Chapter 11:

Menu 10: Banquet Impossible

BON APPETIT! Gourmet Battle Girls


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

“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.”

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

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

“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.”

“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.

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

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

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!”

“What?”

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

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

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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…

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.”

“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.”

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

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.

“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.

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

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

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

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.

“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.”

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

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!”

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

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.

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.

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

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

“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…

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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.

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 her

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

Vanilla: HELP
Yomogi: Vanilla just messaged me
Kei: got it too!

Hanabi: same
Caroline: I’m writing her back

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?”

“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.

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

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.

“What!?”

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

“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.

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

“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?”

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

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.

“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.”

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

“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.

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…

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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.

“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!’”

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

“No, she didn’t…”

“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.

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

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

“I have a family emergency.”

“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.

“Is this necessary?”

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.

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

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

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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.

“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.

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

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

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

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

“WHAT!?!”

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

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:

Caroline: That’s where my father is tonight!

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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!”

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.

Ka-tink.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

“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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

“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.”

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.”

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

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

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

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

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.

“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.

“YOU BITCH! HOW DARE YOU!”

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

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

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!”

“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.

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

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

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

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.

“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.

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

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

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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.

“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.

“Unhand me this instant,” Takashi replied angrily.

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

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

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

“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…”

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.

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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

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

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

“Ki…kitchen…” he gasped.

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

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.

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

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.

“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.

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.

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

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

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…

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

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

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.

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

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

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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.

“You guys…”

“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.

“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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

“DAD!” Caroline and I cried.

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

“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.”

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…

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.

“Vanilla-san…enough. Let me.”

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?”

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—”

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

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…

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

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

“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.

“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…

“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.

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

“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.

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

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

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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.

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.”

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

“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…”

“…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.

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?”

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

“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?”

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

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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.

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.

“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.

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

“How are you feeling?” Ryotaro asked.

“…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.”

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

“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.”

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

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.

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