Three weeks went by and Nabiki swore she felt every microsecond of them. Tired after another long day figuring, computing, and worst of all catering to that bastard; Maeda, she trudged along the Nerima streets towards the sanctity of home. Her purse dragged heavily along the sidewalk, and with each step Nabiki felt part of her energy ebb away.
It was no compensation that she at last received her first paycheck. A paycheck! Nabiki held up the stub in her other hand and looked it over for the umpteenth time. Pittance; that was what this was she mulled over in her mind. A fraction of the monies normally brought into her coffers, and what were all of these extra fees and dues? Medical allotment, Employee Pension Funds, Government Tax and Remittances?
She rolled her eyes at the final amount, sick to her stomach. I'm a common cog in the mechanics of the world, she thought. Why, why me?
The once Mighty Queen of Nerima pressed on ignoring the stares and looks following her as she passed along the streets and shops. There was talk, yes indeed whispers and gossip about what had befallen her. Occasionally, Nabiki would catch fleeting words passed between people, words like 'working' and 'fallen', things thought unimaginable at one time. The humiliation, to have to face down those she once held sway over stoked the flames of hatred against Maeda. Time and the tables will turn, they will see. They all will see and regret the insults so brazenly uttered.
Nabiki passed through the dojo gates and made her way into the home. She closed the door and kicked off her heels heading for the family room to relax.
"Nabiki," called Kasumi from the kitchen. "Is that you"
Nabiki was too tired to answer her sister, stumbling head down into the family room, collapsing on her back to the floor with a long sigh. "At last," she said closing her eyes. She heard steps come towards her and smirked guessing who it was.
"Please, Kasumi, I'm very tired and just want to lie here for a moment," she said.
"Well, don't you want to speak to your guest?" Kasumi replied.
Slowly, Nabiki opened her eyes. Kasumi smiled down from above her and pointed over in the direction of the patio doors. She raised her head and let out a small gasp spotting Tatewaki Kuno sitting at the table, a cold glass of tea in his hands.
"Oh no, he found out." Nabiki's head thudded back to the floor.
Tatewaki arched a brow. He set his drink down and folded his arms observing Nabiki in thoughtful deliberation. "So, I see the rumors are true," he finally said.
"Kuno-baby, I was going to tell you about it, really I was"
"Too late, I only caught wind of it in the aftershock rippling throughout Tokyo"
Nabiki looked back up. "I can explain"
"It's a long— why"
Nabiki frowned at him. She sat up staring curiously at Tatewaki wondering why he was not upset about all this.
"You don't mind?" she asked.
"Mind? I am a bit disturbed that you would seek employment elsewhere other than the Kuno Industries, but I must honor your wishes"
"I didn't do it by—." Nabiki stopped, sensing the sudden attention from Kasumi. "Let's just say it happened unexpectedly"
"Indeed, Nabiki. A shame though. I would have liked to have had you working for me in the firm"
Nabiki held back her surprise. The relationship between them was still a delicate issue, but she did not realize how much Tatewaki actually valued her presence in his company. With a seductive grin, she crawled over to him.
"We would have to talk about that 'working' status', Kuno-baby," she told him.
Tatewaki smiled. "Ah yes, but still with you gaining more experience with another company, your worth to me will increase several times." His eyes traveled across her body and the tight fitting business suit she wore. "And I like your attire as well. It excites me"
Nabiki's grin grew wider. "It does," she said, inching closer to him.
Kasumi's feigned cough broke the two from their encroaching moment of affection. Tatewaki, realizing his sudden weakness, shook his head moving away from Nabiki.
"So, Nabiki," he said as he cleared his throat. "Who have you found employment with, if I may ask"
Breaking from the hard look she was giving her sister, Nabiki sat down. "I have been employed by Okura Maeda," she said.
It was as if the skies had grown suddenly dark, a stormy, troubled expression twisting Tatewaki's face. He sat without motion for a good two minutes; Nabiki and Kasumi and trading questioning looks at his reaction to the news.
"Maeda?" he finally said in a grim tone.
"Of the Benki Freight Lines"
More silence followed, and then Tatewaki turned towards Kasumi.
"I appreciate the tea, Kasumi," he said. "Unfortunately, I must be leaving now"
"What?" said Nabiki.
"Yes, I do think I've overstayed my welcome"
"What? No!" cried Nabiki, latching on to one arm as he began to rise. "What's wrong, Tatewaki? Why the sudden iceberg attitude towards me"
"Need I explain?" he countered.
Tatewaki winched fearfully back from Nabiki's yelling. He cleared his throat and explained.
"Benki Lines is one of our stiffest competitors, or have you forgotten, Nabiki"
Nabiki gasped, covering her mouth with her hands in surprise. "I did, I did forget about that!" she said.
"And now you are working for them… and I'll bet as an accountant too"
"Oh no!" Nabiki collapsed across the table with a moan. "No, what have I gotten myself into"
"He is sly, Maeda," continued Tatewaki. "Stealing my best accountant from me. The cur, I should have seen this one coming. Worst of all, he has been entreating me with offers of merger"
"What?" shouted Nabiki sitting sharply up again.
"Yes. Now with you on his staff, he could"
Again the pause, Tatewaki cutting suspicious eyes over at his former love interest.
"I must leave," he said standing up.
"No, wait Tatewaki. Please don't go!" begged Nabiki.
"I must. Changes need to me made, and with haste"
"Not because of me I hope"
"Because of you, Nabiki! With you as an employee of Maeda, the Kuno Industries are not safe"
"But, but, but the bo— I mean Maeda has not approached me about you"
"Yet," added Tatewaki. "Oh, this is dreadful. I will have to appoint a new head accountant to fill your loss. Ah, I know the perfect person"
"Who? There is no one who can replace me and my skills"
"Ah, not true. I do believe my dear sister Kodachi can compete"
It was like a shot to the heart; pain gripping Nabiki at the mere mention of Kodachi filling her spot. "No, no, Tatewaki!" she pleaded. "I'm your lead accountant. You need me"
"Not officially, and since you are now unavailable… I must allow my dear sister to assume a roll in the family business. No offense"
"But she can't estimate like I can! Tatewaki, don't do this to me"
"What other choice do I have? With you on the other side, I'm afraid I cannot trust you now"
Tears filled Nabiki's eyes as she sat pleading up at her man. He grimaced slightly, wanting to believe what she said, but could not with so much at risk.
"I'm sorry, Nabiki. Please forgive me," he said and walked away.
This was more than just a disaster for Nabiki. Her entire gain and wealth rode on many of the stock tips and deals she made through his connections, but now that Tatewaki considered her an outsider she knew all access to the Kuno Industries would be severed very quickly by that witch-sister of his.
"I've got to do something," she said looking franticly around as if the answer could be found in the room. "I'm ruined, I'm just plain ruined! This whole situation as gone from bad to extremely worse! What am I going to do"
"Nabiki," said Kasumi. "Calm down"
Nabiki whirled around, panic filling her mind. "Calm down? She says calm down! Kasumi, this whole situation should not be happening"
"But why are you in such a panic? You still have a job"
"My job!" Nabiki almost screamed right then and there. "It is because of my job I'm in this predicament"
Kasumi watched as her sister continued to babble incoherently, placing a hand to the side of her cheek with surprise.
"I never thought I'd ever see you lose control of yourself or a situation, Nabiki," she said.
Nabiki gasped. "I am… I am losing control, aren't I? And, and, and did you hear me earlier? I was about to call Maeda 'boss"
She shot to her feet. "Oh no! I am getting out of this warped situation tomorrow before I loose everything I've work for, and I'll be damned if I let Kodachi push me out of what's mine"
"Well it should not be too much of a loss," said Kasumi.
Nabiki frowned at her. "Humor at a time like this. Really, Kasumi," she said, and dashed off for the stairs…
"Yes Nabiki… yes, I understand you need to consult with me… what? No, I cannot talk right now, and I rarely conduct business over the phone… Tomorrow? Yes, tomorrow will be appropriate, but not at the office. No, no, I think for our discussion we need more comfortable surroundings… What? (Heh, heh, heh, heh) no, Nabiki, I've not a need for those type of services. No, this will be an official meeting, and I would like you to come to my estate… tomorrow… around ten let's say? Good. Sachi will pick you up and I'm sure we can come to some sort of arrangement. Good bye"
Okura Maeda hung up his phone and sat pondering the conversation he just had with his estranged employee. The opportunities developing in front of him came sooner than expected, and he smiled slowly tuning his chair around towards his core associates waiting for him in the office of his estate. He cut each of them a look, taping the tips of his fingers together in front of him.
"You see, I told you I would break our defiant Miss Nabiki Tendo," Maeda said.
"What does she want, and what's this meeting you are planning to have here with her?" asked Vicky.
"It is nothing of concern, Vicky. In fact all of you will be present for that"
"We will?" said Tanyun. "Does this mean we finally get a piece of her"
Sachi gave his partner a smack to the head. "No, idiot! The boss is finally going to get Tendo to give up the rest of her assets, right boss"
"Somewhat, Sachi," answered Maeda. "Nabiki is going to relinquish an asset alright, probably the biggest gem in her crown"
Vicky arched a brow. "And what is that"
Maeda chuckled. "You'll find out tomorrow, my dear. Chino, have the motor pool rent out a few more limos. Vicky, have the kitchen make preparations for a large dinner party. Nothing messy, simple yet filling. Oh, and cocktails, lots of them"
"Expecting that many"
"Yes. Schedule it for this coming Friday"
Okura thought a moment. "Sachi, you and Tanyun set up security for non-intrusive surveillance. I don't want my guests to feel 'trapped'. Understood"
"They won't even know they're there"
"From the sounds of it though, sounds like you are setting one," said Vicky.
"A trap of sorts, Vicky, and when it is sprung I will have attained a most lucrative position that will bring the company more wealth and power than ever before"
Maeda laughed, beaming with pride at his ingenuity. "And all thanks to Miss Nabiki Tendo."
The next morning Nabiki could barely wait to meet with Maeda, nerves stretched close to the breaking point. The black limousine arrived around eight and she wasted no time, climbing in before Sachi even set one foot out. Soon they were whisking along the highway and out into the open countryside reaching the lower mountains surrounding Tokyo. A short drive through the wooded hills and the limo arrived at Okura Maeda's luxurious estate.
It was grandiose even by Japanese standards, at least three stories tall combining modern architecture with the regal style of an ancient daimyo's castle. A red tiled roof adorned the tan and white stucco structure adorned with fanciful carvings along the wooden fixtures and trim. Modern glass pane windows blended well with the décor lending their weight to the grace and beauty of Maeda's home. A high wall surrounded the grounds and as they approached, its two dark brown wooden doors parted to allow the limo in.
Nabiki actually was impressed then she noticed the suits positioned around the main entrance and grounds. They were everywhere; all lean and trim wearing dark sunglasses of different styles, watching the limo as it came to a stop at the foot of the steps. One of the guards opened the door and she climbed out.
The main doors opened and Victoria appeared giving her a bright smile. "Nabiki, so glad you are here. Welcome to Mister Maeda's home"
"Where is he?" Nabiki curtly replied.
"Oh my, are we one too be impatient," answered Vicky. "This way"
Nabiki followed Vicky inside; Sachi a few steps behind and they headed up a spiral stairway to the third floor. Down one end of the hall Tanyun stood awaiting their arrival. Without pause, he opened the door and the entire entourage went in.
Maeda's home office countered his downtown office. Fine Mahogany furniture replaced the leather and marble décor, several large and small cabinets and bookcases against the walls. As in the downtown office his desk was before a large double window, and he sat behind it with Chino off to his right, calmly watching her.
"Nabiki, so glad you came," said Okura. "Please, make yourself at home"
Nabiki approached the desk, but instead of sitting down, she tossed her coat into a chair and slammed her palms down on the desk top.
"I-Want-Out, Maeda," she hissed angrily at him.
Chino started for her, but Okura held up a hand. He smirked, giving Nabiki a quizzical look. "Now, Nabiki, is that anyway to begin a conversation"
"You've won, Maeda"
Maeda made a visible start, glancing surprised at Vicky and Sachi. "I have"
"You've taken Nerima from me, you've made me into an e-e-employee, and you've dipped into many of my financial resources. In short, I've been beaten, but I am not going to allow you to ruin what's left"
"So what is it that you want"
"I want you out of my life, permanently! I want out of this organization, and I want it now"
Regarding the fierce glare Nabiki gave him, Okura let out a hum, sitting back to ponder her demands. "But I am not done with you yet, Nabiki," he finally said.
Nabiki would have leaped on him then if Sachi and Tanyun had not grabbed her by the arms. "Damn it! What will it take to get you off of my back?" she screamed at Okura, struggling in their grasp.
"Calm down please, Nabiki," he replied. She settled down, but continued glaring at him.
"Now sit down"
"I don't want to"
"Sit!" Okura commanded.
Nabiki glared at him then obeyed taking a chair.
"Ah, now then let us start this meeting from the beginning again, shall we"
He could see Nabiki was close to the brink of insanity and gave Vicky a slight nod towards the liquor cabinet. Vicky understood, fixing up a glass of bourbon, handing it to Nabiki. She hesitated before taking the glass and swallowed down its contents without pause.
"Better?" asked Okura and she nodded. "Good. So you want out of my company. Nabiki why you've only be with us what, a few days short of a month? Have things been that bad for you"
"Yes!" she answered, bursting out into tears.
Vicky felt sorry for the woman, turning to Maeda with a slight frown on her face. Maeda just motioned too Sachi and his man handed Nabiki a handkerchief. She thanked him and wiped her eyes, sniffling between breaths as she fought to calm down.
"I've… I've never been in a situation like this, ever. Never in my life have I been on the losing end of anything." She stopped; drawing in a few breaths dried her eyes, and sat up straight trying to maintain some sort of dignity and composure.
"I'll continue to pay you portions from my intake from Nerima, I'll even get you advanced stock quotes if you want, but please, I'm begging and this is a first… I'm begging you to let me go and leave me alone"
Okura was pleased by Nabiki's confession. She had finally capitulated, a bug underneath his thumb. One twitch and he could crush her completely. A shrewed smile came to his face and he casually turned his chair around towards the widow.
"Nerima… a lovely place. Full of untapped wealth," he said. "It is true you have given me access to this fresh resource, but you haven't given me access to the most important resource of all"
Nabiki knew what he was referring to. "The Kuno Industries," she said.
Okura glanced slowly back over his shoulder at her, grin growing wider.
Not the Kuno Industries, thought Nabiki. They belong to me and so does Tatewaki. I will not allow this man to soil them with his filth!
"I had a short discussion with Tatewaki just yesterday," she said, barely able to hold back her anger.
"Ah, the cause of your sudden frustration"
"He thinks I'm a traitor and doesn't trust me anymore"
"Really?" questioned Okura, turning back around. "Hmm, that is unfortunate"
"I can get him back, but I need to be free of you"
"Free of me." Okura paused shifting in his char. He placed a hard gaze on Nabiki. "I want in on the Kuno Industries"
Nabiki's fist closed tight, her knuckles straining white. "Tatewaki does not want to merge with you, Maeda," she told him.
"Merge? Oh no, no, no, Nabiki, I do not desire a merger now"
"No. You see if Benki Freight merges with the Kuno Industries, it will be one of the largest in the country. That brings unwanted attention from government officials here and abroad. I certainly do not want them probing around in my affairs, and I'm sure you know what I'm talking about"
She did, and she knew it was the one glaring weakness in Maeda's empire. If the government ever investigated Okura's darker activities, they would bring him down without a second thought. No wonder accountants here are strictly controlled. It could be her only way out, but the material he had on her prevented any such move.
"So, what do you want then?" she asked.
"A percentage, Nabiki. I want to become a silent partner of the Kuno Industries with holdings in every branch of their organization"
You Son-of-a-Bitch raged Nabiki's mind. That would give you more power and wealth than even the Mendo Conglomerate. That's my idea! Think fast girl, think fast!
"What's in it for me"
"What do you want"
Okura laughed, anticipating Nabiki's intentions. He gave Chino a nod and the hulking bodyguard went to a cabinet over one of the mantle bookcases to the right of the desk. He pressed a spot along the side and it slid up revealing the face of a safe with an electronic keypad in the middle. Chino blocked Nabiki's view with his body, and after some brief movement opened the safe. He stepped aside allowing her to see the contents. There were several manila envelopes inside and Nabiki stood up gaping at them.
"Yes, Nabiki," continued Maeda, "the original files on you and your activities. All there, the other hard copies destroyed. I still have the electronic copies in place just in case you have a change of heart"
"And I'll get those and you'll wipe the electronic copies as well"
Chino re-closed the safe and Nabiki sat down. She sat staring out into space apparently thinking about the proposal, but in the traditional Nabiki Tendo fashion plotted to rid her of Okura's taint and punish him in the process. Okura called her name and she looked up with a start.
She shifted nervously, still needing time to work out details. "Uh, how long do I have"
"I was coming to that," replied Maeda. "I am hosting a party this coming Friday, a working party with several representatives from my companies and potential customers. I want you to bring Tatewaki Kuno here to me"
"But he doesn't trust you"
"That is your problem. I want him here, seven-thirty, Friday. I also want you to smooth the waters between him and I"
Nabiki furrowed her brows together. "You'd be better off blackmailing him like you did me"
"No, I want the young man as an ally, not as an enemy. After all, he will represent us and I don't want him to look distressed for any reason"
Sure, just like a shadow puppet.
"Okay," Nabiki suddenly said. "I'll have Tatewaki here, but I want one other thing"
"You want more"
"Yes. I want to cater the party"
"Hold on a second there, Miss Tendo," said Vicky. "That is my department and I do not need any help"
"You want Tatewaki to come?" she asked. Okura nodded. "Then I need to make it worth his while"
"And how is you catering the party going to get him here?" asked Tanyun.
"Because Tatewaki loves my sister's cooking. It's the best in Tokyo bar none"
"Your sister?" asked Okura.
"Kasumi Tendo, boss," Sachi explained, "and she's right. This girl has a rep among the chefs of Japan that would blow you away"
"Is that so? Well then, have your sister call my chef and tell him what she needs"
"And a hand full of my girlfriends who know how to present her food and serve it correctly," added Nabiki.
Suspicious eyes stared at her.
"Tatewaki will trust familiar faces serving him," Nabiki explained.
Maeda thought about it and agreed. "Okay, bring your girls and that's it," he said.
"Leave everything to me, Mister Maeda," Nabiki said brightly.
"But remember, Nabiki Tendo," continued Maeda, "No tricks or attempts to renege on our deal. If anything goes wrong, you will not survive the wrath that will follow. Are we clear on this"
His threat was very clear to Nabiki, but she held her composure nodding in acknowledgment. "I will need the rest of the week to prepare things. Is that okay"
"That is fine"
"Then I better be going, and don't worry, boss, everything will turn out alright"
For me that is.
The cheerful smile she gave Okura sent more sparks of suspicion though him, but he nodded. Nabiki followed Sachi out the office and as soon as the door closed, Vicky was right up at the desk.
"Okura? The kitchen is my territory and so is hosting. Why are you allowing her to take over like that"
"Because I want the Kuno Industries," he replied.
"I don't trust her, boss," said Tanyun. "She shifted gears way to fast for someone ready to cut her throat. Tendo is planning something, you can bet on that"
"I've no doubt about that either, Tanyun." Maeda sat back in deep thought. "So we take extra precautions, and ensure that our treasure remains secure on Friday night. Right, Chino"
"So are you going to honor your end of this deal if you get Kuno to agree to your plan?" asked Vicky.
"Be serious, Vicky. And allow Nabiki Tendo to roam free on the streets after all she knows about us?
"You promised her though"
"I did, but some promises are meant to be broken, Vicky. Besides, how do you expect me to keep Tatewaki in line, hmm? After all, they are lovers"
Victoria could say no more, shocked at the treachery Okura was planning. She could only stare at him as he and the others laughed, wondering if after next Friday they would be looking for a new accountant again.
All the way back to Nerima, Nabiki sat silently staring out the limousine windows ignoring Sachi's attempt of hospitality. She could hardly contain her elation at the opportunity handed to her by Maeda, and she surly did not intend to pass it up either. Finally, they arrived at the dojo and Sachi opened the door for her.
"See you later, Miss Tendo," he said as she passed.
Nabiki just shrugged and went inside the dojo gates. As the limousine pulled away, they parted again and Nabiki peaked out to make sure Sachi had truly left. The street was empty and she ducked back inside.
For a moment she stood in the walkway, and then tipped her head back with a laugh.
"YES!" she cried, throwing her arms up into the air. "YES, YES, YES, YES, YES"
Nabiki strode triumphantly up the walkway and into the dojo where Kasumi and Ono stood wondering what all of the commotion was about.
"More troubles?" Ono asked her as she kicked off her shoes.
"Troubles? Oh, no, Doctor Tofu. I'm not having any troubles, but a certain S.O.B. is about too in more ways than one"
"Nabiki, what are you talking about?" asked Kasumi.
She started to explain then stopped, cutting her eyes about the walls of the dojo. No, not here, she thought remembering the so-called camera-less motel room. No, she would need to get away from familiar surroundings to gather her cohorts and develop the plan. That also meant not telling her father or Mister Saotome; sure the secret would be on the street in a matter of minutes.
"Later, sis," said Nabiki heading for the stairs. "Don't worry though; you'll know everything here soon enough. You too, Doctor Tofu"
"Nabiki," Kasumi said again, but she was already halfway up the steps. "Smooth the waters, eh. Oh, I'll smooth the waters alright," they heard her say. "They'll be as smooth as the kamikaze that hit the Mongol invasion fleet… BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA"
Her door slammed shut leaving the Ono's in silent wonder. Kasumi turned to her husband.
"Well that's it," she said.
"What's it, dear"
"Nabiki. She's finally gone off the deep end. I told you we should have fixed her up with a man sooner"
"Goes to show what a life of all work and no play will do to a person," said Ono.
Another burst of laughter made the couple look up again and shake their heads…