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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!”

 

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

There is such thing as watching too many Hollywood crime shows, but telling Kanae that she’s going overboard is useless. The brunette is dressed in a tight pencil skirt, a frilly white blouse, and shiny black pumps, AKA the most impractical “detective” outfit Yako has ever laid eyes on. 8 o’clock in the morning is too early to be dealing with Kanae’s game of dress-up.

“Your feet are gonna hurt,” she warns her friend.

“I’m fancy, but not stupid,” replies Kanae. “I brought a pair of flats.”

Slightly relieved, Yako retrieves the list of shops that Akane had researched. Only three of them provide clients with color-changing paint and two only cater to high-class clientele. The last one sits in a corner of Chuo and offers their services to the general population.

“Oh, Madarame Painting,” Kanae reads over Yako’s shoulder. “I know the place. One of my exes went there to get a new coat for his car. It’s not a bad shop. Good prices.”

“I feel like you have a lot of exes I don’t know about,” Yako mutters. In high school, she’d been the go-to for anything and everything boy related. It was never for advice, of course. Instead, she’d scouted Kanae’s crushes, acted as a love letter courier, and even served as a personal Valentine’s Day chef.

“You’re always traveling! I didn’t want to bother you,” Kanae says. “Besides, you were always bored by this stuff.”

“I’m not bored by it! I’m your best friend! I wanna hear about it.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll catch you up some time.” Kanae smiles at the detective’s slight pout. “But you know, I’ve made it my personal goal to get you a date too.”

“Oh, wonderful.” Yako rolls her eyes and heads to the door. “Neuro, you coming?”

“Our client has emailed us so I will stay here and respond to them in Sensei’s place.” He flashes his sharp teeth ominously. Yako’s gut churns, worried he might be plotting something dastardly in the office while she’s gone. Maybe he’ll procure a basket of hallucinogenic mushrooms for her to consume. Knowing Neuro, he’d mash it into a perfume and spray it on her pillow.

“Suit yourself,” she says, hurrying outside to hail a taxi. Kanae chatters enthusiastically, mostly about the pretty-boy painter she’d met last time at Madarame.

“If I hadn’t been dating my ex, I would’ve gone for him.” She taps her bottom lip thoughtfully. “I hope he’s still there.”

The trip is short and they reach a row of stocky warehouses, each one home to some blue-collar company or another. Nestled amongst them is Madarame Painting, a plainly decorated garage with a simple sign hung above a wide entrance. A man finishing a paint job sings to himself and Yako swears it’s the opening to a magical girl anime she caught Godai watching once.

It suddenly hits her why Neuro chose not to attend. Subconsciously, Yako touches the waistband of her shorts as if to confirm that it’s not creeping up her torso. Most certainly, the sight of her tall assistant would’ve sent the young man before them into frightened hysterics, since Neuro had set him on fire last time.

“Can I help you?” asks the painter, eyeing the last coat of red paint he’d just applied. “Walk-ins are welcome. Car-tan you’re so moe.

“Did he just call the car ‘car-tan’ or am I hearing things?” Kanae asks, appalled.

“Oh he did. He definitely did.” Yako forces a friendly smile onto her face and introduces herself. “Hello Mr. Homura. I believe we’ve met before.”

The young man looks up. Nobody besides Homura Tetsuyuki can physically wear his pants that high — the belt buckles are strapped directly across his ribcage — and feel zero embarrassment as a member of modern society. Yako is filled with merciless glee at Kanae’s disgust, which she conceals with difficulty. The score is now Kanae: 3, Yako: 1. Here is a male specimen that certainly won’t be receiving a phone number today.

Recognition lights up Homura’s eyes and he takes off his cap. Ever since Neuro had scorched him bald with a flamethrower, he’d worn his hair short à la Godai, his camouflage bandanna wrapped neatly around his forehead.

“Detective! How are you? It’s been a while.” He’s a very friendly fellow, albeit incredibly bizarre. The Hatsune Miku phone case and anime girl t-shirt peeking from under his cover-all coveralls speak volumes about his interests. His eyes are obscured behind perfectly circular glasses and the lenses are engraved with spirals, leading Yako to believe that they have no functionality whatsoever.

“I’m doing well, thanks. I was hoping you could help us with a case.” She shows him the photos of the blue SUV, as well as a few more shots Higuchi had sent over of another car. It’s the same type but in a different color.

After a few minutes of studying the evidence, Homura hands the pictures back. In an instant, he turns off his otaku mode and dives into an explanation.

“This is Chameleon paint,” he says. “It’s also called ‘Flip Flop’ or just ‘Color Changing’ paint.”

“And it changes color randomly?” Yako asks. “Any color?”

“Chameleon paint will change colors depending on angle and lighting. Kind of like one of those holographic images.” Homura rolls his stool over to his workbench and pulls out a catalogue. “It uses a special pearl pigment to separate the light. We paint it on in three stages: a black base, the Chameleon paint layer, and then a clear spray.”

He hands Yako the small register of paint colors. “What you have there looks like ‘Tokyo Drift.’ It’s very popular.”

“May we see your customer records? I’d like to know if anyone has had this type of paint job done on this model of car.”

“Oh you don’t even need the records,” Homura says. “I worked on that car myself. Let me pull up the name.”

Kanae, who has been silent the whole time, pokes Yako in the side. Having temporarily lost interest in her hot guy scouting, she is now smitten with Yako’s detective work. Easily bouncing back from her initial disappointment, she instantly transitions to playing Nancy Drew. Yako thinks it’s kind of nice to have someone admire her job, and if her best friend is enjoying herself then it can’t be all bad to let her stick around.

“Can I do it?” Kanae asks.

“Do what?”

“Your pointing thing.”

“My pointing thing?”

Kanae turns and jabs a finger dramatically at a shiny car. “The culprit is you!

Yako rolls her eyes and tells her friend that they are far from finding the culprit, but when they do, she’ll consider letting Kanae call them out. Delighted, Kanae continues to practice pointing at random vehicles in the shop.

“Does the name Tanaka Masayoshi ring a bell?” Homura asks. He writes down the name and hands it to Yako.

“No, but this is more than enough.” Yako sends the name to Akane. “Thanks for your help, Mr. Homura.”

They leave the shop to the sound of Homura whistling another moe moe theme song, which makes Kanae shudder. Besides obtaining the potential name of their shooter, Yako had also proved to Kanae that she cannot and should not flirt with every male they encounter. Maybe it will subdue her voracious appetite for a boyfriend, if only for a short while. The only other worry is what comes after Kanae can’t get her own date. She dubs it the Yako Plan.

The goal of the Yako Plan is simple: to set up Yako with some poor, unfortunate soul whose wallet will not withstand her colossal dietary needs. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again, but Yako does not want to shame some poor kid in public with her perfectly unabashed ability to eat a 12-course meal.

Conclusion? Pray that someone takes Kanae out on a satisfying date. With luck, it’ll be Higuchi because he’s the most normal candidate they’ve met so far. Yako can only cross her fingers.

 


 

When they reach the office, they find two guests waiting for them. One is a middle school girl, and the other is her mother.

“Who’s she?” asks Kanae. “A friend?”

“Our client,” Yako explains. “Mrs. Miyasako and her daughter, Mutsuki.”

“Ms. Detective, have you found any leads?” asks the mother. She is dressed crisply in a business suit that makes Kanae’s stylish skirt look childish. As the daughter of Tanukiya Toy Company’s late CEO, Mrs. Miyasako is the picture of professionalism.

“Mrs. Miyasako, you really shouldn’t be here.” Yako smiles briefly at Mutsuki, who is scribbling into a journal. Summer homework, probably. “You put in a case request in secret, after all. I’m not trying to be rude, I’m just looking out for you.”

“I know, but I’m worried. If it gets out that someone from my father’s old private circle has been using exotic animal furs to design our new children’s jackets, the company will be ruined!”

After eyeing the woman up and down, Kanae perks up at the mention of fashion. She nudges Yako with her elbow and mouths, What company?

“Does the name Tanaka Masayoshi sound familiar?” Yako asks. She gestures subtly at Mutsuki’s dress, a garment manufactured by Tanukiya’s new clothing department. Kanae eyes the brand logo with widened eyes.

“No, I don’t know who that is,” says Mrs. Miyasako. “I’m a businesswoman, Ms. Detective. My father’s employees can’t trick me so easily, but now that I’m a part of company management, this is a really difficult place to be.”

“I understand. We’re working on it,” Yako replies. “And don’t worry, I’ll let you know if anything comes up. For now, please keep on the down-low.”

The woman thanks her and beckons for her daughter. Before she leaves, Mutsuki struts up to Yako and opens her notebook to reveal a very lengthy script.

“I’m writing a movie,” she announces. “It’s about you, Ms. Detective. Who do you want as your actress? I’ve already decided that Orlando Bloom will play Mr. Assistant.”

“Anyone will do,” Yako says, laughing at the mental image of a Hollywood actor donned in Neuro’s gaudy blue outfit. The costume department would have a field day, especially with the demon batteries dangling from his hair. Honestly, even if Neuro had been some sort of Tengu out of Japanese mythology, he would still ruin fashion with his loud, garish colors. Yako imagines Neuro in an impossibly bright blue hakama and a cape with gold triangle print…

“If I could go back in time, I’d pick Jennifer Euing,” Mutsuki says, interrupting Yako’s fantasy Edo era Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro reverie. “Because she’s pretty, like you.”

Yako pales. “I’m flattered, but maybe not Jen Euing. It has to be someone that looks more like me, okay?”

“Well decide soon, Ms. Detective, because I’m gonna be the first middle school director this world’s ever seen!” Mutsuki grins and darts out the door, notebook clutched to her chest.

“You know, I think Jen Euing could play me instead.” Kanae winks. “You have the strangest connections, Yako. I’m still amazed. How do you do it?”

“Some of them are more like occupational hazards.”

Neuro clears his throat, drawing their attention to the envelope in his hands. Now there is an example of an occupational hazard, or rather, the source of them.

“Mrs. Miyasako came in person to deliver this personnel roster. She was too wary to send it via email,” he says, sliding a packet across the desk and tapping it with a gloved finger. “Names are being cross-listed. I have also sent them to Mr. Godai.”

“Thanks, Neuro.” The corner of Yako mouth twitches because it’s a shame Godai isn’t here to witness Neuro call him by his actual name and not some new insult like ‘salt-drenched slug.’ It’s about time they pay his office a visit to dig up some extra information. She’s about to turn around when she feels the telltale press of a trip-wire against her ankles. A tile springs out from under her and flips her face first into the coffee table, shattering the glass and startling Kanae.

Neuro feigns concern and rushes to her side, declaring that the cuts on her hands and face need to be treated right away. He procures a bottle labeled as rubbing alcohol, but Yako is sure that its contents are vile and corrosive. She’d like to keep her hands and face intact, thanks.

“I just tripped! Nothing bad! I’m fine. Tell Ikeya we need a new table!” Yako scrambles to her feet and tugs Kanae by the wrist, slamming the door behind them. “Bye Neuro!

Yako skips three steps at a time down the stairs, yanks her best friend into the street, and prays that nothing outside the office is booby-trapped. A corner of her brain reminds her that she’ll have to go see Ikeya Tooru herself because Neuro doesn’t do chores, but for now she’s running as fast as she can with Kanae in tow, sprinting into Tokyo at high noon.

 


 

“You’re just here for free lunch,” Godai snarls. He tries to sound vicious but slaps down a fourth platter of top grade sushi in front of her anyway. Since his glare is ineffective against the gluttonous 21-year-old, he turns his ferocity to Kanae. He’s caught between looking puzzled, pleased, and angry all at once when the brunette hands him her number with a seductive wink.

They’re seated at a round table across from the company president’s wife. Mochizuki Kaede is no more than three years older than them, and while her shiny geezer of a husband bans her from the office, she sneaks in anyway and has a grand ole time hanging out with Godai. Her pricy kimono oozes wealth, but the way she casually slings an arm across the back of her chair speaks to a different past. The second they walk into the room, she locks eyes with Kaede and they have a Moment. Yako is vaguely reminded of meeting a certain furniture maker who instantly recognized Neuro as a fellow freak. She’ll have to shame the craftsman’s kinks with a vengeance the next time they meet, which should be soon thanks to Neuro.

“If you’re fishin’ for an old man, you gotta dress neatly,” Kaede says without hesitating. “No corporate office man wants a yankii for a wife. That’s what I thought, at least, and here I am.”

Yako gapes at her, eyes bulging out of their sockets. You can’t get much more open about marrying for the money. Godai is completely unfazed, having seen every realm of hell and survived to tell the tale. In fact, his face is completely serene, like a Buddha statue in prayer. Yako speculates that the two of them are more comfortable in their street punk camaraderie than they are in business management.

“You get to do whatever you want at home. I sleep in until 11 every day.” Kaede begins listing the pros of marrying an old rich guy. “He gives me unlimited vacations. I’ve gone to the Bahamas, Spain, America, France…”

World travel has Kanae violently whipping out a notebook and writing down the ridiculous advice the older girl is spewing. She nods vigorously at every word and Yako is slightly concerned.

“You gotta pick the right type of old man. Tech companies are big now, but lawyers are good too.” Kaede nods to herself, mentally making a checklist for her new comrade. “The ones to should look out for are the good-natured middle-aged guys. They’re always up to no good. Stay away from those.”

After a moment of consideration, she adds, “Unless they’re hot and you’re looking for a fling.”

“Okay!” Yako interrupts. “I’ve heard enough. Godai, do you have anything about the case?”

She snatches at the notebook and pen, but Kanae practically hisses at her and erects a wall with her arms. Yako swears she sees her friend draw a fire emoji. She actually draws it. It matters very little that Kanae has cutesy handwriting and pretty stationary because the words inside are absolutely horrifying. 777 Tools of the Demon World: Evil Notes.

“I might. It’s a local office rented under your man Tanaka’s name,” says Godai, opening a laptop. “They rent out freight trucks and Huolong Guo exports is one of their clients. They’re closed now, but you might catch him if you go tomorrow morning. I’ll drive, if you want.”

“Thanks Godai,” Yako replies. “I can always count on you.”

Godai smiles, affectionately ruffling the detective’s hair until she swats him away. He and Kaede wave goodbye as the two girls head for the elevators. The case is moving along despite being interspersed with her best friend’s boy-crazy antics. At this point it’s not even a quest for a boy, seeing as Kanae’s range has just expanded to anyone under the sun who can hold a conversation and pay for dinner.

That, and she shamelessly flirts with just about everyone. Yako decides the worst offenses are with Neuro and the older Hayasaka brother. Even she were gifted with Phantom Thief X’s disappearing memory, Yako would still remember Kanae’s sultry winks. But like Sasazuka might’ve said, nothing ventured, nothing gained. There must be something to be gained from all this pain and embarrassment, right?

Wrong.

Chapter Text

This is a bigger betrayal than Lil Betrayer’s Final Betrayal, and Yako only knows what the hell that is because Ishigaki had verbally recounted the entire last volume of the manga to her once. Said betrayal is the fact that Kanae is already seated shotgun next to Godai when he rolls up to the office.

“I had him pick me up at my apartment because I figured it would be easier,” Kanae explains. Her fervent phone number distribution hasn’t been completely in vain. Godai rubs the back of his neck sheepishly when Yako shoots him a glare and wordlessly climbs into the truck. Since there aren’t any seats left up front, she crawls into the cargo bed. The engine revs and they rumble along to their suspect’s office.

Kanae doesn’t seem to notice that Yako is silently fuming because a) it doesn’t last very long and b) she’s too busy putting the moves on Godai. It turns out the man was birthed straight from a bad shoujo manga as rough side character with a macho exterior and mushy insides, weak to anything pink and pretty. Kanae is wearing a pink top. Kanae is pretty.

Yako squirms at the best-friend-hits-on-brother feeling, but elects to say nothing. If it goes well, then good for her, but if Kanae ends up with four or five awful dates, she’ll inevitably complain and Yako will be able to say, “I told you so.”

The car is parked in a mostly vacant lot and they locate the address across the street. It’s a very boring, stout structure with four floors and peeling paint.

“I wanna feel like a real detective, Yako, kinda like the type that sneaks into sketchy places and uses a magnifying glass to look at shit.”

“This is about as real as it gets.” Yako turns to Kanae. “When we get there, I’ll let you—”

Her voice trails off, distracted by Godai’s dumbfounded gawking. She and Kanae follow his line of sight but they can hear and feel it before they even turn. Their jaws fall open as they stare at their destination, now engulfed in sky-high flames. No one exits the building. An alarm blares weakly in the distance, a useless, tinny sound.

The fire roars over the building like a hungry beast, swallowing the foundations and collapsing half of the west side. They can do nothing but gape at the disaster as emergency responders begin flooding the scene. Even from across the street, they can feel the blistering heat. Amidst the chaos, the only thing Yako’s brain manages to come up with is:

“Well, Kanae, I found your firefighters.”

 


 

Usui’s second favorite pastime after growing little bonsai trees is probably giving Yako a hard time. He traps all three of them in separate interrogation rooms for no real reason, surrounding them with metal tables, metal chairs, and a one-way mirror. Yako glares at the gray walls with a passion.

The head of the arson squad is none other than Kanno Hiroshi, an avid Katsuragi Yako fan. He’d been the officer on site during Homura Tetsuyuki’s case at the start of the HAL incident. Since then, he’s been transferred from his homely prefectural station to a big Tokyo precinct and has become quite the big shot at headquarters.

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Ms. Detective,” Kanno says. “But you know how protocol works. We have to question you as a witness.”

“No worries,” says Yako. “I understand.”

Despite her words, Yako’s impatience grows by the minute. Kanno is a friendly face at headquarters in a department that is peculiarly chilly toward its guests, which is ironic since their specialty is fire. He’sul for the officer’s hospitality but also worried about Kanae. More specifically, she’s worried that Kanae might kick up a fuss or continue soliciting her phone number to every man in the building. The firefighters from earlier had not been spared.

“I’m, uh, kind of concerned about my friend. She’s just a civilian. And Godai, too. He’s the blond guy.”

“If you’d like, we can put you three in the same room,” Kanno says. “I’m not very sure why you were separated. It’s not like you’re suspects.”

Yako bites back a scathing insult about the chief of police and decides she’ll steal everything in Usui’s personal fridge later. She’s reassured when Godai and Kanae shortly join her in the room, although both look tired, hungry, and annoyed. It’s a surprise neither of them have flipped a table yet, since Godai is inclined to sudden bouts of super strength when nutritionally deficient and Kanae is impatient by nature.

“Are they really experts?” mutters the brunette, plopping down in the seat to the right. “I overheard they can’t even find the source of the fire.”

“They’re Japan’s best, Kanae.” Yako glances uncomfortably at Kanno, who overhears them. The poor man breaks into a cold sweat at the accusations. Yako swears she sees his gray hair turn grayer.

“Yeah? Well I heard that during the HAL incident five years ago, the police weren’t able to even touch the virus and it infected their officers instead.”

“That would be my fault, then.” The door opens and Higuchi saunters in, a laptop tucked under his arm and dark-rimmed glasses perched on his forehead. His fringe is a mess and he looks like he hasn’t slept since the last time they saw him, which is either because he’s been working the case or he’s been developing another prank to infect Usui’s computer with. Yako cannot say she disapproves of either.

“Higuchi! What’re you doing here?” she asks.

“Finished processing some data the arson team sent. I also have security cam footage from neighboring buildings of when the building went up.” He sets the laptop on the table and scrolls through the recordings. “As you can see, the photos here are of the remains, but we know the fire was extremely fast and extremely hot. We’re trying to figure what kind of fuel they used. It’s definitely not gasoline.”

Kanno points at the charred remains. “The canine team tried to identify the substance used, but we’re honestly not sure. Very little was left behind for forensic analysis and what we have gave us mixed test results. Looks like expert work.”

“Well, have you at least found a source?” asks Kanae, disregarding the warning in Yako’s eyes. “Criminals are creative, you know.”

“Yes, I’m sure they know,” Yako says, forcing an awkward laugh. Her friend is particularly bullheaded when it comes to details. Quality of work is very important to Kanae, and maybe that’s why they’re friends — both of them throw their hearts into what they do, regardless of the consequences. For Yako, it’s investigating, and for Kanae, it’s school or fashion or boyfriend hunting.

The generally easygoing Kanno has an uncomfortable smile pasted to his face as he struggles to keep the conversation amicable. Fan of Yako or not, he’s not about to stand for damaging the police force’s good name.

“She could be onto something,” Higuchi says, flashing a toothy grin. He taps his forehead. “Sometimes you’ve got to think like a criminal to figure out their plans.”

“Or, you know, be one,” Yako deadpans, raising an eyebrow at him. Higuchi laughs and hands a manila folder to the private detective. Inside are evidence photos, charts, and several scientific reports.

“And you,” Higuchi continues, nodding at Kanae. “I think I owe you an extra coffee. You’re pretty clever.”

Kanae beams, and Yako is maybe (read: maybe) a little bit proud of her best friend. The arson team takes their official statements and releases them from the stuffy interrogation room. Yako swipes all of Usui’s favorite yogurt from his fridge while he’s conveniently out-of-office. The tiny man won’t know what hit him.

As they exit the building, Godai stretches his arms over his head. “Where to, Detective? We’ve sort of hit a dead end. Any evidence in that building is fried and crispy.”

Mmm…fried and crispy, Yako thinks, imagining a slab of tonkatsu perfectly breaded and seared in oil. She doesn’t notice Kanae slap Godai’s arm and scold him for his poor choice of words. Anyone who knows Yako is well aware that food adjectives are taboo. You could so much as utter “juicy” and Yako will be drooling over a vivid mental image of Japanese sirloin steak.

“W-well, it’s true!” sputters Godai, reddening when Kanae leans in close. Ohhh man, how pretty she is in pink. “It’s not like we casually know an arsonist.”

Yako is wrenched from her reverie. The conversation with Higuchi a few minutes ago bounces around in her head amongst the Chinese pork buns and soup dumplings. She asks Godai to repeat himself.

“We…don’t casually know an arsonist?”

Kanae stares at her and reads into her thoughts with her piercing Yako Vision. “Are you saying you do know an arsonist?”

Somewhere in there, the implied “is he hot?” is lost amidst Yako’s growing dread. She is definitely going to need lunch before they do this, or she might die of every unpleasant emotion possible. A golden brown tonkatsu sounds excellent right now. Yes, fried and crispy over an intense flame…ah, a flame…fire…arson…

Yako shakes her head vigorously and breaks into a run in the direction of the nearest restaurant, her stomach growling in distress. Sensing the panic in her sudden hunger, Kanae snatches Godai’s wrist and takes off in a dead sprint after her ravenous friend.

 


 

The Madarame Painting shop is the same as it was yesterday. A glance inside reveals not Homura, but instead a different painter who wears his pants properly. At least, Yako thinks so until she spies the camouflage bandanna tied around his head. Looks can be deceiving.

“Yako, it’s the hot painter I was telling you about!” Kanae squeals, clutching Yako’s arm tight enough to leave finger-shaped bruises. While she could inform her friend of the ikemen painter’s real identity, Yako figures she’ll get the full cinematic effect just by walking up and calling his name. Maybe they should’ve brought popcorn.

“Mr. Homura,” Yako says, strutting confidently into the garage. She can’t wait for Kanae’s reaction.

The painter looks up from his work. His fingers hover over a white car this time, polished with his favorite moe white hue. He appears to be doing some fine detail work on one of the doors.

“Back so soon, Ms. Detective? Did you find anything?” he asks.

“No fucking way,” Kanae hisses close to Yako’s ear. She does not miss the detective’s cheeky grin, which doesn’t disappear even when she seizes Yako’s shoulder with a vice grip.

“Yes, we did, but now we’ve hit a dead end.” There’s a pause as Yako contemplates Homura’s lack of swirly glasses, his rather pretty face, and the jeans that start at his hips instead of his armpits. He’s quite handsome, but the stark contrast with his appearance yesterday is jarring to say the least. Homura notices her slight confusion right away and laughs nervously.

“I, uh, got heckled by my—” he very suspiciously glances behind him, “—uh, my mom.”

Godai doesn’t miss a beat and silently backs out of the shop. Whoever’s in that back office will be thoroughly checked out by the ex-yakuza and his lock-picking skills. Typically, Neuro would strap a pair of demon bifocals (or something equally awful) onto Yako’s head, but luckily, he’s absent. Yako is thankful she doesn’t have to squint through a solid wall while trying to keep a pair of binoculars from munching on her brain.

“Ah, but that’s my name, Yako! Braineater,” Neuro would say.

Next to her, Kanae mouths, “I can’t believe it,” and folds her arms petulantly. Yako is willing to bet her best friend is having a mental civil war over whether to hand the ridiculously good-looking Homura her phone number or keep it to herself. His magical girl obsession is difficult to move past, after all. A smart human man might’ve quipped, “but Ms. Kanae, you’re magical to me,” but smart human men are few and far between.

“Mr. Homura, we’ve encountered some more evidence that we think you might be able to help us with.” She pulls out the file. “And if you can’t, then maybe you know someone who could.”

The painter takes a single look at the files, registers Yako’s implications, and starts sweating bullets. Tightlipped, he chuckles helplessly and pushes the materials across his table.

“I honestly don’t remember, Ms. Detective. I can’t tell you anything about fires. Everything I did was because of HAL.”

“Sure, but someone taught you your fire trick beforehand, right?”

Homura pales until he’s nearly the same shade as the car beside him, but Yako is relentless. Maybe her almost ruthless interrogation skills are a direct result of spending time with the world’s cruelest sadist.

“Maybe like a family member?” she presses, stepping closer and slamming a hand on the workbench. “One who happens to wear a hat all the time? Has burn scars? Set Queen Mary’s hotel on fire last year?

“I have no idea what you mean!” Homura stands up abruptly, fiddling with the waistband of his pants. He brandishes his cellphone like a sword, eyes flitting between a new message and the very insistent detective.

“Mr. Homura,” says Yako. “Help us and we can help you.”

“Um, I don’t really need your help,” he says, backing away. Whatever message he’d just read is visibly spiking his anxiety levels. “But I really hope that guy who went around back knows where our fire extinguisher is. Or has a gun. Either one would be good.”

Yako immediately breaks for the shop’s office. The lights are off, curtains drawn, and the entrance appears to be locked. She skids to a stop when the door swings open and Godai emerges with his hands up in surrender. The hem of his shirt is charred and a pistol is pointed at his head. Kanae shrieks and dives under the workbench.

“I warned you,” says Homura under his breath. He turns to the man holding Godai hostage and lifts his phone in apology. “Sorry, Uncle. I couldn’t text you in time.”

Yako doesn’t even bother glaring at him.

“Let him go, Kasai,” she says, raising her hands. “I don’t have anything, see? No weapons.”

“Don’t need weapons when you’ve got that monster on your side,” says the arsonist, appearing from behind Godai. He has an arm locked around the ex-yakuza’s neck in a choke hold, forcing the taller man to stagger uncomfortably. “But it looks like he isn’t here today. How convenient for me.”

Yako frowns. Something is off about the way Kasai holds the gun. The barrel is pressed to Godai’s temple, but the hand carriage is strange. Just like an expert swordsman can tell if a single gram of his blade has chipped off, an experienced marksman knows how many cartridges they have left by weight alone. Yako, who doesn’t make it a habit to regularly carry firearms, may not know by weight but she certainly knows by sight.

“It’s empty. Your gun has no rounds in it,” she declares. The warehouse goes deathly silent as she holds her breath.

Kasai grins, releasing Godai and dodging the fist that swings at his face. Flames burst from his palm to ward off any more physical attacks. Despite his combative temperament, the handyman has had his share of burnt sleeves for the day. He backs off, eyeing the trickle of flame that crawls from scarred fingers.

“You got me there, kiddo.” Kasai lets the gun dangle by its handle. “I guess I don’t use these enough to fool anyone.”

“Uncle, please, you’re making me nervous with the gun,” Homura says.

“Yeah, I can tell by your pants,” Kasai responds dryly, nodding at his nephew’s now collarbone-height waistband. From under the table, Kanae snorts, and Yako wonders how on earth her friend has forgotten her fear in such a short period of time. The gun must’ve frightened her, but now that Yako has called Kasai’s bluff, the brunette has returned to her usual self, blissfully unaware of the arsonist’s real weapon.

The criminal is essentially unchanged from the first and last time Yako met him, save for the burn scars scattered across his body. They’re carved into his skin in dark, ragged patterns, peering from beneath his hat and stretching up his jawline. Other than that, Kasai is still the same crazy uncle with the same crazy laugh that had chased her alongside Vijaya in a luxury hotel, sparks crackling around his knuckles.

It hits Godai five minutes too late who he is. He points Yako-style and yells, “You’re that guy that helped Chi-boy try to kill us! What the fuck is this?”

“Nice to see you again, too,” Kasai snickers. He pockets the gun and smirks. “By the way, you’re a little lacking for one of Saotome’s boys if you can’t even overpower a middle-aged guy like me.”

At the mention of his former boss, Godai lunges. Yako is too late to catch his arm before a huge pillar of flame nearly singes off his already-thin eyebrows. Kasai glances deliberately at the ground as if to say they should look more carefully before they leap. Trails of lighter fluid have neatly woven around their shoes in impossibly controlled circles. The method is unclear, but Yako has long since come to terms with the fact that New Bloodline members don’t obey the laws of logic. The last survivor of the group is no exception to the rule. 

Yako swiftly grabs Godai’s shoulder and physically blocks him from taking another swing. He bristles, jaw clenched so hard she can see the muscle in his cheek pulsating, but she prays he won’t detonate at the drop of a hat. Kasai is an expert at setting things ablaze, the fiery (pun intended) types like Godai included.

“Last year, Queen Mary’s Hotel. That was you, wasn’t it?” Yako asks as her companion cools off. “And before that, Fang Hair Salon and the gourmet restaurant, Supreme S.”

“Not bad, young lady.” Kasai takes a long drag from his cigarette despite his nephew’s weak protests. Homura’s split expression is slightly amusing. He’s stuck somewhere between exasperation and distress, like he’s accustomed to his insane uncle’s company but still not sure how to deal with it. The two are surprisingly close for such an oddball uncle-nephew duo.

“It’s a little obvious when you target the locations of my past cases,” Yako says.

“I’m just an old man trying to have fun. And I hear you need my help, Ms. Detective.” He cackles at Yako’s pained expression and with a snap of his fingers, fire snakes rapidly toward Kanae. The flames sizzle away just short of her toes, but she turns white as a ghost, her giggles forgotten.

Yako debates leaving now, but if they do, Kasai will be gone by the time they call Metro PD. If they speed dial Usui, he'll immediately barbecue them all with glee, so Yako pulls the photos from her folder and holds them out. She’d originally thought of Kasai in the first place, so finding him here is not completely unwelcome. They could’ve done without the gun and the flames, though, mostly for Kanae’s sake.

“I need to know what kind of fuel was used, and where the source of the fire was. The building belongs to one of your nephew’s clients who is a suspect in a recent murder.”

“And it’s linked to the exotic animal trade,” Kasai adds. He smirks arrogantly at her surprise. “I know my stuff, missy.”

He approaches the small detective and everyone around her stiffens, but she doesn’t budge. Yako lets him take the photos and browse through them at his leisure, although he looks thoroughly unimpressed.

“The police can’t even identify this? What’s that bastard Usui doing these days?” Kasai flips through the files again.

“You know what it is?”

Kasai gives her a withering glance as if to say, “who do you think I am?” and then fans himself with the folder, waiting expectantly.

Yako is well aware he won’t cough up the information without a price. She’s tempted to give him a free pass from the police, but he’s too shrewd and would instantly figure out that “one free pass” means “just for today.” The best answer might lie with a certain research agency’s vice president, the angry Pomeranian with two lip rings and bleached hair. It won’t be pretty, but it’s worth a shot.

“Information,” Yako proposes. “From an established research agency. Anything you want.”

“Is this a one-time offer?” Kasai asks. “Because if so, then no thanks.”

Behind her, Godai starts to fidget. A vein bulges on his forehead; he obviously doesn’t like the idea, one-time or not. His desire to pummel Kasai into the ground is clear as day, but Yako would prefer to go home with fried takoyaki and not fried Godai. Broken down negotiations make a bad dressing for any meal.

“I know a good real estate agent. Underworld, of course,” she says. “One of Tierra’s old associates.”

“Don’t need a house.”

“Cigarettes?” she tries.

“Got plenty.”

Money?” Yako doesn’t have money. It’s purely a reach and she hopes that Kasai says no.

Luckily, he refuses money, but now they’ve circled back to Godai’s research company. The arsonist ups his side of the deal, offering to help her whenever she likes so long as he gets full, unlimited access to the agency’s underground network. Yako can tell that his only motive is to dance with fire, both literally and figuratively. Tsukushi once told her that Kasai’s lifelong desire was longevity, despite constantly trying to die in flames. He’d probably be content to spend his days taunting the police and playing mind games with Neuro now that no one like Sicks is pulling the strings. Whether or not he has one big bang left in him is still up in the air.

“Ms. Detective,” he says, “there’s one thing you left out about those places I burned down.”

Yako recalls the three incidents over the past two years, the first occurring once Neuro had returned from the Demon Realm. After investigating each case, she grew suspicious about each target’s connection to one of her past mysteries. Neuro had lost interest, claiming that the puzzle was bland, which led her to believe that Kasai Zenjirou was alive. There was never a real motive to seek out the arsonist, so she let the thought remain a theory.

It’s a game, she realizes. Kasai will continue to commit crimes regardless of what goes down in the next five minutes. Allowing him to escape arrest at his pleasure is simply a bonus. His ultimate motive is unclear, but one thing is for sure: there’s potential here.

“No one died,” Yako says. “Every building was either closed for the night or under construction.”

“That’s right. This world is a criminal’s wonderland, Ms. Detective,” Kasai answers. “Consider it a small gift.”

Yako shifts her gaze to Kanae. Her best friend is still crouched under the workbench, caught between fear and admiration and something else Yako can’t put her finger on. This is a morally questionable decision. She doesn’t want to give Kanae an unpleasant impression, but sometimes that’s just how it goes.

“All right, Kasai,” she says, finding her resolve. “Here’s the deal. You help us whenever we need you to regarding any relevant subject, and in return we give you full access to the information you might find useful. But there’s one condition.”

“Name it.”

Over the years, if there’s anything Yako has learned, it is that death is permanent. You cannot breathe life into the deceased no matter how hard you try, no matter how many supercomputers you collect in one place, no matter how smart and resourceful you are. You can’t bring back dead fathers. You can’t take back a gunshot to the head. Even if you’re a nearly infallible demon with his plucky human sidekick, time is cruel and irreversible. She supposes that a man like Kasai knows very well how precious time is, seeing as he simply wants enjoy life as he grows old.

“You can’t kill anyone,” she says. “Fires or no fires, you can’t kill anyone.”

Kasai laughs, voice echoing in the garage until he almost goes hoarse. He has a smoker’s vocal chords, husky and grating, but the way his laughter rings so clearly sends a chill down her spine. Grinning, he pulls the gun from his belt and tosses it to her, handle first. It’s unloaded and shows no signs of recent use. Yako puts the weapon on the ground, sliding it aside with her foot.

“Well?” she asks.

“Deal.” Kasai shakes the detective’s outstretched hand. “You’re not too shabby, Ms. Detective.”

Yako doesn’t even flinch when fire scorches her palm.

Chapter Text

“Do you have chemical analysis of the accelerant?” Kasai asks, seated on the stool his nephew quickly vacates for him. He sounds like a college professor expecting a lab report, and Yako briefly wonders if she’s talking to Harukawa Eisuke again.

“I have whatever’s in this folder from Metro’s arson team.” She points at the files now spread across the workbench Kanae had been hiding under less than five minutes ago. Having recovered from her shock, the brunette now idles behind her best friend and peers curiously at the table. Yako is slightly worried that the fear receptors in Kanae’s brain are faulty, but at least she hasn’t done anything…yet. It would be a mistake to expect a compliant Kanae. 

Amongst the photos, Higuchi has included a typed document detailing the basic chemical breakdown of their mystery substance and a graph with mystifying wiggly lines. Unfortunately, Kanae isn’t very science-savvy and Godai’s grade school graduation diploma doesn’t help. Higuchi had probably expected a certain demon in blue to interpret the data.

Kasai scoffs and picks up the graphs. “Whoever took these samples is an idiot. When you do gas chromatography on fire debris, you’re not gonna get pure accelerant. This clearly has wood oils contaminated in the source material.”

The group stares blankly at him.

“What?” Godai asks for all of them.

Kasai sighs, points at the squiggly graph, and explains that each scattered peak represents a component of the material, the heights corresponding to the amounts present. He’s incredibly patient for a pyromaniac, although Yako speculates it’s because he’s had to put up with a dorky nephew and several psychotic villains. Basically, he’s just a superhuman babysitter who should be lauded for his tolerance.

“Mister,” Kanae says, “I thought you were just a criminal.”

I need to start carrying duct tape, Yako thinks as Kanae slides into the seat next to a man with more than 1,342 crimes under his belt. If she could just tape Kanae’s mouth shut and bind her to a chair, then she wouldn’t be talking to serial arsonists. Didn’t the fire scare her at all? Yako almost wishes her best friend were a wimp, but alas she is here with bold Ms. Kagohara, who has already introduced herself again as the Yako’s closest companion, her confidante, her Greatest Friend On Earth.

“You’re really smart,” Kanae adds. “I guess that’s why no one’s caught you.”

Oh, we’ve caught him, Yako thinks. Regrettably, the last of the Five Fingers is like an indestructible, fireproof cockroach with a preference for discontinued Ji-oker cigarettes.

“I had a job once upon a time,” Kasai replies. “And a chemical engineering degree.”

Homura nods approvingly, as if his uncle’s knowledge of forensics somehow justifies setting public spaces on fire for fun. He coughs and his eyes water when the older man deliberately puffs cigarette smoke in his direction.

“That’s neat,” says Kanae. “So what kinda fuel is it?”

Kanae just can’t zip her lips. Yako forces herself to channel her inner Sasazuka. If the inspector had dealt with Ishigaki Jun every freakin’ day, then Yako surely can endure Kanae’s blunt bravery (or is it stupidity?) for a day or two.

Think cool and calm. Think of photosynthesis. Sunlight is my friend. I am…a plant.

Exhaling slowly, Yako feels the tension trickle from her shoulders. Maybe she should start up meditation or yoga, anything to emulate Sasazuka’s remarkable serenity. Her mind clears and she refocuses her attention on the data at hand.

“If it has eight peaks, evenly spaced, then it’s standard kerosene,” says Kasai. “In different proportions, it might be diesel.”

“Then it’s not either of those,” Yako says, observing the jagged diagram. “Unless it’s obscured by something else.”

“Exactly. Very good, Ms. Detective.” Kasai begins to list several properties of ignitable liquids, all of which fly miles over her head. Everything from vapor pressure, flash points, upper and lower explosive limits, and an air-to-fuel ratio that baffles even math whiz Godai. There are far more layers to top-tier arson than any common civilian can even begin to comprehend. By the time Kasai starts muttering to himself about oxidizing agents and the heat capacity of tetrahedrons, Yako pats the desk gently and asks him to speak in simple Japanese.

She doesn’t want to admit it, but Kasai is a pretty nice person. He straightforwardly outlines how the fire had swept efficiently from one point in the building to the other. Suddenly, Homura’s intense obsession and ability to flip gears makes sense to her. It’s clearly genetic, except Kasai’s switch is triggered by science, not art, and he’s infatuated with fire chemistry instead of 2D figurines.

“Looking at everything, I’d say this is toluene. Slightly strange choice, if you ask me.” He hands the files back. “There’s a lot you can do with just a little bit of paint thinner and kerosene if you’re smart.”

“What’s it used for?” asks Yako, dismissing the fact that he’s wholly unimpressed by their criminal. It’s not surprising, but he makes an exceptional fool out of Detective Kanno’s arson team.

“Toluene is an industrial solvent used in paint, paint remover, airplane adhesive, polyurethane resins…” Kasai pauses, looking thoughtful. “Oh, and TNT.”

“I see,” says Yako. It’s back to the square one, AKA information sorting. “Thanks for your help, Kasai. I’ll leave my number with your nephew, and Godai will give you access to the company’s information network. Right, Godai?”

Through gritted teeth, Godai forces a smile and nods. He flips off Kasai before they leave, mostly for ruining his nice polo shirt and threatening the livelihood of his eyebrows. Yako tucks the folder under her arm and motions for Kanae to come to her side. To her horror, Kanae flashes a smile at Kasai and his nephew before flouncing towards the exit in her tight, tight skirt. Yako wishes she could douse her eyes in toluene and light them up so she never has to witness a sight so revolting again.

The trio leaves the auto shop with a new “friend” and a fresh lead on the investigation. Yako hustles them out of the garage as the arsonist’s bizarre laugh and gritty smoker’s voice trail after them. They climb into the car, Yako in the truck bed again. She texts Higuchi with the fire’s point of ignition and the lighter fluid’s identity, refusing to name a source when the cyber specialist asks. Kasai is more useful as an ally than an enemy, and certainly less dangerous that way. Yako can’t prevent his future crimes, but at least no lives will be taken. It’s a small victory.

The pickup truck hits a bump and nearly flings Yako into the sky. Luckily, she is rather well-versed with being tossed around, so she simply rolls to the far side of the metal carriage like a ragdoll. Sometimes, it’s best not to resist. After all, she can’t imagine defeating Neuro, and Kanae is as bullheaded as they come. As she thinks of her nosy friend, her stomach drops. Had her friend done anything besides sit sexily and wink? Yako can’t remember, but she knows for sure that Kanae is an opportunist who could pass a course in espionage with her sly note-dropping techniques.

Yako snatches her phone from her pocket and smashes a text into the keypad at the speed of light, banging on the small rear window when the message is conveniently ignored. The front seat occupant glances down. Yako can hear laughter, pure evil laughter.

YAKO: you didn’t hand out your phone number again, did you?!

KANAE: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

YAKO: KANAE

YAKO: KANAE THAT’S NOT SOMEONE YOU SHOULD BE GIVING YOUR NUMBER

YAKO: ok maybe Homura, though you saw what he was like last time

YAKO: BUT NOT HIS UNCLE

KANAE: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

YAKO: PLEASE

Kanae has the gall to send an entire string of fire emojis. Flirting with Neuro is one thing, dropping hints that she likes the Hayasakas is another, but Kasai Zenjirou? An arsonist? Yako feels like she needs to go to her best friend’s house and apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Kagohara with her head bowed so far into the Earth she’d be able to see Brazil. That, or she’d somehow whip out Neuro’s Evil Canceller and erase herself from existence.

YAKO: why are you like this

YAKO: why must you bring me pain

Five minutes later, the brunette texts a nonsense reiteration of Mochizuki Kaede’s earlier advice about middle-aged guys, and instead of being hurled from the car, Yako herself wants to hurl.

 


 

The rest of the day is considerably less exciting, if drama can be measured by dubious flirting choices and pyrokinetic performances.

“You know, I don’t even know if we’re investigating Mrs. Miyasako’s case anymore,” Yako mutters. For the past four hours, she has scanned the details of at least 500 companies that use toluene. Even with the help of Metro PD, not a single concrete connection to foreign shipping has made. Exotic animal trade has yet to make its cameo as well.

“Maybe the dead guy at the shipping place had something to do with it,” says Kanae, who has made herself useful by organizing old files. She voices her disapproval of Yako brutally murdering trees and suggests they digitize their information, but no one is listening.

“He might’ve been about to blow the whistle on’em,” suggests Godai. “So our guy killed him for it.”

“For revealing involvement in animal trade? That’s very possible,” says Yako, rubbing her eyes. Her stomach growls, but she endures until company #600 before ordering takeout. Godai is already half dead, playing with the end of Akane’s hair. He’d discovered the sentient braid about three years ago, while Neuro was away, and after freaking out at first— he’d voluntarily jumped out the window — he came to terms with Akane’s existence. He’s even polite enough not to comment when a strand of hair is left in his coffee mug.

Kanae lounges on the couch, sifting through old case files and ordering them by name and date. Her silence is suspicious, and after half an hour, Yako looks up to see her friend browsing the reports like novels. A few pages are dogeared for future reference.

“What…are you doing?”

“Hm?” Kanae doesn’t turn around. She lingers on a red folder, but she’s oblivious to the color’s significance. The rest of the manila binders are neatly stacked in the empty space where the coffee table had been. “Nothing, really.”

“You’re looking for cute guys in my past cases, aren’t you?” Yako stands up and marches over, hands on her hips. “I won’t introduce you.”

“Yako, how horrible! I would never!” Kanae rolls her eyes and pretends to be offended. “Just kidding, you’re completely right. How did you know?”

“You have a one-track mind,” Yako says, snatching at the case files but missing.

“Oho? Sounds familiar,” Neuro quips from his corner. “Like you and food, Sensei.”

He has so graciously allowed Yako use the main desk, but he still doesn’t miss a chance to roast his favorite slave. The haughty creature of hell is ridiculous lethargic now that his meals are brought to him on a platter. He claims to have revisited the original crime scene for information, but Yako’s pretty certain he hasn’t left the office all day.

She leans over, grabs Godai’s mug from Akane’s desk, and chucks it at him. The cup shatters against the window, narrowly missing the man by a hair. An entire chair flies back at her, bowling her into the couch opposite Kanae, who miraculously misses the whole thing because she’s too busy admiring some suspect’s photo.

“This person is gorgeous,” she announces, brandishing a profile in both hands. “Who is he?”

The detective grumbles, nursing a huge bump on her head. Being mauled by inanimate objects only reminds her that she needs to call Ikeya for a new coffee table. Nonetheless, she takes a quick look at the photo just to humor her friend. It’s a picture of a blond real estate agent with wavy, wind-swept hair and luscious eyelashes, the longest she’s seen on any man or woman. He’s clearly a foreigner whose real name is too long and hard for a typical Japanese 21-year-old to pronounce in one try, but this only captivates Kanae more.

It’s Tierra. (Real name: Pedro Cortézarro Torres)

Kanae is delighted. The man was practically a model — tall, slim, and devastatingly pretty. His personality is a different story altogether. Of course, Kanae doesn’t know this, but she makes it clear that it is Yako’s sworn duty to introduce her to this stunning man.

“No,” Yako says flatly. “Put the red folders away, please. You’re not meeting any of those people.”

“But why not?” Kanae whines. “Is he a celebrity? I want to meet a celebrity. Pleaaaaaase?”

On the far wall, Akane is losing her shit, the tail end of her braid slapping wildly. Yako shoots her a glare and Godai nonchalantly holds the lock of hair down, shushing it quietly.

“What’s the big deal, anyway?” Kanae continues, cradling the red folders like a baby. She’s hit a gold mine of dreamy (evil) hunks. “Just look! Now this guy is what I call tall, dark, and handsome. Is he from America? Or maybe Brazil? My cousin lives in Brazil. She says there’s a lot of Japanese people over there. I want to visit someday.”

Yako doesn’t even have to look to know it’s a photo of DR. She groans inwardly and flops onto the other couch, stomach grumbling in agony. For the time being, it might be worth ordering food and pretending that Kanae isn’t admiring the case profiles of the Five Fingers like nobody’s business. Yako could make a dozen bad jokes here, but she keeps to herself.

The delivery man arrives in record time, but by then, Kanae has moved onto the next folder.

“Hey, isn’t this that guy we just met at the shop?” she says, flipping the paper so the detective can see.

“Yes, it is.”

“He’s—”

Yako shoves her meal aside and reaches over to slap a hand across Kanae’s mouth.

“Don’t say anything. Please, I beg of you.” She can feel Kanae mumble “kinda hot” against her palm and her insides shrivel up. When the brunette peels the fingers away from her face and whispers, “smokin’,” Yako mentally deletes her own brain and joins HAL in the world beyond zero.

Luckily, Kanae is instantly smitten with the next profile, which is equally as bad but at least the unbearable fire puns will stop. Yako’s only consolation as her best friend coos over terrorists is that at least Vijaya had been around their age.

“Oh, he’s adorable! Is he half Japanese? I’d gobble him up.”

“I think you’d get indigestion,” Yako snorts. Seated at Akane’s desk, Godai is silent when he hears his old friend’s name mentioned in passing.

“I grew up eating your mother’s food too, y’know,” Kanae says with a grin. “I’m almost as tough as you are.”

“This is true,” Yako admits. Anyone who has ever eaten one of Katsuragi Haruka’s dishes will tell you that they’ve seen Death in person. Apparently, the gatekeepers to the afterlife are so appalled by her concoctions that they refuse the guests she sends them. It’s a miracle they’re all still alive after being force fed radioactive soba noodles with a life of their own.

“Just one, Yako,” begs Kanae, snatching the last of Yako’s fried chicken. “Introduce me to one of these guys and I’ll take you to that fancy Kyoto hotel with the all-you-can-eat buffet.”

Yako is almost convinced by the generous offer, but she can’t introduce Kanae to former criminals, let alone the deceased.

“You do know that those photos on top are of the culprits?”

“Yeah, so?” Kanae lies back on the couch, sprawling across its length. “People can change.”

“You’ll be a grandma by the time most are out of jail.”

“A foxy grandma.”

Yako groans and pries the red folders from Kanae’s sticky fingers. Her friend pouts, disappointed when the detective carefully slides them back on the shelf marked with a small X in the oak.

“You should read more carefully, Kanae. Most of these people are deceased,” Yako finally tells her.

“Oh.” Kanae is silent for a few seconds. “I didn’t know. That’s so sad. Were they victims?”

“No,” Yako replies. Then, considering what happened to DR and Tierra before their demise and how Vijaya was so thoroughly brainwashed that he took his own life, she changes her mind. “Well, in a way, they were.”

Neuro never told her exactly how he’d eliminated the first two of the Fingers, but it’s not hard to assume when the police find a charred and shredded body followed by a gilded human head left for the world to see. It’s a gory history, one that she’s glad she never witnessed firsthand because she’s had her share of bad endings firsthand. Kanae is far, far away from that sort of hell, and Yako intends to keep it that way.

That is, unless Kanae drags her into a new circle of hell altogether.

As if on cue, the brunette turns to her cheerily and says, “Hey, at least one of them is still—”

Yako leaps to her feet, wielding an entire plate of skewered meat, and threatens to stab her best friend with chicken kebabs if she so much as utters another word.

For once, Kanae shuts up.