『Historic First! Woman Completes the Solo First Nonstop Flight Across the Pacific!』
Seymour sighed, folding the newspaper over its blaring headline and tossing it onto the coat in the passenger seat.
“…Nothing about yesterday, eh?”
There was no mention about yesterday’s shooting and explosion in the newspaper. And not just that. Turf wars between the various mafia families in the city raged on, but very little of it was reflected in the papers.
It wasn’t as though the mafia was controlling the information either.
To put it simply, no one cared. Instead, the most eye-catching pieces covered all kinds of records like nonstop flights, surveys of unexplored regions, and records of most time spent underwater. They didn’t even acknowledge the significance of these achievements, emptily praising them for being achievements in and of themselves.
Seymour usually wasn’t one to sigh, but today one escaped his lips.
There was a distinct feeling of averting your eyes from the truly compelling issues in favor of the sensational. A perverted feeling of having your priorities backwards. Today, Seymour suddenly felt the melancholy of the era weigh down heavily on him.
“────Hey man, you okay?”
The question directed at him through the window felt like the reverberations of last night’s explosion in his head. He pulled down the window, shifting his eyes outside.
“Yes. No problem. I’m on time, right?”
“Yeah, as always. Good work.” An Oriental man with a good build and sunglasses replied, smiling at him.
Seymour wasn’t familiar enough with foreigners to be able to guess an exact age, but he was probably at an age where he could pass as Seymour’s dad. The familiar face and voice made him smile, and he reached over to the passenger’s seat. He picked up three blue cigar boxes with 『Grind the Mill』written on them.
While he was at it, he said in a flat voice that would hide his intent, “You might want to have a chat with the client about this job. The packaging is getting visibly sloppier…or well. More like, they’ve stopped wrapping it entirely.”
It wasn’t his first time delivering a package to this man. Seymour had seen his face once or twice a week for over a year now, and like everything in life, it took them a while to get used to each other. In the beginning, the packages were wrapped up carefully on top of being in a huge dummy case. But, soon the dummy case disappeared and the box itself was just wrapped up in a cloth, and finally, today, the cigars ─ which Seymour had only just discovered were what he’d been delivering all along ─ had been left uncovered.
Seymour never asked『what』as a rule, but he couldn’t help it since the client hadn’t even wrapped it this time around. Seemingly understanding what Seymour, who was fighting back a grimace, was thinking, the man chuckled lightly.
“It simply means that your work deserves this much trust.” The job should have been finished with the hand-over of the cigars, however the man kept talking, “By the way, here.”
He thrust several bills through the window.
“Pardon? I have already received my payment.”
“That’s not it. Your car, look, it stinks.”
During yesterday’s uproar, various things had made their way into Seymour’s Essex. The smell of gunpowder and ash was much harder to get rid of than that of garbage. There were also stains here and there all over the black frame of the car.
“This should be enough for a car wash. It’s vital to your work, so you should take proper care of it.”
“Then I’ll gratefully accept your kindness.”
“Don’t worry ’bout it. Just earn enough cash to afford this kind of thing, at least.”
“Ahaha, not everything in life is about money, though.”
“Whoa, how deep, dude.”
After the man has seen him off with a teasing laugh, Seymour exhaled in relief.
No car chase, no explosions, and of course no gunshots or death either. Wonderful. A very ordinary, everyday job. Well, ordinary is quite the rarity in this city, though.
Although the afternoon traffic couldn’t be described as a traffic jam, it was still congested enough to make Seymour tap his pedals impatiently. After confirming that it was safe in front, he took a peek at the back seat. The abnormality was quite obvious even at a glance. The Essex’ back seat was clean and tidy when compared to the car’s exterior, even though it had been covered in a girl’s blood and flesh just yesterday.
Seymour hadn’t done anything that could be called cleaning. And even if he had diligently scrubbed the whole seat, the putrid stench that the stains had given off yesterday should still be clinging to it.
“Well, in other words, c’est la vie.”
After driving for another 30 minutes, Seymour’s home came into view. Although the only person who would recognise it as a home was Seymour. It was one of many garages lining this street on the outskirts of town. A perpetual salty sea breeze travelled up the river beside the street from the nearby ocean.
Seymour stopped the car in front of the garage that broadly resembled a giant dog house. He got out of his car and rolled his neck. Then sneezed. This neighborhood was often referred to as an industrial area, and had the charm of being deserted except for the periods when the various workers clocked in or out in the morning and evening, but only the bad air produced by the factory across the street was a distinct drawback.
He took the key out of his pocket and inserted it into the keyhole. As he grabbed the shutter, the rust rubbed against his palm. He liked the rough, brittle texture, and thus he didn’t go out of his way to remove the rust. Shoving the shutter twice to get it fully open, both accompanied by loud jarring screeches that threatened to bring the whole place down, he drove into the garage.
The garage itself was a cramped hole that seemed too small even though there was only one car, a tool shelf and a few materials strewn about. With the window shut, the only light source was a naked bulb that hung from the ceiling, coloring the stagnant air a yellowish-brown. The metallic material of the walls was clearly exposed, though there were some richly colored patches here and there. Those were a result of Seymour occasionally splashing some paint on them for a change of pace, and the various layers of paint managed to come together and vaguely resemble marble.
Seymour climbed the ladder to a small loft above the garage. The small mezzanine floor made the already small garage seem even more cramped. That small loft served as Seymour’s living space. And right now, there was a girl sleeping in the bed.
The girl’s ──── Lumi’s face was quite pretty. The blood and brain matter she had spilled on the back seat of the Essex last night had now settled back in her head, returning to its previous state. There was no doubt about that since Seymour had watched with his own eyes how the blood and flesh had crawled back into her body as if he were watching a movie backwards. And, she had remained asleep ever since yesterday. He had tucked her in with a blanket that more closely resembled a rag with its machine oil stains and burn marks, but her breathing had remained regular and she never woke. The hem of her skirt, which she had been wearing since yesterday along with the rest of her outfit, was riding rather dangerously high.
Making his way through the heaps of miscellaneous goods on the floor, Seymour leaned back on his workdesk and lit a cigarette. He pulled on the wristwatch he took off to drive and stretched out a leg, drawing a metallic trash can to himself. He slowly filled his lungs with smoke with an expression that was a lot more emotionless than that of the sleeping girl.
The trash can had managed to catch the ash of two cigarettes by the time the girl’s eyelids snapped open.
“…….Nh, ah.” A delicate sigh.
Her long eyelashes fluttered like the wings of a butterfly. Seymour covered his mouth with his right hand. The cigarette between two fingers, he pressed it to his mouth before pulling it away to reveal a smile.
“Goood…mooornin’…” Lumi greeted him back properly even as her head lolled a bit.
Only then did her eyes focus. Immediately a red tinge appeared on her cheeks, clearly signaling her embarrassment. Pulling her legs up under her and dragging the blanket up to cover everything from chin to toes, she said.
“Umm……good morning. Excuse me for occupying your bed all night long.”
Those are her first words after waking up in the bed of a man who’s basically a stranger to her?
There was a small chuckle from Seymour, but it was natural and unplanned, unlike a little while ago.
“I feel like you’re an early riser for a vampire. There’s still some time left until dusk.”
The word still didn’t feel quite real to him even though he had said it countless times since last night – vampire. The word seemed to be quite significant to Lumi however, her shoulders betraying how she had started at the mere mention.
“Besides, you look awfully healthy for someone whose brain was all over my backseat just yesterday.”
“What are you apologizing for?” Seymour asked quite genuinely, not intending it as a snide remark or with any sarcasm.
But his tone came out crueler than he had imagined it would, and Seymour suspected that he might be a little irritated.
Just, about what?
He saw a pang of fear flash through Lumi’s golden eyes as she perceptively sensed the sharpness oozing out of his voice.
“Vampire, huh, what’s all that about?”
“W-What’s that about, you ask…?”
“I’m not really knowledgeable about these kinds of things, so I don’t quite know what it entails.” Seymour only knew that term from the fictional stories that could be found on every street corner. “They suck human blood, are weak against sunlight, can turn into fog, can’t cross running water, transform into bats, hate crosses, perish when having a stake driven into their heart, and hate garlic. That’s about as much as I know about vampires.”
“Well, yes, that’s the kind of being I am.” Lumi had a deadly serious look on her face as she agreed with what Seymour had said half in jest.
He lifted an eyebrow, unconvinced, but there wasn’t a single sign that indicated that she was kidding.
The silver-haired girl straightened up on the bed. Lowering the blanket that had been draped over her body, she crumpled it up with her fingers, and confirmed Seymour’s words with a beautiful voice entirely unworthy of a being commonly referred to as a monster.
“I suck human blood, am weak against sunlight, can turn into fog, can’t cross running water, transform into bats, hate crosses, perish when having a stake driven into my heart, and hate garlic. ────That’s the kind of vampire I am.”
Even though he felt like laughing it off, the scene he had witnessed last night still lingered in Seymour’s mind. He couldn’t conclusively decide whether she was a vampire or not ─ it’s not like he could check by throwing her out into the sun right now ─ but there was no doubt that she had survived having a huge hole blown in her head.
‘Usually when people’s brains are splattered outside their head, they’re pretty dead. In other words, she’s definitely not human.
Seymour fell silent for a while. He only pulled himself together once the heat of his cigarette made itself a priority. He took one last puff from the last remnants of the cigarette, and ground it out against the trash can. With it, he easily extinguished the questions swirling in his head.
“I see. Well, then…” The most important question wasn’t whether or not she was a vampire. “…are you being chased by the mafia?”
He was pretty sure the same images that were being dredged up in his mind at the words were flashing through hers as well. An exploding house. A man’s head turned into bloody pulp by gunshots. Gunshots spilling her open.
“………Yes, I must be, I’m sure.”
“I’ve always lived with my mother up until fairly recently. In a small house, just the two of us. But, mother…didn’t come home one day.”
Lumi tearfully swallowed before she managed to get the words 『didn’t come home』out. Seymour didn’t feel like probing any further about this.
“And then I was taken to a much bigger house, a mansion. I didn’t really know what was happening, but there were many men there, and I knew that they were scheming something…bad…….” Lumi’s shoulders trembled, as if she was struggling to breathe.
“……And then, I ran away from there yesterday.”
Seymour’s reply was the same as before, “I see.”
He felt like just saying those two words was a little heartless so he added in a slightly flustered manner, “Okay, I understand the situation. We don’t know who exactly is targeting you, but there’s value in just knowing that the mafia is after you.”
The human-shaped entity before him was a vampire. That was worth something in and of itself. There might be dirty work they would force this inhuman monster to do, or they might simply plan to market her like some panda, tropical fish, or rhinoceros beetle. It was also possible that someone had simply fallen for Lumi’s charm, as unexpected as it might sound. Still, there was no real point in trying to guess their motives.
“You were targeted yesterday, and that’s not likely to have changed today or tomorrow.”
Lumi cast her eyes down. As soon as she did, Seymour felt the mood of the whole room plummet.
“Yes…you’re probably right. I’m still being chased, am I not?”
Then her leather boots landed on the floor with a thud. Her feet had been hidden in her shoes since yesterday, and Seymour idly wondered if they were swollen or in pain. Lumi still looked rather unstable even though she had managed to get up. Seymour lent her a hand.
His hand was flung off as soon as they made contact. But not because Lumi had shaken it off. Some invisible, mysterious force had repelled them from each other. The impact was so strong that Seymour might have stumbled if he wasn’t leaning against the desk. His entire arm was numb, like he had just been electrocuted. The force tore the wristwatch right off his arm, sending it flying into the wall and before it fell all the way to the ground floor with a loud clatter. The force had repelled Lumi as well, bending her arm backward unnaturally.
An instantaneous commotion, followed by an instinctive comprehension of the cause.
Seymour’s wristwatch was decorated with silver. Vampires were weak against silver. They couldn’t touch it. It was a well known fact in vampire folklore. .
That inability to touch silver must have produced the force. It must have been generated to ensure that she never had contact with silver.
That was the conclusion Seymour came to. Lumi’s eyes widened, either from the pain or her anxiety. Her eyes tracked the path of the fallen wristwatch, her teeth clenched and her lips pursed into a thin line.
An apology that seemed to be aimed at no one in particular. But Seymour somehow had a hunch what she’d say next.
“Umm, I’ll leave right now. I’m terribly sorry for imposing on you for such a long time. Thank you very much.” She bowed once, and started to walk off unsteadily, though it was slow enough that her hair remained limp on her shoulders despite her unsteadiness.
Seymour silently thrust his numb fingers into the cigarette pack. He spun the cigarette in his fingers, noting that he hadn’t lost any range of motion.
Bringing it to his mouth, he stopped and sighed. The scene from last night replayed through his mind. Lumi’s long hair fluttering in the wind. The moment that had been so vivid that he hadn’t even cared that his fingers had lost all sensation or that the wind had chilled him to the bone.
He sighed once more.
After making sure that he wasn’t carrying other silver besides the wristwatch, he grabbed Lumi’s hand as she passed him, the unlit cigarette still between his fingers.
“…Do you have somewhere you can go?”
Despite the hand holding her back, she didn’t turn back to look at him. Seymour could only see the back of her well-shaped head.
“Ah, no, that is…I’ve always lived with my mother, so…”
“What about the guy from yesterday?”
“That man is a member of the mafia that kidnapped me. Although he allowed me to get away for some unknown reason…”
Seymour smiled wryly at how she had said it so airily, in complete contrast to the actual words coming out of her mouth. Seymour didn’t give a damn why he wanted to let Lumi Spike get away. In the end, if he really intended to save her, then he shouldn’t have stuffed her into Seymour’s car and caused her to end up all alone.
He felt her warmth through the hand he was grabbing. It seemed that vampires were warm-blooded. And as far as Seymour was concerned, the most solid proof that a person was human was their body temperature. If they were comfortable to embrace, then they were human.
“How about staying with me then?”
He regretted his words as soon as they left his mouth. This was a choice that definitely came with trouble.
Lumi also realized it. She whirled around with wide eyes, before slowly lowering them again.
“But……I can’t trouble you Mr. Seymour, not any more than…”
That made sense. If Seymour had been sitting in his car, he would never have said anything like that. Rescuing a girl being chased by the mafia wasn’t part of a courier’s job description. But, currently his hands weren’t holding onto the wheel, and his feet weren’t resting on the pedals.
“How about this, then. Yesterday that man requested that I escort you home. And that job isn’t over yet. The place I was supposed to deliver you to was blown to pieces before you could enter it.” The corners of Seymour’s lips twitched upward. “That’s why, you see……as compensation, I’ll deliver you somewhere on my pride as a courier. Anywhere you wish to go to.”
Seymour spoke with a level of determination that was quite rare for Seymour, but even so, traces of hesitation still remained in Lumi’s eyes. Therefore, since he was already committed, he added one more brief comment.
“As a special limited time offer, I’ll even take you to somewhere that’s not recorded on the map, okay?”
Though Lumi couldn’t possibly understand the real meaning behind those words, she still laughed softly like her heartstrings had been pulled. She turned around, and for the first time, Seymour saw a faint playfulness in her eyes.
“If you tell me all that, I’ll really depend on you, you know?”
“Of course. Even though I might look like this, my job completion rate is my greatest pride.”
“In that case────” Lumi requested boldly, her seriousness undercut by the smile on her face, “────please take me somewhere safe.”
❖ ── ✦ ──『✙』── ✦ ── ❖
Taking Lumi Spike to a 『safe place』 naturally wouldn’t be a normal, simple delivery job. Seymour and Lumi were both implicitly aware of that fact, but they quickly encountered an issue that needed to be rectified posthaste. Lumi was a vampire, and wounds not inflicted by her legendary weaknesses apparently vanished without a trace. Unfortunately, this was limited to just her body.
In other words, her clothes were a tattered mess thanks to yesterday’s events.
“────Okay, we’re here.”
Because of this, Seymour had driven them to a middle class residential area nearby in his Essex a few hours after sunset.
“This place is…?”
Considering their destination, it was best for Lumi to avoid looking like a 『suspicious woman wearing filthy clothes』, thus she was currently covering herself with Seymour’s jacket. However, the oversized men’s clothing only added to her overall indecent appearance.
Seymour knocked on the door of a white house with a small garden.
“It’s my parent’s home.”
Stepping off the car, Lumi’s eyes widened, “…….Your parent’s home? So, that means your parents will be inside?”
“Why do you look so surprised? Did you think that I was some kind of car part that was manufactured in a factory?”
“That’s not it, but…it’s somewhat difficult for me to think of you as anything but a courier.”
Is that how it works? Well, maybe it’s normal to have trouble with that. Seymour also found it hard to imagine Lumi living the happy life she had before she had the mafia on her tail.
Soon after, a voice could be heard from the other side of the door, “Yes, who might you be?”
“Ah, bro. Welcome home.”
The door opened in front of Seymour as he pouted. A tall and lanky girl appeared before them. She was just slightly shorter than Seymour, but tall enough that their eyes could still meet. Her wavy, voluminous hair was cropped short, making her look rather top heavy.
“I’m back, Sunny. Long time no see.” Seymour deftly spread his arms, clearly asking for a hug.
Sunny readily ignored his gesture, extending a hand towards him instead. She patted down his butt and thighs, then moved upwards, locating and pulling the pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket. After crushing it in her hands, she grinned.
“It really has been a long time. Hmm, I think the last time you came back home was in summer?”
“You’re probably right since you spent ages deliberating on which swimsuit you wanted to wear to the beach.”
“You tease!” Sunny casually jabbed Seymour’s shoulder.
Then she suddenly noticed the girl gawking up at her next to Seymour with a start. Having said that, it was fairly understandable. When Seymour and Sunny interacted, Lumi wouldn’t really enter their line of sight.
“Eh? Whoa!? What a cutie! Umm, who might you be? Oh, wait, bro suddenly coming back must mean…? Bah, you need to tell us such things in advance, you know!? I wonder, who’s older between us? Are you going to be my big sister? Or my little sister? I have to tell Mum right away! You have pretty hair!”
“Umm, you see…”
“Let her speak.”
When Seymour poked her forehead, Sunny slapped her hand over her mouth and mumbled through her palm, “I’m really sorry! I always end up babbling on end all by myself!”
“N-No, don’t worry. I’m Lumi Spike. Umm, Mr. Seymour is…umm.”
Seymour put a hand on Lumi’s shoulder as she struggled to find a good explanation for their circumstances. He had handled Sunny with a lighter hand.
“This is Sunny, my little sister. And Sunny, it’s been decided that I’ll take care of this girl here for a while due to work. However, various things happened and I couldn’t prepare any clothes or anything for her.”
“Due to work, huh? That’s totally fishy.”
Sunny’s eyes were pinned on Seymour’s jacket around Lumi. Come to think of it, I’ve worn this jacket in front of Sunny before, haven’t I? She’s a fussy one who never forgets small details like that.
“Are you still working as a courier?”
Seymour’s family had a vague idea about his job. The goods he actually delivered aside, at least they knew that he was a private courier who’d accept any job, no matter how shady.
“Yep, it’s a job for that shady Mr. Courier. You’ve still got all your old clothes, don’t you?”
Sunny grew as fast as bamboo once she hit puberty, so she had many opportunities to buy clothes. Out of nostalgia and sentimentality, his sister had kept almost all of those old past clothes.
“Can you lend me some? I’ll probably give them back to you soon.”
“Bro, that’s the tone you use when you don’t plan on returning things… Well, whatever, I’ll lend you some anyway. Hmm, I think the clothes I wore when I was 13 should be just right for her.”
“Which reminds me, I haven’t asked yet either. How old are you, Ms. Lumi?”
“…I’m 19 years old.”
Confronted with her big upturned eyes, Seymour and Sunny’s smiles were strained.
“Okay, I’ll wait in the car then────” Seymour started to say, as if he had expected nothing less, but Sunny immediately cut in.
“You’re not going to greet Mum, bro?”
“…… Hmm, I guess you’re right, I should.”
An unnatural pause, and a mumbled agreement. Ignoring the faintly questioning look in the golden eyes, he asked Sunny to take Lumi with her, and entered the house as well.
Seymour gently massaged the area around his eyes, knowing without looking that his brows were instinctively furrowed. This place was filled with too many memories. As he passed the short hallway and walked into the living room, he ran into his mother. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t noticed Seymour entering, but her eyes didn’t leave the knitwork in her hands.
“Hey, Mum. I’m back.”
Three chairs stood at the long table. Two were lined up at the head, close to the door, and one had been left on the opposite side. The chair that exuded an air of isolation was his mother’s usual spot. She didn’t reply to Seymour’s greeting as he leaned against the door. Seymour sighed, and sat down on the chair diagonally across from his mother.
After sitting down, he noticed a cushion had been put on the chair. Frowning at its softness, he pulled it out and stacked it on top of Sunny’s chair. The cushion hadn’t been there when he came here last time. Although many years had already passed since Seymour moved out, his mother was still buying furniture and other things in sets of three. She probably knew that this fact kept Seymour away from this home instead.
His mother slowly looked up at Seymour’s face.
“Welcome home. Why the sudden visit? Are you going to stay for dinner?”
“I just came to borrow some of Sunny’s clothes and pick up something I forgot. I’m on a job right now, so I’ll leave right away.”
“Job, huh? Did you land a decent job?”
“Not really. I’m still scraping by with my courier service, just like before.”
Sighing in lieu of a reply, his mother got up from her chair. She made a trip to the kitchen and came back with a teacup in her hand.
Putting it down in front of Seymour, she suddenly asked, “You’re not smoking, are you?”
Seymour smiled at her, one of the few people these days who was against smoking.
“I see. I’m glad to hear.” Even as she said this, she patted him down, frisking his thighs and breast pocket.
There was no longer a cigarette pack for her to find. But had he still had one, Seymour would have likely given the same answer, knowing his mother would take the same course of action regardless.
“Are you coming home soon? Look, you’ll need to get a decent job eventually. Why not give school another shot?”
“I’ll think about it. If I feel like it, that is.”
“How about picking up baseball again? You’re still growing, aren’t you?”
It was a conversation they had had the last time he had been here. And the time before. They had had this conversation over and over for many years now, and it had lost all meaning at this point. It was like the cry of a hill myna.
It was his mother’s favorite word. Each time Seymour heard her use it, he wondered how she could say something like that. It irritated him and was the reason he was unwilling to return.
For a little while after that, until he hit the limit of his patience, Seymour spoke with his mother. But, once his patience ran out, he considered all conversation after that pointless and instead knocked back his black tea in one go. It was still so hot that it might have actually scalded his throat.
“Okay, there’s something I came to pick up. I’ll go see if it’s in my room.”
“I see. I understand. Come to me if you need anything.”
Seymour brought his teacup back to the kitchen before he left the living room. He was fairly sure the sweat running down his spine wasn’t from the heat of the tea he had just knocked back.
Knowing he’d regret it if he let out a sigh, he swallowed it down and went to his room. The room had been left just as was during his teenage days, back when he still lived here.
“……Now then, I wonder what I’m going to take back with me.”
Seymour stood in the middle of the room with his hands on his hips, looking around at his school supplies, baseball bat, and various other possessions. He wasn’t in the mood to sit down on the chair or bed. It wasn’t his first time that he had brought the conversation with his mother to a close with the excuse of needing to pick up something. And since he had taken something back with him everytime he used the excuse, nothing of value to him remained in this room anymore.
Looking around the room, he spotted a picture frame on his bedside table.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time he had seen it. This picture frame had always been in this room, and he always felt a strong sense of relief when he saw it, though he would never admit it even to himself.
He picked up the frame. A single picture had been placed into the crude, wooden frame Sunny had made in elementary school. It showed the child Seymour standing next to his mother with an embarrassed grin, a broadly smiling Sunny,…in his father’s strong, military-uniformed arms.
Seymour jumped when a voice came from behind him. He had completely failed to notice the door opening. It seemed like he had been quite lost in thought.
When he looked back, he found Lumi standing there. Inside this ordinary house, her presence was even more out of place. Seymour narrowed his eyes at her dream-like appearance. He put down the picture frame, face down, knowing that it would likely be upright again the next time he visited.
“Yo, something wrong? Where’s Sunny?” He asked.
“Umm, she’s currently packing the clothes for me. So she told me to come find you, Mr. Seymour.” Her voice was more hesitant than usual, and right now, in this situation, that had an especially strong impact.
She kind of looks like she’s trying to imitate a penguin waddle. I guess she must be nervous in a house full of strangers.
“I see. Still, I’m just killing time here, too. Should we chat for a bit?”
“I suppose, we could…”
“I was wondering a while back, but we crossed a river some time ago…are you okay, what with being a vampire and all?”
Vampires being unable to cross running water was one of the core limitations of vampires. On the way to his house, Seymour and Lumi had crossed a river.
Lumi answered the question Seymour had only just remembered to ask, “I hear vampires can cross rivers in coffins, you see?”
“Okay. In other words, my Essex registers as a driving coffin, huh? Not bad.”
Even though he was laughing, Seymour was rather puzzled.
How do I describe it? Lumi kinda sounds like she’s talking about someone else’s problems. It feels a little fake, like she’s reading off a script.
Or you might as well say, she’s a vampire like they are in pictures. A vampire who jumped right out of a story. There’s no doubt that Lumi Spike is a vampire, but the fact that such a stereotypical vampire has been living quietly in this world ─ even though she’s right in front of my eyes ─ is somewhat unreal.
Since Seymour was silent, it was Lumi who spoke up this time, “Umm, is it okay for me to ask you something as well then?”
Seymour braced himself for a difficult question upon hearing her surprisingly firm tone. Seeing the silent permission in his eyes, Lumi slowly breathed in.
“Mr. Seymour, why are you a courier?”
“Hmm? Because I transport things? I receive payment in exchange for delivering their orders?”
“That’s not what I meant. I mean…” Lumi’s fingers fiddled around with the hem of his jacket, clearly demonstrating her nervousness. “Mr. Seymour, you’re a human, and on top of that, you have a place to call home. And yet, to be something as dangerous as a courier…”
The rest of her comment went unsaid, disappearing with a soft sigh. But, Seymour fully understood what she wanted to know.
She was a vampire, had lost her home, and was being chased by the mafia. Things that quite naturally led her to her current circumstances. None of those applied to Seymour. He had a proper place to call home. He had a foundation on which he could rely. And as a human, there was nothing troublesome tied to his fate. If he felt like it, he could stop being a courier today, and nothing troublesome would happen because of it. If he had one of those decent jobs, he would have a steady income, be able to show his face in society, and he might be able to lead a much happier life than he did now.
Or maybe what she really wanted to ask was: Why do people choose to be couriers, hitmen, and join the mafia? For a non-human such as her, it might be incomprehensible why such people existed among humans.
Seymour could only provide her with an answer to the former question. He had no reason to hide it either. His motivations became cold, dispassionate words, and passed his lips, “You see, I had a father. Though he’s not around anymore.”
“There was a war. My Dad was a decent man, had a decent job, and was a decent soldier, so naturally he fought well on the frontlines too.”
If he still had his cigarettes, he would have lit one up. But, his pocket was empty. Instead, Seymour tapped the picture frame next to his bed with a finger.
“And, well, he died. Despite how decent a man he was, his coffin, which I buried, was empty.”
“It’s in the past now. I don’t need sympathy or anything like that. Even with my Dad dead, I wasn’t troubled in any way. His military pension comfortably secured our livelihoods.” With a laugh, Seymour added, “In fact, my life was actually somewhat easier.”
“That’s why, yes, the reason I became a courier is────”
His father, who had lived a decent life, died miserably at the front. His life, which should have become difficult with his father’s absence, became more comfortable instead. And even though he could only believe that something was very wrong with this, he had nowhere to vent his frustrations in this world where everything had been reduced to individualism. And when he realized this, Seymour Road lost all interest in going to school and getting a proper job, making it impossible for him to keep living in this house.
After recapping all of this with a few words, Seymour’s lips quirked, “────basically because money isn’t everything in this world.”
Even though that was one of the few things Seymour believed in, it felt rather shallow when he put it into words. Though it was something that he felt he ought to scream so loudly and passionately that his voice gave in, he had already buried all that passion with his father’s coffin. Ever since then, his words were empty, regardless whether he told the truth or not.
Seymour swallowed down the frustration that threatened to close off his throat with his smile.
Just then they heard Sunny approach the room. Seymour scanned the room, knowing that he only had moments to decide what to bring back with him, and spotted something good.
“Oh, right. Are you interested in reading?”
There were several books in a pile on his desk. He grabbed the pile, tucking the books under his arm before Lumi had a chance to reply.
“Bro! Everything’s ready!”
“Gotcha. We’re coming,” he yelled back, and then added to Lumi, “Ms. Lumi, let’s go.”
Seymour tried to leave the room immediately, but before he could, his hand was suddenly grabbed.
As if mirroring the situation from several hours ago, Lumi had grasped his hand.
“What’s wrong?” He asked, looking into her eyes. They were trembling.
He was well aware that he had spoken about boring, sentimental stuff. And in this city dominated by pragmatism, sentimentality was worth the least of all. If you ever exposed any naivete from your heart, you would only be met with scorn. Because of that, her slightly moist eyes touched an unexpectedly deep part of his heart.
“U-Umm! Mr. Seymour! Would you stop addressing me so formally?”
“I mean, you can speak casually with me. You did save my life. That’s why, please feel at ease around me, just like you are with your family!”
If he was honest, he didn’t really understand why Lumi had suggested this all of a sudden. But, the request was probably her response to Seymour’s words from before. She chewed her thin, well-shaped lips. Noticing that, Seymour realized that he had to answer her quickly, and that he had no reason not to accept a girl’s request to be more familiar with each other.
“Ah, then, let’s go with that. Would Lumi be fine?”
Even though it was something she had suggested herself, Lumi’s eyes widened when her name was used directly. A scarlet tinge, like an overenthusiastic application of rouge, appeared on her flawless white skin.
Restlessly looking around, she looked up to Seymour with all the caution of a small animal peeking out of its burrow.
“U-Umm, I think it’s alright…”
“Okay, can you address me more casually as well then, Lumi?”
“W-With a man…t-that’s impossible…….”
Seymour laughed loudly at Lumi’s behavior, before Sunny’s voice came again.
“Come on, bro! Can you hurry it up a bit!?”
❖ ── ✦ ──『✙』── ✦ ── ❖
There was drama that very night. After visiting Seymour’s family, they had visited all sorts of places, buying almost all the necessities they needed for the time being.
As the first shadows of dawn peeked through the window, telling the kinfolk of the night to scurry back to their burrows, Seymour felt that it was about time to head to bed. He mentioned it to Lumi as he headed up to his loft. Only to be confronted with her suddenly asking, “But, Mr. Seymour, am I not a bother, occupying your bed?”
He almost reflexively replied with “You bet,” but managed to hold it back at the last moment. Waving his hand to dismiss her concerns, he made Lumi sit on the bed, and leaned against the nearby desk. Several tools were dislodged by his butt and fell on the floor with a loud clatter.
Startled by the noise, Seymour jerked his shoulders together, and then, after calming down, answered, “Having said that, there’s only one bed in here either way.”
“What do you do when your friends come over to stay? You give me the impression that you have many friends, Mr. Seymour.”
“Hmm, well, if I have to choose between many or few, I’d probably say that I have many friends.”
“Then why don’t we just do what you usually do then!? I’d feel guilty if I was the only one getting special treatment!”
Lumi probably thought that there was at least one more bed stashed away somewhere, that could be lent out to friends who stayed over. Seymour corrected her misunderstanding as gently as possible.
“I do have friends that come to stay over, but look, they’re all women, okay?”
“…….? Regardless of their gender, everyone requires a bed to sleep on, right?”
“I don’t know how it works when a man stays over, but usually, you see, when a woman stays over, you don’t really need two beds.” With a flick of his finger, he gestured at the small single bed, “Man and woman are normally entwined on top of one.”
Apparently she understood what he was trying to tell her. In an instant, Lumi’s cheeks were dyed crimson.
Seymour tilted his head with a grin, “So, you want to do it as usual?”
Seymour’s face was immediately hit by a pillow. He guessed that the clattering and banging sounds he heard afterwards were from Lumi turning over the bed’s mattress after imagining all the body fluids that had seeped into it over the years.
By the time Seymour removed the pillow blocking his view, Lumi had wrapped herself in a blanket and curled up, looking like a bagworm. Seymour could vividly imagine Lumi’s face scrunched in shame beneath the blanket.
“Thought so. Good night.”
“Have a good night! And sorry for throwing a pillow at you!”
He smiled wryly at her honest apology, placed the pillow down where Lumi’s head was probably situated, and lightly waved a hand despite knowing that she wouldn’t see it.
❖ ── ✦ ──『✙』── ✦ ── ❖
He woke groggily. For a moment Seymour felt as if he had returned to his teenage days. It was a feeling of nostalgia that came from sleeping with his knees squished up against him in the driver’s seat of his Essex. His body remembered the time he had spent on the streets with just this small car as his home.
His internal clock told him that he had slept for about half a day, making it evening now. Sitting up, he stretched and cracked his stiff neck. The discomfort wasn’t so bad; it was proof that he was alive. And then he noticed that the coldness that usually accompanied getting out of bed was absent.
There was a knock against the window. Looking outside, his vision was filled with hair that was more transparent than sunlight. Realizing that Lumi was peeking into the car, Seymour rolled down the window.
“Good morning. Did you sleep well?”
There were two steaming cups of coffee in her hands, indicating that she’d probably made use of the gas stove in the corner of the garage. Seymour extended his hand towards the mug she held out to him, though it was rather excessively slowly since he had a vague fear that the peaceful state he was in, which made the room feel like it had been heated just for him, would be dispelled once he woke up fully.
However, Lumi apparently interpreted his silence to mean something entirely different. Noticing that she had bent forward towards the window, she quickly lifted her head, pressed the cup in Seymour’s hand, and used her free hand to cover up her chest. With a faint, red tinge on her cheeks, she pulled up the collar of her loose sleepwear.
“……Pervert. Things like that…are not allowed.”
The last traces of his peaceful sleepy state leaving him, Seymour smiled bitterly, confident that he wasn’t in the mood for that right now anyway.
“I was just about to see something stunning.”
“It would have been better for you to have remained asleep, Mr. Seymour, if you are going to say such things.”
“That’d be a waste. After all, I wouldn’t be able to see your lovely face that way.”
Lumi was openly embarrassed by Seymour’s flirtatious ramblings. He snorted at her innocence, but it was also true that it wasn’t such a terrible feeling.
Bringing the cup to his lips, he opened the car door, and stretched once more.
“Looks like my place has managed to avoid exploding overnight.”
“I mean, it was quite possible. That’s what it means to be chased by the mafia.”
If he were to be honest, Seymour would need to admit that a part of him hadn’t expected to wake up today.
Being told this by an indifferent Seymour leaning on the car startled Lumi. Recalling the cup in her hand just as she was about to start gesturing, Lumi stop herself just in time.
“B-But Mr. Seymour, you didn’t mention a word of any of this yesterday!”
“Well, the probability of it happening was fairly low. First of all, we don’t know if the other side is even aware of me, right?”
They might have noticed that someone had taken Lumi Spike away, but it wasn’t clear as of yet whether they had identified Seymour Road as that person. The only one who definitely knew about Seymour’s involvement was the wolf-like man, but he had allowed Lumi to get away. It was hard to believe that he’d spill the beans about a courier.
“Umm, low probability means…?”
“The mafia bombs some place every day. The police tolerate that. However, the bombings have been limited to businesses that don’t belong to familia ── trade associations created by the mafia.”
Nominal trade associations had been set up by the mafia – the protection money, which was collected as a membership fee for the trade association, was a source of income for the mafia.
Seymour raised a finger after noticing that Lumi still looked confused, “『The shop was blown up because it didn’t belong to a trade association』. The police can look the other way on this. If you want to know why, it’s because the police don’t need to worry about getting bombed since there’s no familia for them to join. But, 『A private home was blown up because it sheltered someone being chased』. This is something they can’t look the other way on.”
“……Because then it’s possible that they themselves might get blown up as well?”
“You got it. If bombings start happening due to more and more reasons, the police can no longer shrug it off as someone else’s problem. That’s how this works. In that case, the police would put the screws to the mafia, and the mafia doesn’t want that to happen.”
He dramatically thrust a finger in her face 1 , then leaned back and sipped on his coffee. It tasted pretty good for the cheap stuff, a sign of how carefully it had been brewed.
“And at present there aren’t any trade associations for couriers in existence. Therefore, blowing up an ordinary person like me, at least on paper, is a huge risk for the mafia.
────but then again, everything comes down to weighing the advantages and disadvantages.”
The question is why the mafia is chasing Lumi. If the benefits of obtaining her exceed the time and effort of dealing with the aftermath and having some friction with the police, the pursuers might boldly opt for a bombing in the end. Or rather, they should have already chosen that option. In other words, it looks like Lumi’s value to them isn’t all that high,
The explosion from the day before yesterday suddenly came to mind. The destroyed remains of that private residence lay clearly before his mind’s eye. It didn’t look like a place of business. It was pretty obviously a private residence.
The owner of that house was a merchant who did not join a trade association? The destruction of the house itself was part of their objective? Did the need to pursue Lumi change in a short period of time?
Several possibilities crossed his mind, but none of them seemed to jump out as the answer. He lacked too much information to even make an educated guess.
“It’s nothing. For now, let’s get ready to leave once the sun goes down. I’ve still got a job to do.”
The income of one courier job couldn’t be called generous by any standard. It’s often said that there’s no leisure for the poor. Even if I were to take a break from my job, I’d still need to coordinate it with my frequent customers.
“While I’m working……well, I suppose I’ll have you stay at the Holiday. It’s a small, dirty, and rather smelly diner, but it’s safer than being with me.”
In response, Lumi sighed lightly, “A-.”
She lightly lifted a hand, but lowered it right away. Seymour was pretty sure he knew what she was about to say anyway. She was probably worried about being left behind in an unfamiliar place while Seymour went off to another unknown place.
However, he ignored her feelings on this. Even if she were to be tormented by unbearable feelings of loneliness, Seymour would still head out for work without hesitation. Loneliness was an illness, but no doctor could cure it. On top of that, he couldn’t bring Lumi along with him; confidentiality being key to his line of work.
Seymour yawned as he thought it all through. “────By the way, Lumi, are you hungry?”
Hearing the question, she hid the dejection in her eyes with a smile, “It’s okay. Vampires don’t need much food to sustain themselves.”
“Hmm? Which reminds me, I’ve never heard you talking about wanting to suck blood or anything like that.”
“It’s because it’s not like I have to drink every day.” Fiddling with the cup in her hands, Lumi added, “Besides, I can reduce the amount of blood I need if I eat normal meals.”
“You don’t feel an urge to…suck blood?”
“Ah…let’s see, how do I say this…to suck blood, I have to touch and press my lips against someone’s body, so, umm…” She subconsciously lowered her eyes, her expression reminding him of the first time they met. “How do I put it…? These kinds of things…they feel really vampiric, don’t they…?”
“…Do you hate these things?”
“No, I don’t. I mean, my mother was a vampire, too.”
Lumi’s earlier replies hadn’t been fluent. But, there was a pointless fluency to her words just now, as if to emphasize that she had prepared this answer in advance.
Unfortunately, the vocabulary of a courier didn’t include any convenient responsesfor times like these. Not to mention that Seymour wasn’t actually sitting in his car, but was just plain old Seymour Road right now.
That’s probably why.
Noticing his speechlessness, a fleeting smile crossed Lumi’s lips, “No, I don’t…hate them.”
❖ ── ✦ ──『✙』── ✦ ── ❖
A merry humming came from the back seat and reached Seymour’s ears. He looked into the rear-view mirror, and cast a smile at Lumi even as he idly thought that she was reflected awfully clearly in the mirror for a vampire.
“You like them? I was worried what you’d think since they’re old and a bit revealing.”
Noticing him staring, Lumi quickly stopped rocking her legs in time with her humming.
“No, absolutely not! I can’t even express how thankful I am to receive such cute clothes!”
Lumi’s outfit was drastically different to what she had been wearing a while ago. Her extremely long hair had been parted into two and held with ribbons, and her skirt was now knee-length. That alone had changed the entire impression she exuded from something old-fashioned and anachronistic to something hip and modern.
“These blue ribbons are truly wonderful…my mother used to buy a lot of blue clothes for me, saying that blue suited me. These remind me of her.” Lumi stroked her hair as she said that.
None of the strong, complex emotions she had shown earlier towards the word “Vampire” could be seen now. Seymour wasn’t sure whether she was hiding it well, or whether it wasn’t much of a problem to begin with.
Still, Seymour smiled wryly, the shirt’s collar looks way loose at the base of her neck, and those thick tights only make her legs look all the more too thin. It’s almost unreal how slender they are.
“I’m happy to hear that. For the time being, since you’re wearing all these, put on the cap as well. Just in case, okay?”
Sincerely nodding at each and every little thing, Lumi put the newsboy cap on her head. The cap would do little to stop her pretty face, silver hair, and golden eyes from drawing the looks of others, but Seymour believed that it was still better than doing nothing.
Just like that, they arrived at the Holiday. Seymour beckoned Lumi over when they got out of the car, pulling her away as she looked up at the unfamiliar building with keen interest. He knocked against the thin metal door, hearing the clerk shout, “Happy!”
A cipher. At least, on the surface.
The Holiday was a diner that served alcoholic drinks, technically violating the laws. It had been good practice to have ciphers that needed to be answered before entry was granted, though it had lost most of its purpose nowadays.
Seymour pushed open the door, which wasn’t even locked to begin with, and entered the diner. Lumi followed him nervously. Her fingers were fisted around the trailing edge of his cloak. Feeling like a mother bird leading around its chick, Seymour shook his head. He might have laughed back home, but here Seymour was no more than a simple courier. A fully fledged courier did not thoughtlessly laugh at such things.
The instant Lumi entered the diner, there was a multitude of whistles, several of which were low while others were loud and clear, directed at them. The tug of her hold on his jacket became a little stronger in response.
Just as usual, Seymour headed to his seat, second to furthest in, and lightly pulled back Lumi, who tried to sit on the furthest seat, and made her sit on his right side. That was the rule in this place.
“Anyway,” Seymour stretched on his seat, “Madela! How’s business going today?”
The usual old woman sitting on her usual chair answered without looking up from the crossword puzzle she was doing, “So-so, I’d say.”
“I see! Thank you!”
The clerk, who was standing behind the counter like a decoration, revealed a teasing smile.
“Welcome. Your companion is quite the looker, isn’t she?”
“Coffee, please. As hot as possible. What about you, Lumi?”
“P-Please give me the same.”
“『Please』! To think that this word could still be heard in this city!” The clerk immediately pushed two big cups of coffee towards them, accompanied by exaggerated gestures.
Seymour guessed that she had prepared them the moment they entered the diner.
“So, were there any calls for me while I was out?”
“There were several, but most of them expired when you didn’t take them yesterday. There’s just one case still open. They called a little while ago, but didn’t give any details. If you feel like accepting it, umm, I think you’ve got to wait another five minutes? They were quite impatient, and said they’d come over to ask you in person, so it would probably be better for you to wait in front of our diner?”
As the clerk nonchalantly told him this, Seymour sighed lightly.
I wish she’d have told me before taking my order, if she knew all that.
Looking down at his coffee and then at Lumi who had frozen after sipping a mouthful of hers, he silently pushed his cup towards her.
I’m pretty sure the sweat on her forehead isn’t because of the coffee’s temperature.
Seymour took out some small change, counted the coins, and placed them on the counter.
“Oh, right. Please allow this girl here to stay until I come back.”
“Does this place look like a daycare to you?”
“No, I know. It’s a diner, right? Of your place.”
Now that Seymour had indifferently pointed it out, it was now the clerk’s turn to sigh. In other words, Lumi’s safety here was as sure a thing as getting the answer, “So-so, I’d say,” when you asked Madela how business was going.
Of course safety couldn’t be guaranteed if something like a mafia shoot-out took place here, but there was next to no need to worry about vicious pick-up artists or kidnappings of any sort in this diner.
“I leave her in your care.” Seymour stood up.
He reached for the coat he had put down when he sat down, but Lumi beat him to it, holding it up. He was about to tell her to stay seated, but faced with the abandoned puppy look, he sighed in his mind. Seymour headed out the store, judging that it wouldn’t be a problem for her to see him off, at least.
As they stepped out onto the street, Seymour spotted a woman running their way. He asked her, “How far does it need to be transported, and how fast?”
The middle-aged client, who had just reached them, scrutinized him doubtfully. She exhaled white clouds as she gasped for breath, trying to recover from the trip she had apparently made on foot, in the absence of a car.
Seymour was fully aware that he looked like an unreliable teenager, despite his best efforts, and as such felt somewhat irritated at having that reality thrust in face like this.
“…Is it true that you’ll definitely deliver to any place?”
“As long as it’s feasible, yes. It’s a fact that I haven’t failed a single delivery to this day.”
The client wavered for a bit, but lost to her own impatience, retrieving a small package from her bag.
“I’d like you to deliver…….this to my nephew. As fast as possible.”
“Where can I find your nephew? Also, it will make the delivery easier if you have a photo of your nephew.”
“Oh, Mr. Seymour, here.”
Since Lumi was holding his coat out to him, Seymour put his arms through the sleeves. He was just going to get in the car anyway, but he’d feel bad if he rebuffed her polite consideration. Seymour figured that this would be a regular delivery job, but the client’s next words resulted in his eyes widening in shock.
“He’s going to get on the next ship, and head back to his hometown.”
“My nephew, who had been overseas, came back to visit me after all this time, but I completely forgot to give him his souvenir, and then, since I heard that you’d reliably be able to deliver anywhere, I────”
“Which harbor is it!? When is the ship going to depart!?”
“It’s the harbor in the upper area. The San Marina. It’s going to depart……in ten minutes.”
Seymour pulled up his mental map of the area as he looked down at his wristwatch. At the same time, he recalled the typical traffic situation on the streets around this time of the day. His imaginary Essex raced through the city in the blink of an eye.
It was quite clear why the woman had come to Seymour. It was an impossible time frame even by car, to say nothing of the fact that she was on foot. You could even say that this woman was lucky to have coincidentally found Seymour at the Holiday at this time.
She took Seymour’s hand, and asked, “………Is it going to make it?”
All things considered, this was going to be a reckless endeavor. Depending on the circumstances, Seymour might get arrested by the police, or worse, his car might get damaged.
At a glance, the middle-aged woman didn’t look particularly rich. In other words, Seymour didn’t have much hope of receiving substantial compensation for this. As a courier, Seymour reserved the right to refuse any work that did not appear to be profitable.
Just as Seymour plastered a faint smile on his face, about to speak,
“……If I miss this chance, who knows how many years it’ll be before I meet him again.”
the whispered comment stopped his rejection in his throat.
These weren’t consciously voiced words, much less an attempt to gain his sympathy. They had merely slipped out as her heart ached with the thought. Her lips were tightly pursed and she was chewing the inside of her cheek. He had barely been able to make out her mumbled words.
“…… Understood. I accept. It will be delivered on time.”
“R-Really!? Umm, sorry for troubling you with such an unreasonable────”
“Nevermind that. Just hurry and pass me the photo and the present. I’ll leave rig────”
“────Mr. Seymour!” Lumi interrupted Seymour who had interrupted his client.
At the same time, Lumi shoved him from behind, so hard he was actually sent tumbling instead of just staggering forward.
Before he could ask what was going on, his question was answered by a massive shadow looming over him. A huge slab of metal crashed into the pavement where Seymour stood a moment ago. It was part of a water tank that had apparently been installed on the roof of the multi-storey building.
It was followed by a thunderous noise, like a gong being hit, then the sound of splashing water. The tank had bounced, cracking the road before it landed in its final resting place.
The client screamed.
Seymour caught sight of the tank’s base. There was a clean cut where the base had broken. It was pretty obvious that the tank had been deliberately dropped rather than failing over time. No, 『someone』 had committed a crime here.
“Mr. Seymour!” Lumi yelled once more.
Her voice, which accompanied her body as it collided with him again, was filled with even greater urgency than before. This time, Seymour immediately knew why.
After all, a dazzling headlight was hurtling down the road towards them, showing no signs of slowing down.
A second mafia attack.
“────Now of all times!?” Seymour spat out, snatching the photo and the package from the woman.
Not even pausing to check the heavy weight in his hands, he left his client in the dust, running off towards his car. Fortunately the client had included a note with the ship’s details. With this he wouldn’t lose his way and end up lost in the big harbour.
“I’ve accepted the request! We’ll talk about the reward later!”
“Okay, I gotta go……also.”
Leaving Lumi at the Holiday was no longer an option. Making that decision in a split second, Seymour tossed Lumi into the back seat.
“Hold on tight, got it!?”
Lumi keeping her wits about her even as the situation changed by the second was already a big help to Seymour. He jumped into the driver’s seat and pulled the choke lever as the headlights drew ever closer, “Start, start, hurry up and start…….!”
It should be alright. It’s a pretty normal day in winter, and we only spent a short while in the Holiday, the engine should still be warmed up from the trip over here. The conditions aren’t bad. It’s just that if the engine doesn’t start now, that car is going to t-bone us.
His breath caught in his throat, he turned the key with a jerk. The car rumbled to life under him.
“Yeees, it started!”
Stomping on the accelerator, he roughly handled the clutch. His Essex jolted like it had been kicked in the pants and moved out of the way just before the pursuing red Essex came crashing through. It grazed the tail of Seymour’s car as he hiked up the speed.
While putting on his gloves with the help of his mouth, Seymour shouted rather unintelligibly, “Sorry, I might not be very careful with my driving today!”
“Just for the record, your driving wasn’t all that careful last time either, okay!?” Lumi retorted even as she tumbled in the back seat.
“Is that so?”
Either way, we’re in a pretty bad situation. It’s still early in the evening, meaning the roads are going to be packed. And, there’s only one pursuer today. Last time they had five cars, this time there’s only one. Clearly this means that the driver this time around is someone skilled. The car itself is also an Essex. Although they’re different models, they’re not too different performance-wise, so we can’t rely on that to lose him.
In addition, “────Nine minutes left!”
“You’re going to do the delivery!?”
“Don’t ask the obvious!”
If I slow down even a little bit, that car is going to plow right into us. Or rather, despite driving an Essex just like us, he’s already bumped us several times from behind.
“Why is there a slight difference in speed even though we’re both driving the same car…bah, now I get it!”
Even as he weaved through the traffic at breakneck speeds, Seymour looked into the rear-view mirror.
“I suppose it’s because we’ve got an additional 50 kg handicap.”
“Handicap…wait, you’re talking about me!? I don’t even weigh 50 kg!”
“Hoh, how much then?”
“Forty…….guh, I’m not telling you!”
‘What a nice reaction.
Seymour’s mind, which had been frantically scrambling to keep up with the situation, somehow managed to settle down.
Anyway, nothing will be resolved until we can lose our tail. At this rate, we’ll either have a terrible accident on the road, or we’ll get run over the second we stop at our destination. Having said that, the driver of the car behind us is honestly pretty skilled.
He had been changing lanes constantly for a while now, but even though he made sure to weave at the last possible moment he hadn’t managed to put enough distance between the two cars to do anything.
Seymour and his pursuer left a trail of bleating car horns as they raced onwards.
“Now then, I wonder what I should do…uh-oh!”
They were approaching a crossroad. Knowing that the pursuer had his eyes trained on them, Seymour decided to pull a feint. He shifted the wheel to imply that he was turning right before whirling the steering wheel to the left all of a sudden.
A swift turn. Even if the pursuer noticed the fake, they weren’t able to react as quickly and the pursuing car fell about a car’s length behind them.
The road Seymour chose had two lanes. Seymour took in the other two cars on the road immediately. On the left lane was a black Ford. A white Dodge 4 was slightly ahead of the Ford on the right lane. Seymour narrowed his eyes, realizing that this was a great chance.
He sped up, passing the Ford on the right. Then he changed lanes, overtook the Dodge on the left, and immediately changed the lane once more, so closely that he could almost feel the two cars brush past each other. The instant his Essex was in front of the Dodge, he stepped on the brake.
“Kyaa!?” Lumi screamed in the back.
Her head was thrown forward, probably giving her killer whiplash. Seymour could only spare her a brief flash of apology in a corner of his mind. Meanwhile, a loud beeep sounded from behind them. The Dodge 4, which had almost crashed into the back of their Essex had reflexively braked in panic.
After confirming that the Dodge had decelerated sufficiently, Seymour sped up again.
“Great, this should settle it.”
Seymour had managed to maneuver the two cars so that they were now almost parallel. With this, the two cars had effectively blocked off the road. There was plenty of traffic in the oncoming lanes too, it would be impossible to overtake them by driving counter to the traffic.
Fortunately, the road ahead of them was a long straight. All they needed to leave the pursuer in the dust was to accelerate────
“Wait…the fuck!?” Seymour, who was just about to smoothly increase his speed, was forced to look back at the sound of an engine revving behind him.
He watched in disbelief as the pursuing Essex pulled a hoon. Glancing off the curb, the pursuer had lifted the entire right side of the car off the road to drive on the narrow sidewalk with just two wheels. Moving surprisingly quickly considering he only had two tires on the ground, the pursuing Essex passed the wall Seymour had created, and returned to the regular road.
In the next moment, the pursuer tauntingly revved his engine.
“……No way! Give me a fucking break!”
Seymour’s eyes met with the other driver through his mirror. The man wore wine red glasses, and a hat, despite being inside a car. Seymour felt a kind of raw malice from the man, even as the revving conveyed the man’s excitement.
He clicked his tongue. Seymour suppressed the childish urge to give tit-for-tat welling up in his heart. Keeping as much distance between himself and the pursuer as he could, he dodged the normal cars in his way, and drove on and on.
Five minutes left.
If we keep going like this, we should barely make it.
Seymour made that overly optimistic call as the harbor came in sight in the distance. At this rate they would drive straight into the harbor.
But, even though you could call it a harbor, it was a general term for a huge area of water, encompassing a coastal section, brackish waters, and even a part of the river. According to the note on the package, they’d meet the river if they continued heading straight like this. If they went upstream from there, they were supposed to be able to find the ship fairly easily.
We’re going to pull up to the ship right before its departure, and throw the package onto it without stopping. After that I need to come up with some way to give our pursuer the slip, but I’ll have the whole city to figure it out.
But, his plans were immediately proven to be wishful thinking.
A steam whistle shook the air.
In the distance, Seymour could see a ship slowly pulling away. The name carved onto its hull was San Marina. Even though there should still be five minutes before its departure, the ship had already started moving.
“Shit! They’re way too strict on the time!”
“I-Is there any way I can help you…?” Lumi asked, having managed to steady herself on the backseat.
“Okay, I’m busy here, so could you curse at that damn, unpunctual ship for me!?”
“Hueh? Ah, okay! Stuuupid! Stuuupid! Idiooot!”
“Man, what a limited vocabulary you’ve got!”
What a downer. Even an elementary student would know some harsher words.
Shooting a bitter smile at Lumi, who was desperately hurling insults at the ship in her very own way, Seymour turned the car to the right. Instead of driving upstream, he drove down to the road following the river, trying to run next to the moving ship.
Considering the distance, it’d be impossible to throw the package all the way to the ship from this road. But, in a few minutes the ship would probably exit the river, heading out to the open sea. Once that happened, it’d truly be impossible to do anything with a car that needed solid ground to run on.
“Looks like we’ve got one more chance────”
He could see a big bridge ahead. An enormous, arched bridge spanning the port, built to cut down the time it took to circumvent the huge harbor. Inevitably, all the ships in the harbor would need to pass under that bridge.
Even as he plotted their route in his head, Seymour was fervently honking his car horn. The people walking through the port turned towards the noisy sound, and at the same time Seymour could pick up a number of people looking their way from the ship.
“Lumi, look at the photo! The photo! Do you see that person over there!?”
He heard Lumi checking the package they were given by the client. The harbor street was straight, but there were many people walking around, making it impossible for Seymour to take his eyes off the road.
A few seconds later, Lumi happily announced, “He’s there! He’s looking our way!”
“Alrighty! In that case────”
We’ll drive ahead, all the way up the bridge, and throw the package down at the ship when it passes below. It’s a pretty rough delivery, but at least the goods will get where they need to be.
But, just as he was thinking this, Seymour’s car was rammed from behind.
It was their pursuer. Without any regard for his own car, he was trying to ram them off the road.
Seymour clicked his tongue. Then he clicked it again.
This is bad. If we’re going to throw the package off the bridge onto the ship, car and ship have to pass the bridge at the exact same time, or we have to stop the car on the bridge to wait for the ship to pass underneath.
“But I can’t take my foot off the accelerator in this situation……”
If we stop, only death awaits us. And even if I don’t stop, if I even drop our speed our pursuer is going to ram us until my car is a wreck.
Being chased by a driver skilled enough to give him a run for his money, it was beyond Seymour’s ability to drive across the bridge at top speed while also coordinating his movements with the ship.
Unconsciously his fist hit the steering wheel with a thud.
“Damn it! What should I do? Fuck! If we miss the bridge, we won’t get another chance to get close to the ship. Should we throw it at the ship from here? No, it’d be a bad idea to not stop the car for the throw. Isn’t there something else we can do────”
You could give up on it.
A voice whispered in a corner of Seymour’s mind. After all, it was just a single souvenir. Moreover, it wasn’t a high paying job either. And it wasn’t like his guarantee to deliver the goods once the request was accepted was anything more than his own personal standard.
Even the rule was simply something he had decided himself. It might actually be easier for him if he gave up here. It wasn’t as if people would stop asking Seymour to deliver things over one fairly unreasonable job.
There’s a but. And that just can’t be allowed.
After his father’s death, Seymour had left the home with no goals or aspirations. As such, when he started out as a sham courier, the simple rule of 『delivering』 had quickly been established within himself. It was a meaningless rule, but he decided to keep to it. Because if he didn’t, then he would truly have nothing to strive for.
Just as every car would be lost without the guidance of the traffic laws, Seymour couldn’t exist as Seymour if he couldn’t maintain the rule of delivering. For Seymour Road to continue living, a firm rule, even if it was nonsense, was indispensable. Being a courier defined the existence of Seymour, and if he couldn’t maintain that identity, his existence would become worthless.
Chewing on his lip, Seymour frantically reviewed his options while time continued to relentlessly tick on.
“What should I do? What should I do? What should I do──────?”
“Umm, Mr. Seymour?”
Suddenly, a voice came from behind him, one that was unexpectedly close. Lumi was holding onto the driver’s seat, and had leaned forward to talk to him. The air around her remained perfectly odorless, like an inviolable sanctuary, even though the scent of the sea hung heavy in the air here. Its cleanness streamed into Seymour’s head, allowing him to regain some of his composure.
Seymour met her eyes in the rear view mirror, silently urging her to speak, so she cautiously suggested, “This is coming from someone who knows absolutely nothing about this, but for argument’s sake, and I really mean it just as an example, if you drove off the bridge with no thought for the landing, would you be able to deliver the package? Would you be able to hand it over?”
Even as he was outwardly stupefied, the calm part of his mind was already considering her suggestion.
We’ll drive the car off the bridge sideways. In other words, instead of waiting for the ship to pass underneath the bridge, we’ll try to fly over it. A ship headed for the ocean, and a car flying through the air towards that ship. At most, we’d make about ten meters. It’d give us a few extra seconds. That’s all it would get us.
But, having to stop completely to wait for the instant the ship passes beneath the bridge versus flying through the air towards it, those are two completely different beasts when it comes to timing.
“In that case……it’s probably possible.”
However, no matter what happened, this would all end in a fall. As might be expected, Seymour would really like to avoid having his Essex end up in a watery grave. If he weighed his Essex and his belief inside his mind, his belief would win by a tiny margin, but that wasn’t enough to sway him completely. Such was his current mental state.
“……Mr. Seymour.” For some reason, Lumi twisted her body, and opened the window. While rolling up her sleeves, she swallowed and then said, “Could you trust me and drive off the bridge?”
He hesitated for less than a second.
“Very well, bring it on!”
After confirming the ship’s location in his periphery, he immediately started to shake the wheel, zigzagging down the road like a tire had blown. He did this to adjust their speed to cross the bridge at the right time, but to the guy with the wine-red glasses it would look like they were trying to literally shake their tail, or trying some kind of maneuver to reverse their positions. Either way, he dropped his speed, following them closely without mimicking their movements.
It’s damn annoying how he reacts so calmly to each and every little thing. But, these extra few seconds he’s allowed us are very welcome.
Carefully judging the timing, Seymour simulated how they would follow the street up to the bridge over and over.
He accelerated. He straightened out the car and raced down the road before turning left towards the huge arched bridge.
When we start going uphill, our weight handicap is going to be clear as day, but well, whatever.
He checked the vicinity. There were almost no cars on the bridge. He checked the ship’s location.
Right on. We’ll be perfect on time, theoretically. In other words, the rest depends on my resolve.
But, that was something he had done a while ago.
“Okay, time to go all in──────”
As they drew closer to the highest point of the bridge, he kicked down on the clutch. His rear wheels spinning wildly, he drifted, whirling around.
Their pursuer assumed that Seymour was going to do a U-turn at this point. Because of this, he deliberately passed the point where Seymour had started to drift, and also spun 180° a little further down the road. He had no need to be impatient, and his logic probably ran along the lines of taking Seymour’s back once again to continue the attack. But, what he actually witnessed after finishing his turn was Seymour’s Essex turning 270°, the car itself ending up perpendicular to the bridge.
Seymour floored it.
The tires shrieked. Seymour clenched his teeth, and the Essex smashed through the fence on the bridge. And then, squarely facing the ship, the car was airborne.
Seymour’s intestines felt an unstable, floating sensation.
Is this how it feels to be liberated? To be free?
Those concepts crossed his mind. Simultaneously Seymour grabbed the package with a hand.
“I have a delivery────────y for you!” He threw the package through the window as he yelled.
The package drew a neat arc in the air, one that Seymour was fairly sure would end with it falling onto the ship.
Yep, fall. They were caught by gravity. Of course it was absolute bullshit, but Seymour imagined their current, rapid fall as the result of the car being hit by a huge, invisible fly swatter. The wintery night sea before him was pitch black; it gave him the impression of a ravine with no bottom. Seymour thought about the car getting totally wrecked, or the two of them drowning.
And yet, it didn’t feel all that bad. There was the joyous feeling of having completed the request, and besides, he had the vague feeling it would all turn out alright.
In short, Seymour believed.
“────Please hold on tightly, got it?”
In the slow motion of the moment, Lumi’s calm voice was as clear as a bell. With that warning, she braced herself against the Essex. With both her feet planted on the floor, she pressed her right hand against the ceiling, and then suddenly────
────thrust her left hand out of the window.
A violent jerk immediately followed. An invisible, mighty force struck the Essex sideways. It was like suddenly being caught in a tornado, or being run over by an invisible truck. The car’s frame creaked, though Seymour’s body creaked louder. Despite being prepared for some kind of impact, Seymour’s forehead still slammed into the wheel.
Suddenly he had a flashback. Lumi’s hand as he tried to grab it. His wristwatch being blown away by the repulsive force.
A lightheadedness, like there wasn’t any blood left in his body. All the blood drained from his face. And amidst all that, he was vaguely aware of the car flying sideways. Flying, or rather, being blown away.
Even as his vision spun, his body still moved instinctively. That is to say, the instant he felt the sensation of the car landing, camouflaged in the impact, he turned the wheel, and stepped on the accelerator.
By the time he came to his senses, as if he had briefly blacked out, Seymour found himself on the road next to the harbor. Not in the water, or atop the arched bridge. The feeling of being blown away wreaked awful havoc in his stomach. Pitch black tire marks littered the road.
He hadn’t recovered from the shock. His consciousness was still unfocused and hazy. But, his body still remembered that they needed to move. Even when he was startled by the weird sounds the car was making, his hands remained steady on the wheel.
Everywhere they looked they received looks of mute amazement back. The owner of the red Essex had remained atop the bridge, likely the same expression on his face. Imagining the eyes hidden behind the glasses wide with shock – whether it was true or not – made Seymour feel really good.
Driving onwards, he completely shook their pursuer off. Turning several more corners to make sure their pursuer definitely couldn’t find them again, Seymour breathed out deeply.
With this much of a distance between us, it should be easy to get away. This definitely isn’t going to be the last attack, but at least we should be safe for the time being.
The black Essex, which had already melted into the city’s scenery, leisurely moved on.
Seymour’s voice softly broke the silence that had oppressively filled the car. He spoke cautiously, like he was crossing a tightrope, making sure there wasn’t even a hint of malice in his tone..
“……Just now, that was…?”
Lumi opened her mouth, and closed it again. As if she had suddenly remembered that she had left the window open, she turned the handle in a hurry. Then, after positioning herself like a lady again, she awkwardly showed Seymour her palm, still trembling like it was numb.
“Umm, it’s because I’m a vampire.”
One of the most common traits of a vampire. The most popular one right after the weakness against sunlight and bloodsucking.
Thinking back on it now, that was a harbor with brackish water. Or, more specifically, running water.
Back there, Lumi Spike ──── a vampire had thrust her hand out of the window. A bare hand outside the confines of a car.
“……Vampires can’t cross flowing water?”
Once more, silence.
This time, however, it was a totally different sort of silence. Seymour and Lumi struggled desperately to maintain serious expressions; expressions that would be appropriate considering that they had just survived an attack.
After all, no, it’s completely unbelievable. Sure, I’ve heard the stories, and her arm did get repelled that other time, but I definitely never thought that weakness was so powerful that it could blow the entire car away with us.
They broke at the same time, helpless laughter bubbling out of them. The sweet feeling of completing the request and being liberated from their tension, and above all, the fact that they had accomplished all that with just the two of them filled them with elation.
In no time, the loud laughter of two people filled the car.
❖ ── ✦ ──『✙』── ✦ ── ❖
He had a dream. In that dream Seymour was younger than now, more stupid than now, and had a niggling feeling that he might actually be a hopeless fool that was beyond all help.
And, back then, he regarded his car as his home.
After his father died, he got into his car and just drove, never returning to his family home. He lived his life not going home. As such, it was possible that he had merely thought of his car as home, when in reality he had just been running away from home for several months.
But, because he eventually ended up renting the garage he lived in right now, he actually did manage to leave home for good, though he did visit occasionally.
And if you were to wonder what exactly Seymour was doing spending all that time in his car, the answer would be: he observed the city.
He and his car would drift through the city all day long, stopping on random street corners so that he could just watch people. Well, it was a little more proactive than simply watching, but it wasn’t like he was actively searching for something either. Yes, it was a bit like trying to read a difficult book.
And in a way, he was trying to read something.
He hoped that something was written somewhere in this world. For example, how to come to terms with the death of his father, and how irrational it had been. He believed that there had to be something. That the answer was written somewhere, and he simply couldn’t read it because his eyes, his head, or both weren’t up to par.
Otherwise, it’d be weird. After all, the world had just been through a war, and a tremendous number of lives had been lost on the battlefields. The sorrow collectively felt by the city should be as if Seymour’s own sorrow had been multiplied by the number of stars in the sky.
And yet, against all expectations, people glorified their everyday lives and appeared, by all accounts, to be happy. People walked the streets, had casual chats in the shade, and enjoyed their food in restaurants. Because of that, he believed that they must have been taught somewhere ─ maybe in one of the school classes that Seymour had slept through, or maybe not ─ what to do in times like these.
Of course, he was well aware that this wasn’t true. And although he should know better, he had no intention to stop his life on the road. Even though he understood it intellectually, emotionally he just couldn’t make sense of it.
Fortunately, he didn’t live in need. A car is, when you get right down to it, a closed, moving room. Because the wall separating people from immorality had collapsed after the war, all sorts of people seemed to desire closed spaces in compensation.
『Hey, wanna get in?』
It was fine for him to simply call out to a random girl like that. Just doing that granted him a reasonable rate of success. The girls would get into his car, treat him to some food, chat with him a bit, receive some cash, and do what a man and a woman would do in a closed room. It wasn’t bad, being able to rely purely on the fact that he had a car, rather than his name or education.
The end of his days living, driving, and watching like that came on a very normal spring day.
『Hey, if ye got some spare time, could ye drive my girl over to mine?』
The one asking him was Michael Touring, a senior from his student days.
『Ye see, I’m dating this girl right now, but just the other day we found out that her parents’ company and my parent’s company are business rivals. Our parents would be against us going out with each other』
Seymour didn’t remember what he answered. He felt like it was probably something along the lines of 『Man, Shakespeare is so dated, dude』. But he clearly remembered the expression on Michael’s face that day.
His passion for her had driven him to ask this of Seymour, despite the awkwardness and embarrassment that was involved, and the joy on his face reflected that. Seymour had always had a strong impression that Michael was the kind of guy who always had a crooked smile on his face and a bit of a nihilist, so he was surprised that Michael could even make an expression like that.
『I mean, look, ye got that car of yers. I’d like for ye to bring her to our dating spot so our parents don’t find out. Please! I’ll also pay ye!』
Per his request, Seymour drove Michael’s girlfriend Ms. So-and-so ─ he felt like Michael had told him her name but he had completely forgotten about it by now ─ to the locations of their clandestine meetings for some time after that.
His memories about the girlfriend were quite vague. All he really remembered was her bowing.
From Michael’s point of view, Seymour was an old friend, but she couldn’t possibly say the same. All things considered, she was probably quite reluctant to get in a car alone with a stranger. More so, when that guy was in the middle of running away from home, and lived inside his car like a homeless person.
For this reason, the girlfriend was terribly wary of Seymour, and Seymour himself had no particular issues with it either. After all, it was reasonable behavior for any woman possessing a somewhat decent set of values.
Be it on the first, third, or umpteenth drive; she always held onto the handle of her bag tightly and glued herself to the door whenever she got in Seymour’s car. Her posture always indicated that she was ready to jump out of the car, whether it was moving or not, if Seymour made the slightest move or if the car ever turned into some shady back alley.
Come to think of it, she seemed to be a frail woman, but she definitely had a sharp glint in her eyes ─ which reminds me, she might be the reason why I consider my slanted eyes a bad thing nowadays ─ and that look of hers was always stabbing the back of my head in the driver’s seat like she was trying to drive a nail into it.
From the beginning to the end, no normal conversation ever took place between Seymour and that woman. And thus, it was impossible for any kind of relationship to form between them.
Nevertheless, she always got into the shady stranger’s car for the sake of meeting with Michael, and whenever Seymour took her home, she always bowed to him courteously. Her politely bowing, a short and quick bob of her head, was the only thing he could clearly remember. Because of that, he thought that she was a lovely woman each time he saw the whorl of hair on her head. And each time he saw the smile she directed at Michael, he thought that their love was beautiful.
In short, this became the first job of the courier Seymour Road. It was completely devoid of any drama, and for that very reason, it was a precious memory.
He had somehow managed to acquire a somewhat exaggerated title 『courier who always delivers』, but it all started with him playing a fake cupid.
However, Seymour Road believed that this very first job was the most valuable among all the jobs he had done so far ─ although it was unfair to compare jobs.
Maybe Michael did his best, maybe his girlfriend did, or maybe time resolved the issue, but eventually their parents acknowledged them as a couple, and they no longer needed some shady, suspicious guy to act as their go-between. Thus, around the time Seymour finished his first job, he decided to throw his lot into becoming a courier.
It’s an important truth that I’m no one of importance, and I mustn’t forget my starting point either.
Probably because of his belief in this, Seymour occasionally dreamed about this first request.
❖ ── ✦ ──『✙』── ✦ ── ❖
“Hmm….I don’t think there’s an issue.”
Kicking the ground, Seymour slid the trolley and himself out from underneath his Essex, stretched, and grabbed the nearby coffee cup all without getting up. But, realizing that drinking coffee while still laying down would be difficult, he carefully put the cup back.
“Is…that so……? I’m glad to hear that.” Lumi, who had anxiously waited on the side as Seymour inspected the entire car despite his repeated reassurances, sighed in relief and drew closer.
Last night, Seymour’s car had been blown across a considerable distance and had experienced a rather significant impact upon landing.
Under the circumstances, they hadn’t had a choice. Therefore, even if the Essex had come out of it as nothing more than scrap, Seymour didn’t think that he’d blame Lumi, although it’d have put him in something of a bind on how he would continue to earn money. But even so, it wasn’t so bad to experience something like the innate goodness of man like this.
“I guess there are a few parts that need replacing, like the tires, but they’re all repairs that an amateur like me can handle. The car suffered no major damage.”
Sniffing his hands and grimacing in disgust, Seymour rolled onto his belly on the trolley.
“Haah, it’s been a while since I did repair work. So tired…… Go ahead and eat breakfast without me.”
“Mr. Seymour, you must eat something as well.”
The aroma of bread being toasted on a gas burner had wafted over him during his work. Apparently Lumi had prepared French toast. A sugary sweetness, in sharp contrast to the metallic-tasting space, filled the air.
“Sure, if you say so, that’s fine, but you see…my hands are dirty, so I’d like you to feed me.”
Seymour had mostly said this as a joke. Because of this, he was suspicious of Lumi’s intentions when she approached with a plate loaded with the French toast she had made.
Lumi crouched down in front of him, allowing Seymour a clear look at her white, healthy shins when he arched back and lifted his head.
“Here you go.” Lumi said, in a carefully flat voice as though it would cover up her blushing cheeks.
In her right hand she held a piece of toast on a fork. Seymour decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and quickly ate what had been offered.
“Hotch! Schweech! Still, somebody seems to be particularly nice today?”
“Mr. Seymour, you were kind enough to help me. Besides, umm…” Lumi lightly shook her head.
Her long hair obstructed Seymour’s sight. It still carries the faint scent of the sea from yesterday.
“……Mr. Seymour, you were really cool when you were doing your best to complete the request yesterday, you know?”
Before he could answer, another piece of toast was shoved into his mouth. It was apparently at this moment that Lumi remembered that they only had one fork. She stared at the fork she had just pulled out of Seymour’s mouth, and then awkwardly began to eat her own breakfast. She was bothered by very peculiar things, Seymour thought.
After chewing and swallowing what was in his mouth, Seymour looked in her direction, his mouth open like a baby bird as he continued to lie there. As if using the occasion, Seymour said, “While you’re at it, you should tell me I’m cool more often, you know?”
“Would it be better for me to bring you a mirror?”
“Ahaha, nice one.”
“How was the French toast?”
“It rocks. So much so that I want to eat it every day.”
“I wonder why your praise sounds so much like empty flattery… Anyway, I’m glad. This is a recipe my mother taught me.”
She always gave off a somewhat happy aura whenever she brought up her mother, and it always caused Seymour’s chest to tighten a bit.
“By the way, there’s a serious issue we need to talk about as soon as possible.”
Though, even as he said this, Seymour prioritized breakfast. After relaxedly eating another bite of sweet bread from Lumi’s hand, he nonchalantly tilted his head to the side.
“About your 『safe place』.”
“In other words, it’s about where I need to take you so that you’d be 『safe』.”
Seeing Lumi about to return to her stiff posture, Seymour silently demanded the next bite of toast. Maintaining a solemn expression while feeding a grown man sprawled on the floor was fairly difficult, and Lumi gave up immediately, holding the fork out towards him with a sigh.
“Well, having said that, I’ve already got a rough idea.”
“Oh, you do?”
“Lumi, I think you need to leave this city. This city is a mafia den, and you won’t find any peace here, no matter where you go. Conversely, if you leave the city, it should be possible to find somewhere peaceful.”
“You say somewhere, but…”
“Broadly speaking, there are five mafia families in this city. And, those five mafia families have pretty much split this city up into five different territories.”
He felt her eyes on him, silently prodding him for more detail, but Seymour ignored her demand by pretending to be caught up in trying to figure out how to drink his coffee lying down. Well, it was a fact that drinking in such a weird position would only result in him choking.
He coughed and spit up some of the coffee.
It’s best to not get involved with the mafia.
If he felt like it, Seymour could expand on his layman’s knowledge of what influence each mafia family held, which families were fighting each other, or how this peculiar metropolis, where five huge mafia organizations competed ruthlessly, was structured, but he didn’t think that it was necessary knowledge for Lumi.
The city operated on several levels, and each of the levels affected the others but it was impossible to understand the city on a level other than your own. That was the kind of shape this city had taken. And although Seymour, a courier, operated in multiple layers, not belonging to any particular one, he fully understood that it was pointless to sift through mud that had already settled at the bottom of the bucket.
“You were captured, got chased around, and are now being targeted by some mafia family. In other words, if you reverse it──”
“You mean I will be free as long as I stay away from that mafia family’s territory…?”
“You got it. That’s the basic idea here.”
Lumi’s immediate reaction to Seymour’s nod was bewilderment. She was confused as to whether she’d really be able to get away by doing something so simple.
No, even before that, she’s probably been too caught up in the misfortune associated with her birthright. I’ve got no doubt that having the goal right in front of her all of a sudden must seem like a cruel joke after she resolved herself to keep running away for the rest of her life. But, that’s just the way the world works – it doesn’t care about the wishes of any one person. Dramatic lead-ups to the end only happen on cheap, third-rate radio plays.
“But, that’s something the mafia family chasing me should know as well, right?”
“Lumi, you haven’t conveniently heard a name or something to clue us into which family it is, have you?”
“I thought as much,” Seymour shrugged. “Anyway, don’t worry. If I feel like it, I have a way of figuring out what kind of person has come to hire me.”
“You can do that?”
It’s a means I don’t really want to use, though, Seymour added in his mind.
“I knew it. Mr Seymour, you are amazing and fantastic!”
“Don’t praise me too much just yet. We don’t know if it’ll work as planned. Either way, as I said…,” he pulled himself upright then slouched on the creeper, his lips quirking into a smile, “As soon as we learn which mafia family is chasing you, we’ll also know the escape route. The mafia attacks in the last few days tell us that they aren’t that serious about it. I wouldn’t expect them to chase you if we manage to get you out of their sphere of influence. In other words, our farewell is actually not that far off.”
“……Ah.” A small exclamation escaped her as her face filled with honest sadness.
Having a beautiful girl reluctant to part with him made Seymour quite happy. But, her honesty only highlighted how unsuited she was for this city and strengthened his resolve to let her get away at any cost.
“Get ready to say goodbye. If you leave me with an extraordinary smile, all my efforts will have been worthwhile.”
“……Okay!” Lumi nodded assertively, but her face was already scrunched up in gloom.
“Ah, come on, I really suck at handling such depressing stuff.”
Seymour reflexively ended up searching for words to cheer Lumi up with, though at the same time he felt like it wasn’t so bad having this kind of exchange between them.
Besides, he thought, yesterday she willingly exercised her nature as a vampire.
Although she had hidden her bloodsucking, the trait that would most prominently identify her as a vampire, she had still manifested her vampiric nature for the sake of gaining Seymour’s trust.
I must respond in kind to such complete trust.
“By the way Lumi, I don’t think there will be any other attacks for a while, and I can’t really say that staying at home or at the Holiday is safe either.”
“So, won’t you come with me while I work?”
❖ ── ✦ ──『✙』── ✦ ── ❖
“Changed your ways have you, mister?”
Despite hearing the question, Seymour didn’t raise his eyes for a while.
“It looks like you’re walking around with quite the beauty.”
Standing in front of a small store called Hornsby Cigars, facing the street, Seymour had been flipping through a cigarette catalog while leaning on the counter. He closed the catalog, disappointed after noticing the absence of 『Toi Mo』 in the entries under T. The flavor of those cigarettes had grown on him.
Having finished, he finally lifted his gaze, and responded with something that had absolutely nothing to do with what he had been asked.
“You’re doing bad stuff again, aren’t you? You’ll go to hell if you keep doing things like that all the time, Fran.”
He was speaking to a girl ─ Fran, or to be more precise, Francina Hornsby. She often worked at this cigar store as a clerk. Seymour had never asked for her age, but it was a fact that her feet swung well above the ground when she sat in her chair.
But, her demeanor was far from childish. Her murky and dull eyes, the thinly rolled cigar in her mouth, and her black hair roughly chopped to shoulder length in all came together to form a mature air that clashed with her small build.
Seymour watched a man leave Hornsby Cigars. The customer had been in a deep talk with Fran just moments ago. He had something clutched tight to his chest as he hurried along. It was unlikely to be a cigar box, probably more like a written note that was hidden in his inner pocket.
This store dealt in several goods besides cigars. One of them was information.
While shaking her cigar with its sweet, glistening smoke, Fran said, “Mister, didn’t you say something embarrassing like 『A man’s job got to be done alone』before?”
Lumi, who had been looking down at something inside the Essex Seymour had parked along the street, noticed his backward glance, and waved at him.
After waving back at her with a broad smile, Seymour answered, “Well, a lot of stuff happened.”
It’s been a week since the clash with the mafia. After the repairs were finished, Lumi always stayed in the back seat of the Essex when Seymour was out on a job. They had just finished one before coming to this store.
If pressed for a practical reason, Seymour would say that she was convenient to have around. The amount of work he could finish wouldn’t change whether she was with him or not. Or, more simply, you might say that he enjoyed her presence. It was the first time he had kept any goods meant for delivery in his possession for so long; perhaps that was why he was becoming unusually attached.
Since it’d be a pain to explain either of those reasons, Seymour shrugged once more.
“You’ve become quite a popular figure for gossip. Among the ladies aiming for you, and also quite a few others.”
“Just give it a rest, and pass me the cigarettes.”
“Have you chosen which ones?”
“The cheapest ones────the ones right above that.”
“I really like how you’re so easy to read, mister.” Fran turned over some papers that seemed to be an inventory list with a giggle. And as she picked up several cigarette packs, she casually added, “Also, one small correction. Hell isn’t a place you go to. Heaven is.”
“Remind me again, what school of thought says that no one goes to hell?”
“None. Heaven is a place you go to, but hell is a place you fall into. That’s all there is to it.”
It wasn’t particularly unusual for Fran to spout insights like this. Perhaps it was the fact that she had more free time working in this shop than she knew what to do with, time she could use to philosophize. That, or she enjoyed being able to play a worthless, silly word game since a word from her could usually be turned into cash in hand.
“If someone aims for heaven, they can only claw their way up on their own. That’s why it’s a place where you go to. But, no one would willingly walk towards hell. Thus, hell is a place into which you fall as punishment for your evil deeds. After all, no human can defy gravity, right?” Fran piled up the cigarette packs.
“All things considered, I think it’s a little strange for you to be saying things like this though.”
Fran appeared to make an attempt at flashing a smile, but ended up coughing sickly instead.
“Well, by that same logic, it means you won’t fall into hell as long as you’re careful of holes at your feet, mister. And, I make sure to keep my eye out for them.” Fran swung her dangling feet.
As long as you don’t step on the ground, you can never fall through any holes in it.
Laughing at the childish quibbling, he stacked up the cigarette packs he had bought, and placed a hand on top.
“Anyway,” Seymour leaned forward with a feigned nonchalance, “did you look for what I asked you before?”
“This here? You sure have some sudden requests, huh?”
Fran took out a single piece of paper from her pocket. Placing it on the counter, one could see that it was a worn scrap of paper with kinked edges. A scrap that fit easily in the palm of a hand and contained only three pieces of information written down in a mundane font.
The name Seymour Road, the job courier, and the telephone number of the Holiday.
“Thanks a bunch. I’ve been thinking that it’s about time for me to get my own telephone. So I’ve been checking where my business cards have ended up so I can change the telephone number on them.”
“Really? So you’ve finally been converted as well, huh?”
He returned the business card, saying that he only wanted to check it, and began to walk away with the cigarettes in one hand. But, before he could take more than two steps, he heard her voice pipe up behind him.
“Please be careful, Mister. The holes leading straight to hell open at the most unexpected times.”
He waved her off without looking back, smiling bitterly.
Reaching his car, he opened the passenger’s door, dumped his cigarettes and his coat on the seat, went around to the driver’s side and flopped down in the seat.
Apparently Lumi had been reading a book. Seymour spotted a spine that used to be in his room back at his parent’s home. 『Hey, Al』 was a comedic novel that had been popular in the past.
“You like it?”
“Yes. It’s funny.” Lumi said with a smile in her voice.
It was a fairly rare sight to see her openly enjoy something, it was quite relieving to see.
“Did you buy your cigarettes?”
“Mmh, I did, and I also checked a little something.”
Mentally checking off another item on the list in his head, Seymour said all of a sudden, “It took a while, but it looks like I can pinpoint which mafia kidnapped you, Lumi.”
“Eh?” Lumi straightened up on her seat, her eyes wide in surprise.
But it was only to be expected. In the week since he had declared that he’d identify the mafia family targeting Lumi, Seymour had only done his regular work. At the least, that’s what it must have looked like to Lumi.
“I-Is that so…….?”
“Well, since it’s not a particularly impressive thing, I’ll explain the trick real quick. Look, the routes I drive for my job are pretty limited, aren’t they?”
Seymour took a business card out of his pocket with a flourish. This one was a lot more crumpled than the one with Hornsby since he had it carelessly shoved in a pocket, but even so, it was barely recognizable as the same sort of business card.
He smoothly offered it to Lumi.
“I haven’t registered a company or anything like that. I don’t run any advertisements either. That means that those who know that I’m a courier are limited to those with my business cards and those who found out from the word spread by those who have requested me.”
Seymour’s first job was dropping off his schoolmate’s girlfriend and picking her up afterwards. Later, after that job was over and he had decided to become a courier, Seymour made about a hundred business cards and passed a few to his friend. Michael took those cards and distributed them to his acquaintances, and each time Seymour got a new job, he handed some of his business cards to his new client.
Those hundred business cards that had been distributed in this manner ── excepting, of course, the good number of them that would have been thrown away or burned ── are surely still making their rounds in this city.
It wasn’t as though Seymour had expected that his service would become something so shady from the outset. Still, it wasn’t possible to become well known right away so the most stable jobs all tended to be shady.
“That was the first time that scary man asked me to deliver something. In other words…”
“…You’re saying that that person probably learned about you very recently?”
“Well, usually there would be no need to know about a bottom-feeder like me. We should probably think of it as him choosing a contractor that would let you get away, Lumi.”
This was why Seymour had begun to check on the whereabouts of his business cards. Handing over his business card was the quickest way to recommend Seymour. Besides, even without tracking the specific movements of the cards, just grasping their rough distribution was enough to suggest some leads.
It was only after Seymour told Lumi that he would soon have an idea of a destination for her escape that he noticed that her eyes were cast downwards. Seymour tilted his head in confusion; he had thought that this would be good news for her.
“I beg your pardon. I’m sure that this must be a rather dangerous endeavor for you, right Mr. Seymour?” Lumi said softly, like she was scared of touching on a raw nerve.
She’s a sharp one, Seymour subconsciously clicked his tongue. Naturally, searching for the business cards he had distributed in the past was a dubious move that had raised the suspicions of more than just Fran. Even the excuse he had hastily given her might not be enough to counteract the suspiciousness of the act itself.
“Cleverness isn’t much of a virtue in this city. No, let me rephrase, anything can become a virtue or weakness in this city. So I think it’s better to think carefully about when you ought to be clever.” Since Lumi didn’t lift her head despite his comment, Seymour added, “It’s smarter to think about what kind of city you’d like to escape to. Is there anywhere you’d like to go?”
The question allowed Lumi to shift her gaze. Her eyes absentmindedly stared out of the window. She had a look on her face like she was searching for a place that didn’t exist. It was the same look she had on the day they met.
“……A place with a beautiful, sandy beach would be nice.”
“Hee, I would’ve thought that a vacation at the beach would be the last place a vampire would want to be.”
“Mum and dad met on a sandy beach, I heard. Mum told me a lot of stories from her memory when we lived in the mansion. That’s why, at some point, I also started to yearn for an endless walk along a pretty beach.”
“Sounds great. Let’s look for a city like that then. It’ll be alright. I’m a courier who’s never failed at his job after all. I’ll definitely deliver you.”
“Okay. I’m sure it must be lovely to walk in a place like that in the twilight.”
A crimson sky and a white beach. And a girl walking the boundary between land and sea forever and ever, white hair streaming behind her. It was an impossible scene, and that was precisely why it was beautiful. Lumi’s words were filled with nothing but longing for that impossibility.
I think I should get the car moving soon. Seymour extended a hand backwards to retrieve his business card.
But, it wasn’t a small piece of card that touched his hand. Instead, soft slender fingers gently brushed the back of his hand, only lightly pressing down.
“Mr. Seymour, won’t you go on a walk with me someday as well?”
He could faintly feel her pulse and body temperature through the fingers connected with his hand. He considered taking a peek at Lumi through the rear-view mirror, but refrained. With only his hand extended backwards, he imagined it for just a short moment, the lovely scenery with this girl next to him. He’d leave this town with her, live in some city somewhere, and go on walks with her. Even if it was no more than a dream borne from her momentary loneliness, he felt like it was worth holding on to.
But, in the end, the words that actually left Seymour’s mouth were: “Whatever city you choose, I’ll take you there. ……Let’s think about the rest when we get there, okay?”
He quickly pulled his hand away from Lumi’s.
Before he had noticed, he had left home, and before he had noticed, he had become a courier. Even though his life hadn’t amounted to much, he felt extremely hesitant to give up on it. He felt as if he was making some kind of mistake. If he had properly continued his schooling, perhaps he might have a name for this feeling.
Seymour sensed that Lumi was nodding behind him and wondered whether he should ask Sunny about it the next time they saw each other.
“Okay, by all means, let’s go together, alright?”
❖ ── ✦ ──『✙』── ✦ ── ❖
“Thanks for all your work. Please deliver this.” A regular mafia customer, the Oriental man with sunglasses, forced a small package on Seymour.
From the aroma that escaped the packaging, and the quiet rustle when shook, the package contained tea leaves or something like that. Today he had delivered 『Toi Mo』 again.
“Thank you very much.”
“Don’t worry ’bout it. Trustworthy contractors are a rarity in this city. Ain’t it a sweet deal if you can buy good will with just a lil’ bribe?” The man laughed loudly, and left with the cigars in hand.
Seymour pressed his nose against the package, staying like that for a while. A strong, medicinal fragrance filled his nose. Usually he wouldn’t stay at the location of a delivery, regardless of whether or not he had another job lined up. It was better that way for his client and for himself. However, today he didn’t drive off right away, and instead, cracked open the window. The wind carried the night’s air into the car.
Moments later, the sound of many flapping wings reached his ears.
A cloud of bats entered the car through the open window. As if being guided by an invisible hand, the animals gathered unnaturally on the back seat and dogpiled onto one another. When several hundred of them had become one big lump, the pile began to move, squirming and stretching to reveal Lumi between one moment and the next. From black bats to a white girl. It was like watching the light break out from within the darkness.
“I am back. I also finished the delivery.”
“Were you seen?”
“No one in their right mind would expect bats to carry around packages.” Lumi covered her mouth, giggling.
Some of the jobs that Seymour accepted did not require the courier and the recipient to meet; sometimes it was better for both parties to avoid contact entirely. In other words, it’d be no problem if someone other than Seymour did the job as long as they weren’t exposed.
For jobs like these, Lumi, who could transform, was perfect. Thanks to her, Seymour has more than doubled his efficiency.
“But, are you really okay with not receiving a reward? I mean I wouldn’t be able to give you the whole payment since I’m the one accepting the jobs, but you’ve done a good part of the work as well, Lumi. Should I give you a share of the payment from now on?”
“I have only troubled you so far, Mr. Seymour. Besides, you are also putting a roof over my head and giving me food.”
“Aside from the matter of accommodation, I’m not sure I can agree with the part about the food.” Seymour smiled bitterly while starting the car.
Ever since Lumi had started to live in his garage, the quality of his meals had improved significantly. When he looked in a mirror, Seymour could see the obvious change in his skin and physical condition.
When Seymour shifted his attention to the back seat, Lumi was leaning against the window, her eyes blankly looking out at the city. She always did this when she was in his car.
“I guess I should improve my service at least then. What do you want to eat today? I’d feel bad if I had you make it like you usually do, so how about we eat out?”
“Oh, I heard about a delicious meatball restaurant when I was at the Holiday today! If I remember correctly, it shouldn’t be too far from here!”
“You’re unexpectedly fond of junk food, Lumi.”
Though her appearance was one that made people think that she could subsist on carrots alone, she was actually quite a big eater. Maybe she couldn’t get as much energy out of normal food as a vampire, or maybe it was just her natural constitution and completely unrelated to her race. Either way, it wasn’t rare for her to wolf down portions bigger than those of Seymour in little to no time at all.
In addition, all the food she made herself was so healthy that you could actually list it in books for home-cooking, but when it came to eating out, she was just like the random delinquents hanging out all over the place.
“Mother hated eating out…… I like the dishes she taught me, but every once in a while I get the urge to eat something different. It’s not like I only have food like that, okay? I mean it!” Lumi objected energetically to Seymour, who hadn’t even meant it that way, her cheeks dyed crimson.
Her franticness was strangely comical, causing Seymour to burst into laughter.
Following the directions from the back seat, he maneuvered them through the city, and then parked at the side of the road after about 15 minutes. Today was one of those days where clouds hung low in the sky, and faint gunshots rumbled like distant thunder throughout the city.
Lumi had her hat pulled low over her eyes, letting Seymour lead her after stepping out of the car. Although she seemed to have grown accustomed to the looks people directed at her, it was already a habit for her to maintain a grip on Seymour’s clothes. Today her long hair, which she had bound into a single braid, wagged like a dog’s tail.
Seymour addressed the slight weight dragging on his coat, “If there’s something you want, tell me as soon as possible, okay?”
“This time it is 『as soon as possible』 and not 『at any time』?”
“Don’t expect to rely on my self-restraint. Any money I have to spend will quickly go on its way.”
Although the rate of completed jobs should have actually gone up thanks to Lumi’s assistance, the difference in his earnings wasn’t actually big enough for him to build up any savings.
“……It might be better for me to stay in this city until you become able to lead a proper life, Mr. Seymour.”
“It’ll be a no on that one.”
It wasn’t all that rare for Seymour’s mouth to move before his brain could. But, he felt that his reply had been quite forward all things considered, and he was honestly somewhat surprised to hear it despite being the speaker. Lumi seemed to share his surprise.
“Eh…….?” Her voice contained no small amount of confusion and disappointment.
Just for a moment, Seymour wondered why he had denied her. But, even as he was deciphering his thoughts, his mouth continued to flap without concern.
“No good will come out of staying with me.”
With that, she should understand how things are.
“N-No way…… Mr. Seymour, you’ve always been a big help to me, you know?”
“You make it sound more significant than it is. Sure, I saved you, but it won’t be good for you to stay with me in the future. That’s an indisputable fact.”
Lumi who had been dragged into this city’s underworld due to some absurdity, and Seymour who had willingly chosen to become a courier. Two people who would never have met under normal circumstances.
Seymour was aware that he had sounded unusually hard and cold-hearted, but it was a necessary rejection.
For a short while, there was only a stifling, heavy silence between them.
When Lumi next opened her mouth, her voice was unnaturally cheerful. It was a pitiful attempt to change the atmosphere.
“Ah, Mr. Seymour! Over there, what is that?”
From the pull on his coat, Seymour knew that Lumi had stopped. Taking Lumi’s words as a cue, Seymour returned to using his normal tone, like the exchange earlier had never happened.
“Is something wrong?”
When he looked back, he found Lumi staring at a general store along the street. It was a snugly store that mainly dealt with imported, miscellaneous goods. Clothes and accessories were piled high on a wagon that actually protruded out onto the street.
Seymour looked back at her, clearly waiting for her to indicate which items had piqued her interest and causing her to lower her eyes, obviously feeling ashamed over allowing her curiosity to show on her face.
“Don’t you think this blanket is rather gorgeous?”
“The checkered one? It looks warm, but we’ve already got a blanket back home already, don’t we?”
“That oil-stained cloth you call a 『blanket』 would generally be described as trash by society.” Her manner was gentle, but her words were razor-sharp. “Mr. Seymour, I’m sorry for bringing this up right after our previous talk, but let’s buy the red blanket.”
“Okay, but……you’re going on a journey soon. Isn’t a blanket like that going to be hard to carry around? It looks rather bulky?”
The blanket, which had been made with lots of fabric, seemed big enough to be a tent. Even folded, it’d probably be quite the burden for Lumi to bring to some far away city.
“Actually, I’d like to leave it in the garage. Let’s think of it as a good opportunity to replace the blanket, okay?”
“In that case, any color other than red would work. That bright red doesn’t really suit my tastes.”
The blanket, which combined white and burnt brown with a bright red reminiscent of the flames in a fireplace, was clearly suited for girls. Lumi would definitely make a great picture wrapped up in that blanket, but Seymour was sure he’d simply look ridiculous in the same position.
In response to Seymour’s words, Lumi approached the store with a considering hum. She picked up several of the blankets placed on the wagon, unfolding them and looking at them against the light. But, in the end, she grabbed the red blanket she had pointed at in the very beginning.
“No, let’s go with this one after all.”
“You’re awful. Do you want to humiliate me so badly?”
When Seymour shook his head and winced dramatically, Lumi laughed with a throaty, “Nfufu.”
She hugged the blanket to her tightly, like she wanted to mark it with her scent and smiled even wider.
“I mean, if it’s a blanket that you would definitely never buy for yourself, you will always be reminded of me whenever you use it, no matter how much time passes, right?”
After gazing into her golden eyes for a while, Seymour lifted his hands in surrender.
❖ ── ✦ ──『✙』── ✦ ── ❖
It was noon when he was startled awake the next day.
The garage that Seymour called home was thoroughly decorated with rust from the salty air, creaking with every action. The screeching of the shutter was especially challenging for one’s ears, and the shutter itself looked like it could lose the fight to corrosion at any given moment. In short, even the slightest movements would result in ungodly amounts of noise.
It was that familiar scraping of metal that had made its way to Seymour’s ears just now. He recognized it even through the drowsiness of his sudden awakening.
The sun still hadn’t started its journey to the west yet. He had worked during the night yesterday, so he slept through the sunrise today. And then, someone opened the shutter.
No, it wasn’t just anyone.
It was Lumi Spike.
Seymour jerked up, and opened the door of the Essex which had totally become his bedroom recently. Climbing the ladder to his loft, all he found there was an empty bed. The blanket they had bought yesterday evening was also gone.
He ducked under the half open shutter and headed outside. He could only wonder what had drawn Lumi outside.
The sun was hidden behind thick clouds, and the sky looked as though it would unleash a dark depressing downpour at any given moment. Well, at least Seymour could rest assured that Lumi would not burn to death in the sunlight. At the same time, he looked left and right. He didn’t know where she had wandered off to, but even though it was cloudy today, it was still daytime. He couldn’t believe that she’d go too far when the risk of the sun appearing was so great.
And then, just as he guessed where she was probably headed, his ears caught on a faint crying voice.
“This way, huh?”
A wide river flowed behind the garage. The riverbank, covered by concrete, continued on and on for a long time. And, there were many dried out sewage outlets that gaped along the bank.
Moving towards the voice, Seymour slid down the concrete slope towards one of the outlets. The pipe was big enough for him to walk inside as long as he crouched. Inside the pipe, which never saw any sunlight, the air was cold, but dry. And here he found Lumi.
He couldn’t see well in the darkness, but he could never mistake that white hair for anything else. In order to avoid touching the mess of rotting leaves in the bottom, Lumi had pushed her back against the wall with her spine following the curve of the walls and her head hanging down. The red blanket completely covered her body.
And, on top of that, red eyes. The whites of her eyes, but not the pupils, were bloodshot. Her eyes were awfully puffy; she had obviously been crying for a fairly long time.
Seymour thought about saying something, but in the end simply drew close to her without a word. Even though he knew it would be a tight fit, he tried to mirror her and leaned against the sewer wall. It was actually pretty soothing to feel the cool concrete absorb his body heat right after waking up.
“What have you been up to?”
“The cats are…”
Looking intently further down the sewer, he spotted several cats. A mother was curled around several sucking kittens. The kittens thrust out their paws, frantically burying their heads in their mother’s belly.
“They’re cute, aren’t they?” Lumi said, breaking into a smile.
It gave Seymour something to think about.
The quality of the milk from the mother cat is different depending on the location of the nipple. In short, the kittens are struggling for their lives over there. They’re fighting and competing for the best places to get milk. This only looks cute because she’s looking at it with human eyes.
Even a person who disapproves of mafia gunfights, which essentially boils down to the same life and death battle the cats are fighting, can smile at the sight of a cat nursing. The difference between cats and humans, these two beings, is that one of them is allowed to laugh at the other’s desperate struggle for life.
Seymour wondered whether he should bring this philosophical topic up, but abstained. Besides, he knew that she wasn’t here to visit the cats anyway.
“What have you been up to?”
When he repeated his question, a shadow fell on her eyes.
“……I’m sorry. Occasionally I feel lonely.”
No matter how brightly she laughed usually, Lumi was still a girl who had just recently lost her mother and was being chased by the mafia. Maybe Lumi had spent many cloudy days like this and Seymour had simply not realized.
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear the first part. I understand the second bit, though I can’t say I relate.”
“Isn’t this place cold?”
“It’s cold, right?”
Lumi sounded more like she was trying to convince herself of it than posing a question to Seymour, and took the two steps to close the distance between them. Then she put her arm around Seymour’s body, wrapping him up under the red blanket with her.
Seymour and Lumi’s bodies were touching each other underneath the piece of cloth. Lumi’s nightclothes were plain, and her upper arms bare. Seymour briefly considered whether or not he should point out that her body was quivering.
In the end, he just said, “Yep, it’s cold.”
If she idles around in a place like this, the sun will come out sooner or later and returning to the garage will be impossible.
Seymour analyzed the situation thusly, but none of that mattered right now. He grabbed her hand to reassure her that he would stay with her and she didn’t need to worry. He squeezed her fingers to stop her trembling.
He might have squeezed a little too hard, since Lumi jolted at the force, but she didn’t try to shake his hand off.
Her breath left her in puffs of white.
“I feel loneliest when sleeping. Even dreams don’t visit me at night anymore.”
“You don’t feel lonely because you see dreams of what you’ve lost?”
“No, I’m lonely because I can’t even see what I’ve lost in dreams anymore.”
Forgetting and moving on; those two are indispensable if you want to keep living. At least that was Seymour’s idea of a consolation while at the same time laughing at himself for being such a huge hypocrite.
He focused on her slow, gentle pulse as it thumped through their entwined fingers.
“Umm, Mr. Seymour.” Lifting up the blanket with a rustle, Lumi hid most of her face. “……Could you sleep with me?”
Seymour reflexively interpreted the deeper meaning behind her words. And just as he was trying to figure out how to decipher her motives before agreeing to anything, Seymour became aware of the fact that he was actually giving the idea serious thought ── surprisingly so.
“I’d really prefer if you didn’t test the limits of my self-control too much. You might just be asking for a teddy bear to guard you against loneliness, but I’ll become a live bear if pushed, you know?”
The tips of Lumi’s ears peeking out of the blanket became bright red. Apparently she could imagine what that entailed very vividly.
Of course, she probably hadn’t thought of that when she invited him. Or rather, his words tended to be a little bit too direct for an innocent girl like her. Just as he was about to take them back before things became too awkward between them, Lumi beat him to the punch.
“…….I-If it’s j-just a bit, I’m f-fine with it, okay?”
How far does just a bit mean?
Seymour did his best to swallow down those words that he had barely stopped from leaving his mouth. It seemed to him that he’d hurt their relationship for real if he had voiced that thought. He somehow resisted tracing the line of Lumi’s body with his eyes.
Seymour shook his head.
“It’s better to stop with this a bit business.”
“Y-You’re right…I guess. Y-You wouldn’t w-want to do s-something like that with something like me, would you?”
“That’s not the issue here.”
He looked at the outside world, demarcated by the circle of the sewer pipe. Even though this place couldn’t be described as sanitary by any stretch, the scenery outside with one multi-floor building placed right against the next felt much dirtier to him.
“How should I describe it? I can make a move on anyone, but for me you’re the only person that has inherent value.”
Having become terribly embarrassed, Seymour added quickly, “It just means that I want to act cool every once in a while as well.”
He bent forward and kicked off the wall. Since their hands were still connected, Lumi followed as well when he pulled. They started to walk awkwardly, trying not to fall since both were still wrapped up in the blanket.
“If you feel lonely, I’ll hold your hand until you fall asleep. I can compromise that much at least.”
Lumi looked skeptical for a short while, but eventually managed a smile. It was far meaner than usual, but still very charming.
“I guess I have no choice. In exchange, please hold my hand tightly, okay?”
❖ ── ✦ ──『✙』── ✦ ── ❖
“I think I’ve mostly solved it.” Seymour muttered as he stared at the memos strewn before his eyes.
They contained the information he had gathered over several days. It included the current owners of his business cards, and the people who the card holder’s had given Seymour’s telephone number to.
Of course it wasn’t as though he knew the whereabouts of all his business cards, even if there were only a hundred of them around. And seeing how his telephone number was also being passed around by word of mouth, there was no way he could figure out all the people who knew about Courier Seymour Road.
However, he already had plenty to work with here. Seymour extended his hand while sorting the information in his head. He grabbed a cup filled with rippling hot chocolate that was still faintly steaming.
Ever since he was young, he liked drinking hot chocolate. The only thing that could possibly be construed as cooking in his everyday life was how he carefully made hot chocolate and added crushed cardamom to it.
He fell deeper into his thoughts as the sweetness spread on his tongue.
The five big mafia familia all had their daggers drawn. Of course, whether they were on good terms in the eyes of the public was a valid question, but in reality, they were all in conflict.
Thus Seymour’s information contained nothing but hearsay. It was easy forSeymour to be recommended within a single mafia familia, but it was naturally difficult for his information to spread to different familia.
In other words, having a few samples was enough.
Since he roughly remembered the amount of work he had done for each familia so far, he could also imagine how the information about him had spread. The number of mafia familia that had offered Seymour jobs was one or two, but definitely not more than three.
When he traced the business cards’ whereabouts, only some were connected to the mafia. If he knew which familia his clients belonged to, he could eliminate some familia from the list of people who might be chasing Lumi.
“I have connections with the Blood Famila and the Mollini Famila.”
For the first time, he had a grasp of who had been the source of his jobs. He also supposed that the wolf-like man would inevitably belong to either of those two familia.
Seymour pictured the map of this country in his mind, forcing himself to not remember it so that he’d be able to forget it right away. Of course he didn’t know the layout of the country in as much detail as he did the city, but he was vaguely aware of which cities were outside the sphere of those two familia’s influences while also being close to the ocean.
But he halted that train of thought immediately. Personally, he wouldn’t mind deciding on one place now, but he thought it might be better to do so after talking the options over with Lumi. They might end up coming to the same conclusion anyway, but that was the very reason why going with this method would bear more significance.
At this point, he sensed Lumi stirring in the loft.
Seymour stood up in a hurry, downing the hot chocolate in one go, and cramming the cup into the sink in the corner of the garage. At the same time, he used his left hand to toss the cocoa powder and cardamom in a toolbox.
Just as he picked up the coffee powder, Lumi’s face popped out of the loft.
“Mornin’. Want a coffee, too?” Seymour greeted her with a winning smile, making sure not to give the slightest hint of enjoying the sweetness of his hot chocolate just seconds ago.
He couldn’t quite explain why, but he felt like a guy who worked as a courier by himself and lived in a place like this would look less cool if he was caught habitually drinking hot chocolate. For this reason, he always ─ even before Lumi started living here ─ drank his hot chocolate somewhat sneakily. In the first place, she didn’t even know that such a sweet drink was hidden in the garage.
“Were you able to have a nice dream today? Also, I will brew it. Otherwise I would feel bad about imposing so much on you.” Lumi easily climbed down the ladder, something she had now grown accustomed to doing.
It was a fact that the coffee she diligently prepared was definitely tasty ─ or rather, Seymour actually didn’t really like coffee all that much ─ so he readily yielded the task to her.
Seymour had nothing left to do, so he headed to the shutter, raising it just enough to duck under and not let any sunlight through to Lumi.
“Oh, there’s a newspaper for me today?”
An orphan called Ben, who lived in the neighborhood, would leave the newspaper at his garage on the days he managed to find one. As thanks, Seymour would toss a few coins into the old cup in front of his garage. Ben would come and pick the cup up sooner or later.
As he scanned through the newspaper while waiting for the coffee, he clumsily stuffed a cigarette between his lips. Holding the newspaper with one hand, he groped for his matches with the other.
At that moment, Seymour saw it. The match fell out of his hand, and the piece of wood that had burned brightly a moment ago became black and dirty the instant it touched the ground.
His heart thumped in a way he didn’t like at all.
The newspaper’s front page reported the death of a single man. A man who, upon being discovered yesterday, murdered, was now nothing more than a string of characters in today’s paper.
Isaac Nigel. The man was apparently a member of the Blood Familia’s upper echelon and was famous for being a hawk in his younger days. These days he had exerted his influence on the city from an undisclosed location.
Seymour learned all this information just now. The man’s name and career was something he got to know for the first time through this article. The news story about his death had obviously been printed in quite a hurry; it didn’t even include a photo of the deceased. Because the newspaper was always filled with the deaths of strangers, the death itself didn’t draw Seymour’s attention. Neither was it the name.
Coincidentally, the front page also had a photo of the murder scene ─ in other words, Isaac Nigel’s home. Of course the corpse had already been carried out, and all you could see on the photo was furniture, blood, and smaller articles scattered about. Among the chaotically scattered accessories was a cigar package.
Seymour had seen the brand name on the cigar package. It was such a vivid blue that it stood out even on the monochrome page. It was a rather characteristic package, and they were also the cigars Seymour had always delivered.
The brand was unusual enough that it wasn’t even recorded on the shop’s list.
“Don’t realize.” Unconsciously, Seymour said this aloud. “Don’t realize, don’t realize.”
Seymour had just recently learned that he often received jobs from the Blood Family. Seymour had gotten the job when he had just started as a courier, and had delivered them for a long time. He remembered quite clearly that those packages were valuable cigars by the name 『Toi Mo』.
And right now the mafia man, who had smoked those cigars, had turned into words on the newspaper in Seymour’s hand.
He broke out in a cold sweat.
“Don’t realize, don’t realize, don’t realize, don’t realize, don’t realize.”
He was a mafiosi who had managed to conceal himself all the time. Yet, he was suddenly dead.
Someone had disclosed his location. 『Toi Mo』 was the cigar brand liked by Isaac Nigel. It was one of the very few points of contact between the world and the man in hiding.
As for those who would know about that fact, Seymour himself would be the very first on the list. The courier who brought the cigars to the man in question.
And the next person would be the girl who had recently started to accompany that courier on his jobs after coming to live with him.
When he tried to open the shutter, Seymour slipped and bumped his shoulder against it. The rusty metal creaked and cluttered loudly. Ignoring the pain, he stood up on the twisted foot, and opened the shutter.
“Huh? Mr. Seymour?”
Lumi held two cups inside the garage. Her usual, gentle smile on the lips. Standing there with her back straight. Her frail arms and legs would convince anyone that she was completely incapable of violence. The wind that blew through the open shutter into the garage heaved up her white hair.
Lumi narrowed her eyes. Probably because of the sudden gust of wind, or maybe because she saw the newspaper in Seymour’s left hand. She tilted her head in confusion, not giving any indication of knowing what the article on the front page said.
Her translucent nape was seductively exposed. And then her smile deepened. Deepening, deepening, widening, as if tearing her cheeks apart. Slowly but clearly, Lumi’s lips formed words.
“So, were you able to have a nice dream?”
- The sfx used here to describe the finger pointing is very Japanese anime/manga like. Here a picture: https://stat.ameba.jp/user_images/20180220/19/asufazuru/86/c2/j/o0480047514135445834.jpg or another: https://cdn.snsimg.carview.co.jp/minkara/blog/000/040/541/720/40541720/p1.jpg?ct=3177314119aa . You can see, it’s nothing you’ll find used in any RL situation as far as I am aware.