Chapter 9:

The Big Bad


“You let them get away, didn’t you?”

Lester flinches. He shifts on his employer’s elegant gold-trimmed antique chair. “Well, how was I supposed to know that Pets could go rogue? It’s never happened before! According to the protocols I installed, it shouldn’t have been possible at all!”

His boss, Yuzuru Takahashi, summons a servant with a wave of his hand. The woman opens a box and offers him one of the Cuban cigars in it. He accepts it with a small smile, fiddling with it idly until she lights it with a jade lighter. He inhales deeply, and then lets the smoke billow throughout the room.

Lester envisions how the billows of smoke almost seem to blend in with the grayish, aged murals of ships and deep blue oceans that adorn the walls.

The grandfather ticks behind him, and he realizes that Yuzuru is still waiting for an answer. He clenches his fists underneath the round wooden table they’re both seated at and wonders is if there’s any way he can twist this situation in his favor.

In the end, because he’s never been good in circumstances like this (and he’s disappointingly sober) he blurts out, “Good riddance, honestly. They would have ended up on the Pet Preserve soon enough anyways. That stuffed dog especially, that little cur.”

Yuzuru laughs and uses the ash tray on the table. “And good riddance to my money too, right? You’re doing wonders for my business, losing the limited-edition products that were going to be part of the Annual Summer GACHA Fest.”

Lester begins to sweat.

“Listen closely. I'm one of the founders of the GACHA system, and Moonlight is one of the top three Pet manufacturers. Our credibility is important. Even if no one is lucky enough to win the chance at adopting one of our high-end Pets, we still need them to show off the possibility of what they could have if they won. Do you understand that?”

“Y-Yes sir.”

Yuzuru continues to smile at him pleasantly, and Lester’s artistic nature makes him unable to resist admiring the way his hair. It hangs only a foot from touching the floor as Yuzuru brushes his hair over the back of the chair and leans back. It would be picturesque to paint Yuzuru in this room filled with an eclectic mix of Asian statues and nautical art.

“How’s your art going, Lester? Have you been preparing for the Wynwood Art Show?”

“It’s going wonderfully, sir! I’ve already decided on the pieces from my collection I’m going to show. As my sponsor, I hope that you’ll be pleased when you see them.”

Lester has been working overtime to get his art done in time. With a bottle in hand and a brush in the other, he’s been squeezing as much into his art as he possibly can while managing the Pet business at the same time. He’s sacrificed showers, sleep, and his sanity for the chance to have his art presented at Wynwood. There’s no greater honor as an artist, and no greater platform for your art to get noticed.

He hates working with Pets, but it’s thanks to his skill with them that Yuzuru was willing to be his sponsor and get him into the show, which remains one of the most exclusive art shows in the world. He’s happy Yuzuru brought it up. He hasn’t been able to update him on it in quite a while.

Yuzuru takes another inhale of his cigar and creates rings of smoke as he exhales this time. “It’s such a shame. You’re really an amazing artist, but you’ve ruined your shot.”

“W-What do you mean?”

Yuzuru pushes his hair out of his face and laughs again. This time, it’s tinged with cruelty. “God, you’re stupid. Amazing artist you may be, but you’re an incompetent subordinate of Moonlight first. I’m not going to sponsor someone who’s hurting my bottom line.”

Lester stands and points an accusatory finger at him. “You-but you gave me your word! You even signed a contract!”

Yuzuru shrugs his shoulders and gives him a smug look. “You didn’t fulfill your end of the contract, and now I have no obligation to fulfill mine. It’s just business, Lester.”

Just business. As if Lester’s hard work and passion were mere pawns in an agreement that could be a sacrificed at any time.

Lester slams his hands on the table, causing Yuzuru’s face to darken in displeasure. “Then let’s renegotiate! That’s part of business too, right?”

“Only when it’s something worthwhile. For me, I doubt it’s worth the trouble of dealing with you any further.”

Lester grits his teeth. “I’ll get them back,” he says, voice low, “I’ll get those rotten Pets back. There will be no problem if I recover them for you, right? You don’t even have to pay me. If I can’t find them, you can fire me from Moonlight too.”

“Hmm,” he fiddles with his hair thoughtfully. “How about I fire you if you can’t find them instead? You care so much about your art, and I wouldn’t feel right forcing you to work for Moonlight when you could be creating art on your own terms.”

Lester remembers what his life was like before his job at Moonlight and hesitates. He practically begged people to buy his art, and the meager earnings he made from it barely covered the costs of the materials. He was living with his parents, who were wholeheartedly supporting his dream, but crippled financially for supporting him.

Can he really go back to doing that? To being that?

“Alright, deal. If I can’t ‘em, fire me. I don’t care.”

Yuzuru claps his hands together cheerfully. “That’s the spirit. And to help you achieve you goal, I’ll give you a little Pet to assist you.” He snaps his elegant fingers together and one of the servants opens the ornate black doors to the room and brings in a stuffed puppy sleeping on a satin cushion.

Its fur his white with speckled spots of black, and there is a black patch over one of its eyes. “This is Barkley. He’s a special unit, just like that other stuffed dog you had.”

Lester reaches out to touch its head, and it blinks up at him, almost as if it were sleepy. “I’ll allow you to borrow him for the time being. I’m sure he’ll be helpful.”

Lester snatches the dog off the pillow, who does little to resist, and bows in Japanese-style. “Thank you, boss. I promise you I won’t fail.”

Yuzuru is looking at the dog in his arms when he says, “Just know this: if you lose Barkley too, you’ll be paying with more than just your job.”

“Don’t worry about that, sir,” Lester says, squeezing the dog tightly. "Don't worry about that at all."