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The black-haired girl was concentrating on typing, when she heard the door to the office open and shut. I've almost finished with it, Tatsuko said, not looking up. Maybe another five minutes or so.
Well, isn't that nice, beamed her visitor. I'll just wait here until you're finished.
Tatsuko stared. This person wasn't her editor-in-chief—this was a complete stranger. Wait a minute how'd you get past the secretary? I'm not scheduled to have any appointments today I've got a deadline here go talk to the secretary to arrange a time to talk to me later. She frowned at him sternly.
Oh, no, I'm quite comfy, and now's a better time for me than later. Go ahead and finish your keypecking, and we can talk when you're done. The stranger grinned amicably at her and settled down in his chair.
Tatsuko half-rose from her chair. Get out of my office, or I'll call security, she said threateningly.
Oi, dragon-girl! he laughed. It seems like you'll do just fine.
Do fine for what? She was curious, in spite of herself.
I have an offer to make, he answered. Would you be interested in a proposition?
Not at all, she said firmly. I don't want to be in your scheme, and neither is the magazine. Get out.
This is strictly an unofficial visit, he continued calmly. Well, it doesn't look like you're about to get any more typing done so why don't I do the talking for both of us? Make yourself comfy would you like me to fetch you a drink while I talk?
Tatsuko rolled her eyes. Don't be so obnoxious, she said. Say your piece and get out of here, then. She settled back in her chair with her arms crossed, giving him as fierce a glare as she could muster. But she couldn't help surveying her guest. His Osaka accent was cheerful and good-natured. And he was tall...his height was noticable even from a seated position. He could even be considered handsome. But his hair, short except for rasta braids hanging in the back, certainly wasn't her type.
Allow me to introduce myself my name is Joker, and I'm representing a very interesting person named Kurei-han.
Never heard of him, she said airily.
Perhaps you've heard of Mori Kouran-han?
Tatsuko eyed him warily. Who hasn't?
Kurei-han is his adopted son. He felt a little thrill of pleasure noticing that she was now sitting up a little straighter. Now, there's a tournament that we're setting up. Just a little thing for fun participation is by invitation only. We're in need of some referees, announcers, and judges you know, just someone to look pretty and announce the fighters and the decisions. Nothing very difficult. It takes maybe a week out of your year.
A whole week's vacation? Tatsuko shook her head. I'm sorry. Even if Mori Kouran-sama is attached to this, I really can't afford to use up half my vacation time just to participate in his tournament.
Joker looked steadily at her. Don't be so quick to turn down this offer, he said, smiling across her desk at her. He lifted his hand lazily and shook aside the thought that she wasn't interested. We're more than willing to compensate you for your participation. How much do you make here in a year?
Tatsuko only looked at him.
Well, you don't have to answer. I already know. And we're prepared to offer you half that sum, just for one week's work.
Her eyes widened.
You can't be serious you must be joking Joker.
He seemed amused. Why would I lie? he asked innocently. No, it's quite a tidy little package deal if you're willing to accept. The money, plus residence in a small apartment house in a nice section of the city. The other girls will be living there, too. I'm sure you'll like them. But all this hinges on your cooperation and your secrecy.
She was leaning forward intently now, despite herself. What's the catch? she inquired warily.
Oi, you're so suspicious, dragon-girl! He laughed merrily at himself. If Mori Kouran-han wishes to be generous, he will be generous. But I told you the catch. You have to live in a certain place, with certain people, and you can tell no one about the Tournament, which you must spend a week of your time working at. Other than that, your life remains the same as it is.
But why would I have to move? she argued. Assuming that I accepted your preposterous plan, she added carefully. She stood up and began to pace, her mind working furiously.
Back to the whole secrecy thing, Joker answered calmly. If you ever feel the need to discuss the Tournament, you'll have about eleven other people in the same building.
Eleven people in one apartment? Tatsuko's eyes narrowed.
Joker sighed and shook his head. there are six apartments in the building. Six nice apartments. To be split between twelve girls. You are to room with Mousy-Girl.
Mousy-Girl? Does she have a name? Tatsuko's mind wasn't on Mousy-Girl, though. If I can get a half-year's salary and free housing for just one week's work! Wow! She perched on the edge of her desk.
Demi, I think her name is. Joker lazily waved his hand again, shooing aside the subject of Mousy-Girl. But the question isn't about her name. The question is: do you accept?
I'm an editor for a magazine, said Tatsuko slowly. Are you sure you trust me to not publish anything on it?
Joker stood up. Well, if you can't trust yourself, I guess we'll have to find ourselves a new dragon-girl. Sorry to have bothered you. Goodbye. He turned around and reached for the doorknob.
Wait. Don't go. Tatsuko spontaneously reached out her hand, tugging gently on his arm.
Joker smirked. Bingo.