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Competition: The Battles Continue

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Kazue and Miki stood off to the side behind the counter at the Cat’s Eye café watching the scene in front of them.

Sitting at a table near the window were Ryo and Umibozu. They sat across from each other, both of them with stony expressions on their faces and their arms crossed over their chests. Neither of them had spoken or even moved in several minutes.

A moment later, Kaori walked into the café.

“Miki-san? Kazue-san?” she called out. “Ah, there you are. Have either of you seen Ryo? He was supposed to hand out flyers with me today and never showed up. And I…oh, there he is.” She marched over to the table.

“Ryo! What are you doing? I waited for you for two hours. How are we supposed to get clients if you keep running off when….?”

Kaori abruptly stopped and blinked in surprise. Normally, by this point, Ryo would be giving her flustered excuses or grandiose fibs to explain why he hadn’t done the chores he had agreed to do. But so far, Ryo didn’t show any signs that he had heard a single word that she said. Instead, he continued to sit silently with the same impassive stare that he had had when she first spotted him.

Kaori blinked again, but soon her surprise shifted to annoyance. She waved a hand in front of his face, yelled into his ear, and even pulled out a giant mallet so she could aim it at his head. However, there was still no response. Eventually, she gave up and walked over to where Kazue and Miki were standing.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “Why are they like that?”

“I don’t know,” Miki said. “Kazue-san said they were sitting like that when she came in to work. At first, I thought that maybe they had had a fight, but the café was as tidy as it is now.” Miki leaned closer to Kaori.

“I’m a little worried,” she added. “Falcon doesn’t have that look in his eye very often. Usually, it’s only when he’s getting ready to face a difficult opponent.”

“You mean like another professional?” Kazue asked. “Like Saeba-san? Do you think they’ve started up their old feud again?”

Kaori gulped and stared at Ryo. While she was confident that Ryo could win in a battle against Umibozu, she was also certain that he wouldn’t escape such a battle unscathed. Physically or emotionally. Kaori had thought that the two of them had finally put aside the desire to fight to the death for professional reasons or to simply prove which one of them was the best. But perhaps there was some incident, some old wound that she didn’t know about that neither one of them could let go of. Something they could only resolve with their guns.

“Ryo,” she breathed, not daring to disrupt the silent duel in front of her. As long as it stayed like this, silent and unmoving, things could still work out. But if either of them broke that silence….

“So…you won’t change your mind?” Umibozu said in a low growl.

“Why should I?” Ryo said, his tone cool and flippant. “We both know what happened.”

Ryo slowly stood up and reached into his pocket. As he pulled out a small, plastic box, he slapped his palm against the table.

“I won the last game fair and square,” he whined, waving the pocket pinball game in front of Umibozu’s face. “So you owe me a week’s worth of free coffee.”

“Idiot! I saw you,” Umibozu spat in an equally petulant tone. “You flipped the game over when you thought I wasn’t looking so you’d win.”

“Ah ah, you can’t prove that,” Ryo grinned, wagging his finger. “For all you know, it was just my natural skill as a sweeper at work. Either way, you owe me a week of your terrible coffee.”

“If it’s so terrible, why did you cheat to win a week of it?!”

“Ha! I don’t have to explain myself to an octopus like you.”

The two of them continued to bicker while Kazue, Miki and Kaori let their faces fall into their palms. It had only been about a minute since this argument started, but Kaori was already eager to end it.

A mallet appeared in her hands and she grinned as she approached the table.