Chapter 11:

Menu 10: Banquet Impossible

BON APPETIT! Gourmet Battle Girls


“It’s just going directly to voice mail,” Caroline said to our mother.Bookmark here

“We’re not having any luck, either,” my mother Sayuri said to Satoshi Mato. An hour had passed since I was supposed to have shown up for work at Scarlett. “It’s not like her to do this.”Bookmark here

“Did she tell you anything about what happened the other night?” Satoshi asked.Bookmark here

“A little. Something about getting angry about a customer?”Bookmark here

“It’s kind of a long story, and from what I understand, there’s some history that led up to what happened. If you happen to see her, tell her I’m not upset, but that she needs to take responsibility for her actions.”Bookmark here

“I see…Thank you, Mato-san. I’ll keep you posted.” Sayuri put down the phone and cradled her head in her hand. “Still nothing, Caroline-chan?” she asked.Bookmark here

Caroline shook her head. “I’ve been talking to her friends and no one’s seen her, either,” she said.Bookmark here

Sayuri sat down in the living room chair, staring at her phone. “First that boy in the first year, now this…” she said.Bookmark here

Caroline’s phone vibrated, making her look down. Her eyes widened as she saw the message that she’d received. “Mom! He’s been found!”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“Hanabi-chan found Tetsuya-kun! The boy that was missing! He’d been kidnapped!”Bookmark here

“Kidnapped?” Sayuri gasped. She felt her insides knot up inside. Please, please be safe, Vanilla-chan…she thought.Bookmark here

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I collapsed onto the floor of the kitchen, my legs finally giving way and my feet feeling like they were on fire. My arms felt like noodles being held down by lead weights. Barely half of the meals I had prepared for the banquet were plated and ready, and I was taking the briefest of breaks before resuming my cooking battle for Tetsuya’s survival. Please, let him be all right, I prayed to whoever would listen. I glanced over to the loaded trays to see the rolled up silverware that I had tucked my barrette into. And please let Dad get my message…Bookmark here

The door of the kitchen opened to reveal a rather smug looking White Jacket Man. “Taking a little rest there?” he asked. “You’ve got people to feed.”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry. This isn’t the kind of pressure I work well under,” I said, gingerly lifting myself to my feet. “Maybe I’d feel a little more energetic if I heard you let Tetsuya-kun go.”Bookmark here

“I don’t make the decisions. The boss does,” he said.Bookmark here

I suddenly got an idea that would give me another avenue of potential escape, but it depended on how well White Jacket Man paid attention in health class. I put my best embarrassed expression on and started looking around nervously.Bookmark here

“Can I ask you something,” I said. “There’s something in my schoolbag I really need…can I have it back?” I asked, making my eyes look as pleading as possible.Bookmark here

“You think that look’s gonna work on me?” White Jacket Man snarled.Bookmark here

I looked down sheepishly. “Look…I need it for the bathroom…it’s really embarrassing,” I said, quietly. “I…I think I started my…”Bookmark here

White Jacket Man started turning bright red as he put two and two together. “I’ll go get it right now,” he said.Bookmark here

He dashed through the doors and I silently congratulated myself. A few seconds later he reappeared with my schoolbag. “All right, what does it look like?” he asked.Bookmark here

“Nooooo!!! Don’t dump it out, it’s embarrassing!” I whined. “Give it to me…I will get it and then you can walk me to the bathroom. I promise.”Bookmark here

“All right…” White Jacket Man thrust my schoolbag at me. “Take it out. You’ve got a count of ten.”Bookmark here

That’s more than enough for what I need, I thought, as I reached in and grabbed my cellphone, which I slipped up my sleeve, and grabbed a small pouch I kept all my supplies for that time of the month. “Here,” I said, shoving my school bag back to White Jacket Man. “Please, we gotta go there now!”Bookmark here

“All right, all right!” White Jacket Man said. “Follow me, and no funny business.”Bookmark here

My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest as White Jacket Man led me to the washroom. “You’ve got three minutes,” he said, pushing open the door.Bookmark here

That’s more than enough, I thought as I rushed inside. I let out a huge sigh and slipped my phone from my sleeve. It was a miracle it hadn’t been discovered yet. I opened up the text window and found the last message I sent to everyone, and followed it up with a quick one word reply: HELP. I stuck it back into my sleeve and exited the restroom, looking relieved.Bookmark here

“Thanks, I really appreciate it,” I said sheepishly to White Jacket Man. “It…kind of creeps up on you sometimes…”Bookmark here

“Whatever! Get back in there and I hope you washed your hands!”Bookmark here

“All right…” I pushed open the door to the kitchen and stepped inside, looking over the spread. I swallowed my nervousness and glanced around, looking for a good place to conceal my phone for what I needed to do next…Bookmark here

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After Hanabi had safely delivered Tetsuya to the police station, she sat in the lobby waiting as he was being interviewed, keeping Caroline, Yomogi and Kei apprised of the situation through a group chat. Bookmark here

Hanabi: He’s still in there
Yomogi: Is he OK?
Hanabi: He wasn’t really injured or anything that I know of
Kei: What about Vanilla?Caroline: Still nothing
Hanabi: This isn’t like herBookmark here

Suddenly, Hanabi’s phone vibrated with a new message indicator and she gasped when she realized was from Vanilla:Bookmark here

Vanilla: HELP
Yomogi: Vanilla just messaged me
Kei: got it too!
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Hanabi: same
Caroline: I’m writing her backBookmark here

Hanabi sprang up and ran to the front desk. “Excuse me, sir!” she said to the officer sitting at it. “Please…is there a way you can find out where someone is based on a text message?”Bookmark here

“Well, it is possible to ping a cell phone using antennas, but I’m afraid we don’t have the resources to do it on a moment’s notice,” he said, as Hanabi held the phone to him and showed him the message.Bookmark here

“Please, my friend might be in real trouble! Her little sister said she never showed up for work…and now this!” Hanabi said.Bookmark here

The door to the main office of the police station opened, and Tetsuya and a police officer emerged from it. “Tetsuya-kun! Vanilla-chan just contacted us!” Hanabi said.Bookmark here

“What!?”Bookmark here

“Something’s up, all that she said was ‘help’!”Bookmark here

Tetsuya grew pale. “Ask her where she is!”Bookmark here

“Okay,” Hanabi said, turning back to her phone. Everyone was messaging at once:Bookmark here

Caroline: Are you OK Vanilla?
Kei: What happened
Caroline: Please call Mom she’s worriedBookmark here

Hanabi tapped a “where are you?” into the chat, and the two of them spent an agonizing few moments staring at the phone. But there was no indication that the message had been received or anything was being composed.Bookmark here

“She’s not answering…” Hanabi said, brow furrowed. “There must be some sort of reason…Do you know anything about this, Tetsuya-kun?”Bookmark here

“I might…it’s a suspicion, but…” Tetsuya hesitated as he looked over the phone.Bookmark here

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“Well. How are you doing, Koizumi-san?” Takashi Shirogane said, looking inside the kitchen.Bookmark here

I was carefully ladling the balsamic reduction sauce for the steak into small metal cups. I looked up angrily at him as he strode into the room.Bookmark here

“I’m doing the best I can,” I muttered as I saw him lifting a cloche over one of the finished dishes—the sautéed scallops. He looked at them and screwed his face up in disgust.Bookmark here

“Only a few meager scallops? I expected more from the daughter of Yoshiaki Sakamoto.”Bookmark here

“Quality over quantity,” I said, turning towards him. I decided to let him mentioning my father’s name slide, and switch to the real questions. “When will you let Tetsuya-kun go free?”Bookmark here

“When I am assured that the one hundred attending this banquet are satisfied. By the way…look at the time.”Bookmark here

I glanced up at the clock hanging on the wall. There was less than half an hour left to fill the rest of the plates…which seemed to stretch on for an eternity. I decided to return to my work, when Takashi spoke up again.Bookmark here

“However, if you swear to me at this moment that you will withdraw from Umami Gakuen and never compete in a Gourmet Battle again, I will release him immediately.”Bookmark here

Silence hung in the room. “So this is what you’re after,” I said quietly.Bookmark here

“I was counting on Taiga to utterly crush your spirit enough that you’d never pick up a knife again. Obviously, I underestimated you.” He started to walk from the room.Bookmark here

I wiped sweat from my brow as I heard his footsteps walk away, continuing my work until I was sure no one was around to look back or watch me, then dashed over to the door frame. I had set my phone there to record everything earlier, and now I had what I needed. It would just be a matter of moments for me to clip the conversation we had and send it where it needed to be sent…Bookmark here

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Ryotaro felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket. “Excuse me for a second,” he said to his table mates as he reached in. “It’s my wife…” He took his phone and went over to the opposite corner of the room.Bookmark here

“Ryo, something’s happened to Vanilla-chan!” Sayuri said, sounding frantic. “She never showed up to work, and Caroline-chan got a message from her that said ‘help!’”Bookmark here

“What? Did she say anything else?” Ryotaro said.Bookmark here

“No, she didn’t…”Bookmark here

“All right. I’ll be home as soon as I can.” He hung up and put his phone back in his pocket, then rushed over to the front entrance of the banquet hall, grabbing his coat from the rack. As he approached the doors, a man wearing a very loud leopard print jacket approached the doors, turning around and blocking his way.Bookmark here

“Excuse me,” Ryotaro said. “I need to leave.”Bookmark here

“Sorry, I can’t let you do that,” said the man.Bookmark here

“I have a family emergency.”Bookmark here

“You don’t want to miss dinner, do you?” The man approached Ryotaro and put a hand firmly on his shoulder, nudging him back towards the banquet hall.Bookmark here

“Is this necessary?”Bookmark here

Bewildered, Ryotaro let the man guide him back inside, and he returned to his seat under his watchful glare. This is truly bizzare, he thought. It was then when he noticed that a whole group of men that definitely didn’t look like they had anything to do with Western theater were scattered around the hall. He felt the pressure of many pairs of eyes on him as he sat back down.Bookmark here

“Is everything all right?” one of his table mates asked.Bookmark here

“Yes, everything’s…fine…” Ryotaro said. What the hell is going on? he thought.Bookmark here

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Hanabi’s phone flashed with another message alert. “A video mail! And it’s from Vanilla-chan!” she shouted, waving Tetsuya over from the other corner of the room, where he was getting a drink of water from the cooler.Bookmark here

“What?” he said as he came running over. Hanabi pressed the Play icon and held the phone out for the two of them to view.Bookmark here

“Only a few meager scallops? I expected more from the daughter of Yoshiaki Sakamoto.”Bookmark here

“Quality over quantity. When will you let Tetsuya-kun go free?”Bookmark here

Tetsuya gasped in horror. “What is it?” Hanabi asked.Bookmark here

“No…No way…” The color drained from his face. “It’s…It’s my father…”Bookmark here

“WHAT!?!”Bookmark here

“…I know where she is.” Tetsuya swallowed nervously. “Platinum Banquet Hall…We need to get over there. Now.”Bookmark here

Hanabi nodded. Her phone was vibrating with reactions from Caroline, Yomogi and Kei, who had also received the video from me. She paused to pull up the directions to the banquet hall and sent them to everyone, when Caroline responded:Bookmark here

Caroline: That’s where my father is tonight!Bookmark here

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Just as Ryotaro was about to reach into his pocket and try to send a text message to Sayuri, a line of waiters in were coming by with the meals. “Finally!” said one of his table mates. “I heard we’re supposed to be getting fed by a culinary genius tonight!”Bookmark here

The waiter placed the tray in front of Ryotaro and lifted the cloche to reveal a bunch of delectable steak tips with a light drizzle of balsamic reduction, perfectly steamed small potatoes and spears of crisp roasted asparagus, with a small metal cup of additional reduction for dipping. At least this doesn’t look that bad, he thought as he picked up the roll of cutlery and carefully unrolled the cloth napkin from around it.Bookmark here

Ka-tink.Bookmark here

Something pink, white and gold fell from the napkin that definitely wasn’t cutlery, and Ryotaro picked it up, his eyes widening as he realized what it was: a gold colored clip barrette with a decoration in the shape of a cat’s paw.Bookmark here

“That’s an interesting barrette you’ve got there.”
“Oh, this? I got it a long time ago.”Bookmark here

He immediately put it into his pocket and got up from the table. “Excuse me,” he said, as he dashed into a corner of the room. Those shady looking men weren’t going to get in the way of the safety of his family. He got out his phone and started dialing when someone cleared his throat behind him.Bookmark here

“Ryotaro Koizumi, I presume?” Takashi Shirogane said.Bookmark here

Ryotaro turned around to see Takashi Shirogane’s somewhat familiar face. “Yes, you’re Taiga-kun’s father, correct?” he said. “I’m sorry to hear about him,” he lied.Bookmark here

“I was hoping the two of us could have a little chat before the awards are given out,” Takashi said. “Will you join me?”Bookmark here

“Actually…I have a question that I think you can answer me right now,” Ryotaro said, reaching into his pocket and holding up the cat paw barrette. Takashi’s expression changed to one of horror as Ryotaro glared directly into his eyes.Bookmark here

“Where is my daughter and what have you done with her?” he said, coldly.Bookmark here

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“This is it,” Tetsuya said as he led Yomogi, Kei, Hanabi and Caroline towards the back of the Platinum Banquet Hall.Bookmark here

“So what do we do? Go in through the back, guns blazing?” Yomogi said, quizzically.Bookmark here

“My dad’s probably stationed guards or something,” Tetsuya said.Bookmark here

“Seriously?” Yomogi said. The situation was becoming more and more bizarre.Bookmark here

“Is there another way in? Like a basement entry?” Hanabi asked.Bookmark here

“Yeah, but it’s probably locked from the outside. We can try to get in through the parking garage, but…” Tetsuya stretched out his hand to indicate the guard station and turnstile at the entrance. “We’d need to get by there first.”Bookmark here

Kei cracked her knuckles. “I’ll lead. You navigate, Tetsuya-kun. Caroline-chan, try to keep a line of communication with your mom and dad and let us know if you hear anything from Vanilla.”Bookmark here

“Hanabi-chan, we should create a diversion. If we draw their attention the others can sneak in,” Yomogi said.Bookmark here

“All right…” Tetsuya glanced nervously at the building.Bookmark here

“Are you going to be all right, Tetsuya-kun?” Yomogi asked.Bookmark here

“I will. I just need to take my anger out on someone first.” Tetsuya’s face hardened into a glare.Bookmark here

The five of them slipped between shadow to shadow and crisscrossed the outside parking lot until they got to the entrance to the parking garage. Sure enough, a night watchman was sitting inside, and he looked thoroughly bored.Bookmark here

“Well, let’s give them some entertainment, shall we?” Hanabi said, winking at Yomogi. Then she took a deep breath and started shouting at the top of her lungs.Bookmark here

“YOU BITCH! HOW DARE YOU!”Bookmark here

Yomogi was momentarily taken aback, but summoned all her fury and screamed a reply.Bookmark here

“YOU DON’T DESERVE HIM! HE LOVES ME, NOT YOU!”Bookmark here

The parking lot attendant suddenly looked up and started watching the catfight, which was enough impetus for the other three to quickly sneak by and enter the garage. Yomogi and Hanabi watched as they started running inside and decided to kick it up a notch. They each screamed their best shonen anime war cries and ran towards each other, with Hanabi fake falling onto the pavement. Yomogi started fake kicking and punching Hanabi, screaming “HE’S MINE! HE’S MINE!”Bookmark here

“Hey! You two! What the hell are you doing?” the parking lot attendant shouted, as he exited the booth and started running towards the two of them.Bookmark here

“I’m getting her back for sleeping with my man!” Hanabi snarled.Bookmark here

“He was MY man first!” Yomogi shouted back.Bookmark here

“Well, do it elsewhere! We’ve got a fancy event going on in there!”Bookmark here

Sheepishly, Hanabi and Yomogi separated and started to walk away. When they were out of sight of the parking lot attendant, Hanabi smiled. “Hey, sorry if I actually hit you, Yomogi-han,” she said.Bookmark here

“It’s okay. It was my idea after all,” Yomogi said. She pulled out her phone. “Let’s signal the others.” She sent a message to Kei to let her know that the diversion worked, and a few seconds later, received a reply.Bookmark here

Kei: Go around the back, we cracked open a door in the emergency exit stairwellBookmark here

“All right! Let’s go!” Yomogi said, and she and Hanabi ran towards the back of the banquet hall.Bookmark here

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The look of horror on Takashi Shirogane’s face changed into one of pure rage as he realized he had forgotten about the barrette I had been wearing in my hair. He reached into the pocket of his suit jacket for his phone, but Ryotaro reached out and grabbed his arm tightly.Bookmark here

“Haven’t you caused enough pain for my family already? I haven’t forgotten about what your son did two years ago,” he said coldly, glaring at Takashi.Bookmark here

“Unhand me this instant,” Takashi replied angrily.Bookmark here

“I asked you a question. Where is Vanilla-chan?”Bookmark here

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“I don’t like how deserted this place is,” Kei said.Bookmark here

“Yeah…normally there’s so many people here. So many cogs in the machinery to get an event moving,” Yomogi said.Bookmark here

“It’s probably because he forced her to do the impossible,” Tetsuya said. “It’d take a culinary miracle to pull off doing an entire banquet singlehanded…”Bookmark here

Kei suddenly put her hand up for silence, and everyone behind her stopped. “Someone’s coming,” she whispered. Immediately, the five of them crouched behind a couple of hampers that were lining the hallway.Bookmark here

A door shut, and White Jacket Man came striding down the hallway, humming to himself. He started walking towards where everyone was hiding. As he passed in front of the hamper, Kei sprang from her hiding place.Bookmark here

“Wh…What the—” White Jacket Man cried out in alarm, but in a split second the other four sprang out from behind the hampers, grabbing him by the arms and pinning him to the ground. Kei stepped closer and looked down at him, her face a picture of pure power and fury.Bookmark here

“Are you the one who kidnapped Vanilla Koizumi?” she whispered. Overwhelmed by Kei’s size and having been taken completely by surprise, White Jacket Man nodded. He felt someone rummaging through the pockets of his jacket.Bookmark here

“I’ll be taking these,” Tetsuya said, holding up an old flip phone and a newer smartphone. He opened up the smartphone and pressed a button. His expression changed as he started reading a text message.Bookmark here

“And your friends are the ones that kidnapped me,” he said, glaring down him.Bookmark here

“Where is she?” Kei asked, and as White Jacket Man hesitated, the others shifted their weight.Bookmark here

“Ki…kitchen…” he gasped.Bookmark here

“Thank you,” Kei said. “Okay. Let him up.”Bookmark here

White Jacket Man suddenly shifted and knocked Yomogi to the side, springing upright. “The hell do you think you kids are doing?” he growled. Kei responded by getting into a stance that looked like it was straight out of a classic Hong Kong kung fu movie poster.Bookmark here

“I am Kei Mitsurugi of the Umami Gakuen Karate Club, and NO ONE messes with one of my friends!” she growled.Bookmark here

White Jacket Man threw back his fist. “You little bitch, you think you’re so—” Before he could continue his description of Kei, there was a loud SMACK, and he fell forward, eyes rolling back in his head. Behind him stood Caroline, holding a fire extinguisher she had gotten down from off the wall. Her expression turned to one of surprise and shock.Bookmark here

“Oh my god, please don’t tell my dad I did this,” she said as a small bit of crimson started coloring the back of White Jacket Man’s head.Bookmark here

Hanabi bent down to grab the man’s wrist. “He’s okay. Just knocked unconscious. We’ve got to hurry before he wakes up,” she said.Bookmark here

Yomogi smiled. “I’ve always wanted to try this!” she said, happily.Bookmark here

“…You’ve always wanted to try what?” Tetsuya asked.Bookmark here

Yomogi’s “this” was tying White Jacket Man up and leaving him in a locked room. “He deserves it,” Tetsuya muttered as the five of them continued down the hall towards the kitchen. There was light peeking through the bottom of the door…Bookmark here

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“…I will take you to her,” Takashi Shirogane said.Bookmark here

“I sincerely hope that she has not been harmed,” Ryotaro said. He let go of Takashi’s arm.Bookmark here

Fool, Takashi thought as he reached into his pocket again and pressed the button on his flip phone that would send the panic signal to his men. He started walking towards the doors leading to the service area.Bookmark here

“Come this way,” he said, pushing the door open for Ryotaro to walk through.Bookmark here

I must be on guard, Ryotaro thought. Silently, he followed Takashi into the dark hallway…Bookmark here

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I looked up as I heard the doors to the kitchen fly open and saw one of the most awesome and wonderful sights I’d ever seen in my life—my younger sister and best friends, along with Tetsuya, safe and sound.Bookmark here

“You guys…”Bookmark here

“VANILLA-CHAN!” Everyone rushed in to hug me. I dropped my tools on the ground and heard them clatter as I ran over to everyone. I hesitated as I saw Tetsuya standing aside from them.Bookmark here

“Tetsuya-kun, are you all right?” I said. I wanted to reach out and hug him and make sure he was real, but I suddenly felt self conscious about it. He definitely looked like he’d been through an ordeal, but the smile on his face was one of relief.Bookmark here

“Yeah. I’m all right. What about you?” he asked.Bookmark here

“I’m exhausted,” I said. “They’re coming to get the next batch of meals to take out! Find somewhere to hide or something!”Bookmark here

“That’s fine. We took care of one of them already,” Yomogi said, winking. Everyone seemed to get a weird look on their face.Bookmark here

“Tetsuya-kun…your dad’s the one behind this,” I said.Bookmark here

Tetsuya nodded. “I had a suspicion he was, and that video all but confirmed it. How’d you manage that?”Bookmark here

“Uh…” I suddenly blushed. “Let’s just say I fooled him into getting access to my bookbag and leave it at that?”Bookmark here

Suddenly, the doors burst open to reveal Leopard Print Man and another man, this one wearing a suit that was bright red and with what appeared to be food stains going down the front. Tetsuya suddenly paled. They were flanking…Bookmark here

“DAD!” Caroline and I cried.Bookmark here

Takashi Shirogane had my father in a headlock, with what appeared to be a very real gun pointed at him. Bookmark here

“Vanilla Koizumi…I am giving you one last chance,” he said. “Announce your intention to withdraw from Umami Gakuen and the competitive Gourmet Battle circuit, and I will let your father live.”Bookmark here

I felt the strength leave my legs and I slumped down to my knees, barely able to speak. He was so driven in his crusade to bring me down, he was willing to kill…Bookmark here

I locked eyes with my father, who seemed to be strangely calm despite his current predicament. Next to me, Caroline was looking at me pleadingly—he was the only family she had left. Quietly, I looked down at the ground, feeling like I was three inches tall. Nothing I could do could get me out of this situation. I had my back up against the wall. I started to take a deep breath when I heard Tetsuya speak up behind me.Bookmark here

“Vanilla-san…enough. Let me.”Bookmark here

Tetsuya stepped forward, directly in front of me so he was staring directly at his father. “You really hate her this much? She never did anything to you. And somehow you think hurting her father is going to bring things back to the way they were?”Bookmark here

Takashi’s composure shifted into an angry glare. “I don’t want things back the way they were. I want her to feel the same way I felt when Hibiki—”Bookmark here

“WHAT MAKES YOU THINK SHE DOESN’T ALREADY KNOW HOW LOSING SOMEONE FEELS?” Tetsuya screamed. My eyes widened as his voice rang out.Bookmark here

I realized if there was any way this confrontation would be defused, one of us would have to do it. I carefully eased myself back up to my feet on shaky legs. That’s when I realized I had the perfect weapon. Silently I reached behind me and grabbed a handle of one of the saucepans on the stove…Bookmark here

“How do you think Mom would feel right now?” Tetsuya said, sounding like he was crying. “Forcing someone to choose like this…”Bookmark here

I saw Takashi’s expression change to disgust, and decided that this was my chance.Bookmark here

“HYAAAHHHH!!!” I shrieked, flinging the saucepan towards Takashi—a saucepan that was filled with piping hot balsamic reduction. Ryotaro twisted away from the line of fire just in time as the contents splashed against Takashi’s unprotected face. Takashi screamed and screwed his eyes shut, wiping the mixture off his face with both hands. The gun clattered to the ground and Ryotaro escaped from his grasp.Bookmark here

“RUN!” I yelled to Ryotaro, who immediately sprinted away. Leopard Print Man rushed the blinded Takashi towards a sink as Red Suit Man grabbed the gun. I hesitated, hoping he wouldn’t go after my father, but then he looked in my direction…Bookmark here

“NO!” Yomogi shrieked, and she then grabbed another pot from the stove and hurled it at Red Suit Man. This one was empty, but it was still heavy enough to hit him square in the face. I heard a loud crack as it contacted him square in the nose, and he winced, covering his face as he snorted blood. Another pot came flying in his direction, followed by a colander. Bookmark here

“We gotta disarm him!” I shouted, finally finding my voice.Bookmark here

“DORYAAA!” Kei yelled as she vaulted over a counter, and she suddenly had the arm holding the gun in a painful submission hold. Red Suit Man’s face turned redder than his suit as he grimaced, and eventually the grip on his gun slackened for to clatter harmlessly to the ground.Bookmark here

“Vanilla-chan! Caroline-chan! Is everything all right?” I heard Ryotaro’s voice call from down the hall.Bookmark here

“Yeah!” I shouted back. “We’re all okay!”Bookmark here

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The room was then filled with various police officers. Two of them were leading Takashi Shirogane, his face bright red and covered with blisters, out of the kitchen in handcuffs while another was putting cuffs on Leopard Print Man. A few more came up to us, putting cuffs on Red Suit Man.Bookmark here

Ryotaro came running up to me and Caroline. “I’m glad you two are all right. Especially you, Vanilla-chan. That was a good idea, leaving that barrette as a message.”Bookmark here

“How’d the cops get here so fast?” Yomogi asked. Hanabi smiled, holding up her phone.Bookmark here

“When I took Tetsuya-kun to the police station, I got the number of the desk sergeant,” she said. “I sent him the video that Vanilla-han sent me…”Bookmark here

“…And then I followed that up with some evidence of my own,” Tetsuya said, holding up the phones he had lifted from White Jacket Man.Bookmark here

One of the police officers approached us. “Are you Tetsuya Shirogane?” he asked Tetsuya, who nodded. “These men are from the gang that kidnapped you earlier, is that correct?”Bookmark here

“Yes…and they were led by my father.” Tetsuya looked down at the ground, almost disgustedly.Bookmark here

“We’ll need to get statements from you and Koizumi-san here. Will the two of you come down to the police station with us?”Bookmark here

I nodded. The entire ordeal had left me completely drained.Bookmark here

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The banquet had ended in turmoil when it was discovered that all the attendees had received a video mail of the confrontation between me and Takashi Shirogane, and also learned of his arrest, along with the members of the criminal gang that had assisted him with his plot.Bookmark here

All of us spent some time recounting the days’ events to the police, with me and Tetsuya spending the most time in the interview room. When I finished my interview with the officers and stepped back into the lobby of the police station, I realized it was two o’clock in the morning, and then looked around to realize that everyone was still waiting for me.Bookmark here

“You could’ve all gone home,” I said, going over to the seats where a half-asleep Caroline was leaning against Ryotaro and sitting next to them.Bookmark here

“We’re still waiting for Tetsuya-kun,” Kei said.Bookmark here

“How are you feeling?” Ryotaro asked.Bookmark here

“…Relieved, mostly,” I said. “But my body feels like it got run over by a tank.” I slumped down on the bench, yawning and stretching. “You…You could’ve all gone home. I would’ve understood.”Bookmark here

“There was no way we could leave you here,” Yomogi said. “We’re all in this together.”Bookmark here

I glanced over at the door to the interview rooms. “I hope he’s all right,” I said. “He…He had it worse than I did.” Kei, Hanabi and Yomogi nodded in agreement.Bookmark here

A few minutes later, as I felt like I was about to nod off, the door to the interview room opened and Tetsuya shuffled out. The events of the past two days had caught up with him and he looked exhausted. “Thanks for waiting for me,” he said, as he came walking towards us.Bookmark here

“Are you all right?” I asked. “What’s going to happen?”Bookmark here

“…A lot.” Tetsuya muttered. “They…they want to talk to me more, and they’re going to question my father, and…”Bookmark here

We got up from the benches and made our way out of the station. It was eerily quiet and unsettling. “Tetsuya-kun, what are you going to do now?” I asked.Bookmark here

He looked down at his feet, seemingly at a loss, until Ryotaro spoke up. “Do you want someone to escort you home, Tetsuya-kun?” he asked.Bookmark here

“…I don’t really want to go home right now,” Tetsuya said.Bookmark here

“That’s all right. I’m in Nerima, but you can stay with us if you want,” Kei said. Before Tetsuya could protest, she continued. “It’s fine. I’ve got three brothers. It’s not an imposition.”Bookmark here

“…Thank you,” Tetsuya said, quietly. He had a very faint smile on his face.Bookmark here

We ended up parting ways at the subway station. Tetsuya and Kei departed first, and I watched their train disappear into the night, grateful that not just him, but everyone else was okay.Bookmark here

Bookmarked
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