"Ain't nothing gonna break my stride
Nobody's gonna slow me down.
Oh no, I've got to keep on movin'."
Matthew Wilder, "Break My Stride"
Kagami: And now…
Konata: Hey, Kagamin! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!
Kagami: Again? You remember what happened last time… (shudders)
Konata: Ah, don't worry about that. There wasn't too much damage. (reaches into her sleeve) Nothing up my sleeve…and, presto! (reaches into a top hat on a table next to her)
(Azumanga Daioh's Mr. Kimura emerges.) Kimura: HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS! YAAAAAY!
Konata: AHHHH! (She jumps on top of Kimura's head, pushing him back down into the hat.) I gotta get this thing fixed.
Kagami: Now here's something we hope you'll really like! Oh, and this is a work of fanfiction; the author didn't create these characters, yadda yadda yadda.
There was something I was supposed to do today, thought Yukari Takara one sunny morning, but what was it? Stymied by frustration over her lack of memory, she turned off the vacuum cleaner and stared at the red string her daughter had tied around her right pointer finger to help her remember. Then she noticed the clock on the mantle. "Oh!" she gasped. "I know it is time for The Red String of Love! I'll get back to you later, Vacuum-san." And she dashed to the couch to turn on her favorite soap opera.
"…arrested 21 Tokyo University students outside the gates of Yokota Air Force Base. The students were protesting the top-secret American military project known as Operation Arrowhead, which has been rumored to involve radioactive…"
"Oh my, Miyuki-chan must've left the news channel on last night," Yukari said. She quickly changed the channel just in time for the announcer to say, "The Red String of Love will return after these messages." The childish housewife sighed in frustration as a M******d's commercial came on. Although a Quarter Pounder would taste nice right about now. I wonder what they call Quarter Pounders in America… Was it something about beef? Maybe I could call Miyuki-chan on her cellphone and ask, but I don't want to bother her during class, and I'm not sure I remember her number…
Just then the microwave beeped to remind her that the tea she had left in there before starting the vacuum had been finished a minute ago. "Ah! Coming, Microwave-san!" Yukari gasped. As she ran into the kitchen, she was also reminded that she had left the vacuum's electric cord strung across the entryway to the room. Panicking, she grabbed out at the cloth on their breakfast nook's table, bringing it, a napkin holder and the newspaper to the floor along with her. Yukari groaned as she got back upright, pushing the paper off her face. An ad was printed on the page, bold characters announcing: "BIG BEEF BLOWOUT! One day only! June 1 at the Nerima Da**i supermarket! All beef at ½ price!"
"Oh, that's what I was supposed to do today!" she remarked. Of course; her husband was returning home from a business meeting in Hong Kong tonight and she was planning to make filet mignon. She left the ad by her side when she returned to the couch to finish her show so she wouldn't forget this time. After showering and getting dressed, she was on her way.
"Ain't nothin' gonna break my stride, nobody gonna slow me down; oh no, I've got to keep on movin'…" Yukari crooned off-key, not knowing the meaning of the English lyrics she was hearing on her old Walkman, but not caring. As long as it's a good rhythm, was her philosophy (one of Yukari Takara's very few). The other passengers on the train gazed and muttered amongst themselves as the pinkette gyrated to the music as much as she could in the tight crowd. Her traveling companions only rolled their eyes when her elbows and hips occasionally struck them. Then all of a sudden she had a bit more space to dance. Ah, that's nice, she thought. Did everybody move? And it looks like the doors are open…Ahh! I should be getting off now! She managed to slip out the train doors just as they started closing. Unfortunately, she didn't look where she was going.
"OOF!" she grunted as she collided with a woman crossing her path, sending them both to the ground, Yukari slightly atop the other woman. The other passersby on the train platform gasped and jumped away in shock, except for one scruffy-haired man with foggy glasses and his jaw hanging open. He walked by, casually took his cellphone from his pocket, snapped a picture of the two prostrate women, and then placed it back in without breaking his stride. "HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MEEEE!" he then shouted in English in a hollow, crowlike voice.
"Ah, I'm so sorry," Yukari said as she returned to her senses. "It's just…I haven't listened to Walkman-kun in years and I got distracted and almost missed my stop. My daughter sometimes does the same thing, only with books instead of music." The other woman groaned as she picked herself up off the platform, straightening out her clothes and reaching for her dropped purse. Yukari finally got a good look at her; she had long, straight, dark purple hair. "Say, you look familiar," she said.
The other woman noticed Yukari and her eyes widened. "Oh my…! Well yes, I'm Miki Hiiragi, Kagami and Tsukasa's mother. Your daughter is a friend of theirs, right?"
Yukari's eyes popped fully open. "Ah yes! I remember now! Well, fancy meeting you here, and in such circumstances! So what are you doing down here in the city? You live quite a ways out, right?"
Miki smiled and fished the same newspaper ad for the Da**i beef sale out of her purse. "I showed this to Tsukasa and she said she'd be glad to make us sukiyaki for dinner tonight. She really should be focusing on studying now, but, well, you don't get a chance for sukiyaki too often."
"Ah, what a coincidence," Yukari replied, beaming. "I'm going to the same sale. My husband's coming home from a business trip tonight, and Miyuki-chan thought it would be nice to make filet mignon for dinner. We aren't as good at cooking as Tsukasa, but it's still the thought that counts, right?"
"I think just about everybody in the Kanto Region will be having beef for dinner tonight," Miki answered. Sure enough, as they left the station, they saw large crowds streaming into the Da**i supermarket next door to the train station.
"Race you to the front door!" Yukari said, as she pulled out a shopping cart from a rack in front of the store.
"You…want to race shopping carts?" Miki replied. "No offense, but isn't that something only little kids do? And besides, you could hurt somebody or damage the merchandise."
"Well, I try to avoid other people and…"
"No racing!" Miki muttered, facepalming.
"Aww!" Yukari groaned. "It's just…this would be just another day at the supermarket if we didn't find some way to make it fun!"
"Well, not everything is some kind of adventure," Miki answered. "Some things in life may not be so exciting, but they still have to be done."
"I know," said Yukari. "But that doesn't mean you can't try and make it fun! My sister and I used to race shopping carts all the time when we were kids! And then there was that time when I was stuck in a really long checkout line, and I imagined a pterodactyl flew into the store…"
I thought Miyuki was the smart one in Kagami and Tsukasa's circle of friends, Miki thought. How on earth did she come from…her? Although…I occasionally liked taking frozen shrimp from the seafood section and dropping it in the live lobster tank… She certainly wouldn't tell Yukari about that, of course. Or how, when no one was looking, she occasionally liked to run with a shopping cart down the aisle, then jump on the back and hang on until it coasted to a stop.
"Wow, look at all those jars of balsamic vinegar," Yukari breathed, gazing up at the large stack of jars on display past the ranks of cash registers. "Wouldn't it be a mess if those fell over?"
"Ugh, you almost sound like you want that to happen," Miki replied. "Oh my, look at those crowds in the meat section."
"Ah, that's horrible!" said Yukari. "I'm gonna go and pick up some other stuff on my list until the crowd dies down."
"But the beef sale is why we're here in the first place!" said Miki. "By the time you're done, everything will be gone!"
"But I hate crowds!" Yukari whined.
"Suit yourself. But sometimes you just have to wait in line or put up with a crowd," Miki said. She rolled her eyes after turning away from Yukari and made her way into the fray.
Cheery as ever, Yukari pulled her headphones back on and put on an old mix tape. Her first stop was for some pickled daikon. Calmly disregarding the other shoppers' eyes widening and looking at her, she opened a jar and sniffed it. "Hmm, that one could use a little more time," she said. She then screwed the top back on and placed the jar back on its shelf. Then she reached for the next jar. It too didn't smell quite ripe enough.
"Look at 'em. Like pigs at the trough," muttered the gaunt janitor to his partner. "They always kid themselves at how organized their society is, but dangle a good deal in front of them, and they're like sharks smelling blood in the water."
"Y-you really think we can do this?" answered the chubby young man standing next to him. "There's only three of us, and so many of them…"
"Hey, that's why we planned this for today. And just as I expected, look at that crowd in the meat section. With most of them backed into a corner like that, we can keep them herded like sheep. Once us shepherds get our 'staffs'." A smirk drew across his thin face. "You want your brother bailed out, right?"
"Yeah, but…I don't wanna join him in prison."
"That's why Petrov has a ride ready at the loading dock. Two hours from now we'll be out of the city. By tonight we'll be on the road to Hokkaido, then on Fukuhara's fishing boat over to Russia. And while I make my way down to the Philippines for my little…business, you can wire your brother the bail money and pay for a decent lawyer and extradition plane ticket back to Japan; meanwhile you can lay low with Petrov's cousin in Vladivostok."
"Hey, I know about your plan; you didn't have to explain it all to me again," the chubby man said. "It's just, well…I guess you could call it cold feet."
The thin man batted an eyebrow. "How cold do you think your brother's feet are? You know what happens to people in American jails?"
"Oh God! But c'mon man, a lotta people have done acid…"
"At Disney World, maybe. I doubt so many others went swimming naked in Cinderella's Castle moat afterwards. And I'd imagine most of his new friends might just consider that a weak cover story for exhibitionism or even, umm, child mol…"
"Okay, okay! It's just…I haven't pulled off a job this big before! Or taken hostages!"
"Welp, first time for everything. Okay then. Three, two, one…" The two peeled off their gray janitors' jumpsuits, pulled on ski masks in their pockets, and pulled rifles out of their clothing. The thin man fired at the ceiling. "NOBODY MOVE! This is a robbery!"
Screams broke out among the crowd as the fat man pointed his gun toward the customers gathered around the meat section. The thin man, pointing his weapon straight forward, walked toward the cash registers. "Right, now do as we say. Hands where we can see them! Empty those registers. C'mon!" There was a series of clacks as the clerks complied with the thin man's request. After he had taken all the bills, he turned to the last clerk. "All right, do you know the combination to the store safe?"
"Hey man, look at my tag! I-I've only been working here three months!"
"Okay then. Any of you know the store safe combination?" he called out to the other clerks, who flatly muttered "no".
"Dammit, this better not be a delay until the cops get here! Where's the store manager?"
"H-he isn't in today. We have his phone number, though," said a slightly chubby college-age girl with glasses.
"Well then, call him up now. Tell him that we got hostages at his store, and he and the police might like to know that until we get that combo, we're gonna shoot one person every ten minutes! And if anyone tries to be a hero, they're dead. Got that?" A chorus of groans, squeals and some screams passed through the store. The thin man motioned with his hand, and the fat man strode up to the meat section and seized Miki by her left wrist. Her eyes widened and the color immediately drained from her face.
"Well, what the hell are you waiting for?" the thin man barked. "Call up that manager or my partner's gonna turn that lovely lady into a Jackson Pollock painting!"
Meanwhile, Yukari Takara was still browsing through the pickled vegetables section, occasionally unscrewing jars to examine whether the goods inside were fresh, and listening to an old song on her Walkman.
"Yosomi o suru no wa yamete yo!/ Watashi ga dare yori ichiban /Suki yo... suki yo... suki yo…" she sang to herself.
A/N: Am I the first writer to use the name "Vladivostok" in a Lucky Star story?
Also, thumbs up if you caught the Stephen King references, as well as one to a classic anime series.
And Daiei (or Da**i here) is a real Japanese supermarket chain.