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(Friends Are) Not Safe For Work

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Their road trip, it turns out, is a fifteen minute drive to the Shinjuku ward, home to a branch office of Huolong Guo Exports. The ride is smooth until they reach the last intersection, where traffic is being redirected around extensive lines of yellow tape. Several police vehicles are parked to the side and a coroner’s van is stationed just within.

From the corner of her eye, Yako spies one of Neuro’s hair clips quivering. More often than not, Neuro’s lunches tend to be murders, and the last thing she wants Kanae to see is a dead body. But her best friend is already stepping out of the taxi and skirting along police lines with a morbid interest, mingling directly with the crowd of onlookers. It’s nice that she’s taken an interest in the job, but not so nice that she’s so physically involved.

“Ms. Todoroki!” calls Yako, waving to the police officer currently taking charge of the crime scene. She and her partner are kneeling by the deceased, peering beneath a sheet of canvas that conceals the body from public view.

“You again!” Ishigaki exclaims. “Why are you always here?”

“I’ve been coming for five years now,” Yako says dryly, rolling her eyes. Ishigaki looks appalled, and it’s unclear whether he’s genuinely shocked or just really forgetful.

“Has it been that long? That means I’m 28 already.” He turns to his partner. “Hey, does that mean I’m old? Old is when you’re about to die, right?”

“Senpai was 31 when he died, so you’re getting there.”

“You brat!” Ishigaki, half in tears and half enraged, attempts to throttle the lady officer with his bare hands, but he is met with a clipboard to the face and a stern order to start working with the medical examiner. No human being on earth could look as incredibly stupid as he does at that moment — nose wrinkled, face red, eyebrows knitted together — but some inexplicable higher power compels Kanae to utter the words “hey, he’s pretty cute!” in Yako’s ear.

“Well, you’re not wrong.” Yako doesn’t think eternally youthful Ishigaki is unattractive, but if you asked her to list his winning qualities, she’d be grabbing at thin air.

“You can’t tell me you’ve never had a crush any of your coworkers.” Kanae ducks under the tape to join Yako beside the officials. When asked about the corpse, she admits she’s mostly unbothered and more fascinated, casually attributing it to having dated a mortician’s son once. Yako blinks owlishly at her friend. She’s never heard anything about a new boyfriend, let alone an ex. Frankly, she’s a bit offended.

“I wouldn’t call them my coworkers, exactly.” Without another word, she nudges Ishigaki aside and pulls the tarp off the body. The cause of death is a single gunshot wound to the head, and the victim was subsequently pushed out the fifth floor of the office high-rise.

Todoroki hands her a witness report with notes jotted down.

“The perp was seen running to the parking lot. We have Higuchi following him on traffic cams now. No murder weapon has been found yet.”

After working with the famed high school detective for several years, Todoroki has likened herself to an older sister figure. Sasazuka had placed great trust in Yako, so it seems proper to do the same now. More often than not, it’s Ms. Rules and Regulations Todoroki Shizuka that most willingly gives up information, despite being as big of a stickler as her boss at headquarters. The ever-incompetent Ishigaki, on the other hand, is purely a pain.

“This is high-tech,” says Kanae as she’s ushered away from the crime scene. Having seen enough, Yako shoves her friend and assistant outside the police tape. Nowadays, she does most of the heavily lifting while Neuro waits for a free meal. Unless they hit a prominent roadblock in the investigation, the demon is content to watch his little detective prepare his lunches. Essentially, he’s a (nearly) seven foot tall freeloader.  

Kanae asks where they’re going as Yako digs around for her subway card.

“Metro police headquarters,” Yako replies.

“Oooh, I bet there are plenty of suits there. But you know what I like more than a policeman in uniform?” She leans in, tugging Yako’s sleeve enthusiastically. “Firefighters. Know any of those?”

A spiel about toned arms and nice butts ensues with far too much detail than the blonde detective cares for. If Kanae mentions a shirtless firefighter calendar one more time, Yako might spontaneously combust. Now that would bring some firefighters to the scene, wouldn’t it?

“We probably won’t run into any,” Yako replies, smiling tightly. “What a shame.”

“Not if this turns into an arson case.”

No arson cases,” hisses Yako. “We don’t like those. No one likes those.”

“Except the arson team.”

“No one asked you, Neuro.”

 


 

When she knocks on Usui’s door, he invites her in. After taking one look, he changes his mind and tells her to get out of his sight.

“He seems like he’s got a stick up his ass,” Kanae whispers in Yako’s ear and for once, they are in agreement. Usui Naohiro has a frown permanently glued to his face, and ever since he rose from middle management to the top brass of the Metro Police, his glower has only level-upped. At times, he’ll emit some serious Last Boss vibes from his tiny, compact body.

In the meantime, Yako regrets forgetting to brace herself because Kanae is prone to saying some strange, strange things, such as: “Hey, I might be into that type of guy though.” The delivery is spot on, without a single moment of hesitation and a little too loud to be considered secretive.

“Don’t be greedy,” Yako mutters. “And he’s old as heck.”

“I can hear you, Katsuragi.” Usui taps his pen emphatically on his desk. “I’m only 36, I’ll have you know.”

“Okay, Grandpa.”

A few passing officers smother their giggles with coughs. They have the decency to look sheepish when Usui turns his glare on them. The detectives working the main office are rather fond of Yako, mostly because she has inherited Sasazuka’s tendency to roast Usui on a daily basis. To the chief’s dismay, her witty comebacks are often heavily endorsed by most of his staff, including Tsukushi.

“So? What do you want? I’m a busy man, you know,” Usui says. He pointedly ignores the way she narrows her eyes and juts her chin at the row of tiny bonsai trees perched neatly on his windowsill. The man clearly spends a lot of time tending to his plants, but that is a story Yako could care less about.

“The shooter. Did you ID him or locate his whereabouts?”

“In progress. Go ask Higuchi.” Usui can no longer road block the private detective’s inquiries unless it involves top secret material. Even then, she somehow manages to get her hands on it, and he blames his subordinates and their “accidental” information slips. Every detective that worked with him on the Sicks case knows that Yako witnessed their beloved senior officer’s final moments. They hold a high level of respect for her, both out of regards to the fallen and to her immense bravery. As such, she is given a large degree of liberty within police headquarters.

Yako knows the way to the Cyber Crime Division by heart, stopping to greet several detectives that are riding their desks for the day.

“Popular, aren’t you?” Kanae says, jabbing her in the side with an elbow. “Honestly you could ask any of these guys out on a date and they’d say yes.”

“Buy me a year’s worth of katsudon and I might consider.”

“You’re impossible, Yako.”

They step out on Higuchi’s floor and find that the man has commandeered every single computer in his department. Half are monitoring traffic cams across the city and half are playing a psychedelic video of miscellaneous floating objects. Higuchi himself is lounging in his chair, humming tunelessly.

“Is that the…?”

“HAL virus? No. Modified HAL virus? Yes.” Higuchi swivels in his seat and pushes his glasses onto his forehead. So much for Usui’s attempts at erasing Higuchi’s memory of the vile computer virus. “It’s to boost productivity.”

Yako doesn’t understand how occupying half of workforce’s desktops can enhance productivity, but Higuchi always produces results without fail so she trusts he knows what he’s doing.

“I assume you’re here for my traffic cams?” He gestures vaguely at the office. His personal desk has five monitors, each screen cycling periodically through the city streets.

“Did you find the shooter?” Yako asks as she glances down at his notes. He has photos of a dark blue SUV, its make and model recorded neatly below. The license plates are too blurry to discern clear numbers.

“No, I lost him. He just straight up vanishes after this block here.” Higuchi clicks on one of his screens and displays the SUV in question rolling down a back street. The next camera connects on a wider avenue with heavier traffic, but the blue car never emerges. “Strange, right? There’s nowhere back there for him to park. I had some guys physically check the buildings, too.”

Cars don’t just vanish into thin air. Nougami Neuro can vanish into thin air with one of his tools, but simple human cars — and not the demon ones that gnaw on the sun for energy — don’t simply poof into nonexistence. Puzzled, Yako looks over her shoulder at her blue-clad partner. He shakes his head to say that no demonic magic was used here.

“What about the paint?” Kanae asks.

“What about it?” says Higuchi. He squints at her. “And who are you, by the way?”

Proudly, Kanae introduces herself as the best friend of the world-famous investigator, Katsuragi Yako. She briefly tells the tale of how she shared her lunch with Yako in second grade because Yako’s bento had been filled with a menacing dark matter onigiri that she had probably intended to eat.

“The case, Kanae,” Yako prompts.

“Oh, right. I think the paint changed color.” Using her hand as an example, Kanae displays her pastel pink manicure. When she puts a finger under Higuchi’s desk lamp, the nail polish shifts to a deep magenta hue.

“Kanae, that’s brilliant!” Yako exclaims, grabbing her friend’s hand. Proudly, Kanae beams and flips a lock of hair over her shoulder. Maybe it isn’t all bad having her here. After all, different people can be resourceful in different ways.

The brunette, however, is more interested in leaving her note on Higuchi’s desk and suavely brushing her hand against his. He glances up when she mouths ‘call me’ and, to Yako’s horror, he laughs and offers to treat her to coffee. The hacker prodigy has never been a roundabout guy, but Yako isn’t sure if that’s a blessing or a curse in this case. She refuses to think about it as she pushes her entourage toward the elevator.

 


 

At the office, Kanae orders katsudon just to humor her childhood friend, who sulkily taps away at her keyboard. Yako feels like Kanae continues to one-up her wherever they go, taunting her with this boy-chasing game.

There is enough food to feed a small army, but the delivery man who arrives isn’t at all surprised. He bids them a good evening and leaves them with 20 servings of everything. Neuro pretends to eat to maintain his human appearance, but truthfully he just scraps the food to the half a dozen Evil Fridays scuttling under his desk.

“I didn’t realize detective work was so tiring,” Kanae says, plopping down on the couch next to Yako.

“We move around a lot every day.” Yako flinches, half expecting the springs in the couch to eject her into the ceiling. Nothing happens, which is a relief for the time being. “When I finish eating, we’ll call it quits for today. I have a, uh, program that’s running searches.”

“Wow, I didn’t know you could write code.”

Yako smiles in Akane’s direction. “I had a smart person help me.”

“Speaking of computer stuff,” Kanae says, “that guy who asked me on a coffee date? Himuro, or something?”

“Higuchi.”

“Yes, him. Higuchi. He’s really cute. You’re okay if I take dibs on that one?”

“All yours, Kanae.” Yako inhales her fifth bowl of rice. They wouldn’t make a bad pair, Kanae and Higuchi, but the former seems a little too high strung for the police force’s resident hacker. Both of them are nonstop in their studies and their work, but Higuchi likes doing things for shits and giggles. He’s had some dark times, but it’s been a while since then, and his personality is the opposite of disciplined, despite the plethora of etiquette videos Usui tries to brainwash him with.

Kanae, on the other hand, likes trendy things. She studies fashion and business, she wants to study abroad in France (and is ridiculously envious of Yako’s travels), and she’s a sharp, no-nonsense gal for the most part. Yako’s always been baffled by her friend’s outrageous flirting, but it’s never a fake approach. Kanae knows how people work and how to best approach them — at least, in dating — and that’s the most important part of an investigator’s job.

“Thanks for helping today, Kanae. Even though you give me unnecessary stress.”

“I will be here to give you stress until you’re old and gray.” Kanae leans against Yako’s shoulder, grinning.

How wonderful, Yako thinks, more people to torment me into old age.

“Of course, I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Yako sighs. She should’ve known, judging from Kanae’s cheeky grin and the dozens of paper slips in that Fendi handbag. The quest for a man is far from over. None of her detective skills or her past experiences will ever prepare her for the terror that is Kagohara Kanae. Hell, the girl could make boyfriend hunting an Olympic sport. Yako mentally adds a gold medal for the nation of Japan.

“I can’t say anything to convince you otherwise?” Yako attempts weakly. She has seen bloodshed and violence, terrorist attacks and pure evil, but this is an entirely different predicament altogether.

Kanae grins.

Nope.”