Chapter 8:

Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It

Half-Paid Heroes

A young girl with dark pigtails was sobbing over her lunchbox while a blonde ponytailed girl leaned over it, her hair dangling dangerously over the contents of the box - strange toast objects that had a deep fried smell - as she explored it with her fingers and sparkling eyes. Both girls were in their school's uniform of deep purple jacket and pleated skirt, bulky leather T-bars weighing down their feet.

Before the blonde girl could continue this perusal, however, someone tapped her on the shoulder.

The dark-haired girl's face lit up at the sight of her saviour - her older brother, at this time a senior at this primary school. Despite how mismatched his deep brown eyes and short cropped hair were to the purple uniform, his laser gaze and hands on hips made the girl pay attention to him.

"Why are you making my sister cry?" he demanded, one heavy breath away from beating this blonde intruder up. However, as soon as he noticed what she was looking at, he backed off and wiped a sesame seed from the side of his mouth.

Dangit, he'd already eaten his prawn sesame toast.
While Ella had been lost in thought on a reclining chair in the living room, her recipe of choice - madeira cake - at the ready on the wooden coffee table in front of her, Chris had flopped on to the sofa just beyond said coffee table with no ideas whatsoever.

"-so what should I make?" the long-haired girl finished, causing Ella to pay attention.

"Prawn sesame toast," the blonde blurted out without much thought.

"That's...not a bad idea, actually. Mind if I borrow your kitchen? Martin filled the kitchen with his "modern art" again..."

Ella gestured in the direction of the kitchen. "As long as you leave it for me to make cake afterwards."
The day of the party came soon afterwards. Since this had been planned without Kirikagura's (or for that matter, Kou's) input, it was held at a park close to the office.

As a cool breeze settled in around the park, the invited group - mostly women still in their work attire, and quite a few of them wearing the same golden watch - were all seated on a large tartan picnic blanket. This included Alex, the woman with the cornrows (introduced as "Jamie"), another woman with dark curly hair and a black dress that covered most of her (introduced as "Nour", and judging from the conversation going on between her and Jamie, apparently the inventor of the jetpacks) and a spectacle of a skeletal-looking man, with the right side of his hair undercut and the left long enough to cover his eye. This man was at the very left edge of the blanket with two spaces to both of his sides, so Ella went to his right while Chris stayed on his left. This meant that Ella got to observe the three silver studs in his right ear.

As the food and drink got shared around, this man kept drinking yellow liquid - which could have been juice or beer, nobody could really tell - out of a clear plastic bottle. Strangely, he did not touch any of the food.

However, what caught Chris's attention was not him, but the birdcage behind him - someone had brought the budgie here, cage and all, and the bird was angrily chirping at the man for leaning on its home.

Alex clapped her hands above her head, creating a fiery explosion that caused Ella to jump. "I'd like you all to welcome Chris and Yuki of the offence squad," she gestured to the man when she mentioned this previously-unknown name, "and Ella, who's part of the management team. With the recent resignation of Odagaki from his business, we're going to need all hands on deck for whoever will replace him. So, to them and to all of us - a toast!"

"CHEERS!" exclaimed everyone in unison (except the bird, which was still puffing itself up in anger).

Gerry Hines