𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟖: 𝐒𝐮𝐬𝐩𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐔𝐬𝐚𝐩𝐲𝐮
Chihaya, who finished work earlier than planned by leaving early, left the basement.
It was still bright outside, something not visible from the basement.
“At this time, I can go. . . . . .”
Chihaya had had her eye on a ramen shop for a while.
She had wanted to try it, but always wanted to avoid the busy times. So, she had never been able to go.
There would be few customers at this odd time of day. She wouldn’t be caught up in the crowd, and there was no need to eat her ramen hurriedly, worrying about people waiting outside.
Above all, this place used meal tickets. There was no need to talk to the staff. How wonderful.
Chihaya took a deep breath, donned her broad-brimmed hat, plain black jumper, and put on her mask.
With determination, Chihaya left her apartment.
Though she had a tough time with the cinayakafun, the All-Rounder was safe, and she was blessed with the opportunity to go to the ramen shop. She wouldn’t be kept down by a mere fall.
Feeling like she had gained a little something, Chihaya passed through a residential area lined with apartments for Actors and got on the bus.
She relaxed as the bus swayed to the stop, and she headed toward the ramen shop.
“. . . . . .Just as planned.”
There were no people waiting in line at the shop. The business sign was up, and the door was open, either for ventilation or to show there was no wait.
Nervously, she entered the shop, and the owner glanced at her.
The owner pointed to the ticket machine by the entrance.
“Welcome. . . . . .Order over there. . . . . .”
With determination, Chihaya struck a triumphant pose in her mind. She had read online that this wasn’t a lively shop with loud greetings, but the owner’s quiet ambiance was wonderful.
Smiling beneath her mask, Chihaya inserted a thousand-yen bill into the ticket machine.
She had already decided what to order online.
―― Japanese-style salt ramen with special large shrimp meatballs. There was no other choice.
Without hesitation, Chihaya bought the meal ticket and clipped it to the counter seat.
The owner, seeing Chihaya’s decisive movement after researching the shop’s system, faintly smiled.
Quiet, perhaps even reticent, but apparently not a bad person.
Only the owner, Chihaya, and a man who seemed a regular were in the shop. No one spoke. The soft jazz music playing in the shop drowned out the kitchen sounds.
Soon, Chihaya’s order was placed before her.
The gentle and refined aroma of shrimp wafted up. The clear Japanese-style soup was made with kelp and clams, not overpowering the scent of shrimp.
No char siu, but large shrimp meatballs, deep-fried lotus root, and crisp watercress were on top.
It looked just like the picture. No, even more appetizing than the photo.
Chihaya removed her mask and scooped up the crinkled noodles hidden under the soup with her chopsticks.
The firm crinkled noodles carried the aroma of shrimp and delivered the umami of Japanese-style broth and shrimp to her mouth, enveloped in the fragrance of wheat.
With each sip of soup and lift of noodles, she grew more excited.
The shrimp meatballs were incredibly tasty, but the different textures of the meatballs, deep-fried lotus root, and crisp watercress were also enjoyable.
Chihaya was savoring the ramen, but she noticed the sound of footsteps and voices approaching and her face changed.
Had she stayed too long and lingered into the busy time? She glanced at the wall clock.
It was still early for the rush. But it would be unusual for such a delicious ramen shop to be empty.
Anyway, she thought it best to eat before the noodles went soft and took a bigger mouthful.
A group was indeed headed for this ramen shop, and they streamed in through the open entrance. They purchased their meal tickets with practiced ease and sat at the tables behind Chihaya.
With an oversized sense of personal space, Chihaya felt slightly nervous but focused, knowing it would be wasteful not to enjoy this ramen.
The group at the table began to speak in a grave tone.
“――Okuma-san, is the attack for real?”
Okuma, upon hearing this, Chihaya freezes for a moment.
Just so happens, the site supervisor for this request is the representative of 『New World Tree Housing』, Kenichi Okuma.
Unaware of Chihaya’s confusion, the group of customers behind continue their conversation.
“It’s still unconfirmed, but the video analysis shows that the All-Rounder had its battery shot through.”
“But it couldn’t move because of the cinayakafun, right? That chaff imitation is quite intense, isn’t it?”
“There are no reports of a gunshot sound. It was probably sniped when it stopped moving because of the cinayakafun.”
The voice answering the question is strikingly similar to Kenichi Okuma’s voice, whom Chihaya had heard during the request.
She never expected to encounter her supervisor from the request here.
Chihaya, although flustered, picks up shrimp tsukune with trembling chopsticks.
“. . . . . .S, Shrimp, shrimp tsukune, it’s juicy and delicious.”
It was an escape from reality.
Though meant to focus attention on the ramen in front of her, her trembling voice gave it away.
The group behind her continued their serious conversation.
“But it’s a request from 『Amagi Agricultural Development General Group』, right? A group involved with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. The forces picking a fight would be limited, right? Could it be an accident?”
“In fact, there was an All-Rounder that left the scene just after the cinayakafun communication disruption.”
“. . . . . .Huh?”
Upon hearing a story she recognizes, Chihaya involuntarily stops eating.
“It’s from an account named Usapyu, a foolish name that doesn’t seem fit for business, created just recently. The perpetrator or an accomplice. Can’t think of it as unrelated. Let’s be cautious.”
Chihaya chokes, like being struck by a stray bullet from behind.
The shop owner turns around with a surprised face, offering a cup of water.
“Young lady, are you okay?”
“I, I’m fine. . . . . .”
While being looked after by the shop owner, Chihaya finishes the now tasteless ramen and leaves the shop.
“. . . . . .Why?”