"It's not something I can openly advise you to do." Aomame said nothing. She waited for more with narrowed eyes. "Look over there. See that turnout just ahead?" he asked, pointing. "See? Near that Esso sign." Aomame strained to see through the windshield until she focused on a space to the left of the two-lane roadway where broken-down cars could pull off. The elevated roadway had no shoulder but instead had emergency turnouts at regular intervals. Aomame saw that the turnout was outfitted with a yellow emergency phone box for contacting the Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation office. The turnout itself was empty at the moment. On top of a building beyond the oncoming lanes there was a big billboard advertising Esso gasoline with a smiling tiger holding a gas hose. "To tell you the truth, there's a stairway leading from the turnout down to street level. It's for drivers who have to abandon their cars in a fire or earthquake and climb down to the street. Usually only maintenance workers use it. If you were to climb down that stairway, you'd be near a Tokyu Line station. From there, it's nothing to Shibuya."
"I had no idea these Metropolitan Expressways had emergency stairs," Aomame said.
"Not many people do."
"But wouldn't I get in trouble using it without permission when there's no real emergency?"
The driver paused a moment. Then he said, "I wonder. I don't know all the rules of the Corporation, but you wouldn't be hurting anybody. They'd probably look the other way, don't you think? Anyway, they don't have people watching every exit. The Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation is famous for having a huge staff but nobody really doing any work."
"What kind of stairway is it?"
"Hmm, kind of like a fire escape. You know, like the ones you see on the backs of old buildings. It's not especially dangerous or anything. It's maybe three stories high, and you just climb down. There's a barrier at the opening, but it's not very high. Anybody who wanted to could get over it easily."
"Have you ever used one of these stairways?"
Instead of replying, the driver directed a faint smile toward his rearview mirror, a smile that could be read any number of ways.
"It's strictly up to you," he said, tapping lightly on the steering wheel in time to the music.
"If you just want to sit here and relax and enjoy the music, I'm fine with that. We might as well resign ourselves to the fact that we're not going anywhere soon. All I'm saying is that there are emergency measures you can take if you have urgent business."
Aomame frowned and glanced at her watch. She looked up and studied the surrounding cars. On the right was a black Mitsubishi Pajero wagon with a thin layer of white dust. A bored-looking young man in the front passenger seat was smoking a cigarette with his window open. He had long hair, a tanned face, and wore a dark red windbreaker. The car's luggage compartment was filled with a number of worn surfboards. In front of him was a gray Saab 900, its dark-tinted windows closed tight, preventing any glimpse of who might be inside. The body was so immaculately polished, you could probably see your face in it.
The car ahead was a red Suzuki Alto with a Nerima Ward license plate and a dented bumper. A young mother sat gripping the wheel. Her small child was standing on the seat next to her, moving back and forth to dispel its boredom. The mother's annoyance showed on her face as she cautioned the child to keep still. Aomame could see her mouth moving. The scene was unchanged from ten minutes earlier. In those ten minutes, the car had probably advanced less than ten yards.
Aomame thought hard, arranging everything in order of priority. She needed hardly any time to reach a conclusion. As if to coincide with this, the final movement of the Janaìcek was just beginning.
She pulled her small Ray-Ban sunglasses partway out of her shoulder bag and took three thousand-yen bills from her wallet. Handing the bills to the driver, she said, "I'll get out here. I really can't be late for this appointment."
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