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(Friends Are) Not Safe For Work

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Kanae crosses her legs, uncrosses them, and then crosses them the other way. Yako isn’t sure if her best friend really has to pee or if she’s just trying to unstick her thighs from each other, but either way she’s been doing this for the past five minutes.

“You all right there?” Yako asks, spoon in her mouth as she finishes her third ice cream sundae.

“It’s hot as balls,” Kanae complains, “and this seat is leaving a grid pattern on my ass so I have to keep moving.”

Summer vacation is upon them, though for Yako it doesn’t mean anything besides the onslaught of intense July heat. She takes supplementary night classes every now and then, but she isn’t a full-time student like Kanae is. Regardless, she’s always grateful when her best friend comes back to visit, even if it means hanging out at a chic café to hunt for eligible bachelors on the street.

Today marks the third day of their rotating stakeout — Kanae has planned an entire circuit of stylish coffee shops for them to visit — and Yako is so insanely bored she’s starting to wish Neuro would drop her a line. The man’s gotta get hungry for a mystery soon, right? It’s been three days!

“Ooh, Yako, how about him?” Kanae points discreetly down the street, where some tall ikemen in a waiter’s outfit is servicing another restaurant.

“He looks kind of short. I don’t think he’s that cute,” Yako says. She smiles to herself when Akane swats her cheek in agreement.  

"You know, I’m starting to think your standards are higher than mine.” Kanae scoops the remaining spoonful of Yako’s dessert into her own mouth, prompting the detective to immediately order another one. “You’re pretty picky, you know.”

“I’m being picky for you.”

“I’m flattered,” Kanae says. The street browsing resumes rather uneventfully. It’s so hot that few dare to venture outdoors, and the seats at outdoor cafes are unusually vacant. Yako can see the air in the distance shimmering with the heat.

Quietly, she downs her fourth sundae, making sure she gets the last bite this time. Kanae will hardly ever touch her massive amounts of food — “I don’t have your stupid fast metabolism,” or something — but when she does, she has the uncanny ability to always eat the last bite.

“Do you ever go to mixers?” Kanae asks suddenly, putting down her figurative binoculars and turning to the detective.

Yako wipes her mouth. “Nope. No time.”

“You should really meet more people.”

“I think I'm good.”

Yako.” Kanae leans across the table, face solemn. “You should really put yourself out there. You’re super cute, you know? Get to know more people.”

“I’m pretty out there already,” Yako replies. “Honestly, I think I know more people in this city than you do.”

It’s the devious glitter in Kanae’s eyes that tells Yako she’s walked straight into a trap, one that will need one of the 7 Weapons of the Demon Emperor to dig her out of. She can already see the wheels turning in Kanae’s head, scheming almost as evilly as Neuro.

“But—”

“Is that so?” chirps Kanae, grabbing the blonde’s hands with too much force. “How convenient! You can introduce me to some people then, right?”

Oh no.

“I don’t—”

“I bet you know a loooot of good-looking guys, right? You’re buddies with the police, aren’t you? I like a man in uniform.” Kanae is unstoppable. “Or in suits. You know I love a hot guy in a suit.”

Alarms are going off in Yako’s brain, big fire alarms, but at this point there is no way to convince her friend that this is a horrible, horrible idea. Kanae’s impression of private investigators stems completely from TV, which means she believes that all they do is play James Bond and spy on cheating husbands. A mundane ordeal. Yako almost wishes it were so simple.

“It’s decided!” Kanae says cheerily. “I’ll buy all ten of those sundaes for you, so hurry up and find me a cute guy, mmkay?”

Yako grimaces. She can feel Akane laughing, which isn’t even possible because Akane is a freaking lock of hair. The first thing Kanae will want to do is say hi to Neuro, which she does every time because apparently Neuro counts as a “hot guy.” That alone is enough to give Yako a migraine for days. The next thing she’ll do is probably invade every aspect of Yako’s life, as she did once when they were twelve and Yako had developed a crush on the young man down the street. It turns out Yako had fallen in love with the bakery his family owned and not the boy himself.

“I don’t think I know the type,” Yako attempts. “And I only ate four, okay?”

“Don’t be silly,” Kanae says, ignoring her as she pays the bill. She ushers Yako out of her seat and links arms with her, bemoaning the checkerboard pattern that the chair leaves on her thighs.

“I don’t even have a case right now,” Yako replies as she is towed down the street.

“Doesn’t matter, you still know lots of people!”

“I can’t just visit them out of the blue.” Yako resists Kanae with all her might, trying to slow her best friend down with the 3,000 calories she had consumed that morning alone, but it’s all in vain. Kagohara Kanae is superhuman when it comes to hunting for a date, and one small, piggish detective is not about to stop her.

A taxi is called and soon they are heading downtown. Yako starts lining up her options and seriously debates taking a detour to the city cemetery the next time Kanae mentions a “tall and handsome police officer,” but decides that it might be too rude. While Sasazuka wouldn’t have minded, Yako worries that visiting a grave might offend her friend (or scar her for life).

They arrive at the office just as glass breaks and Godai tumbles out the window yelling about repair bills. He is so desensitized to being tossed into the street that he proceeds to verbally add up the price of new floor-to-ceiling windows with the cost of air conditioning lost per minute as he hits the pavement with a terrible crack. Yako wonders when he’d gotten so good at math.

The man lies flat on the sidewalk for five solid seconds before bouncing to his feet energetically, as if falling several stories out of a building is a refreshing power nap. At some point he, too, had become a superhuman. It’s been a long time since he’s broken any bones, and he’s practically invincible in a car crash.

“Oh my god,” Kanae whispers in Yako’s ear. “That guy just fell out of your office!”

"That's Godai,” Yako says. “Our…liaison to an information company.”

Congrats Godai, she thinks, you’ve graduated from ‘handyman’ and ‘slave,’ I guess.

“Is he okay? That was the third or fourth floor!”

Yako gestures vaguely at the ex-yakuza, who waves at them briefly before climbing into his rickety pickup truck. Despite his now very fat wallet and comfortably funded bank account, Godai has learned his lesson and will never ever in his entire life buy another luxury car. At least, not while Neuro’s around.

“He looks fine to me,” Yako says. “It’s always like this.”

“That’s, uh, really weird. But hey, he’s kinda hot. You know, in like a bad boy way?”

Yako whips around so fast Akane’s hair clip whacks her friend in the nose. She doesn’t apologize.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” she says, marching towards the door. “For both of our sakes.”

“Oh c’mon, you don’t think so? Not even in a trashy punk way?”

Not listening!

Kanae’s laughter rings in the street and she trails after Yako, catching her friend’s arm as they climb the stairs to the office.

 


 

 

“Sensei¸ what good timing you have!”

An immense, Yako-sized metal flyswatter is slammed back into the wall. Somehow, Neuro makes it look casual, leaning on the steel contraption as if he hadn’t just tried to smack his “teacher” out the window at seventy miles per hour. Maybe it’s a blessing that they have a guest today, but these things tend to build up like stress, and whatever punishment Neuro decides on later will probably be ten times worse.

“It’s been a while, Mr. Assistant!” Kanae says, reaching out to accept Neuro’s cordial handshake. If only she knew what kind of monstrous fingers were beneath those gloves, then maybe she would feel an ounce of the apprehension that freezes Yako to the spot.

“Please, call me Neuro!” the demon replies. “Can I get you a cup of coffee? Tea?”

Yako gags at him. He grins.

Kanae accepts the coffee, and while her back is turned, Yako slips her braid into the corner where the sentient hair burrows into the drywall. They’d replaced the wallpaper by hand last year, but the bump where Akane resides is still hard to conceal.

“So what brings you here today, Ms. Kanae?” Neuro all too politely offers the seat at the main desk to Yako, who sulkily plops into the chair obviously set at Neuro’s height.

“Yako’s gonna introduce me to some guys she knows from work.”

“Looking for a date?” His smile widens. Yako doesn’t even have to turn around in her seat to see the Evil Fridays crawling off his shoulders. One of them bounces on her head excitedly. The little eyeball bugs have a tendency to reflect their master’s current mood, and seeing them so animated is definite cause for concern.

Kanae giggles and winks flirtily. Yako wants to be hit with a massive fighter jet and disintegrate into nothing but a speck over the Pacific Ocean.

“So,” Yako says, internally screaming as Kanae continues to smile at demon, “why was Godai here just now?”

There is no such thing as an enlightened stage of acceptance for this sort of thing. There is no way to un-see what she has seen, and even worse, Neuro is encouraging her friend by flashing his most charming expression. To her dismay, it is extremely effective. Kanae looks delighted by this exchange and proceeds to sip her coffee coyly.

"That’s why I said you had perfect timing, Sensei! Mr. Godai just dropped off some interesting files. There’s a case you should look at.” He puts a hand — or rather, a claw — on Yako’s shoulder and grips hard enough to hurt. Yako wants to take Kanae’s coffee and hurl it at Neuro, but she is here and the coffee is over there, so there is nothing to do but bitterly accept defeat in the form of stacked documents.

The manila folder reveals records of sketchy bank transactions and evidence of illegal exotic animal trading. Yako’s stomach sinks because she instantly thinks of two brothers in crime they will inevitably have to visit. She can already imagine what Kanae might say about the younger one.

“Great! Let’s get going, then!” Kanae stands and marches to the door, looking far too excited. Something about how Neuro’s shoulders shake with silent laughter tells Yako that there is no way Kanae is going to take a back seat in this investigation.

So much for hoping her friend would sit quietly in the car and wait outside.

 


The Hayasaka brothers never stay in one place, but they do have a certain back alley haunt they like to meet her in. It’s an underworld bar where thugs and assassins hang out at night, and Kanae cannot stop gushing about how cool it is as they descend a narrow staircase. Yako doesn’t have the heart to tell her that people are often murdered in cold blood on the very tiles beneath her feet.

“Your assistant says we’ll meet two guys here. What are they like?”

“You don’t want to know.” Yako needs a giant chocolate bar to power her through this. Maybe seven or eight.

Yukinori, for the most part, is a calm and cool guy, but Yako worries that Kanae will be too forward with him. The man wears gloves lined with gunpowder and she wants her best friend nowhere near those fists. She doubts that he’d hit a civilian girl, but he’s not beyond being rude.

Well, I warned her, Yako thinks with a sigh. What Yuki says to her is his business.

The last thing she expects when they walk in is Hisanori with an armful of calico kittens, looking scarily content as tiny felines swarm across his lap. In the back, Yukinori’s face is a perfect mirror of Yako’s: Very Tired, Needs a Nap.

“Welcome, Detective,” Hisanori says in his low, snakelike voice. His smile is, as usual, very unnerving. It might’ve been a more intimidating greeting had he been lounged on the arm of the couch carrying a huge gun as he usually does, but the cats really ruin the effect.

“Um...Hi.” Yako points at his lap. “Why are you covered in cats?”

“One of my calicos had a litter,” Hisanori replies, as if this is a sufficient explanation. He does not elaborate on why he has multiple calico cats, and Yako doesn’t ask. If she has one regret that day, it would be not putting a leash on Kanae because her friend instantly squeals and picks up a kitten.

“They’re so cute!” She scoops a small spotted baby in her hands and shoves it in Yako’s face. “Oh my god!”

“Hey, put the cat down.” Yukinori emerges from the shadows, tall and threatening. “Who the hell are you?”

“You could say please,” Kanae says, pursing her lips. Yako just about has an aneurysm.

“It’s fine, Yuki.” Hisanori smiles serenely. The two girls are obviously no threat to them, and Neuro docilely loiters behind them. “The kittens can learn to associate with strangers.”

Yukinori looks like he wants to be set on fire. He exchanges a glance with Yako and immediately understands her pained expression. A part of her thinks it’s good to know she’s not alone, but at the same time she really can’t wrap her head around what’s happening. It’s too bizarre. She should never have let Kanae even step foot in her office.

“Let’s get to business,” Neuro says, stepping between the staring contest the college student has decided to hold with the younger Hayasaka brother. It is unclear whether she is trying to develop sexual tension with her smoldering gaze or shoot him down with laser beams from her eyes. Yako begins to question the amount of experience her friend has in this type of thing.

Hisanori puts down the cats, plucking the last kitten from Kanae’s hands and letting it run after its siblings. He produces a big briefcase from behind the couch and pulls out a couple of binders.

“You’re looking for the Huolong Guo shipping company out of China,” he says, handing Yako a person’s profile. “The man pictured is head of the branch here in Tokyo. You might have to go out to Yokohama to find more.”

Yako thanks them and snaps a photo of the file for Akane to research. She snatches Kanae by the wrist and forcibly drags her out of the bar, but not before the the insufferable flirt deftly hands both of the Hayasakas her number on paper slips. She wiggles her phone in the air and winks. Yukinori glances questioningly at Yako, but the detective hauls ass out of the bar.

“Yako, you didn’t tell me there’d be more than one hot guy,” Kanae says bluntly as they step into a taxi. “The younger one was cuter, though.”

In the front seat, Neuro has his blank face on, clearly enjoying this. An Evil Friday titters on his shoulder before leaping onto the dash to bask in the afternoon sun. If those bugs worked like voodoo dolls, Yako would’ve crushed them long ago. Unfortunately, they’re kind of adorable, so it pains her whenever a few get squished beneath Godai’s shoes.

“Are you listening?” Kanae lightly elbows her.

“I was expecting you to hit on the younger one, but both of them?” Yako turns and violently grips the other girl by the shoulders. “Both? Both?! Hisanori’s like, in his early forties! Forties!

Kanae shrugs and rubs her fingers together to signify that money would’ve been her goal there, and Yako wants to quickly get back to the office so Neuro’s Yako-swatter can slingshot her into oblivion. She refrains from making another incredulous comment about the stack of notes Kanae’s purse, most likely with a phone number scrawled across each one.

“Don’t you guys work by request? Why are you digging around on your own like this?” the other girl asks as they exit the cab and return to the office. She places herself a little too close to Neuro and bats her eyelashes. The hellspawn bird man could care less, but he grins back and Yako begins to regret ever fiber of her being.

“There are clients, but they’re either the less desirable kind or have requested a behind-doors deal.. An off the books investigation. It has to look like we’re being nosy on our own,” she explains.

“That’s complicated stuff. I didn’t know you did that.” Kanae smiles fondly at her friend. “You’re really awesome, Yako.”

For a moment, having Kanae there is almost nice. It’s not often Yako hears praise from the people close to her. She’s lauded by her fans and critiqued by the press, and her mother doesn’t count when it comes to compliments. A part of her is glad to show Kanae a bit of her lifestyle, but that part is shortly blasted to smithereens by a boxing glove that shoots out of the wall and sucker punches her in the face.

Yako unceremoniously picks herself up off the ground. She’d been getting good at dodging thrown projectiles, but wall mechanisms are still a wildcard.  

“Don’t worry, I just tripped,” she says, faking a laugh when Kanae turns around with concern. “I’m sooo clumsy.”

Yako’s eye twitches when Neuro’s hand creeps closer to another switch on the desk. The moment of appreciation is forever lost and they move a mile a minute onto the next thing. She fails to avoid the log that magically drops from the ceiling and bowls her into the couch, just as she fails to stop Kanae from snatching the directions that Akane finishes printing.

Excitedly, the brunette waves the papers in her face, bouncing giddily in place. Kanae is bad news. Bad, bad news, and her next words are enough to curb Yako’s eternal hunger.

“Yako, we’re going on a road trip!”