Nabiki? … Impossible!
A Magical Mystery Tour…
Okura Maeda's Estate, Early Evening;
Vicky's eyes glared up at the clock on the hall wall, one foot taping in a steady rhythm waiting for Maeda's rebellious new employee to appear. Time grew short, Maeda's cocktail dinner guests due to arrive within the hour and Nabiki still had not appeared with her so-called 'staff' to prepare thing before the guests arrived.
"That girl is playing with fire," she mused glancing outside in hopes of seeing their wayward employee.
"Patience, Victoria," called Maeda's calm voice from behind. Vicky said nothing, smirking lightly as she continued to stare out the window. "Victoria," he called again and she turned around.
"Maybe I should have Jean-Pierre start preparations," she said.
"Vicky, relax please. Nabiki is just playing a game with us. Testing the limits of her bonds"
"Ooo, I'd like to tighten those bonds right now," said Vicky with a visible angry shudder.
Okura laughed, turning his chair around to the large window behind him. There off in the distance approached a medium sized white van along the road leading to his estate, and he guessed it could be only one person. Smiling, Maeda drew out a cigarette, lighting it.
"Oh, Vicky. I do believe your wayward charge is about to arrive"
Vicky's hot stare locked on the approaching van and without a word, she strode out the office.
In a flash, Vicky was down the main stairs rushing past Chino and Tanyun for the main doors ready to greet and beat Nabiki when she arrived. The guards opened the doors just as the van rolled up to the foot of the steps; Vicky, Chino and Tanyun waiting as the passenger's door opened.
"Vicky!" a cheerful Nabiki Tendo greeted her as she stepped out. She was dressed in a dark charcoal grey ladies business suit with matching low heeled pumps, a white blouse and gold loop earrings. "I'm so sorry I'm late but we had to stop and get a few things first for the meal"
"Probably poison," muttered Tanyun.
Victoria gave him a sharp nudge and walked down to meet her. "A simple call would have been sufficient, Nabiki Tendo," she said.
Nabiki saw the ire in Vicky's eyes, but continued to maintain her innocence. "I should have called, yes. Things were getting behind and the thought did not cross my mind"
"Coming from you that sounds far fetched," replied Vicky coming to a stop before her. She glared angrily at Nabiki then her eyes drifted over to the van and its driver. A handsome looking man, he sat staring straight out before him, eyes shrouded by a pair of large dark Raybands. Odd, I think I might have seen him somewhere before?
Catching the shift in Vicky's mood, Nabiki quickly drew her attention back. "Uh, Vicky, I need to get my staff inside so they can prepare for the party," she said.
"Yes," replied Vicky, "and I'd like to see your staff. It should be quite"
A muffled yell suddenly came from the van followed by what sounded like a small scuffle that rocked the vehicle. It was hard to see through the dark tint of the widows, Nabiki rolled her eyes hoping that it was not what she knew what was happening. They heard the bay door on the other side slam open, and then from around the front appeared Ukyo. She paused grimacing slightly before turning to them with a bright grin.
"Aha ha ha… uhm, don't mind us. Just a small case of cold feet from one of our girls," she told them.
Another loud cry cut the air; several of Maeda's men moving in to see what all the commotion was about.
"Get out there!" shouted a high pitched voice.
"No, no! It's cold, and, and, and I've changed my mind!" came another voice.
"You not chicken out now! Move silly ass or Shampoo kick you into outer space"
The sounds of the scuffle continued, moving towards the front of the van. Vicky smirked, cutting Nabiki a doubting look, which she returned with an innocent shrug. She could see the driver now had his head down against the steering wheel, and then a gaggle of women appeared wearing daringly short maids' outfits, wrestling with one who appeared to be attempting escape. A purple haired Chinese woman held the resisting maid in a tight headlock while the others pulled and pushed her on. After a few more steps they all paused finally noticing the stares upon them. Nobody moved then a pitiful high-pitched whine came from the reluctant maid.
"Oh no… it's, it's too late… I've been seen"
She pressed her face into the Chinese girl's shoulder, sobbing. Victoria could barely manage to say anything, surprised by both the appearance of these skimpily clothed maids and what just happened. Tanyun and Chino both stood with mouths agape mimicking the reaction from the rest of Maeda's men on the grounds, and then Vicky found her senses again.
"Close your mouths and wipe your chins," she said walking towards Nabiki's assistants.
Quickly Ukyo went into action motioning for the girls to form a line; Mousse still sobbing into Shampoo's chest, and took her place at the head. She greeted Victoria with a slight bow.
"Good Evening, Miss"
Vicky folded her arms looking them over once again. Her sharp gaze cut to the men standing around and they broke from their stares and resumed their positions. After another once-over Vicky called for Nabiki.
"So, like my girls"
Vicky spun around. "What in the hell do you think you are doing"
Nabiki blinked not expecting her outburst. "Uh, I'm catering this evening's event?" she answered.
"Excluding your hostess, your cook, and your bartender I assume, these girls are fit for some party that only Hugh Heffner would throw"
"I've been to a few of those," commented Tanyun.
The fire danced in Victoria's eyes, but Nabiki was not the least afraid.
"Now Ms. Saffron. You want me to make Tatewaki Kuno comfortable, right"
"And you want him to be relaxed and… at ease with his company, right"
Vicky paused to think a moment. "Yes. What does this have to do with him and them"
Nabiki sighed. "I know Tatewaki's habits as you are well aware of, thus I know that my girls will be the best way for him to… 'Relax' for lack of a better word"
A short giggle came from Ukyo, swiftly muffled as Vicky looked around. She dipped her head hiding the smile and Vicky smirked, facing Nabiki again. She started to reply, paused just as her lips parted, drew back eyeing Nabiki, started to speak again and thought the better of it.
"Introduce me," said Vicky. There was still a look of suspicion and doubt on her face as Nabiki led her over.
She introduced Ukyo, and then Kasumi.
"So you're the famous Kasumi Tendo I've heard so much about"
Kasumi's cheeks slightly flushed as she bowed. "I did not know you had heard of me"
"Your reputation precedes you. I'm looking forward to sampling your meals"
They moved on to Kodachi. "This is Kodachi Kuuu-OOOO!" Nabiki caught herself realizing how much of a mistake it would be to let them know that Tatewaki's sister was lying in their grasp.
"Odd surname for a girl," said Vicky. "Is she an owl"
"Hah, hah, hah, hah… you're such a kidder, Vicky," answered Nabiki. "No, I just have slight problem pronouncing her last name that's all"
Kodachi frowned. "Really? I don't see how hard it is to say Ku"
Doctor Tofu's timely bleat of the horn prevented the disaster. Nabiki thanked her stars and smiled at him.
"Oh you can go now," she told him. The van rolled off and Nabiki cleared her throat. "He's on a meter," she explained, "and its Kurisame"
Ukyo's hard glare kept Kodachi silent.
Vicky arched a brow and then gazed over at Shampoo and the sobbing Mousse. "Is she going to be alright"
"Don't mind her," said Nabiki. "She's a new girl"
"Real new!" added Shampoo.
Several eyes rolled up in exasperation.
"Really? And does she have a name"
Nabiki started cutting a frantic glance over at Ukyo. She shrugged slightly, damning their oversight. Fortunately, Shampoo was more than ready to provide an answer.
"Oh yes that's it!" exclaimed Nabiki. "I nearly forgot"
A fresh round of sobs came from Mousse. "…ah, ah, and now I'm a Moussa… mercy!" Shampoo gently patted him on the shoulder.
Vicky shook her head. "I can understand why you're crying, child. Evil Nabiki dressing you up like some sex-tart"
Ukyo giggled again while Nabiki stood surprised by Victoria's remark. The rest of the maids were introduced and then Vicky led them up into the house. As they entered through the doors, Tanyun paused to give Tsubasa a hard look. He arched a brow at him and Tsubasa swallowed, countering the stare with a cheerful smile. Tanyun tipped his gaze to one side as they passed then gave Chino a slight nudge.
"Hey Chino, you know I think… Chino… Chino"
The burly man's gaze was locked on the departing maids, his mouth still open in awe. Tanyun looked in their direction and then shook his head.
"Hey, Chino-man. Snap out of it!" he said, snapping his fingers in front of Chino's face.
"Did you see her"
Tanyun frowned. "Did I see her? Her who? Which one"
"Her… yeah that helps. Hey man, don't be getting hooked on them. I think"
But the big man ignored Tanyun, lumbering off in a dream-like state after them.
Tanyun shook his head. "Oh boy," he said and followed.
Immediately, Nabiki set her staff about setting up the rooms. Ukyo did most of the directing, making sure that tables were set properly, furniture moved to allow maximum room and make it easier for them to maneuver carts if needed. It was getting close to the arrival of the guests; Nabiki gathered up Ukyo, Akari, and Kasumi, taking them to the kitchen. Vicky waited at the double doors; Tanyun talking quietly with Sachi, with her as they arrived.
"Waiting to show us around?" asked Nabiki.
"No. I do not think your sister will need showing around. However; she might need some help with my chef"
Nabiki arched a brow. "Your chef"
The grin from Victoria was not comforting. They went inside and were greeted by what could almost be called the perfect kitchen. It could easily support a cooking staff of thirty or more with white porcelain counters running along the walls, oak shelves and cupboards above them. In the middle of the kitchen were two large cutting tables, a stainless-steel cooking pot, standing storage cabinet and cooking racks with utensils all gleaming bright ready for immediate use. On the left was a large double oven, stoves and an open pit rotisserie. Kasumi took small deliberate steps further in astonished by what she saw. Placing her trembling hands to her lips, she drew in a small gasp.
"H-H-Heaven." Vicky laughed at her reaction. "You'll find the walk-in refrigerator just to the left with the main pantry"
"You mean there's more"
"There's not much time before our guests arrive so you better get started. Too your right, in the far corner is the dumbwaiter, in case we run out of room and have to move things upstairs"
"Oh I'm sure I'll have no problems, Miss Saffron"
"We'll see. Now I want to introduce you too my chef. Pierre"
A door slammed open from around the corner, and then with deliberate steps appeared a man dressed in the white uniform of a French cuisine chef. Not very tall and of slim build, he stared at the newcomers with cold blue eyes set under his thin dark brows all the while fingering a rolling pin in his hands. His lips twisted to one side upon seeing Kasumi, one corner dropping into a sneer.
"May I introduce Jean-Claude Pierre duRiviale Chateaugion"
"Jean-Who-Wha-Who-What-Huh?" said Ukyo.
Akari nervously rubbed her neck. "Whew, there's a mouth-full for you"
"Ahem. Jean-Claude is Mister Maeda's personal chef… normally," Vicky said.
Kasumi bowed. "I am honored to meet you, sir"
But there was no change in Jean-Claude's expression as he walked over to Kasumi. Placing the rolling pin down on the cutting table, he stopped, sneering while looking her up and down then let out a huff. "So… you are this 'fantastic' female chef every one is talking about, eh? Miss KA-seu-MI Ten-deu, the all magnificent woman cook of Teu-kyo"
His hostility caught Kasumi off guard. Bowing again, Kasumi wiped away the spittle from her face. "I am sorry you object to my presence, Mister… Jean-Claude, sir," she said.
"Pfthph! Pitiful girl! You cannot even get my name right and you say you are sorry"
"Hey, now you better—," began Ukyo, but Victoria held out a hand stopping her.
"Jean-Claude, you were told to behave tonight. Miss Tendo is cooking for this event and I want you to assist her in anyway you can"
But the chef was not about to back down from this affront. "I am not impressed by you or you reputation, KA-seu-MI Ten-deu. I will have you know that I am rated as the best chef in all of France"
"Hmm, that explains why you're here in Japan," Nabiki said.
Jean-Claude made a start, his eyes widening. Muffled snickers from Tanyun and Sachi added to the insult, and he sneered viciously at them.
"Now stop this, all of you," said Vicky. "Jean-Claude, behave or I will have you sent back to France. Kasumi, the kitchen is yours, please start the meals"
Kasumi nodded and tried to move past Jean-Claude, but he remained in the way staring up into her face. For a moment there was silence, and then his eyes cut down to her favorite pair of oven mitts stuffed in her dress pockets. With a snatch, Jean-Claude pulled them out, spit on them dashing the pair to the floor stomping the mitts under heel. With a snap of his fingers in her face, he spun around and walked away. Kasumi's mouth dropped open as she stared down at her now soiled cooking mitts. She glanced up, back down at the floor then back up lunging towards the arrogant man. Fortunately, Nabiki, Akari, Ukyo and Vicky managed to catch her before she got within swinging range.
"Let me go, let me go, I'll kill this insolent chef, I'll kill him"
"Kasumi, calm down will you!" pleaded Nabiki.
"Nobody, NOBODY, defiles my kitchen mitts, NOBODY"
Her struggles died off, Kasumi huffing and panting while glaring at Jean-Claude; standing calmly across the kitchen. The girls let her go and stepped back careful to remain between the two rival chefs.
"Wow…, I didn't think you had it in you …Kasumi," said Ukyo. She suddenly giggled leaning over to Nabiki. "I'm soooo glad you brought me along"
"Ukyo, this is not the time. Vicky"
"Jean-Claude I told you too behave"
Jean-Claude gave her an innocent shrug. "Forgive me, Miss Saffron. I lost my head for a small moment. I apologize"
It seemed to settle things for the moment and everyone relaxed. The two chefs drew apart but their eyes remained locked on each other.
"Well Miss Tendo, if you would please start the evening's meals. Jean-Claude will be here to provide any assistance necessary, won't you 'Jean-Claude"
"When France adopts the U.S. Dollar"
He begged off, lowering his head in submission.
"Now you behave too, Kasumi," Nabiki said. "Akari will be here also to help out and run the food in. Okay"
Kasumi gave her a slight nod and appeared to be back to her docile self, but then Nabiki noticed an odd twitch of her right brow accompanying her gaze at Jean-Claude. Things were not going to go smoothly for them, she thought. Hopefully, the rest of the team would be able to carry out their assignments without difficulty. Otherwise, things could get very sticky, and she did not want to start a new life as fishbait or worse. Vicky's call broke her from the dark thoughts and with a forced smile followed her out the kitchen.
A few miles down from Maeda's estate Doctor Tofu and Gosunkugi searched for the clearing Nabiki circled on the map in Hikaru's hands. What should be an easy trip was slowly turning into a desperate search and time raced against them. After another few minutes, Ono pulled over and shut off the engine.
"Hikaru. Why are we having such a hard time finding this clearing"
With a magnifying glass close to his face, Gosunkugi traced the route they were on; taking brief looks out the windows trying to match some of the features around them. He sat back scratching the side of his head and shrugged.
"I can't match any of the land around us with this map, Doc. It's as if we've traveled into another part of the country"
"Let me see that"
Tofu opened the map up instantly realizing why they were having such troubles. Rolling his eyes, Ono turned the map so that north pointed up instead of down; passing it back over to Hikaru.
"Oh! Knew something was strange about this thing," said Hikaru.
"Really, no, really, Hikaru? Gee, this only cost us fifteen minutes into our time table"
"I'm sorry, Doc"
Ono smirked and let the man's mistake pass. "No real harm done yet, but we better get a move on"
He started the van and they turned around heading back up the road. Just before reaching the bend towards Maeda's estate, Hikaru pointed out towards a small cut running off into the interior of the woods. Tofu stopped and eyed the semi-dark dirt path feeling a tad bit unsure about it. They bumped along over rough dirt and foliage, the braches of the trees scrapping along the top and sides until finally they came upon an open clearing thick with undergrowth.
"Well, at least no one will find us," said Ono. He peered out the window looking up at the surrounding tree tops barely able to see through the canopy of leaves and limbs. Even now the suns rays were beginning to wane and they knew they better get the equipment set up before dusk set in.
"All right Hikaru, I'll get the antenna put together while you get that computer going"
Gosunkugi flashed an okay climbing back to get the case containing his beloved computer system. He grinned uncontrollably, eager to see what toys the Kuno Conglomerate had provided him to play with this evening. Undoing the clasp, Hikaru opened the top and gazed down inside. He drew in a breath, staggering back into a seat.
Doctor Tofu pulled the side door open. "Hikaru, are you alright"
A twinkle lit Gosunkugi's eyes staring happily at the roof of the van. "I love my job," he said.
"A 21-inch High Definition Flat Screen Display, fully wall mountable with Sense-Surround Digital Audio speakers"
Ono blinked. "What?" he said again.
Gently, Hikaru reached into the case and pulled out the rest of the computer. He held the nearly one inch thick chassis up examining it, sniffing the air vent slots tasting the newness of plastic and metals. "(Ahhh). 500 gigs of smooth hard drive, 3.8 megahertz of pure Intel P4 plus processor. Nothing can compare to this"
"You got all that from its smell"
"Bytes, Doc, Bytes. You have to acquire a taste for them. It's a bit like chicken"
Tofu hung his head muttering a few unintelligible words to himself. "You know Hikaru, this should not surprise me after seeing you with that laptop I'm still paying for, but we will not digress. Just set it up, okay"
"I'll be ready in a few minutes, Doc"
Tofu stared at him, shaking his head and drew back. Just as fast he leaned back inside giving Hikaru a hard look.
"And we will be getting you that woman once we're done," he said and went back to his work.
Soon the dynamic duo had most of everything set up; Hikaru removing several of the seats to make room for a fold down table and cabinet; Doctor Tofu setting up a tall telescoping dish antenna and portable power unit. He attached the final cables to the access ports and snaked them back to the van.
Once connected, Doctor Tofu asked, "Hikaru, are you ready"
Gosunkugi made final adjustments to the large screen mounted on removable hooks on the side wall of the van, stepping back to admire his work. He let out a sigh pleased with the results.
"Gee, Doc. You think I can get a picture of this before we take it all down"
"Sure I'll go get the camera—No, Hikaru! We need to get this thing running, pronto"
Gosunkugi flinched. "Okay, okay, you don't have to shout"
He turned on the computer and the screen flickered to life. With a crack of his knuckles, Gosunkugi sat down before the monitor and started typing in commands, pushing icons with the mouse starting up programs and interfaces. Suddenly, a strange frown covered his face. Doctor Tofu waited a moment as Hikaru continued working his magic but the expression remained.
"Okay, what's wrong"
All movement stopped from Gosunkugi and he sat staring dumbfound at the screen.
He looked up. "Uh, Doc we've got a problem"
"What kind of problem"
"Well… I can't get any outside connections"
Hikaru pointed at the screen. "We've no connections to Ukyo or the rest of the net"
He shrugged. "My guess is that the antenna is either blocked or there is not enough power"
Quickly, Gosunkugi made several adjustments to his equipment, realigning connectors, switching up power cords, but still after another series of commands they could not patch in to the comlinks or any outside Internet feeds. Doctor Tofu sat down unable to believe this much bad luck has struck in such a short time.
"Hikaru, we need to get some communications with our people out there"
"I know, Doc. But I can't tell what the problem is"
Tofu thought a moment and then pulled out their map again, spreading it on the floor. He looked it over with Hikaru then suddenly the young man started laughing.
"I see the problem," he said.
"Well I don't, so tell me"
Hikaru pointed down at the forested part of the map. "This is where we are," he said. His finger traced over to Maeda's estate. "And over here is our target"
"Don't you see, Doc"
"No, Hikaru! That's why I'm asking you"
Carefully, Hikaru's finger traced back over to their spot stopping just short on a small rise situated in between the two sites. Doctor Tofu stared at it then realized what he was getting at.
"Oh, come on," he said.
"Yep. Nabiki may have picked us a perfect spot to hide in, but she's not very good about considering obstacles or line of site"
"Only you would be thinking about such things, and if you'd been brave instead of keeping your eyes closed so much, this might have been spotted sooner"
Hikaru hung his head. "Sorry, Doctor Tofu"
Realizing he might have been a bit too hard on the man, Doctor Tofu sighed pushing back his growing frustrations. He patted Hikaru lightly on the shoulder. "No, it's just me and my concern for Kasumi and the others. We're their only link to immediate help if things go bad"
"So what are we going to do now"
Tofu laughed. "I was going to ask you the same thing"
Gosunkugi paused, staring hard at the map. His brows twitched lightly and he stood up and stepped out into the clearing. Ono watched him stared up at the sky, making an occasional mutter to himself, raising his arms up at various angles towards the north. After writing a few quick notes on a piece of paper, Hikaru walked cheerfully back over to the van.
"Got it," he said.
"The answer to our communications problem"
This didn't feel right to Doctor Tofu. "Go on"
"We just need to put the antenna in a higher position, that's all"
Ono's face matched that of a stone statue, ashen grey and motionless. His disbelief matched the awe at Hikaru's pronouncement, not sure he wanted to hear anymore. Slowly, his eyes cut up to the surrounding tree-tops and then panned back over at Hikaru.
"Are you saying we have to move this van over to the top of that hill blocking our way"
"Then how, and I know I'm going to regret this, but how do you intend to get that antenna up high enough to get a clear reception, hmm"
"Oh that's easy. Put it up there." Hikaru pointed to the top a tall evergreen tree thick with bristling braches from tip to base.
"Way up there"
"Way up there"
Ono looked up again. "WAAAAYYYY up there?" he said again.
"And how do you expect us to get that antenna way up there"
"I figured you could"
"Hold it," cut in Tofu, a hand held out before him. "I heard a 'you' in that last statement"
"I can't go up there, Doc. I've got too stay down here and make sure the alignment of the antenna is correct"
"Do it afterwards"
A timid smile came to Gosunkugi's face. "I, ah… I'm not a very good tree climber, Doctor Tofu"
"And I look like a monkey too"
"You are pretty good with your hands"
Ono felt like smacking Hikaru right there but decided against it since he was still needed. I had to be here, he thought to himself, standing up. "Well, don't just stand there grinning. Find me some rope and a pair of gloves while I take this antenna apart"
Hikaru scampered off and Ono looked back up at the trees. "Oh, why me," he said, shaking his head…
Guests started arriving at Maeda's estate as scheduled greeted cordially by Nabiki's staff. Business people from all corners of the world were here, Nabiki actually impressed with those whom she recognized amongst the growing crowd. The taint of money tickled her senses, a thrill rushing through her that brought on a smile. If the situation were different, she thought as she milled about, the deals that could be made, empires brought to sway… Damn you, Maeda. Damn you!
Speaking of which, she caught sight of her current pain entering from the main foyer dressed to perfection in a button-down double-breasted dark grey suit; Vicky on one arm wearing her best evening dress of light blue silk. Not a bad looking couple, but still the enemy nevertheless. Nabiki gazed around again checking on her friends and to make sure nothing was going wrong.
She spotted Tsubasa with a tray of drinks moving through the crowd offering them as he went. Not far away; Konatsu worked his way through carrying a try of finger foods. No problems there, she noted, except for the lurid gazes from the men and slightly annoyed looks from their wives as they passed. Nabiki moved further into the crowd catching sight of the bar where Kodachi took in orders for drinks from the lushes who naturally migrated there. She appeared quite pleased with the job, a cheerful if not deviant expression on her face as she poured and mixed drinks in rapid succession. Hmm… might have to keep a closer eye on that area, mused Nabiki.
"Nabiki," said a voice from behind and she turned. It was Ukyo and from her cheered gaze something was not right.
"Okay, what's wrong?" she asked.
"Two things. One, no comms with Doc T or Hikaru"
"Give them time, Ukyo. It hasn't been that long yet"
"Well I'd feel better if we could talk to them before Tatewaki arrives. He is due here in the next ten minutes, remember"
A quick glance at her watch, Nabiki nodded. "And the second thing"
Ukyo let out a short laugh, cutting it off with some difficulty. She could barely keep a straight face and there were tears forming at the corners of her eyes. "It's… it's Mousse"
Nabiki waited until the girl's snickers subsided then asked, "What about Mousse"
More snickers followed, Ukyo's lips and eyes closed tight, tears leaking down her cheeks. "Ukyo," Nabiki said again and she wiped her face dry.
"I think… I think he's a hit… (Gurrrghahahahah…miff"
"He's a what"
Ukyo could say no more, beckoning her to follow. They made their way into the next room and stopped to see a large group of young and older men standing around a shivering and nervous Mousse. They were all eyeing him, taking drinks from the tray in his hands while trying to make small-talk, looking him over like a wolf at a lamb before the slaughter. Mousse could barely keep from crying, ducking his head down trying desperately to avoid their advances; while Ranko looked on in wonder from behind not believing that this could be happening.
The resumptions of snickers from Ukyo broke Nabiki from her stupor. "Will you stop that!" she grumbled under her breath.
"I can't…(hahahaha)…I can't help it!" She moved closer to Nabiki. "I'm so glad you brought me along"
"Stop saying that"
Nabiki cleared her throat calling out to Mousse. "Oh, Moussa." He looked up at them through the men, eyes glistening with tears. "You need to help Shampoo briefly in the dining room"
He nodded, quickly shuffling toward the doorway, but before leaving stopped close to Nabiki. "I-I-I am so going to-to-to get you for this, NNNAbiki (sniff, sniff). You are sooo going to pay for this!" he said and hurried on.
"Yes, I'll make sure they know," called Nabiki after him. She faced the men again and smiled. "My girl is already spoken for, gentlemen"
Several downcast looks followed before one of them said, "So?" and briskly went after Mousse. Some of them followed suit while the rest slinked off after easier game. Nabiki sighed then spotted Chino and Tanyun over across the room.
"Tanyun, could you please at least give me some support here"
Tanyun gave her a smirk, but Chino placed a determined look on his face going to follow the troublesome crowd. "That was starting to get interesting," said Tanyun.
"I saw nothing funny about it," snapped Nabiki.
"Would have been hilarious to see—," Tanyun glanced out the doorway and then back at Nabiki, and with a shudder hurried after Chino.
"What was that all about?" asked Ukyo.
"I don't know," replied Nabiki.
Ukyo giggled. "You've got to admit, Mousse does look good in that outfit"
"Go help keep him under control"
Ukyo hurried off laughing all the way.
The incident briefly contained, Nabiki turned her attention to Ranko. With a tight grip on one arm, she led her off away from any stray ears that might hear.
"And why didn't you try to help Mousse, hmm"
"Help Mousse?" answered Ranko, "I was wondering who was going to help those fools once Mousse started kicking their asses"
"That's exactly why you need to keep him out of trouble like that"
Ranko frowned at her. "Isn't that what you wanted though? Drooling and leering"
"They're not drooling, and no leering that close"
"Yeah right, watch your step too"
"Now you—," Nabiki looked down, smirked, and then shook her head. "Ranma this is no time for jokes"
"Whatever! Now you make sure once Mousse get back in here that he doesn't get into anymore difficult situations"
"Like the one you're about to be in"
"Yes, like the one… huh"
Ranko pointed behind her and Nabiki turned to see Maeda and Victoria there watching them. She grimaced, kicking Ranko in the shin then put on a cheerful smile.
"Boss! How nice to see you"
Okura arched a brow. "Uh, troubles, Nabiki"
"Oh, no, no, no, oh no, boss! I'm just making sure all my girls are doing their jobs right"
"Thought that was Ukyo's job?" asked Vicky.
"She's busy at the moment"
"Yes," replied Okura. He waved Ranko away then placed a confiding arm around Nabiki's shoulders guiding her back towards the main room. "Uh, Vicky and I have noticed one slight problem with all of your fantastic preparations"
"A very big problem"
This couldn't be good. Nabiki forced her fear down and maintained her composure. "And what problem is this"
"The guest of honor," answered Vicky.
Oh that was it, Tatewaki and his lack of appearance. Nabiki calmly played off her concern. "He'll be here, boss. Trust me"
"Trust you, no, wondering if you are up to something, yes." Maeda stopped and turned Nabiki around to face him. "Nabiki," he continued, but there appeared a glint of annoyance in his eyes, "I am a very patient man. However; when I ask for something to be done within specific times I expect my instructions to be carried out"
Nabiki began to answer, but he held up a hand to stop her and leaned close to her face. "Tatewaki Kuno better be here in the next-few-minutes, or you will… 'regret' crossing me. Are we clear on this"
"Quite clear, Mister Maeda"
Okura's mocking smile reminded Nabiki of an attacking shark, furiously watching him stroll off to rejoin the party.
Vicky paused beside her for a moment. "Oh, Nabiki. Could you do one other thing for me"
"What's-that, Miss Saffron"
"Your shy little waitress, what's her name 'Moussa'? Could you please tell her to stop whimpering so much? It's starting to worry the guests"
Nabiki closed her eyes and drew in a breath. "I'll tell her, Miss Saffron"
Vicky went to join Okura and then Ranko came up beside Nabiki genuinely concerned about her sister-in-law's well-being. The dark look on Nabiki's face told Ranko that the situation was turning serious.
"Should'a let Ryoga and I bust his ass when we had the chance," said Ranko.
Nabiki gave her jacket a firm tug. "No, that honor I'm reserving for myself. Keep an eye out for Tatewaki and tell Ukyo to notify me the second he gets here"
"Okay. Don't know what Maeda just said to you, but it had better be soon"
"Yes it had," replied Nabiki. A quick glance at her watch; Nabiki went to rejoin the party.
Up the road to Maeda's estate a black limousine approached, its driver careful not to scratch the paint as it rounded the turn through the gates into the courtyard. Several of the guards watched close as it came around the turnway to stop at the foot of the steps. The chauffeur got out; kind of small for a driver thought some of the men, opening the back door.
"Ah yes, thank you my good man," said Tatewaki Kuno looking around at his surroundings. Not bad, he thought with a nod then one of Maeda's guards approached. "I believe I am expected," he said and produced his invitation. The guard nonchalantly read it over, expression quickly shifting to surprise as he read the name on the card.
"Uh, uh, forgive us, sir!" he exclaimed, giving Tatewaki a curt bow. "We have been expecting you"
"Understandable. One does allow minions to make a few mistakes"
His chauffeur suddenly cleared his throat and Tatewaki understood. "Where can my driver park my limousine"
"After it is searched, Lord Kuno, it will be parked accordingly"
"Searched?" Tatewaki arched a brow at the man. "My vehicle is to be searched"
"Uh… Uh, standard procedures we have here, Lord Kuno"
A wrinkle no one expected, but Tatewaki thought fast. "I see. Then I must be leaving"
"But Lord Kuno, our boss has been eagerly awaiting your arrival"
"Then he must obviously be trying to insult my trust. Search my vehicle! The notion… really"
Beads of panic sweat built upon the man's brow fearing the wrath sure to cascade on him if the boss's honored guess departed because of an insult. "Your vehicle will not be searched, Lord Kuno! Your, your driver can park it over in the driveway," he said pointing across the estate grounds.
"No, maybe I should—." A sharp cough again from his driver put Tatewaki back on track. "Ah, yes, that will be satisfactory. I trust you will not disturb it or my driver, hmm"
"Of course, Lord Kuno"
Smiling, Tatewaki turned to his chauffeur. "See what you missed out on," he whispered low then said, "You may go and wait for me too summon you. And no sleeping either"
His driver curtly nodded and got back inside, slamming the door shut. Tatewaki started and quickly stepped aside as the limo rolled away.
"Delicate people they are," he said, "Well now, let us go in and meet your gracious boss, shall we?"
Finding the darkest part of the garage driveway, Tatewaki's limousine driver shut off the engine and sat still for a moment peering out the windows to see if there were any of Maeda's goons around. All clear, a sharp snatch flung the hat off her head; Akane Tendo beating her fist furiously on the dashboard.
"Ooo, did you hear that arrogant asshole! See what you missed? See what you missed? I haven't missed anything I didn't already know about"
From the floor of the back, Ryoga peered up over the seat and looked around. "Screaming won't help, Akane," he told her.
Akane drew in a long breath forcing away her anger. Not the time to mess things up, she relaxed and turned around. "Hand me my bag," she said as she started pulling off her uniform.
Ryoga passed a black carry bag to her. She unzipped it pulling out a black sweater, pair of boots, a utility belt, and the dreaded communication earpiece. Akane pushed the bag into Ryoga's face forcing his head back and then pulled off her shirt, pulling the sweater on.
"Okay, so we give the gang another ten minutes, then we find a way up to Maeda's office," she said as she finished dressing.
"Yeah, should be a cinch," answered Ryoga, "We just climb up onto the top of the garage, hop into an open window and bang, crack that safe wide open"
Akane paused. She tipped her head back looking at the garage and then over at him. "Ryoga, the garage is not connected to Maeda's home"
"Oh?" Ryoga smirked and pulled out a small layout of the grounds. He turned on his flashlight immediately receiving a flurry of blows from Akane in the process.
"What are you doing?" she growled, shutting off the light.
"Checking out our surroundings"
"And about to bring every one of Maeda's men along too"
Akane snatched the light and map from Ryoga's hands and dropped down to the floor. She threw her chauffeur's jacket over her head and switched the flashlight on. Hmm, we might have to sneak around to the north side and try climbing in through the back rooms she mused noting that there were more trees and shrubbery in that area. Then again, a straight climb up to Maeda's office will cut down on time, but increase our chances of discovery. Ryoga tapped her and she shut off the light, looking up.
"Decided how we're getting in, Lupin?" he asked.
"No, and my name is not Lupin, thank you very much"
"Oh come'on! You can call me Mister Phelps"
"Ryoga—," Akane sneered at him, ducking back down under the jacket.
He laughed and started humming the tune to Mission Impossible while staring out at Maeda's mansion. His eyes caught the movement of someone approaching their limo and he stopped then tapped Akane again.
"Ryoga, damn it! I'm trying to plan our entry here if you don't mind"
"Oh I won't mind, but that guy coming this way might"
Akane quickly sat back up looking at the person Ryoga pointed too. She let out a light squeal and then frantically began to put her disguise back on. "Get back there," she ordered Ryoga. He ducked out of sight; Akane shifting up against the door and stretched out across the front seat. She pulled her cap down low covering her facial features and prayed this guy would think she was asleep and go away.
The sound of crunching gravel could be heard with each step the guard made then they stopped and it grew quiet. Akane's heartbeat picked up, the beat throbbing in her ears. Oh please go away, she prayed, but her prayers were not to be answered as a light tap on the window glass was heard.
"Ignore it," she could hear Ryoga whisper from the other side and she did but the tap came again, slightly harder and more determined.
"He's not going away"
"So what now"
Akane paused then slowly shifted her body around just enough to peek out the corner of her eye out the window. The guard's features were barely perceptible in the dim surroundings, his eyes straining to see more of the interior. She cleared her throat and lowered the window just a crack.
"Uh, yeah?" said Akane in the deepest voice she could make.
"Hey, you crash pretty fast there, buddy," replied the guard.
"Yeah, um working for Kunos' is very hard on a person"
He laughed. "I hear'ya pal. Mister Maeda may pay well, but he is a demanding boss. And that trophy bitch of his… such a pain"
Akane smirked as the guard continued to laugh. She thought it better to humor him, letting out a short false laugh as well.
"So you going to stay out here all night?" asked the guard.
"Mister Kuno is um… very fond of his limo. He'd kick my butt if I left it unattended"
"Geehsh, these rich folk nowadays. Why I'd bet he could buy a whole fleet of limos and not feel the pinch at all"
"It was a gift from… from his father"
The guard let out an ah, understanding the concern. He suddenly peered down closer to the glass staring hard at Akane's features. She remained still hoping that the ruse had not been discovered. To have to fight their way out across the grounds would only jeopardize the rest of the team inside; and then the guard stood up looking around.
"Something wrong?" she dared to ask.
"Gonn'a get cold out here later on"
"Uh, yeah, but I can turn on the heater if I need too"
"Nah, waste of good petrol." He paused and looked around again.
"Checking for stray ears and eyes," he explained. From his jacket, the guard pulled out a medium sized metal flask. He turned so his body hid it from the view of the other guards and knelt down. "Lower your window," he whispered.
Akane grimaced and hesitated a moment.
"Hey, don't worry. I won't tell if you won't"
The window slid down further, Akane catching the waif of alcohol as the top of the flask was opened.
"Mister Kuno does not like his employees drinking while on duty," she told him, hoping that would be enough to excuse herself.
"Come'on. One swig isn't going to get you plastered now is it? We're men, we can handle it"
Ryoga's muffled snickers made Akane shift around a bit more to cover them. A quick elbow to the back of the seat, Akane reached up and took the outstretched flask from the guard's hand. She made a tiny gulp and then took a deep swig.
Almost immediately, her throat began to burn, and then it spread down to her chest, lungs and finally her stomach. Pulling the flask quickly away from her lips, Akane drew in a long high pitched breath fighting to keep what was left of her life contained inside her body.
The guard laughed and took the flask drawing a long swallow himself. "Ah," he let out, smacking his lips in satisfaction, "That'll keep the hair on your lip standing straight up for a few hours"
Cross-eyed, Akane sat back trying to regain herself. She gasped a few more times then asked, "Where did you find Sake as strong as that"
Her voice, Akane quickly dropping the tone back down. "I mean… uh wow! That, that was some strong sake… Dude"
"Sake? This ain't sake, pal"
"It's not...uh I mean it's not"
"Nah. This is real 150 proof Tennessee Valley Whiskey"
"Whiskey?" said Akane.
"Moonshine!" whispered Ryoga, clasping his hands over his mouth.
"Yeah. Keeps you warm out here. Good stuff. Pays to work for the boss in the know"
"I'd like'ta bust the boss in the know"
"What was that"
Akane smacked the back of the seat with an elbow. "I didn't say anything"
The guard let it go. "Another swig?" he asked.
"Ah, ah, no, no thanks. Got 'a keep a clear… clear head to drive my boss back"
"Yeah. I supposed that's true." He put the top back on and slipped the flask back into his jacket. "I better get back to my rounds. Say if you get bored and can't sleep, the boys and I are take'n turns peeking though the windows. They got some hot babes in sexy maids' outfits inside tonight"
With a click of his tongue, the Guard gave a light salute and walked off back towards the main grounds. As he disappeared from view, Ryoga carefully peered up from behind the seat.
"Drinking on duty," he grumbled. "Did you see that, Akane? Sickening. If he were my employee, (SHFWIT!) out the door"
Akane said nothing, sitting still in the front seat. Ryoga frowned and called her again but she remained quiet. Carefully, he gave her a slight nudge and she slid over onto her side. "Akane!" exclaimed Ryoga, and instantly she popped back upright.
"Don't talk so loud," she gasped with a visible shudder of her body.
"Are you alright"
"I'm fine, Ranma"
Akane stopped and looked at him. A quick grab and she pressed her face up against his studying his features. Apparently this was not enough, a quick feel around his face verifying the claim.
"So it is," she finally said and let him go.
Ryoga stared at Akane stunned. "Akane, you're not alright. Are you drunk"
"What? Pfphiffthpth! There you go again, Ranma. I can handle my licorice"
"…Oh, oh she's blitz"
"I am not! We're going… we're going… we're gin side to find the magical safe holding my sisters magical mystical mystery eggs and return them to the"
Ryoga placed a hand over her mouth. "Oh, you are so out of it. We're screwed. Even Tom Cruise would abort this mission"
Akane pulled his hand down. "We're not, Ranma! I can still open your locks blindfolded"
"It's Ryoga, and it's a safe"
"Ohho! Upgrading the defenses are we now? Doesn't matter, Obi-Happosai taught me well"
Akane burst out laughing and Ryoga quickly silenced her again. He grimaced, looking around through the windows again wondering how such a thing could happen to them.
"Akane, you got 'a stay here"
Akane playfully pulled his hand down. "No," she answered and pulled it back up.
"But you're in no condition to be walking around let alone climbing up the side of a building"
Again, she pulled his hand down. "But you can't find the building without me, hee hee," she said, returning his hand up.
"I'll manage… oh no I won't, damn it"
Akane reached up intending to speak again but Ryoga pulled his hand away. "Will you stop that!" he shouted at her as she giggled uncontrollably in the seat.
He thought a moment realizing there was no way to avoid the upcoming debacle. With a shake of his head, Ryoga gathered up their stuff.
"Alright. You get us to the right spot, how I don't know looking at you, and I'll get us inside"
"Yes sir, Officer Saotome"
Ryoga frowned at her. "It's Ryoga, get out the car, and be quiet. Okay"
Akane nodded and Ryoga sighed. He opened the rear door and peeked out. None of Maeda's men could be seen in the immediate vicinity. Pulling on a black watch cap, Ryoga stepped out, whispering for Akane to do the same. Suddenly, Akane was frantically whispering to him from the front door window.
"Ranma, Ryoga, Ranma, Ryoga, Ranma, help me"
"What, what is it, Akane"
Akane gasped several times, gazing around at the floor of the limo. "My feet! I-I-I think I've lost my feet"
Ryoga dropped his head to his chest.
"This is going be a disaster…"