. His face still retained a certain youthfulness, but he was beginning to grow thick around the chin. They were chatting pleasantly over whiskey-and-waters, but their eyes were very definitely searching the room.
Ayumi began to analyze them. Id say theyre not used to places like this. Theyre here looking for a good time, but they dont know how to approach girls. Theyre probably both married. They have a kind of guilty look about them.
Aomame was impressed with Ayumis precise powers of observation. She must have taken all this in quite unnoticed while chatting away with Aomame. Maybe it was worth being a member of the police family.
The one with the thinning hair is more to your taste, isnt he? Ayumi asked. Ill take the stocky one, okay?
Aomame glanced backward again. The head shape of the thin-haired one was more or less acceptablelight-years away from Sean Connery, but worth a passing grade. She couldnt ask too much on a night like this, with nothing but Queen and ABBA to listen to all evening.
Thats fine with me, Aomame said, but how are you going to get them to invite us to join them?
Not by waiting for the sun to come up, thats for sure! We crash their party, all smiles.
Are you serious?
Of course I am! Just leave it to meIll go over and start up a conversation. You wait here. Ayumi took a healthy swig of her Tom Collins and rubbed her palms together. Then she slung her Gucci bag over her shoulder and put on a brilliant smile.
Okay, time for a little nightstick practice.

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