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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Seventeen (complet

Post by NekoDude » Mon Jun 08, 2015 1:43 am

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

2007-10-13

        Neko generally knows when that time starts without having to check, though it is often only vaguely unpleasant and a nuisance. Today it is dominant and all-encompassing. It is as if someone tied cloth in a tight knot, soaked it in water, and defied her to untie it with one hand – only this knot is internal, and couldn’t be untied by any number of hands. The discomfort makes itself evident on her face.
        “Is something wrong?” Molly asks with moderate alarm. “Was it my cooking?”
        “No, it’s nothing you did,” Neko reassures her. That’s not to say there’s nothing you can do. “It’s just my natural cycle. I knew it was coming, and it is a big part of why I had no objection to coming back from Tokyo early yesterday rather than late or today. There is always the risk it will be like this, and when it is, I hardly feel like getting out of bed, let alone traveling.”
        “You’re that sure of the timing?”
        I wouldn’t risk putting you in the position of dealing with it without informing you. “It’s one of the fringe benefits of being on the Pill. It doesn’t start until the pills stop.”
        “Just a fringe benefit?”
        “Well, yes and no.” Neko rocks her head back and forth indecisively. “I mean it was the primary reason for a while, but you could say I’ve returned to using them for their on-label purpose.”
        “So you don’t…” Molly makes a gesture that resembles wrapping an invisible bandage around something similarly invisible in her other hand. Is that how she thinks they work?
        “Oh, no, not at this point. We did at first, but that didn’t last very long. It’s ah, another of those persuasive tactics I have at my disposal. It’s so much better without.” I fully expect it will keep us sharing this waterbed even though he has another option.
        “Even at this point in your ‘natural cycle’?”
        “Especially at this point. The lube washes off if there’s a shower hitting it, and that’s no fun for anyone.”
        Molly looks a little bit awed. “You mean, he’s not weirded out or afraid or anything?”
        “Afraid of making a mess, maybe. Having it start on the weekend is no accident. If it gets too bad, I can stay in. If it’s not too bad, we have the shower at our disposal. I have to imagine you know how cramps go when you come.” Another wave decides to make itself known. “Ow. Care for a shower?” Neko wraps her short arm around Molly and pulls her in close, grinning through the pain all the while.
        “Um.” Molly glances down the bed at the place her legs should occupy under the sheet.
        “Yeah, no problem. This room is designed for accessibility, and we put in our own handheld shower head. We also don’t have to share it, so no worries about what adventures are taking place when we’re not using it. We can safely sit on the floor – well, except for the risk of waffle arse I suppose.”
        “I still need to get there,” Molly points out. “I couldn’t get in this bed without my legs on, and I don’t think I can get out without them either.”
        “Ah, I follow you. I had a similar problem when this first happened.” Neko holds up the braced arm, though she is down to wearing the brace only for sleeping. “I have an idea.” She swings her leg over the rail and slides out, allowing her to hop to the closet. Opening it, she fits the old leg which has been kept there since she got the new one, then carefully extracts the rollaway bed that has still not been hauled away, pushing it to the end of the waterbed. “If you can open that side, I’ll get this side.” Working together, it takes less than fifteen seconds to flatten out the bed.
        “I still can’t get from there to the floor without –”
        Neko puts one finger in the air, then fetches the desk chair and sets it at the end of the rollaway bed. “I’ll hold it steady for you. Will that work?”
        Molly answers by swinging herself out of the waterbed backward onto the rollaway, then walking on her hands and bottom to the chair before transferring herself into it, then onto the floor. She promptly walks herself into the restroom, closing the door behind her.
        I just proposed shower sex during my monthly, and yet she doesn’t want me to see her pee. Taboos are absurd. Shortly thereafter, the door opens to reveal Molly in all her natural, brown, legless glory.
        “Bring a shower-safe toy,” she advises Neko, “in case my hands get tired.”

        Abe watches through one squinting eye as Suzu scours the room for something.
        “Do you know what I did with my prescription?” she asks him.
        “No, but there’s a bottle of ephedra in my sock drawer,” he reveals. “I keep it there for moments like this.”
        “Great, but I really need the real thing,” she objects, even while locating the bottle he has stashed away and gulping down two capsules.
        “No, you don’t.”
        “What do you know of it?” she asks bitterly. “I know it’s a problem for you guys, but it has made life bearable for me, and I want to find my supply.”
        “I know more than you think,” he says, using the sheet to hide the smirk he knows he would otherwise be showing. “Your pills have been nothing but straight, undoctored ephedra for the last two weeks.”
        “You – you mean…”
        “Yes. You’re clean.”

***

        “Two days.” Iwanako sighs. “It’s way more than I usually get with you, but it still seems so little.”
        Hisao smiles at her, but his thoughts don’t match the display. You knew this when you signed on. You didn’t get everything you wanted. Neither did she. Neither did I. Like any good compromise, everyone is a bit unhappy, but we all get what we need. “At least I can drive now, and we have the use of the car in the evenings,” he points out. “That should help.” None of that would have happened without her family’s help.
        “Yes, it should,” she confirms with a nod. “Hey, you still haven’t seen my new school, even though I’ve seen yours. It’s walkable, are you up for it?”
        “Yeah, sure. It’s nice enough out there.”
        “Fancy a little running around while we’re there?” She retrieves a pair of dusty tennis racquets from behind a speaker.
        “Hey, that sounds good too. I’ll suck at it, as I’ve only played twice before, but if you’re willing to put up with me…”
        She stops his oncoming rant with a kiss.
        It is cool enough to justify a sweater vest, and the pair sets off on the walk. A yellow canvas bag holding two racquets, two bottles of water, and a fresh can of tennis balls is tucked under one of Iwanako’s arms, and his arm cradled in the other.
        The tour of the facility is a short one, since most of the buildings are locked as it is not a boarding school. For the same reason, none of the services are operating except for the athletic areas. Even the library is closed. The fields and track are in use, however, and the sound of doors closing gives the impression that the locker rooms and gym are probably open.
        They start off easy, stretching out and casually hitting balls back and forth, mostly at each other. Iwanako is the first to start making serves, showing that although she doesn’t have much power, she’s fairly good with her location – exactly the opposite of Hisao, who can smash the ball, but with no clue where it’s going.
        During a changeover, Iwanako finishes off her water supply. “Drink yours if you can,” she requests, “because I can use the bottle.”
        Although the half-liter bottle is still a bit over half full, he complies. She takes the empty bottles and places them in opposite corners of his end of the court, along the baseline. “I need targets,” she explains as she makes her way back to the other end.
        When they resume, she makes a point of aiming her backhands down the line to the bottle to his right. On the fourth or fifth try, she sends it flying with a great clatter, causing the players on the adjacent court to pause their own activity to watch. Having felled that target, she switches to attacking the one in the other corner. This one falls even faster, since it is to her more accurate forehand, and his less defensible backhand. He retrieves that bottle as well, placing it back in its corner.
        “Move them up to the service box. I want to see if I can knock them over with serves.” She watches as he places one on each side, as they were on the baseline. “That one goes in the center,” she says as she waves at the bottle to his left. He relocates it, then stations himself near the baseline to take her serves.
        Even knowing she’s going to attack one corner or the other is not that much of a help, since that’s the way most people serve, and he has to take up a position in between to react either way. Though she lacks power, she is not lacking for either spin or accuracy. The bottles don’t fall, but he is only able to get a racquet on half of her serves, and manages to return only half of those. Finally he decides to start guessing which way to move before he can actually tell where the ball is going. The wait-and-see approach isn’t working, especially since he is not wearing shoes appropriate for a clay court.
        After taking his turn at serving, she has him set the bottles up for the other service box. He seems to have more luck returning her serves from the ad court, as he is able to ‘cheat’ to his backhand slightly, and she seems to prefer serving wide. He has also started to notice that contact sounds different when she serves up the middle, and make his break based on that. When he takes his turn at serving to the ad court, he understands why – he has to back off the power and increase the topspin to get serves to land short enough going up the middle.
        “Should we play a set?” she asks him as they change ends once more. The players in the other court have packed up and left, and a new pair has replaced them.
        “Uh, sure. You’re going to rip me to pieces though,” he speculates, most likely accurately.
        She just smiles and bounces all three balls his way in succession. “You can serve.”
        It’s love-30 before he can find his location. If he tries to hug lines, he misses. If he just bangs it at the middle of the box, she’s standing right there to smash it up the line. He starts aiming about 20 centimeters inside the lines, which seems to work reasonably well. He manages to pull even at deuce but loses that point, then double-faults from the ad side.
        After changing over, his returning game isn’t much better. He’s getting the right break on her serves, which is encouraging, but has no time to set his feet before waving at the ball. His shoes aren’t helping any, being much better suited for pavement or hardcourt. He does pick up a pattern though. She tends to aim her first serves up the middle for an easy ace, but if she misses, her second serve is almost always wide. Still, it isn’t even close, and he’s down 0-2 as the balls are sent back his way.
        He decides that standing around on the baseline after serving isn’t working out so well, so he starts charging in to three-quarters after the serve, cutting down on her passing angles. Once, he splits the T and crashes the net, inducing her to attempt a difficult passing shot up the line and miss.
        “Good! That’s what I like to see,” she shouts by way of encouragement, but before he can let it go to his head, she answers his next charge with a lob. He chases it down but underestimates the bounce, and it sails past him. He also feels a slight stitch in his side as he waves at it hopelessly. I’m not giving up that easily. But not giving up doesn’t translate to winning points, and he’s down another game as they trade ends again.
        In the fourth game, he starts to put together what he has picked up: leaning to the center on first serves and wide on second serves, getting a read from the sound off the racquet when she does attempt to cross him up, and finding his footing a split second faster so as to make more secure and more reliable returns. All this does is stretch out points so that she can get him running, as she now uses her placement ability to swing him from sideline to sideline. The moment he fails to get back in position, which is usually by the third time in the point, she either fires a winner down the line he has left open or misses when trying.
        I’m not giving up that easily, he repeats to himself, but the stitch in his side grows. Soon she’s going for winners after running him sideways just twice, then once. He falls to his hands and knees after the final point, panting, as his vision starts to swim.
        Iwanako races over from her end of the court and bends over him. “Are… are you alright?”
        He starts to nod yes – his heart is fine, and that’s the first thing on his mind – but rapidly changes it to shaking his head no as the rest of his system reports status. He has just enough time to get his hands out of the way before he regurgitates a quarter liter of water and stomach acid onto the court.

***

        Emi pulls her head out of the refrigerator. “Is this all there is? One roll of TMZ?”
        Daisuke wanders over. “Probably. I haven’t restocked since the last time, and it seems to be a favorite of yours.”
        “I wouldn’t need so much speed if you had image stabilization,” she points out, “but I could probably push the TMY a stop and do just fine.”
        “I told you it’s old-school,” he answers with a shrug. The only thing remotely current about it is the digital back. “You know the routine by now, ration out that last roll as necessary. It’s not like Danny and I need a ton of pictures of ourselves, so focus on Izumi. That would make Danny happy.”
        “Is she a full member or a guest?”
        “Considering we plan to have her play the whole night, I’d say she’s a regular now. We haven’t scheduled any guests, though sometimes they just show up.”
        “Do you ever play anywhere else?”
        Daisuke shoots her an amused look. “Are you getting tired of the place already? I don’t really blame you. There’s not much to look at.”
        “It would be nice to go somewhere that’s not so…” She searches for the right word. “I don’t know, gloomy?”
        “It’s an English pub. It’s supposed to be gloomy.” Still, she has a point. Seeing the same walls and many of the same people month after month isn’t exactly inspiring, though they’ve had other reasons to be enthusiastic. “Would you like to come along the next time we go to the studio? That’s somewhat dull as well, but it’s a completely different kind of boredom, doing take after take until it’s perfect.”
        “It wouldn’t be boring to me,” she points out. “I’ve never been in a recording studio before.”
        “Alright, we’ll pencil that in.”
        When they get to the bar, the crowd is heavier than usual for as early as it is. I hope that doesn’t mean they bail on us early too. Nothing is more dull than playing to an empty house. At this point though, he’s happy to see some familiar faces as Akira waves in his direction. Hanako merely gives a shy smile, but at least she looks comfortable.
        “So you’re back already? How was it up there?” he asks as he walks up to the table.
        Emi pokes him in the side. “Up where?”
        “Hokkaido,” Akira answers. “It was quiet, and dull, and exactly what we needed.”
        “So when are you taking off again?” He notices that Hanako averts her eyes on this question, as if that would change the answer.
        “Tomorrow night, I’m afraid. Doesn’t everything seem to happen too fast?”
        “Time flies when you’re having fun,” he points out, “but it beats the alternatives.”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Eighteen (complete

Post by NekoDude » Sun Jun 14, 2015 9:09 pm

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

2007-10-15

        I hate endless night. The flight takes fourteen hours, but crosses eight time zones. Sunrise also comes later in post-equinox Inverness than in Sendai. Thus, it was dark when she left, and will still be dark for a while to come when she lands. Good thing they serve jet lag remedy on the flight, even if it is blended. Her watch says midnight but her brain says it should be well past sunrise. Meanwhile, dry air and low pressure combine to make everything taste funny, leaving her unable to properly enjoy a single malt.
        “I’m sorry,” the flight attendant informs her, “we have run out of that selection. However, we do have Crown Royal.”
        Shit, I guess I can put up with Canuck whiskey for now. Two more hours to go. Akira merely nods.

***

        “I will now suspend the ‘no phone use in class’ rule for five minutes,” Mutou informs everyone, “so you can all let your families know just how wonderfully you are doing.”
        Voice mail? E-mail? That’s doing it the hard way. Hisao sends a photo of his hand-written report card to his mother while some others choose not to document their conditions so thoroughly. He has nothing to hide, since he had already announced that it wasn’t going to be perfect across the board. He also notices that amidst the noise and chaos, Takashi has decided to make a nuisance of himself to Molly, who has already stashed away her report card. Whoever she may answer to, she evidently isn’t eager to deal with them presently.
        “So how did you do?” Takashi asks her in a tone that indicates he’s not referring to her grades.
        “Better than you, I’m sure,” Molly responds in an equally snarky tone.
        “Is that so? I heard you’re relying on classmates to get those good scores.” The emphasis on the last word makes sure everyone in the room knows what Takashi is really getting at.
        The skittering of the chair against the floor is enough to let anyone who wasn’t watching know that Hisao has gotten out of his own seat, now in the front row, and is closing the distance to the scene. He taps Takashi on the shoulder from behind. “I believe the lady would appreciate it if you gave her some space,” he says calmly.
        “You do, huh?” Takashi’s sneer turns to half a grin as he turns around. “Glad to know I’m not the only one who got played.”
        Molly speaks softly. “«You know nothing, Takashi Maeda.»” She follows with the big stick when she grabs the front of Hisao’s sweater vest and pulls him in close for a quick, chaste kiss before letting him go.

        Akira snaps to wakefulness when the plane goes through an odd lurching motion, then there is a bump. The passenger cabin is full of voices as they decelerate dramatically. We must have landed. She is in no particular hurry to fight her way off the plane, as the baggage carousel does its job at the same rate regardless. Nevertheless, she puts a hand to the ground the moment she steps off the ramp, happy to be on terra firma once again.
        As she proceeds to the baggage carousel, she can see her parents huddling on the other side of the barrier, waiting for her to exit. She positions herself to grab her bags quickly, rather than waiting for them to go all the way around the belt after coming down the chute, then hurries to join them.
        “You look well,” is how her mother greets her. “Sixteen hours in a tin can and not a hair out of place.”
        “It was only fourteen hours,” Akira corrects her, “and since when do you like my hairstyle?”
        “Since I realized how liberating short hair can be,” Karla announces as she drops the hood she has been wearing to defend against the early morning cold, revealing her new bob cut. “I have been converted.”
        “Don’t let her fool you,” Hiroyuki grumbles, but there is a hint of a smile under his gruff mask. “She got it cut because it was fried by too many perms. She cried about it for days.”
        “Hmph,” Karla says. “He won’t let me keep any secrets, will he?”
        Nor is he any good at keeping his own. Akira can see him scuffing his feet on the ground as he walks, and knows exactly what it means when her mother takes the driver’s seat.

***

        “You do not seem to understand, Miss Ibarazaki,” the HR director says while smiling unnervingly – more like a wolf showing its teeth than a display of friendship. “This is not a request, but a requirement. Being able to drive is a necessary function of your job.”
        “But – but you know I have problems with that,” Emi stammers while looking in every possible direction other than the face of the woman wearing the wolf snarl. “I, like…”
        “Need hand controls, yes. We are entirely prepared to accommodate this requirement, as well as enrolling you in a driving school so you can learn from someone who knows these techniques specifically.” The smile softens and looks a bit more human, but still seems vaguely menacing. “You see, that’s what we do around here. We solve problems.”

***

        Hanako is generally either the first or last out the door at the end of class. Today, she’s last. To her surprise, Lilly is waiting in the hall.
        “Hello, Lilly,” she says to announce her presence. “How are you d-doing today?” Since their tea sessions more or less came to an abrupt end after the Hakodate trip, they haven’t had much time for idle chatter.
        Lilly turns to face her. “Not too bad, I’m just waiting for Tadao. We’re going up to the Radio Room to listen to international broadcasts.” And probably to play kissy-face. Hanako also notices that Lilly has not resumed wearing her cross, although she had graciously accepted it after being given a chance to cool off. She also never asked why her flask was not similarly returned.
        Hanako steps in close and gives her a hug. It takes a couple seconds, but Lilly returns the gesture. They are still in this position when Neko steps out of 3-2. “Well, that’s done,” she says to nobody in particular as she starts to walk away.
        “Stay strong, Lilly. Y-you always do for m-me.” Hanako breaks the embrace and shadows Neko, perhaps five meters behind and slowly closing. She moves faster than she used to.
        Hanako is about to close the gap entirely when Neko suddenly takes a step to her left, revealing a puddle of spilled liquid on the floor – probably coffee. Lacking the time to make the same move, Hanako takes a stutter-step just short of the spill, then leaps over it, placing her in front of Neko, who pulls up in surprise.
        “Fancy meeting you here,” Neko says. “You’re so quiet. How long have you been following me?”
        I guess she didn’t notice me when she stepped out. Hanako gestures back at room 3-2 down the hall, and notices that Lilly is already gone. “W-what did you mean by ‘that’s done’?”
        “I went in there to campaign for my job on the Emergency Response Team, but I ended up resigning instead when Miyagi laid out her plans for weekly disaster drills. I just don’t have time for them, between therapy and swimming and Radio Club, and… well…” She shrugs.
        Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. No need to explain.
        “I’m still a Reserve, meaning they can call on me if they can find me, but I’m not obligated to make myself available otherwise,” she continues as she resumes walking, assuming Hanako will follow. “Speaking of Radio Club, the invitation is still open if you want to join. It appears the expectation of joining the ERT has been lifted, if that was part of what was holding you back.”
        “Th-thanks, I will c-certainly consider it.”
        “No pressure. We’ve got our required five once again. Still, the test is this Saturday, so if you want to schedule it, I need to know by tomorrow. Oh, you might want to read Hideki’s apology letter, which I had forgotten all about. It’s cute, and it sounds like he thinks you’re cute, too.” Neko’s face and eyes seem to be adding, ‘because you are,’ causing Hanako to blush.
        They walk in silence for a bit, Hanako still struggling to adjust to the fact that Neko has gone from slow-of-foot to dancing around like a midfielder. She even does a little spin move to dodge an oncoming student too busy staring at his phone, giving him a small but probably deliberate nudge to remind him to keep his head up. This time, Hanako was not screened from the hazard and avoids him easily. She’s more agile than Emi, who would have just run him over, though she’s not near as fast.
        “So where are we going?” Neko asks, even though she seems to be leading.
        “I – I don’t know, I just d-don’t feel like being alone right now.”
        “Yeah, I know the feeling. I think we can solve that problem.” Neko breaks into song, badly.

        «A bottle of white, a bottle of red
        Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead»


        It’s not that the performance is confusing. The lyrics are perfectly intelligible, but the melody is far from it, if you could call it a melody. All that really matters is that she seems eager to drink and hang out, much to Hanako’s relief. I feared I might end up drinking Suntory Red with Kenji.

        «Third verse, same as the first.
        Just last night, I was reminded of just how bad it had gotten,
        And just how sick I had become.»
Last edited by NekoDude on Tue Sep 22, 2015 3:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Nineteen (complete

Post by NekoDude » Tue Jun 16, 2015 1:15 pm

CHAPTER NINETEEN

2007-10-20

        Neko’s phone chimes. “He’s right on time. Let’s go see what we’ve got for the day.”
        “Mmm.” Hisao nods as he chugs the remainder of his coffee, then jumps to his feet. I hope it’s not the Fit.
        Out front of the gate, Ben is waiting for them in a copper kei car – a Daihatsu Move, to be exact. They climb in, Neko up front and Hisao in the back, and start down the hill toward the Shanghai.
        “So you got a new car?” Neko asks Ben.
        “Nope, you did.” He glances at her and smiles. “Your Mum sold the Fit and bought you this.”
        “Sold it? It seems like she just got it.”
        “Yeah, but it did what it was bought to do, and the restaurant uses it practically all the time, so we just made it permanent. Technically, it’s mine now, but I’m still leasing it to them. You won’t catch me driving it.”
        “I have to admit I’m relieved,” Hisao says with obvious relief from the back seat. “I never liked left hand drive.”
        “Left hand drive is perfectly alright – when driving on the right side of the road. It’s what I grew up with. When driving on the left though, the sight lines are all screwed up. They like it because they get out on the curb side when delivering. Anyhow, we’re here.” Ben puts the car into Park, sets the brake, and removes his seat belt. “Just bring it back here when you’re done with it.” After stepping out, he waits for Hisao to get in and adjust everything, which doesn’t take long because they are roughly the same size.
        “Is there anything special I need to know?” Hisao asks as he checks out the controls.
        “Not really,” Ben answers. “Treat it like a plain old automatic and don’t worry when you can’t feel or hear it shift, because it never will. It’s a CVT.”
        “What time do you need it back?”
        “Huh? Oh, I don’t, I’ll get a ride after work. Like I said, it’s her car, I’m just delivering it. The title and the insurance papers are in the glove box. Call Sally if you need more information, I have a whole fifteen minutes of experience with it.” Ben slaps the windowsill with his hand, waves, and disappears inside the restaurant.

        Hanako’s phone jumps to life, and she grabs it, knowing who it is just from the ringtone. «Good Girls Don’t».
        “Hey, have you already caught a van to town?” Neko is asking.
        “N-no, it’s not coming for another t-twenty minutes.”
        “We can give you a lift, then. We’re headed into the city ourselves.”
        Who exactly you do mean by ‘we’? It doesn’t matter though, Miura is thousands of kilometers away. “Y-yeah, thank you.”
        “Great! We’ll meet you in the courtyard in a few minutes then?”
        She rushes through the finishing touches of dressing, grabs sunglasses and a beret, and heads downstairs to meet up. To her relief, she finds that ‘we’ consists of Neko, Hisao, and a red bicycle. She follows them out to past the front gate, and around to a small car she hasn’t seen before. Hisao opens the hatchback, pops the front wheel off of the bike, and fits it in back. The seat behind the driver is folded down to allow for this, so she climbs in on the other side.
        “S-so whose car is this?” she asks as they get under way.
        “Mine,” Neko replies, pointing at herself with her thumb.
        “I d-didn’t know you h-had a car.”
        Neko turns and looks over her shoulder with an amused expression. “Neither did I, until about fifteen minutes ago. Mum bought it to replace the blue car she just sold to the restaurant, but she doesn’t like right hand drive. It’s not what I would have picked, but hey, it’s a car.”
        “So where are you g-going with just one bicycle?” It stands to reason that if they were going riding somewhere, they’d take two.
        Hisao fields this question. “Back to the shop where we got it. Some modifications are required to minimize the chances of crashing this one.”
        The trip into the city takes less time than it would in the van, since there are no stops to drop off or take on passengers. She also gets delivered straight to the building where the test is taking place.
        “Give me a call when you get done with your test, and we’ll join you, whether to celebrate or commiserate,” Neko says as they pull over to let her out. “If for some reason I don’t answer, try him.”
        Inside, they wait for the doors to be unlocked. There are four possible tests, and three rooms, so those who are here for the first time are a bit apprehensive about missing the call. Another girl, apparently also a first-timer, approaches a group of three middle-aged men.
        “Excuse me,” she asks, “but how exactly does this work? Do we just wait here and they call our names, or…”
        “What is your name?” one of them asks as he grabs his clipboard.
        “Daidouji. Iwanako Daidouji.”
        He skims the list. “Oh, you’re taking two today, huh? You’re ambitious. Just wait until they call for Fourth Class,” he says while waving at one of the doors, “then let them know when you sign in that you’re doubling up so they can score your test as soon as you’re done, and send you on to the next room if you pass. If you don’t tell them, they’ll hold all results until the last test is scored. Normally we have a second session, but there wasn’t enough interest today, so you’ll start the second test immediately after the first. Don’t worry, you’ll still get your full time if you need it.”
        She bows. “Thank you.” She takes a seat near the door that was indicated, and is the first one in when the call goes out for Fourth Class. After signing in, she speaks quietly to the test proctor, who just nods and gestures at a connecting door to the next room.
        The tests are brought in by one of the three men who had been seated at the table earlier, and passed out by the proctor. “There will be no talking, please, unless called upon or unless you come up to my desk,” he informs everyone. “Make sure your phones are on vibrate, and know that if you exit the testing area, you will be deemed to have completed your test. It will not be given back to you for any reason. Good luck everyone, and you may begin.”
        Hanako is the third person to take her test up to the front, and is not at all surprised that Iwanako is one of the two that finished before her. The same man who brought in the tests initially lets himself into the room quietly and catches Iwanako’s attention, beckoning her into the second room. She must have passed.
        Hanako, on the other hand, has to wait for the last person in the room to finish, and their test to be scored, before finding out the results. Each person is called up in turn to receive their results privately, but it is easy to read in their reactions whether they passed or failed. She is called up fifth.
        “You have passed,” the proctor tells her quietly. “You answered all but three questions correctly. Please sign here.” He hands her a certificate once she has done so, and she heads back into the lobby area to give Neko the good news.
        “We’re not done just yet,” Neko informs her on the call, “we’re still writing up the specs. It should only take another ten or fifteen minutes though. Are you good to wait that long, or perhaps would you like us to meet you somewhere?”
        “N-no, that should be fine.” A fair number of people are just milling around, whether they are waiting for friends or have time to kill before their transit arrives, so she doesn’t have to wait alone.
        The door for the Third Class test opens, and its small cadre streams out. Iwanako is at the point, carrying two certificates and a broad grin. “Woo!” she says to the test official holding the door open. “Too bad my boyfriend can’t be here to see this.”
        “Maybe you can get him down here for the next time,” the man offers. “We’re always happy to enlarge the club.”
        She steps out of the way to let the others pass. “Actually, he has a license already, and this was sort of his idea. He pointed out that if I’m going into media studies, it can’t hurt to know my way around broadcast gear, and it helps to start on amateur gear.”
        “He’s right. Broadening your skill set is seldom a bad idea.”
        After consulting a schedule, she takes a seat facing toward the front façade, not far from Hanako. “So how did you do?”
        Hanako glances around to make sure there isn’t someone else this might have been addressed to, but there is nobody. “I f-finished a few minutes after you. I p-passed. How hard is the n-next test?”
        “There are some bits in there about antenna tuning and standing wave ratio and things like that, but it’s not too bad. It’s stuff you really should know if you’re going to set up your own rig.”
        “Oh, I s-see.” Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for that.
        Fifteen minutes of information exchange and idle chatter later, Hanako’s phone vibrates. She forgot to take it out of silent mode. ‘See you in 5’, it says.
        “Thank you for your c-company,” she says, “but my pickup is on its way.”
        “Yeah? It’s getting time for me to go out there as well,” Iwanako says as she stands. “My bus should be coming around in oh, eight minutes or so.”
        They head out together into the October chill, both buttoning their coats along the way, and wait in the shelter of the bus stop.
        The copper car pulls to the curb beyond the bus turnout, as it must. Hanako waves goodbye to her new friend and heads toward it, climbing in the back alongside the bicycle.
        “Do you know her?” Neko asks with an odd tone.
        “Umm, not before t-today,” Hanako replies. “She was getting a l-license too.”
        “Bloody hell,” Hisao mutters. “She could have told me.” His phone buzzes, and he hands it to Neko. “Could you read it for me?”
        “I didn’t even know there was an emoji for squinting with your tongue sticking out,” Neko says. “Otherwise it just says ‘leapfrogged you, I’m a Third Class’. From you-know-who.”
        “Hanako,” Hisao asks, making eye contact with her via the rear view mirror, “do you mind if we celebrate your achievement nearer to home? I could really use a drink or two right now, and then I won’t be fit to drive. I suspect Neko could use a couple herself.”
        “I could indeed,” she confirms, “but I think we both want a bit more than wine and that’s all we have right now. We’ll have to stop by the ranch if we want something more, and… well, dogs.”
        Hanako pulls out both of her ‘licenses’, pausing to read which has her birth backdated two years, then passes it forward. “P-pick a store. I can buy.”
        “This is damn good,” Neko says while inspecting the card closely. “I know it’s a fake because you’re not from Yamagata, but it’s still impressive. You’re not expecting this to pass in the hands of a cop, are you?”
        “N-no,” Hanako says, passing forward the real one. “I know better.”
        Neko passes both cards back over her shoulder. “That’s good, but you really should keep them better separated. It could be very awkward if you were to produce the wrong one, no matter what you needed it for. There!” she exclaims, pointing at a sign. “They’ll have top shelf stuff.” They pull into the parking lot in front of the liquor store. “I hate paying retail for stuff we sold them, but I don’t see a better option right now. Here’s my card. Get a bottle of Grey Goose for us, and whatever you want for yourself. We can get mixers at the restaurant.”

***

        “No, you didn’t get it wrong,” Hisao says to Hanako as the trio sips clandestinely mixed screwdrivers. “It would be nice from my perspective if she could be a little quieter about the whole situation, but she kinda needs to use me as a shield.”
        “B-but the other day, in class, when Molly –” Hanako starts.
        Neko is nodding. “That was actually my idea. She has been getting a lot of harassment from Maeda, so we’re all doing whatever it takes to mess with his mind, including reinforcing rumors that she’s seeing both of us.”
        “S-so she’s not…” Hanako wags her finger back and forth between the other two.
        “No, she’s not actually with him.” Neko blinks slowly. How much do you really want to know? When Hanako unexpectedly does not avert her gaze, Neko continues. “She is with me, though.” Are you actually getting a thicker skin, or is it just the booze?
        “You mean y-you both…” The finger wags again, and they both nod.
        “We’d appreciate it if you’d keep it under your hat,” Hisao says, “but yes, we both have girlfriends.”
        “And each other,” Neko hastens to add.
        Hanako reacts by chugging the remainder of her drink, and the other two do likewise before all three glasses disappear momentarily into the U-bend at the back of the booth.

***

        All three are visibly wobbly by the time they leave the Shanghai with a takeaway bag concealing their misdeeds. Hisao steers them toward the car.
        “I thought you s-said you couldn’t d-drive,” Hanako objects.
        “I can’t, but we still have to haul the bicycle back up the hill,” he points out, “and you want your whisky out of the back, right?”
        “I thought they were going to r-rebuild the bike.”
        “No, they changed my mind,” Neko admits. “It’s not a bad bike, but it’s also not well suited for the kind of equipment I wanted, so we started over. Hey, do you want to use it?”
        “Y-you don’t need it?”
        Neko chuckles a little, then puts her hand over her mouth before she makes too much noise. “What am I going to do with it, lend it to Molly or Mariko?”
Last edited by NekoDude on Fri Sep 04, 2015 12:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twenty (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Wed Jun 17, 2015 5:45 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY

2007-10-24

        Hiroyuki’s head pops out of a momentarily opened door. “Akira, dear, could you join me in my office for a moment?”
        Akira eyeballs the distance to the low glass table in front of her before springing, accurately placing the tumbler there while maintaining enough momentum to also get to her feet from the equally low couch.
        “Problems?” she asks as she crosses the ground to the den converted for his use.
        “You could say that.” He closes the door behind her as she enters. “I really hate to do this to you,” he says quietly, sitting next to her on the loveseat rather than taking a spot behind his desk as she expected. “I’m afraid I have to request that you keep the liquor out of your mother’s sight, just as I have had to do for the last six years. I thought maybe she was ready to face it, but I can see that look she gets when she sees you sipping. You can drink in here, or in your own room, or out there any time she isn’t home, as I have no moral objections. I just don’t want to make her life any harder.”
        Akira gravely nods her understanding. “Then I suppose I’d better go collect the one on the table.”
        “No, no, don’t make it obvious. Finish that one, but then just make it disappear. If you need a private refrigerator, we’ll move that one until we can get another.” He waves at a fairly large unit that currently holds up a television that serves as a video conferencing system. “I’ve been meaning to wall-mount that telly for some time, maybe you can help me with that?”
        “I don’t need my own refrigerator.” At least not one that size. “And why go bolting things to walls now, when you have to move it all across the Irish Sea in a few months?”
        “Because I’ll probably let it go with the house, as it’s already cabled through a drop in the wall and all. Besides, that’s getting to what I really wanted to discuss with you. You see, I’m not moving to Ireland, Northern or Republic.”
        Akira looks baffled. “I thought you just said you’re planning to sell the house.”
        “We are. It has really been too much house for us for some time now, but you see, it goes much deeper than that. Your mother was always reluctant to live in Northern Ireland. She fears things could get ugly in the same way we fear they could get ugly here if the Nationalist Party gets its way. The difference is, we’d be sitting right in the hot zone.”
        “Which means…”
        “Which means we have to pick a side, not try to sit on the fence.” Hiroyuki sighs and runs a hand through his thinning hair. “But I’m not willing to move to Ireland, nor face a commute from a county far from the border every morning. So, we aren’t moving there at all. They can either have me come in remotely, as I so often do lately, or not at all.”
        Akira nods. “I can understand your difficulty. It may be the country most like this one, but it’s still another country. You know, if we’re going to actually talk business, I want the rest of that drink for my own benefit. Would you like me to bring you a glass as well?”
        His eyes roll momentarily in thought, then he nods once. “Thank you.”
        As Akira collects the bottle and another glass from the kitchen, Karla stops her. “I hope he’s not on to asking you to stay yet again.”
        “Not yet, but it’s nice to know you understand where my priorities are.” Akira gives her mother a little kiss on the cheek, retrieves her own glass from the living room, and heads back into the den-office.
        “Did she spot you?”
        “Of course, but as you asked, I made it look natural. Since I needed another glass, that pretty much covered my tracks.” She uncorks the bottle and pours into his glass until he signals to stop, then fills her own to roughly the same level out of respect before replacing the cork.
        He takes a sip from his and allows her time to do the same before picking up where he left off. “As you have almost certainly noticed – you’re observant, that’s a big part of what makes you so valuable to this company – I don’t trust my own body any more. It makes me grit my teeth, but I feel safer with your mother behind the wheel than me.” He pauses, and Akira winces. The obvious need not be said: he must be getting bad, as Karla is a pretty piss-poor driver. “Even if we lived near the office, I think I’d only feel secure driving locally for one, maybe two years at most.”
        “I don’t think I’d want to face their van drivers every day either, the crazy bastards.”
        “Not to mention the immigrants who forget to stay on their own side of the road,” he points out. “It happens a lot more there than it does here.”
        “So what’s the plan, maybe find a little two bedroom here in Inverness so you can keep your own office?”
        “Well really, I was hoping… how’s the house in Natori holding up?”
        “It’s doing fine, it’s the one in Hakodate that is looking a bit unloved lately. I haven’t been able to get more than a few days up there at a time lately, so it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”
        “Hmm. I’ll have to think about that one too. It would only be temporary in the case of Natori, until I could find a little place of my own, but…”
        “Wait, what’s this talk about of your own? You’re more than welcome to stay in your own house in Natori, and of course the Hakodate place is quaint, but fully available to you as well.”
        “Don’t you think you’ll get a little tired of me being underfoot after a couple months? I’m not talking about taking a contract as you have.” His face takes on a somber look. “I only plan to move once more in my life if I can help it.”
        “But what about Mother? Are you saying –”
        “She won’t go. She’ll visit, but she won’t stay. It’s not her home. Conversely, this isn’t my home, and I want to die in the land where I was born.”
        “It’s not like you’re going to drop dead any time soon, Father. I mean you were just mentioning yourself about being able to drive a bit for another year or two –”
        “I know.” He cuts her off with a wave. “But right now, I’m still in control of myself to an adequate degree, and I want to have all my ducks in a row before that ceases to be the case. Also, it should come as no great surprise that doctors in Japan are better equipped to deal with my condition, as it is much more common there. But now you see, that’s why I was pushing to have you move here. You could have my position, but if you decline it now, it will not be available again.”
        “But I don’t know anyone in Ireland, other than the other people in the office who would be moving, and frankly I’m in no hurry to leave the one person I’ve actually felt right with. She’s not exactly in a position to move at the moment.” I don’t think she’d terribly miss her homeland, but she needs to graduate first.
        “I could hold the position for another few months by remote.” They both know perfectly well when the Japanese school year ends. “After that, well, it’s up to you – and Lilly as well. I am operating in the belief that she will want to go wherever you do.”
        That is a reasonable assumption to make, short of actually asking, except… “You know, she and that boyfriend seem pretty serious to me.”
        “She does talk about him rather a lot.” Oh good, she’s still talking to you the way she did before. “You think it’s real, then?”
        “Let’s just say I’ve never seen anything like it. I always thought she preferred boys older than herself, but he acts the part even though he isn’t.”
        “So you’ve met him more than in passing?”
        “Oh yes, I’d say we’re pretty well acquainted at this point. Without him, I never would have tried this.” She holds up the bottle of Yamazaki she brought with her from Japan, which they are currently drinking. “He’s a good kid. Level-headed, considerate, determined, all good things for someone looking to work in Emergency Services. I was much more worried about the way his sister clung to his side, but that turned out to be a misunderstanding – he was the one keeping a close watch on her. In any case, she’s doing fine without him hovering over her, so it has worked out all around.”
        “The day you find yourself getting whisky recommendations from high school students is when you know you’re no longer hip,” he says mockingly.
        “Oh yeah? How does that compare to getting them from your children?”
        “I never claimed that I was still hip,” he points out. “In any case, I don’t mind the tip. I suspect this is much easier to find than what is shipped there from here.”
        “And half the price,” she agrees with a big nod. “I imagine it would be the other way around up here.”
        “And you’d have a problem with that? It’s not like I’m asking you to move to America and drink Jack Daniels or anything.”
        “They drink more Scotch than we do,” she points out, “but then, there are sixty times as many of them.” She bends to his obvious attempt to steer the conversation back on topic. “I will think about it, and I will discuss it with the relevant parties. Just don’t expect any quick answers.”
        Hiroyuki nods gratefully. “That’s all I can ask. Do what is best for you and yours. I’m quite sure the company can take care of itself. It always has.”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twenty-One (comple

Post by NekoDude » Fri Jul 03, 2015 1:07 am

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

2007-10-27

        “Do you want to drive now and get the feel of it,” Hisao asks Hanako, “or wait until we get there? It is residential at that end, so you won’t be under huge pressure to figure it out.”
        “I can w-wait.” She helps lift the bicycle into the back of the car, and Hisao places his bag alongside. No, not the bicycle – her bicycle. They’re taking it in to get the original chainring and cranks put back on, and undo the reversal of the brake cables. Neko is fond of her odd, non-circular chainring and wants it moved to her new ride.
        Neko gets in up front, having already expressed her disdain at any thought that she’d want to remain out of sight, given their destination. “It’s my car,” she had said, “and it would be best that everyone remember that.”
        The drive north is filled with an odd sort of tension, which is accentuated rather than relieved by the fact that Hisao would rather turn on the radio than suffer the silence, even if he really does care about traffic reports. They pull right up to the curb in front of their destination, and he already has the car switched off before he remembers that it’s not staying. He gives Neko what must surely be an awkward kiss, then steps out to retrieve his bag from the back before walking away.
        Hanako makes her way around to the freshly vacated seat, and has to adjust everything to her liking. “I’m sorry this is t-taking so long.”
        “I don’t want to rush away anyhow,” Neko says, still watching out her window on the curb side. “I’m kinda hoping she sees us.”
        She does. Both Neko and Hanako watch as Iwanako walks out to meet him, and spots the hard-to-miss copper car. She gestures in their direction, as does Hisao, then her hand goes to her mouth. Hanako is not certain, but believes she is recognized before Iwanako turns away.
        “Right,” Neko says with a nod, “now we can leave.” First though, she takes a moment to log their current location into the navigation system before pulling up the directions to their destination.
        The mood is considerably lighter by the time they reach the cycle shop. Hanako is still walking the bike through the door when both Neko and the clerk exclaim “It’s you!” and rush forward to shake hands.
        “Ah, thank you,” says the clerk to Hanako before taking the bicycle and the gear into the back. He reappears shortly after with a claim ticket. “It’s going to be about forty-five minutes.”
        “Hungry?” Neko asks Hanako, waiting only on the briefest of nods. “Stop me when you see something you like,” she says while holding the door open. They end up settling for noodle bowls, as everything is crowded.
        “What did he m-mean by ‘it’s you’?” Hanako finally asks as they take seats and wait for the soup to cool. She scoops a healthy dollop of hot spices into hers as Neko watches, bemused.
        “It’s a bit of a joke from last time. You see, I wasn’t there when the bike was purchased. I wasn’t there when they delivered the first batch. I wasn’t there when Mum got two more, either. They were starting to doubt that I actually existed, so when I showed up in the flesh, ‘it’s you!’ was the most coherent response they could come up with. I tell you, it’s weird being famous in places I’ve never been before.”
        I certainly don’t envy you for that. I’m not sure I could live with the feeling that I don’t know anyone, but they all know me.
        Hanako nods as she starts in on her noodles, then points over Neko’s shoulder at a passing group of men in leather jackets and pompadours, carrying a boom box straight out of 1985. They stake out a large section of pavement and begin to breakdance, as the music seeps through the glass.
        “It’s a strange way to advertise,” Neko says as they pick up and move on, “but it’s effective.”
        “Advertise what?” Hanako mumbles, holding her hand over a mouthful of swollen udon before swallowing. “F-fashion?”
        “Not exactly.” Neko holds her extended pinky under her nose as if scooping powder, and sniffs. “Dancing while dressed like a greaser is mostly legal, except when they cause a traffic hazard. Those who want things know what they’re offering.”
        “B-but they just got up and left.”
        “Not before they handed out business cards. They’ll be getting calls pretty soon. If you just stand around and watch, that helps give them cover, so don’t feel bad about enjoying the show.”
        “Oh,” Hanako says with a note of disappointment. Some of the magic has gone out of it, even if it was fun to watch.
        “Hey, don’t get that look like they’re suddenly agents of evil or something. They’re no saints, to be sure, but most of them are alright.”
        “Y-you know them?”
        “Those three in particular, no, but I’ll take my Pops’ word for it.”
        “So your f-family knows them, then?”
        “Knows them? Shit.” Neko fishes for the last noodles in her bowl before pulling out her phone and thumbing through an index. She hands the phone to Hanako, and the screen bears an image of someone dressed much the same, atop a motorcycle. “He was one.”

        “Cut!” Danny shouts, waving his arms and sticks over his head. “I can’t play this kit, it just doesn’t feel right. I keep catching rims and reaching for toms that aren’t there. I’ll use the cymbal stands, but everything else has to go.”
        “Whatever, man.” The engineer stops the recording and takes another drag off his cigarette from his side of the glass, making Emi further regret having to share the room with him. “It’s your time and money.”
        “That it is. Dice, could you pack this out while we fetch mine?” He locks eyes with Izumi, and she follows him out.
        Daisuke sets to breaking down the drum hardware, piling it in a corner. The studio often holds five or six musicians, so there is plenty of space at the periphery when there are just three.
        Emi takes the opportunity to get out of the smoke-laden control room, and steps into the main recording area. Daisuke hands her loose cymbals as he takes them off the stands. “If we hurry, we can probably sneak in a sandwich and a coffee before they come back.”
        The pair is having their vending machine feast when one of the assistants taps Daisuke on the arm. “How many toms is he bringing in? I have to start setting up microphones.”
        “Umm, let me think.” His finger wags and his eyes roll as he mentally goes through the setup. “Six, if he doesn’t bring the timbales. Eight, if he does.”
        “Fuck, I’m gonna have to run another cable snake.”
        “Oh, and two snares.” Daisuke’s arms wave in the direction of the various pieces in his mental map. “Ride, crash, crash with an inverted splash on top, china, and the usual toys. I don’t know if he’s using the synth pads or MalletKat, but he hasn’t been lately.”
        “Great.” The assistant mutters something semi-intelligible about ‘Neil fucking Peart’ as he walks away.
        “Should we help him?” Emi asks between bites.
        “Nah, he’s just being a little bitch. That’s what we pay them for, not to smoke cigarettes and tell us how great everything sounds.”
        “Is there usually this much tension in studio?”
        “No, but then we typically book a much smaller place for an entire day, with an engineer working alone. We’re changing things up in hopes of doing a bit less overdubbing today. I still think we’re going to end up remastering it ourselves, as I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in the smokestack in the back.”
        “Yeah, oh my God… is there somewhere else I could watch from?” That smoke is gagging me.
        “We could set up a chair for you over by the drums we just tore down. I hope you brought earplugs.”
        I’ll stuff bread in my ears if I have to.

        “Wh-what the –” Hanako gazes in confusion.
        “Yeah, that’s what I said the first time I saw one, too.” She climbs into the seat of the recumbent bicycle frame up on stands, and reaches for the pedals, giving Michio, the shop’s resident bicycle tech, his first good look at her new leg. The stretch is quite a bit too long.
        “Oh, I, uh – hmm. I’ve never had to deal with that before,” he stammers. You’re sure adventurous, aren’t you. Cycling is not the activity I’d expect you to take up.
        “What, I’m not that short.”
        “So, uh, it looks like this frame is not going to work.” He starts to remove the frame from the stand. “You’re still keen on the whole coaster brake idea? It’s really limiting our options, you know.”
        “I thought we had that settled, between a mid-drive and an eccentric bottom bracket.”
        “Chains stretch,” he points out as he hangs the frame on the wall, “and the longer the driveline, the bigger the problem. Besides, I’m pretty sure you’ll regret it the first time you have to take off with the cranks in a weak position because you couldn’t run them backward. Using a conventional chain routing and a freewheel would also mean we don’t have to modify the frame, so you’d get it much sooner. You’re an aspiring engineer, no?” He is a bit surprised to get nods from both girls, but continues. “Then you know all about the difference between theory and practice.”
        “What about the braking? I mean, trying to stop with front brakes alone is what earned me this.” She holds up her forearm, with its long, still angry-looking scar on the outside.
        “I wish I’d been here last week to bring this up, but I think we have an answer to that.” He pulls a simple one-speed bicycle down from the wall rack. “This.” He taps a thin, mostly trapezoidal box with levers which is attached to the handlebars. “It’s the wrong hand for you, but it comes in both types. See, one cable in, two cables out. It takes a little tuning, but it is much less fidgety than trying to keep a couple meters of chain at constant tension.”
        Neko looks surprised. “Oh, you’ve dealt with this before?”
        “One-handed braking? Sure I have. This bike practically lives here, because it gets treated rather roughly. It’s a polo bike.”
        “Polo?” Hanako asks. “D-doesn’t that need h-horses?”
        “Strictly speaking, yes,” he admits, “but we apply the name to all sorts of similar games. Some people use motorcycles, some use wheelchairs, but we use bicycles.”
        “We?” Neko asks with a raised eyebrow.
        “Yup. I have a match tonight.” He holds up a photocopied half-page flyer, which she takes. “The shop sponsors our team, and you’re welcome to come watch.”
        “I hate to disappoint you, but I already have plans for the evening,” Neko says with a shrug.
        “What about you?” he asks Hanako hopefully.
        “I – uh – it’s her car.”
        “If that’s the only obstacle,” Neko replies, “you can borrow the car.”
        “Hey, no pressure,” Michio says with his hands up, “we’ll be doing this every weekend from now until the end of November. Longer, if we win our league.” I wouldn’t mind having fans that aren’t either family or co-workers, though.
        Neko nods and deftly folds the flyer twice with the one hand and the crook of her elbow, then pockets it. I’m guessing she was born that way.
        “In that case, we’ll plan on catching a match, just not tonight.” She steers the conversation back on topic. “So if we were to scrap the whole mid-drive idea, what am I to do for gearing? I want enough for both sides of hills, I don’t want to go back to derailleurs, and although the Schlumpf option is very tempting, I like my weird chainring.”
        “I can understand why,” he says while glancing ever so briefly toward the aluminum leg. You only have one and a half power strokes per revolution. “Well, it’s not very patriotic of me to say so,” he says in a conspiratorial whisper, “but there is another tier above the Shimano Nexus 8, and you said you’re not the one paying for it, right?” He beckons them over to the catalog and turns to the glossy pages for the Rohloff Speedhub, causing both girls to lean in close, and eliciting a whistle from Neko and a one word reaction from Hanako.
        “Damn.”

***

        “You were impressed.” Neko is gesturing actively as she talks, though Hanako cannot spare her more than the briefest of glances as she drives. “I wonder, what made it so appealing to you? I had no idea you were into neat mechanical stuff.”
        “It was s-so –” Elaborate? No, that makes it sound excessive. Intricate? That will do for now. “– so intricate. Like a watch, only a lot b-bigger.”
        “That’s pretty much what jumped out at me too,” Neko confirms, “but I also thought ‘how very German’. I’ll have to think about it some more, and read up. German machinery is typically highly reliable, but also devilishly tricky – and expensive – to repair when it does fail.”
        “You’re p-probably right.” The hub alone costs as much as half a dozen cheap bicycles. “How much did it c-cost to set up that one?” Hanako points her thumb over her shoulder at the bike in the back.
        “Today? Nothing. I’ve only had it three and a half months, and all he did was put it back the way it was before they customized it for me. Besides, he was happy to do it for you, couldn’t you tell?”
        “I – I thought he had his eye on y-you.”
        “Of course he did, he’s building a custom bike for me. It’s part of his professional duty to look me over critically and make sure everything is going to work. That’s not the way he was looking at you. Did you catch the let-down in his face when I grabbed that flyer before you did?”
        “N-no, I - aah!” Hanako brakes suddenly to avoid someone pulling out of an alley without looking, and the driver behind them has the nerve to honk the horn. The bicycle slides forward, some part of it colliding noisily with the back of the rear seat that was not folded down, followed by the ping of spokes being plucked like strings.
        “Well, these brakes sure work.”

        “Mol-ly!” Neko intones in her best impression of a doorbell as she cracks the door to the Tea Room. “I brought a guest today.”
        Molly first smiles as Neko and Hanako cross the space, then looks conflicted. You got another one? Hanako pulls up halfway and takes time to get the feel of the room as currently laid out.
        “Oh no, not like that!” Neko says with a sneaky grin. “She’s here for the movies.” Leaning in close, she adds in a whisper, “She already knows about us – and she can drive.”
        “I l-like what you’ve done with the sp-space,” Hanako says while glancing at the chairs, blankets, and beanbags, “but I’d still like some t-tea.”
        Molly bows slightly and extends an arm toward the preparation area. “It’s your room too. Put on plenty of water in case others can’t resist.”
        Hanako doesn’t even try to hide when she produces a bottle of whisky from somewhere in the cabinet and adds a long pour to her cup.
        Neko whispers again. “So much for driving.”

***

        “The tapes, please.” Danny stands with hands outstretched, ruing every moment he is forced to stand in the smoke-saturated control room. “Then we’ll be out of your way.”
        “I haven’t even had a chance to normalize the levels,” the engineer protests.
        “That’s my problem now.” Danny beckons with two fingers on each hand as if to say ‘hurry up’. “If your attention to mixing is anything like your attention to micing, I’d sooner train a monkey for the job.”
        “Hey, if you have a problem with the way I work, you should have said –”
        “And what would that have accomplished, other than to make sure you butchered the tracks deliberately, rather than by simple incompetence and neglect?”
        “Fine then,” the engineer spits. “If you think you can do better, have at it.” As he ejects the three ADAT tapes, he flips them into the air and Danny gathers them in.
        “Thank you.” Danny gives a sarcastic bow. “I’d like to say it’s been a pleasure doing business with you, but I can’t. I just can’t.”
        “Was that really necessary?” Izumi asks him on the way to the truck.
        “No, and it’s unlikely to induce them to improve their game any, but it’s not just about the money. We could have gotten a lot more accomplished if they’d done their jobs and gotten out of our way. Next time, we’ll just rent the rehearsal space and bring our own decks. I wonder if we’ll even be able to use these.” He nods at the tapes in his hands. “If not, that amounted to an expensive rehearsal.”
        “Aren’t you taking this a little bit too seriously?” she asks him, a little bit cockeyed. “We’re weekend warriors, after all.”
        “Maybe you’re alright with that… but I’m not.”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twenty-Two (comple

Post by NekoDude » Fri Jul 17, 2015 4:46 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

2007-10-28

        Hisao lets himself into the room quietly, throws his coat over the hook by the door while slipping off his shoes, and does a Fosbury flop onto the bed, nearly dislodging the padded rails when the wave hits them.
        Neko looks up from her computer screen and turns to face him. “Trouble in paradise?”
        He speaks to the ceiling. “Did you want to cause drama? If so, you succeeded.”
        “Uh, no, not really. I just wanted to go to the bike shop, which I did. Remember, you were the one driving,” she reminds him.
        “Yeah, I suppose that was my mistake. I should have let Hanako drive – if not the whole way, then at least the last stretch. Doing the fire drill right under her nose is what set the whole thing off.”
        “Set what off, exactly?” She closes the lid on the laptop.
        “She thinks you’re bad for me, and that I stick around for the wrong reasons. She doesn’t seem to understand that she can’t get much more of me at this point, with or without you. I think she’s just tired of waiting, and likes having someone to blame things on.”
        “Don’t expect me to lend you the car so you can go see her. It’s not like you’re the only one who can drive it, and I do have places to go on my own. Besides, there’s a difference between accepting and assisting – and it’s pretty clear she doesn’t want my interference, even if it’s positive.”
        “No, you’re probably right. She’d find a way to spin it and use it against me. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.” He sighs loudly. “She said I’m afraid to grow up, and that’s why I stay in this juvenile relationship.”
        “Well, are you, and is it?”
        “A little on the first part, but shouldn’t I be? I mean, just a few months ago I thought I had no future. Now it’s almost on top of me. As for the second, I sure hope not. Even if it can’t stay like this forever, I like to think we do what we do for the right reasons. Is it juvenile just because we aren’t planning a wedding?” That seems to be my father’s mentality.
        “I’d like to think it means we’re being more adult, not getting ourselves in over our heads.” She walks herself over to the bed, wielding the chair as a crutch. Hisao hadn’t even noticed she wasn’t wearing the leg when he came in. “Come on,” she says, taking his hand. “I know what will make you feel better. Showers wash away more than dirt.”
        Doesn’t it bother you that just a few hours ago, I was in another girl’s arms? No, I suppose not – you probably were too. He is grateful that when the water runs over his head, she can’t see him cry.

        “I’ve been there, dear, I understand. Sometimes you have to stand your ground, and sometimes other people don’t like it.” Iwanako’s aunt sips tea through a straw at the very corner of her mouth, then sets back into prettying herself up. “Give things some time. They may settle out better than you expect. Long-term schemes and short-term anger rarely play well together.”
        “What do you know of it?” Iwanako manages to force through clenched teeth. “Everything worked out for you.”
        “For a little while, sure. Then that sweet, clever bastard had to work himself to an early grave.” She leans into the mirror, blinks, then backs off and applies a bit more mascara. “You know, he may be the only boy you know around here, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Just wait until you start University. You’ll get no shortage of attention.” She pouts, nods at the mirror, and starts to pack her makeup case. “I’m really sorry I can’t stick around and talk right now, but I’ve been planning this for weeks.”
        Iwanako follows her aunt into the living room to extend the conversation as long as she can. “He’s just running with all these negative influences, you know, and I can’t stand by and watch.”
        “You also can’t make his decisions for him, and some people have to learn by making their own mistakes.” They hug briefly, Mrs. Endo making sure not to let anything touch her face. “Why not put on some music? It always helped me. Now don’t wait up for me. With any luck at all, I won’t be back tonight.”
        As the door closes, Iwanako decides maybe she’s right. She prepares a damp cloth to wipe the heavy layer of dust that has settled over the sound system since her aunt stopped listening – apparently cochlear implants don’t do much for music – and finds an old record. «Violent Femmes». That sounds promising. She sets it to playing as loud as she can stand before heading off to the kitchen to pour herself some liquid medicine.
        Who knew she was into this stuff? It’s not normally Iwanako’s cup of tea, but then she’s not drinking tea, and it begins to grow on her. She’s fully immersed in both the mood and the music by the time she gets to the fourth song. She knocks back a shot in approval, then another, and another.

        «I take one, one, one cause you left me and
        Two, two, two for my family and
        Three, three, three for my heartache and
        Four, four, four for my headaches and
        Five, five, five for my lonely and
        Six, six, six for my sorrow and
        Seven, seven, n-n-no tomorrow and
        Eight, eight, I forget what eight was for but
        Nine, nine, nine for my lost God and
        Ten, ten, ten, ten for everything
        Everything, everything, everything»


        She makes it as far as ‘no tomorrow’ before becoming one with the floor and melting into it.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twenty-Thre (compl

Post by NekoDude » Thu Jul 23, 2015 12:08 am

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

2007-10-29

        What time is it?
        Iwanako glances around to see that there is sunlight on the other side of the curtains. She can also see (and smell) that she has left a rather nasty puddle on the floor, which will need immediate attention – if it has not already eaten through the varnish.
        Oh fuck, what day is it? She drags herself to her phone lying on the coffee table. Uh oh. The clock reads 7:32 am, Monday. I might as well do this now. There’s no telling what will happen when I try to stand up. She dials her aunt, but the call goes to voicemail.
        “I woke up feeling sick this morning. Could you let them know I’ll be in when I get done cleaning up after myself?” she recites carefully after the beep.

        “Dude.”
        Ah shit, I know that voice. How could he possibly sneak up on me? How did he even identify me to want to sneak up on me? Hisao slowly turns to find Kenji decked out not just in a trenchcoat, but two scarves. If he’s so cold, why does he hang out on the roof? “Yes?”
        “Which hand was it?”
        “Which hand was what?” He can sense this is going to be as frustrating as a discussion with Kenji usually is, full of innuendo and unstated assumptions.
        “The posing thing for that one chick. You know, the one who pushes the sleepy one down the stairs to protect her. Is it supposed to be a left hand or a right hand?”
        “You know Miura has been gone for two months, right? Still, I’m pretty sure she used to stop Suzu from falling down the stairs, or tried to, anyhow.”
        “Oh. Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things?” Kenji kicks at an invisible something on the ground in front of him before coming to a realization. “Hey, that crazy gaijin could use it, right?”
        “I suppose she could. Um, it would be a left hand.”
        “Oh. I guessed wrong.” He kicks at air a bit more. “I guess I have to spin all the fingers around then.”
        “You’ve already made one?” Hisao is now a little bit impressed. “What drove you to take on this project, anyhow?”
        “Well, it just sort of came up when we were drinking –”
        “We?” The question comes out more harshly than intended.
        “Yeah. Me and Ikezawa. She mentioned something about it, and, well, I kinda had the parts laying around for, ah, other purposes, and –”
        “Wait, you were drinking with Hanako?” This just keeps getting weirder and weirder.
        “Yeah, man. I don’t know how she does it, but she knows how to score the good shit. She’s a pretty cool dude, for a chick.”
        That’s a strange way of putting it, but at least it sounds respectful. “Yeah, she is.” Wait, she can score her own booze, and she drinks with you? I guess that’s better than drinking alone. “So what are you planning to do with this hand?”
        “Give it to the gaijin to test, I guess, as soon as I get done testing it myself.”
        “How…” Hisao aborts that line of questioning before it starts. I have a feeling I’d rather not know how you test it. “Er, then maybe you should know her birthday is coming up pretty soon. November 14, to be exact.”
        “Oh wow, so she’s gonna be, like… older, huh?”
        Brilliant deduction. “She’s going to be seventeen.” Suddenly he gets an idea. “Hey, you want to help me set up her surprise party? I can trust you to keep a secret, right?” Of all the people she might expect to be in on it, I’m pretty sure you’re not one of them.
        “Bros before hoes, man. You know I’m good.”

        Hanako makes the trip across the courtyard on wheels, although it is not the least bit necessary. She figures that if Neko is around, she’ll enjoy seeing the bicycle in use, and if not, Hanako can head down the hill without going back to her room. She proceeds slowly, ceding right-of-way to the least maneuverable. Upon arriving, she taps at the door with one knuckle.
        “Oh, hi!” Neko exclaims upon opening the door. She glances down at the bicycle. “How is that working out for you?”
        “It’s gr-reat. Everything seems so much f-faster than in a car.”
        “It should.” Neko holds up her scarred arm. “The consequences of collision are that much higher.” She steps out of the doorway, allowing Hanako to wheel the bicycle in. “Go ahead and put it on the rack. That will keep it out of the way. You know, something occurred to me. You’re a little taller than Snoozu.”
        Hanako looks back over her shoulder from the bike rack. “Y-yes?” That’s true, but I’m not sure where you’re going with this.
        “Maybe she’d care to trade bikes with you. She has the full-size version. If so, it wouldn’t bother anyone – ultimately, the entire fleet belongs to the same person, my Mum.”
        “I will k-keep that in mind.” I’d actually prefer to downsize though. I don’t have so much space. She slips out of her tiny black emo-Kitty backpack. I inherit some of the weirdest shit, but this time it’s a little bit appropriate. Removing a bottle slightly less than half full, she places it on the desk.
        Neko gives it a good look, even craning her neck to see around the label. “Is that the bottle from last Saturday? You’re nursing it longer than I would. Then again, I’d have to share it.”
        “Yeah. It’s sipping whisky, not s-slamming swill. I thought maybe you’d like to t-taste it.” You did pay for it, after all.
        Apparently it meets with Neko’s approval. “So Suntory knows how to make a blend that doesn’t suck. Huh. I was expecting a slightly less vile version of Red.”
        “Yeah, it’s not great, but it’s not b-bad either.” I wouldn’t waste it on Setou. He likes drinking turpentine.
        The door opens. “Hi babe,” Hisao says as he steps in, securing the chain lock as he does, then glancing at Hanako and reversing that last step. “Sorry, force of habit. Did the bike turn into a cat and come home on its own?”
        “No, we’re just keeping it out of the way for the moment.” Neko holds up her glass. “Care for a taste? It’s pretty decent.”
        He takes a moment to glance at the bottle on the desk. “Nah, I’m good. I’ve had that before. I’m looking for something a bit smokier.
        “We’re all out of cookies, so you’ll have to blaze it.” Neko nods toward the restroom.
        Hanako suddenly gets what they’re hinting at. “Oh! It’s y-your room, don’t worry about m-me.”
        “It’s not just for your sake,” Neko responds. “We always take it in there, or almost always, anyhow. El Jefe doesn’t have to ignore what he doesn’t detect.”
        “Care to join me?” he asks.
        “It seems a bit rude and unnecessary for us both to abandon a friend at the same time, so I’ll wait until you’re done.”
        Hisao shrugs and ducks into the restroom.
        “Does he d-do that much?” Hanako asks.
        “Not to my knowledge. It’s a bit of a surprise to me too, but I’m sure he’ll explain later. Something must have gotten to him.”
        When he does return, he doesn’t reek too badly of cannabis. He jumps up to take a seat on the rail of the bed, but as soon as Neko vanishes into the restroom for her turn, he jumps back down to whisper to Hanako. “I just ran into Setou,” he says, “and he agreed to set up a distraction for Neko’s birthday party. Are you willing to help?”
        The smoke scent comes a couple seconds behind his actual arrival, but it makes Hanako blink. It doesn’t bother her as much now that she knows what it is as it did when she would catch the same scent lingering on Miki, but it does draw her attention to just how close he really is. I suppose someone needs to watch Kenji and make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid. “Y-yeah, sure. It sounds like f-fun.”
        “Good, I’ll call you as soon as she goes to take her turn in the Radio Room, if you’re not still here.”
        Neko comes out of the restroom, presumably more quickly than he expected, because the sound of the door opening makes him jump. He heads for the desk to cover his tracks, and pours himself a small drink.
        “I thought you said you weren’t interested in that,” she points out.
        “Yeah, well, I changed my mind. I’m not taking much.”
        “Hey, who took over the station after you?”
        “Mariko – and she had Kenta along for the ride.”
        “Mmm.” Neko nods. “I guess I’ll head up early, it sounds like we might have to break out the cherry soda and she doesn’t have the key to that drawer. You’re both welcome to come along if you like.”
        “Thanks, but I have homework to do.” He turns to face Hanako. “I’m sure you do too, considering we are in the same class.”
        Neko nods again. “Must be tough being a third-year. Alright, I’ll catch you later.” She grabs a coat and heads out into the rapidly building darkness.
        “You’re welcome to stay,” he whispers to Hanako, “but look busy. She’ll be back, in a minute or ten.”
        “H-how do you know that?”
        He points at the keys still hanging from the back of the door.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twenty-Four (compl

Post by NekoDude » Tue Jul 28, 2015 7:08 am

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

2007-11-02

        Emi goes as quietly as she can about her business of changing legs under the table, hoping nobody particularly notices what she’s doing. If she is to get in a lunchtime run and lunch itself, she has to be out the door the moment they are released. Her fidgeting draws attention from today’s lecturer, however.
        “Miss Ibarazaki, is there a problem?”
        “Um, no, why?”
        “Because you’re bouncing around in your chair like someone dropped a ferret down your trousers.” This gets a snicker from the largely female student body. Pretty much the only boys studying this trade are those who realized – or someone realized for them – that they weren’t going to make it as full-fledged lawyers. Perhaps they are too slow, too lazy, or just plain autistic. “Have you even been following this lecture?”
        “Totally.”
        “Fine then, I suppose you could tell me what was on my last slide?”
        “All of it? There was a lot.”
        “No,” he says, “but a few salient points would be nice.”
        Emi nods. “Your first point was about how even little errors must be corrected, citing the case of Fuji v. Toshiba, where critical evidence was deemed inadmissible because of a misspelled warrant. It’s totally bogus, but that’s the way the game is played. The second was that we have to get over our fear of contradicting our bosses. If they make a mistake, we not only should point it out, but we must, although we need to be careful about where and when. The third was –”
        He raises a hand and gives her a bow. “I concede your point. Could you just try to be a bit less of a distraction?”
        “I didn’t mean to be. I was just trying to put my legs on.” She pouts without even realizing it.
        “You… what.”
        “Like…” She pulls one of the freshly exchanged legs from beneath her chair. “…like I have to put myself back together, and it’s almost time for l–” She doesn’t get to finish the word before a chime sound comes over the intercom, followed by an announcement that the catering truck has arrived and is waiting in the underground parking structure. Emi is the last one out, still adjusting her fittings while everyone else is stampeding through the doors.
        “May I speak with you, Miss Ibarazaki?” the lecturer asks quietly, his voice carrying easily across the room occupied by only the two of them.
        She bounces his way. “Certainly.”
        “I will file a request to change the dress code, effective Monday, from ‘must wear socks’ to ‘no bare feet’. Since I believe you are the only one lacking feet, this should allow you to make your change at a more appropriate time without changing the rules for anyone else. Would that work for you?”
        “Totally. I’m sorry about being a bother.”
        “It happens, and we’re fixing it. You see, that’s what we do around here. We solve problems.”

        Lilly feels the fresh air cross her face, happily trading the warmth of the stairwell for its brisk evening coolness. She crosses the roof arm-in-arm with Tadao, who can determine the direction from the lights mounted over the door, although she is sure he knows it well enough anyhow. Their canes merely serve to assure that nobody has camped out in the path.
        “Oh, you’re h-here already!” Hanako exclaims as they step inside.
        Tadao reassures her. “Don’t rush, we’re early.”
        “N-no, I’m glad to s-see you. Ivegottogodosomething!” Lilly feels another rush of air as Hanako flies past.
        “That was strange, wasn’t it?” Tadao remarks.
        “No,” Lilly laments, “not really.”

        Hanako stops on her way down to confirm that the Tea Room is actually empty. She had been fearing that she’d have to take this call in her room, which for many reasons always feels more than a bit confining. Still, she has to run back there first to retrieve the laptop. She makes it back in time to put on a pot of water for tea before the call starts. As expected, it comes a few minutes late, but this gives her time to settle in.
        She answers after just the first pair of ring beeps, and the voice comes to her from the other end.
        “«Hi babe! Should we go to video?»”
        English? “«Y-yes.»” She clicks the button to enable the camera, just as Akira’s face appears on the screen. A second or two later, her own face appears in a box in the upper right corner. It takes her a moment to hear other voices and realize that Akira is not alone.
        “«Hey, I got invited out for lunch and, well, I couldn’t exactly turn it down. I figured you’d want to meet the gang.»” Suddenly the view switches to the rear camera on the phone, and it starts panning in a dizzying fashion. She introduces the fellow rear passenger, then the front passenger in turn. “«This is Ian, that’s Colin, and…»” The viewpoint shifts dramatically again to the side of the driver’s head. “«That’s Bartosz, our driver, also known as Prawo Jazdy.»” There is chuckling from the cabin, but no apparent reaction from Bartosz. The phone is switched back to its front-facing camera.
        “«I – I see. If you need to call me l-later –»”
        “«I will,»” Akira confirms, “«but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving you now, not as long as I have a signal at least. I probably should turn off the camera though.»
        The incoming image cuts out, and a red circle and slash appears in the corner of her own camera box, indicating it is no longer being transmitted. The sound quality also improves as Akira drops out of speakerphone mode, though the quite noticeable speed-of-light latency remains.
        “I thought it would be a bit rude to make a call from a car full of people and not introduce them,” Akira continues, switching back to the expected Japanese, “especially when they can’t understand my end of the conversation. It’s only fair though, I can’t understand them either half the time, especially the Polish guy. He’s our best field service tech though, so he must understand the local dialect just fine. In any case, I meant what I said about not being able to turn down the invitation. Office politics, you know? How is the computer holding up?”
        “It’s m-much better than mine.” Hanako’s clamshell iBook needed an inconvenient external camera, and stuttered badly when faced with video conferencing. When this one does, it’s more likely to be the connection than the computer. “How are y-you holding up?”
        “Eh, not bad. Be warned that I’ll probably be pissed when I do get to call you back. We’re meeting with the owners of our new facilities, and we expect this to take all afternoon, if you know what I mean. Maybe you could call me – the normal way, not Skype – about two hours from now? It will give me an excuse to get out of whatever interminable discussion we’re having.” Apparently the language barrier is working to Akira’s benefit, allowing her to speak freely even in a crowd, or perhaps current company would not be offended even if they understood every word.
        “How is your f-father doing?”
        “Overall, about as you’d expect. The change from any one day to the next could be for the better, or for the worse, but on average, it’s ever so slightly for the worse. Still, he seemed to be feeling pretty good when I left this morning. He might actually make it to this meeting in person.”
        Hanako wants to ask about the elephant in the room – Akira’s own tests – but figures that the results must not have come back yet. “And the j-job?”
        “That’s going reasonably smoothly. In a way I’m not even required, because there’s very little for me to have to smooth over. Everyone seems to be acting in good faith. Then again, maybe it’s the fact that the company sends a lawyer to every meeting that has everyone acting that way. It’s really hard to tell. «Oh, it looks like I have to put my game face back on, we’re already there.» I love you babe, call me in a couple, right?”

***
        Hanako makes the second call of the day from her room. She fears it is about to go to voicemail when Akira picks up.
        “Hi babe,” she slurs, “thanks for the rescue.”
        “Th-that bad?”
        “Oh you have no idea. They just want to talk about how awesome their new office campus is. We wouldn’t have chosen it if it wasn’t, because we expect to be there a long time. Colin managed to throw them for a loop though, asking not whether they have a fiber connection to the building – we already know they do – but how many and how fast, and whether they have redundant connectivity. It was fun to watch.”
        “Did your f-father make it?”
        “Only briefly. He had Mother driving him around and used that as his excuse not to stay. I think he just figured that if he’s having a good day, there are other, more enjoyable things to be out doing, and I don’t blame him. I’ll find out later where they went.”
        Hanako wonders if this is the right time to lead the conversation down this path, but she’s not the only one whose tongue loosens up with a little social lubricant. “Have you heard back from the d-doctors?”
        There is a sigh, which she takes as confirmation. “May as well get that out of the way,” Akira says with obvious reluctance. “The good news is, my neuro tests went well. I’m not currently showing any signs. The bad news is, well probably, they always run it a second time on positive tests… yeah. I lost the genetic lottery.”
        “Oh.” Hanako is silent for a moment. “I’m s-so sorry.” You must not let her hear you cry. She needs your support right now, not the other way around. “Does L-Lilly know?”
        Another sigh. “Yeah, I called her from the office this morning.” So, afternoon for us. That may explain why Lilly didn’t try to slow me down earlier. She didn’t want to talk either. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do the same for you, but you know the deal, family and business associates only. I’d have bent the rule if I’d been working out of Papa’s office today, but I wasn’t.”
        “S-so what happens next?”
        “Nothing for now. NHS doesn’t even want to touch it, since it’s not the sort of thing that is likely to change over the duration of my stay here. Once I get back, they’ll just keep a real close eye on me and manage things as they happen, which might not start for years, and it sounds like they can stall problems for several more years, provided they get on them early. Uh, I hate to do this to you, but I should probably head back inside. They’re probably starting to wonder where I went, and none of them knows about this. They’re not going to, either.”
        “I understand.” There’s someone else I want to talk to anyhow, and it’s almost curfew.
        As soon as they have disconnected, Hanako is dialing again. When she hears the chiming of the phone next door, she hangs up and walks over. She taps at Lilly’s door.
        “Come on in, Hanako,” Lilly’s voice announces through the door.
        Letting herself in, she is surprised to find the lights on until she spots Tadao nodding off in the corner. It must be his preference, since he can see just a little. Lilly is already pouring a drink for her, and it is unclear whether Lilly is unaware of how much she is serving, or is merely pretending to be unaware.
        “Have some cheer,” she says.
        “Ch-cheer?” Hanako takes the glass out of Lilly’s hand.
        “Of course, to celebrate the good news.”
        Hanako gapes in silence. Did Akira lie to her? What purpose could that possibly serve? I guess I’ll play dumb and let her lead. “Wh-what good n-news?”
        “She didn’t tell you? I know why you ran off earlier. Just because I had my doubts about the two of you, that doesn’t mean there’s any sense in trying to hide it from me.”
        “Yes, but –”
        “The good news is the neuro tests. She hasn’t started showing signs yet, and the younger a person is when they show, the faster it generally goes. Papa has been showing signs for many years, and denying them. She’s not in denial, and will be treated. She’ll probably live to see sixty…” Lilly pauses for a sip from her own glass.
        Hanako lets out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding. If true, this actually is worth celebrating.
        Lilly picks up where she left off, holding up her glass. “…assuming this doesn’t kill her first.”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twenty-Four (compl

Post by NekoDude » Tue Aug 04, 2015 6:43 am

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

2007-11-03

        “You still haven’t told me where we’re going,” Hisao half-complains, “and ‘dress for outdoors’ doesn’t tell me much. Do you mean all night, or late, or just an hour or two?”
        “That’s because I don’t know myself,” Neko admits. “I’m following up on an invitation to some place I’ve never been before. If it really bothers you that much, I’m sure I can find someone to take your spot.”
        “No, you’ve got me intrigued now. I guess I’ll just dress in layers.”
        At the agreed time, they step out into the courtyard to find far more people than are going to fit in Neko’s tiny car. “Um,” Hisao comments to the crowd, “I don’t think I can take everybody.”
        “That’s what I figured,” Kenta agrees. “I’m driving too, and we might have some more people meet up with us there.
        “We can go with you,” Abe says to Neko, and Suzu lodges no complaint.
        “I guess that’s settled,” Neko declares. Hanako and Molly branch off to follow Kenta, but all eight are going the same direction for now.
        “Am I the only one who doesn’t know where we’re going?” Hisao asks.
        Everyone else in the group shoots glances between them, with the obvious exception of Mariko.
        “Yeah, I think so,” Suzu says.
        “Then how am I supposed to get there?”
        “I already programmed it into the navigation system,” Neko replies, “so in that sense, you do know where you’re going. You just don’t know exactly why.”
        “That is so very reassuring,” he deadpans. This better be good, after all this build-up.
        20 km, the navigation system says once they make it down the hill to the car. 20 kilometers to Nanakita Park. He knows better than to ask what’s there, because it has become obvious nobody is going to tell him, but at least he understands why they’re driving.
        “What about the toll?” he asks as soon as he notes the specified route gets on the expressway.
        Neko flicks a small pendant-like object hanging from the rear view mirror. “It’ll go on Mum’s bill.” The toll is worth it though, as they get there much more quickly than by taking the seemingly more direct route through the city. Things get a bit messier when they go to park, however.
        “Use the parking structure across the street,” an attendant in an orange vest tells Hisao when he rolls down the window, and although it is in plain sight, they have to drive clear around the block to get in, and have to park on the third level once they do.
        “Should we wait here for the others?” he asks as they finally get tucked into a spot.
        “I doubt it. Who knows what level they’re on, or will be on,” Neko points out. “Maybe they beat us here and got to use the regular lot.” She turns out to be half right, and the group recombines once they reach the park side of the street, as the quartet Kenta leads was restricted to Molly’s pace. Now all eight of them are.
        They come upon the baseball field, occupied by boys – and one girl that Hisao can see – that appear to be about thirteen. “Is this what we came for?” he asks.
        “Nope,” Neko says with a smile, as she starts to dance a bit as she walks. Rather than being an anchor, she’s actually taking the point on this expedition. It’s amazing how much more comfortable she is with the new leg. The way she moves makes it seem much more a part of her, even if the appearance does just the opposite with nearly a shaku of exposed metal. Either that, or it’s a pity how long she put up with a crappy one. As they come upon a smaller but no less crowded parking lot, the line of sight finally opens to their probable destination.
        Tennis courts. You gotta be fucking kidding me.
        The closer they get, the stronger the indication becomes that this is indeed the target, though it also becomes more apparent that whatever is going on there, it’s not tennis. Through the semi-transparent green mesh woven into the chainlink fence, he can see bicycles circling like sharks, and hear the occasional sound of a ball clattering off the fence.
        If I’d had a bicycle, maybe I could have kept up on the court.
        The nearest gate is conspicuously marked ‘Players Only’, so the group has to continue on to the next one. Neko darts ahead to open and hold the gate, dropping in behind once everyone is through. This court is filled with temporary grandstands, and is separated from the adjacent one by a low, also temporary fence. He can finally see that what the players are swinging are not racquets, but mallets, and the net is missing. There is a hockey goal at each end, and a semicircle made of tape in front of each one. There are also tape semicircles along each outer fence at the centerline. Two people sit at a table near the fence, along with LCD monitors and a portable sound system.
        Neko heads for the top of the stands. It’s not a long climb, as the whole structure is only eight rows deep. Hisao follows, and everyone else does as well, at their own pace.
        “We should probably sit in two rows,” she suggests. “It might be hard to talk otherwise.” Kenta shrugs, and leads the way into the seventh row, taking Mariko with him, along with Abe and Suzu.
        Soon, a whistle blows, and all but seven people leave the playing surface to join them in the stands – three with wheels covered in orange and black, three in light blue, and one who must be the referee, as he wears black and white and rides a much smaller bicycle without wheel covers. He rides out to midcourt and places an orange ball there before retreating to the sideline. When he blows his whistle, both teams dash forward from their end lines, but only the two in the center actually contest the first ball. It seems each team has its own little fan section, as the first goal scored is cheered by only a small group. “Goal, «Blue Sky»,” comes the announcement from the scoring table.
        “How long are the games?” Hisao asks Neko.
        She leans forward and squints slightly at the monitor on the scoring table. “I didn’t look at the start, but there are about nine minutes left in this game.” Damn, you can read that from here?
        Though it took a while for the first goal to be scored, the second follows quickly after – at least apparently. The referee charges in waving his arm as he blows his whistle. “Shuffle! No goal!” The blue team which is defending that goal digs the ball out and flips it to him, and as soon as the orange team has retreated to its own half, he rolls it back to the blue team to restart play.
        Kenta turns around. “What does that mean, ‘shuffle’?”
        “It means he used the side of the mallet to hit the ball,” Neko says. “They’re only allowed to shoot with the end of the mallet.”
        Kenta nods with understanding, and goes back to quietly giving Mariko a running narration of the play.
        There is another short chirp of the whistle, and one of the players turns and rides to the sideline semicircle nearest him, touching the ground with his mallet before returning to the play, which has continued without him.
        “And what was that?” Hisao asks.
        “Dab,” Hanako answers from his right. “He put a foot d-down.”
        So that’s what the semicircles are for.
        There is another, longer blast on the whistle as the ball goes into the net at the blue team’s end. It looks like this one counts. “Goal, «Helloween»,” the scorer announces.
        ‘Dabs’ seem to happen fairly frequently, and the offending players really have to hustle to touch up so they can get back into the play. Three-on-two is quite an advantage. Blue Sky scores twice more before the scorers make a different announcement. “One minute!”
        Helloween pours on the pressure in the last minute, and even though he has no rooting interest for either side, Hisao finds himself on the edge of the bench, leaning forward and making body movements as if he could exert some influence on the ball. Blue Sky manages to come up with possession as one player streaks away all alone. The pass comes in high and he knocks it down with a raised mallet. The play is blown dead immediately. “High stick!” calls the referee.
        “That seems like a silly rule,” Hisao opines.
        “It wouldn’t seem so silly if he were in a crowd,” Neko points out, “and the rules are the rules. I suppose it’s to protect everyone’s heads – and teeth.” This gives Helloween one last chance to attack, although they are two goals down. They press on just the same, but the game ends with the score unchanged, Blue Sky 3 - 1 Helloween. The next two teams to play rush in to warm up, while the referee makes sure the nets are in their proper places and the first two teams clear the court.
        “Hey, you made it!” Hisao looks to see who Kenta is addressing, to find it is Emi and Daisuke.
        “Yeah, how much did we miss?” Emi asks.
        “One game,” Neko informs her. “There are five more to come.”
        “Sorry about that,” Daisuke says. “We underestimated how hard it would be to find parking.”
        “So did we,” Neko says. “Oh hey, these are our guys.” She points at the end with the team in chocolate brown with white trim.
        This time they’re listening when the scoring table announces the teams. “In gold and green and defending the goal to your right, please give a cheer for the «Money Men».” Not many people answer the call, perhaps a dozen. The announcer continues, “And in brown and white, defending the goal to your left, the «Pedal Bears»!”
        “Oh dear,” Hanako says, but she still applauds with everyone else. Daisuke and Neko both bust out laughing before they can start to cheer. Everyone else, Hisao included, apparently fails to get the joke.
        Neko points at one of the players, and only by tracking her motion for a few seconds can Hisao figure out who she is indicating. “That’s Michio, the guy building my new bike, and the one who invited us.”
        Suddenly, Michio breaks into empty space behind the Money Men defenders and knocks a pass out of the air, then backhands it easily into an open goal.
        “I thought they weren’t allowed to do that,” Hisao says as Neko cheers with the others, as he is a bit puzzled.
        “It was below his shoulders. That’s where they draw the line.”
        The scorer waits for the referee to signal, just in case, but as soon as his arm points to the goal, the voice booms out. “Goal, «Pedal Bears»!” Soon after the restart of play, one of the Pedal Bears defenders has taken possession, sending a long, lofted pass upcourt as the other defender streaks down his side. Michio beats his defender to it and pokes it to his teammate for the score.
        The Money Men press the attack, sending two players forward and keeping only one back. There is a mad scramble directly in front of the goal, and a whistle. “Three seconds!” One of the Pedal Bears defenders rides away, and play restarts in much the same place as the referee drops the ball into a crowd. The offending player has to ride all the way to the opposite end and touch the fence before returning, by which time a goal has already been conceded.
        “What just happened there?” Hisao asks, and this time it’s Kenta that chimes in.
        “I think they’re only allowed to be in that goal area for three seconds at a time, or they get called for the penalty.” He sweeps out a semicircle with his hand.
        Having reduced their deficit to one goal, the Money Men resume a more typical arrangement, with only one man forward and one on each back wing. They resume the pressure tactic after giving up another goal, but this time they get burned by a long shot from the Pedal Bears defensive end, which they have nobody back to intercept. There is no mad scramble in the last minute as there was in the previous game, and the game ends with the score standing at Pedal Bears 4 - 1 Money Men.
        Once the game ends, Michio joins his cheering section in the stands as he drinks a can of Pocari Sweat. “I see you brought a whole lot of friends,” he says to Neko. “Are you all having fun?” After he gives everyone a look, especially if he hasn’t seen them before, his eyes settle on Hanako. She doesn’t return the gaze.
        “I’m enjoying it,” Hisao says. “I don’t understand why this hasn’t gotten more popular. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it doesn’t last all day.”
        “It has,” Molly interjects, “just not here.”
        “We’re trying to fix that,” Michio adds, “and anyone you care to tell can only help. Thanks for coming out in force. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, nobody has a huge cheering section. This is as big as we’ve had.”
        “How many teams are there?” Abe asks.
        “Six. After the next game, there will be a break of a half hour, then we’ll all go again – speaking of which, I have to go over the strategy with my team. «Blue Sky» is going to be a much bigger challenge than the «Money Men» were.” Michio waves to everyone and heads back down the stands to rejoin his team.
        Meanwhile, the next game is getting ready to start. Emi takes advantage of the sparsely populated stands and the railing at the top to stretch. “How long are the games?” she asks.
        “Twelve minutes, it looks like,” Neko informs her, “but I think they pause the clock for certain events.”
        “Sweetie,” Emi addresses to Daisuke, “do you mind if I go for a run during the intermission?”
        “Not at all,” he answers.
        “Want some company?” Kenta asks.
        “That would be awesome.” Emi extends her hand to help him to his feet, and he joins in the stretching as the game gets under way. Molly slowly and carefully maneuvers to sit by Mariko, and takes over the running commentary. They don’t get the entire twelve minutes to stretch, however, as the game is called early due to a five-goal mercy rule being invoked. “We’ll be back before the intermission ends,” Emi says cheerfully, and the two go bouncing down the stands.
        “It feels a bit funny to be hanging out with Mum’s lawyer,” Neko muses.
        “Lawyers have social lives too, you know,” he replies. “It’s not all about billable hours.”
        “I suppose they also get hungry?” Suzu asks unexpectedly, pointing over the rail at a couple vendors set up behind the stands before yawning.
        “I suppose they do,” he says with a smile, “especially when their health-crazy girlfriends aren’t watching.”

        “It’s like my Uncle Shiro used to tell us as kids,” Daisuke says as they stand in line for bacon-wrapped hot dogs. “The more you’re good, the less it hurts you when you’re bad.”
        “Really?” Suzu says with a bit of wonder in her voice. “You have an Uncle Shiro that dispenses pearls of wisdom too?”
        “Well, he’s actually my great-uncle, but that was always a mouthful, especially for young children. Besides, he would have told us he wasn’t so great –”
        “– Because he didn’t have a family of his own,” Suzu completes for him. “I always liked visiting his house with our parents. Lots of room for running around. I remember the panic when they couldn’t find me one afternoon because I’d climbed a tree and fallen asleep in it…”
        Now it’s Daisuke’s turn to have his mind blown. “That was you? I heard the stories about that one, but I never knew exactly who it was about.” And I was sorry to hear about what happened to your brother, but if you want to discuss that, you can bring it up.
        “Wait,” Abe interjects. “You two know each other?”
        “We don’t know each other all that well, but we share something more important than that.” Suzu gestures at herself and Daisuke alternately. “Babe, we’re family. Second cousins, if I understand correctly.”
        Upon reaching the front of the line, they place their order and hand over Neko’s cash. Eight with everything. Let them sort it out. Hungry as they are, the three of them have consumed theirs before they get back to the group, and he finds himself wishing he had gotten two. It might be junk food, but damn if it wasn’t tasty junk food. He changes his position when he returns to find Emi and Kenta back from their running, flushed and slightly glistening.
        “You didn’t get me one?” Emi protests as the boxes are passed around.
        “Frankly, I didn’t think you’d want one. I half-expected you to tear into me for having one myself.”
        “Only one?” She gives him the evil eye. “You’ll survive… this time.” She throws in a wink for good measure.

***

        An hour or so later, after the final whistle blows, Michio pays another visit to the stands, accompanied by the other two players on his team. “I wanted to thank you all for coming out and cheering us on, as do they. We hope to see you again, it’s much easier to find that extra something when there’s a crowd behind us. It may have been the difference between losing to «Blue Sky», and managing a tie as we actually did.”
        “I doubt I’ll be able to assemble this many people,” Neko responds with a sweeping gesture, “but you’ll see some of us again. I’m sure of that.”
        “How old do you have to be to play?” asks Abe.
        “Our league is all adults,” Michio says with a sad expression. “They’re too worried about minors getting hurt. That doesn’t mean you have to join a league, though. You just need a place to play, and some traffic cones for goals. It could be a grass or dirt field, or even a rooftop. It doesn’t have to be hardcourt.” He smiles and the team gives a small bow together before they take their leave.
        “What’s the plan for the rest of the evening?” Hisao inquires.
        Neko responds with a hopeful look. “Bowling and billiards? The bowling alley has a small pit of video games and pinball machines as well, if neither of those suits your fancy.”
        Suzu turns her gaze on Hanako, who mirrors her intensity. “Rematch?”
        “Y-you’re on.”
        Daisuke and Emi announce that they’re going to catch a movie, which initiates a quiet discussion between Kenta and Mariko. “Mind if we join you?” he finally asks.
        Daisuke glances at Emi, but her smile clearly indicates she has no objections. “Sounds good to me,” he says with a nod.
        “And me,” Molly adds, solving the transport problem. Thus, the group is reduced to five, and a single car, by the time they reach the bowling alley.

        “Cousins.” Hanako rolls the word around in her head. I wonder if I have any cousins I was never told about, equally unaware of my existence. How would I find them? Would they want to be found?
        “Yeah,” Suzu reinforces. “We have a great-grandfather in common. It’s your turn to break off.”
        Hanako just grazes the last red ball on the right of the pack, barely loosening three on the opposite side. She may have actually caught it a bit too thin, leaving the cue ball with enough momentum to come off the foot rail and roll back out of baulk, though there is nothing pottable as a consequence.
        Suzu takes one look, shrugs, and uses the top rail to get an angle on the back of the pack. Either she hits it too hard or the rail gives it more of a kick than they would expect, but either way, the pink end of the pack is now loose and the pink won’t spot if potted. Hanako also plays off the top rail, catching one of the loose reds on the left and sending it all the way to the side rail.
        “«So, it has come to this,»” Suzu intones in her best movie villain voice before sending the red on the rail on a journey around the table and running the cue ball almost but fortunately not quite into the right black corner.
        Hanako comes back to the table. “R-re-rack?” she asks.
        Suzu pulls the triangle out from below. “Automatic double?”

        At first, Neko delivers the ball the way she always has – by walking up to the line, coming to a stop, then taking a backswing and letting go. The ball wanders the lane erratically due to its slow speed, and finds its way to the gutter. Well I can’t do much worse than that, can I? For the second ball, she tries to imitate Abe’s form, only in mirror image. Left, push the ball away from my body to get it swinging, right, left, let the elbow fully extend. Then comes the bit that makes her heart skip a beat. Push off hard with the right foot. Accelerate! Slide! She just has to trust that it is planted well, as there is no time to wait for confirmation. In all her thought of footwork and timing, she forgets the ending and hangs onto the ball too long, causing it to come off her thumb with an audible pop! Although it comes out much too high and crashes to the floor, it at least manages to hold its line, and she clips off the 6-9-10 pins, exactly where the ball was headed when it left her hand.
        “Hey, that worked,” Hisao says as encouragement. “Not bad for a first effort.”
        In the fourth frame of the game they are sharing as warm-up, she finds her rhythm and release point. In the seventh, she starts finding her line. For her one toss in the tenth and final frame, she finds the pocket. Strike! It isn’t a very emphatic one, but the score on the overhead monitor doesn’t say how far the pins fly, only whether or not they fall over. She gets applause not only from the two boys behind her, but the people on the next lane. I think I’m getting the hang of this.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twenty-Six (comple

Post by NekoDude » Tue Aug 11, 2015 6:03 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

2007-11-04

        While waking up in the morning could hardly be listed among Neko’s favorite activities, today it is Hisao’s turn to want to hide beneath the covers. She tries tempting him by making coffee, something he generally prefers to do for the two of them, but without much effect.
        “Come on, darling,” she implores him. “You know how it gets to tasting burned if left on the warmer too long.”
        “That takes hours,” he responds. “Switch it off and let it get cold if you’re that worried about it. I’ll still drink it.” He rolls over and mumbles “maybe”.
        She decides to switch temptations. “I bet you’re hungry then. We burned off just a wee bit of energy last night, wouldn’t you say?” Or at least I did. She heel-toes her way to the bed, drops the bathrobe, and jumps in.
        “Ow,” Hisao mutters, squeezing his eyes shut hard as she bumps into him and the waves toss him about.
        “Hung over? Bloody hell, we only shared one bottle of wine last night.”
        “No, I just have a headache, not a hangover.”
        “Fine, fine. I just don’t like wasting weekends when I only get to spend half of them with you. Maybe a shower would help with the headache?”
        He lays there for a moment before reaching to the back of his neck and giving it a squeeze. “Hmm, it might, but you don’t have to worry about sharing weekends anymore.”
        So that’s what has been eating at you for the past week. I can’t exactly say I’ll miss her effect on my life, but I’m still sorry. “It’s that bad, huh?”
        “She might as well be asking for the moon with her demands. I try pointing this out, but all she says is ‘you’ll figure it out.’ She even accused you of buying a car you’re too young to drive as a temptation for me, though I explained that it came as a surprise to you as much as it did anyone.”
        “Actually, I wouldn’t rule that out as part of Mum’s motivation, but she’s attributing it to the wrong person since I didn’t buy anything. Then again, she never met Mum – and for that she should be glad. Let’s go take that shower,” Neko says as she rolls back out of the bed. “Grab my plastic stool. I’m going to need all my reach if I’m going to work those knots out of your neck.” My toes are stronger than most people’s fingers, and I’ll need them. I can barely move my thumb today.
        Once in the restroom, Neko holds the shower head in her hand, aiming the cold water at the wall until it starts to run warm. A still-groggy Hisao drags himself in with her after stopping at the loo to drain – sitting down.
        “Take a seat, babe.” She sprays the spot on the rubber mat where she wants him to sit, and he complies. She tucks the shower head under her chin and aims it at the back of his neck, going to work with just the one hand at first. After letting his muscles soak up the heat for a while, she hangs the shower head back up and settles in to work with ‘both hands’.
        “This...” he says, visibly relaxing. “This was worth getting out of bed for.”
        She curls her toes and digs in, her leg being much less sore than her forearm this morning. She knew she was overtaxing her surgically repaired arm by the third game, but continued bowling anyhow. It wasn’t until she proved unable to hold onto the ball that she decided to stop, but still finished the game with a thumbless grip and the closest thing to a two-handed delivery she was capable of. Still, she hopes this doesn’t linger. She finally has to resort to using leg power on both sides to relieve his tension, as even the short leg is well-suited to bearing weight and applying pressure. “So who gives better massages?” she asks him. “Answer honestly, I won’t be offended if I lose.”
        “Honestly? You do, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s because you’re better at it, or because you’re much more likely to be there when I really need one. Maybe it’s a little bit of both, because she’s certainly not bad at them. She uses her feet too, so don’t imagine you made up that trick all by yourself.”
        Two-and-change limbs against the standard issue four, and I still win or draw. I’ll take it. She extends her arm over his shoulder where he can see it. “Your turn.”
        He turns ninety degrees to his right to put her arm directly in front of him and sets to work as the warm water lands directly where she aches the most. He mostly uses his thumbs, but in the vicinity of the laser surgery, he switches to using pressure from the heel of his right hand while supporting her arm with his left. Luckily, the sore muscle that moves the thumb at the wrist is located toward the elbow, so he is able to really dig in there.
        When she gasps, he watches her face for signs that he should stop or at least back off, but any time she winces or bites her lip, it is merely momentary. “That’s enough there, I think. I’d appreciate it if you’d work on my thumb as well, but we don’t need to waste water for that.” She stands and starts a quick washing up, and he follows suit, each getting the other’s back before shutting off the water.
        “Thanks for the shower suggestion,” he says with a warm smile. “I’m starting to feel better already.” He turns to open the door, but is stopped by her hand on his arm.
        “Don’t be in such a hurry,” she whispers salaciously. “I know how to cheer you up.” She pushes him back against the tiled wall then slides into a crouch, deftly locating the stool and pulling it beneath her. My arm hurts, but my mouth doesn’t.

***

        Molly cuddles up next to Neko on their shared beanbag. They’re still draped in a blanket even though they are the only ones watching movies today. Everyone else watched the same films yesterday, without them. “So what exactly does that mean?” Molly inquires. “Are you telling me we have to stop?”
        “No,” Neko responds, and she can immediately feel Molly exhale in relief. “It just means we’ll have to move things to your room, unless you’re comfortable with someone else being in mine.”
        “I um… I never really gave that too much thought before. You don’t think it’s a problem now that he doesn’t have someone else?”
        “If anything, I think it might push him to straighten things out rather than giving up on them. He really needs to take care of the situation, once she has had a chance to cool off.” Neko shrugs, knowing the gesture will be felt rather than seen. “Problem is, the future doesn’t want to wait for him, even though it must. If it won’t…” She shrugs again, then cranes her neck around when she hears the door open. No hands are in particularly compromising positions at the moment, so there is no jump at the sound.
        Hisao grabs a beanbag for himself, tossing it to the ground at Neko’s right. He also grabs a blanket, but appears to require it for warmth as he shudders in his seat. “It’s pretty windy up there tonight.”
        Neko reaches out and clasps his hand to find it rather chilly. “Apparently so. How long did it take you to get from the Radio Room to the stairs?”
        “Longer than it should have, that’s for sure. Kenji wanted to talk. And talk. And talk some more. I finally had to point out that I wasn’t dressed for the weather, or he never would have let me go. What the hell are we watching?”
        The on-screen action involves some sort of violent sex act involving conspicuously diseased people, so the reaction is not all that surprising. “«Ebola Syndrome»,” Neko informs him. “That guy catches it in South Africa but doesn’t die, then flees back to Hong Kong, taking it with him. Oh, and he kills people the normal way too.”
        “Lovely,” he answers with a flat tone.
        “That’s what happens when the first-years choose the movies,” Molly offers up as a defense. “They knew we couldn’t make the meeting, so they picked for themselves.”
        “Alright, but why do you have to watch what they picked?”
        “Because they won’t stop talking about it, so we need to be on the same page.”
        “Don’t be such a stranger,” Neko says, tugging at Hisao’s collar. “It’s warmer over here.” She sits up to take her weight off of Molly, then lays back down on her once they are positioned a bit more off-center to make room. Hisao hesitates, but finally opts to accept the invitation. They’re nicely settled in, Molly not seeming to mind rubbing arms with Hisao, when the door opens yet again a few minutes later.
        Hanako gapes at the action for a moment. “What the h-hell are we watching?”
        “You know, maybe we should finish this another time,” Molly offers before pausing dramatically. “…Or not,” she finishes, fishing out the remote and pausing the movie. “Could someone else fetch the movie box? I’m not in a mood to walk on my hands and arse right this second.”
        Hanako’s eyes drift over to the three metal legs piled against the wall. “O-oh. I’ll get it.” She drags over a milk crate filled with smaller cases containing discs, then settles into the vacant beanbag.
        “Everything went as planned?” Neko asks.
        “Not c-completely, but good enough,” Hanako answers. “It was a l-little bit awkward explaining how I b-borrowed a car, but…”
        …but Lilly has no other friends with a driving license, and can’t afford to ask too many questions. I get it. “Well I hope you had fun.”
        Hanako nods. “W-we did. Oh! Here.” She fishes the keys out of her pocket and passes them to Neko, who promptly tosses them into the pile of legs.
        “How is it holding up on fuel?”
        “Full or v-very close to it. Lilly in-insisted.”
        She doesn’t want to feel like she owes me anything. “Fine by me.”
        Molly extricates herself from the blankets, flipping them out of her way and exposing Neko’s thigh, with Hisao’s hand on it. “Whoops, sorry,” she says, and pulls the blankets back into a covering position. Despite her earlier protest, she swings herself to the DVD player, which is much further away than the movie box was, while holding the disc in her lips. She quickly polishes the streaks from it with her blouse before making the exchange and bringing «Ebola Syndrome» back the same way.
        “Now what are we watching?” Hisao asks as Molly starts the new movie.
        “Something I figured we’d all like,” Molly answers. “«V for Vendetta.»” Neko and Hisao both nod approvingly, but Hanako’s eyes flash with excitement.
        “Roll it.”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twenty-Six (comple

Post by NekoDude » Mon Aug 17, 2015 12:55 am

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

2007-11-09

        “You’re doing what?” Hisao is not entirely certain he heard correctly.
        “I’m transmitting from the stadium press box with a five watt handheld transceiver and a Yagi-Uda antenna,” Iwanako says. So you didn’t say ‘yaki udon’. I wondered how you were using noodles as an antenna. “It’s the highest point I can get to without picking locks, but it’s drafty and it’s lonely. We don’t have a Radio Club. It’s just me.”
        “I’m not sure we’d have one either,” he observes, “if it weren’t for the high proportion of blind students. Radio would seem to be a natural match for them.” Well, that and the fact that someone was willing to buy all the gear.
        “Yeah, we have one, I think – and he can mostly see when he wears his Coke-bottle glasses. Believe it or not, he is planning to be a cameraman.”
        “I suppose that if you can focus on the display,” he muses, “that would be one way of getting around an inability to focus at a distance. Maybe it’s not so surprising after all.”
        There is a bit of dead air before a third voice cuts in. “Juliet Oscar Seven Delta Delta Romeo. Sorry to butt in, but if you two lovebirds don’t mind, could you ragchew up five? We’ve got a net scheduled in ten minutes.”
        “No need,” Iwanako protests. “I’ll be in it.”
        “But if you stay here,” JO7DDR responds, “the others in the net will assume we’re going to the backup frequency.”
        “Presuming it’s open up five,” Hisao offers, “let’s give them their space. I can understand the difficulty if we’re squatting on their frequency, even if you have every intention of releasing it to them when the time comes. QSY?”
        Iwanako transmits her sigh along with her words. “Fine. See you there.”
        After making the adjustment at both ends, the ragchew continues.
        “I bet they’re going to start early, as people come in,” Iwanako speculates, “and they don’t know our voices. Oh well, they will next time – or at least they’ll know mine.”
        “I see you’ve discovered your Magic Girl Powers.”
        “I have, and I’m not sure whether to be alarmed or amused. Perhaps I’ll stick with both. Too bad they don’t extend to real life.”
        So she wants to go there in public. “Look, it’s nothing you’ve done, but I got myself into a certain position. It’s not like I mind it, but it does have its price, and that price is that I have a girlfriend. You know the situation, and you know how and when it’s likely to resolve, so why are we doing this yet again?”
        “Because it’s a long time to wait,” she says bluntly.
        “That was your choice, not mine,” he responds, equally bluntly.
        “I suppose that is true, but you don’t seem to understand how it feels to be the backup. Maybe you should.
        “If that’s what you really think you should do, I’m not going to stop you – but if you’re going to pick up some guy to be an accessory just to make me jealous, that’s not fair to anyone. Not him, not you, and that doesn’t even factor in how I’d feel.” You’d be hurting yourself and someone else to try to hurt me. Would you really do that?
        “I’m not looking for an accessory, but if you think you’re the only one who knows how to get a little sugar, you’re sorely mistaken. I think it’s time to be joining the net. You know where it is, we just left.”
        “It won’t be my shift much longer, and people have a habit of arriving early here as well.” She is making a point of not doing so today, however. She could be standing outside the door for all I know.
        “Well then, I suppose I’m required elsewhere. Pop in if you change your mind, and you know how to reach me anyhow.” And just like that, she’s gone.
        In near-perfect synchrony, the door swings open.
        “Hello d–”, Hisao starts as he swivels around in the chair. “Oh, hi Hideki.”
        “Don’t mind me, I just have to borrow this.” He raps the top of the scanner gently and begins disconnecting it from its cables. “El Jefe wants it.” As he opens the door to depart, he catches Neko coming the other way.
        “Where are you going with that?” she inquires suspiciously.
        “Boss wants it, I don’t question why.”
        She must make some sort of gesture, because Hideki resumes his walk out the door, followed by her entrance. “It’s his – El Jefe’s, that is, not Hideki’s – so if he wants it, he gets it. If Hideki was bluffing, well…”
        Yeah. We’ll find out soon enough. “Are you gonna join the net?”
        “If I get sufficiently bored. Why, are you interested in it as well?”
        “A little,” he underplays. “I’ll stick around if you are, but if you’re going to try to DX, I’ll probably head down.”
        “I’ll try them first then,” she says as she grabs a folding chair. “If you find things as dull as I generally do, then we’ll find somewhere else to direct our efforts.”
        Hisao nods and tunes back down five, and sure enough, it’s already hopping. He hears that familiar voice, only with extra syrup.
        “Wait,” Neko says, swiveling her head toward him in a hurry. “That’s –”
        He nods. “It sure is. That’s why I asked.”
        “I suspect the agenda has already been derailed, and the meeting doesn’t even start for a minute and a half. Is she drinking?”
        “She didn’t say anything to me about it…” He leans in, as if he could actually hear any better that way. “…but she just might be. Good catch, I missed that.” Quite possibly because I’ve grown accustomed to it.
        “Oh, I’m definitely sticking around. If you want to talk, go ahead, but I think I’ll let her believe she’s the only girl in the room for now.” Neko settles in to listen just as the desk phone rings. “My shift,” she says, and grabs the handset. “Hello?” she says, a bit bewildered since nobody uses the internal phone system except staff. “Yeah, we are, it sounds like it’s going to be interesting for a change.” She nods at the voice on the other end. “Yeah, sure. Bring a cup, we may open some beverages.” She stares momentarily at the receiver in her hand, then shrugs and hangs up.
        “We’re getting company?” Hisao asks.
        “Yeah. El Jefe decided if we’re gonna join the net, there’s no reason he should listen to it alone.”
        Iwanako’s rambling continues to emit from the speaker, becoming more noticeably affected by her choice of libation. When she does stop, the others struggle to get a word in edgewise as they joust for dominance.
        “Pile-up on Highway 146,” Neko jokes. Hisao starts to motion for quiet, just as the door opens.
        “Man, this drunk chick is causing…” Momomoto stops as he sees the pair glued to the console.
        “…and I can’t compete on the perks,” Iwanako says over the air. “I’m playing second fiddle to a rich, fat, hippie stoner chick that probably couldn’t play one if she had both hands.”
        “I’m sorry to hear that,” the apparent coordinator answers, “but it’s well outside the scope of our agenda. Could we please try to get back to business? Take it up five if you want to continue this line of conversation.”
        Hisao turns his attention to El Jefe, to find him staring with a puzzled expression.
        “It almost sounds like she was talking about you.” Momomoto is not generally inclined to point at people, but makes an exception in this case and aims it first at Neko, then at Hisao. “And you as well.”
        The pair reply in unison, even nodding in synchrony. “She was.”
        Momomoto stares some more. “Is this something you need time and space to work out, or.…” His voice trails off.
        “The only news here,” Neko says with a shrug, “is finding out what she really thinks of me.” She hits the button to send. “I’m not a hippie,” she announces.
        Hisao waits until she has released the button to remark. “Of all the charges to dispute, you choose that one.”
        After a few seconds of dead air as the realization sinks in all over the city, she continues transmitting. “I’m also not drunk every time I bang him. Juliet oscar seven papa delta X-ray.” She releases the button and turns back to him. “Well, the rest is all true in some way, and while I may occasionally resemble a hippie, I don’t think like one.”
        “Do I need to be on watch for her?” Momomoto asks.
        “Probably not,” she says. “She’s all bark and no bite. She has been here before, though only once, and I’m pretty sure she isn’t terribly familiar with our local transit system. Maybe he has other feelings on the matter.” She tips her head toward Hisao.
        “Nope,” he dismisses with a shake of the head. “She’s only dangerous to herself, and possibly to me the next time I see her, but I can’t imagine her initiating such contact.”
        “I’d still appreciate it if you could show me what she looks like, just in case. Who is she to you, anyhow?”
        Hisao nods and pulls up a picture on his phone. “My fairly recent ex-girlfriend. She wasn’t keen to continue our little arrangement, and laid down an ultimatum. I’m here,” he says while giving Neko a squeeze, “and she’s there, so I think you can figure out how I responded to that.
        “Mmm,” Momomoto observes, “you’re living with your girlfriend, and she’s living in a bottle. What would induce her to insert herself into this situation to start with?”
        “To be fair,” Hisao admits, “her life kinda sucked before, and it was largely because of me. I felt I had to help her set things right, but I failed. We both failed, really, but I ended up with a broken nose as thanks. Now her life just sucks differently, a few hundred kilometers from the one she left behind.” She must have taken the hint to QSY, as we can’t hear her anymore.
        “Oh hey.” El Jefe gestures at the radio. “They’re actually back on topic. Mind if I jump in for a moment here?” Perhaps two minutes later, he has secured an antenna for the 10 and 20 meter bands, to be picked up on his next trip into the city. “I’m going to catch the rest of this down below, so if you want to check out the mess your ex is causing, go ahead.” He claps Hisao on the back a little too eagerly and makes his way out.
        “Do you want to go find out who followed her and what she’s doing to them?” Neko asks.
        “It’s your shift,” Hisao defers.
        “I’ll trade you the remainder of this shift for some time after that new antenna goes up,” she offers. “The more time I get at ten and twenty meters, the more QSLs I’ll rack up.”
        “Deal,” he says with a grin. “You don’t have to leave though,” he adds as she stands and folds her chair.
        “I’m not. I’m just going to watch from over there.” She points at the couch with her invisible hand. “I just wish I had popcorn.”
        He shrugs and starts re-tuning. Thanks for the support.
        Iwanako’s now quite obviously drunken speech spills forth. “…for pizza. My aunt says it’s authentic New York style.”
        “I prefer Chicago deep-dish,” a male voice answers, “but any form of pizza that’s remotely authentic would be welcome in my book. Do they have a separate room? We tend to be a noisy bunch, and carry a lot of hardware.”
        “Pretty sure they do,” another male voice chimes in, “but it’s been a few years since I was last there. I can’t imagine they would have changed the facilities much though, even if they have upgraded the food.”
        “I’ll be traveling light,” Iwanako informs them. “Just me, myself, and this handheld if you think there’s a need for it.”
        “We’ll send the details out on the mailing list,” says the man who likes deep-dish pizza. “It will be nice to see some new faces. Meanwhile, my cat is giving me that look, the one that reminds me it’s time to feed him – although in his eyes, that’s always. In any case, I’m going to sign off. 73.”
        What mailing list? He could swear he only thinks rather than says this, but gets a response anyhow.
        “Don’t worry, I’m on it,” Neko yawns from the couch. “I don’t know what day they had in mind, or where exactly, but how would you feel about some authentic New York pizza?”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twenty-Eight(compl

Post by NekoDude » Thu Sep 03, 2015 1:54 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

2007-11-10

        “If you don’t get moving,” Miki says as Mira pulls the sheets over her head, “we’re going to miss our chance. You know the deal. There’s only one way to dodge the draft, and that’s to not be there when they come calling.”
        “They don’t pick you,” Mira says accusingly. While her grammar and diction have improved by leaps and bounds since her arrival, her accent has not.
        “Sure they do, they put me on babysitting duty every chance they get and I have to teach classes. Besides…” Miki’s voice trails off as she makes a palms-up gesture to accentuate the one that isn’t there.
        Teaching classes and wrangling rugrats are both more useful skills than baling hay. Still, baling hay and going to school are several steps up from what she used to do for a roof and a meal, and the harder she studies, the less they make her work in the stables. “Fine,” Mira sighs as she begins the process of extricating herself from the bed. “What is your brilliant plan?”
        “Not my plan, Sam’s plan.”
        Mira winces, but continues to ready herself. She knows this means they’ll spend most of the day apart as as Miki attends ‘business school’. At least Paul, Sam’s boyfriend, seems to enjoy Mira’s presence, if perhaps a bit too much. It seems every driving lesson ends up being a trip to the country club for a tennis lesson, possibly because those two things are the extent of his expertise. She devours a cold ham-and-cheese roll and chases it with a can of Red Bull, wondering which will come first: getting to the edge of the city, or having to pee?

***

        Hisao lets himself quietly into the restroom to find Neko weighing and crushing white powder. “Are you sure that’s such a good idea?”
        “I’m not going to take it now,” she says, “but rather between classes, perhaps around ten.”
        “That’s not quite what I meant,” he replies with a raised eyebrow. “I was thinking more of those Suicide Tuesdays. Don’t you have things to do this week? What about your other meds?” I’ll be just a wee bit upset if this wrecks your birthday.
        Neko grins wryly. “Molly and Percocet play just fine together, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve for dealing with the crash. I’m not as helpless as I was the last time around.”
        “Molly, Molly, Molly.” He rolls the name around like a marble in his mouth. “Is the other Molly going to be invited to your private party?”
        “No more so than last weekend, I’d imagine. I don’t know if she’d be too pleased if she knew I was rolling, as she has already turned down my other offers. She doesn’t even drink.” Neko drops the longer portion of her capsule into a shallow hole drilled into a board, pops a paper funnel into the top of it, and holds the board with the short arm as she scrapes the powder into the funnel. After completing the capsule, she takes a sniff through the funnel before rinsing it under the faucet and throwing it away.
        “You don’t think she’s going to notice?”
        “Of course she’s going to notice that I’m exceptionally cuddly, but that doesn’t mean she’ll know why. Even if she guesses, I doubt she’ll ask.”
        “Should I be expecting you to take your exceptionally cuddly mood back here, or…”
        “I’m yours, unless and until you deny me,” she answers, looking a bit hurt. “When push comes to shove, I’d rather be with the one I love – but I am going to be with someone. Today wouldn’t be the best day for her, if you know what I mean. We have a private shower. She doesn’t.”
        Oh. That. Look on the bright side: it’s another month without an accident.

***

        Once she gets him alone, Mira decides to press the issue. “Paul,” she says, hesitating as she shifts into third gear, “you like me I know, but I can ask you something?”
        “Yeah sure, love. Anything.”
        “Why?”
        “‘Cause you’re the survivor type,” he says cheerily. “You’ve seen some bad times in your life, but you figured out a way to turn them around.” When Mira gasps involuntarily, he pats her left hand as she grips the shifter. “Nobody told me anything. I am just good at reading people. When I first saw you, you were afraid of your own shadow. That’s not the case anymore, and today you get to show it.”
        “That’s not what I mean.” While Paul makes a point to treat her especially well in public, he has never done anything to indicate a romantic interest in private. “You make it seem like…” Her voice trails off. She knows exactly what she wants to ask, but not how to do so in a polite manner.
        “Like you’re my sheila? I need a beard, love.”
        She glances at him momentarily to confirm that he is, in fact, clean-shaven. “Beard?”
        “I’m a rice queen and don’t deny it, but most blokes don’t really want to know. I just need to be seen with a rig on my arm. It might as well be someone I like. Sam’s keen on ya too, so no worries, aye?”
        You what, mate? Still, she thinks she gets what he means. Maybe.
        “Fifth,” he reminds her with a finger on the shifter. “We’re cruising now, no need to spin her up.” As she shifts, he slips a disc into the console and begins to sing along.

        Well we know where we're goin'
        But we don't know where we've been
        And we know what we're knowin'
        But we can't say what we've seen
        And we're not little children
        And we know what we want
        And the future is certain
        Give us time to work it out
        We're on a road to nowhere, come on inside
        Takin' that ride to nowhere, we'll take that ride


        He lets her follow directions from the navigation system clipped to the dashboard, and she begins to pout a bit in puzzlement as they head further and further into the Great Australian Fuckall. It is not until she catches sight of the exit from the highway that she understands where they might be going. There’s nothing here but a filling station and a race track. When the man at the entry gate beckons, she has to crack the door open, making him jump backward. “Sorry, window is broken,” she tells him.
        “The fuck is this beast?” the guard inquires. “MR2?”
        “XT Turbo,” says Paul. “Subaru,” he adds, just in case the guard can’t tell. The new paint job has set, but the badges have not yet been re-applied. The guard nods, notes their license plate, and waves them through. Paul points away from the track and toward the skid pad. “Remember,” he intones with another pat to the shifting hand, “don’t crash her.
        The commandment not to crash is still ringing her ears a few exhausting hours later. She was shown, and had to repeat, just about every maneuver imaginable, from donuts to J-turns to drifting, on both a dry and wet skidpad. Yet through it all, she wasn’t worried because aside from some orange traffic cones, there really wasn’t anything to crash into, and things never got sufficiently intense to fear a rollover.
        “Why I am practicing this?” she had asked after yet another spin-out. “Is not Miki a good driver?”
        “She’s not bad,” Paul had opined, “but this isn’t about skill. The problem with her is that she has no fear, and that’s set to get her in heaps of trouble.” He held up a hand and wiggled his fingers. “It already has, right? If you’re not afraid of a tonne of runaway steel, you’re a loon.”
        At a red light, back on the fringes of the city, she is pondering the notion of control when she notices the shape in the mirror is growing much too quickly for her comfort. As she scans cross traffic for a gap between bunches, she turns her ankle to heel the throttle while continuing to hold the brake and quietly engages first gear. The shape in the mirror continues to grow alarmingly, and the moment the last car in sequence passes before her, she smokes the clutch and darts through the intersection, with only a momentary chirp of all four tires to betray the hurry she was in.
        “Fear is an alarm,” Paul had said as she mercilessly crushed plastic cones. “Sometimes it’s bollocks, but don’t assume without checking.” This loops in her mind as she pulls over to the left and starts to shake, just as the peculiar odor of burning clutch fills the cabin, and the lorry that had grabbed her attention rolls into the intersection. Even with his panic braking, it would have plowed right through them had she not jumped out of the way – just as it clips two hapless crossing cars and sends them into spins.
        “Find a place to park,” Paul whispers with a lift of the head, “so I can change my pants.”

        “Fancy a swim?” Neko asks with an enormous grin and visibly dilated pupils as she catches up in the hall.
        “Is that safe?” Hisao asks.
        “It’s gonna take a lot more than a bit of trendy chemical amusement to make me sink, dear. The cold water should do me some good as well, no risk of overheating.”
        “I have to stop for a bite to eat, nurse’s orders,” he reminds her. “You always stay in longer than I do anyhow, so I’ll catch up with you.”
        “As you wish,” she cheerily intones in a sing-song voice before darting away, hurdling over a small waste bin she could easily have gone around. A couple of first-year boys stop in their tracks to watch the gainaxing before shaking their heads and moving on.
        You haven’t seen her in a wet T-shirt.
        Back in the room, he grabs an apple as he digs through their mixed laundry, returned from the ranch the night before and delivered by Suzu just before class. Not far below the top of the stack is a drawstring bag, but rather than tossing it onto the desk as he ordinarily would, he takes a peek. There are cookies, two bottle opener keychains from Brazil, and a cylindrical orange bottle with a white pop-off lid. He aligns the tabs and thumbs it open before quickly scattering the contents across the desk to count them, pushing them back into the bottle as he goes.
        Sixty. Same as last laundry day. Spread over a month, that might not be particularly alarming, but the laundry was last done ten days ago. He quickly checks the pre-existing supply to find it down to twelve pills. Forty-eight pills in ten and a half days. He can’t be sure if she’s sharing them or eating them all herself, but either possibility is alarming for different reasons. After changing into trunks, he heads for the pool with his apple which is missing but a single bite. On the walk, he internally debates how to approach the subject, finally deciding he’ll pick one assumption or the other – over-consumption or distribution – knowing that there is someone else he can ask.
        When he arrives, he notices that the starting block is installed in the position for lane one, but Neko is swimming in lane two – or what would be lane two if the ropes were there, in any case. She’s on a return leg, so he waits for her to make it back to the wall. “What happened to the ropes?” he asks before she touches up, to make sure she doesn’t turn and continue.
        Grabbing hold of the edge, she looks up at him. “I don’t know. I guess they got taken down for some event, and not put back up. It’s not much of an issue though, is it?”
        “I suppose not. What about the single starting block? Don’t you want one?”
        “I didn’t feel like making two trips. We can switch lanes when the other wants to use it, right?”
        He nods and jumps into the water feet first, then promptly climbs back out again to use the starting block. The water is almost too warm, and he notices that the place is starting to fill up a little. All but the two of them are sticking to the other side, however, much like people walk on the outside of the track to leave the inside clear for those actually training. Clearing his mind, he springs from the block, flying past Neko in the other lane before drag wins and she passes him again.
        I need to do this more. He has grown lax on his exercise program. Although he has yet to hear about it in any official capacity, he can feel the effects, especially after the first two hundred meters. He pulls up for a rest and watches Neko finish her third return leg, having gotten a full seventy meters ahead of him before he stopped. She spots him early, and shoots him a glance every time she breathes.
        “Is something wrong?” she asks, seeming only barely winded.
        “I’m just a bit out of practice, I think. You’re faster than me, but the gap isn’t usually this big.”
        “Well, consider that I’m warmed up and you’re not. I also have a little extra wind in my sails,” she adds as she tents her eyebrows at him. “It doesn’t do much for top speed, but endurance is another matter. Hey, with the ropes down, let’s do a grand tour and show off for the casuals.”
        “What do you mean?”
        “We’ll start in this corner and cut across to the other side, shoot down lane eight, cut back across at the other end, and come back to this corner down lane one. I’ll start first so you don’t have to worry about colliding. It’s only about a hundred and sixty meters, maybe a hundred and seventy.”
        He’s not too eager to bring up his questions with others in the pool, so they might as well keep moving. “Sure, why not.”
        She rubs him on the head. “For good luck,” she explains before going around him to the side wall. He stays out of her way, taking off from the same point after she is safely clear. He pushes a bit harder, although he knows he’s not going to close the gap today – and probably not in this lifetime. By the time he has gone full circle (or full rectangle, more accurately), she has already moved on to the next lap, and now the casuals are following their pattern.
        It’s a shame we aren’t faster. We could start our own whirlpool. Twice in his second time around, he has to decide whether to pass on the inside or the wall side as the path is impeded. They’re almost as bad as I used to be. He finds that while he is unable to close the gap between himself and Neko (once again about seventy meters), it is no longer widening as she has taken to using this as a chance to work on her Individual Medley. So long as he sticks to the crawl, he can keep pace with her or possibly even catch up slightly, but he likes the medley concept and uses the crawl on the shorter, sideways segments and the backstroke on the longer ones going in the normal directions. Thus, he’s the first to get a good look when he hears the scream.
        Two girls have gotten themselves into trouble far from the edge, and while one of them is managing to stay afloat, the other is thrashing wildly and ineffectively. His first instinct is to rush in to help, but he’s two strokes in when he recognizes the danger. He stops in place. “Get her calm, or I can’t help!” he shouts. “If she knocks the wind out of me, we’re both going down.” He presumes to be understood and turns on the jets, arriving to find that the thrashing has ceased. He hooks one arm around the limp figure and orders the other girl to fetch help. In reality, he just wants her to get out of the water, since he can’t drag two bodies.
        He has almost made it to the side when the fire alarm sounds. That’s exactly what we need right now, isn’t it? Another emergency. Neko is sitting on the edge at the closest exit point, so he heads straight for her. She hoists with all her might, ending up on her backside in the process, but it’s enough to get the girl out of the water. He notices for the first time that her hair is white – not gray, not platinum blonde, but completely colorless as if it were strands of glass.
        “Come on, we have to get out of here,” he shouts to be heard over the alarm. “Let’s drag her outside.”
        Neko continues giving rescue breathing, putting up the invisible hand to say ‘stop’. “There’s no fire!” she interjects during a brief moment she takes to inspect the girl’s vital signs before returning to the rescue breathing. The doors fly open, and three staffers head their way on the dead run.
        “I’ve got this,” the first says. If Hisao’s memory serves, he is one of the assistants in the infirmary, but he could be an intern. Neko backs off and gives him space to work. The second on scene checks for a pulse, and the third peels off for the locker room and returns carrying a defibrillator. The next staffer to arrive on scene takes one look, and decides the most useful thing he can do is shut off the alarm.
        “She’s gone into full cardiac arrest!” says the medic Hisao sort of recognizes, and the team readies the defibrillator and tears away the swimsuit that would be in the way of its use. She has a scar like mine! He also notices that she’s devoid of pigmentation in places other than just her hair.
        On the third try, they get a steady pulse. “Holy shit,” says the medic with great relief. “I thought we’d really lost her this time.” The white-haired girl responds by vomiting pool water, as if to say ‘I’m not that easy to kill’.

***

        “Rika,” whispers the silhouetted figure in the darkness, “you have visitors. Are you well enough to see them? How are you feeling?”
        “I am just dying –” she begins before invoking a Shatner pause, “– for a cigarette.”
        “You, of all people, should know that’s going to catch up with you. I’m afraid I couldn’t let you do that in here anyhow.”
        It won’t have time to catch up with me, and we both know it. “You could, I don’t know, let me go outside maybe?”
        “If you’re good enough to walk, you’re good enough to see these folks. We can discuss the rest later.” The orderly raises the lights partway and escorts two people in.
        “You look much better than the last time I saw you,” Neko says as they approach. “I’d say you got some color back, but that wouldn’t exactly be true. How are you feeling?”
        “I’ve felt better, but at least I’m feeling something. Do you smoke?”
        The question evidently catches both of them off guard, as they glance at each other before Neko responds. “Uh, nothing with a label.”
        So it’s true, you do sample your own product. “How much do you know? About what happened today, I mean.”
        “Pretty much all of it,” she says before glancing at Hisao again. “He dragged you to the edge, we hauled you out together, and I kept you breathing until the professionals could arrive.”
        “So you saw, then. You saw my…” Rika circles a finger over her chest.
        “Yeah,” Neko says with a shrug, while Hisao diverts his gaze.
        “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. It’s not that big a deal, half the population has them.”
        “They do?” Hisao asks with a ‘you can’t be serious’ look before pulling his sweater vest and shirt over his head and circling his finger over his own chest and surgical scar. “They have these?

***

        Since she let Jōji take over the driving duties when they’re together, Sally finds it much easier to concentrate on other things while on the road – like this call.
        “I get what you were saying now,” Neko tells her, “about sex after a near-death experience. After we came back from the hospital, things got intense.
        She seems calm, so who almost died? “Is everyone alright? I didn’t give anyone permission to keel over.”
        She laughs. “Don’t worry, he’s following your orders, but the classmate of mine that we rescued, she cut it a little bit fine. He’s taking it more than a bit personally.”
        “Rescued? I thought you were off the Emergency Response Team.”
        “I am, but nobody with half a heart would have declined this call. He dragged her out of the pool, and I went to work. Those classes you made me take with you paid off today. Even so, they had to jump-start her three times before her engine stopped sputtering, so it was a close one.”
        “Someone drowned, but the two of you saved her, and he’s the one having the near-death experience? Why?”
        “Because it probably wasn’t drowning, or not just drowning at any rate. Apparently she has a heart condition something like his, and although we don’t know for sure, that probably kicked in before she started taking on water. Even though she can swim – barely – she couldn’t get out under her own power. For him, it was like seeing the Ghost of Christmas Future.”
        “You’re taking good care of him, I hope.”
        Neko laughs again. “Yes Mum, I know how to divert attention from anxiety when required, just as you do. I do have a favor to ask though.”
        “Oh?”
        “He might ask you about some of the goodies that came in the laundry. I passed some to Junpei, and said it was on your orders.”
        “I don’t have a problem with that – even if he thinks I’m still angry with him, which I’m not – but I didn’t order any such thing. It’s not exactly a big favor to ask though, because I would have told you to give him some if he needed the help. I know how his head can get at times. How many did you give him?”
        “Twelve Percs.”
        “Oh! And here I thought you meant the cookies.”
        “No, I wouldn’t have needed you to cover for me there. As far as that goes, my cover was blown long ago, remember? On the roof, in the rain, with the Moron?”
        I hadn’t forgotten, but I had filed it under mistakes she’s made, not relationship moments for you. “Is this why you called in an early refill? You could have told me about it then.”
        “Yes, as a matter of fact it is. I’m sorry I didn’t explain it sooner.”
        “At least you told me. It’s not like it would have changed anything substantial anyhow.” Poor kid. I have to let him know he can still come straight to me for help, rather than working through a proxy.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twenty-Nine (compl

Post by NekoDude » Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:12 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

2007-11-14

        “Sorry, love,” Neko says as she places a folder at Rika’s bedside, “Asamiya asked me to deliver this.” It can’t be a get-well card, as that arrived a couple days ago, so it must be either homework or some other sort of paperwork.
        “That figures,” Rika says as she tips her head toward the ‘gift’. “I can’t even rest in peace.”
        “Hey, I’m not telling you what to do with it. I’m just the messenger. Do you have a safe place to keep my other delivery? I did as you asked.”
        “Oh? You are made of pure win.” Rika points a thumb at the nightstand to the right of the bed, and drops her voice to a whisper. “The music box has a false bottom.”
        “Bad girls have to stick together, right?” Neko says with a grin and a flick of the eyebrows, and pulls a chair to the bedside to support her leg as she peels back the foam coating to reveal a pack of Marlboro Reds. This quickly disappears into the bottom of the music box, which already contains a lighter. “Try to make them last. Getting them was more of a pain than I anticipated.”
        I was wondering why you bothered dressing up the leg. You hadn’t done that since you brought it home, but I thought maybe it was for the special occasion. I should have figured something was up.
        The drawer has just closed when a nurse pops her head into the room. “Katayama? The rain has ceased. You can take your walk in the courtyard if you like, but be quick about it. Another squall is on the way.”
        Neko shoves the chair back into the corner. “We’ll see you in a couple days then. Why don’t you go listen to your music box and get some fresh air?”
        On the way back to the car, Hisao breaks his silence over what just took place. “She just had a heart attack, and you’re bringing her cancer sticks?
        “Like she has to worry about cancer. Darling, she’s not going to see the north side of thirty, so if she can’t let herself go, what is she saving herself for? The two of you may be similar, but you’re not the same.”
        If I knew for certain that my days were numbered, would I choose to live faster as she has? I’m not sure I’d even know how. Heeding the nurse’s weather warning, they make their way quickly across the lot with the umbrella folded, moving carefully to avoid dripping overhangs. I have to admit it’s nice that I can hurry and no longer worry about leaving Neko behind. Sometimes I’m the one chasing her.
        “Where are we headed now?” he asks once they’re safely within the shelter of the small car. “The bicycle shop?” We’re probably not going to get there, but I can’t act like I know that.
        “I’d rather not be caught in the rain headed into or out of the city. You know how bad things can get. It’s as if people forget how to drive in the rain after just a few weeks. Just wait until it snows. That’s always a spectacle the first time in a season.”
        Hisao is slightly alarmed that this may hamper the plan, but has to feign relief. “Just point me in the right direction then.”
        “I’d kinda like to stay close to town.” The facility they are just departing is technically not within Moniwadai, but it might as well be, lying just to the north and within walking distance of the school, when weather permits. “Maybe we could drop in at the ranch, it’s been a while.”
        This time the relief is genuine. That will keep you out of the way as well as anywhere. “You’d better call ahead and let them know,” he warns, but the phone is already in her hand.
        She taps the side of her head with the corner of the phone to say ‘I already thought of that’ as the call goes through. “Good afternoon, Jōji, or at least I hope it is. Would it be a good time for a visit?”
        Hisao can hear the voice on the other end, but cannot make out the words. Whatever he said went considerably beyond a straightforward yes or no, however.
        “We’ll come by anyhow. Maybe she’ll come back while we’re there, maybe she won’t, but it’s not like there’s nothing to do.” She barely has time to catch a breath during his next question. “Five minutes, ten at the outside. We’re close already.”
        As they get out of the parking lot and back onto the road, Neko muses, “I wonder where Mum went that’s so secret she couldn’t even tell her lieutenant.”
        Don’t lie to her. He convinced her, but you suck at it. Instead he gives a general ‘who knows?’ gesture and keeps driving.
        While waiting at the gate, they can see the newly constructed guard post perhaps ten meters in. “We’ll have to check that out when the light is better,” she says as they drive past once the gate slides open and they are waved in. It has the outward appearance of a barn or a large storage shed, but he greatly doubts it’s as flimsy as it looks.
        “So how are you and the car getting along?” Jōji asks Hisao as they enter the house and head for the kitchen.
        “It’s adequate for most purposes, and there’s not much to think about. There’s not a lot of fun in it, though.”
        Jōji nods. “Yeah, it’s sort of a point-and-shoot car. Aim it where you want to go, press the correct pedal, and it pretty much does everything else. Do you two want drinks, coffee, snacks?”
        “I wouldn’t mind a cookie,” Neko says with a grin.
        “Done. And you?”
        “I have to drive,” Hisao points out, “so just coffee for me.”
        They’re on their second cups – coffee for him, milk for her – when the message comes through to both of their phones. It’s short: ‘Roof leak, Radio Room. Advise soonest.’ It’s also from Tadao. Bloody hell, there goes the plan. I knew I forgot someone.
        “Sorry to hit and run,” Neko announces as she jumps down from the bar stool, “but we’re needed elsewhere.”
        Jōji nods, drops the uneaten third of the cookie into a sandwich bag along with a whole, fresh one, and escorts them to the door. ‘That one is yours,’ his eyes seem to be telling Hisao.
        The return trip seems much longer than the leg going out, though it is almost a wash in reality. “Drop me off at the top before you park,” Neko requests as they approach the final turn.
        “No,” he says with conviction, but makes the right turn to head up the hill. “They’ll just have to tolerate us parking out front today. I’ll move the car later.”
        She is unbelted before they stop moving, and out of the car before he gets the engine shut off. He actually has to sprint briefly to catch up with her, the only thing slowing her being a fear of mud and puddles. Four flights of stairs barely slow her down either, and he finally has to let her get away from him when he feels a stitch in his side.
        When he makes it to the roof, he can see her in an animated discussion with El Jefe, in the shadow of the Radio Room. He gets a glance that could only mean ‘hurry up, slowpoke.’ Once he arrives, El Jefe unlocks the door and switches on his torch, aiming it at the radio gear in the far corner, covered in a tarp. Neko is halfway across the room when the lights suddenly come on, and another tarp falls to reveal an eleven-strong cheering section: Tadao, Mariko, Kenta, Junpei, Hideki, Molly, Abe, Suzu, Hanako, and Kenji are all there, along with one true shocker.
        “Surprise!” they shout in unison.
        “Holy shit,” she babbles, hands both visible and invisible held over her mouth. Turning to her mother, she asks, “I suppose this is your doing?”
        “Not at all, I just found out about it yesterday and decided to join in. This is entirely the work of your friends.” Sally gives a sweeping gesture to include everyone else in the room. “Happy birthday, babe!”
        Hisao heads over to congratulate Kenji. “I knew you’d come through, but this… this is far beyond my expectations.”
        Neko turns to Hisao. “You knew about this? How did you manage this right under my nose? I’ve been watching you like a hawk for the last week!”
        “I knew you would. That’s why I let them handle it as they saw fit.” Like Sally, he gives his credit to the crowd. “I don’t know who exactly did what, but clearly, someone knows how to organize.”
        The smell of the catering trays being opened hits with intensity in such a small room filled with so many people. “Remember,” Neko reminds them, “we can’t leave anything edible behind.”
        “No worries,” Abe says. “We’ve planned for this.”
        Hands come down on both Hisao’s and Neko’s shoulders, and El Jefe speaks. “I have to get back to work, but I’ll drop by again so save me some food – and don’t get too crazy in here.”
        “If you don’t mind me saying so,” Molly suggests, “the club room might be a bit more comfortable, and it has the nice A/V system.” This motion passes without a single objection.
        Hideki quickly spears a slab of teriyaki chicken before Abe has a chance to close the open containers and load them onto the cart. “If you’re that hungry,” Abe tells him, “help me carry this down and you can have first pick.”
        “Deal.”
        Downstairs, Molly sets to work trying to set up the entertainment to run audio-only, but every time she shuts off the projector, the sound cuts out as well. Hanako steps in to assist. “I have a p-plan.” Soon, the screen is filled with faint psychedelic swirls of color synchronized to the music, but the lighting is too bright for them to be easily visible. Once everyone has gotten food, two of the three banks of lights are shut off.
        Sally’s voice comes from behind Hisao and Neko as they sit in folding chairs. “Katayama sends her regards.”
        “It’s a shame she couldn’t be here,” Neko reflects, “but we saw her today and she didn’t mention it. Hey wait, how do you know her?
        “She almost died while using a school facility,” Sally points out, pulling up a chair of her own. “All of the major sponsors have paid her visits to make certain there won’t be any problems. Even Hakamichi managed to visit without sticking his foot too far into his mouth. I don’t know whether taking the Student Council with him was his idea or theirs, but it worked out well enough. As for this,” she says with a finger twirl, “of course she couldn’t mention it to you. That’s why she asked me to relay the message when the time was right.”
        “Let’s make sure to save her some of the food then. I wouldn’t want her to miss out entirely.”
        “She could definitely use a good meal, or half a dozen,” Hisao concurs. I was afraid the medics were going to break her in half trying to save her.
        Once the food starts to digest, there is motion to accompany the music. Soon it seems that more of the crowd is dancing than not. Even El Jefe taps Sally for a dance after completing his rounds. Neko stands and begins to sing over the music, badly as usual.

        «Dance with me, I want to be your partner
        Can't you see the music is just starting?
        Night is calling, and I am falling,
        Dance with me»


        Hisao winces and tries unsuccessfully to hide it.
        “If you want me to stop, you know what to do,” she says as she holds out her hand.
        “I can’t dance,” he objects. “You know that.”
        “Neither can I, so we’re even. Would you rather I sing some more?”
        He practically leaps to his feet. Twist my arm, why don’t you?

        “I heard you visited Katayama yesterday,” Momomoto casually and quietly asks Sally as they dance.
        “Of course. Like everyone else, I like it when things run smoothly here. Keeping the students alive contributes greatly.”
        “That wasn’t your only reason though, or you would have been in and out in five minutes like Jigoro.”
        “That is true,” she admits. “I had a little proposition, and I hope she takes it. She could use a little direction in her life, and with your betrothed keeping her head down, I need someone to help look after the menial bullshit around here.”
        “If you want to take on that responsibility, it’s your own lookout, but be forewarned. She’s not playing with a full deck.”
        “I don’t know her anywhere near as well as you, but I think you’re judging her too harshly. It seems to me she’s not so much crazy as desperate.”
        “If you say so,” El Jefe says with a shrug before leading their dance into a less crowded area. “It seldom bodes well when cousins fuck.”
        “What? I know she’s hardly a model citizen, but to accuse her –”
        “I’m not accusing her of doing anything, it’s just who she is. You raise horses. Do you ever line breed?” He pulls back with both hands on her shoulders, and locks his eyes on hers.
        “Of course we do, it’s the most efficient way to select for beneficial traits.”
        “And does it always work? What do you do with the less fortunate ones? We’re too civilized to take ours out behind the barn and shoot them, when they’re people. Instead, we painfully sustain them through their short, difficult lives and call it compassion.” As the song and his rant come to an end, he is hardly surprised when Sally opts to take her next dance with Junpei.

***

        Neko stares into the open box tagged ‘Setou’, and blinks twice.
        “Well are you going to show us what it is, or make us guess?” Leave it to Mum to be the heckler.
        She reaches in slowly, unsure how solidly constructed the item is, or exactly what it’s supposed to be for, but once she gets a grip on it she realizes that it’s as well made as the source of its parts probably was.
        “What the heck is it?” calls Abe from the third row.
        “It’s – hmm. It’s sort of a mannequin,” she says, since it does seem to be made from modified art mannequin parts, “but it’s a hand. I guess that makes it a hannequin.”
        “Don’t you recognize it?” Hisao asks. “You invented it, or co-invented it, anyhow.”
        Neko’s brow furrows in thought. “M-m-maybe. I sort of remember now. Bloody hell, I was so baked when we thought this up. I never thought I’d see it in practice.” She turns to Kenji. “Who told you about it? I’m looking forward to testing it out, but…”
        Kenji stares at the floor and shuffles his feet, so Hanako steps up. “M-Miura has a big mouth.”
        This draws a guffaw from Sally. “Ain’t that the fuckin’ truth! Excuse my language.” She covers her mouth as she snickers.
        “Well I know what to do the next time someone asks me to lend them a hand,” Neko deadpans before standing and heading in Kenji’s direction. The crowd parts like the Red Sea to let her through, and it is only at the last moment that he realizes she is there, leaving far too little time to avoid getting hugged. “This is the most thoughtful gift I’ve gotten in years,” she utters quietly, hovering between laughing and crying. If only I didn’t need an appointment just to go home and use it. Guard dogs don’t like cats, and the feeling is mutual.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Thirty (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Tue Sep 15, 2015 6:01 am

CHAPTER THIRTY

2007-11-16

        It’s a tight fit in the little car, but it’s all they’ve got. Abe elects to be the one crushed in the center. He’s Suzu’s height, but he doesn’t have her hips. Hanako makes a point of sitting on the right.
        Bloody hell, I’m not riding in the back of my own car. I have permanent shotgun privileges. “All strapped in?” Neko asks, the mirror on the visor being thoroughly inadequate for discerning what is taking place behind her.
        “«Houston, we are go for launch,»” answers Abe, thumb conspicuously raised where he knows both front seat occupants can see it.
        The spotty rain today causes nowhere near the chaos on the highways it did a couple days ago. Drivers have remembered how to adjust, and most spilled oil has been rinsed from the road surface. The first destination is the bowling alley, where they drop off Abe and Suzu. “Remember, you’re on your own to get back,” Hisao states. “We’re going to have cargo.”
        “Right.” Suzu gives a wrong-handed salute from behind the open tailgate as they unload their bowling bags and her cue, but it looks right in the mirror. Abe’s first attempt to latch the tailgate only makes it catch halfway, so he has to open it and try again, this time slamming it to be sure.
        Ow, my ears. I suppose I should have cracked the window open first.
        Even with the inclement weather, it is difficult to find street parking at this hour, and they end up circling the block before locating a spot near enough the bicycle shop for their tastes. Hanako stays with the pair all the way to the door before heading off on her own. “I should be d-done before you are,” she says, “but c-call me if I’m wrong.”
        Hisao pushes open the door to the shop, and they are surprised to be greeted by an electronic buzzer rather than the simple bell hung from the door that they have grown accustomed to.
        Iwao sets down his coffee and stands at their arrival, stepping out front of the counter. “You’re here for the «Sugar Baby»? You’re going to love it. We’re almost sad you’re picking it up so soon, we wouldn’t have minded showing it off a few more days.”
        “Really?” Neko asks in genuine surprise. “Just a few weeks ago I was being told that you don’t normally do recumbents.”
        “There’s a first time for everything. We don’t make much on those,” Iwao says while waving at the cheap single- and three-speed mamacharis, “because you can get them anywhere. At the same time, we have to have something cheap just to get people in the door. We’ll clear a couple of those out and replace them with some basic ‘bents. Having yours on the floor has generated a fair amount of buzz.”
        “So it’s ready?”
        “Other than some last-minute adjustments for you, it’s ready to ship,” he says with obvious pride. “I brought my little niece in here to try it out, she’s about your size. Now she wants one too.” He must catch Neko’s eyes constantly drifting to the beaded curtain that separates the workshop from the showroom. “Ah yes, I’m keeping you from your prize.” He extends a hand and leads the way.
        Michio is hunched over a wheel, replacing a tire, so Neko waits before speaking, not knowing how much concentration this might require. When he does look up, he fires first. “Ah, I was wondering if you’d make it out, with the rain and all. The back alley is rather a sloppy mess, I’m afraid.”
        “What’s with the joy buzzer out front?”
        “I couldn’t always hear the bell from back here, and our visitor volume has increased. Sometimes I have to cover the showroom while others are on break. It also let us install a buzzer in the restroom.” He inflates the freshly installed tire from a hanging hose and bounces the wheel on the workbench a few times before setting it aside. “Here she is,” he says with a grand flourish before taking the bike off the wall.
        Hisao cranes his neck to get alternate viewing angles as the bike descends, then circles around as Michio takes it to the workbench. “I expected it to be more complicated, I guess.”
        “Oh, it’s plenty complicated,” Michio states, tapping the hub gently with a ballpoint pen. “It’s just abstracted away, between this and this.” He turns his pen to the device on the handlebars.
        “I took your advice, darling,” Neko says as she puts her arm around Hisao. “All braking is controlled from one lever. It will hamper any attempt to do a front wheel stand, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.”
        “As I mentioned,” Michio continues, “the back alley is in no condition for a test drive today. We can do the final fitting, but can’t guarantee perfection until you can test it. Do you want to leave it with us, or take it anyhow?”
        “If we leave it here, we’re guaranteed to come back,” Neko points out. “If we take it with us, we only might have to come back.”
        “Getting tired of us, are you? Oh, I almost forgot something.” Michio pulls out a small fold of banknotes held together with a binder clip. “It sold off the books.”
        “What sold?” Hisao asks.
        “The Q ring. It was the wrong size for the new setup, which requires a 48T, but it wasn’t hard to find a buyer for the 34T.”
        “I hope that buyer is happy with it. I didn’t put much wear and tear on it,” Neko states as she pockets the bills and hands the binder clip back. “Why off the books though?”
        “Because I’d rather work on bikes than fill out paperwork. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but I get a slightly quicker jump without losing top speed. I can see why you like them.” A glance into the corner reveals that the polo bike is sporting her old chainring. “Shall we?” He moves the little recumbent to the test stand, where some adjustment is required, but it is minor and quickly completed.
        “I like it,” Neko says from the seat, “but I can see why it needs a flag.”
        “Yeah. Fortunately, that’s part of the package. Hey, are you coming out to the matches tomorrow? If so, you could bring the bike back for any adjustments. I’ll probably be tinkering on mine until it’s time to head to the park, as it’s the only way I can settle my nerves.”
        Neko shrugs both bodily and with her face. “We’ve got another event, and should have more than three people in the car, which would mean no room for a bike, but we might make it to your matches. Rain isn’t a problem?”
        “We play in rain, wind, and snow. We don’t play with lightning nearby, in flood water, or in zero-visibility conditions, but just about anything else goes.”
        The buzzer sounds, alerting them to an arrival out front. Michio peeks through the glass behind the counter to make sure the showroom is manned, and turns his attention back to the recumbent and its rider as Hanako comes through the beaded curtain.
        “Hello, love,” Neko says with a grin from her perch a half meter off the floor. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
        Hanako shakes her head. “I had to s-special order it.” She gawks for a moment at the bike. “It’s so s-small.”
        “Yeah,” Neko quips, “I’m gonna have to hook up a sound system and blast «Low Rider» everywhere I go.”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Thirty-one (comple

Post by NekoDude » Thu Sep 17, 2015 12:36 pm

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

2007-11-17

        “Start thinking about what you want on a pizza,” Neko prompts the others as they hunt for parking. “Ham is fine, but pineapple is not so authentic – and if we’re going all this way for authentic pizza, we have to do our part.”
        “How about tomatoes?” Tadao asks.
        “Or shrimp?” That would be Hanako.
        “I’m not sure about tomatoes, but I suspect they’re fair game.” Neko turns to glance at Hanako to make sure she’s serious, but gets no hint of any deception. “Shrimp? I don’t think that’s a New York thing. Anchovies would be.”
        “Ugh.” Hisao registers his displeasure. “Why would I want fish from a can when we have such good, fresh fish all around us?”
        “I wasn’t claiming it was a good idea, darling, just an authentic one. In any case, we don’t have to make decisions now, and probably want to look at the menu just to be sure. I just thought we could get a jump on things.”
        “Cheese,” Hideki says, dragging out the middle of the word. “I like cheese.”
        “Pretty sure they have plenty of that,” Neko replies with a brisk nod. “No worries, mate.”
        Gino’s is fairly well populated for the usual slow time between lunch and dinner, even before they reach the meeting room. Once they do, the noise level rises sharply. “Twenty over S9,” Tadao remarks. “How many people are in here?”
        “Twenty-two,” Hanako immediately responds, “n-not counting us.”
        Hisao gapes. We were in the room five seconds, and you counted them all? It takes him about that long to do the count himself and prove her correct, now that he has reason to do so. I guess it’s not that hard.
        It is Hideki’s turn to shepherd Tadao around, which he does with a hand gently placed on the back. Once they get close to what may be the last vacant table, a quiet remark in his ear is all that is required for Tadao to grab himself a chair and settle in.
        Hanako goes straight for the menu. “They d-do have shrimp.”
        “I’m sorry I ever doubted you,” Neko apologizes. “What about tomatoes?”
        “Those too.”
        El Jefe wanders over from his discussion, turns the sixth chair around, and takes a seat on it, backward. “You guys want a pitcher of beer? They won’t serve you, but they also won’t stop me from buying it for you.” After a moment of hesitation where everyone looks at each other, he slaps the table. “Right, Newcastle it is. Good choice.” He stands and wanders off to buy it, leaving the chair reversed. They’re still looking over the menu, and Hideki is debating getting a side of pasta, when El Jefe returns with a pitcher and a stack of cups. “If you can’t agree, they sell single slices too – a sixth of a large pie.” He outlines the shape with his hands.
        Hideki points at a menu item. “What is this?”
        “Linguiça,” Momomoto answers. “It’s a kind of pork sausage, spiced but not hot. What’s Daidouji doing here?” Everyone at the table, save one, looks up or spins around to see who he is talking about. Iwanako has arrived, with her aunt along for the ride.
        “She’s the one from the net,” Hisao answers, trying to make as neutral an identifying statement as possible.
        “No, not the girl – though thank you for confirming my identification. Her.” He tips his head in the general direction of Iwanako’s aunt.
        “Mrs. Endo? That’s her aunt.”
        “Endo? Oh, right. I forgot she got married.”
        Neko finds her wits sufficiently to enter the conversation. “You know her?”
        “Oh yeah, too well. Yamaku isn’t the only place I’ve ever been in charge of security, you know. «I knew the bride when she used to rock and roll.»” He remains long enough to pour everyone two-thirds of a cup of beer, including himself, before wandering back to whatever haggling expedition he had been on before they arrived.
        “So when are they gonna come take our orders?” Hideki asks while glancing around the place.
        “They aren’t,” Neko informs him. “You have to go to the counter and order, then they give you a number to bring back to the table. You have to pay then, too.”
        “Oh,” he says with a downcast tone. “I guess I’d better get on it.”
        “It’s very kind of you to volunteer like that.” Neko folds a note around a debit card and holds the combination in front of him as he stares blankly. Soon, there are two other hands in the air doing the same.
        “«Kooft». I guess I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”

        “Would you care to switch places, dear?” Neko asks, the beer in her cup sloshing around just short of the rim as she gesticulates.
        “What good would that do?” Hisao snaps, the stress clearly coming through in his voice. “She’d try to stare holes through the back of my head instead.”
        Hanako rises out of her seat, silently and slowly. At first she heads around the table in the direction of the door that connects to the rest of the restaurant, as if to buy a drink or use the restroom, then makes an abrupt left-face and heads toward the source of the evil eye. The bald, bearded man sharing the bench seat to Iwanako’s right moves over without comment, allowing Hanako to join the long table. “Is th-there something amiss?” she asks in her sweetest, shyest, most polite voice, but raised to a volume level where it can be heard.
        “Yeah. Why did they have to show up?” Iwanako spits through a clenched jaw. “Does he think he needs a posse to deal with me?”
        “I’m not s-sure what you’re getting at. That is the Yamaku Radio Club, or m-most of it, anyhow.”
        Iwanako scrutinizes the two faces that she had not seen before today. “So they’re not business associates? I thought they looked a little too tame for hired muscle, even the fat kid.”
        “They are…” Hanako prepares her best impersonation of the line just delivered to her. “…b-business associates, in the sense that our business is r-radio. So is everyone else here. Even y-you.” A snippet of song crosses her mind as she stands, steps over the bench seat, and heads for her original restroom destination to recycle her beer.
        «I’m The Man, and you’re The Man, and he’s The Man as well, so you can point that fucking finger up your ass.»
        When she returns and gets settled back in, nobody at the table is talking – yet she spotted them through the glass to be in heated debate while on her return trip. She also notices a vacancy at the long table. “D-did she leave or s-something? I wasn’t trying to sc-scare her off.”
        “You didn’t have to do that,” Neko says apologetically. “This isn’t your problem. I was quite surprised you decided to get involved.”
        “I – I know.” That’s why I was able to do it. It’s not my problem.
        Momomoto finds his way to the empty seat at the table. “Should I be watching out for her?” he asks.
        “I still don’t think she’s dangerous,” Neko answers with a shrug.
        “You misunderstand me. I don’t mean to protect you from her, but to protect her from… them.” He makes a sweeping gesture taking in the entire room. “She just went out to take a look at someone’s mobile rig.”
        “She’s looking for an accessory,” Hisao mumbles.
        “I’m not sure I follow you.”
        “Never mind, it’s not important. The only one she wants watching her right now is me, and she’s not going to get that. My presence would only encourage her to dig herself into even more trouble.”
        “Mmm. I’ll put some eyes on her – quietly.” El Jefe departs again, returning to the long table to discuss the matter with the event coordinators.
        “What happened to her aunt?” Tadao asks. “I thought they arrived together.”
        “I’m not sure,” Neko answers, “but she’s not here now. I suspect she only stayed long enough to eat, then decided this crowd was much too nerdy for her.”
        Well, she wouldn’t be wrong.
        Hanako notices Hisao staring at her with a completely unreadable expression, and he doesn’t flinch when he gets caught. “Would you mind driving the rest of the day?” he finally asks her.
        “I, uh…” She glances down at the half cup of beer in front of her.
        “Yeah, I know. We weren’t planning on leaving for an hour at least, right babe?” His eyes flick over to Neko before returning to Hanako.
        “Y-yeah, I suppose I can d-do –”
        “Good. Thank you.” Hisao drops the keys on the table, picks up her cup, and tosses back the contents in three gulps.
        An hour or so later, the group has migrated inward to the long table. People are still dropping in, but not as fast as they are departing, and dinnertime is approaching, so the management wanted to reclaim their peripheral tables at the least.
        A figure stands in the door to the main room. “Guys, I need some help.”
        The event coordinator stares him down for a moment before replying. “What, getting her drunk isn’t good enough? Do you need someone to hold her down too?”
        The man supports himself with the door frame as he points at his accuser. “That is exactly the sort of shit that made me wait this long to come to you. I didn’t get her drunk, she did that all by herself – and now she has painted the inside of my car with it.”
        “And just what do you expect us to do about it?”
        “Just get her home, man.” He wobbles as he gesticulates.
        “Where does she live? I suppose one of us could call it a day.”
        “She wouldn’t tell me. She doesn’t want anyone to know.”
        “Then drag her back in here, I guess. We’ll just have to wait until she changes her mind, or calls someone on her own. Or maybe this gal has another plan.” The coordinator gestures toward Hanako, who is shaking her head.
        “Sh-she doesn’t have to t-tell you. We already kn-now.”
        “We’re not all going to fit in that little car,” Neko points out.
        “You’re right. That’s why I’m going to do this m-myself.”
        It’s Hideki’s turn to shake his head. “You might need some help carrying her.”
        You’re right also, but I’m not sure you’re the man for the job. Then again, she probably won’t get in the car with Hisao. Neko can’t lift. Tadao can’t see. It looks like it’s you or no one for me.
        They’re about five minutes out, the destination clearly visible on the navigation screen, when Hideki first decides to start chewing on his foot.
        “I wanted to tell you,” he starts, “now don’t get me wrong, I’m just saying…”
        Here it comes.
        “…you’re cute.”
        Hanako drives on in silence for a bit, taking a glance at the semi-conscious passenger to her left. “Thank you,” she says as neutrally as possible, catching a glimpse in the mirror as he throws himself back into his seat after leaning forward for his announcement.
        A bit more than halfway to the destination, he decides to press on. “I was wondering if you had a boyfriend or anything, because, um…” Another glance in the mirror reveals that he is leaning forward again, this time hanging onto the front seat for support.
        “Y-yes, Hideki, I’m already s-spoken for.”
        “Oh.” Another awkward moment passes. “What’s he like?”
        “She’s k-kind, attentive, and imp-perfect. She lets m-me be imperfect too.”
        “Oh.” This time he leans back and starts thumping himself on the head. He softly repeats “«harum zadeh»” like a mantra for the next kilometer or so, hitting his forehead with the heel of his hand every third or fourth repetition.
        Once they arrive, the two of them don’t so much have to carry Iwanako as merely support her as she stumbles along, leaving Hideki with a free hand to wield an umbrella against the drizzle. Iwanako makes it as far as the front porch before spraying the hedges while searching for her key. Once inside, they toss her purse on the coffee table, then help her to the restroom and get her seated on the commode, but leave her to herself to clean up.
        “What’s that?” Hideki points at a cryptic message written on the mirror in blue ink, and Hanako quickly locates the pen that was used to put it there.
        “A p-personal bulletin board,” she answers before leaving a note of her own, reading Check the phone. Before exiting the residence, she uses her own phone, hanging up as soon as the ringtone starts. If she really wants to know, she’ll call back.
        It takes much less time than expected for this offer to be accepted. The five of them are at the cycle polo matches when a call comes through. Not recognizing who it is, Hanako takes a walk away from the canopy everyone has sheltered beneath to watch the play.
        “H-hello?” Dammit, I don’t usually trip right out of the box these days.
        The voice coming from the other end is lower than expected, and completely sober. “You wanted me to call, right?” Well no, not you exactly… “I’m sorry. My name is Endo, Mayuki Endo. Are you the person that left the note on my mirror?”
        Ah, I get it now. This is not necessarily a good thing, but at least it makes sense. “Yes, that would be m-me. Is she alright?”
        “That depends on your definition, I suppose. After I found her unconscious in the shower, dressed and dry, she locked me out of my own restroom. I could get in, but I’ll let her sleep it off in there and think about it. In any event, as she was chasing me out, I spotted the note on the mirror and peeked in her phone. How did she get home?”
        “I drove her back.” As long as she sticks to short responses and doesn’t rush the delivery, Hanako can keep her nerves under control. Once her mouth outruns her brain, however, she’s going to trip over words even if she’s completely calm, so she takes a deep breath and prepares her next packet. “She wouldn’t tell anyone where she lives.”
        “Then how did you get here, if she wouldn’t tell anyone?”
        Since this is exactly the response she was expecting, she has an answer ready to go, but still manages to trip over it as she second-guesses the nuances of the delivery. “I had been there b-before.” And it was still saved in the navigation unit.
        “Oh!” Mayuki exclaims. “That’s so obvious I should have thought of it. So you’re a friend from the International School? Funny, I don’t remember any Ikezawa there, but I suppose I don’t know everyone…
        “N-no,” Hanako stutters, unable to control it as well now that they’ve veered off-script. “We met when we g-got our radio licenses.”
        She can almost visualize Mayuki nodding on the other end of the call. “That explains why you were at the restaurant as well. This is starting to make a bit more sense. Perhaps you’d also be the one to tell me what kind of trouble she got up to?”
        “N-not much.” This short response hangs like the cold, cloying dampness in the air. You already know she got drunk, so what more can I really add?
        “Mmm. Could you at least tell me this then: did she leave the premises with anyone other than you?”
        Hanako pauses before responding, opting to interpret ‘premises’ in a broad sense. “No, I’m p-pretty sure she didn’t leave.” Hang out in some smarmy guy’s parked car getting tanked, yes. Leave, no.
        Mayuki seems to be speaking to someone else when she mutters, “Gino, Gino, Gino, what am I going to do with you?” but her focus soon returns. “That note wasn’t for me, was it? Well, she’ll probably call you herself, since I didn’t get a chance to wipe the mirror before she hustled me out. If you don’t want to tell her I called you first, I won’t either.”
Art is never finished, only abandoned.
Nekonomicon thread and downloads
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