Chapter 10:

Menu 9: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

BON APPETIT! Gourmet Battle Girls


Somewhere else in the city

Earlier that morning, Tetsuya had been walking down the quiet streets towards Makino Station, not exactly looking forward to his morning culinary arts classes. He had stopped at the window of the local bookstore to look inside when he had heard the sound of tires squealing to a halt, followed by the sound of car doors opening and rushing footsteps. Before he could react, he’d been grabbed by multiple people and shoved into the back of a car before some weird chemical odor rendered him unconscious. The next thing he knew, he’d been awakened by the muffled sound of pachinko machines and clattering balls. His entire body was sore and as he tried to move, he realized that his captors had left him bound and gagged.

What the hell?! Tetsuya thought as he tried to wriggle his way loose. There was no use in trying to yell over the noise of a hundred pachinko machines and just as many distracted players. The room he was in was barely the size of a coat closet, and there was a thin sliver of dim light coming from underneath the door. If he could scrunch his face up, could he peer underneath…

All he could see was that he was in some sort of closet in some sort of darkened room—it looked like an office. There was carpet on the ground and he could see vague shapes looking like a sofa and a desk.

Where the hell am I? What time is it? Tetsuya thought as he tried to find a comfortable position. How long have I been here…

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The ancient flip phone Takashi Shirogane kept in his desk buzzed and he pulled it out to reveal a simple text message on his screen. He smiled as he read the words, “It is done.”

Time for me to play the part of the concerned parent, he thought as he picked up his regular phone and put through a call to the local police precinct. “I’ve been notified that my son never made it to school this morning,” he said. “We’ve had our spats, but this is totally unlike him…and I’ve become very worried that he may have hurt himself…”

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The rest of the afternoon was subdued. Everyone was talking about Tetsuya’s disappearance and offering up different theories and ideas. It seemed like the general consensus was that Tetsuya had somehow decided to run away due to the bullying. A few people even ventured a guess that he had possibly killed himself, which earned them a very angry look from Yomogi.

“Don’t even make light of such a serious matter,” she said.

“Sorry, Kisaragi-san,” said one of the students. He was bright red.

There was another announcement right before the last class of the day of the formation of a search party. I don’t know anything about Tetsuya’s daily habits, I thought. What good would I do to them?

As I started making my way home I saw a bunch of first year boys high five each other. Those bastards are probably celebrating, I thought as I made my way back to the train station.

When I got home, my mother was sitting on the couch. “Vanilla-chan, are you feeling all right?” she asked as I came in. “You didn’t even talk to me when you came home last night.”

“Long story…” I said.

“I heard there was a boy in the first year that was reported missing?”

“Yeah…Tetsuya Shirogane.”

“Is he related to—”

“Yes, he is. And…I’m worried. I’ve sat in on some of his classes and he gets pushed around and bullied,” I said, sitting down next to her.

My mother nodded. “I heard something happened last night at work?”

“Yeah…I went off on a customer. I had my reasons…but it’s my fault for not remaining professional,” I said.

We watched TV together, and I pulled out my phone and read through messages on it, wishing that somehow I could try calling Tetsuya and finding out if he was OK. You really aren’t a bad person, I thought. Just…bad circumstances.

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Tetsuya slumped against the walls of his prison. It had felt like an eternity since he’d been grabbed off the street. Since then, he’d met one of his captors—a man with an extremely loud red suit jacket. He had come into the room with a cell phone camera pointed at him, and mockingly told Tetsuya to “smile for the camera.” A few minutes later, he untied Tetsuya, escorted him to a washroom, and then handed him a convenience store rice ball.

“Why am I here?” Tetsuya asked as he unwrapped the cellophane from the rice ball.

“I’m not being paid to answer your questions, kid,” the man said.

After his meager meal had been finished, Tetsuya was led back into the closet, and a pillow tossed towards him before the door was closed and locked. Tetsuya waited until a count of five hundred before he started pounding at the door and screaming at the top of his lungs for help before his voice became hoarse.

He buried his face in the pillow as tears sprung to his eyes. Dad, I hope they’ve contacted you, he thought, and you’ve given them what they want. Please do this for me. Please…

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I had another restless night and managed to oversleep, so no time to do anything elaborate to get ready for school—I swept my pair back into a messy ponytail and held my bangs back with a pawprint shaped barrette I found in a gachapon machine that was dispensing cat-themed accessories.

“That’s an interesting barrette you’ve got there,” Ryotaro said as I came into the kitchen.

“Oh, this? I got it a long time ago,” I said.

“Are you feeling better, Vanilla-chan?” my mother asked.

“Not really,” I said, sighing. “I’m worried about Tetsuya-kun.”

Ryotaro nodded. “I hope he’s all right.” He got up to put his tea cup in the sink. “By the way, Sayuri, I will be home late tonight.”

“Oh? How come?”

“I need to be at an awards ceremony. The director for The Tempest got nominated but he’s out of town.”

“And you didn’t get nominated for your performance? That’s a crime,” my mother said.

I hastily packed my lunch and drank some milk while I waited for Caroline to come downstairs. “I’ve got work tonight, but…I might be home early,” I said, hesitantly. “Come on, Caroline.” We said our goodbyes to our parents and headed down the street to the train station.

“Are you all right?” Caroline asked.

I told her about Takashi and what had happened at the restaurant. “You had every right to go off on him!” she said, angrily. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the one pulling the strings, too!”

“I can’t even fathom why he has it out for me. I mean…remember two years ago?” I asked.

“Yeah…that was sad.”

“I’m wondering if maybe Tetsuya-kun had enough of living with his father and decided to escape it, but…I hope he hasn’t hurt himself or anything…” My voice trailed off and I looked down at my feet.

“Yeah,” Caroline said, nodding.

We arrived at the train station and got out our passes. “Let me know what happens today, okay?” Caroline said.

“Yeah, I will. I’ll message you before work,” I said before the two of us swiped our passes and went our separate ways.

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I arrived at school to see a subdued atmosphere filled with worried students. The search parties had found no signs of Tetsuya whatsoever, and a bunch of police officers were around campus, questioning students in his classes about his habits and if they had overheard him saying anything about plans or anything like that. There was even talk of a diving team being sent to the canal near the train station to see if he had maybe accidentally fallen in and drowned. Even so, everyone was in a somber mood. The five of us didn’t even talk much during lunch, not even about assignments or anything that they were planning for the weekend.

At the end of the day, I got up from my seat and went over to Kei, Yomogi and Salma. “Wish me luck,” I said. “I’m going into work this afternoon…”

“I hope your boss will understand,” Yomogi said. “You’ll be fine, Vanilla-chan.”

I nodded. “Well, I’ll let you know either way,” I said. “I’ll message you later.”

“Promise?”

“Promise,” I said. “Tomorrow let’s see about planning that dinner party at your place, Salma-chan!”

“Okay. I’ll see you then,” Salma said.

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As I exited the station and started the walk down towards Scarlett, I noticed a black van pull up across the street from me and park at the side of the road. Two men in rather loud looking suits—one with a leopard print jacket and the other with a pure white jacket—got out and started to cross the street, coming in my direction. This is not good, I thought, steeling myself for any catcalling that might happen.

“Vanilla Koizumi!” Leopard Print Man yelled.

Holy…How does he know my name?! I thought. I hugged my school bag close to me and started to run.

“If you want to see Tetsuya Shirogane alive again, turn around right now,” shouted White Jacket Man.

I stopped dead upon hearing his name. Why do they know my name…and why do they know about Tetsuya? I thought. I turned back, clutching my bag close to me as the two men approached.

“Take a look at this,” said Leopard Print Man. He nodded at White Jacket Man, who pulled a smartphone out of his pocket and showed it to me.

My eyes widened. “T-TETSUYA-KUN!?”

It was a photo of him bound and gagged in a dark room—no, it wasn’t a photo, it was a video! I saw him blink! I shrank back and looked up at the two men, horrified.

“You want him out of there, you come with us,” said Leopard Print Man.

I swallowed. There was nowhere to run, and if I tried to run away, what would they do to Tetsuya...

“Please…Before I go…l-let me call work,” I said, and before I could do so, White Jacket Man snatched my school bag from my hands.

“Nuh-uh-uh. I’ll hold onto this for you. Can’t have any outside distractions, now,” he said. He placed a huge hand on my shoulder and pushed me forward towards the other side of the street and the open van.

No, this can’t be happening, I thought. Every fiber of my being wanted to fight back and run away, but the look in Tetsuya’s eyes was haunting me.

The doors of the van opened and Leopard Print Man leaped into the driver’s seat. White Jacket Man pushed me into the van’s cargo compartment, following me inside. “Now listen. If you make me or my brother angry, our friend that’s staying with Tetsuya-kun is going to hear about it. And he might get so angry…that he might take it out on him.” He grinned and made a slashing motion across his throat.

The van started on its drive and I clutched a cargo rail, my hand shaking. This is why Tetsuya-kun’s missing…but what do they want with me? I thought.

A short time later the van stopped. I heard the sound of the locks unlatching, and Leopard Print Man opened up the back doors to reveal that we were in an underground parking garage.

“Everyone out,” he said. “Now follow us.”

White Jacket Man was probably concerned I would bolt, so he grabbed my wrist and jerked me forward. “OW!” I yelled. “Stop it! I need these hands!”

“Bro, seriously. Don’t do anything that might affect her performance,” Leopard Print Man said. We were headed towards the garage elevator. There was a worn sign on it with a logo I vaguely recognized. Affect my performance? I thought.

The two of them ordered me into the elevator and pushed a button marked S. The elevator started up slowly, making a pitiful dinging sound as it passed by each of the floors. When the doors opened at the floor marked S, I realized that I was standing in a service area for what appeared to be a hotel or something along those lines—there were huge bins of dirty linens, trays of plates and forks, and the like. What was strange was that everything was deserted.

“This way,” White Jacket Man said, his hand on my shoulder urging me along. I had to fight back the urge to shove it off.

Finally, we reached a swinging door marked KITCHEN and stopped outside. “All right, young lady. Step in there,” said Leopard Print Man.

“What’s in there?” I asked.

“Oh, you’ll find out,” he said, and he pushed me against the door. My weight fell onto it and it swung open. I fell face first onto a tiled floor.

“I told you two, be gentle with our honored guest,” said a very familiar voice. I looked up in horror.

“Good evening, Vanilla Koizumi,” said Takashi Shirogane. He was smiling menacingly at me.

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Tetsuya was lying on the floor of his prison, staring at the ceiling, when over the drone of pachinko balls he could hear a phone ringing. “Hey bro,” said the voice of the red suited man. He could only hear one side of the conversation. “I’ve still got him locked up. He’s behaving.”

That must be the one in charge, Tetsuya thought as he strained to listen to the conversation.
“She’s over there now?...Man, that guy is crazy. If I were him, I’d be out searching instead of attending that award show or whatever.”

Tetsuya’s eyes widened. Searching…Award show…Who’s he talking about? he thought.

“Right…let me know when it’s time. I’ve got to give him his dinner. See you.” Finally, he saw the shadow of the man in the red suit outside his door, and it opened up.

“Get up, kid. Got something for you,” he said.

“Who were you talking to on the phone?” Tetsuya demanded as he slowly lifted himself to his feet.

“None of your business.” Red Suited Man firmly placed his hand on Tetsuya’s shoulder and shoved him in the direction of a ratty looking sofa, making him fall back onto it. He then reached into a plastic bag on a desk and tossed Tetsuya another rice ball. “Eat it.”

Warily, Tetsuya started unwrapping it. “Listen, whatever it is you were promised for a ransom, my father will provide it for you. Let me talk to him,” he said.

Red Suited Man suddenly reached out and grabbed Tetsuya by the collar of his shirt. “You think you’re in charge here? Shut up and eat your dinner. Do you want to be tied up again?” Tetsuya shook his head no, and the man shoved him back onto the sofa.

Sullenly, Tetsuya looked down at his rice ball, glancing warily at his captor. The red suited man got up and started fiddling with his phone, as if he was getting ready to make another phone call. His back was turned for just a moment as he lifted the phone up to his ear. Tetsuya got up as quietly as he could from the sofa…

With a leap Tetsuya jumped onto the man’s back and shoved the rice ball into the man’s open mouth.

“GURRGHHHK!”

“Morita-san, are you OK?” said a voice on the other end.

It was all Tetsuya needed as he yanked open the door and stumbled out into the hallway, running for his life.

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“I’m glad you finally decided to take me up on my generous offer.” Takashi smiled, and I felt like I wanted to throw up.

“I never agreed to any offer,” I said as I picked myself back up. My legs were turning into jelly.

“You agreed to come here in exchange for Tetsuya-kun’s freedom. I will grant it, but only after you do what I requested of you the other night.”

I couldn’t believe it. This guy is insane, I thought. He wanted me to work for him so badly…that he had his OWN SON KIDNAPPED to force my hand?!

“You wanted me to cater for your stupid awards show.”

“I’m glad you remembered. One hundred people will be sitting down to dinner in three hours. You have that time to prepare a meal based on their preferences.” He patted a stack of cards on the counter next to him.

“That’s impossible!”

“I have the utmost faith in your abilities…after all, you are Yoshiaki Sakamoto’s daughter.”

“Don’t ever mention my father’s name again,” I muttered. “It doesn’t deserve to be spoken by the likes of you. Especially after what he did for Hibiki…and if she could see you now, she’d want to die again.”

Suddenly, Takashi grabbed me by the neck and pinned me against the wall with surprising strength. I yelped in pain as he squeezed my windpipe. “And you…have no right to speak of my wife in that way. APOLOGIZE!” he hissed.

“I’m…I’m sorry,” I gasped, tears springing to my eyes. His grip slackened and I slumped to the ground, dizzy and my vision swimming as I coughed.

“Three hours. And don’t think you can get away with doing a half-assed job.”

Takashi Shirogane walked past me towards the swinging door. “Boys, stand guard,” he said. “Your associates are working security tonight. No one comes to this floor. Only let her out if she needs the toilet. Understand?”

“Yes, sir!” I heard Leopard Print Man and White Jacket man chorus. Then the sound of footsteps.

I looked up to see the kitchen. It was familiar territory, but…I shuddered. I felt like the young woman in Rumpelstiltskin, who had to spin straw into gold for the king.

There’s no way I can do this, I thought. I wiped tears away from my eyes as I thought of the situation I was in. No, Vanilla! Tetsuya-kun’s got it ten times worse than you do! You’ve got to do this for him! And then…And then you’ll try to get him out from under his father’s influence!

I got up on shaky legs and started looking around. Calmly I opened up refrigerators and bins of produce. Everything I could ask for was in here—not the same quality as what I used at school or at Scarlett, but I would manage.

I noticed a clock up on the wall and gasped as it was now 5 PM—the time that I’d start my evening shift at Scarlett. Oh no…Mato-san probably thinks I ditched, I thought. I just hope…I just hope they realize something’s wrong.

I went over to the stack of cards and began reading…

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“Oh, Koizumi-san! I didn’t expect to see you here!”

“Good evening, Kanazawa-san. How are you tonight?”

Ryotaro was holding a highball glass of whisky on the rocks as he mingled with the crowd that had arrived at the Platinum Banquet Hall for the Muses Awards. As soon as he entered, Maria Kanazawa, who was an actress he knew from another play he had been in, had waved him over.

“I’m doing very well, thank you.”

“That’s good to hear. Director Ohmori couldn’t make it, so he sent me in his stead,” Ryotaro said.

As the two of them continued talking, Takashi Shirogane slipped into the crowd and began to mingle. He picked up a glass of red wine from the bar and approached a group of people when his ears heard Ryotaro’s unmistakable voice.

“…shame you weren’t nominated for Prospero.”

“Well, I’m still technically a newbie…”

His eyes widened. Why is he here? He thought. He reached into his pocket for his phone and dashed into a corner, dialing Morita.

“We’ve got a problem. Vanilla Koizumi’s father is here,” he said.

“YOU’VE got a problem? WE’VE got a problem! Your brat escaped,” Morita said.

“WHAT?” Takashi hissed. His perfect plan was beginning to fall apart. He tried to regain his composure. “Tell Yamada and Tanaka to watch Ryotaro Koizumi like a hawk. Don’t let him anywhere near the kitchen, and don’t let him leave. Understand?”

“Right…What about your son?”

“Let him go…I have better leverage now.” Takashi glanced over at Ryotaro.

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I was sorting the cards into three stacks depending on what entrée they ordered: meat, fish or vegetarian. I was three-quarters the way down from the stack and making quick work when I reached a card where the information had been crossed off and rewritten. My eyes widened as I looked down at the name. It was Ryotaro Koizumi, written in my father’s unmistakable handwriting.

Dad’s here? I thought, my heart beating. I remembered him mentioning he needed to attend an event in place of his director tonight… My hands were shaking now. There had to be a way for me to get a message out without them noticing. I glanced over at the place settings and saw silverware wrapped in napkins, then remembered what had happened earlier this morning when Ryotaro complimented me on my barrette…Yes. That was it. I quickly snapped it off and stuffed it into the center of one of the place settings. I’ll keep this on me until it’s time to put cards on plates, I thought as I looked over the place cards for the guests. I would have to keep things small and bite sized if I were to make something to feed so many in such little time.

“So. Steak. Seafood. Vegetarian,” I said, looking at the three stacks, an idea forming in my mind. I turned to the refrigerators and started taking out a bunch of steaks, ready for cooking, slicing them into uniform sized chunks with the swish of knives. They were salted and left to rest as I turned to another refrigerator and pulled out several packages of scallops, already cleaned and prepared. I rinsed off brine and put them into a large pot, and measured out a good amount of miso and mirin and poured it on top, tossing everything around with a huge spoon. For the vegetarians, I pulled a huge block of tofu from the fridge and set it in a sink, with a huge marble cutting board slab on top to drain the excess water from it. Later I would sprinkle it with starch before browning it to make a tofu steak.

The next step would be to make a sauce for the steak, which would be a balsamic vinegar reduction. I found a few bottles of balsamic vinegar and poured them into a pot, then added sugar and huge pinches of black pepper before turning on the burner to let it bubble and reduce. I looked up at the clock and realized that I had two hours left. I’ll let these sit for fifteen minutes, and then it’ll be showtime, I thought as I turned to the pantries. I grabbed two huge bundles of asparagus and laid them out on a couple of huge sheet pans, pouring olive oil and seasoning over them before putting the ovens on at a high temperature. I prepared another two sheet pans with loads of tiny, fork sized potatoes, giving them the same treatment.

I carried the pot of scallops over to the stove and carefully poured a good amount of them into the hugest skillet I could find, and let it heat up. They began to sizzle, and I stirred them around to make sure that the tops and bottoms got good color before pouring them out into a waiting chafing dish.

The heat from the stove was making me dizzy, and as I finished the final batch of scallops, I felt like my hands were beginning to cramp up. “No! I can’t stop now!” I said, the picture of Tetsuya suffering leaping to the forefront of my mind. “Tetsuya-kun…Hang in there. Please. I’m doing what I can.”

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Tetsuya didn’t know if anyone was chasing him, but he kept running through the narrow streets in hopes he could find a police box or subway station—anywhere he could hide. I could be anywhere, he thought as he found himself in unfamiliar territory.

Finally, he saw the entrance to a subway station and dashed downstairs to see the station map. No way…I’m in Musashino! he thought as he saw the familiar station marked on his map. He was a few stops away from the school. Maybe he could find someone to talk to there…

“Shirogane-kun! Is that you!?” said a voice from behind him.

He turned around to see the surprised face of a girl he vaguely recognized from the second year, still in her school uniform. “Y-yeah,” Tetsuya said, hesitantly.

“Where’ve you been? What happened?” the girl said in Osaka-ben.

“I was kidnapped,” Tetsuya said. He leaned up against the wall, suddenly feeling exhausted.

“WHAT?!”

“Yeah…I managed to get out of there…but I don’t know if they’re still after me! We gotta run!”

“Hold on,” the girl said. “I’ve got to let them know…” She started tapping at her phone.

“Let who know?”

“My friends…We’re out looking for Vanilla-san.”

“WHAT? What happened with Koizumi-san?” Tetsuya shrieked.

“I don’t know! All I know is that her little sister called us saying she hadn’t showed up to work…”

Tetsuya suddenly remembered the phone call he had overheard and felt sick. “We’ve got to go. Find a police station or something…I’ve got a horrible feeling about this.”

The girl nodded. “Come on. Let’s get over there,” she said. Tetsuya nodded in agreement, and the two of them dashed out of the station towards the nearest police box.

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