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Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 22 (20180702)
Posted: Mon Jul 02, 2018 10:58 am
“I’m so sorry we cannot attend the graduation ceremony tomorrow,” Hisao’s mother explains, “but it is bad timing. Your father has to have everything up and running in the new building by Monday morning.”
“No, really, it’s fine,” Hisao responds. “It’s not like you can’t come see me after I move into the city.”
“Do you need money for the movers? Where are you going to stay? Is there anything we can do to help?”
He tries not to let his wry grin slip into his voice. “Only one thing, I suppose. Don’t be too shocked if I’m busy acting as Neko’s chauffeur while I stay at her house for the next week. The gal she rooms with is graduating too, so she has to vacate the premises and commute for the final week.”
“She can’t ride? She made such a big show of it before.”
“Oh, she can, and she has in the past, but I’m pretty sure she won’t, at least not all the time.” Not if the dogs are anywhere to be seen.
“You’ll stay out of trouble?” Her intonation makes this come across as more of a command than a question.
After a sigh, he decides it’s time to let some sunshine on his heretofore secret life. “No, I probably won’t, but that’s hardly new. I’ve lost count of the number of times she has slept in my bed, or me in hers.”
His mother has the courtesy to pull away from the microphone a bit before whistling. “So that’s how she got her hooks so deep into you. I should have seen that coming – no, I did see that coming, I just hoped I was imagining it. Poor Iwanako never had a chance to –”
“Yes, she did,” he interrupts, “and she took it. I’m not making my decisions based on who will sleep with me. There is a lot more going on than that.”
“So it runs in the family. Does your father know?”
“Some of it, and he may have guessed the rest, but I have now told you more than I have ever told him. I’m sure you remember the rollaway bed in the closet. That is here because she had trouble getting in and out of the waterbed when she was dealing with the broken arm. It is only still here because it wasn’t needed back at the ranch house. It’s not for my nominal roommate, and it never was. Well, at least it never was while it was here. I wouldn’t know if he ever used it at the ranch.”
“Stay out of real trouble then, yes?” his mother implores. “You are at least careful?”
“Oh yes, we both know better than to end up in that position, having witnessed it more than once. You remember the gal I rescued from the pool, and then had to rescue again when she went missing? That’s why she went missing, and once I knew why she was trying to hide, I also knew where I was likely to find her. It – ah – got dealt with, but it’s not something I would ever want to put somebody through.”
“I am greatly relieved to hear that you have learned from the mistakes of others, instead of having to make them yourself. Sometimes things never do get put right after.”
You might as well call Yoshizumi by name. “You can see a lot by just watching. At least I’d like to imagine that I have.”
“I’d like to imagine that I have done my small part to help those in need, especially when that need is a consequence of someone else’s poor judgement, but also when it was their own. That is not the same as condoning such, but many are all too eager to point fingers for sins they are guilty of themselves. They just got away with them – to a degree, at any rate.”
“Wait. I’m pretty sure I know who you were talking about, but not on this last bit. Who got away with what?”
“Let me put it this way: we know the identity of a certain absentee father, and so do you. We used to be friends, back when you were still small, before we realized what he had done was not a mere lapse of judgement, but a pattern. He had no choice but to marry the second one, and neither your father nor I were terribly saddened when he decided to relocate.”
“You mean ‘uncle’ Masuo? Is that why he missed my fifth birthday party? I knew he wasn’t really my uncle, but neither you nor Father seemed inclined to discuss the matter.”
“And we’re still not. He possesses the power to make our lives – and Yoshizumi’s – difficult if he senses disrespect from us.”
“Does she know?”
“That I told you? I don’t plan to inform her. I don’t even plan to tell your father that I told you.”
That’s not what I meant. “No, I… never mind. I think I got your main point. You’ve seen more than I am aware of, and I shouldn’t be so afraid of opening up to you.”
The relief is evident in his mother’s voice. “Yes, yes, that is what I was trying to say. We’ll come up and see you at university some weekend soon, since you won’t be there for Tanabata.”
Now I don’t feel so bad withholding the primary reason I chose Neko over Iwanako – one is in control of her many vices, and the other is not although she has fewer of them. However, that just replaces one guilty feeling with another. As soon as the goodbyes have been said, he’s back on the phone.
“What’s up?” Yoshizumi answers. “You’re at least going to drop in for the opening tomorrow, right? I understand how you feel about packed crowds and wouldn’t expect you to stay, but you should at least see and be seen.”
What? Oh, right, I’m considered an owner at the San Cristobal even though Sally advanced the money. “I don’t think Neko would let me not show up, even if she has to pack me in bubble wrap for protection. But, uh, that’s not why I’m calling. Are you in a position to speak freely?”
“Give me a moment.” A door can be heard opening, then closing again. “I’m out back now, alone. What’s the trouble?”
“The trouble is in my head. I know too much, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to not discuss it.”
Yoshizumi laughs. “Don’t worry. I know my boss is, shall we say, ‘connected’. He has promised it will never be my problem.”
“And I believe he means it. I wouldn’t have introduced you if I thought he couldn’t be trusted.” And at this point, I’m nearly as complicit. “What is eating at me is not related to that.”
“Oh. I have no idea what you’re getting at, then.”
“Iwanako has a half-brother or half-sister somewhere.”
Several agonizing heartbeats pass before a response comes back. “No, she has three. Two boys and a girl.”
“I suppose you can guess how I just found out. Does she know?”
“Yes, although I have always preferred that she refer to them as cousins. It saves a lot of explaining.” Ah, so she has actually discussed them with me, under their ‘alternate designation’.
Hisao lets out a relieved sigh. “I can live with that, so long as she knows the truth.”
“She knows what she wants to know. If she asks, I tell her, but she hasn’t asked in years. Maybe she is getting it straight from the source. She has always gotten along with them, if at arm’s length. I think that’s more a product of the age difference than the ‘situation’ though.”
“And you’re not going to be angry at my, uh, source?”
“I was, for a second. Then I was angry at myself for the next second. I’m over both of those feelings already. I think you can be trusted.”
“Trusted not to misuse the information? Or trusted not to punch my so-called ‘uncle’ in the nose if I should ever see him again? Because I can’t absolutely promise the latter.”
“That’s alright,” Yoshizumi says with a snicker. “Neither can I.”
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 23a (20180723)
Posted: Mon Jul 23, 2018 5:44 pm
Jōji watches through the dark windows of the guard shack as the boy on a bicycle trundles up the drive. He waits until the intercom buzzer is activated, and a few seconds more for good measure, before stepping out the back and around the small building to make it appear he wasn’t inside the whole time. Reaching into his pocket, he thumbs a button on the keychain and the gate starts to roll open.
“Thank you,” Junpei says with a nod as he walks the bicycle through.
Jōji thumbs the other button to stop the gate, then again to start it moving the other direction. “No, thank you. I have errands to run, but I was waiting on the relief crew.” He grabs a shovel which is leaning against the side of the guard shack and holds it out. “Watch where you step, and collect what you find. Bags are in the shack.”
“I haven’t even had a chance to check in yet,” Junpei protests.
“I took the liberty of doing that for you. You’re on the clock, so get moving.” Jōji waggles the shovel. “Make the grounds look like we don’t have dogs. That’s your assignment for the next two hours.”
“I was starting to think you didn’t. Where are they?”
“Staying warm. You can let them out as soon as I’ve departed, but if they don’t want to come out, don’t force them. I’ll call when I’m on the home stretch coming back so you can corral them.” Tired of holding the shovel, Jōji shrugs and jams it vertically into the dirt before walking away, sticking to the unmarked path he previously cleared between the house and the guard shack. After half a dozen steps, he is forced to suppress a laugh.
“Shit!” Junpei exclaims. “You weren’t kidding!” He slips off his shoe and bangs it on the ground.
“You need not bother,” Jōji says over his shoulder so that his grin cannot be seen. “There’s plenty more where that came from.”
Akira waits for a response to her knocking, finally hearing the door being unlocked. “That seems like a lot of security for a place you’re about to vacate,” she says when the door starts to open.
“It remains worth securing until we are completely packed out,” Lilly insists.
“That won’t take long, I rented a truck so we can do this all in one go.” Raising her voice slightly, Akira targets Hanako in the background. “Speaking of which, you can probably make some spending money if you want to play mover for the rest of the day. You’ll have to split it with me, I’m the only one that can drive. My name is on the contract.”
“Y-you really think there are people who h-haven’t planned for this by now?”
“Seriously?” Akira’s look matches her quizzical tone. “I’d be exceptionally surprised if half the people moving out of here aren’t scrambling right now.”
“We have until tomorrow,” Lilly points out.
Akira nods, knowing half the audience will miss it. “That’s what they’re counting on too. Hey babe, you’re tight with El Jefe, right?”
“K-kinda maybe?” comes Hanako’s feeble response.
“Think you can borrow an electric cart?”
Hanako’s brow furrows in thought. “N-no… but I know who can.” She holds up a finger as she smiles and reaches for her phone. “And n-now we have l-leverage.” She puts the phone to her ear. “Hi Neko,” she says, “I’m going to make you an of-offer you sh-shouldn’t refuse. We have a m-moving truck. If you can b-borrow us an electric cart, we’ll d-deliver a load to your house.” After a pause to listen, she continues. “Yes, now.” Pause. “Alright. W-we’ll be waiting.”
“She can swing it?”
“She promised a definite m-maybe.”
“Alright, both of you start stacking things in the order you want them to go on the truck. We’ll hold off on dragging the hand cart down the hill unless and until proven necessary.”
“Weeeeee!” Iwanako squeals as she opens the door. “I’ve been waiting for you!” She has already doffed her school uniform for the last time, in favor of a light dress with a floral print.
Haruhiko plasters on a grin before he can let his concern leak through. That doesn’t extend to the drinking, I see. “Likewise, I’ve been looking forward to this in the worst way. The shuttle took for–” Whatever he had planned to say ceases to matter the moment she clutches onto him and quiets him with a sloppy kiss. Cinnamon schnapps, it would seem.
When she pulls back, she puts a finger to his lips. “Follow me, I have something to show you!” Abruptly, she releases her hold on him and darts away toward her bedroom.
Very well then, let’s see where this leads. He follows at a fast walk, arriving to find that the entire room has been fitted with new furniture, save for her overflowing bookcase which is a permanent fixture of the house. “Nice! You said you were going to refresh the place, but I didn’t think you meant everything.” He interprets her gestures to mean ‘go on, take a closer look’, so he does. The complete absence of cat fur contrasts with his recollection, although they had tried valiantly to remove it. Apparently, replacing all cloth surfaces, including the rug, was the only solution.
“Yeah, nice, isn’t it? Since there is no need to move to the campus, I was finally given license to put my own stamp on the place. Also, I’m allowed to lock the new cat out, whenever Mom gets one, so it shouldn’t ever look like that again. Speaking of locks…”
Haruhiko’s head turns on a swivel as he hears the click of a lock being engaged.
“...we should have the place to ourselves until the wee hours of the morning, but…” She gives a wave toward the locked door as she approaches. “We can never be too sure.”
“I see. Whatever shall we do?” He genuinely wants to know what he’s expected to do next.
“I suppose we could… I dunno, stay inside and play games? ” She very nearly brushes him as she walks past on her way to her writing desk, where she pulls a pack of cards out of the drawer. “Perhaps with a prize for the winner?”
The amount of tongue in her kiss leaves little doubt what that prize might be – and suddenly Haruhiko doesn’t know whether he wants to win or lose.
Neko doesn’t even wait until she comes to a complete stop before running her mouth. “I got it, but there’s a bit of a catch. Two, actually.”
“Should I be worried?” Akira asks with a raised eyebrow, noting that the front left tire had been close enough to kick a bit of dirt onto her shoes when the cart came in hot and skidded to a stop. She drives like me, only with one hand and the wrong foot.
Neko shakes her head. “Not really, just plan accordingly. First, I have to drive, per El Jefe’s rules. I’m still a student here for the next week, and she’s not.” She nods at Hanako. “Second, that load you offered to carry will not just be things from my room, but Suzu’s as well. Aside from a rollaway bed, we don’t have that much that can go without being dismantled, and we aren’t doing that until tomorrow.”
“It’s going to the s-same house,” Hanako says with a shrug.
Neko shrugs back. “I reckoned likewise. Oh, just because I’m here, don’t expect me to lift or carry your cargo. I’m just driving.” She puts both her flesh and aluminum legs over the dash and reclines. “I’ll be waiting.”
“Not for long.” Stepping through the door to the ground floor of the dorm, Akira grabs the handle to the hand cart from the rental truck, already stacked high with boxes. Carefully, she wheels it out the last five meters and begins the work of team-lifting each box onto the electric cart. Even after securing with straps, only slightly over half of the load fits in a stable manner, so Lilly is left to stand guard over the remainder as they pull away.
“Do you ever slow down?” Akira suddenly asks Neko. “I don’t mean like that,” she adds when the cart lurches a bit. “I mean… I don’t know, I just feel old when I watch you.”
“It’s hard work, but I don’t actually move that fast.” Neko waves the invisible hand in the air as she drives. “I just use radar to start moving before other people have time to process events. I don’t win with horsepower, I win with hole shots. It comes at a cost, though.”
“You can’t shut it down to conserve some energy?”
“I can, and I do. She’s seen it.” The invisible hand seems to pass right through Akira’s head before coming to rest, pointed at Hanako on the far left of the bench seat. “If I had to look two seconds into the future twenty-four hours a day, every day, I would have burned out long ago. I still worry that I might.”
Akira’s tone becomes more skeptical. “You can see two seconds into the future? I think the English phrase that fits here is «citation needed».”
Neko laughs. “You mean «bullshit». No, it’s actually much worse than that. I can see multiple two-second futures, and plan for all of them as best I can, given their probabilities. That way, once the waveform collapses, I can simply react instead of having to make my decision on the spot.”
“That m-makes sense,” Hanako says with a nod. “«Speculative execution.» You don’t m-mispredict often, but when you do…” She suppresses a giggle with her hand as Neko shoots a glance at her. “You look rather s-silly,” she adds quietly.
“That’s a very diplomatic way to put it,” Neko concedes. “I’d say I come off looking like a bloody imbecile. Some people know my inner process well enough to hack it and induce an epic fail.”
“Your Mum,” Hanako mutters.
“She’s undoubtedly the best at it, but that should surprise nobody. She taught me the concept in the first place. ‘If you can’t be strong, be fast. If you can’t be fast, be first. Otherwise, wear a helmet,’ she insisted. I don’t think she imagined I would take it to the level that I have, but she knows exactly how I do it. Hang on, it’s about to get a trifle bumpy.” It does indeed, as she steers the cart off the tracks worn into the grass by security and maintenance. “It works pretty well for her too, but her angle is to narrow the parameter space. Control the rules of the game, and you can probe more dark corners, peer further into the future, or a little bit of both.”
“B-by being r-rude?” Hanako suggests.
“That’s certainly one of her tactics, being rude or crass or loud, or any other mannerism you aren’t expecting. In doing so, she redefines the game, and regains control over a situation that perhaps is getting out of her grasp. Sometimes though, she’s just a bitch to get a rise out of you. That’s a generic ‘you’, not you personally – she likes you. It is wise to be wary of her, but a lot of it is just sound and fury.”
Akira responds to the reference. “«It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.»” By the fifth word, Neko is reciting the line along with her. “So you knew I was going to say that.”
“No, but I knew it had a reasonable probability of happening, and planned accordingly. I also made several other plans which were then discarded when their prerequisites failed. I had responses ready if you had nudged me with your elbow, called out the reference directly, responded with a non-sequitur, and a few other things. I did not prepare a response to you, say, trying to set me on fire. That is why Mum does random. She can respect and even like you, but she always wants to win – not every battle, but the war for sure. We’re here.”
“Yes, we are,” Akira says in mild surprise as she looks around, having lost track of the surroundings. “I didn’t even tell you where we were going.”
“It’s the only truck with rental tags.” Neko sets the brake and puts her legs back on the dash. “Have fun.”
“W-what do we want to st-start with?” Hanako asks as she steps off the cart, but her hands are raised in front of her, palms forward and thumbs crossed. She flaps her hands twice as if they were wings.
Akira spares the minimum possible head turn to determine Neko’s line of sight. It is unlikely she was watching. “Let’s see what falls off when we release the straps. We’ll take that first.” As she steps off the cart, she nods in a way that could easily be missed. Now that you mention it, I think you’re right. She’s flying, but on what? She’s definitely not drunk, and doesn’t seem stoned although it’s possible… wait, her braggadocio reminds me of Kenny – back in law school, back when I actually thought he was funny, and not just a dick. Akira mimes scooping with a fingernail and snorting from it, but raises an eyebrow to express doubt.
Hanako apparently shares that doubt, as she gives the tiniest shake of the head as Akira opens the roll-up door at the rear of the truck. The loading process gives the pair further opportunity to carry on their double conversation, only now it is their gestures that are used as a decoy as they point and pretend to discuss where each box should go.
When Hanako leans in close while placing a box, Akira ‘fails’ to get out of the way and is rewarded with a whisper in the ear. “X, m-maybe.”
Unfortunately, Neko currently has her eyes closed as she reclines. Akira carefully chooses the box she knows to contain ‘toys’, as they will rattle but not break, and proceeds to drop it on a corner. “«Fuck!»” she exclaims, and the ruse works. Neko lurches upright, looking around and grabbing the steering wheel for support as she is unable to get her legs off the dash fast enough. Their eyes lock for the fraction of a second necessary, followed by a tiny but telltale twitch in Neko’s expression of alarm. It’s some sort of stimulant, could be MDMA. Akira allows herself to visibly relax as she picks up the box and peers inside, while Hanako’s genuinely horrified expression turns to relief only once the flaps are locked together and the box set in place. “I’m trying to hurry, before Lils dies of boredom.”
Neko snorts. “Are you fucking shitting me? She was on her phone before we got ten meters away.”
“Are you now adding clairvoyance to your claimed list of superpowers?” Akira asks skeptically, while she continues to pass boxes to Hanako for final stacking. “You never looked back.”
“I didn’t need to, I could hear it. I could tell you how deep into her contact list she went as well, except we got out of range too soon. Even my rabbit ears can’t get around the noise floor – but if you doubt me, ask her yourself. She didn’t choose the first or second entries.”
“I don’t need to ask her,” Akira sighs as she waggles her thumb between herself and Hanako. “We’re the first two entries.”
“Well, there you go then.” Neko covers her mouth with the short arm as she yawns. “Bloody hell, I’m going to need something stronger than coffee and greenies to get through the rest of today and tomorrow.”
“G-greenies?” Hanako asks as she stacks the last box of the load and carefully jumps out of the truck.
Neko waits until Akira closes and latches the roller door before responding. “Ephedra pills. You know, the ones you can get at the convenience store, that Suzu eats like candy? We get them by the pallet, just for her, so I pinched a bottle.”
It’s Akira’s turn to snort. “You must not have a tolerance built up. They haven’t hit me hard in years.”
“Too right, I don’t generally care for them. It’s one thing for something to keep me moving, but something else entirely if it won’t let me hold still. I should have only taken one when you signed me up for this adventure, not two.” Neko holds out her hand as the passengers re-embark, revealing a mild tremor. “The real reason I’m dodging lifting duties is that I could easily bugger my back again and not know until tomorrow morning, at which point it would constitute a major crisis.”
“A-again?” Hanako asks with concern as they begin the drive back to the dorm.
“Remember when I went arse over teakettle while bowling?”
“I haven’t bowled since. I will give it another go, but not until I can risk a few days of downtime should I suffer the same fate again.”
When they return, Lilly is occupying her time by talking with Tadao, only it’s face to face.
Akira hopes Neko can interpret basic charades, first pointing at Tadao, and then holding up three fingers. You were right, he’s the third person on her list.
“I suppose I should let you get back to moving,” he says as he hears the cart roll up, and presumably spots the silhouette against the sky.
“Well you needn’t go alone,” Akira answers. “We’ll ring when we need you, Lils. It should be at least twenty minutes, likely more. Perhaps a lot more. The load after this involves furniture, no?” She turns toward Neko.
“That would be the one after next. Last in, first out, right? I’ll notify Suzu that she’s on deck.”
CONTINUED NEXT POST
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 23b (20180723)
Posted: Wed Aug 15, 2018 1:47 pm
Chapter 23 Continued...
When Suzu’s phone rings, Abe knows better than to ignore it. The Pink Panther ringtone tells him all he needs to know – that if he doesn’t answer, his phone will ring next. “Hello?”
“She crashed, aye,” Neko’s voice responds with more than a trace of annoyance.
“Indeed. I could wake her if absolutely necessary, but I wouldn’t expect her to be very useful.”
“That’s up to you, but this is your wake-up call. Someone – I reckon that would be you – needs to pick up a hand cart so it doesn’t get ‘claimed’. Then you have perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes to prepare what you want to ship back to the house today.”
“Let me get dressed.”
Neko snickers loudly. “You’re not dressed? «I think I’ll have a heart attack and die of not-surprise!»”
“You’re one to talk.”
“I don’t have a habit of passing out after – or during. No matter, it’s your responsibility now. Meet us in front of the building.”
Fair enough, I did complain to you about it the other day. By the time he dresses and makes the walk out, the electric cart is already loaded and secured.
“It took you long enough,” Neko jibes.
Abe takes a look at the hand cart. “I don’t really need that. It won’t even fit through the door, so I don’t see how it’s going to be of any assistance.”
“Just secure it,” Neko responds, “so it doesn’t get borrowed.”
Akira puts up a hand. “No need, we’ll just put it on the truck after this load. There is no sense in having to move it out of the way when we unload at your house.” She folds the handle and tips the cart onto its side, locking eyes with Hanako. “Help me put it in front of the boxes. We’ll have to hold it going down the hill.”
“It looks like you’re off the hook,” Neko says to him with a wave of the invisible hand. “You can see how big our transport is, and you get one load with it. The last one is mine.” Once the hand cart is something resembling secured, and all riders in place, she gives him a wave of the visible hand before setting off for the parking area at the base of the hill.
“I have never had an issue with our fellow investors popping in for a visit,” Sally says haughtily into the phone pinned to her ear. “It’s some of them who seem to think it’s a problem.”
“Right, well, we’re not going to stay,” Neko replies with an apologetic tone. “I had an opportunity to move some of tomorrow’s work into today, and jumped at it. We’ve got most of Suzu’s books, clothing, and stuffed animals, three bicycles, and the rollaway bed. That leaves dismantling the bed and bicycle rack and moving the appliances for tomorrow.”
“I’m sure Jōji will appreciate the gesture. Does he need to research how to disassemble a waterbed?”
“Not particularly, just bring the tools and we can show him if there is any confusion. He might want to take pictures so he can remember how to put it back together, but that’s a different matter.”
“How long will you be?”
There is quiet murmuring to be heard as Neko lowers her phone and discusses the matter. When she returns, she has her answer. “Inside of ten minutes, unless something goes sideways.”
“Right, I’ll take care of the details over here. See you soon.” The call concludes. Sally lays the handset on the desk behind her as she continues to gaze out the window. She has a direct view of the front gate, only occasionally interrupted by workers and/or horses going past.
When the truck rolls up the drive several minutes later, Junpei responds at a moderate jog, with four dogs happy to run at the ends of their leashes in front of him. Even if he didn’t want to move that fast, they aren’t giving him much of a choice in the matter. She watches as he uses them as a living barrier while speaking with the driver. Finally he steps into the guard shack and gets onto the intercom.
Sally allows it to buzz three times and start dialing phones. She answers about a minute later when it finally gets around to the land line. “What is it, Junpei?”
“Uh, your daughter says she’s here to make a delivery, but nobody told me about it. I told her I’d have to get approval. She’s not happy.”
“Approval granted. Restrain the dogs and let them in.” You’re not going to receive a more obvious hint that I’m watching.
The moment the truck is able to swing around and back up to the house, Neko hits the ground running and heads straight for the office. “I thought you were going to take care of the details,” she says with considerable annoyance.
“I did,” Sally says with a gesture toward the window. “The details were to let Junpei make his own decisions while I watched from a safe distance. That went exactly according to plan, and I’m pleased to say that he passed that test. He is failing the second one, however.” She points toward where he stands beside the gate, unsure of what to do next. “Tell him to pull his thumb out of his arse and unload the truck. I’ll send someone around to assist him.”
“We don’t h-have to wait in the queue,” Hanako half-whispers.
Akira nods. “I know, but I want to see how they’re treating the clientele, not how they roll out the red carpet for us.”
It takes nearly ten minutes to make it to the corner of the building, where they can watch the bouncer doing his job of asking for identification and then applying a Tyvek wristband to each person entering. That seems logical, but sometimes he doesn’t bother to ask. Finally they make it to the front of the queue, and Akira already has her identification in hand. The bouncer glances at it, then turns his attention to Hanako, who rapidly becomes uncomfortable with his inspection.
“Can I see some proof of age, please?” the tall, thin man dressed in black asks. “Or are you here only for the dining?”
Akira nudges Hanako gently with an elbow. “Give the man what he desires,” she says. “I’m getting cold.”
Hanako fumbles with her small handbag, taking great care to conceal the fact that she has two such cards and needs to distinguish between them. Finally she retrieves the one that dates her two years older than she actually is, and hands it over.
The bouncer looks at this one more closely than the last.
Oh fuck, does he know it’s a forgery? She shuffles her feet nervously for a second before swallowing back her apprehension, and closes her eyes until she feels the card being rapped against her knuckles.
“You want this back, don’t you?” he says with a broad grin. Once she accepts the card, he holds out a red wristband torn from a large sheet. “Right hand, please.” He applies the wristband and smooths over the adhesive to ensure that it will fall apart if removed. A glance reveals that Akira has been given the same red wristband. “I presume you ladies would prefer to go upstairs?”
“I suppose we can start there,” Akira replies, “but we’d like to get a look at the whole place before the night is out. We haven’t seen it fully furnished and decorated.”
It’s the bouncer’s turn to look concerned, as he pulls a list from his pocket. “What was your name again? I have to admit I wasn’t looking that closely at the name, just the date of birth.”
“Satou. Akira Satou.” This causes Hanako to snicker, as she recognizes the James Bond delivery.
The bouncer checks his list. “In that case, you definitely want to go upstairs. That’s where the other investors will be gathered. Have a nice evening!” He steps aside to let them in and turns his attention back to the queue.
Akira leads the way. “Let’s have that little walkthrough up front, just in case, shall we?” Once inside, they step away from the staircase to the left and enter the main dining area where they are greeted by an elegantly dressed woman.
“Two?” the woman asks them.
“Oh, no, we don’t wish to be seated,” Akira says apologetically. “We just want a glimpse of the restaurant before we head upstairs. We haven’t seen it since last weekend.”
The woman gives a smile and a hybrid nod and bow, waving them to pass inside.
It takes a moment for Hanako’s eyes to adjust to the much more dimly lit interior, so she comes to a halt, recalling there is a downward step somewhere. She grabs Akira’s wrist just in time to stop her from tripping over the same.
“Huh?” Akira can barely be understood over the murmur of diners and thumping bass coming from above, but she realizes her near mistake before Hanako can answer. “Thanks for the save. They’re missing a marker light.”
“N-not ‘they’. We.”
Akira nods and leans in close so she can be heard. “You are correct. We’ll tell the hostess.” She nods in satisfaction at the way things appear to be going at present. “Aside from that, I’m impressed. It looks nice.”
How can you tell in the dark? Or maybe that’s the point? “S-smells good too.”
When Akira reports the missing embedded lighting, the hostess sighs. “We’ll fix it before tomorrow. Again. Could you kindly hold everyone for a moment?” She grabs a temporary barrier used to guide queues and sets off to mark the hazard.
Akira chuckles. “Can you believe that? She left us in charge.”
“I d-don’t mind.”
“Neither do I, really.” A forty-ish couple enters, and Akira flashes them a smile.
The man speaks first. “Are you waiting to be seated?”
“Yes,” Akira improvises. “The hostess went to check on table availability.”
He barely has time to nod before the hostess returns, slightly winded.
“Thank you,” the hostess says, accompanying it with a small but seemingly genuine bow.
Akira returns the gesture. “We’re all in this together.” She uses a tilt of the head to indicate she wishes to continue to the balcony.
Continued next post
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 23c (20180916)
Posted: Sun Sep 16, 2018 9:57 pm
Chapter 23 conclusion
Mariko easily senses the two figures approaching from their effect on the blaring dance music. Reflections mean they’re approaching from the front and I can separate them by the phase shift, nulls mean they’re coming from the back and I can’t. She gently pats Kenta’s knee to let him know she’ll field this. “Oh, hello,” she bluffs, hoping to be loud enough to be heard over the music, but not enough to come across as posturing.
“So you can do that too?” It’s Akira. “I’ve seen your brother do that a few times now. It seems very useful.”
The music is much too loud to allow for subtlety, and Mariko is in no mood to shout about the uses of passive sonar, so she smiles, gives a grateful bow for the compliment, and within a second, Akira breaks the imminent impasse.
“I was –” she begins before coughing twice, promptly getting caught up in a feedback loop of coughing that has her bent over before she can catch her breath. “I was just thinking maybe we need to find a seat,” she mumbles weakly.
Some wordless exchange takes place between Akira and the other figure. You know I can see you and you still do that. You must not mind that I know.
Hanako takes the reins, hesitantly as usual. “I-is there a s-section for us?”
Kenta can be felt, rather than heard, to laugh before speaking. “For same-sex couples? The entire balcony. Or did you mean for stakeholders? I don’t know, we seem to be unfashionably early. Maybe it will form ad hoc – probably near the food, for which we are also early.”
When will the food be here? How late, exactly, is fashionable?
“W-we would assume the same, thank you.” This might or might not have been accompanied by a bow, and the couple leaves to seek a place to rest and regroup.
Kenta kisses her on the cheek and attempts to whisper in her ear. Specifically, he succeeds at conveying his message, but fails to whisper in the process. “You still surprise me. Every day. You knew there were two people coming toward us.”
“Not exactly, but I knew there were at least two, and that the way the one on my left trailed the one on the right yet wasn’t screened meant it was most likely a couple. Did you catch what was wrong with her?” Both visually and biologically.
“No, I fear epidemiology is not one of my strong points. You probably heard as much as I did, if not more, about the cause. I wouldn’t recommend crawling on the floor any time soon, but then I wouldn’t advise that in general, either.”
“Darling,” Mariko asks with excessive charm, “could you, y’know, be a little bit less of an attorney?” I know it’s what you do, but right now I need a minder, not a lawyer.
“Sorry. It’s how I roll.”
“I know, and you do it well.” But I’m the one rolling, you’re supposed to have my back. “The Blind Radio Users Group proposal demonstrates it.”
“Hey, they make it hard to start a club but easy to start a group within a club. It would be foolish not to take advantage, although you will have to make at least one meeting about radio.”
Mariko laughs. “That won’t be difficult, Tadao is already preparing his mini-lecture on how the speech add-on works.”
Kenta laughs as well as he backs away to a more normal speaking distance. “I fully believe it. Are you getting a general vibe? Because I’m not. There’s the club crowd, and there’s the dining crowd, and they don’t interact much. It’s tough to tell which way things would go if they did. Oh there’s a welcome sight, guys are setting up a table and catering trays in the corner. Well, not the trays yet, just the warmers, but I would have to assume that where there’s smoke, there’s fire – or rather, where there’s fire, there’s hot food.”
Mariko senses a pulse in the mood – anger, even hostility, which seems at odds with anything she had felt up until that point. “Who just came up the stairs?” she asks.
“The Shanghai people, with their trays. Why do…” He pauses as Mariko gently grasps his wrist. “Ooh, yeah, even I just felt that.” Kenta bobs and weaves to see through traffic. “I can’t see anyone who looks the part. Wait, I think the problem is coming to us.”
Two are approaching, one almost directly in front of the other. I can only track the second person this well because he or she is taller than the one out front. The aura of swarming bees surrounds the one out front. Before Mariko can come up with an action plan, Kenta has given her a squeeze on the knee. He’ll field this one.
“Evening, Neko. Are you doing alright?”
“Hardly.” The second figure has also arrived. “He’s making me do this.”
“And as soon as we can «do the necessary»,” Hisao answers, “we can be gone. You’d make you do this, on any other day. «Harden the fuck up.» Look, you blow off some steam, I’ll go help unload the car so we can get out of here faster.”
Mariko can sense both the air currents and the soundscape change as Neko takes a seat to her left. “Yeah, alright.” She blazes in non-specific fury.
“What’s gotten under your skin?” Mariko inquires delicately. “Are you cross with him?”
“«Yeah, nah.»” Neko answers paradoxically. “I mean yeah, I’m mad at him for dragging me along, but he’s also right, I needed to show up. It’s not his fault that I crashed and burned a few hours too soon. I fucked up, but it’s easier to pin the blame on him.” She laughs nervously. “He gets it, I think. I’m not drinking tonight, that’s the last thing I need, but don’t let me stop you.”
Kenta laughs. “My bro is a dick sometimes. He black-banded both of us, and Yuuko is enforcing it from her little throne.”
“He was following policy, and that is his job. Hers too. Hisao!”
“Yeah?” he responds as he separates from foot traffic in front of them.
“You have the event staff wristband, right?” she asks him. “In case I get challenged?”
“Yeah, but a minute ago, you wanted to get out of here as fast as possible.”
“I still do, but there is no sense in pissing away an all access, open bar pass. Here, it’s for you-and-one.” Neko is reaching across in front of her, and Kenta’s hands rise to respond.
“You’re not going to stay long enough to eat?” he asks, as he fidgets with something.
“We’ve been sampling liberally through the cooking process. I’m full of slightly undercooked mushroom risotto. Put it on her, it’s probably not going to fit you.”
Kenta’s fingers close around Mariko’s hand, compressing it. “Slide your hand through, if you can.”
After a bit of tugging, Mariko finds that she can. “What is this?”
“The key to the castle,” Neko bubbles with false cheer. “You are now officially me, so have fun with it. I wouldn’t have. I’m still one step from a faceplant, so it’s time to say the rest of my hello-goodbyes.” She slides out of the booth. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Kenta waits a few seconds to offer his reply as he tears off Mariko’s original wristband. “I’m not sure what that is meant to exclude.”
She needs us to drink on her tab to provide the alibi that she was here, instead of curled up in a blanket, strung out. It’s hard work, but I’ll do it.
“Minefield ahead,” she hears Kenta mutter in her ear.
Mariko jumps slightly in astonishment. “Did I just say that out loud?”
“Say what out loud?” His voice clearly indicates that he is not within muttering distance. “I’m going to get us a plate now, unless you’d like to come along, that is.”
“Someone has to hold the booth.” Mariko has no idea how many vacant booths remain.
“Only if we want to keep this specific one all to ourselves – but I kinda do, it’s a good lookout point. I’ll be back in a few minutes, then.”
Mariko leans back into the booth seat, bobbing gently to the music while monitoring carefully for anyone approaching. Several people or groups pass near enough to be tracked, but the only one to do more than step out of traffic momentarily comes from exactly the same direction Kenta left. She turns her face to the approaching entity and prepares to smile as required, but relaxes into a genuine smile when she hears plates being set down.
“Did you miss me?” Kenta asks. “They were looking at me cross, so I said ‘When the boss shows up, do you want him to think people like his food or not?’ They must think I’m a pig. I had to pout to get that second shrimp. How are you holding up?”
Mariko nods rhythmically, at first in time with the music and then not. “It’s… good to this point. What have you chosen?”
“Wasn’t much to choose, more of a take it or leave it. They said the more delicate dishes didn’t have the shelf life to justify making them right now. I guess we can go back later, when the good shit shows up.”
“Can I look?”
“Yeah, give me a second.” Kenta can be heard shuffling the contents of the table. “Now you can look.”
Mariko extends a hand, locating an inverted soft drink cup as her landmark. She can expect to find main dishes to the left of this, and condiments to the right. “How many?”
“One big plate, one small plate with tempura dangling off of it.”
She waves in the air. “So the big plate is here?”
“Yeah. It’s risotto from three to nine, and a penne marinara on the other half. Then there’s the little plate with the tempura. I told you there wasn’t much. I put the sauce in a miso bowl.”
“Did they look at you cross over that?”
“Nah, I think I’d won that argument already. I said it was much easier to juggle than a shallow dish, even though he didn’t seem to care. I take the lack of carrying trays to be a deliberate design choice. They want everyone to get their own plates, so we might have to go back together later. Here.”
The smell of fried sweet potato registers before she has a chance to ask, so she opens her mouth and receives the correct reward. I didn’t express a preference, so he just guessed. Correctly. She starts nodding again, once again starting in time with the music, but drifting out of phase. If there’s any difference I could use to form an image, I can’t hear it, at least not through earplugs. After taking care not to eat too quickly – she is hungrier than she realized – she waves a finger toward where the tempura should be. “Is there an onion in there?”
“Yeah, yeah. Uh, two o’clock on the little plate.”
Although her aim is pretty good, she takes a little chance to explore. Not that much more tempura remains. Three, maybe four vegetable pieces, but two large shrimp. Yeah, he scored. She locates the onion and hunts down the miso bowl simultaneously, then passes the onion ring from left to right for dipping. Oh my, is that good. Really good, she thinks as she flicks a drop of sauce from her chin with a finger before it has a chance to run down her neck. “I don’t remember them being this good.”
“I think the secret is in the sauce, and that’s why they didn’t want me absconding with a bucketload of it.”
Spinning the remaining bit around so that she is leading with the part she didn’t bite, Mariko dips again and takes the remainder in one bite. As soon as she can speak without her mouth full, she answers, “No, it’s just really good,” while gesturing toward the small plate.
“Mmm, enjoy it then I suppose. It tastes like it always does to me, which is certainly not bad, but not exactly a sublime experience either. Given the circumstances, you take both of the shrimp. I know it’ll be pretty good, but if you’re in a state to enjoy it more than me… go for it.” He nudges her with his knee. “It’ll be my turn some time.”
Yuuko glances at her watch to see there are still 45 minutes remaining until she can take her next dose, and groans. Working is painful and of questionable utility right now, but I need the money. No more library job after this month. Looking up, her worries change abruptly. Oh shit, here she comes. “Trouble?” she asks, half-shouting to be heard at all.
Neko ducks under the swinging flap of the bar, shaking her head as she comes up. “Not for you, although I’ve got plenty to share if you want some.” After pausing with a raised eyebrow, she continues. “I didn’t think so.” She hooks her thumb over her shoulder toward Mariko’s booth. “To make a long story short, she’s me tonight.” She then holds out her arm to emphasize her lack of credentials. “It’s real, the tab will work just fine. Why are you even bothering, if I may ask?”
“Accounting purposes – we need to know what proportion of our drinks are actually sold. To that end, we have to know what kind of tabs everyone runs up, even if they aren’t being paid. It’s also a painless way to dry run the system. Or as painless as anything can be, right now.” It may not be so painless when we cut off the biggest ‘spenders’.
“The barcode thing?”
“Yeah. I got the idea in the library, of course. All the books have barcodes inside the cover, so I scan that, and the computer tells me where it goes. I figured it could just as easily tell us who you are. Ben, as always, said we could do it if it was ‘revenue-positive’, so I’m trying to show that it will be.” Yuuko momentarily sits up straight to shout at one of the associate bartenders. “That’s Italian brandy! You can’t make a French Connection with that!” She wields a laser pointer to lead the associate to the correct bottle, then suddenly reverts to her normal awkwardness as she continues. “So… welcome to my experiment?” A wince of pain follows, as her change in posture shakes the cot-like support holding her casted leg.
“I support your experiment, whatever the result may be. I’ve demonstrated a weakness in the system, but at least I’m not buggering your important data. I see you have actual work to do.” Neko leads with her eyes toward the associate bartenders. Leaning in close, she adds, “And call me if you can’t deal with the pain.”
“Ben already offered to hook me up, but thanks anyhow.”
Neko nods, then ducks back under the bar, traveling through traffic with a manner and pace that makes Yuuko wince, once changing her direction of travel ninety degrees from directly ahead to right in a single springing step. Even when I can do that again, I don’t want to. Things seldom go well when I rush.
Sure enough, the barcode on the wristband literally acts as a key. Kenta holds the door to the chill-out room with one hand, and leads Mariko with the other. He can see stacked catering trays in a far corner, waiting to be washed after hours when the restaurant patrons have gone home.
“Much better,” he says with genuine relief once the door is closed behind them. The reduction in noise is immediately met with a reduction in Mariko’s shivering. “Don’t you agree?”
Mariko doesn’t answer as she stands with her eyes uncharacteristically open, with a distinct thousand-yard stare. She draws a deep breath, then nods. “Sit?”
“Sure. I’ll have to move some coats, as this appears to be where people leave them. I kinda need both hands, so you’ll be alright without me for half a minute?”
She resists his attempt to let go of her hand, so he leads her to the sofa, shoving all of the coats to one side so she can sit immediately. This finally prompts her to let go of his hand, and he wraps the bundle of coats in his arms and deposits them over the back of a recliner. As quietly as he can, he retrieves his phone from his pocket and sends a message to his brother. ‘It’s time to go, but she’s not in walking condition.’ He takes a seat next to Mariko, occupying the space he just cleared of coats, and she immediately clutches onto his left hand with both of hers. At least she’s not shivering.
Minutes pass in this state, until finally the phone lights up with a response. ‘You dd? Take the car for an hour.’
I’m sober enough to drive, I stopped after two in the first hour. Kenta chooses to omit this irrelevant detail from his response. ‘I could, but she’s spinning out. I shouldn’t leave her alone.’ He glances over to see if Mariko is interested in his activity, but she continues to blindly gaze into space. He follows it up with another message as soon as he can punch it in. ‘We found the chill-out room.’
He can feel the unwritten sigh at the beginning of Kaz’s response. ‘It’s under control? We can drive her back after closing.’ This one is also a two-parter. ‘Tell me if you make other arrangements.’
It’s only 12:45, and the place closes at 3. “Babe, it looks like we’re going to be here a while. At least it’s quiet.” By way of response, Mariko finally closes her eyes, curls up into a ball, and tips over. She nestles and twists her head in his lap as if she were an enormous cat. Aw shit. I have to pee.
The agonizing impasse is broken by an unsolicited message from Kaz about five minutes later. ‘I found a ride home, come get the keys.’
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 24a (20181015)
Posted: Mon Oct 15, 2018 6:51 pm
“I hate doing this to you,” Hisao explains as he tickles Neko’s foot, “but it takes over an hour to drain the bed. That means I need to start now.”
“Boo, hiss,” she grumbles, pulling her foot away from his fingertips and clutching tighter to the pillow in her arms. “What time is it?”
“Let’s just say you would already be an hour late for class.”
“They already know I have to pack out, so my absence is expected.”
“I know,” Hisao says with a sigh, “I was there when you announced it. I still have to evict you from the bed. It will take me a few minutes to borrow a hose from maintenance, but I expect you’ll be out of bed and dressed by the time I get back.” To drive the point home, he reaches under the headboard and unplugs the mattress heater.
“You totally suck.”
Hisao speaks quietly, but makes no attempt to hide his severely annoyed state. “Don’t try to pin this on me again. I let you whine and complain last night because it kept you moving, but I’m not putting up with it today. If you can’t be helpful, at least try to stay out of the way.” Is it going to be like this for the next week as well? We may welcome a break from each other. He pulls on a suitably warm coat and heads out into the chilly, misty morning air.
When Kenta wakes up, his first stop is the restroom, where he sees the writing on the wall – or at least the mirror, which reads ‘She’s trouble’ in fifteen centimeter high characters. Swallowing back his reflexive anger, he reminds himself that it took Kaz a lot longer than it took him to accept that their parents were closet hippies. It should come as no surprise that they’re having a similar difference of opinion regarding his girlfriend. He wipes the message away so that he doesn’t have to see it again, and to acknowledge receiving it.
Although he dreads the inevitable encounter to come, he may as well get it over with. It’s better than having it hang awkwardly in the air once Mariko is awake. He finds Kaz cooking fake bacon. Perfect, he’s preoccupied. Time to go on the attack.
“Bro,” he leads, “I know you’re trying to watch my back, but you’re wrong on this one. We were acting on medical advice.”
“Doctors generally don’t prescribe getting completely blotto in public.” Kaz keeps his voice low, but the bitterness is clear. “I’m not buying it.”
“That was, ah… a miscalculation. The dose, that is, not the public part which was absolutely essential. She can’t work out her social anxieties by avoiding crowds. She has to seek them out.” And I intend to have a little discussion with Neko about that dose. “It was going rather well, until it went too far. In the future, we’ll have a more detailed exit strategy.”
“How about ‘stop drinking while you can still walk’? How’s that for a strategy?”
“She wasn’t drunk. Or maybe she was a little bit, and it was masked by the MDMA. She didn’t act drunk, that’s for sure. She just started to complain about the sound choking her, and within a matter of minutes she’d gone into full lockup. Once I had led her out of there and into a quiet space, and she finally began to come out of her shell, I wasn’t going to drag her back through it. That’s why you had to have the keys delivered to me, and we slipped out the back.”
“You bought rolls at the club?” Kaz asks accusingly.
“Gods no! Who knows what’s in street pills?” Besides, she didn’t want to snort a crushed pill, or even half of one.
“Then who hooked her up?”
“School psychiatrist. She couldn’t actually prescribe it for use outside a controlled clinical setting, but she did tell Mariko who to talk to.” As if we didn’t already know. “We were going to wait another week, but couldn’t pass up last night’s opportunity.”
“Is this source someone I know or would recognize? Should I be on the lookout from now on, or should I be looking the other way?”
“Yes,” Kenta admits, “and the latter of those two options, although you won’t have to worry about her much longer. I’m sure someone has been appointed to replace her, but I haven’t yet heard who.”
“So are you actually going to tell me, or do I have to guess?” Kaz scoops the facon out of the pan and onto a paper plate. It doesn’t even curl up like proper bacon.
“She got you the job.”
“You mean…” Kaz goes through various charades. Short. Round. Short arm. Huge tracts of land.
Kenta nods solemnly.
“You’re telling me she’s a fucking drug dealer? And that school officials know this?”
“Well, she was. She’s leaving in a week or two. As I mentioned, I am not privy to the identity of her successor.”
Mariko groggily steps into the kitchen, guiding herself with a hand along the wall. “I am,” she says before yawning. “I wish it was someone I like, even a little bit, but hey.”
“Did we wake you?” Kenta asks.
“I was trying to be quiet,” Kaz says over him.
“No,” Mariko says, yawning again. “The smell did.”
“You like fake bacon too?” Kenta asks with theatric exasperation.
“Pfft, no. That’s why it woke me up. It’s just wrong.”
“Kaz can make real bacon smell wrong too,” Kenta jibes.
“I don’t like all the fat of real bacon,” Kaz objects, “and don’t eat it. I will eat all of this. That’s a better value, don’t you think?”
“I favor quality over quantity.”
“That’s what she said,” Kaz snaps back, before realizing that she is not metaphorical, but physically present. “Sorry, I didn’t mean you,” he directs to Mariko, “it’s just a thing we say.”
“I know. My brother does too,” Mariko concedes, “and it sounds equally vapid.”
“So how are you feeling this morning?” Kenta asks, hoping to deflect from the last exchange.
“Remember when Neko crashed the bike at the beach?”
Kenta nods out of habit, even though he is well aware that she can’t detect it. “Of course I do – quite vividly, unfortunately.”
“I feel a little like I did the day after that. My whole body hurts, but only when I move.”
“Mmm, I’m not surprised. You were pretty tense at various points last night. Vibrating, even.”
“I remember, sort of.” Mariko’s head bobs back and forth. “It was going so well, until the thump caught up with me. I don’t know why it was too much then, but not earlier.”
“Because they crank it the moment the restaurant closes,” Kaz replies with a mouthful of fake bacon, which he quickly finishes chewing and swallows. “Otherwise, people stop dancing. When they stop dancing, they mostly stop drinking. Occupying space while not spending money is worse than if they weren’t there at all.” He glances at Mariko, then puts a finger in the air. “Wait a minute, I’ve got just the thing.” Retrieving a bottle of sports drink from the refrigerator, he tosses it to Kenta who in turn hands it to Mariko. “That should help a little bit with tight muscles.”
“And with a hangover,” Kenta adds, “if that is part of the problem.”
“I don’t think so,” Mariko answers after a moment’s thought. “I was never drunk. At least I didn’t think I was.” She opens the bottle and chugs almost half of it immediately. “I was starting to believe they were sending me virgin drinks.”
“They weren’t. I tasted them.”
“This is why it’s hazardous to mix stimulants and alcohol,” Kaz says with a lecturing tone. “I’ve seen cases of alcohol poisoning where the victim is unaware right up to the moment they pass out. Luckily, there’s an Urgent Care facility less than a block from the club. Nobody has ever died from this, at least not under my watch. They do get some weapons grade hangovers, though.”
“It would have been nice if Doctor Nishimori had mentioned that,” Mariko grumbles, holding out an empty bottle which Kenta takes. “I hereby claim the entire bed, now that you have vacated it.”
You usually don’t wait. “If that’s what you need. When do you want me to wake you up?”
“In time to make it to class would be nice.”
Kaz laughs. “So… about three hours ago, then?”
“Great,” Mariko moans, “I can expect the Spanish Inquisition from Tadao.”
“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise!” Kenta corpses his own joke, unable to resist laughing. “Doesn’t he know what you’re doing, and why?”
“In principle, but I don’t know if I mentioned the change of plan.”
“Are you regretting that change?”
Mariko sighs. “I don’t know yet. Ask again in a few days, after it catches up to me. I did get a warning about that.” Her fingertips can be heard brushing the wall as she leaves.
As Kenta browses the refrigerator, he asks, “So who gave you a lift after work?”
“Adidas,” Kaz snarks. “I walked. I used to do it when I’d go drinking, before they decided I might as well work there. What I forgot was that the drinking also kept me warm for those walks. Winter was working overtime last night, while spring is sleeping in.”
“I’m sorry about that. If I’d have known, I would have picked you up. You said you had a ride.”
“I thought I did, but he got released an hour early in exchange for giving the broken bird a lift home.”
“Yuuko?” Kenta waits for and receives a confirmatory nod. “I was quite surprised to see her there at all, let alone behind the bar. Is she on duty again tonight?”
“I would assume so. We’re expecting a crowd similar to last night, so running only one bar would be quite limiting. I’m sure Ben will send her home as soon as he can get by without her.”
Kenta frowns at the selection of quick foods available. Everything requires more effort than he feels like expending, until he sees that there is a fresh pack of hot dogs. There are no buns, but there is a loaf of bread. Microwave hot dogs will do.
Conclusion of chapter next post
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 24b (20181116)
Posted: Fri Nov 16, 2018 6:18 am
Chapter 24 - Conclusion
“It’s fine, really,” Hisao says. “I might as well do it, since there is only one set of tools.”
“I can at least haul away the pieces once you’ve removed them,” Jōji offers, “and load them into the car.”
“Or you could take that apart,” a nightgown-clad Neko suggests from her seat atop the writing desk, pointing at the bicycle rack with the invisible hand while she sips coffee with the visible one. “It doesn’t require tools unless you need to completely dismantle it.”
Hisao shrugs at Jōji. “No huge rush. As long as we’re out of here today, we’re golden.”
“The safe and refrigerator are going to Abe’s room,” Neko points out, “so they can stay where they are for now.”
“I’m supposed to retrieve the contents of the safe,” Jōji says apologetically, “since he won’t need them. How much of a hazard is that going to be?”
Neko hops down from the desk, then walks on her knees to the safe before sitting on the floor to enter the combination. “See for yourself.” She swings the door open and scoots out of the way. The scent of cannabis quickly follows.
“I’m gonna need a bigger, better bag. Let’s do that next trip.”
Neko shrugs. “As you wish.” She taps at the keypad. “I just changed the combination to the current gate code.”
“Why?” Hisao asks.
“So he doesn’t need me to open it later, of course.” She swings the door shut. “I won’t be here.”
“I’ll be going up to the ranch with the first load – and staying there, catching up on my sleep, out of the way. Just like you asked.”
And leave the ‘boys’ to do the heavy lifting. That was your plan all along, wasn’t it?
Hisao spares a moment or three to glare at Neko, and waits until she stares back before setting to work dismantling the waterbed. Your Mum gives you a lot of shit, but sometimes you earn it,
he thinks, but knows enough to keep his cakehole shut and let her beg forgiveness later.
From her knees.
Forty screws and twelve brackets later, he stands triumphantly on a plywood platform. The hydra has been slain. Now it just has to be chopped up and hauled away.
He wipes his brow theatrically with the back of his arm, cordless drill still in hand, and nods at Jōji. “She’s yours now, brother.” He carefully straddles the line of support the pedestal provides beneath the plywood, then shifts his balance to tip the outer edge to the ground, sliding down the ramp and tearing a small chip out of the board. “Oops.” I’m not worrying about trivial shit nobody will ever see. Not today.
When his sliding foot reaches the ground, Hisao reacts too slowly. This causes him to stumble, and the moment he lifts his back foot from the plywood, it falls back into a flat position with a considerable whoosh of air being displaced. Meanwhile, he ends up with arms and face full of occupied coat rack.
“Eight points for style,” Neko says with a laugh, “but I can’t give you any bonus for the landing.”
“I don’t usually do skate tricks with power tools in my hands,” he answers as he sets the drill down and steps into the restroom. He makes it as far as ‘the position’ – pants down and bottom in motion toward the toilet seat – before the corners of the world collapse on the center in a wave of black and a crushing band of pain circling his head.
Awareness returns with the feeling of a cool, wet cloth brushing his face. He opens his eyes to find a very concerned Neko kneeling over him. “How did I get on the floor?” he asks with trepidation.
“I was hoping you could tell me,” Neko replies with an equally concerned voice, “because I didn’t see you do it. I reckon you blacked out on the loo.”
“How long have I been lying here, then?”
Neko shrugs. “I wasn’t keeping count.”
“About thirty seconds,” Jōji offers from the door. “Maybe a minute, tops.”
Hisao sits up, with only a marginal assist from Neko. “Yeah? You might wanna clear the area. I’m in danger of losing breakfast.”
Neko scurries out of the path between him and the toilet. “Are you going to need more help?”
“Just time. I should know better than to remain bent over at the waist for any length of time. I should have been kneeling. When I stood back up again, all the blood drained from my head, and, well, you saw the result.” He turns toward the open toilet and heaves, but nothing comes up. The second heave produces coffee, seemingly unprocessed other than the cream having curdled on exposure to stomach acid. Although he immediately feels better, it is too late to avoid the third heave, and he brings up a minor amount of protective mucus, which he has to spit repeatedly to clear.
At the corner of his vision, a paper cup appears. When he turns to look, Neko is attempting to smile at him with tears filling the corners of her eyes. “Swish and spit, you know the drill.”
Jōji claps his hands loudly, then rubs them together. “Executive decision! I need one of you here to direct traffic and make sure we don’t leave anything behind, and I choose you.” He points squarely at Neko. “We’ll leave the blankets and pillows for last and you can nap in the corner between runs, but if I can drag your Mum through her bad days, I can drag you through one as well. I’d greatly prefer if someone else can keep an eye on him,” he says with a flicking gesture toward Hisao, “so he’ll be the one going back to the ranch with me – or at least the one staying there, if you want to squeeze into the center seat for the trip out.”
“How many trips is this going to take?” Hisao asks with a bit of concern.
Jōji shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m guessing three, four maybe?”
Neko snickers. “What did you rent, an ice cream cart?”
Jōji shakes his head. “No rental, just Pearl, and an awful lot of blankets and ties.”
“And the dogs?”
Jōji employs an eyebrow shrug. “That’s up to Junpei. He’s much more convinced than I am that it’s good for their health to just let them be dogs for several hours a day. I fear they’re starting to make friends with people as a consequence.”
“So they’re running.”
“It means I don’t know, because they are no longer my direct responsibility.”
Neko nods. “I’ll sit this ride out, but watch for that. I’ll be loads more helpful if I’m not preoccupied with avoiding them.” She scurries out of the way. “I’d stick around to help you up, but I wouldn’t be much use.”
“I don’t need help up,” Hisao admits. “At this point, I’m just waiting for this to be over with so I can finish what I came in here to do.” He raps his knuckles on the closed toilet lid for emphasis.
Jōji nods. “Ah, right.” When Neko nears the doorway, he extends a hand and helps her to stand, whispering something to her along the way. “But if you aren’t out in two minutes, I’m knocking to ask why.”
“Fair enough. I’ll try to be quick about it.” He’s not quick enough to avoid being checked on twice, but a simple ‘I’m fine!’ response suffices in response to the knocking.
“Next!” he declares as he finally vacates the restroom, fully buttoned up and under his own power. Jōji is nowhere to be seen, but it can be safely assumed from the diminishing pile of lumber that he is hauling a load to the truck. “So who was checking up on me?”
Neko hooks her thumb at herself. “Who else? When Jōji says ‘make yourself useful,’ he really means ‘last chance to volunteer for something tolerable before I hand out assignments’. I didn’t break you again, did I?”
Hisao shakes his head. “No, I’m pretty sure it was just a low blood pressure fainting spell. It’s not the first time I’ve had it happen, although it’s the first one where I’ve completely blacked out. I remember feeling vaguely like a bowl of petunias as the world closed in on me. ‘Oh no, not again.’ I knew what I had done to induce it, but it was far too late for corrections.” Apparently not too late to curl up for the fall, though.
The door to the outside opens as Jōji returns. He nods at Hisao. “Good, you’re out! El Jefe wants to talk to you, outside.”
“What did I do?”
“I don’t think you did anything. I think he wants to make an offer.”
Hisao is reassured, but confused. “What kind of offer?”
“I dunno, why don’t you ask him?”
With a sigh, he steps out into the late morning glare, to find that nothing has been hauled away – rather, everything has been staged on a tarpaulin outside the door. Momomoto exhales a cloud of smoke and starts speaking. Luckily, or possibly intentionally, the breeze carries it the other way.
“I saw you packing out. Do you really
have room for that big a bed in your new digs?”
“No, but I only have to change a few parts to make a narrower version out of it. I reckoned I’d play it by ear.”
“Mmm. How does this tune sound, then? I’ll buy it, and you could get something that fits where you’re moving.”
So that’s why Jōji was just stacking up the parts out here. Because he had no idea what the offer was. Right.
“I hadn’t anticipated this. I don’t even know exactly what it’s worth, or what a replacement will cost. I only looked up the cost of conversion.”
“It’s on my computer right now. I’ll offer a fair price.” Momomoto crushes out his cigarette butt and beckons Hisao to join him next door.
“How is he holding up?” Jōji asks as he holds both hands around his warm coffee mug.
“I don’t know.” Neko stares at her toes for a few seconds, fighting tears with questionable effectiveness. “He seems
fine, but that’s just it. I can’t tell if he’s being honest, lying to us, or lying to himself – and not knowing is worse than the truth, no matter how harsh.”
“I agree.” Jōji leans against the wall as if exiled to a smoke break, even though he hasn’t had a cigarette in a year and a half. “That’s why I’m making you cover for him, because having to do this and
watch him is too much for a lunkhead like me. Your Mum claims to need him, so she can make herself useful too. As for you, I want you assembled and operational by the time I get back from the first haul.”
“How operational?” Neko holds up the short arm.
“That part is up to you, but it would certainly be nice if you could walk. A bra wouldn’t hurt either. Or a hairbrush.”
Neko snorts. “Alright, if you insist, I’ll calm my tits. It’s not like you haven’t seen me in a bikini.”
“But we’ll be out and about.”
“And it’s not like they
haven’t seen me in a bikini. Or like this. Whatever, I know you just want to get this move completed with as little bother as possible. So do I. We’ll do it your way.” Neko grabs her leg from under the desk and hops her way toward the restroom. Unexpectedly, the room phone rings, causing her to perform a one-legged hockey stop to reverse direction and rush to answer, tossing the leg aside along the way. “Hello?”
“Good, you answered,” Hisao says with relief. “I didn’t think you would, and I didn’t feel like making the extra walk. I still feel woozy. Is it alright with you if I sell the radio rig to El Jefe? He’s offering a reasonable price, from what I can tell.”
“Fine by me,” she replies, “but I don’t know why he waited so long to ask.”
“He says he didn’t have the money. This is coming out of his
pocket, not the school’s.”
“What’s the offer?”
“Half new for everything with an identifiable price, but he wants the antenna tuner you built thrown into the deal.”
“Take it. That’s about what it would fetch on the open market, and almost as much as we paid for it in the first place. The antenna tuner is, well, tuned to that antenna. It would be silly to separate them.”
Hisao returns moments later, looking and feeling considerably more lively than he did when he left, but is slightly deflated to find that Neko is in the restroom. He wanted to surprise her and had it all worked out, but now he’ll have to improvise. He also notices that the bicycle rack is gone, as is Jōji, and assumes the two must be related. He pulls up the only chair left in the room, which belongs to the school, and settles in to wait.
Neko spots him first when she walks out. “Hey! You did well. That’s one fewer thing for any of us to worry about, except him.” She nods to imply the room on the other side of the wall.
“Yeah, we did some searches of recent second-hand sales. Both of us were satisfied with the numbers we got back, so here we are.” He suddenly flips a well-stuffed money clip in her direction, having concealed it in his palm the entire wait. “I took the payment for the bed already, that’s yours.”
After snatching it out of the air, Neko thumbs through the bills, then suddenly sniffs them. She pauses in thought and sniffs them again. “This is our
“Yes, it is. Don’t you have to pay back your Pops now that the gear has been sold?”
“I will, but he has never asked me to. That’s not what I meant, though. This money was in my
possession until fairly recently. It smells like the safe – green
. Then I gave it back to Mum. All of a sudden, El Jefe is giving it to you. What does that say?”
“That your Mum paid him for something?”
“Too right. And I want to know why.” She heads directly for her phone. “Hey Mum, got a question about something business-related. Ring back when you can?”
She must have gotten voicemail.
The response comes by text.
“Son of a…” Neko gripes. “Now I really
need to know. Mind switching on my laptop? Just leave it open.”
“Uh, sure, but you’re going to need this chair. Why?”
“I have to use a secure channel if I want an answer.”
“Oh.” Now I need to know too.
He has to stand to watch over her shoulder as she logs into the ranch VPN and enters chat.
‘El Jefe is flush with cash. Your
cash. Why?’ she types.
is the cryptic response from ‘badgerbadgerbadger’.
“I presume that’s your Mum?” Hisao asks.
“Right. What the bloody hell is a Mardy Fish?” She also types the latter sentence verbatim.
‘Not what. Who.’
begins Sally’s reply. ‘Fish is a tennis player who faced a much higher ranked player yesterday, which means I had to give long odds. He won anyhow. I had the winnings delivered this morning, less a new wager.’
‘Really? I didn’t know that was his thing.’
‘Neither did I. He usually bets on football. Ah well, I’ll get some of it back today. Fish beat Nalbandian, but there’s no way he’s going to beat Federer. How did you know he had money?’
‘Because it was in my hand,’ Neko types. ‘He just bought our bed and our radio rig and paid cash. The scent was unmistakable.’
‘I warned him that I hadn’t had a chance to wash that out yet, but he said it wouldn’t matter. Now I see why. Is there anything else sensitive you wish to discuss?’
‘Perhaps, but it will have to wait. We have more packing to do.’
“Well isn’t this just a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting?” Jōji snarks, although somewhat impressed. “Since when do the lot of you watch anything
together, let alone sports?”
“I’m very exposed here,” Sally moans. “There isn’t enough action on tennis to cover both sides at the best of times, but particularly not for a minor tournament in the States.”
“I hate to say it,” Neko says as she turns her head to face him, “but this is kinda fun to watch. Even the commentators don’t seem to understand what is happening.”
“What’s to understand?” Abe chips in. “The only guy I recognize is losing, badly.”
“Dammit,” Sally mutters as another return sails wide. “Two hundred thousand was painful enough to hand over. A million is going to sting for quite a while. How’s your
week going, Suzuki? Net positive?”
Suzu’s expression says she is weighing her words carefully. “Not at the moment, but maybe by the end of the night.”
“I can lend my cash,” Neko offers. “I know where you live,” she adds with a dramatic flair as she rises before disappearing into her bedroom momentarily. When she reappears, she flips the same money clip toward her Mum that Hisao flipped toward her hours previously. “There’s a hundred K. Work it out with Pops, it’s really his money.”
Sally passes it immediately to Suzu. “Would you mind counting?” She turns to her daughter and smiles weakly. “No offense intended.”
“None taken. I’d do the same.” The returned smile is equally weak.
Suzu’s experience handling large quantities of cash is on display as she thumbs through the stack in a matter of seconds, collating the bills by denomination as she goes. “It’s all here.”
The ink is barely dry on the results – Fish def. Federer, 6-3, 6-2 – when Sally’s phone chimes. She glances at the display and answers. “I suppose you’ve called to gloat, but you’d better be calling about business to use this line.” She plunges her hand between sofa cushions and fishes around momentarily before emerging with a notepad. “Yeah, I’m ready. Fish again,
huh? Lightning can’t strike three
times, can it?” She scribbles something down in her personal code. “Yeah, I’ll vouch for you. You do that.”
“Do what?” Neko asks once the call is complete.
“Run a tab at the club tonight, just him and ‘fifty of his gayest friends’ – his
words, not mine. Hey, you know how to reassemble the bed he just bought, right?”
“In theory, yes.” Neko glances at her short arm. “I’m not so sure about practice. I’m still not that
right with Crabby, and may never be.”
“Don’t worry, love. You’re his third hand and instruction manual.” Sally wags a finger between Neko and Jōji. “It looks like you have one more trip to make to the campus tonight, and you’d best fill it with warm water. He expects to put it to the test when he gets back.”
Neko rolls into her bed in her usual manner, causing the water inside to jostle Hisao around. “I am going to sleep like the dead tonight.”
“Does that make this necrophilia?” he asks as he gives her a hello squeeze. “Sure doesn’t feel like it.”
“If I go cold, worry. Otherwise, don’t.”
Hisao switches to whispering into Neko’s ear, aware that although the camera in the television is covered, the microphone is still functional, and probably being recorded. “El Jefe paid a hundred and forty thousand for the radio rig. You only gave your Mum a hundred K.”
Neko nods and whispers back. “Correct. I needed to retain some to give to you. You know, to cover expenses on things I may ask you to do back here while I’m away. I wouldn’t feel right asking you to front your own money and
do me a favor with it. I reckon I will think of something between now and August.”
Delicate matters dealt with, Hisao no longer feels compelled to whisper. “My mother still half believes I won’t come back from Australia. Father says he thinks I’m smarter than that, but he doesn’t sound entirely convinced either.”
“Maybe we’ll end up there together some day, but not so soon. We both have things we need to do in our separate places. A little time apart is probably a good thing. It gives us each a chance to survey the scene from somewhere other than the center.”
“You’re saying you wouldn’t let
“The only place I could even make that call is at the ranch back of beyond, and I don’t want to live there longer than I have to. Once I’m out of there, I’ll have to pay my own way. So would you. Well, other than rent, that is. Pops isn’t that
tight with vacant apartments.”
“But if I did come up with something productive to do there,” Hisao persists, “you’d sponsor my application?”
“Of course! You’d be a net improvement to any country you land in, so why wouldn’t I? Well, presuming you stay out of trouble here, that is. Being a felon is grounds to boot you out
of the country now, not to lock you in
. Keep your head down, and let Mum take the heat. She compensates herself quite adequately for her work.”
“That’s why we’re funneling everything through the restaurant. It’s inefficient for all concerned, but that’s the cost of using proxies.”
Neko squirms her way more tightly into Hisao’s arms. “That’s how these things always work. Misdirection is, by definition, effort not spent on the true business at hand.” She yawns loudly. “«Time to die.»”
He spends a few seconds trying to remember the rest of the monologue. “«Like tears in rain»,” he says, giving up on recalling the rest. “We really should try watching movies while not
baked. I might remember them better.”
“Yeah, sorry. I’ve seen Blade Runner at least six times, so it doesn’t affect me much. It was your second time, so I thought you’d be in the same position.”
“Maybe if it was in my native language, but most of your movie library is in English.”
“Next time,” she says before yawning much less vocally than before, “I’ll turn on the captions. Sometimes I find I’ve thoroughly misunderstood something when I do that. Other times, the captions are wrong. Do you want to take brekky duty, or lunch?”
“Jōji’s rule, Mum endorsed it. If you stay here more than three days, you have to help cook. We’re both doing that, so…”
I’m usually awake before anyone else, and make the coffee anyhow...
“I’ll take the breakfast shift.”
“Good. I’m not sure I want to deal with animal fat. When we went to set up the bed…” Neko shudders before continuing. “I’d never been in El Jefe’s room before. I’d looked in the doorway, but never actually stepped inside. He had a box of lard on the nightstand. Open.”
“Yeah, so? Some people use it as lip balm.”
“«Yeah nah.» That’s not what it was for.” She reaches behind her and grabs his member, causing an immediate response.
She follows up by slapping her own behind before turning to face him.
“Oh!” The fifteen watt light bulb finally goes on over Hisao’s head.
“Yeah,” she adds. “I don’t know how he – or anyone else – finds that to constitute a good time. When we tried, it wasn’t the worst
thing ever, but it wasn’t something I care to repeat, either.”
“Stop and think about it. He can’t
do it your preferred way. The parts just don’t match up. So he improvises a little. Who can blame him? What do you think your Pops does?”
“I have spent years not thinking about that. I’d like to continue that streak.”
“Well don’t fear, I won’t ask to try it again. It was alright for me, but not enough to override your discomfort. Not when you do other things so very well.” He guides her hand back to where she recently had it.
“Excuse me,” she says while giving a firm squeeze, “but you
phoned it in today, not me, although I admit I tried. I’m calling dibs.”
“I did no such thing. I got fired. Ask Jōji.”
“That doesn’t change the end result. I knew we’d end up here when you gave me that look
this morning. But you
ended up begging off, so now it’s all backward.”
“Nobody is backward yet, but one of us is going to have to get that way, unless you want to sit on my face and tell me that you love me.”
Neko pushes his right shoulder to indicate he should take up a position on his back. “Now there’s an offer I won’t refuse.”
Not a chapter post.
Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2018 4:55 am
This is not a chapter post, but a dual-purposed "out of character" posting.
First, it provides a short post taking up one of the 15 per page, since it is total page length rather than individual post length that makes phpBB shit the bed.
Second, I wanted to announce a slight change in formatting which is being applied retroactively to the third and fourth books, but will not be applied here: while *** between paragraphs still indicate a POV change combined with a time skip, a single * (rather than a mere blank line) now indicates a POV switch without
a substantial time skip. Future posts will use this new formatting, as will the eBook once all four volumes are consolidated into one. The first two books used first-person POV that was fixed for the duration of a chapter, and never had consecutive chapters with the same POV, so they are unaffected by this change. This stylistic discontinuity will not be amended for the combined volume, since the commercial possibilities are pretty much zero. The real value was learning the shortcomings of fixed first-person POV when narrators are disallowed, one that is more easily (but still not completely) circumvented with floating first-person without losing the intimacy of hearing thoughts.
I've also been quite prolific this past month (three songs 1 2 3
and a detailed character spec sheet for Neko, for a cameo appearance in someone else's project as well as the book writing), and now have the buffer up to 50-something pages (or about 20,000 words), but will keep updates about the same size because of the phpBB issues. I just might start posting them more often. However, the bulk of this occurs in one day, and I don't really want to start posting the beginning of that day when the ending hasn't been committed yet. I need more than 30 pages of buffer to allow for retconning when a single chapter starts getting to that length, so the new buffer rule is "30 pages or one complete chapter, whichever is larger".
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 25 (20181221)
Posted: Fri Dec 21, 2018 5:37 am
Hisao spots the metal box in Neko’s hand. “What’s that you’ve got there?”
“Antenna tuner.” She hesitates to let him pull alongside. “This one isn’t working, which is why I built the other, but El Jefe asked me to take a look at it, so that perhaps he can use it with the scanner.”
“And what, if anything, does that have to do with the cardboard tray tucked under your arm?”
“I’m not going to solder over a rug, silly. This is my working surface.” She nods at the plastic fishing tackle box she carries below the antenna tuner. “And these are my tools.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen that box before,” he confirms with a nod. “I haven’t watched you solder, though. I’ve watched my father do it, so I’m curious to see how you tackle it.”
“Be my guest.”
“Where are we going?” he asks when they reach the back door, necessitating the addition of shoes.
“Somewhere with better lighting – quite good lighting, in fact. We’re going to your office. I used to use the laundry room, but the rosin smell spreads, and I have a better option now.” She manages to turn the doorknob to the back door with thumb and forefinger, while holding the tool case and antenna tuner with the remaining three fingers.
“I’ll get the next door.” Hisao takes a couple quick steps to get around Neko.
“I wish you could. Here, take these.” She holds out everything in her hand. “The key is in my pocket.”
Instead of taking the items, Hisao takes a step to get back level with Neko, but this time on her right rather than her left. “This one?” he asks as he plunges his hand into her back pocket, but he realizes he guessed wrong and grabs a handful of the only thing he can: her.
“You know better than that. I don’t keep anything in back pockets. They’re easily picked.”
“I remember that, but who is going to pick your pocket around here? Other than me, of course, but I’m not trying to conceal it.”
“Miura did, for the same reason she picked locks to places she didn’t even want to go: to prove a point.” She shrugs as he fishes around in the front right pocket, leaning and standing up straighter to make the pocket slightly less tight. “Sorry, they’re designed for slender little girl hands.”
“Yeah, no kidding.” He manages to pinch the key between the back of his index finger and the tip of the middle, finally allowing him to retract his hand and still hold onto the key. “I see why you consider the front pocket pick-proof.”
“It’s not for larger objects, but I still stand a better chance of noticing if someone dares muck about.” She resumes walking as he springs forward to open the door ahead of her.
“It still smells like new counters,” he says apologetically. “Maybe we should leave the windows open.”
Stepping inside, Neko’s brow furrows. “I just love the smell of formaldehyde in the morning,” she says with clear sarcasm. “Right, leave the windows open for now. Turn on the fume hood too, and leave it wide open.” She deposits her load on a brushed steel countertop and begins slipping off her shoe. “Bloody hell, I’m not working on the floor. It’s too far from the lights, and the power outlets.” She jumps up to sit on the countertop and remove her shoe there. She then opens the tool kit and extracts the rather ornate ‘helping hands’ tool.
“So how do you do your soldering?” He switches on just one bank of fume hood fans, rather than all four available, because he’d actually like to hear the answer – and everything else.
“The same way everyone else does.” She gets the soldering station from the kit as well, plugs it in, and sets the target temperature. “That thing holds the work if necessary, one hand holds the iron, and the other hand feeds in solder. I’m not even sure it will be required, but it’s better to warm it up and not use it than to wait when I finally determine I need it.” She grabs a screwdriver and begins dismantling the box, pinning it between her foot and her right knee before she sighs in frustration and removes the prosthetic leg.
“You’re, ah, looking a bit immodest.”
Neko pushes the loose legs of her shorts down where they have billowed out, with her thighs open almost ninety degrees. “I think I’m alright flashing you.”
“Look at that date code, it means the twenty-third week of 1969. This thing predates the moon landing!” The next thing out of the tool kit is a multimeter, and Hisao watches as Neko deftly holds the black probe in her toes while poking around with the red one, getting the occasional beep from the meter. “Mmm. Not learning much here. I have to test the inductors out of circuit.” She pulls the knob off the front panel, then removes the circuit board from the box. This is clipped into the ‘helping hands’ tool, and Hisao finally understands why it’s such a large and elaborate one, with six fairly hefty clamps on goosenecks.
“I’m gonna have to get one of those. It would be quite useful under the fume hood.”
“You can have this one when I’m done with it, unless Mum wants to get another. I’m not taking it along. While this is great, it’s also twenty dollars locally, not worth shipping. Neither is this.” She taps the soldering station with a knuckle. “I’d have to put it on a variac, so it’s better left in 100 volt land.” Neko shifts the soldering iron to her toes, and wields a solder sucker in her hand. “Darling, could you do me a favor since I’m disassembled?”
Not to mention pretzel-shaped. “What’s that?”
“I need a calculator. Could you find one for me?”
“Right, no problem! Here.” Hisao extracts his phone, loading up the calculator app before handing it over.
“That works.” She sets the phone to her left, lifting the iron so she can go under the cord rather than over it. There is a smell of old… something… burning, then a loud click as the desoldering tool is activated.
“I see why you don’t like doing this in the house.”
Neko’s brow and nose furrow in displeasure. “The wax on these inductors is rather questionable. I should melt it out and replace it with silicone, but I’m not going to, since it’s not my gear and never was. It’s not my fault this thing is older than Mum.” She pulls the lead out of the circuit board with a pronounced sprong noise, then clips test leads onto the half-removed inductor. “Six twenty. This one still seems to be in spec.” This repeats eight more times, complete with the smell of burning mummy. “Bloody hell. They’re all fine. I guess I have to check the capacitors. That’s probably what it is anyhow. Being nearly fifty years old, it is unlikely any of them are trustworthy or safe.”
“Do you have to remove one leg of those to test, too?”
“Worse. I have to remove both, because they’re mounted flush to the board.”
“Well the smell is getting to me, so I’m gonna stand over there.”
“I wish I could join you.”
Unfortunately, ‘over there’ is less than three meters away, so he holds his sleeve over his nose as Neko announces the result of each test. “Hah! This one is practically a resistor. So is this one. This one seems to be alright, and it’s just a filter cap. There shouldn’t be any DC voltage across it.” She makes notes in the case itself with a marker, then begins soldering the inductors and the single good capacitor back into place. The shorter dwell time of the iron means less stench, but he keeps his already inadequate distance.
Finally, Neko sighs and switches off the base of her soldering station. “I’ve marked the bad parts and left them out of circuit, but I don’t have replacements. I’m afraid I have to give it back diagnosed but unrepaired.” She mounts the circuit board back in the case and places the knob on the front, then tosses a handful of removed parts into the case before closing it.
“I wager El Jefe is not going to be happy to hear that,” he answers as he dares to return to her side, accepting the phone she hands back to him.
“Which is why I won’t give it back until toward the end of the week. Then he can’t pester me to fix it, or order parts in time.”
“Who is going to end up doing it?”
“I dunno. Maybe Hideki, maybe Tadao, maybe El Jefe himself.” Neko shrugs. “My personal expectation is ‘nobody’ and that this remains a paperweight, only now a much more rattly paperweight.” She wraps up the multimeter probes and places them alongside the meter itself in the tool box, then pulls another device out. “Ah, this one I’m keeping.”
“What is it?”
Neko smiles visibly at his interest and opens the black and yellow slipcover. “An oscilloscope. It’s not a particularly good one, as it tops out at twenty megahertz, but it’s good enough for basic radio frequency purposes. It has sentimental value as well. It’s what Pops got me in an attempt to make me forget about my confiscated chemistry kit. It only sort of worked.”
“I see. Can it set a barn on fire?”
Neko laughs. “I suppose if it were dipped in fuel it could. Otherwise, no. Any mains-powered equipment is more hazardous than this.” She checks inside the slipcover for all accessories before setting it aside, then repacks the toolbox without it.
“You’re not taking the other meter?”
“I can get a replacement for five dollars locally, and Mum occasionally uses it to see if connectors are broken. Chances are good that you’ll end up using it at some point, and you’ll be glad it’s here.”
“Maybe, maybe not. What if I just end up wishing I was there instead?” I don’t care about test equipment, I’d rather have you.
“Why not both? You can wish we were together, and still be glad you have my leftover tools to do your own work.” Neko reaches behind her for her leg, ultimately having to pivot in place to reach it. Once she has reassembled herself, she hops down from the countertop. “So was that what you expected?”
“Pretty much. I was hoping for a bit of a surprise, maybe something you do without thinking of it that almost nobody else does.”
“Like what? I already gave you a free show.”
“I don’t know.” Hisao shrugs. “That’s why it would have been a surprise.”
“Mmm. I have a plan.” Neko points at a stack of interlocking rubber mats intended to replace carpeting in places subject to liquid spills. “Wanna spread those out on the counter? We never did get a chance to root in the radio room. Let’s not make that mistake again.”
“It might be better if I stood on them, and you sat on the counter. They’re pretty hard.”
“I’d need a towel under me. My arse was cold at first, but now it is getting sweaty.”
“Will a lab coat suffice? There are three.” Without waiting for confirmation, he retrieves one from the small closet, locking the main door from the inside on the way back. “Don’t worry about getting it dirty, they’re supposed to take the abuse.”
“It’s going to smell like me for a long time. Maybe forever. I don’t wash out easily.”
“I have no intention of washing you out.” He gives what he hopes is a sly, rather than creepy, half grin.
“Oh. If that’s what you want!”
I want every reminder of you. I want to remember your face, your voice, your laugh, your touch, your feel, and even your various scents and tastes. These artifacts are all I will have until I see you again, and there is so little time to collect them.
"Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 26 (20190116)
Posted: Wed Jan 16, 2019 4:12 am
I just knew she was going to make it awkward. “I told you days ago, it’s a client meeting.” Daisuke continues his final grooming.
“And I checked the master schedule,” Emi replies. “There is no client meeting this morning.”
“Not everything makes it onto the master schedule, you know. That would require cooperation rather than rivalry. Haven’t you noticed the tendency for meetings to appear minutes before, or even after they start?” He leaves his tie rather loose. “Or never appear at all, even when everyone can see the conference room is in use?”
“So what am I supposed to say when asked where you are? It’s a secret mission?” Emi smiles briefly.
“Just tell them you don’t know, but that I seemed annoyed. I’ll deal with the rest when I get back, or rather, if I get back. This may be an all-day assignment.”
“Mmm. I’ll just wear a clueless face and shrug, then.”
“Yeah, that’ll work.” Never meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with katsu sauce.
“You’ll be back this evening?” It sounds almost as much a demand as a question, but it is followed by a kiss on the cheek.
“As far as I know, but I’ll let you know if that changes.”
“I suppose that’s all I can ask.” Emi pulls away. “I’ll let you lock up. Bye!” The front door opens, then closes.
“You’re punctual as usual,” Akira says to Daisuke once they get far enough from the platform to converse.
“This would be a bad day to be late,” he observes. “My probability of being on time is directly proportional to the importance of the event.”
“As it should be.”
“Where is this meeting?”
“Someplace familiar to all parties. You’ll know it, even if you haven’t been there yet.” Upon reaching the top of the stairs, Hiroyuki spots them and slowly makes his way to his feet with a heavy lean on his cane. “I’m guessing this is the first time the two of you have met, so… Father, this is Daisuke Suzuki, my old friend from law school. Daisuke, this is my father, Hiroyuki Satou.”
“I am honored, Satou-sama,” Daisuke says while bowing.
Hiroyuki answers in a slightly shaky voice. “Please forgive me for not returning the gesture, as I’m likely to topple over, but this degree of deference is simply not necessary. You won’t see much of it in our office, and you sure as shit won’t receive it from Corporate. You can call me Hiroyuki. Everyone else does – except her of course.” He nods toward Akira.
“It’ll take me a few minutes to bring the car around,” she says apologetically.
“I’m sure we can find something to discuss,” Hiroyuki replies while returning to his bench. His eyes beckon Daisuke to sit with him.
Daisuke promptly takes a seat. Let the suffering man save face.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Akira deadpans before smiling. “Have fun telling stories about me.”
“I would never. But if you insist…”
Akira has made it less than ten meters before Hiroyuki can stand it no longer. “Work is going to be much more of a drudge without her around. It was before, but it wasn’t until we reunited that I realized the magnitude of the difference.”
“You’re lucky,” Daisuke concurs. “I hardly ever see my girlfriend at work because she’s someone else’s intern. I don’t get interns.”
“None of us have interns either, just a shared support staff. Well, maybe there are some specially assigned interns in advertising, or technical documents, or somewhere else I don’t pay much mind.”
“I am guessing that is because your company’s line of business is not law. To a company that makes actual products, we’re nothing but an administrative cost – a necessary one to be sure, but a cost center nonetheless.”
Hiroyuki nods his agreement. “Sometimes your value to the company is greatest when wearing your second or third hat. One major difference between Corporate and a branch office is that in the big office, you have one job, and that’s what you do all day. In the branch offices – at least Sendai and Shenzhen – you may have many jobs, but each one takes up only a small portion of your day.”
“Unlike some, I don’t live for law. Asking me to pitch in somewhere else would be a welcome change, provided I’m competent in that task, or you’re willing to give me the time and training to become so.”
“Almost nobody comes into our company fully qualified. The only way to find those people is to poach them from other medical product manufacturers, and what goes around comes around. So we do a lot of training.”
“Almost nobody?” That sounds rather weasel-worded.
“Well… the company was founded by former employees of another medical device firm, so I can’t say it was always the way it is now. It became a vastly different company when we acquired Imago and their international distribution network. It was almost as if they acquired us rather than the other way around, because we pretty much do things their way. We still use the Imago brand in some countries to this day.”
Daisuke nods. “South Korea, for example. I saw an Imago defibrillator kit mounted to the wall at the airport the last time I passed through. I had no idea it was related.”
Hiroyuki nods back. “You have to know your market, and for various unfathomable reasons, Japanese brand names have a hard time achieving market penetration there. European markets also seem to favor the Imago branding, likely because it is a European name. We do try to put our own name on the prestige items, however.”
A tangentially related thought pops into Daisuke’s brain and worms its way to his vocal cords. “Ibanez.” Shocked to hear himself say it out loud, he explains. “Ibanez, or more properly, «Ibañez», was a Spanish guitar distributor who contracted work out to a Japanese luthier. When they couldn’t pay, the luthier sued and got the name, and it remains a popular brand to this day, even if nobody says it right.” Soft racism sucks, but shunning its few up sides won’t make it any better.
Much to his relief, he sees Hiroyuki nod. “Yamaha still makes better guitars, though.”
If this were an online forum, I’d suspect trolling. “And some wretched ones as well. Ibanez is very good at the price points where they choose to compete. Apples and oranges.”
This draws a grin from Hiroyuki. “Good, good. You’ll get chances to flex your rhetorical wizardry: polite, true, relevant, but merely deflecting rather than answering the challenge. And here we are.” His head turns toward the pavement, drawing Daisuke’s gaze along with it. Akira smiles from the driver’s seat of a Lancer Evo. She locks eyes with Daisuke, then flicks them toward the handle of the front door.
Daisuke stands and extends both hands. “Please allow me to be of assistance, S- err, Hiroyuki.”
Just one hand comes back toward him, but the grasp is firm and confident, if somewhat wobbly. Between that and the cane, Hiroyuki gets to his feet with little apparent difficulty. Daisuke bursts ahead to open the front passenger door, and waits for Hiroyuki to confirm before closing the door. I’ve done all this before. Just last week, in fact. He takes a deep breath and a poker face, expecting a rush of anxiety-inducing hormones as his visual cortex dredges up an image of him holding the door for Julia. It’s a job, not a marriage. The expectations are different all around. But very little of the jolt materializes.
Once inside the vehicle, the questions get tougher as Hiroyuki looks over his right shoulder at Daisuke in the back, behind the driver. “You know Sarii Tanaka-Rogers?”
Daisuke laughs nervously. “Yeah, I’d have to say I know Sally reasonably well. I’ve been her primary attorney since she signed on with Muramoto. Needless to say, I am limited in what I can discuss about her.”
“That’s commendable, and also should not be an issue. The questions are more about you than her. First, there’s a gal working for her that we’ve heard is your cousin. Is that going to be a problem?”
“Suzu? I’m not the one to ask. She seems pretty harmless to me. I don’t know – and don’t particularly want to know – what her job description entails. The only topic we’ve discussed in any detail is our eccentric great uncle.”
“So she’s not in a position to pull any family strings?”
“I wouldn’t lend her money without a written contract, if that’s what you mean.” I mean, look who she works for.
“And is there going to be any bad blood if you should cease to be Sally’s attorney?”
“I think being her ex-attorney will be about as meaningful as being her ex-anything else. That is to say, it might get her to answer the phone if I call, but that’s about as far as I could expect her to extend a favor. She retains Muramoto, not me personally. Anything she has on the table, they will continue to handle so long as she continues to pay them.”
Akira chimes in from the driver’s seat. “And your girlfriend?”
“She’s safer in her position than I am in mine. They absolutely adore her. They aren’t going to stop if I leave. Besides, they’ll still have her case to follow up on, and it makes for good publicity.”
Akira addresses her father. “Remember last year when I told you we had our own local version of the Pistorius controversy? This is what I was talking about.”
“They’re going to win or lose that case on the judgement of the IAAF,” Daisuke follows, “whether I’m representing her or not. Besides, I probably won’t for much longer. The case has outgrown my pay grade. The moment there’s the slightest hint of trouble, or the merest gleam of glory, they won’t hesitate to replace me and take all the credit – and fees.” Hey, we’re transitioning onto Highway 31 South. “Please tell me we’re not going to the Shanghai.”
Akira complies with the letter of his request. “We’re not. We’re going to the San Cristobal.”
“Not the office?”
“One of my job duties is inspector. The local subsidiary – not Corporate – is a stakeholder, and you’d be responsible for showing up every now and then to see to our interests. You’re uniquely qualified.”
“I’m not in the real estate or restaurant business. I’m sure I can get up to speed, but I wouldn’t call myself qualified just yet.”
Hiroyuki chuckles. “You are qualified in areas we can’t teach. You know what to watch for: potential bad faith on the part of fellow investors, namely Sally. She hasn’t tried anything, but she also knows we’re watching very closely. That means one of your hats will be snake charmer.”
“Mmm. Your faith may be a bit misplaced. I’ve never known her to reject advice she is paying for, so I’ve not actually had to tell her no. I’m not sure how she would attempt a dick move, although I certainly believe her capable of that sort of thing.”
Akira chuckles as well. “If she returns your calls more than half the time, you’re already doing better than me. I’ll be positioned to lean on Sam a wee bit, but ultimately, it’ll be your lookout.”
“Hard as you may find this to believe,” Daisuke sighs as he relaxes back into his seat, “she and her representatives have always been cordial to me, even in some pretty harrowing circumstances. Of course, we’ve always been on the same side before.”
Hiroyuki nods sagely. “Let’s see how long it stays that way.”
“Holy balls,” Jōji grunts as he wipes sweat from his brow with the back of his arm. “That was fuckin’ heavy.”
“Like hoisting an engine,” Junpei affirms.
Hisao nods from his out-of-the-way corner position. “That’s about right. It costs as much as an engine, too – and that’s just half of the apparatus.”
“You mean we gotta do this again?” Junpei moans.
Hisao waves off his concerns. “Don’t worry, the other half comes in pieces under ten kilograms each except for the helium tank, and that has wheels. I could still use some help from one of you to set it up, though. Some steps require three or four hands just to hold things steady.”
“When is that coming in?”
Hisao points at boxes tucked under the counter. “Last Tuesday. Who’s with me?”
“It sounds like fun,” Jōji says while simultaneously separating from the scene gesturally, “but I have plenty of things to do today.” He points at Junpei as he exits. “I’ll leave you the cart. Don’t drop anything.”
Junpei waits for the door to close. “He’ll never let me forget that.”
“Not until you redeem yourself, at least. Have you fixed it yet? You can put it right where I’m standing once you do.”
“Nah. I managed to crack the frame. I have to weld it, which I’ve never done on my own before.”
Hisao nods. “Tell you what – you may as well fetch the bed here and repair it on the spot. Meanwhile, I’ll unpack the gas chromatograph, and we can assemble it when you get back. Then I’ll take off for a while, and you can perfect your welding technique without me or anyone else watching over your shoulder.”
“Dude. I’d rather you were watching over my shoulder – with that.” Junpei points to the fire extinguisher clamped to the wall.
“I don’t own a welding mask. Until now it had never occurred to me that one might be useful.”
“There are two masks, one to wear and one to hold up by hand.”
Hisao shrugs in resignation. “I guess I’m as qualified as anyone to be the fire brigade. Let’s get this shit done, then. I want to start calibrating after lunch, and knock off when the schools let out.” Four and a half more work hours today, five if I keep lunch brief, then I pick up ‘the kids’. I cease to serve Sally the moment Neko is available. That’s our bargain.
The kitchen staff has clearly become accustomed to treating inspectors like umpires, tuning Akira and Daisuke out as they go about their business. “Just do the job right and it shouldn’t matter who is watching,” was how might Ben put it.
Akira has mastered the art of not being seen, but Daisuke has not. “Whoops, sorry,” he says for at least the fourth time as he steps out of the ‘highway’ running through the kitchen to allow someone with a large tray to pass.
“Staying out of the way is your responsibility,” Akira quietly reminds him.
“I get that. I just don’t know what ‘out of the way’ is yet. The kitchen seems to be operating at capacity, and everywhere I go, someone else needs to be there.”
“You’ll suss out the pattern soon enough. The layout is different between the two facilities, but the workflow is not that much different at this hour. That will all change, come dinner time. Once the lights go down here, the prices and the pressure both go up.”
“Do you generally do inspections before opening?”
“Here, yeah.” Akira points at the ground, then in the general direction of north. “But not at the Shanghai, since they’re open early for lunch. I generally inconvenience them between that and the dinner rush, after coming here.”
“A good auditor should avoid patterns that could be exploited.”
Akira nods. “If that’s what you wish to do, and can find the time to do it. It’s all I can do to get out here twice a week, so I have to visit both places on at least one of those.”
Daisuke nods in turn. “Agreed. I must assume you have already optimized your workflow, and have done so conscious of the compromises, unless and until I see something worth pointing out. I mean, it has been working for you, right?”
Akira sighs, long and loud. “Mostly. I can’t maintain the pace I had a year ago, though I continue to sneak up on my old self. My time management skills are still tied to that old self, so sometimes I put more on the plate than I can eat – speaking of which, this is generally the point in the trip where I do that. Eat, that is, not put too much on the plate.”
“I’m fine with accelerating the pace of the tutorial.”
Akira looks pained, having clearly hit some sort of wall she is struggling to push through. “And I’m fine with deferring or canceling the remainder. I figured it out from scratch, so I’m sure you can figure it out from my notes. Besides, you can always reach me if something eludes you. Let’s regroup with Father for a pound and a pint.”
When Sally opens the door to the outbuilding, she expects not to be heard over the noise of exhaust fans. Unfortunately for her stealth check, the sudden change in air pressure from the door opening attracts the attention of the occupants much more effectively than any noise. Both Hisao and Junpei turn to face her as they assemble the foldaway bed.
Sally switches off the ventilation fans to reduce the clamor to a tolerable level. “What’s that smell?”
“Ozone,” Hisao says with a nod and gesture toward the switch that Sally just toggled. She gets the hint and starts the fans up again, waiting for them to finish so she can speak to them directly rather than from across the room. Once they have reinstalled the mattress and folded the bed away, she beckons them over.
“I was just wondering where Junpei had disappeared to, and Jōji said to look here,” she says apologetically. She gestures at the fully repaired bed. “I have no issue with the reason why.”
“Oh, no,” Hisao interjects, “I recruited him to help me with that.” He points to the gas chromatograph, partially assembled on the counter. “But I also wanted this bed, and he wanted a fire marshal to watch over him while welding, so this worked for both of us.”
Sally nods. “I understand. He’s not to perform certain hazardous duties alone, in case he spaces out.” She nods at Junpei and keeps her attention on him. “Has Hisao shown you how to use any of this gear?”
“No, but I don’t think it works yet.”
“It does not,” Hisao addresses to Sally, “but it might by the time school gets out. He’s welcome to hang around and watch, and hopefully lend a hand, as long as he and you desire.”
Sally nods. “That sounds like a plan. Junpei, you’re assigned here until he’s done for the day. After that, you’re back on general services duty.”
Junpei looks worried. “What about stable cleaning?”
“I’ll have Jōji reassign it for now.”
He pumps a fist. “Yes!”
“I’m glad it pleases you.” She suppresses a smile as she departs.
Jōji was right. Make Junpei shovel enough shit, and he’ll jump at the first out he’s offered.
“So everything passes inspection today?” Hiroyuki asks as Akira and Daisuke return to his table slightly earlier than he expects.
“I couldn’t tell,” Daisuke admits. “It may be awhile before I can.”
Akira nods. “He’ll catch on, and I’m only a phone call away. I didn’t see the value in doing the Powerpoint thing then, or even now.”
“You made a presentation on this?” Daisuke asks, allowing a hint of ‘seriously?’ to slip through.
“Well, yeah. I had to plan for any random person getting the task. I was pretty confident it would suit you, but it was due diligence to prepare for the worst. There are disaster plans for all sorts of things, even if nobody likes to talk about it.”
Daisuke nods. “Smart. Muramoto also has scripts for various situations, and I have a bit of experience enacting them. One of them got... interesting.”
“The punch heard across the nation?” Akira asks. “I wouldn’t have thought you had a script for that.”
“We only had a week to come up with one, but of course we did. While we did not expect it to escalate into violence, we planned for it nonetheless.”
Hiroyuki raises a hand to pre-empt Akira’s response, then speaks. “So did you go off-script with the client, or was that all part of the plan?”
Daisuke cannot dodge the brown pants question. “That… was part of the plan. I may have recorded it as a ‘mission debriefing’ though.”
“Has anyone told you that you talk too much?”
“That’s better.” Hiroyuki slowly rises to his feet, then smiles broadly and offers his hand. “You’ll fit in just fine, just stop talking one sentence earlier. You’d never make it out on the streets.”
That gets a laugh out of Daisuke as he accepts the handshake. “Brutal honesty as a default position is both my greatest asset and my largest liability.”
“And you chose law as your profession?” Hiroyuki asks, keeping his gaze directly on Daisuke’s eyes even as he returns to his seat.
“I ah…” Daisuke stammers, before chuckling nervously. “You got me.”
Akira takes up the banner. “Now we just have to teach you when to engage your diplomacy.”
Daisuke hesitates a moment. “I think I have a phone call to make,” he says as he excuses himself from the table.
Akira sighs with obvious relief. “Well that went about as well as could be expected.”
A busboy gestures to her after waving a towel to catch her gaze.
“Two pints or three?” he asks by pointing at empty glasses and holding up fingers.
Akira holds up three fingers in response. “I’ll take responsibility for drinking it if he doesn’t.”
The busboy draws the pints competently enough and has them loaded onto a tray for delivery just as Daisuke returns, looking pale and distressed.
“Trouble?” Akira asks, sitting straight up in her seat.
“You could say that.” Daisuke sets his phone on the table rather than pocketing it. “They already knew. They’ve got a mole working here, and they wanted to make sure I knew it before I moved on.” He looks around, finally taking a seat as the pints are delivered to the table along with a bowl of warm, salted edamame. He waits until the busboy resumes his ordinary duties before speaking further. “I thought you needed to know.” He then visibly deflates into his chair.
“Do you feel they would go out of their way to cause you difficulty?” Hiroyuki asks.
“No, not as such. The old man even said ‘sorry you didn’t get on with my son and nephews, but I think you’re alright.’ He still insisted I turn the lease over to my girlfriend, though. I don’t suppose she’s likely to boot me out, but you should be aware it is possible if we should ever end up on opposite sides.” He takes a sip from his pint glass, and gives an approving nod.
Akira nods. “I reckon that to be your first assignment as project manager. Have a plan in place if they decide to force the issue. We couldn’t reasonably expect your insider contacts to come without a cost, you know. Now for your first assignment as field coordinator.” She places the keychain for the Evo on the table. “You’re the rookie, which also makes you the designated driver.”
“Aww…” He sets down his barely touched pint with disappointment.
“Enjoy that one. We’re going to be here a while longer.”
“You’re not afraid to relax in the company of rivals?”
“We’re not rivals any longer, we’re a cooperative. It wouldn’t demonstrate good faith to run from them, but keep your eyes and ears open.”
Daisuke retrieves his pint from the table. “I’ll do what I can to make it last.”
“The cooperative, or the beer?” Hiroyuki asks.
Daisuke’s phone begins to rattle the table, so he takes a glance at the display. “It’s from Sally. Muramoto asked her if she still intended to renew her contract with them if he let me go, and she said she would. She closed it with ‘you’re welcome’.”
Hiroyuki nods. Everyone is watching everyone else, while staking out territory and pulling strings. “As it has been, so it shall always be.”
“I most certainly did warn you about this,” Neko insists over the phone.
“You didn’t say it would be this bad,” Kenta complains. “She’s crying more than she did the night of!”
“It’s never been that bad for me, so how could I warn you?” After taking a deep breath, she carries on. “I have an idea. I’ll have someone swing me by there and drop off my treatment.”
“No, no more of your wonder pills.”
“They’re just herbals, and they’re what I use to help recover. If you don’t trust me, you can go buy it yourself off the shelf. 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP for short. That’s what you want.”
“What’s that supposed to do? And how quickly?”
“It’s just a precursor to what her brain lacks right now, which is serotonin. This will just allow her to make it faster by starting with something that’s already close to it. It’ll start making a difference in two, maybe three hours, depending how good her body is at the conversion. You didn’t want her eating the stuff before or immediately after rolling because it can induce too much serotonin, but it’ll help now.”
“Alright. I’ll pop out for it myself. I can get to a pharmacy and back faster than you can get here anyhow.” I live in a sea of convalescent homes. There’s a pharmacy every other block. “I’m sorry I shouted at you.”
“I understood why you were bothered,” Neko says calmly and steadily, “even if I didn’t deserve to be the target. You are forgiven. Call me back if you need delivery service after all.”
He still looks it up online before heading out. I have to know how to spell it. I wouldn’t want to look like a fool by not being able to find it in plain sight. Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s not like I feel compelled to fact-check Neko’s advice.
Mariko isn’t buying his explanation. “She may have told me that earlier today, but it went in one ear and out the other. I’m sorry I’m so scatterbrained. I thought I did well just to keep it together until the end of class.”
“You did. Very few people know about this, and I can’t imagine any of them using the information irresponsibly. You can hang in there for twenty or thirty minutes without me, can’t you?”
“No, I’m going to slash my wrists the moment you step out the door,” she deadpans. “Just don’t dawdle. Maybe I’ll still be warm when you get back.”
Your gallows humor is not particularly welcome at the moment, but I get your point. I’ll hurry. “Let me put on running shoes.”
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 27a (20190214)
Posted: Thu Feb 14, 2019 10:15 pm
Neko hesitates for a brief moment as she chooses the rear seat on the passenger side. “Hooray, physics lab! Did you bring my test equipment?” She takes a moment to shake the raindrops from her umbrella before folding it, closing the door as quickly as Crabby allows, and tossing it over the back of the seat into the cargo space.
“Sure did,” Hisao confirms. “It’s now or never, right?”
“For that ball, at least,” Neko adds. “I’ll get one better suited to my new form once I make the move.”
“Even if it doesn’t fit me?” Suzu asks of a point in empty space, unable to spin around far enough to make eye contact with Neko.
“It can be patched and re-drilled. Chances are you only need the thumb hole moved a bit. The span is a bit small, even for me – if I still used the thumb hole, that is.”
“Just try not to hurt yourself this time, darling.” Hisao spares her the briefest of glances over his shoulder before making the turn onto the road leading to Moniwadai Junior High School for the final time.
Abe backs away from the curb as the car approaches, fearing that he might get splashed. Accordingly, Hisao leaves enough space between the wheels and the curb for rainwater to drain, and pulls up gently to be doubly careful.
Abe has an annoyed expression as he walks around the back end of the vehicle to get to the door. “It will be so nice to change into dry shoes.”
“Swampfoot is an occupational hazard for couriers,” Suzu points out, able to rotate in her seat far enough to more or less face him. “Even Katayama’s tree climbing can’t keep her entirely from it.”
“But I’m not working today, so why should I have to suffer?”
“Take off your shoes if you want,” Hisao says with a shrug, “but I don’t want to hear you complaining when you have to put them back on. Rain falls on all of us.”
“Nah,” Abe demurs. “Then I just have wet socks instead. «Pakshet.» Is it too late to stop by the ranch?”
“Are you willing to wear girly ankle socks?” Neko asks.
“I was planning to dip into my own overnight bag.”
“Yeah, but I have spare socks in my bowling bag, in case my own got soaked, so we wouldn’t have to stop. It’s just that they’re very pink and very girly.”
“I don’t care, so long as they’re dry and they fit.”
“They might not fit,” Neko admits. “You may have to swing a trade with someone.” She tips her head forward to indicate the seat ahead of her.
“I look alright in pink,” Suzu concedes. “I’ll trade you when we get there.”
“Time to make a decision,” Hisao warns as he makes the left turn onto the highway headed into the heart of the city.
Abe declares, “Don’t stop. We’ll play musical socks.”
“Thank you,” Neko says with great relief. “I didn’t want to deal with the dogs.”
“But they seem accustomed to your presence now,” Hisao points out. “I’m not saying they like you, or any of us for that matter, but they have been much less menacing since Junpei started socializing them.”
“They still poke wet noses and dirty paws in awkward places, especially with me.” I also lose most of my two second look-ahead because of their randomness. “And especially in damp like today.”
Hisao shrugs. “Dogs gonna dog. What are you gonna do?”
“Avoid them.” Neko gives a one-finger salute to the ranch as they drive past. “Permanently.”
“You’re letting them run you out of the entire country?” Suzu asks with a skeptical tone.
“Only a little bit. They’re the symptom, not the problem. Having them show up, without even being asked my position on the matter, was iron-clad proof that even being the boss’s daughter and the product mover earned me no favors.” It’s not the dogs I fear, it’s the snakes. “It’s not my home, and I strongly advise against you considering it yours.”
Hisao bumps the steering wheel twice with the heel of his hand. “You don’t have to convince me. Declining the ‘free’ room is expensive, but absolutely the right call.”
“You make it sound like I should be worried,” Suzu mumbles.
“It’s Mum you should be worried about,” Neko says with a sneer, “not the room.”
“And I suppose the trade school offer is a trap too? It’s the best option for me, and I would be hard pressed to manage the cost without her.”
“Look, you do what you need to do,” Neko sighs. “Just don’t be surprised when you’re asked to repay the favors, in ways you may find less than pleasant.” You all want to play in her game of wizard chess? Don’t come running to me when you get sacrificed.
“Like the field necropsy on the Russian’s dog?” Hisao asks.
“No, not like that at all. That was imposed from outside. Those things happen in any organization, and someone has to take care of them. But one or more of these times, you’re going to find yourself obliged to deal with the fallout of her decisions, even the ones you disagree with – like me and those damn dogs.”
“Don’t you think it would be fair to blame Miura for the whole Russian situation that sparked it? I can’t imagine your Mum ever would have poked that hornet’s nest voluntarily.”
“Oh, I do blame the Moron, every day. That doesn’t change the fact Mum signed off on the dogs, even knowing they would chase me away. She has also had plenty of time to walk that decision back if she so chose. It doesn’t matter whose bad idea it was originally. The buck stops there.”
“We’re getting another half dozen the moment you leave,” Suzu points out. “She waited that long. You are not completely without influence.”
“That’s not the way Junpei tells it.”
“It was his idea, yes,” Suzu acknowledges, “but it was your Mum’s choice to wait until it wouldn’t affect you.”
“Only because I’ve punched my ticket out. If I were staying, she would have no reason to wait. I haven’t factored into her planning for months now.” It took her half a dozen reassignments to cover my departure, but now that she has, I’m deadwood.
Abe speaks quietly. “So it’s not really about the dogs, then.”
It is only by contrast that Neko realizes that she had been near shouting in her indignation. She makes a conscious effort to engage her ‘indoor voice’. “I thought I said that.” She takes a deep breath. “I get what my parents were trying to do, but moving countries didn’t make me a different person, just more of a misfit. Mum, on the other hand, now has exactly what she has wanted her entire life, and I helped her get there. This is her home. She doesn’t need me anymore, and she has made it evident at every turn.”
“We’ve seen it,” Suzu acknowledges, “but we’re not buying it. She wants us to believe she won’t miss you, but we know she will.”
“We’ll just wait and see, then. She knows where to find me.”
Hisao senses his proximity perhaps a second before the voice confirms it.
Am I going to be cursed with Setou to the end of my days? How the fuck does he always find me? “Look man, I don’t have time to talk. I’m just trying to pick a ball.”
“Well don’t let me stop you.” Kenji leans on the cabinet holding the racks of bowling balls. “I just need to ask a favor.”
“No promises, but I’ll hear you out. What is it you wish to ask of me?”
“You’re still talking to Ikezawa, right?”
“Uh, yeah. She’s in my phone.” Hisao lifts out a ball that isn’t too bad a match for his hand, and hefts it. Alright, I’ve found my spare ball. He sets it on the floor between his feet and continues checking the rack.
“I have a message, but I need you to deliver it exactly. Verbatim. Can you do that?”
“I won’t know until I hear it.”
Kenji leans in close. “You were right. The eagle has landed.” He theatrically gives the impression of checking to see if they are being watched. “Repeat it back to me. I need to know you have it right.”
Hisao adopts a nasal tone in imitation of his imagination of his telephone voice. “You were right, the eagle has landed.” He reverts to his normal tone. “Yeah, I think I can deliver that. What am I supposed to say when she asks me what the hell it means?”
“She won’t ask.”
“You sound quite sure of yourself. I’m giving her your number if she does ask.” This ball is half a kilo heavier than I was looking for, but it fits my hand and isn’t too shiny. I’ll give it a try as my strike ball.
“No, no, give her my burner number.” Kenji fumbles in his pocket for a moment before pulling out a mass of receipts, a scoring pencil, a flash drive, and two loose button cells that aren’t even the same size, none of which is the least bit surprising to Hisao. He scrutinizes several papers within centimeters of his face before choosing. “This one will do.” He quickly scrawls a number onto a receipt from a nearby noodle restaurant.
“Alright dude, I’ll give her this number. I think my friends are probably starting to wonder where I went by now.” Hisao picks the lighter ball up from the floor with his left hand, while taking the heavier ball from the rack with his right. “And these are getting heavy.”
“Beware of the leopard.” Kenji bows and slips into the crowd.
Hisao shakes his head before rejoining the rest of the party, depositing his chosen ammunition into the ball return loop along the way. “It never ends,” he says to Neko as he sits down next to her to change his shoes.
“I saw him before you did and tried to warn you,” she says, “but I fear my telepathy is buggered, or yours is. Or both. What did he want?”
Hisao pulls the slip of paper from his pocket. “He wanted me to give Hanako his burner number, which I intend to carry out. What she does with it is none of my concern.” He takes a moment to transcribe the number into his phone, lest he lose the paper scrap.
“Should we start the warm-up?” Abe asks.
Neko quickly glances at Suzu for a nod, then turns back to Hisao, who also nods. “Yeah, if you want to start, go right ahead.”
Abe steps up to the line and shuffles his feet a bit, trying to remember how he did it the last time. Finally he chooses a spot and starts his walk-up. The spin bites late, and he clips off the 4, 7, and 8 pins. “Lotta oil out there, watch out,” he says as he walks back.
“For you, maybe,” Suzu points out. “We’re all using the other side of the lane, which may be broken down already.” She tugs at the edges of the pink socks Neko provided, which are a bit on the small side for her, before standing and preparing to clean up Abe’s leave. Her delivery looks much like a mirror version of Abe’s, only slower and with somewhat less spin. She also overestimates the hook, coming in a bit wide and leaving the 1-2 combination for the pinsetter to sweep away. “It acts just like every other ball I’ve used,” she says with a shrug, “aside from…” She holds up her right hand in a bowling grip and waggles it. “It’s kinda slippery in my hand. It should make a good spare ball, but I need to find a proper fitting strike ball.” She walks through the seating area and out the back to search the racks.
“You wanna go next?” Neko asks Hisao.
“Doesn’t matter to me. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
Neko puts the carbon hand on his knee as she stands up. “I’ll throw next, then. Mind if I try yours?”
“Go right ahead, but it’s a fourteen pound ball.”
Neko nods and steps up to the ball return area. She puts two fingers into the ball, excluding her thumb, and lifts the ball enough to slip Crabby underneath it. She slowly practices her motion well away from the foul line, then sets the ball back on the return loop to select his spare ball instead. “You’re right, that one is a bit much for me right now. Hmm, your spare ball is a bit too light, and plastic. I’ll throw it anyhow, before I go hunting.” Unlike Suzu, Neko has little difficulty spinning the ball, but it breaks too late, leaving the entire left edge of the rack: 1-2-4-7. “Plastic,” Neko repeats with a shrug, then she sets off to join Suzu in searching the racks for a suitable ball.
“I guess that leaves you,” Abe says from the scorer’s console, with a smile and a twirl of one of the many pencils lying around.
“Indeed it does.” Hisao takes a deep breath and stands. Where do I normally aim? Or start? I can’t remember. He finally puts the point of his right shoe directly behind the center dot. I can adjust from there. He eyes a spot two boards wide of the fifth arrow and starts his march to the foul line. Step, step, push out, step, drive the ball forward, and slide! Handshake grip! Follow through!
His choice of a non-glossy strike ball proves to have the desired effect as the spin takes hold, but either his feet or his aim point will have to be adjusted as it comes in short and sends the head pin into the 2, leaving the 4 and 7, when he intended to carry all four pins with the ball.
When Hisao turns around, Abe is already hovering over the ball return loop, left hand over the air vent. “If they take a while,” he asks while tipping his head in the general direction of the ball racks, “do we want to wait for them, or let them catch up?”
“Depends how long a while, I think. Let’s give them a few minutes.” Hisao takes the console seat, which is still quite warm. Unfortunately, this means he is staring directly at Abe’s back and cannot see much of anything beyond – the same problem he had trying to watch Neko from the outside seat. “Hey,” he asks Abe after the first ball, “can I keep this seat? I want to have an angle to see what Neko is doing out there.”
“You’d see more if you sat on that side.” Abe points to the unoccupied seats behind the right-hand lane of the pair. “Or not,” he quickly adds when the lights for that other lane come to life. “I think we’re about to get company.” He takes an outside seat as Suzu returns with a different ball.
“How convenient,” she says of the timing before shuffling her feet for a couple seconds to ensure her shoes will not stick to the floor. She steps to the rear dots and starts directly into her motion. As soon as she releases the ball, she is leaning to her right. When it reaches the arrows, she’s shuffling to the right. By the time the ball makes contact with the pins, she’s standing in front of the other lane. The body English seems to work, though. “Pow!” she exclaims with a fist pump as the rack of pins parts like the Red Sea. “Yeah, I’m keeping this one.” She cranes her neck. “Ah, there she is. I was starting to wonder if she needed a rescue.”
“How are we doing here?” Neko asks as she returns with her selected ball. She spots the X in both the third and fourth frames. “Oh it’s gonna be like that today, is it? Am I up?”
Hisao half-shrugs. “If order matters at this point, then yes, you’re up. I was going to leapfrog you in another minute or so.”
“Shouldn’t you wait until we get back to the ranch to do that? Or at least the car?”
Hisao rolls his eyes, but he knows he is also grinning like a fool. This angle is still not ideal, but at least I can sort of see what she’s aiming at now. He watches her odd, lurching and twisting gait to the line, the way she cradles the ball in front of her with the prosthetic hand, and the dip of her shoulder as she imparts spin on the ball. This time the ball hooks in time, but it simply wasn’t thrown fast enough to catch the pocket flush. Once the dust settles, there remains a ringing 10 pin.
“Dammit!” Neko stomps her foot in frustration. “I really thought I had that one.”
“Indeed, it looked good,” he tells her, then points a pencil down the lane. “Clean up after yourself. We’re doing full frames now.”
Neko nods and holds her hand over the air vent briefly before she reaches for her spare ball. “These always give me the willies. It would be easy for him.” She nods at Abe.
“And my solid 7 pins would be similarly easy for you,” Abe points out. “That’s just how it goes. Slight misses leave garbage on the awkward side. It’s better than a split.”
Neko chooses a conventional technique for the spare attempt. The ball pops audibly off of her thumb to land three meters past the foul line with a clatter, and it scarcely has a chance to change direction before it skitters into the right gutter a meter or two short of reaching the 10 pin.
“Double dammit! I held onto it too long, so it was spinning this way instead of this way.” She waves her finger around to indicate the rotation in both cases.
“At least you know what happened,” Hisao says as he rises, “and you still have one more warm-up frame.” A glance over his shoulder reveals there is indeed a group – three boys all dressed alike, as best he can tell – headed for the lane to the right of his own.
Hisao focuses on the routine he has scripted for himself, this time moving his toes a board and a half to the left. His shot misses badly enough to go Brooklyn, but the pins topple just the same. Too much spin, not enough speed, but I think that’s the best I’m going to be able to sustain with this ball, so I’d better adjust my aim point or feet again.
Neko presents him with a thousand-watt grin when he turns around. “So it’s working for you? «Dodge, dip, dive, duck, and dodge?»”
“Yeah, it’s standing in just a bit for the practice I don’t get. Luckily, theory and practice aren’t too much at odds in this game. Hey, do you know what is really meant by ‘Brooklyn’? I’d hate to say something I’ll regret later, just because I don’t understand it.”
“Imagine yourself standing New York City,” Neko says, tapping her finger to her forehead. Suddenly she points it at him. “Quick, where are you?”
“Uh…” Hisao makes room for Abe to pass him, but otherwise stands like a deer in headlights. “I’m looking down one of the streets through the buildings, while the sun sets.”
“Yeah, that. I saw a little piece on it recently, so that’s the first thing that comes to mind.” He relaxes and takes a neat next to her.
Neko nods. “Now, where is Brooklyn?” She interrupts his reflexive motion to recite facts from a book. “I mean relative to where you are standing in Manhattan.”
“Oh. I guess anything that isn’t Manhattan has the same answer: across the river.”
Neko touches him on the nose with an upraised carbon fiber finger. “There’s your answer. I didn’t tell you to put yourself in Manhattan, but I knew you would, because almost everyone does. So ‘Brooklyn’ means accomplishing something by somewhat backward or less desirable means. It’s used in other contexts the same way.”
“That doesn’t sound very flattering to Brooklyn.”
“It isn’t, but it should be more insulting to Manhattan, don’t you think? It implies that the residents think their little island is all that matters, or at least the center of the universe.”
“I kinda get the impression they do think that way, from media depictions.” Hisao waves a fist as he thinks, giving the appearance he is playing Rock Paper Scissors against an invisible opponent. “That show with the Eraserhead dude?”
“Seinfeld. It’s where I got «no soup for you!» Also, I can see why you’d come away with that impression. Whether it has any basis in fact, I don’t know. I haven’t been there yet.”
Neko nods. “I fully expect I’ll see it, maybe even live in the area, in the course of my career and travels.”
Suzu wanders over after her final warm-up frame. “If you’re gonna dream, dream big, am I right?”
“Of course! Why should Mum be the only one?”
“How are things going?” Sally asks from behind her armor masquerading as a desk. “Has he been holding back on you?”
Junpei rolls the question around in his head a bit. “I have no clue. It doesn’t seem like it, but how would I know if he was?”
She nods. “That’s a fair point. I may have to task one of the people he’s supposed to be auditing with auditing him instead. Let’s leave that aside. How are you doing with the work itself?”
This garners a shrug. “I don’t know that either. He’s still trying to get it to work reliably, and says trying to show me how to use it would be premature when he’s not sure he’s got it figured out himself. He says when he gets the same result three times in a row, then he might be onto something.”
“Keep me in the loop. I have real product that needs testing, but not until the results can be trusted. I’ll speak with him myself later when I give him his copy.” Sally opens a desk drawer and withdraws a book which she casually tosses onto the desk. “Here are your Cliff Notes.”
Junpei slides the book closer before attempting to pick it up. “Great. I can’t even pronounce the title. Fenna-thigh-lamins?”
“It’s phen-ethyl-amines, but don’t worry about it. Just call it «pickle».”
He picks up the book and cracks it open somewhere near the middle. “Holy shit, is this even English? I don’t speak chemist.”
“Yet. Now that you know how much you don’t know, you can start to do something about it. When you next see Jōji, could you let him know I need some hot coffee at his earliest convenience?”
“I can make coffee.”
“So can I. That’s why it’s important you specifically tell him I want hot coffee.” Sally nods at the office door. “You are dismissed.”
In the kitchen, Junpei is several minutes into doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before, when he finally catches Jōji passing through. “Hey boss.”
“Yeah? What’s up?”
“Boss boss wants hot coffee, at your earliest convenience.”
Jōji sighs. “Too much is not enough, it seems. I’ll prepare my supplies.” To Junpei’s bewilderment, he heads into the master bedroom’s attached restroom and closes the door. Water can be heard running before he emerges with a small black handbag and a white hand towel – and most notably, no coffee.
Junpei repositions himself to get a view through the dining room to the office. He watches as Jōji taps quietly at the door before letting himself in, closing the door behind him.
Well I’d better find a way to make myself useful. Junpei heads out through the pool room into the laundry room to fetch a mop and bucket. The kitchen floor could stand to be a bit less of a dirt road. Then he hears the scream. He dashes back through the kitchen and down the hall, arrives at the office on the dead run, and slams into the door with his shoulder. It groans but does not give, while the impact causes him to see stars. He backs up three meters or so and prepares to take another run at the door, intending to drop-kick it this time.
Luckily for him, the door is opened a crack first. Jōji peers through it, revealing just one eye. “Dude, what the hell?”
“I – I heard a distress cry.”
Jōji sighs loudly. “Go away, and ignore everything you hear for the next ten minutes or so, would you? I’ll talk to you later.” The door is slammed and locked.
Junpei does neither. He retreats out of sight in case the door should open again, but listens intently for several minutes as the throbbing in his shoulder ramps up. There is another outburst, but it’s more of a squeal than a scream. I’ve heard that before, heh.
The realization then lands on him like a ton of bricks. That’s what it sounded like when we used to fuck.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 27b (20190315)
Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2019 10:48 pm
Continued from previous post
“That’s how you do it!” Neko exclaims as Suzu gets a ‘messenger’ to take out the 10-pin on her strike.
“You said you were gonna win,” Suzu replies. “Now you’re betting on me?”
“200 is out of my reach at this point,” Neko admits with a shrug as she holds her hand over the air vent. “I’m not consistent yet, but you are, and we could use someone posting a really good game. I’d be satisfied if you can just beat him, though.” She waves in Abe’s direction. “We can’t let him win every game, so I’m backing you.”
“My maximum is 208,” Abe announces after an inspection of the scoring screen, “but I’d need to strike out, and I haven’t strung together more than three all day, let alone five.”
“What’s her limit?” Neko waves toward Suzu this time.
Abe squints at the screen. “Uhh… 223.”
“See, I was right to bet on you.” Neko picks up her own ball and goes through her windup. As the ball nears the pocket, she mimes a small explosion, but the ball slides in a bit too far back to catch the headpin, leaving a not-quite-impossible 1-10 split. “Bloody hell. What’s my max if I fail to convert this?”
Abe squints at the screen in front of him yet again. “Uhh… 153? 154, if you can take just one of them.”
Neko shakes her head. “I’m going for it. What have I got to lose, one point?” She holds her hand over the vent again before picking up her spare ball.
“Remember that backup ball you threw last game?” Suzu asks. “You might want to try doing that on purpose.”
“Hmm.” Neko closes one eye and gauges the line as she bobs her head side to side. “Yeah, might as well. I reckon the odds of chipping the front one into the back one are pretty slim.” She steps to the alignment dots again, so far to the left that if she were on the other lane of the pair, the ball return would be in her way. “Here goes nothing.”
“Not too fast,” Suzu warns. “Give it a chance to do its thing.”
“Right.” Neko begins her approach, this time in the more conventional one-handed style. As expected, she spins the ball in the reverse of the normal direction, but with nowhere near the rotation speed it has on her normal shot. “Come on… come on…” She leans to her right and grimaces. “Just a little bit more…”
Although the plan was to fire the ball right through the head pin and into the 10, her hopes revert back to chipping the pin instead as the ball lightly taps it, causing it to fall over and start spinning, eventually brushing into the pin at the back right and setting it to wobbling. However, the 10 remains standing as she turns and walks away in disappointment.
“Whoa!” Abe exclaims. “Let’s see if the computer scores that correctly.”
“Huh?” Neko spins back around to see the sweeper bar returning to its forward position and the next rack of pins being lowered into place. “What did I miss?”
“A minor miracle,” Hisao says with an incredulous tone. “One second it was swaying, and the next it just vanished as the bar was coming down. I think it ‘walked’ off the back of the pin deck.”
“That’s what it looked like to me too,” Abe confirms. “The computer had already made up its mind though. I have to manually edit the scorecard to make that a converted split.”
“You can do that?” asks the scorer from the other lane’s party.
“Sure can. It’s gonna show her score line in red from that point on, but it’s allowed.” Abe takes more time than he ordinarily would to make the edit, so that the other guy can watch.
“Neat. I thought we were at the mercy of the computer’s decision.”
“This is not league play, so we don’t need an official to perform the edit the way they do.” Abe looks to Hisao. “It’s ready for you now.”
“Oh, right.” He steps up and delivers quickly, sending the ball careening straight into the headpin.
Neko grimaces. This stands to be even uglier than my leave.
And it is. “Brutal,” Hisao grumbles as the pinsetter lifts up the 4-7-10 split and sweeps the deck. “Missing by a little can be ten times worse than missing by a lot.” He demonstrates ‘little’ and ‘lot’ with the space between his upraised index fingers before reaching for the spare ball. “I don’t even want to know what my maximum is,” he announces just before taking the 4-7 pair and surrendering the 10.
“You had one pretty good game,” Neko offers in an attempt to cheer him up. “Anyone who can break 160 doesn’t suck.”
“Of course I had to go and do it when he was on fire.” He gestures toward Abe.
“Hoping everyone else falls down is a fool’s gambit,” Abe says as he waits by the ball return for the player to the left to complete his throw. “Maybe it works heads-up, but not in a group like this.” As usual, his ball is reasonably close to the pocket, and the pins explode the way Neko had been hoping for on her first ball. “One down, four to go.”
“You’re trying to make me earn it, aren’t you?” Suzu mock-complains before stepping up to the ball return to wait, out of the line of sight of the players on the adjacent lanes.
“You know you’ll be happier with the result if you do,” he replies.
“True, true.” She steps up and delivers a perfectly placed ball, to be rewarded with a little explosion of her own. “Pow!” This is accompanied by an air punch, which turns into a stretch and a yawn. “I think I need a sharpener.” She hurries to her handbag to fetch her power pills. Shaking several from the bottle into the palm of her hand, she then slides all but two of them back into the bottle. Hesitating, she shakes the last one returned back into her hand. She pitches the selected three capsules into her mouth and reaches for her water bottle.
Neko watches, feeling unwell at the mere thought of eating ephedra pills three at a time. Two had been enough to make her think her heart was skipping beats, although it probably wasn’t. Standing by the ball return, she closes her eyes for a few seconds while drawing a deep breath. Clear your head, just do what you know you’re capable of.
Then it hits – that moment when time seems to run in slow motion, and everything is seen in Technicolor clarity. I’ve got this. It seems to take minutes to pick up her ball, cradle it, and get set. It seems to take even longer to take her four crooked steps to the foul line, and even the act of swinging and releasing the ball seems to occur in a heavily time-dilated state. It is not until the ball is out of her hand that things begin to return to normal, and sound returns to the world to replace the rush of her own blood in her ears.
She hears the ball bounce on the floor once, then twice more in rapid succession, followed by a rumble as it spins while crossing boards. She is already staring at the spot where she wants the ball to begin its break, and as if by command, it does so. “Finally!” she shouts, and she has already turned to walk away when the ball finds the pocket with an enormous clamor. Grinning broadly, she attempts to send a Morse Code ‘A’ through the muscles near her collarbone – a simple ‘dit-dah’ – but what it receives is ‘F’, or ‘dit-dit-dah-dit’.
“No need to rub it in,” Hisao grumbles, looking rather offended.
“Huh?” It is only then that Neko realizes the wrong finger is extended on the carbon fiber hand. “Bloody hell, the bastard’s gone batty!” She quickly covers her left hand with her right. “That is not exactly what I was trying to do.”
Abe snickers behind his own screening hand. “It has a mind of its own! Run!”
Suzu screws the cap back onto her water bottle before pointing toward Hisao. “I’m keeping my distance, considering what it seems to want. He is the one that should be afraid.”
Neko pokes at the box on her belt. “It says that’s what I told it to do. Shall we try again?” The box emits two low boops. “Now what? Bloody low battery.”
Hisao begins his delivery, but clearly was listening up to that point. “Are you able to finish this game?” he asks when he returns, as he prepares to pick up his leave. “It would be a shame to abandon it now.”
“I’ll throw my old ball, my old way. I wasn’t in contention for the win anyhow.” Neko glances down the lane at the split he faces, and grimaces in sympathy when he fails to catch a friendly break to convert it.
“You might still beat me,” Hisao says upon his return.
“You mean ‘probably’,” Abe says from the scorer’s seat. “That split did you in, most likely.”
“It’s fine,” he proclaims with a loud sigh. “I had the one good game, so at least I know I have it in me somewhere.”
Neko’s annoyance peaks as the hand reverts to an upraised middle finger after rebooting the brain box. “I’ll deal with this later.” She switches the controller off entirely, then manually reshapes the hand to something more socially acceptable. “Unless you’d like to help me offload it now, that is.”
“Only if you’re certain it won’t start fighting back.”
“If it does, you have my permission to kill it.”
Fortunately for Crabby, it manages to remain completely passive as the hardware is removed and cables are extracted from beneath clothing. It is only after the process is nearly complete that Neko notices one of the bowlers from the connected lane staring while pretending not to. She picks up Crabby by the wrist, turns the palm side out, and waves at the gawker, who promptly turns bright red and tries to melt into his seat.
Meanwhile, Hisao attempts to rub the compression marks out of her short arm, using the flats of both palms. This is only marginally successful, but it feels good.
“Thank you,” Neko whispers. “You are welcome to continue that as long as you’d like, although I already feel a whole bowling ball lighter.”
The guy seated opposite raises a hand timidly and bows his head. “Hi. I’m sorry if I am disturbing you, but I’ve never seen someone ahh… disarm in public.”
Neko nods. “It gets old, believe me.”
Hisao turns to look at the stranger as well. “It burns through battery power like mad, and I didn’t pack the spare.” He looks down at the now disembodied arm on the seat.
She kisses him on the forehead. “I forgive you. I forgot to ask.”
“Hey Jin,” one of the other bowlers on the adjacent lane asks with a bit of edge, “are you gonna go or should we skip you?”
“Oh, sorry, sorry! I’ll do it right now.” Jin seems relieved to have an excuse to end the awkward exchange, raising his hand as he slinks away. Neko makes no effort to hide the roll of her eyes, and Hisao must see it.
“You don’t seem overly disturbed by that exchange,” he whispers to her.
She whispers back. “It happens. All. The. Bloody. Time. I have yet to meet a gawker with ill intent.” She accompanies the stressed syllables with a squeeze of his leg, then pats the same leg twice. “Wish me luck,” she says aloud as she prepares for her turn at the line.
“Fortune favors the bold,” he cheerily shouts after her, “and you’re definitely that.”
“Did you hear that?” she mutters to the ball. “Tell the pins when you get there, would you?” Either the ball isn’t talking, or the pins aren’t listening, as she leaves the 2-8 combination.
“You’ve got deadwood,” Abe informs her from the scoring table while she waits for her ball to come back.
Neko nods. “I’d really like to spin this one into the back half of the 2, but I’ve temporarily lost the ability to do that.”
“You’re the only one here who has that ability at all,” Abe points out, “and we’ve all been converting more splits than we have a right to. You’ll just have to fling it and wing it like the rest of us.”
“Yeah, I’ll try to plow straight through them. It’s the only move I have left. I just don’t like doing things the wrong way when I know how to do them right.” She grabs the lighter, glossier spare ball and throws it without too much thought. Although she manages to catch the right side of the pin in front, the ball is deflected sufficiently to miss the one behind – the cost of using the lighter ball, where her normal one might have held the line. After using the invisible hand to make an equally invisible rude gesture, she slinks away in defeat.
She waits for Hisao to return from his own frame before telling him her plan. “I’m just gonna hurl the next one down the middle and hope I don’t strike or spare. I’m really not in a mood to throw a third ball. I can’t hold the heavier ball securely with my thumb.” She raises her elbow and turns the scar on her forearm to his line of sight. “I’m not sure I could have even before this happened.”
“You could do something silly, like throwing it backward through your legs. I mean,” he adds with a shrug, “you don’t even want a great result, so why not try a trick shot?”
“I will if you will.”
“Deal. Is the foul line sensor going to trigger on the ball if I roll it across? I had something different in mind.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never tried. Abe can fix it if it does though.”
It turns out the answer is no, that somehow the sensor knows the difference between a shoe and a ball. This relieves Neko of any mild guilt at causing an inconvenience as she walks straight to the foul line, turns around, and hikes the ball as if it were an American football. It wouldn’t have mattered if the foul sensor had triggered, as the ball veers into the gutter about three quarters of the way down.
Neko taps her head with an upraised finger as she waits at the ball return, to indicate that she has another idea and that her friends might enjoy watching closely. This time she approaches the foul line, takes a step and a fraction backward, and sits on the wood floor before using both feet to shove the ball down the lane. At worst, I’m only flashing a scoring computer. Nobody else has that angle. The soldering incident is still weighing on her mind, as it could have gone sideways if it had been aimed at anyone else.
Suzu addresses her first. “If I ever wondered how Tezuka would have bowled – which I hadn’t, until now – that would probably be it.”
Does she look guilty because she’s talking about the dead, or because she hadn’t thought about it before? “I hadn’t thought of it either,” Neko reassures her. “You still got there first. I did it because it seemed like fun, not to impersonate anyone. You’re right though. That’s probably how she would have done it, unless she could come up with something even weirder.”
“I’ll try one other option,” Hisao volunteers, as Neko was successful at failing to make a mark in the tenth frame. He walks up to the line and sets the ball on the floor behind it, then uses his right foot to push the ball while standing on his left. It’s about as successful as Neko’s second trick shot, holding the lane all the way but not doing a lot of damage.
“That wasn’t bad,” she says while he waits for the ball to come back and the pinsetter to do its job, “and I could see her at least attempting that.”
“Yeah, once.” He places his hand behind his back and makes a great show out of adjusting his posture. “It would kill her back pretty fast. It’s not like a little touch pass with a football. Your first try looked like fun. I’ll do that.” He takes the lightest ball in the loop, which happens to be Abe’s single pin spare ball, and goes through all the motions of getting down over the ball like he’s snapping to a quarterback before making an earnest effort to at least keep it on the lane the entire distance. He staggers back afterward, still bent over.
“Are you alright?” Abe is out of his seat to assist in a flash, but he gets waved off.
“I remembered not to stand up too fast this time,” Hisao reassures him. “That’s all. I’m not injured. I’m just an idiot with low blood pressure that didn’t think the whole plan through before starting.” He leans on the ball return for several seconds as Neko bites her lip in silence.
She whispers once he does make his way back. “Your old meds didn’t do this to you, did they?”
He shakes his head. “No, but I was never intended to be on them forever, at least the steroidal parts, and now I won’t have medical staff standing by all day if I should… well, you know. Turns out I shouldn’t have been drinking all that wine on the old meds either. Oops.”
“You said you asked about interactions with alcohol.”
“I did, but I didn’t specifically mention wine. I didn’t want to implicate you in anything. Turns out the same thing in red wine that’s supposed to be good for everyone, isn’t so good for people on my old blood thinner. I was more forthcoming with the doctors this time, telling them the chances of me not being around wine are somewhere between slim and none for the foreseeable future. They chose from their bag of tricks accordingly. Some adjustments might have to be made, but it’s only been a month.”
‘I didn’t want to implicate you.’ This seemingly casual statement is the one that catches Neko’s attention the most. You rolled the dice on your life because you didn’t want to get me in trouble. I know that was never your intent, but it happened. And you admitted you’ve had two of these events in that month that I didn’t notice or wasn’t present for, in addition to the two where I have been, counting just now. She settles for asking, “Once a week on average is a bit much, yeah? You’ve had four?”
“Three. Nothing happened just now. I was just being extra careful. I was totally serious about the idiot part too.”
“Did you have similar sensations when we first started swimming? Maybe almost pulled a Katayama after going too hard?”
Hisao ponders the question for a few seconds. “Mmm. Maybe, I’m not sure. But if I did, I’m sure I attributed it to the sight of you in a wet T-shirt.” He makes a gesture in front of his face that indicates a spray of blood from his nose, anime style.
“That wasn’t exactly what I meant by ‘going too hard’.” Neko theatrically tries to look offended, even crossing her arms across her chest as best she is able.
“Maybe it should have been. It seemed to be your intent then.” Hisao romantically steals a kiss. Meeting no resistance, he leans in further.
Neko closes her eyes and maneuvers to make it easier for his hands to slide under clothing. Let’s see how many nosebleeds start from this.
Her eyes are still closed perhaps thirty seconds (or a minute, or two?) later when she feels a cold hand clamped around her left arm, near the shoulder. She jolts at the touch, and turns to look.
“I’m going to have to ask you all to vacate this lane, if you don’t mind,” the balding, middle aged man in an ill-fitting tweed suit says to her, letting go of her arm and gesturing at all four of the bowling crew. He turns back to her more specifically. “You two, on the other hand, I’ve had enough of. You’re banned for a year!”
Abe jumps up and begins collecting their belongings, since they had already completed their last planned game and could reasonably be expected to leave. Neko tries her best not to laugh in Ugly Suit’s face as she straightens out her undergarments as best she can with one hand and without disturbing the outer layer any further than it already is.
Hisao saves her from blowing the moment with, “Is that together, or separately?”
The guy hesitates. “You two can’t bowl together – or even come into this building together – for a year. Not even in a league or event.”
Hisao deadpans. “Alright, we get it. It won’t happen again.”
“And you, Miss Rogers – don’t look at me that way, we knew who you were when you walked in – if you ever, ever pull a stunt like this again…” He holds a raised middle finger twenty centimeters from Kat’s nose, which she promptly grabs with a sticky hand, interrupting him just as expected.
She speaks softly and slowly, and the ugly-suited manager leans in better to hear. “We accept your conditions. He just said it wouldn’t happen again. It won’t. I didn’t intend to do it then, the battery was dying and it got confused. I’ll take that gesture out of the hand’s memory as soon as I can. Let it go.” At least I’ll just give it a much longer trigger sequence. She also lets go, and the hand is retracted. She decides that indignant is easier to fake than embarrassed, in the service of concealing great amusement.
Ugly Suit Man stamps his heel in frustration. “God damn it, you were supposed to fight back and make a scene.” He glances at the previously unnoticed security guards ready to close in on his signal, and they visibly stand down. “Just get out!” He holds his hand well away from his body with the fingers splayed apart, obviously intending to wash up as soon as possible.
Neko manages to keep herself together long enough to make it to the parking lot before hollering into the gray mist. “Woo!” She spins as they walk, arms upraised as best they can be with a bowling ball strapped to her back, then throws those arms around Hisao, who is carrying Crabby and its paraphernalia.
He staggers to accommodate the unexpected momentum. “You say you’re worried about exploding my heart, and then you go and do a thing like that! Holy shit. How long had you been planning?” He staggers a bit less when she lets go.
“Two seconds, like everything else. Then I switched off my radar and surrendered to the moment.” And crikey did you ever deliver a moment. “You improvised us into that as much as I did.”
Hisao chuckles. “Too right. I couldn’t let you get away with flirting with a guy without laying a claim back on you.”
“No, you were great. Even afterwards, with Ugly Suit, you were right on point. Some punishment that’s gonna be! You’re not allowed to do the physically impossible, and bowl with me from thousands of kilometers away.”
“That’s why you had that look of both amusement and contempt, wasn’t it?” Suzu asks. “I’m extra glad I took that sharpener now. I wouldn’t want to have missed that.”
“I think the ruckus would have woken you.” Neko has that amused sneer now as well.
“That’s the face,” Suzu confirms. “Every girl learns how to use it passive-aggressively, as a survival skill. But you… you skip that whole passive part and go straight to aggressive.”
Neko nods her approval and drops the mask. Look who my parents are. What do you expect?
“I suppose that’s how you were able to keep Miura in check? She doesn’t take hints very well.” Suzu yawns and stretches.
Neko nods again. She sees the hints, but blows on by them, hoping to run your barrier down before you can react. It’s how she operates with everyone, not just girls she wants for a session of slap and tickle. “That’s the understatement of the day.”
Abe chuckles. “She’s good at those.”
“It’s an appropriate style of humor for a debt collector, I think.” Neko shrugs. “It’s a lot more pleasant than kneecapping people, that’s for sure.” Which would be the Moron’s style.
Suzu yawns again. “So is this the first joint you’ve gotten tossed out of?”
Neko nods, but Hisao shakes his head. He looks at her.
Oh right! The Green Mark. I’m only partly responsible for that one. Then again, I’m only partly responsible for this one too. She nods at him. He can tell it. I don’t remember it as well as I’d like.
“It has happened once before,” Hisao volunteers, “but that time involved copious amounts of alcohol for all concerned, and disruptive behavior by everyone other than me.” He adopts a haughty tone and posture. “I, of course, was a perfect angel.”
Neko mostly concedes his point. “More like a white knight, but it was still the right thing in the situation. And you did pay the tab.”
Suzu yawns more loudly than any time previous as the quartet reaches the car. “Babe, if I pass out before we get back, you can still do to me what he just did to her, like I promised you.”
Abe fist-pumps and loudly whispers “Yessss!”
“Then I’m sitting in front,” Neko insists, and Abe doesn’t object. “I can’t have you sleeping with my boyfriend again.”
Abe pulls up in shock. “What?”
Suzu snorts. “He fell asleep across me after I passed out first, in the back of the Bimmer. That’s all. I was hoping she had forgotten about it.”
“Not likely,” Neko points out as they get settled in their seats, then locates the picture in her phone before passing it to the back. “We had to drag you out to the car in the first place. You were asleep before we ever left.”
“See, it wasn’t my fault at all!”
Abe squints at the postage-stamp size picture. “Aww, isn’t that sweet.”
“Everyone secure?” Hisao asks, insisting on eye contact or verbal responses from all three passengers before engaging the transmission and backing out of the parking spot. “I take it we should just go straight back and let you crash out? We can always head out again afterward if we feel like it.”
Suzu yawns yet again as she returns the phone. “I can hold out if you want to stop for a bite. But it will have to be a quick one.” She proves to be overly optimistic as her head starts to dip, then snaps back up.
“Let’s either go back to the ranch, or somewhere that won’t blink if they see us carrying her around,” Neko decides.
“The ranch.” Abe makes the final call. “She’s already drooling, and I don’t want to miss out.”
Suzu punches him in the thigh. “I already said I’m down for whatever, whenever we get there. Just don’t leave any marks I can’t conceal.”
Hisao clears his throat. “Not in the car. It’s hard to get the blood out of the seats.”
“Yeah, it really is,” Neko concurs. “Mum has never looked at the Bimmer the same way since the interior had to be replaced, and it still smells a bit naff.” The silence that follows is telling. Well that was a bloody buzzkill, wasn’t it.
Abe’s voice drifts up from the back shortly thereafter. “It looks like we’ve reached the end of her day.”
“No problem.” The rain starts in in earnest as Hisao pilots them onto the crowded city streets. “We’re all dry, might as well head home and stay that way.”
“I had to put my still wet shoes back on when you got us evicted,” Abe points out.
“You can take them off again if it helps any,” Hisao offers.
“I will take you up on that offer if and when I think it will be an improvement. It’s not that bad right now.” Abe lets go of the conversation, then grabs it again when nobody else does. “«Pakshet», I have never seen anything like that. I thought we were all going to jail, myself.
Neko can’t resist. “So that’s why your bowling shoes are wet too?” she asks, just as her phone starts jumping around. “Bloody…” She twists sideways in her seat in an attempt to retrieve it from the tight front pocket made for little girly hands, and is in this position, fingers in her pocket, when she hears Hisao’s gasp.
God damn it. Brace for impact.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 27c (20190415)
Posted: Mon Apr 15, 2019 7:11 pm
(Chapter 27 continued)
She at least has time to twist her fingers out of her pocket before she feels the deceleration of braking, and uses the remaining time to go ragdoll. The phone remains safely ensconced in the pocket and will not become a projectile.
The impact occurs on her quadrant of the little car, some uncertain sliver of a second before the airbags activate, as her phone provides the accompaniment via ringtone:
«Well, the telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?
The telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the ph--»
There is a sickening lurch as the wheels lose contact with the ground, but she is already safely cradled by polite, loving explosives wearing sheets, as she presumes Hisao is as well at this point. Abe had declined to remove his shoes, and was probably safe enough. Suzu… well, at least she’s as far from the impact as she could possibly be, and she should be ragdolling too. I’ve done everything I can for the moment, and it looks like I’m going to live through this, and most likely everyone else will as well, so… it’s only a car.
Next, there is the blare of horns from other drivers, to alert those behind that they should pay attention and prepare to react. They have also managed not to spin out, although the vehicle may still be swaying slightly. I can hear. I presume everyone else can as well. “Roll call!” she bellows. “Everybody check in with a status!”
“My thumbs hurt from being pulled off the wheel,” Hisao leads, “but it’s not that bad.” He pauses to let in any possible cries for help from the back. “I’m thankful for the airbag, on balance. Abe?”
“I’m checking, I’m checking!” Abe shouts. “I can’t fucking tell! I mean she’s alive and breathing but I can’t tell if she just managed to sleep through that or what.”
“If she doesn’t come around by the time help arrives, we’ll let them make the call.” Neko glances to her left, then uses the top of her head and the short arm combined to push the shattered window out of the frame before attempting to lean out. Not vomiting was never an option, so she deems it a forgivable offense when she fails to direct it completely through the window. She remembers to release the seat belt before the second heave arrives, minimizing the total splashback, but even a minute bit of hydrochloric acid in the eye is potent. «Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits!» she shouts at nobody in particular, pounding her fist against the center console with each word.
“What?” Hisao is hesitant to move in close unless it’s actually necessary.
“Chunder in the eye hurts like a motherfucker, that’s what!” And the Hideki Method sort of works on short-term pain.
“You’re supposed to close them.”
“I wanted to see where I was pointing it.”
“Ah. Never had that problem.” Hisao stands down his readiness to spring into action with a very visible full-body shiver.
“It wasn’t supposed to end up on my tits, either.”
“Never had that problem either.”
“You bloody well do now. I need a change of clothes.” The squall that had been dumping on them finds a new set of victims as it wanders away.
“What?” Abe asks?
“I m–” Neko starts to respond, but Abe hushes her.
Suzu is mumbling, and Abe is struggling to listen. Suddenly he laughs.
“Yeah, she slept through it,” Abe reports with relieved laughter.
“So what did she say?” Hisao follows up.
“She said ‘who died in here?’ And then she made sure I heard her the second time, so maybe only one light is on at home, but she’s there.”
Hisao reclaims command as driver to query the passengers. “Should we try the doors?”
“No,” comes the answer, but it comes from outside the vehicle, soon followed by a hooded face bearing thick round glasses, poking through Neko’s missing window. “Just sit tight unless someone is hurt badly. Is anyone? That was damn close.” He quickly retracts his head when he catches the scent of sick.
God damn it Kenji, I could hug you right about now, puke and all. No, wait a second…
“Please don’t tell me you were driving.” Neko groans.
“Huh? Gods no, woman! They were trying to take me out! You just happened to get in the way.” He glances around as if he could tell if they were being watched, which they almost certainly are.
I find it difficult to believe there aren’t easier ways to attack you than by trying to run you down as you cross an alley. “Let’s wait until we hear what the other driver has to say before we decide this was malice rather than incompetence.”
“We can’t,” Hisao growls, “he fled the scene. Regardless, Kenji is right. We need to preserve the evidence.”
Neko’s phone starts blowing up again. “Oh, shit, I forgot about that.” She retrieves her phone and answers on speaker. “We’re mostly fine, Mum.”
“You’re god damn lucky to be!” Sally shouts. “I would have had to send a sternly worded letter if they had roughed you up a little.”
“Look, Mum, if you called to berate me over the bowling alley incident, we have bigger fucking problems right now. In fact, you may want to call Suzu’s cousin.”
“He quit on Monday to work for the Satous, for which you are largely to blame. The fuck you need a lawyer for?”
“Your guys still handle car crashes, right?”
“You what now?!” The cabin rings with Sally’s panic.
“My neck hurts,” Suzu groans, confirming that she is not only awake but also situationally aware.
“Pull the other one,” Sally suddenly snaps. “You’re not running two pranks inside of an hour, even if I grant you the benefit of the doubt and assume the first one was a prank.”
“I wish I could say you’re being punk’d,” Neko says after a deep sigh. “We’re all alive and functioning, with all our original parts, but the car is pushing daisies.”
Sally sighs with relief. “That’s what insurance is for. Are you doing the paperwork?”
“Nope,” Hisao chimes in, “waiting for the police. The bastard bailed.”
“We have a witness, though,” Neko adds hopefully.
“Nope.” By sheer luck. I forgot to ask for my travel kit, along with the spare battery pack. Otherwise it would be in my bowling bag, far out of reach.
“Alright. Don’t try to influence the witness, but keep your traps shut as best you can when dealing with authorities, you hear? If anything goes too far for your comfort, we’ll lawyer up. I’ll give them the heads up right now, hang on.” Sally can be heard speaking to someone in person. “Is it alright if Jōji talks you through this while I summon the ambulance chasers? He’ll call you back inside of a minute. I need to call from this line if I want to dance right past their switchboard.”
“It’s fine, Mum. There is nothing useful he can do at the moment, so we’ll call him when we need him, probably in the next few hours. Make sure he’s equally prepared for a call from any of us, though.”
“He heard you. Let the first responders have a gander at everyone, but especially you, Suzuki.”
“My back isn’t feeling so hot either,” Suzu adds from the back seat.
“Get better – but not too fast.” Sally suggests as she disconnects.
Perfect timing. I can hear the sirens closing in. “Back up, Setou,” Neko warns before lunging for the window to chunder again.
“Your Mum sounds pretty cool,” Kenji says with a note of admiration between drags from a bummed cigarette.
Hisao agrees, while making sure to stay upwind. “She’s pretty good at that, yeah.”
“She can be quite popular when she wants to,” Neko grants, “but she doesn’t always want to. It’s all a performance.” She hesitates but ultimately makes the move Hisao suspected she might. “Could I get a drag from your smoke, pretty please with a cherry on top?”
“I didn’t know you smoked. Not this, anyhow.” Nonetheless, Kenji holds the burning cigarette in the direction of her voice.
“I didn’t know you smoked either,” she points out.
“I don’t, normally. But today is not normal.”
Even by his standards. Hisao watches as Neko takes a deep drag, then a second one, consuming about a centimeter of cancer stick each time, before flicking away the ashes and placing the appreciably shorter cigarette back between Kenji’s fingers.
“Thank you, that should hold me over for a while. We should probably see if her parents have showed up yet.” Neko gestures that they should go back inside, before remembering the futility of it. “We called them about fifteen minutes ago, and they don’t live that far away.”
“Traffic,” Hisao points out. “We didn’t exactly improve it. We’d still be in a cab if they hadn’t let us ride in the transport.”
“Still, it’s cold and wet out here. At least we could wait inside.”
Hisao shuffles his feet. “I’d rather wait inside… well, pretty much anywhere else, really. I can’t unwind in a hospital waiting room. All those places are pretty close.” He points across the street at a row of single-wide restaurants in a strip mall. “Are you hungry, Kenji?”
“I was, but not anymore.” He waves the cigarette filter in the air, taking one last drag before realizing it has burned out and casting it aside.
“You probably will be once you smell food.” Hisao is pretty sure he already knows Kenji’s preference in fast food, but he asks anyhow. “You want noodles?”
“Yeah. That’s why we can’t go there. They’ll be waiting for me. Pick somewhere else.”
They do indeed pick somewhere else, a sushi bar. They don’t have to wait and can vacate quickly when they get the call to return. Kenji can only see just well enough to choose his own dishes as they roll by on the conveyor, so the trio chooses a spot near the end where he will have the most time to perform his inspections as the plates loop around.
Neko displays her new, vomit-free «JR Sendai Hospital Junior Fan Club» T-shirt that is two sizes too small (but the best they had), hanging her windbreaker over the back of the chair. She chooses a plate of squid. “I’m craving protein.” Waving her chopsticks at Hisao, she speaks with her mouth full. “Don’t give me that look, I didn’t mean anything by that… this time.”
“Whaaat! It never crossed my mind.”
“Mmm-hmm.” She doesn’t bother to stop chewing.
“No, I get it. We’ve all got bumps and bruises to heal. It makes me want protein too.” To back up his statement, he grabs a slice of tuna from the conveyor. At one level, he can tell it’s quite ordinary, but it is still one of the best he has had by sheer virtue of timing. He addresses his next comment to Kenji, who has chosen one large shrimp and a bowl of rice. “Hey, if you want to celebrate surviving as well, go ahead. This meal is on me.”
“I got tired of waiting.”
Oh. It must suck having to scan each one as it rolls by at close range. “Tell me what you want and I’ll grab it when it comes around.”
“Hey, thanks! I wouldn’t mind masago.”
“I haven’t seen any thus far, but I see maguro headed this way.”
“Close enough. Hey, did you forward the message? The one to Ikezawa?”
“No. I have to admit that under the circumstances, it kind of slipped my mind.” Hisao grabs a plate of salmon roe sushi from the conveyor and places it in front of Kenji.
“Oh. Good, it’s out of date, given this latest assassination attempt.”
Oh, please. If that was an assassination attempt, it’s the most incompetent one I’ve ever heard of. A car pulled out of an alley at ten kilometers an hour. You weren’t going to take that much damage – unless the intent was to pin you against us, somehow. “I planned all along to just give her your number and let her call you. I didn’t want to risk your message offending her and having it blamed on me. She’s a friend, and I’d kinda like to keep it that way. I can send the number now, though.”
“Would you? I knew I could count on you.” Kenji dives into the maguro.
What he actually texts to Hanako is: ‘Setou wants to discuss something with you and asked me to forward this message. Be forewarned, he almost got hit by a car today and thinks it was an assassination attempt.’ He then includes a rolling eyes emoji and the burner number. “Alright, it’s been sent.”
Apparently Kenji’s claim of not being that hungry was truthful, rather than an act of politeness. His stack of dishes, even including the bowl of rice, numbers only five, compared to Neko’s eight and Hisao’s ten, by the time the call comes to return to the hospital. Neko answers while Hisao pays the tab. “Yeah, alright. Give us a few to walk back, we’ll be there.” After disconnecting, Neko passes on the word. “They have her under a concussion watch and will be keeping her overnight. We can only visit her two at a time, and her parents just arrived.”
“Do you really think she’s hurt?” Hisao asks without bothering to conceal the skepticism.
“Yes,” Neko declares emphatically. “I think all four of us are, and we’re all going to be very uncomfortable tomorrow. Is she hurt enough to be admitted to a hospital? Well, I’m no doctor, but they released us.” Hisao doesn’t miss the flick-glance toward his chest.
You mean if I’m fine, then she must be too. I’m easier to break. I can’t say I haven’t thought the same thing. “You weren’t passed out in the back.”
“Too right, and we had airbags. So, maybe this is all on the level?” Neko waggles her hand as if it was a balance scale. “But my instincts say there’s a bit of an angle going on here.”
“All I know is, I’m sure glad I annoy the piss out of all of you to wear your seatbelts. Every time.”
“Likewise. Even if I used to gripe at you.”
Along the short walk back to the hospital, Neko calls a brief halt when she spots a storefront with a cigarette vending machine and buys a pack. Opening the box, she retrieves two for herself, placing one over each ear, and passes the remainder of the pack to Kenji.
“I don’t need all these,” he protests.
“Neither do I,” Neko replies. “But I’m sure you’ll have no trouble giving them away.” She fetches from her pocket first her phone, then the slim aluminum case that passes for a wallet, fitting the cigarettes in with some difficulty. “I don’t mind so much if they get a bit crushed, so long as they don’t fall apart.” The case goes back into the pocket, followed by the phone that had simply been in the way, before the walk resumes. Waiting to cross the street is their largest delay. They’re halfway across, Kenji slightly less so, when the bloody obvious strikes Hisao.
“Aren’t you going to need a lighter?”
“Bars have matches.”
“Bars?” Who said anything about bars?
“I’ll explain later.” She bulls forward to let him draft, which allows him to walk more normally through the crowd rather than shoulder-first for protection. He glances back, but Kenji seems oblivious to them entirely at the moment. I’ll let Setou worry about Setou. It has always worked before.
Once they have crossed safely, but with Kenji still about ten seconds away, she reveals her plan. “Look across, past the hospital’s façade.” She points and holds it a long time, something that would not be done if she was indicating a person.
“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to look for.”
“The Green Mark.”
“Yeah?” I suppose that’s kind of what it looks like. Maybe. How the hell can you read that from here?
“Abe wants to stay the night near the hospital. That’s pretty damn close. And if we’re checked in there, why not loosen up a bit?”
“What about…” He indicates Kenji, who is just catching up with them.
“We’ll get a suite. They’ll just have to rough it on the couch bed.”
“Wait, what?” Kenji goes through the motions of looking around.
“You have to knock on the door first if you need to walk through the bedroom to the loo,” Neko lectures. “No exceptions. That’s the condition if you want to hide out with us tonight.”
“They might come at me again.”
“It’s mighty inconvenient for them that you found us first then, isn’t it?” Neko resumes leading them back to the hospital entrance. “Deal or no deal?”
“Do I have to sign anything?”
“No. Then they’d have a paper trail.”
“Exactly!” He extends his hand. “Deal.”
Once inside, Hisao makes a beeline for Abe rather than focus on the environment. Neko catches on quickly and follows him, almost as if she expected the maneuver.
“How is she doing?” Neko asks as they close from slightly different angles.
“She’ll be alright in a few days. Or tomorrow.” Or the moment they let her leave, Abe seems to be leaving unsaid. “You should have seen her reaction when her parents wanted to transfer her across town to be close to them. That was when the nurse stepped in and limited us to two at a time.”
“Ah. How do you get on with them?”
“I don’t. They have ignored me to the best of their ability since they arrived. They haven’t even bothered to deem me unworthy, they just assumed.” Because I’m a ‘jungle Asian’, his gesture seems to add.
“Not your damn fault people forget how to drive in the rain,” Hisao grumbles. He recalls Samson’s contempt. And the black eye. Ehh, you’re getting off light, kid. I was on the ‘right’ side last time and still got my face caved in.
“They didn’t forget!” Kenji objects, then realizes he’s probably drawing attention. “It’s just a cover,” he adds much more quietly.
Considering I don’t know who ‘they’ are yet, I’m not going to argue with that. They did flee, after all.
“Well I have a plan,” Neko proclaims, “and it doesn’t involve them in any way. I expect you’d like to remain in the area overnight, rather than going all the way home?”
Abe shrugs. “Six to one, half dozen to the other. No sugar in my tea tonight, either way.”
“So have an adventure of your own, or at least witness our next one.” Neko lifts the aluminum leg and uses the foot to nudge Abe’s calf. “It will be epic. And drunken. And loud. And epic.”
Abe visibly deflates in his seat. “I… don’t really feel up to it.”
“You said she’s going to be fine. We believe it too. We’re operating on the assumption we’ll be calling for a ride home in the morning – all four of us.” She pokes Kenji. “Or five, if you want to leave this area with us.”
“I will probably get another assignment before morning.”
Hisao draws a breath to ask what ‘assignment’ Kenji was on at the time of the accident, but thinks better of it, simply releasing the air in a sigh.
“I reckon we’ll play it by ear then,” Neko says with cheer. “If you’re still with us in the morning and want a ride out to Moniwadai or any point between here and there, I’m sure we can make room.”
“Well not now that you’ve told everyone where you’re going,” Kenji moans while raising his hands in a pleading gesture. “They’ll have time to prepare.”
“Prepare.” Neko repeats the word solemnly. “For the entire stretch between here and our old school. Why do I have my doubts?” Because even the Russians didn’t go to that length to get their girl back?
“I’d rather just report my failed mission and see where I am wanted next.”
“As you wish.”
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 27d (20190515)
Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 4:44 am
Continued from previous post
Waiting for the Suzukis to come back to the waiting room took long enough, but they were insistent that the boys not be alone in there with Suzu ‘in a compromised state’, and especially not two at a time. Despite the fact that they’ve been dragging her around in compromised states for close to a year, Neko is tasked with accompanying each of them individually to placate the parents. This makes the whole affair take even longer, which annoys the patient as much as anyone else. Even Kenji has his piece to say, still believing that she had somehow taken a bullet for him, or that at least this meant finding out who tried to kill him. It’s fairly sound logic, but the priors need questioning. Ah well, Suzu seemed to enjoy the visit, since she didn’t have to smile at him.
Having collected the belongings taken from the car – Abe’s and Neko’s bowling bags, Neko’s still dripping wet but likely salvageable blouse, Crabby, and various bits of documentation they will need in the future processing of the crashed vehicle – they let Suzu know they’ll be back to either visit or collect her in the morning, depending on the circumstances, and that they may be significantly hung over.
“Let’s make a stop at the convenience store first,” Neko suggests, but the fact that she’s out front and headed directly toward it makes it a bit more of an order. “You grab mixers and munchies. I’ll worry about the fun. You know what I like.” This last is addressed to Hisao in particular.
While the boys browse the store, Neko proceeds straight to the checkout line, as the top shelf alcohol is all kept behind the counter. Slapping a brown business card reading ‘Ta-Ro Logistics and Sourcing: What You Want, When You Want It’ onto the counter, she begins to order from what she sees behind the cashier. “We’ll need two bottles of that,” she announces, pointing at the Grey Goose.
The cashier doesn’t move. “I’m going to need to see some identification.”
“It’s right in front of you.”
“This is a business card.”
“Yes, it is. Might I suggest taking a closer look at it?”
The cashier slides the card across the counter and picks it up for inspection, then references a clipboard hanging behind the counter. “I’mma hafta call for authorization.” He picks up the phone as customers behind begin to grumble. “Could I ask you to step aside, so maybe I can ring up these others?”
Neko sighs and steps out of the way. The register had never been touched, so there is no transaction to back out or cancel, and the clerk multitasks his phone call and the register fairly efficiently. He gets through two crisps-and-a-Coke transactions before he hangs up the phone. “Yeah, you’re good. Which ones again?”
“Both bottles of Grey Goose.”
“Ooh, nice. Going to a wedding?”
I might as well play the hand I’ve been dealt. “Nah, awards banquet,” she says with the charm dialed up to about 4, then gives a cursory glance toward her uncomfortably tight T-shirt. “There was a mix-up, we brought them the wrong load-out.”
“Ah. Convenient that we’re here then, eh? Can I get you to sign for it?” He pushes over a receipt and a pen.
Neko signs. “It will be replaced with the next run.” I’m not sure what the service schedule looks like anymore.
The clerk shrugs. “Boss OK’d it, so whatevs.” He places both bottles into thick shipping boxes, minus their top two or three centimeters. “I don’t have any tape. Or the tops, come to think of it.”
“You gotta work with what you got,” Neko says, perhaps tweaking the Charm knob to 5, as the clerk stuffs crumpled newspaper into the tops of the boxes to steady the bottles within.
Once she steps aside again, there are only two more customers between her and Abe, who spent the least time browsing. Kenji, not surprisingly, forms the tail of the current line. The group re-forms one by one as their transactions are completed. First is Abe with ginger ale, orange juice, two cups of instant noodles, and a bag of sour worms. That is presumably for Suzu in the morning, which should earn him a point or two. The final confrontation with Miura flashes through Neko’s mind, but she swats it away like a nuisance insect.
Soon after, Hisao has stepped to their side, bearing pineapple and cranberry juices for her, a deck of cards, and a giant party-size bottle of orange soda, presumably for everyone.
“No food, dear?” she asks quietly.
“Room service is pretty good there. Hmm, I suppose I could have gotten some extra coffee pods for the morning.”
“We should have enough. Snoozu’s not around to fight us for it.”
When Kenji reaches the front of the line, he places a pillowcase containing his purchases on the counter. The clerk eyeballs him for a second or two, then seems to recognize him. He scans each item and puts it back in the pillowcase. He does the same with the payment card, also in the pillowcase. Finally, he pushes the entire rig back. “Thank you, good day, sir.”
Kenji heads straight for the door, apparently oblivious to the three of them standing within three meters of the counter, so Neko nods for the others to follow.
“We’re over here,” Neko announces once they’ve stepped outside.
Kenji jumps. “Ah! I knew that!”
It takes a moment to arrange everything, considering they were far from unladen when they came in. “Why’d you pick the good stuff?” Abe asks when he gets a glimpse of the bottles.
“Because I know Mum will have replacements, and I just borrowed against company stock.” I wonder if she’ll be annoyed that I raided her liquor cabinet without even being there, or if she’ll be impressed by my resourcefulness. Or both.
“That explains a lot.” Hisao follows this with a small thumb-across-throat gesture to indicate that Abe should drop the subject for now. “I got a deck of cards, too. I didn’t know if the hotel would have them, or what quality they’d be, and these looked fit to survive one night at least.”
Neko nods. “Good thinking. It supported my little fairy tale.”
“That we’re catering an event and got our load-outs mixed up.”
Hisao furrows his brow. “What’s a deck of cards got to do with that?”
“What do you think our guys do while people give speeches? Wank?”
“I figured we were gonna play Asshole again.”
Neko smiles. “Too right, but the clerk didn’t know that. We probably should have been more on the same page but it worked itself out. Let me do the talking at the hotel though, yeah?”
Not only are ‘the boys’ content to let her do the talking, they’re equally content to let her stand in line while they tend to the cargo. The concierge eyes her critically. “This isn’t a love hotel,” he finally says quietly, glancing toward the companions waiting in the lobby.
“Bloody hell right it isn’t,” she says equally quietly, not wanting to cause a scene. I am checking into a hotel with three boys, after all. “We were in a traffic accident, one of our group is in hospital there, and we’re crashing out here until morning, when they may release her. Unless you think we’re unworthy, that is.” She steps back so as not to raise her voice in his face, but when no response is forthcoming, raise it she does. “I’m sure we can arrange other, friendlier accommodations.” Or just call for a bloody pickup. She retrieves from her back pocket (the front being impractically full already) the bracelet she wore briefly after arrival at the hospital and slaps it on the counter before leaning in close again. “Your call.” She leans her chin on her hand, her face fifteen or twenty centimeters from his, and stares him straight in the eyes.
The concierge stares back, but Neko can see him swallow twice. Dry mouth. I’ve got him on the hook. “And how will you be paying for your accommodations, Miss…”
She smiles at him without finishing his sentence, first retrieving her hospital admission bracelet, then taking her phone, then her wallet from her pocket. Placing the wallet on the counter, she opens it delicately. The partly crushed cigarettes roll out, leaking tobacco as they go. Bloody hell, I completely forgot about those. She ignores them and retrieves the correct card for such occasions. If this isn’t a pinch, I don’t know what is. And we’re being pretty cheap about it.
“May I presume that you will be taking a smoking room, then?” Score one for the concierge. That was an own goal if ever I saw one.
“We need a suite. You still think we all want to share one bed?”
“We, ah…” He taps at his terminal. “We do have one. But it’s non-smoking. They all are.”
“We’ll take it. And a luggage dolly. We’ve been hauling around bowling balls.”
“Is that what those are? I’m sorry I doubted your story. I’ll send someone around.”
“The dolly alone will suffice.” If only we’d had it for the last few hours, we wouldn’t have had to stash everything in Suzu’s hospital room.
“Yes, Mrs. Tanaka-Rogers.”
Two keys in hand, Neko slumps visibly after this encounter and returns to the others and their cargo. Good to his word, the concierge personally pushes a luggage dolly to them and theatrically sneaks away.
“I see you’ve been making friends again,” Hisao mutters to her.
“Even better. I’ll tell you upstairs,” she teases as she makes the ceremonial first placement on the luggage dolly before stepping out of the way and letting the real muscle handle it. It’s all she can do not to ride on it herself. She does not, however, wait until they are upstairs to run her mouth. The elevator closing proves sufficient.
“We’d best keep our heads down tonight. I checked in as Mum.”
Abe just beats Hisao to questioning this. “How is this possible?”
Neko shrugs. “I gave him the wrong card, and didn’t bother to correct him. It all goes on the same account anyhow. Oh, I have a bit of bad news for you, Setou. You’ll have to go back outside if you need a smoke. I had to take a non-smoking suite.”
“I ah… don’t even know what I did with the pack. It’s probably around here somewhere.” Kenji pulls out a pillowcase – not the same pillowcase as at the convenience store, either – and rummages through it. “Not there…”
“Heads up,” Neko chirps. “Doors opening. Third floor: silks, brocades, and tapestries.”
Kenji quickly stashes his pillowcase under his coat, and they’re on the move again. There is a momentary logjam when the door refuses the key on the first attempt, but it works on the second.
“Here’s your key,” Neko says as she hands the plastic card to Abe, tipping her head toward Kenji. “You’ll have to negotiate who gets it, when. Dibs on the shower!”
“What are we supposed to do with this?” Kenji kicks the dolly as the last of the load is moved to the floor. “They’ll come looking for it.”
She nods. “Leave it outside the door. They will indeed come looking, but they’ll find it, and then they’ll go away.” She doesn’t bother putting in a claim for first use of the loo, she simply takes it. Much better. She pauses to take inventory of the damage accumulated throughout the day. Crabby is down for the count. My shoulders ache in a way that is not promising for tomorrow. Likewise my lower back. Bowling or a car crash may have been within her ability to accommodate, but both stacked are a concern. When she stops to wash, she takes a moment to splash her face and collect her energy. This party lasts as long as I do.
Before leaving the bedroom, she stops to turn on the television for a bit of cover noise. She finds Kenji – still in his raincoat – inspecting the playing cards for markings, Abe tapping away at his phone, presumably catching up with Suzu, and Hisao patiently waiting his turn.
“Thank goodness,” he says, and his shoulders slump a bit in relief. “I thought I would have to interrupt you.” He moves in careful haste even as he speaks.
“I’da let you,” she shouts after him as she initially follows but diverts to lie on the bed. Without bothering to remove the prosthetic leg, she adopts the starfish position flat on her back, stares at the ceiling, and exhales. Suddenly she finds herself being gently shaken. “Well that was quick,” she says to Hisao, looming over her.
“We tried,” he says with a shrug. “Abe took your shower dibs, now it’s our turn. Just let you recharge a bit, I figured.”
“How long was I out?” I didn’t feel any time pass at all.
“I dunno, maybe twenty, thirty minutes? You can nap a bit more if you want. They’re playing backgammon.”
“On a phone?”
Hisao shakes his head as Neko sits up. “Nah, Kenji apparently carries around a pocket size board. The pieces are magnetic.”
“Oh, yeah. I think I had one of those.” When I was nine, maybe. “If I didn’t, someone else did and I played on it. I reckon of all the things he could have in those pillowcases, that’s among the least concerning. Has a bottle been opened?”
Hisao helps her stand while shaking his head again. “I think everyone knows who they belong to.”
And you don’t mean me. It’s like having an invisible sentry – nobody wants Mum cross at them, even Setou who has only heard her voice over the phone. “Shall we finish what the Ugly Suit Man so rudely interrupted all those hours ago?” She leans up and kisses him intensely, then swats him on the backside as he turns to lead them to the shower.
“All of the yes.”
"Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 27e (20190620)
Posted: Thu Jun 20, 2019 12:13 pm
Chapter 27, conclusion
Hisao goes in ahead to run the water until hot, which happens fairly quickly. “Whoa, that’s good.” He mixes in a bit of cold water.
Neko shakes out of the last of her clothing and finally her leg, leaving a pile on the floor. “Crank it, dear. Give me full onsen.” She nods at the temperature lever before folding her arms across her chest and hopping in his direction.
Between watching you bounce around, and diverting my attention to tend to the water, the water can wait. Your milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, but right now it’s mine. He waits for her to duck under the shower head before complying with her request. He then leaves just enough distance that any water finding its way onto him has had time to either air-cool or dump its excess heat into another ‘bag of mostly water’.
Even with the shower running, he maintains the habits learned at school. Keep your volume to the minimum necessary. You never know who could hear you scream. Or sing. In my darling’s case, they’re pretty much the same thing. “When did you become so fond of Setou? We’ve had several opportunities to peel him off of us, but you’ve given me the shake every time I wanted to.”
“I reckon it’s for your benefit, you’re the one that has to see him moving forward. He won’t be bothering me then, nor is he cock-blocking me now.” Obviously not, you’ve got your hand wrapped around it.
“I don’t think he is trying to cock-block anyone. I think he is genuinely convinced tagging along with us is his best chance for survival.”
“Too right, but there’s more to it than that. I’ve let him see what a real feminist conspiracy looks like, me and Mum and Suzu too, but he seems undisturbed.”
“If only he knew how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Neko chuckles and aims the pulse of air out her nose to clear away water trying to work its way uphill. “I’m sure he underestimates Suzuki. Everyone does, except maybe Miura, and even she made an infamously bad read.”
“And yourself, apparently.”
“No, I underestimate her too. I didn’t think she’d get to dirty work quite so quickly.”
Hisao startles. “What? You mean she arranged this all somehow? I don’t even think Hari Seldon –” His trail of thought completely derails when Neko squeezes his member twice.
“No, she had nothing to do with the accident. Some arsehat who couldn’t see in the rain almost hit Setou, who slapped the windshield in protest as the car went by. Believing they had struck a pedestrian, the driver panicked and tried to flee the scene, clipping us on the way out. Why assume malice when incompetence and cowardice explain things quite well? What Snoozu did do is seize the moment once she regained enough awareness. I’m not saying she doesn’t have a concussion, I can’t tell. I am merely saying the doctors can’t tell either, and she knows this. They’re looking for neurological red flags, and she has a matador’s cape.”
“To what end? I don’t think she is quite as averse to hospitals as I am, but I don’t think they’re her favorite holiday hangout, either.”
Neko shrugs. “Money, why else? It may not work, but then again it might. Never let a crisis go to waste.”
You’ve had long enough to warm up. Hisao dials back the heat of the water slightly, then cozies up to Neko. “Aren’t you doing the same thing, running up a bill on your Mum’s account?”
“No, I’m performing damage control. I could have dumped this entire problem in Jōji’s lap, and we’d be showering at the ranch, where I’d be in a less pleasant kind of hot water over our little scene at the bowling alley. By tomorrow Mum will hardly care, so long as she gets her apprentice bookie back, fit for purpose. Then the next time she finds she desperately needs more hands on deck, fast, she’ll miss having my one steady hand around, or at least that’s my hope.”
“I reckon you’re right and wrong, depending on your interpretation. She’ll get by without you, but she is still doing exactly that, getting by. You’ll know for sure if she recalls Miura to the combat zone.”
“Indeed. That would mean she’s content to sit around in a bathrobe and direct traffic, rather than doing the daily grind, because ‘incidental cargo’ is the last third of her empire to be delegated. I can see that happening in a few more years, but who knows, Pops may be right. Morons are gonna moron, and if she loses her student visa, that would force the issue.” Neko slumps noticeably and takes a deep breath, releasing it as a sigh. “It’s not my problem. I hope it won’t prove to be your problem either.”
Hisao holds up a small bar of soap. “Would you like your rubdown with or without?”
“With. I can certainly use it, even if I can no longer smell my own sick.”
Settling into a crouch rather than bending over as he places his face in premium motorboat position, Hisao sniffs as if he were reviewing a wine. “I detect several notes in this bouquet, but bile and hydrochloric acid are not among them.” He lathers his hands as he rises. Any excuse to play with these is a welcome one.
“What do you mean, he’s gone?” Neko asks as Hisao stands behind her, his arms wrapped around to tighten the sash on her hotel-provided white bathrobe.
Abe raises both hands in resignation. “I only know what I saw.”
“Right then, what did you see?” She feels the sash pull tight, and Hisao steps out from behind her.
“Well, he sent some messages, and made a couple of calls. Then a girl in a wheelchair showed up, and he left with her.” Abe gestures at her approximate height.
“You really messed him up good with that whole competent feminism thing, didn’t you?” Hisao says as an aside. “Now he’s taking orders from girls.”
Neko shakes her head. “I wish I could take the credit, but that was probably his sister. Even though it is no longer my remit, I noticed there was a Setou on the list of incoming first-years that was provided to all clubs. With the same kanji, there was likely a connection, so I did some digging and confirmed it.”
“Did you find out why she is in a wheelchair?”
“No. The list only included special requirements, not the reasons for them. Please tell me if you do, either of you.” Neko addresses Abe with the last few words before picking up a folded cardstock menu. “I suppose I’d better call down for room service. What do you want? I’m not that hungry yet, but I don’t want to start drinking without food either.”
“I remember the garlic potato wedges being really good,” Hisao answers.
“That’s more than I remember,” Neko grudgingly admits. “I want something that’s not all starch though. A Reuben sandwich sounds nice, although I only have space for half of one right now if I still want to get my drink on.”
“What’s in that?”
“Corned beef, sauerkraut, and bread are the only requirements, but there’s usually cheese and some dressing in there, and maybe a little bit of pickle. I don’t care that much, I want to pick at the salty meat.”
He nods. “That sounds good to me. I’ll split it with you, and we can share a fresh sandwich later rather than eating it cold or soggy.”
“Starch sounds like exactly what I want,” Abe contributes. “And ranch dressing on the side.”
“Yeah, alright.” She phones down to the concierge, requesting the sandwich plate, two baskets of potato wedges with dressing, an extra coffee kit, and impulsively adds one serving of mozzarella sticks. “Speaking of food that has to be hot to be good, we’ll have to eat those first.” They tend to explode when reheated.
“I thought you said you weren’t that hungry,” Abe states with obvious amusement.
“I’ll stop eating before it compromises my drinking, and I’ll hopefully stop drinking while it’s still fun. Once we get there, do you reckon you’ll mind if food has to be reheated later? I won’t.”
“Mind if it’s reheated, or mind if it still needs to be?”
“Either. Both. You’ll be eating cold potato wedges by the end of the night, and you will enjoy it! Thus speaks the Oracle.”
“I’d rather do that,” Hisao opines, “than melt the plastic tray in the microwave. Again.”
“Do we even have a microwave?” Abe asks.
“Sure,” Neko says with a gesture toward the door to the bedroom behind her. “It’s one of the little dangly ones.” She accompanies this with an ambiguous lifting gesture. “You’ve walked right by it at least twice now.”
“I thought that was an induction burner.”
“That’s on the counter with the coffeemaker. Look up from there, you can’t miss it. So!” She claps her hand onto the end of the short arm, which is about as effective as an ordinary handclap, if crisper in timbre. “Do we trust that food will arrive and open the bottle now, or wait until we’re sure?”
Abe looks alternately toward Neko and Hisao, his eyes flicking back and forth like it was a tennis match but otherwise unmoving. “Uh… I’mma wait, but you do whatever. Is that your phone?”
Neko freezes. “Yeah, I think so.” She turns back to the bedroom to fetch it. That’s odd, I didn’t hear it. It’s Jōji, not Mum, so she answers without too much hesitation. “What’s going on?”
Jōji snorts. “I should be asking you. I got the receipt for those two bottles, and I’m being dispatched to replace them sooner rather than later. Please don’t tell me you’ve already consumed them.”
“We haven’t even opened them, but one is ice bucket cold. We were just deciding whether to wait for food to arrive before starting.”
“I think I can explain returning a cold bottle, but your Mum would rather I return those, boxes and all, and say we ended up not needing them.”
“Are you proposing to replace them?”
“I’m not standing in the wine cellar by accident. What do you want?”
“We bought mixers assuming we’d have vodka, so…”
Jōji sighs. “Fine, I’ll bring replacements, but I still need your boxes if I’m gonna use the same excuse.”
“We can part with one bottle, I think. The party got smaller. The witness that we’d been escorting around finally met up with his sister. But in return, I have a favor to ask.”
“I figured. That’s down here too.”
“Actually, no, chocolates are in the refrigerator. Bring a box. We can’t smoke in here, so aside from that, we just want our overnight bags – Suzuki’s too, we’ll take it to her in the morning – and to have someone relieve us of our bowling gear.”
“Then it might help slightly if you could tell me where you are.”
Neko pops her jaw to relieve inner ear pressure, but it seems to return almost immediately. Bloody hell, the joints are sore too. Tomorrow’s gonna suck so bad. “The Green Mark, 312.”
“Mmm. Your Mum will like hearing that. She was afraid you’d gone to ground somewhere classy. And expensive.”
“I did get a suite rather than a room, but…” But you’re not wrong about class. This is about as basic as it gets. At least it’s clean.
“Yeah, I get it. You’re a twosome, and for tonight at least, Abe’s gonna be handsome. Best there be a wall in between. Anywho, let me get on with it. I’ll see you soonish, or phone again if there is trouble.”
I’d want a wall between us more if Snoozu was here. The thought of him ravaging her in her sleep disturbs me, despite her explicit approval. Using his hand bothers me not at all.
“I smell food,” Jōji announces when Abe opens the door.
“Well, yeah,” Neko half-shouts from where she sits on the floor behind a low table, clad in a white bathrobe with a red sauce stain on the lapel, watching as he deposits a duffel bag and a well-worn wooden cart made out of half of what was once a door before he makes his way over to her.
He takes one of two mozzarella sticks, dipping it in marinara before taking a bite, then spins it around to present the unchewed end for the second dip, while eyeballing the last fried chunk of cheese.
“Go ahead,” she says, tipping her thumb toward the red plastic basket and its paper liner. “We can order more, and probably will.”
On your Mum’s bill. “Yeah, okay.” He reaches for the second stick once the second bite of the first goes in his mouth. “So here’s the deal.” He addresses all present, not just Neko, and swallows before continuing. “If there’s anything bothering you in the morning, let them take a look at you again so we can get all of those things dealt with, or at least documented.” He nods at Hisao, who is busy rubbing the fleshy parts of his thumbs together and grimacing. “Can you drive like that?”
“What? Probably.” Hisao looks slightly startled.
“Good. You have a spot of work in the morning that nobody else can do.” Jōji fishes out his keys. “I need you to go to the dealership with me, so you can drive my old car away. I’ll swing by at ten, so don’t be too hung over, right? Then you all can come home if you want, but you can also stay here one more day if it helps any. All I ask is that you keep me informed. I’ll leave both bottles just in case.”
“Ten? That’s check-out time,” Neko notes. “You might be collecting all of us.” She pops her jaw with apparent discomfort and a slightly audible crack.
He shrugs. “It’s all the same to me, although it might be a tight fit. You probably want to unpack that,” he says with a gesture toward the black bag, “or at least the insulated bag inside.” After folding the cheese stick in half and using it like a spoon to scoop up the last of the sauce, he takes three steps toward the door and begins moving the takeaway pile onto the cart. “See you in, oh, fourteen hours or so – if you can stay out of trouble that long.”
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 27e (20190620)
Posted: Mon Sep 16, 2019 10:58 pm
Update: I'm probably not going to finish this, and I don't think anyone much cares. I will at least lay out the plot as I had envisioned it, but so longer have any motivation to flesh out. I'll spoiler tag it, in the highly unlikely event I have a reason to finish it and you'd prefer to wait.
First off, it'll be a couple weeks before Neko leaves, since it's either that or pay through the nose for a last minute ticket. Along the way, Hisao snaps at Neko at some point because he actually has work to do and she doesn't, and she keeps hovering over/around him. She won't say much about it, but it sticks in her mind. During this time, she also realizes that her hearing has been permanently damaged by the airbag going off next to her head, causing her to suffer from tinnitus and no longer possess superhuman hearing. This in turn induces a down cycle in her (uncontrolled) bipolar disorder, making her even harder to live with for the last week or so before she leaves.
In August, he does visit and get shown around, and come to the conclusion that he really doesn't care to acclimate to another culture even though he has become moderately proficient in the language. While this would have no immediate impact, as there was no plan in place for him to do that anyhow, it's another straw on the camel's back. I still hadn't worked out what the last straw would be, but it would happen between his return to Japan, and October when he would have time to fly down again -- at which point Neko has to break the news that she doesn't wish to continue.
Hisao will stay in Sally's regular employ for a little over a year, during which time he'll teach a couple others how to operate the equipment to test purity and composition. This basically means he is only required to field-inspect setups on Sally's orders, a job that only takes him about two days a month, and even that he ends up handing over so he can get out of the business. He also has been collecting and delivering sports book money, but that isn't exactly an irreplaceable skill set.
Haruhiko x Iwanako: I didn't actually write them an ending. I was going to either let the characters determine that as I went along, or invoke a result if the plot required one.
Daisuke x Emi: This one is going to be poisoned slowly, as the crew at Muramoto and Associates take time every day to challenge her loyalty, now that he's on the other side. This will fully come to a head when Muramoto is defending a client being sued by Satou for patent infringement. But before that happens, Emi's case with the IAAF will be decided in her favor, and she finds this restores her competitive spirit as she sets her sights on the Paralympic Games in the short term -- but she really wants to run with the best in the world, not just the best with her particular set of prosthetics. Unfortunately, she wasn't a top tier talent <i>before</i> the injury, so she never breaks out beyond her own niche.
Ben x Yuuko: Abe ends up with a little half-brother. 'Nuff said.
Abe x Suzu: This was always an arrangement of convenience, even if he didn't know it at first. When he decides it's time to get out of the business, that's the end of them. I had thoughts that he might end up with Kenji's little sister, who is in a wheelchair because her parents are anti-vaxxers and they let her get polio -- a fact that she is quite bitter about, calling both her parents and her brother "idiots" quite frequently. (I actually wrote a scene with her but it most likely isn't going to get posted because why bring in another character right when I'm shutting the whole thing down?) However, I was never totally sold on that and now I don't have to figure it out.
Lilly moves into the old place in Natori with her father, while she and Tadao attend their universities. They bow to outside pressure NOT to marry until they're both ready to settle down, but Lilly has her own plans, "accidentally" getting pregnant in January of 2010 so as to have the baby in October, between semesters. This leaves babysitting duty to an increasingly infirm Hiroyuki, but he does have in-home care 16 hours a day. (It's not Mariko, but it's someone who came out of the same vocational school.)
After March 2009, Mariko will enter vocational school to be an in-home caretaker. She will have only JUST completed this training in 2011 and become Hiroyuki's caretaker when the earthquake and tsunami strike. They manage to evacuate, when neighbors come and literally drag them off. Lilly and Tadao don't get clear (they're both on the way home from school when it happens) and are presumed among the victims of the tsunami. They are never found, but they're hardly alone in their fate. The entire neighborhood is just gone.
For lack of any better options, the baby stays with Hiroyuki and Mariko, and all three of them end up sharing an apartment with Kenta for a while, as there are a lot more pressing issues for them and the region as a whole. Hiroyuki hangs on long enough to see Mariko and Kenta successfully adopt the baby, but losing Lilly pretty much takes away any remaining will he may have had.
Sally decides to recall Miki after the tsunami, as she sees this as a crisitunity to expand into, and she just needs more experienced people running things than she has available. This sets up the marriage to Momomoto, to (at least on paper) unite the Tanaka syndicate and Momomoto's (although he's pretty insignificant to them). However, Momomoto's syndicate is not pleased when Miki goes on a tear against human trafficking operations, and ends up strong-arming Momomoto into dropping the shields at a critical moment -- so that the Russians, with whom the syndicate is briefly allied over this single issue, can take out the source of the problem. Momomoto makes a point of not being there when shit goes down, but his own syndicate decides he has outlived his usefulness and he "vanishes". Rika takes over the contraband side of the operation, steering well clear of the "irrelevancies" that doomed her predecessor. Sally seeks revenge, and delegates the remaining business operations she directly controls in order to focus her attentions on it.
Akira and Hanako re-settle down in Sydney, eventually poaching Bartosz to come be in charge of the field service team. Hanako elects a name change at the time she gains permanent residency, choosing "Iris" as her Anglicized name. Akira doesn't even consider following suit, since her name already is already appropriate for an English-speaking country. Hanako/Iris starts at UNSW with a major of computer science. However, she quickly gets roped into an astronomy club that desperately needs programmers to help them process their data, and after her first year she refocuses on astrophysics.
EPILOGUE: Neko goes overseas for grad school, ending up at CalTech. She takes a job as an associate professor at a small private college in New York after obtaining a Master's in Electrical Engineering. She lasts one year, at the end of which she agrees not to seek a contract extension -- and in turn they will suppress the sexual misconduct allegations surrounding her. After bouncing around for a little while, she returns to Australia to work for Satou in mid-2018, which sets up the next story -- which most definitely veers in the science fiction direction.
If you have stayed with me this entire time, I figured this is the least I could do to give closure. If, on the other hand, nobody gives a shit -- I've stopped producing music outside of contracts because I can't gain any traction there either, and that's my actual profession. I can't justify throwing more of my life at this to no benefit.