Konosuke Takasugi took a sip of coffee as he stared out the window of his office. Looking over the rooftops of neighboring buildings, he could see that storm clouds were building to the south over Tokyo Bay, promising a gloomy day. The intercom on his desk buzzed and he moved to answer it, the leather groaning as he settled into his chair. Pressing the button, he responded. "Yes Miss Kanizawa?"
"Mr. Makito Akimatsu is here to see you Chairman." The woman replied.
"Excellent. Please show him in." He said as he sat back to wait. When the door opened a few minutes later, he watched with anticipation as the architect entered.
"Good Morning Chairman Takasugi." The man greeted with a bow. "Thank you for your continued faith in my abilities."
"Good morning Mr. Akimatsu. I hope you've come up with something good. I've been anticipating your arrival."
"I believe you will be pleased Chairman." Makito said producing a computer disk from his pocket. "This has become an important project to me as well." He moved to a recess in the side of the room which housed a computer. Pressing a button set into the wall, he was rewarded with the sight of a panel in the ceiling sliding back to allow a projection unit to drop down from the opening while a screen silently lowered down the wall. "Give me just a moment to bring up the drawings."
"Of course." Konosuke responded as he took another sip of coffee. "You know, I miss being able to study a drawing lain out on table. Tell me, Mr. Akimatsu. Do you ever do any work by hand?"
"With today's CAD software, that is no longer necessary. However, I will produce some prints for you to present to Chairperson Himuro." The architect said as he inserted the disk into the drive. The screen soon was filled with a rendering. "As you can see, Chairman, this is the existing facility. The footprint is just less than seven meters wide by ten meters long. Over half of that space is used for the general assembly area, leaving approximately twenty-eight square meters for their shower and locker facilities. The shower stall itself is just over a meter square."
"Yes, yes, I know they're cramped." The chairperson replied eagerly. "Show me what you've come up with."
Bowing in apology, he answered. "Of course, Chairman Takasugi, I simply wished to give you a reference to the next drawing." Clicking the mouse button, a new image appeared under the first. "As you can see, the new facility will be nearly twice as long as the existing. This central wall will be eliminated, enlarging the assembly area by the other twenty-eight square meters from the original building. I've also lain out an updated food prep area where the shower was. The addition will house the locker facilities which now run ninety degrees of their original orientation. This in turn will free the entire end of the building for showers and therapy equipment. All of the water heaters and the heating and air conditioning units will be located in the roof framing, maximizing the useable floor space."
"Wonderful." The old man said, climbing to his feet and approaching the screen. Scrutinizing it, he continued. "I believe I can picture this. Well done."
"Give me one moment Chairman." Makito replied as he clicked the mouse again. The drawing disappeared and was replaced by a three dimensional rendering of the assembly area. "That's why I love CAD. This would have taken most of a day to draw by hand. The computer generated it in minutes."
"Oh, this is splendid! Keiko will be thrilled!" The old man said rubbing his hands together eagerly.
"Kimiko, where have you been?" Eriko exclaimed when she saw her daughter. "Your father and I were very worried."
"I was trying to find Daddy, but I couldn't." She answered.
"You shouldn't have run off like that. Now your father is out searching for you." The woman scolded. Then addressing Motoko, she said. "Welcome. I am Eriko Fujishima. Thank you for bringing my daughter back. She usually doesn't behave so poorly. I was distracted by the baby, and when I looked up, she was gone."
"It was no trouble." The samurai replied. "She is very respectful for one so young. My friend and I found her by the vending machines. It is nice to meet you, I am Motoko Aoyama, and this is Mao Daidoji."
"Mama, they know big sister Seira!" The little girl called out as Mao reached to take her off of the swordswoman's lap. Moving to the side of her mother's bed, she looked at her sister cradled in the woman's arms. "Aw, she's sleeping again. I told them they could see her."
"That's fine, Kimiko." Mao said with a sad smile. "I'm not very good at holding babies anyway."
"Please don't worry." Eriko said motioning to her. "She just finished nursing so she shouldn't wake up. You should practice for when you have one of your own. Come here please."
"I don't know…" The teenager said uneasily as she approached the bed. "Are you sure?"
"I am." The woman said holding her baby up to the girl.
Mao swallowed hard as she reached out and clumsily took the infant. "She's so tiny!" She whispered anxiously, holding the newborn awkwardly in her hands against her chest. "I don't want to hurt her!"
"Don't be so afraid, Mao." Motoko said encouragingly. "Just be sure to support her head, and you'll be fine."
"You sound experienced. Do you have a child?" Eriko inquired.
"No, training and school have left me little time for romance, and my future responsibilities are such that I most likely will never marry or bear children." The samurai replied while shaking her head. "However, I do have an adopted sister ten years my junior whom I have helped care for. My family took her in shortly after she was born."
"Kimiko, you're safe!" Shinosuke said with relief in his voice as he hurried into the room. "I was ready to let Hospital Security know when the nurse told me she saw you come back with these two women." Turning to Motoko, he added with a bow. "Thank you for returning her to us."
"It was no great inconvenience." She responded, bowing her head. "We were on our way to see friends who are also hospitalized and just happened to encounter her. You have done well raising her to be such a courteous child."
"We are fortunate. She has given us very little trouble until now." The yakuza boss said turning and addressing the little girl. "Kimiko, I told you to stay with your mother while I was gone, didn't I?" At her quiet nod, he continued. "Well, because you disobeyed me and made us worry, I'm going to hold onto your treat for now. We'll see how things go bringing your mother and sister home. If you're a big girl and behave, you can have it this afternoon. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Daddy." She replied, staring at the floor with tears forming in the corners of her eyes. "I'm sorry I made you mad."
"I'm not mad Kimi." He said gently as he squatted down in front of her. "I was afraid for you. Some of the people your father does business with aren't very nice. If they ever had the chance, they might hurt you or take you away from your mother and me." He reached out, and laying a hand on top of the little girl's head, added. "That's why you need to be careful. Do you promise to stay by your mother from now on?"
"Yes, Daddy." She answered with a sniffle. "I promise."
"That's my girl." He replied as he stood. Noticing Mao holding the baby, he commented. "Goodness, young women are definitely getting taller these days. You're the third one I've met in the last two days who was my size or larger."
"I'm sorry." The catcher said softly, lowering her head. "I can leave if it bothers you."
The man observed her for a moment before approaching her. Reaching for the baby, he said compassionately. "There's no need for you to leave. If I let something like that bother me, I wouldn't be a very good business man. You look rather uncomfortable holding her. Here, let me help you… Bend your left arm… Now, we'll lay the baby along your lower arm so you can cradle her against your body… See how much more comfortable that is? Now use your right arm to support your left… There, you got it!"
"Wow, this is a lot better! Thank you!" Mao responded happily, looking down at the baby. "Hey, she's smiling in her sleep! I must be doing ok!"
"You're doing fine." Eriko said warmly through sleepy eyes. "Shinosuke, I'm feeling drained now that I know Kimiko's safe. Do I have time to take a nap?"
"Of course, take as long of a nap as you need." He replied, bending over and giving her a light kiss on her forehead. "I'll take the baby back to the nursery, and Kimiko and I will go see how Doctor Suzuki and Amy are doing after yesterday."
"Thank you, dear. Be sure to give them my best." The woman mumbled as she drifted off.
Turning to the others, he said quietly as he approached the catcher. "Ladies, I'm sorry to cut our visit so short. May we escort you two to wherever you are going?"
"Actually, it sounds like we're going to the same place." Mao replied, looking up from watching the baby before surrendering her. "We were going to see Amy and her grandfather too."
"Daddy, they know big sister Seira." The Kimiko said excitedly. "She helped save auntie Motoko from the bad man who hurt her, and big sister Mao goes to her school."
"You're Motoko Aoyama?" He asked in surprise of the woman in the wheelchair. "Word has gotten around about what happened in the parking garage yesterday. You've made quite a name for yourself in this city's underworld. Akira Motokai was thought to be unbeatable."
"He nearly was." The woman replied quietly as Mao picked up Kimiko and deposited the child back in her lap. Then, as the younger woman took hold of the wheelchairs handles and began pushing her towards the doorway, she added. "While I have training in unarmed combat, I am a samurai and prefer to use my blade. Defeating him was more difficult than I'd imagined, and required a great expenditure of my ki energy. If not for the intervention of others, he unquestionably would have ended my life. If I ever face him again, be assured that I will not restrain myself."
"So why do you think that other man tried to kill you last night, Motoko?" Mao asked with concern as they exited the room.
"There was an attempt on your life?" Shinosuke said, stopping in his tracks. "This is news to me. What happened?"
"An assassin crept into our room intending to bury a blade in my heart as I slept." The warrior replied bluntly. "We captured him and held him for the authorities. The police sealed off our room as a crime scene forcing the two of us to spend the night in Maternity." Looking down the hallway, she continued. "I'm able to think of only one reason, Mao. The detective said he was a thug for that bookmaker. Those types are basically dogs that only do what their master commands. This Yoshida character has to be the one behind it. Somehow, by defeating that monster, I've angered him to the point that he wants me dead."
"Daichi Yoshida?" Shinosuke said darkly. "I'm not too surprised. The man is unbelievably greedy and extremely ruthless. I am surprised he sanctioned murder. He is normally satisfied with giving someone who's crossed him just a beating. He's a sly one though, so I'm afraid the police will have a hard time pinning this on him. His men are very loyal as well. Most likely, one of his lieutenants will step up to take the fall for him."
"So he's going to get away with it?" Mao spat angrily.
"It's alright, Mao." Motoko said soothingly. "I've chosen the way of the warrior. I must be prepared to die every time I enter a battle. I've sent that warning to him about my comrades avenging me. If he is sensible, he will cease any more aggression towards me."
"You've defeated his assassin as well as the reigning Strongest Man in Tokyo so he probably will, Miss Aoyama." The man added. "However, Yakuza have a code of conduct, which he failed to observe by not requesting permission to send one of his men into our territory. My father is not the type of man to look the other way when he is disrespected in such a manner. He will respond accordingly. You can rest assured that Yoshida will be suitably disciplined."
Cold looks and silence greeted Ms. Himuro as she regained her seat at the meeting. Mr. Mita sat staring at the table with his arms crossed and his chin on his chest, telling all too well how poorly the discussion had gone in her absence.
"It's about time." Mrs. Ayanakoji sniffed. "We have more important things to do today than to wait for you to finish with that vagabond."
"Vagabond?" The chairperson replied bristling. "She is here on business that will impact the lives of every student in this school. Do not treat her in such a manner!"
"If she's that important, she should dress the part." Mr. Kusunoki said coolly. "How pathetic must this school be if their master instructor is a woman who wears a gi and hakama to a business meeting?"
"I don't find her outfit any less professional than that ludicrous suede jacket and bolo tie you insist on wearing." Ms. Himuro spat back. "I mean really, cowboy chic died out nearly ten years ago."
"Chairperson, enough, please do not be so concerned." Tsuruko spoke in a calming tone. "The remarks of egotistical people such as these hold no weight for me." Turning to the head of the Parent's Association, she continued. "The God's Cry School has existed since before the Warring Nations Period, with its graduates being called upon to solve crises all over the world. Everyone at the school dresses in this exact same manner. Instructors and students alike wear this uniform with pride because it represents what the school holds most precious; living simple lives while defending those in need from the oppression of evil. For that, our school was judged a national treasure four years ago. "
"I, for one, welcome you, Master Instructor." Mr. Mita said with a tired look. "Please sit down by Mr. Kodanuke and join us. Are we so fortunate as to have you teaching the girls' self-defense class?"
"Sadly, no, I am needed too greatly in Kyoto to be able to commit the required time." She replied warmly as she found the empty chair next to the vice-principal. "My little sister shall be their instructor instead."
"What?" Mrs. Ayanakoji sputtered. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. There's been entirely too much fighting occurring here already. You actually want to encourage more?"
"I am establishing this curriculum in direct response to the events of the last two days." The chairperson replied defensively. "I don't want any more of our girls to be helpless victims if they should happen to face a situation like my daughter did that evening."
Scowling as she pushed up her glasses, the other woman retorted. "If you hadn't been so lax in taking the proper precautions, your daughter would never have had to walk the street at that time of night. You alone are responsible for introducing this element into Kisuragi with your degenerate baseball team. They may not have started the trouble, but you can't deny all the trouble revolves around them. Sora has already suffered enough. I won't allow her to be endangered more by being a part of this madness."
"If I wanted my daughter to fight, I would have had her join a respectable dojo." Mr. Kusunoki added. "As it is, teaching her self defense is unnecessary because she's driven to wherever she goes. This school will not be involved with creating more delinquents like Morimura. Despite being on the verge of expulsion, she insisted on involving herself in another fight, this time dragging your daughter into it."
"I'm afraid we are all in agreement this time Ms. Himuro." The Deputy Director said. "Seira Morimura has disregarded our warning and is proving to be too disruptive. We feel it would be best that she be expelled before she draws any students besides your daughter into her world."
"That is a ridiculous basis for making such a decision." Ms. Himuro growled. "Neither Seira Morimura nor my daughter are delinquents. Their only crime is being brave enough to respond to a situation that required them to fight for the life of their friend. I applaud that bravery, and will contest this expulsion. Now, regarding the defense class, what about when your daughters go away to university? They will be vulnerable there as well. This class will impart knowledge and skills that will serve them the rest of their lives."
"I am in agreement with the chairperson." Mr. Mita added. "Miss Morimura and Miss Himuro responded appropriately in this situation. The victimized girl was beaten cruelly, and if not for the intervention of her brother and her friends, she most certainly would have been sexually assaulted as well. Now that the hoodlums have been arrested, I am confident the current violence is over. However, that doesn't preclude possible future events that may call such training into use."
"Preventing future events is all well and good, however; that doesn't solve the current issue." Kusunoki spat. "The damage to the school's reputation by this fiasco has already been done. Every paper and morning talk show in Tokyo had something about the incident at the front gate. We've once again entered the national spotlight for a scandalous reason. This is unacceptable."
"That's why you want to expel Seira, isn't it?" The chairperson said angrily. "You need someone to parade before the press and say, 'Here's the troublemaker. We've gotten rid of her so don't worry, everything will soon return to normal.' If you do that, you'll kill any opportunity the girl might have had to attend a reputable university."
"Sometimes an individual needs to be sacrificed for the good of the whole." Mrs. Ayanakoji said glibly. "That violent trollop will do nicely."
"I wonder if any of you would feel this way if it had been your daughter that had needed rescuing." Mita said leaning back in his chair. "I know if it had been my Kanako I would have been extremely grateful to those two brave young women. I believe we should reflect on this more before making a decision."
"Excuse me." Tsuruko interrupted, her hand raised to gain their attention. "I'm confused. If you would, please clarify something for me. Mr. Okizayu said the incident that started all this was when a group of hoodlums attacked some students walking home from dinner. Then when one of the ruffians came forward to apologize, he was kidnapped by the others at the front gate of the school. Lastly, this same group attacked one of the girls again at the hospital but was then captured by a policeman, aided by my sister and students from this school. Is this correct?"
"That is what has happened, more or less." Ms. Himuro replied with a nod. "What are you confused about?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand why any of this reflects so negatively on the school that you feel you need to expel a student." The samurai answered. Then before taking a sip of tea, she added. "The God's Cry School would be praising such an act of bravery, not trying to bury it away."
"Kisuragi has made its reputation on producing cultured, refined girls." Kusunoki said airily. "Fighting is a coarse, uncivilized act, and is not an acceptable behavior for students of this school. I'm not surprised a simple minded woman from a backwater dojo can't appreciate that."
"Is that so?" Tsuruko replied; her smile slipping a moment before it reappeared. "I'm sorry. I never cared much for the genteel maneuverings of high society. More often then not they are used to hide deception and wickedness. I am simply a warrior who lives by the same code of honor my ancestors did. Someday my husband and I may be blessed with a daughter, and she will be raised in the same way. Are you familiar with what bushido teaches Sir?"
"Of course I am!" The man snapped. "I took the requisite history and philosophy courses during my days at university, a total waste of time if you ask me. I don't look to the past, only the future."
"Then you know true bushido teaches one commitment to personal and familial honor, and is put into practice through regard for one's fellow man, and ultimately one's contribution to the community." She said sweetly, as if she hadn't heard the rude man's comments. "You appear to be lacking those values. I quite pity you… Chairperson Himuro, I will make certain Motoko includes teaching the basics views of bushido in her class. Perhaps some of the girls will take them to heart."
The man's fists clenched as his expression darkened. "That honor and compassion nonsense has no place in modern Japan. Today's business world lives by a different code. The strong prevail by climbing over the weak. A man is successful only when he can achieve or acquire nothing more. Only when he's able to look down on those he's left crushed in the dust beneath him in ruin can he feel he's reach the top. You're delusional if you think your archaic way of living still holds any value in today's society." He finished with a dismissive gesture.
"If that were true, and everyone thought only of themselves, there would be no society." The swordswoman said evenly, watching the motion of the remaining tea as she swirled it around the bottom of her cup. "Anarchy would reign with the city plagued by power struggles and roving gangs victimizing the helpless. The fighting you are so opposed to would be occurring daily on every street corner. We live in a lawful society only because the majority of the citizens choose to honor the laws established for the safety and well being of general population. The main purpose of the police force is to protect and defend the community from individuals who instead choose to ignore those laws. There are also many charitable organizations that aid those in need with good people selflessly providing shelter, food, and clothing to others." She looked up, and giving the man a contemptuous look, added. "You are mistaken, Sir. Despite the best efforts of greedy, self-serving individuals such as you, honor and compassion are very much alive in this country."
"Why you impudent little peasant, you dare to lecture me like that?" He said angrily, jumping to his feet. "You have no idea how influential I am! I could crush you and your rabble like ants!"
"I would be cautious of what you boast, Sir." She said coldly, giving him a bitterly piercing gaze. "There are ants that will swarm up when disturbed, and are capable of giving that person a great number of painful bites."
"Don't threaten me, woman." He snarled as his face flushed. "Your little kendo school doesn't frighten me in the least. I have connections to some of the most powerful people in the country."
Tsuruko chuckled scornfully before saying. "You really are an arrogant fool if you believe that. Let me give you a sample of what manner of power you and your friends would be facing." A gleefully deranged expression crossed her face as her pupils dilated and brightly glowing tendrils of ki energy, like tongues of flame, flared out around her, causing her long hair to flail and snap in its grasp. Papers stacked on the table were caught up in the discharge and flew across the room away from her. Mrs. Ayanakoji cried out in alarm as the pressure wave pushed her back into her chair. Mr. Kodanuke leapt from his seat in fright to hide behind Mr. Mita's bulk. Mr. Kusunoki was able to stay on his feet. However, witnessing this display of the warrior's abilities, the color drained from the man face as he cleared his throat uncomfortably and quickly sat back down. After the room had been reduced to stunned silence, the samurai dampened down her ki and sat with a gentle smile on her face, looking harmless once again as she spoke. "You need not fear your students causing trouble after our training. The name and reputation of the God's Cry School is also at stake. That will be stressed at the beginning, and the implications of dishonoring that reputation will also be made clear. As for this girl you want to expel…" she added, shaking her head. "To readily dismiss one with such a courageous heart is the height of folly. I would be very disappointed in this group's judgment if that were to happen."
A shaken look was in Ms. Himuro's eyes as she stared at the samurai while uneasily addressing the room. "About that training, I have already received the permission of the Board of Directors to proceed. Beginning with the new school year, this will be a mandatory class for all incoming freshmen." Regaining her composure, she continued more evenly. "The upperclassmen will also be participating for this session. I have every confidence in the woman chosen to instruct this class. Not only is she the heir to the God's Cry School, but she is also completing her graduate degree in business law at Tokyo University." Murmurs were heard at this information. "She has proven her bravery as well by defending a group of individuals from a fearsome antagonist while bearing injures that eventually caused her to be hospitalized. We are extremely fortunate to have chanced upon this relationship with such a renowned institution. Please give your blessing to this undertaking, and pray that none of your daughters ever need to use what they learn."
"Have a safe trip back, Mom." Seira said, leaning down by the window of her father's car. "Thanks again for saying yes."
The woman gave her a pained smile. "It was five against one. I didn't have much of a choice."
"Please believe in me." Corey added with a bow from behind his girlfriend. "I promise not to do anything to make her unhappy."
"Well, at least he has decent manners." Reiko said coolly as she observed him. "Boy, don't make promises like that. Relationships are difficult in the best of circumstances, so I seriously doubt you two won't have any problems." Looking back at her daughter, she added. "Be happy, Seira. I'll come back to see one of your games this summer."
"That'd be great, Mom!" The girl beamed. "I'll introduce you to the team."
"Are you ready?" Yoshi asked.
"Yes, let's go." She replied as the window rose. She gave Seira one last smile as the car pulled away from the curb.
"Do you two have plans for today?" Masako asked as she and Kimiko walked up. "I got these when I renewed the paper." She added as she handed Corey a pair of tickets. "Free admission to the new spa and indoor water park in Shibuya. They're using the off season to showcase the nearly thirty billion they spent building it."
"Thanks, Grandma." Corey said grinning. "I was planning on seeing a movie or something, but this'll be even better. We can spend the whole day there."
"Mom! What are you thinking?" Kimiko cried in exasperation. Then, after taking a calming breath, she added. "Seira, a one piece suit, do you understand?"
"Okay." Seira replied, glancing at Corey. "I would have even if you hadn't said anything. Water slides and bikinis don't mix too well. I ain't giving this big lug another free show."
"Good. Well, let's go Mom." Kimiko said as she pressed the button on her key fob and unlocked the doors of her father's car. "With the traffic, we're probably going to be late. Seira, would you be a dear and call Ms. Hayakawa for me?"
"Sure, I'll do it while Corey's rounding up his stuff. Have fun shopping. Oh, Kimiko! Would you mind getting my leather coat back from Emma's?"
"No, I don't mind. All right, have fun you two .We'll see you tonight." She replied as they climbed in. Waving as they drove off, the car was soon out of sight.
"Well, it's just the two of us all day." Corey said nervously as he took her hand and they walked back towards the front door. "Are you ready for our first real date?"
"Don't be getting all worried now." Seira jibed, grinning. "This is going to be fun, so relax. I promise that I won't slug you if something goes wrong. Okay?"
He nodded as reached for the doorknob. "You're right. This is our last day together for a while, so let's just enjoy it."
"That's a depressing way to start a date." She grumbled. "I wanted to go the whole day without thinking about that."
He smiled sadly at her and pulled her close. "We can't ignore I'm leaving tomorrow." He said tenderly. "All we can do is to try to have the most fun we can today and think back to it when we're missing each other."
"I know." The girl replied, laying her head on his chest. "It just makes me feel rotten when I think it'll be summer before I see you again."
"Not quite that long." He said as he released her and pushed the door open. "I can take my final exams as early as the end of April. Amy will be back before that even."
"Have you figured out how you're going to afford the plane ticket?" She asked as he led the way into the main room.
"I thought I'd sell my truck." He answered as he paused at the bottom of the stairs. "A buddy from school has been bugging me to sell it to him, so I should be able to get a couple thousand out of it."
Surprised by his reply, she exclaimed. "What? You can't! Amy said you have to drive to get anywhere in America! Won't you need it to get to school?"
"No, not really, non-resident freshmen are required to live on campus so once I'm moved in, I can use the bus. I'll be fine." He said as he began climbing. "I'll be back in two minutes. Go ahead and call Ms. Hayakawa."
She moved to the phone and began dialing. Thinking of the sacrifice Corey was willing to make to be with her, a warm feeling rose in her heart as she waited for Ryo's mother to answer.
Izumi looked up from her notes when she sensed a presence beside her. "Oh, it's you. What do you three want? I need to study for exams."
"We're concerned for you Izumi." The leader of her fan-girl club said gravely as the other two nodded behind her. "We heard that street tramp Morimura dragged you into a fight. We feel that we've stayed silent too long and need to intervene."
"I feel that you need to mind you own business." The dark haired girl said looking back down at her notebook.
"You're future is in jeopardy, Izumi." The leader said with unshaken resolve. "We think you should leave the baseball team and return to playing tennis before anything else happens. If you keep getting into trouble, it will affect which universities will accept you. We're only saying this because you're our friend."
Izumi's head snapped up and she gave them a disgusted look. "Some friends, this is the first time any of you have said a word to me since I decided to join the baseball team."
"You began associating with that uncultured rabble." One of other girls admitted. "We couldn't support you when you'd debased yourself like that."
"We'd felt betrayed, Izumi." The third girl added. "It was like after all the time we'd spent supporting you, you didn't value our friendship."
"They're my teammates. It was expected of me to associate with them." She replied darkly. "Besides, I really don't consider having sycophants crying my name every time I did something friendship. And let's clear something else up. No one dragged me into that fight. I made the choice to go in spite of other's objections and I can handle any trouble I've gotten into. A girl I truly value as a friend needed me. She lives as her own person and has overcome struggles you three couldn't imagine. She put her life on the line to protect me. Why shouldn't I also be willing to do so? If I'm ever in that situation again I would do exactly the same thing…You can leave now." She finished with a shooing motion.
"Not before we address something else." The leader replied testily as she crossed her arms. "We saw that man drop you off this morning. He was acting inappropriately familiar to you, calling you by your given name. Who is he Izumi?"
"Who do you think you are, wanting to know something so personal?" She spat angrily as she stood and glared at them. "I've always hated how you three tried to interfere with my affairs. Who he is, is none of your business, along with everything else in my life… Now go away!" She nearly shouted as she took a step towards them.
The two backed away nervously, but the first girl held her ground. "Are you threatening us with violence, Izumi? That street trash really has corrupted you, hasn't she? Principal Mita promised a strict response to future disturbances when he addressed the school the day after Morimura and Ayanakoji fought. You know that you're already in trouble, and if you do anything else, there's a good chance you'll be expelled. Wouldn't your mother love that?" She smiled triumphantly when Izumi stood silently fuming. "We're not the only ones talking about this. The fact that you arrived in a cheap little sports car driven by a good looking young man is the talk of the school today. Whether you like it or not, as the chairperson's daughter, everyone notices what you do. After these events, your following is slipping Izumi. You're starting to get a questionable reputation and we think you need to take steps to restore it. "
"I never asked to be put on a pedestal, nor do I really care if disappoint people who feel so inadequate that they need to monitor my every move." Izumi said evenly, her gaze firmly meeting her opponent's. "I've outgrown being the enigmatic Ice Princess of Kisuragi. You three will just need to find someone else to follow around like the lost sheep you are." Then, brushing by, she moved to the doorway and turned to face them, standing expectantly with her arms crossed until they got the message and while giving her surly glances, silently walked out of the room. "How annoying…That man is going to be my ruin." She irritably muttered as she made her way back to her desk and sat down to the furtive glances and whispered conversation from the rest of the class. "So why can't I stop thinking about him?" She added in a softer voice as she flipped the page in her notebook and resumed reading.
The young man knocked twice on the door of room 416 before nervously entering. Seeing Amy and Kenji looking expectantly at him, he bowed as he said. "Please excuse my intrusion."
"How can we help you?" Kenji asked, turning off the television.
"My name is Shun Tokuharu. I'm trying to find Miss Daidoji. When I went to her room, the nurse said she was coming here to visit you." He replied, glancing from the old man to his granddaughter.
"Mao's out of bed?" Amy asked in disbelief. "Mom told me last night she got hit in the throat by a foul ball."
"That surprised me when I heard it too." Shun said with a nod. "I have something to give her, and I'm running out of time before I need to get to my first lecture."
"You can leave it with us." Kenji offered. "We'll make sure she gets it, and let her know who it's from."
"Thanks, but I really want to give it to her myself." The university student answered with a slight bow as his cheeks went a little red. "There's something else I want to ask her."
"Are you her relative?" The girl inquired. "My name is Amy Watson. I'm going to be her junior classmate next year at Kisuragi."
"No, I'm the captain of the Tokyo University Baseball Club." He answered as he glanced at his watch. "We were the team they were playing against when she got hurt. Thank you for your time. Again, please excuse my intrusion." He said, bowing and turning towards the door. He stopped short when he saw Mao pushing Motoko through the doorway.
"Mr. Tokuharu." She said wide-eyed in surprise. "Why are you here?"
"Miss Daidoji!" was his enthusiastic reply. "I finally found you! Would you mind coming with me? I promise it won't take long."
"Uh, I suppose." She answered hesitantly.
"Wait one moment." Motoko interjected, holding her arm out to block his path. "Is he the one you were telling me about Mao?"
"Yes." The girl replied with a nod. Looking at the young man, she continued. "I'm sorry. I didn't expect to see you here and I'm caught a little off balance."
"I'll give you fair warning." The samurai said ominously to the man. "If you hurt her in any way, I will make sure you suffer ten times her agony."
"You have my word. I will be on my best behavior." He pledged with a bow. He thanked her when she lowered her arm to let him by. He stopped by Mao and motioned for her to go before him.
With an uncertain smile, she complied. A little ways from the door Mao stopped in the hallway and turned to face him. "What did you need me for?"
"I have something I want to ask you that I thought I would be able to do it better in private..." He replied, nervously rubbing the back of his head. "Oh yeah, I have something for you." He took off his backpack and set it on the floor. Opening it he reached in and brought out her catcher's mask. "Your coach let me take it to work on it. I don't want you to ever have to go through this again."
"Wow, it looks brand new!" She said excitedly as she took it from him. She noticed a piece of padded plastic swinging from the bottom edge. "Oh, this is for protecting my throat!" She exclaimed, touching the modification.
"Yup, try it on and you'll see." He answered with a grin. "Some pro players in America are doing this same thing."
She put it on and the addition fell naturally into place. "It's perfect! I can hardly tell it's there!"
"It's the same material they make safety glasses out of, so it should be able take a lot of abuse." His expression became more somber as he added. "Um...by the way… I was really worried for you yesterday when it happened...When you were lying on the ground, gasping for air, I...I'm glad to see you're feeling better."
She became quiet and closed her eyes as she took the mask off. When she opened them again they glistened with emotion. "Thank you." She said quietly. "I've never had a boy say something like that to me before. You've made me feel a little special."
"To me, you are." He said with embarrassment, looking down. "You're not like any of the girls I've known up to now. You're the first I've met since I left high school that didn't treat me like I'd just crawled out from under a rock...I know we've just met, but I like you and want to get to know you better, Miss Daidoji." Getting through confessing his feelings, his confidence rose. He stood straight, and looking her directly in the eyes continued. "If you're willing, I'd like to take you on a date sometime. It wouldn't be anything fancy, but I'd try my hardest to make sure that you had a good time."
"I know you would." She said warmly. Holding up her mask, she added. "If your feelings toward me weren't genuine, you never would have done this. I would love to go on a date with you, Mr. Tokuharu."
"Great!" He exclaimed with a huge grin. "I know you need to recover more from this, so I won't rush you. Would Sunday two weeks from now be okay?"
"That'll be good. I'll be done with exams and won't have to worry about studying." She replied with a smile of her own.
"Where should I meet you?" He asked as he swung his book bag up onto his shoulder. "If it's not too big of an imposition, I'd like you to spend the day with me."
"I'm living in the dorms at school, so how about nine o'clock at the front gate of Kisuragi." The girl suggested as she absent-mindedly hugged the mask to her chest.
"That's fine. I'll see you then, Miss Daidoji." He said with a slight bow.
"My name is Mao." She said simply in a tender voice. "I'd like you to call me that on our date. I'll be looking forward to the day Mr. Tokuharu." Stepping back she bowed to him in return. "Thank you again for all your hard work on my mask." Then with a smile she walked around him and headed back to Amy's room.
"I can hardly believe it." He said to himself happily as he stuck his other arm through the second shoulder strap of his bag and brought it squarely against his back. "She agreed to go on a date with me!" Then looking at his watch, he cursed, and began running for the elevator.
"Good morning Detective." Officer Anatsuki said as he entered the interrogation room.
"Good morning." Kimura said looking up form the report he was reading. "You're as prompt as ever. The suspect is on his way."
"He was caught in the act at the scene with the weapon. What else are you hoping to learn?" The patrolman said as he sat down next to other man.
"I know Daiichi Yoshida put the hit out on the Aoyama woman, and I want this guy to admit it." He replied as he sat back and stared into space. "This has to be tied into her defeating Akira Motokai, but I'm not sure how."
"It makes sense." Anatsuki agreed with a nod. "She was completely off the radar before she defeated him. Now I wouldn't be surprised if other toughs don't try to make a reputation by trying to defeat her."
"One thing is for sure. There's a lot of money involved for him to order someone dead." The senior policeman added as he took a sip of canned coffee. "Ugh, that tastes awful. Someday I'll finish one of these before it goes cold." He threw his head back and drained it, grimacing when he had finished. He set the can down on the floor as the door opened.
Ichiro Kitayama shuffled in, the chains on his ankles clinking rhythmically. He scowled at the men across from him as he was forced down into his seat. The handcuffs around his wrist clunked as he rested his arms on the table. "Here I am." He said arrogantly. "Whadda ya want?"
"We want your boss." Kimura stated bluntly. "Tell us he sent you to kill that woman and we'll see about you seeing freedom before you reach pension age."
"Mr. Yoshida didn't have anything to do with this." The man replied darkly. "This was my gig. You can't pin anything on him."
"Oh come on, Ichi." Anatsuki said with condescension. "You don't wipe your ass without Yoshida's okay. Do you really expect us to believe you'd commit murder without him telling you to?"
"Believe what you want." The thug growled back, bristling. "I'm telling you the truth. Mr. Yoshida is completely ignorant about this. By the way, my name's Ichiro. Call me Ichi again, and we're done."
"Did I strike a nerve?" The policeman asked grinning. "I wouldn't have thought an animal like you had feelings to hurt."
"Alright, that's enough." Kimura chided irritably. "You're a police officer. Behave more professionally."
"Yes sir. I'm sorry Detective." The other man said shamefaced.
Turning back to the prisoner, he said in a fatherly tone. "Mr. Kitayama, you were caught in the act, so be assured you will be going to prison. There's no reason to try and hide the details. I still don't think you acted on your own, and I want the man who put you up to this. I was sure money was the reason behind this, but if you swear Yoshida isn't involved it could be something else. No one had heard of Motoko Aoyama before she defeated Akira Motokai. How did that affect you, and what was your motive for trying to kill that woman?"
The prisoner remained stone-facedly silent, meeting the detective's gentle gaze with one of stubborn resolve.
"You're looking at twenty years, man!" Anatsuki exclaimed exasperatedly. "The detective is trying to help you!"
"I'll do the twenty years." The thug replied evenly. "At least I'll come out alive."
"What does that mean?" Kimura pressed, leaning forward in his chair.
"I give you this much, Detective. Akira Motokai was going to make me money, a lot of it. If certain people were to find out about this, we would both be dead in the morning. I'll do the time. Thanks for the chat, but I think I've run out of things to say. I'll be going back now." He stood, Then he shuffled to the door and knocked. When it opened, he exited. Two guards fell into step on either side of him as he made his way down the hall.
"What do you think Anatsuki?" Kimura asked as he stared at the doorway.
"He admitted money was the motive." The other man said as he scratched his cheek.
"Let's go." The detective said as he quickly stood. "We need to find the truth before I can let this rest."
"Coming." The patrolman said as he leaned over to collect Kimura's empty coffee can. "Where are we going?"
"We're going to talk to Yoshida and see if he really doesn't know anything."
No excuses for taking this long to update. I haven't completely forsaken this, so more will be trickling in. Thanks for reading to this point. OMS