“Why do you want to go to Osaka while Love and Happy has its week off?” Sei asked, sitting in her captain’s chair in the trailer’s cockpit. “I thought…well, you would have more time to dazzle us with your culinary skills.”
“I want to sample takayaki where they make it best,” Kyo said, standing in front of her. He handed her a brochure. “If I like how they make it,” he went on as she read it, “I’ll get the recipe and bring it back. I’m always trying to figure out new dishes to serve
you. I don’t want things to get boring.”
Sei smiled warmly as she passed the brochure back. “Oh, Kyo, neither you nor your cooking are ever boring.”
“Maybe, but I still want to check this out.”
“And you will be back the week after?”
“All right then. Have you bought your train ticket yet?”
“Have Amy do it for you. On me.”
Sitting across from his operations chief in his private dining room at the Chinese restaurant, where they had both just finished lunch, Don Laoban glanced down at his cell phone when it chimed and winced.
The ops chief wiped his mouth with his napkin and said, “Problem, sir?”
“No. Just my granddaughter. Again.”
The ops chief smiled slightly. “She’s keeping you on a short leash?”
“I wish. She has spent the past two days agitating, in an insistent yet subtle fashion, for a job in Osaka.”
“I thought Tokyo was her territory. Is she trying to expand?”
“She says she’s not, but keeps reminding me that she stands ready to lend her assistance to other Bailan crews, especially in Osaka, especially…” Laoban picked up the phone and looked at the latest message. “…tomorrow. She’s not being that direct, but it’s been just like what she says here: ‘If any assistance is needed, my expert can be on the train tomorrow.’” PING! “And another text has arrived. Osaka again! What is going on in Osaka tomorrow?”
“Nothing as far as I know, but wait…” The ops chief picked up his tablet and began going through pages. “…I thought I saw something in her expense rep—ah, here it is. She bought a train ticket to Osaka for her cook, and he’s leaving tomorrow.”
Laoban put the phone down and rubbed a finger against his forehead. “Oh, for heaven’s sake.”
“Not that again?”
Laoban nodded. “I should have realized. I’m not the one she’s keeping on a leash.”
“No disrespect to your or your family, sir,” the ops chief said, “but why doesn’t Sei just screw the kid and get it over with? I don’t think anyone would hold it against her. I think he’s old enough that wouldn’t be a problem. And after the bonehead move Jei Kokuren pulled, it would serve him right for him to find out Sei’s ‘keeping company’ with the hired help. If you don’t mind my saying so.”
“Oh, I’m in complete agreement with you. In fact, I would love for Jei to see a video of them canoodling. He could use a lesson in humility.”
“So what is Sei’s problem?”
“Something about him wanting to go to France and study cooking there.”
“Well, she does have a point. If he became too involved in Bailan affairs, that might be…difficult, so I can see where she would want to protect the lad. It would be for his benefit and ours.”
“True, but it also creates a somewhat awkward situation. Then again, he’s her…friend…and it’s within her household. I think I can rely on her judgment and young Kyohei’s discression for what he does see—it can’t be helped—and as long as it doesn’t cause problems for Bailan, I stay out of--” The phone chimed. Another text from Sei. Laoban sagged. “Then again, an old man could use some peace and quiet. Is there anything going on in Osaka? Anything at all? It doesn’t have to involve glowing brains. I just want to toss her a bone.”
“Well…I normally wouldn’t recommend this for a mechanic like Jo, but the head of one of the Osaka crews also manages a pro wrestler. There’s been some trouble—paparazzi, maybe a stalker, some kind of threat—and he’s been complaining that the local PD isn’t doing anything about it. But I don’t see it as worthy of our usual methods, either. True, he is in a bind, and I do empathize. But he is getting on my nerves. He’s been bouncing off the walls, and quite honestly, being my ‘Sei’ in this matter.”
“So you’re thinking we have Sei lend Jo to this Osaka crew?”
“Yes. Jo makes a lot of noise, maybe intimidates somebody, and solves my problem. And if along the way, Jo calls Sei and says, ‘Oh, and yeah, I’ve seen Kyo and he says “hi,”’ that might just placate her and solve your problem. Two birds with one stone.”
“Hmmm. I wouldn’t be too sure after that business with the chess club, but it’s worth a try.”
Sei poked her head in Amy’s lab. “Amy, got a minute?”
Amy didn’t look from her computer. “Sure. What do you want?”
“Have you bought Kyo’s train ticket yet?”
“He just printed it up.”
“Good. Can you buy Jo a ticket on the same train?”
Amy clicked on some mouse option in rapid fire and her fingers flew over the keys. She nodded. “Yeah, they still have seats. You want Jo in first class?”
“No, she doesn’t have to. You can give her what you gave Kyo. Save us money.”
“Great!” Sei left
Amy was finishing the ticket purchase when Meg stuck her head in the door. “Hey, Amy. What did Sei want?”
“To buy a train ticket for Jo.”
“What, you’re a travel agent now?”
Amy shrugged. “Whatever. She wanted to put Jo on the same train to Osaka I put Kyo on.”
Meg’s back stiffened. “What? Why?”
“You’ll have to ask Sei.”
“I intend to.” She left.
Data points that had been floating around in Amy’s mind finally connected. She looked over her shoulder. Then she picked up her cell phone and tabbed a number. When she got an answer, she said, “Hey, Leo. You busy?...Well, I think I have a situation brewing here…”
Walking to the tracks to get on the early morning bullet train to Osaka, Kyo saw Jo coming towards him. He smiled. “Hi, Jo. Come to see me off?”
“No, I’m on the same train. Mind if I sit next to you?”
“No, of course not. So what’s up?”
Jo looked around and pitched her voice a little lower than normal. “Sei is sending me to help with the Osaka ‘office.’”
“I didn’t think the ‘offices’ shared people like that.”
“They don’t, and it sounds like a lot of nothing anyway. I guess I want to see more of Japan than anything else. And go someplace without Meg for once.”
“Something like that. I’m a big girl, Kyo. I think I can handle a day trip to Osaka without her.”
Kyo chuckled. “Just don’t wreck the town.”
Jo smiled slightly. “Wasn’t planning on it. Not while you’re there anyway.”
On the train, they found a pair of rear facing seats and settled in. The train started moving.
Jo’s cell phone rang. She fished it out of her pocket, read the caller ID, and put it to her ear. “Talk.”
“Jo, it’s me,” Sei said. “How are things going?”
“Train’s leaving the station.”
“Good. And if by chance, you should see Kyohei, keep an eye on him.”
“Not a problem. He’s sitting right next to me.”
“He is!? I mean, oh, of course, he is. Isn’t that lucky? Jo, remember, you are representing my house and our crew. I expect you to be on your best behavior.”
“Not a problem.”
“Splendid! Can you put Kyo on?”
“Sure.” She offered the phone to Kyo. “She wants to talk to you.”
Kyo accepted the phone. “Sei?”
“Kyo. Have a good time. And…remember, Jo is…a little naive. As far as I know, this is the first time she has left Tokyo without Meg. If she gives you any…problems, or acts strange in anyway at all, don’t hesitate to call me.”
“Well all right, but what do you--”
“Good! See you after you get back.” The connection broke.
Kyo passed the phone back and said, “Sei’s worried about how you might act on the trip.”
“What?” Jo said. “Why? What did she--” The phone rang. Jo brought it to her ear. “Go.”
Meg said, “Hey, Jo! It’s me. How’s the trip going?”
“Considering the train is still inside Tokyo’s city limits, fine so far.”
“Great! And, you know, if you see Kyo, guys like him, they don’t leave town just for cooking, if you know what I’m saying, so if you see him--”
“Oh, I think Kyo will be ok.”
“But if you see him, well, you know what guys want.”
“I think it’ll be ok. He’s sitting right next to me and so far--”
“He is!? I mean, oh, so he is. Can I talk to him?”
“Sure.” Jo brought the phone down from her ear. “Meg wants to talk to you.”
Kyo accepted the phone. “Hi, Meg. What’s up?”
Jo watched as the blood drained from Kyo’s face. He said, “Sure. See you when I get back,” and passed the phone back to Jo.
Jo asked, “What did she say?”
“Basically, she threatened me with disembowelment if I even look at you funny,” Kyo answered.
“What--” Jo broke off as her phone started chiming. “Text from Sei…and Meg…and two more from Sei…”
Kyo had his phone out. “And I just got a text from Meg. And Sei.”
Jo looked up and winced. “Oh, crap.”
“This job. I was wondering why Sei would send me. But that’s not the point. She was hoping I could keep an eye on you!”
“What? Oh, for…but wait, I thought Sei got jealous when we are alone together. Why would she send you to follow me?”
“You’re asking me--” Jo’s phone chimed as more texts arrived. “Ok, that’s it! They want to freak out? Let’s give them something to freak out about.”
Jo put an arm around Kyo’s shoulder. As she rested her head on his shoulder, he put his arm around her shoulder.
Jo aimed the user facing camera at them and said, “Smile—happy couple time.” They smiled and Jo took the selfie.
They disengaged and looked at the photo.
Jo said, “What do you think, Kyo? Are we a happy couple?”
“Oh, a very happy couple. You sending it to Meg?”
“I’m sending it to both of them.” Jo narrated as she typed: “‘Looking forward to Osaka. Kyo and I will have a good time’” – Kyo snickered – “‘Will see you guys tomorrow—‘”
“No,” Kyo said, “‘will decide tonight if we want to stay an extra day or two to see the sights. See you when we get back.’”
Jo smiled and nodded as she typed. “Good one! ‘…see you when we get back.’ Ok! Sending…and messages sent. And turning the phone off. And the glove com off. You should turn your phone off.”
Kyo turned his phone off and put it back in his pocket. “I shouldn’t be laughing. They’ll probably be pissed.”
“Let ‘em be pissed. Maybe they’ll finally see how idiotic they’re being.”
The ride to Osaka went without incident, and the train pulled into Osaka’s station shortly before noon. As Jo and Kyo walked out of the station, they turned their phones back on. Both phones quickly filled up with text messages.
Kyo said, “How long do we let this go on?”
“Ah, let ‘em stew for a few hours--” Jo’s stomach growled.
They chorused: “Skipped breakfast again.”
Kyo said, “Want to come with me?”
“No, I’m on a tight timeline. I’ll grab lunch somewhere if I have time, and I’m guessing you don’t want to talk shop with that cook with me standing there glowering. Soooooo…you think you’ll be all right until, say, 9 o’clock?”
“Should be. Osaka isn’t Tokyo.”
“All right then. If this job is as big a nothing burger as I think it is, I should be done by then, so we meet back here between 9 and 10, grab a bite to eat, and take a late train back home. That work for you?”
“Yeah, that works for me, Jo.”
Of course, it didn’t work out that way.
“You are both being jackasses!” Leo proclaimed, standing facing Sei and Meg in the trailer’s living area while Amy watched from the table. “That was a gag shot, obviously, because they knew you two were being a pair of jerks.” He turned to Meg. “You—for God’s sake, jealousy is not a sign of a healthy relationship. And you’re jealous of Kyo? Seriously? Not only has Jo never looked twice at a guy, it was a month before she remembered his name! If you distrust your LESBIAN GIRLFRIEND that much, you have issues.” He turned to Sei. “And you—if Kyo is really just a friend and employee, and you are not in love with him, and you have absolutely no intention of ever, EVER, screwing his brains out, then give it a rest! He can be with whoever he wants to be with. He can bang the Japanese Imperial crown princess for all it matters! It doesn’t matter! Or it shouldn’t. And don’t get me started on why this makes you want to kill EACH OTHER. Amy’s tried to explain it to me three times and all I have is a headache. And you know, it’s a bad sign when the 11-year old is more mature than you. Jeez!”
Sei bristled. “I usually don’t let someone speak to me in that manner.”
Leo calmed down a little, but his exasperation still showed: “Yeah, but sometimes your skull is extra thick. It needed to be said.”
“Well…I don’t think some of your accusations are valid, but I think there is a case to be made that some of us let their imaginations run away with them.”
Amy groused, “More than some of us.”
Sei straightened. “All right. I think we know Kyo and Jo well enough to expect nothing untoward will happen. So we can let the matter pass.”
Meg said, “Yeah, it should be no problem.”
Leo said, “Ok. Now. Shake.”
Sei and Meg shook hands. And then Sei’s phone rang.
Sei answered it. “Sei here.”
“Sei!” Jo said. “We have a situation here--”
“Is Kyo ok?”
“I don’t know; I haven’t seen him in hours. But that wrestler turned into a monster! And did I mention I’ve been arrested by this crazy Osaka cop?”
Sei brought the phone down from her ear. “Leo. Trouble in Osaka. Can you drive us there?”
“On it.” He bounded into the cockpit.
…the following Monday…
Lying in her and Meg’s bed with her leg still in a brace, Jo heard the trailer’s door slide open. She heard Kyo call, “Hello?”
“In here, Kyo!”
Kyo came in holding a pair of shopping bags, his nose bandaged.
Jo said, “What happened to your nose?”
“Osaka,” Kyo said. “What happened to your leg?”
“So that was Django. I wasn’t sure.”
“Kyo. Do you know another bot that looks even remotely like Django?”
Jo and Kyo: “No.”
After a moment, the chorused, “Let’s never go to Osaka again.”
Then Kyo peered at Jo. He said, “Wait--what’s wrong with your f…are you wearing lipstick?”
“What? Oh, yeah. Meg’s out having dinner with Sei, big peace deal or something, I don’t know, so I thought, what the heck, I’d try it. I’ve never worn makeup, so I decided to see what it’s like. Don’t think Meg will mind. What do you think?”
“It looks ok.”
“I didn’t put too much on, did I?”
“I don’t think so. So, just you and Amy?”
“No, Amy and Leo are upgrading Django’s software, so it’s just me. What’chya making?”
Jo brightened. “So you tried it?”
“No. The place was closed, and then…well…I don’t have to tell you. I found a recipe online and I thought I’d try it.”
Kyo had just started the timer in the kitchen when he heard the cry of pain from Meg and Jo’s room.
He ran back. “Jo, are you ok?”
Jo was sitting up in bed. “Obviously not!”
“My back went out!”
“I don’t know! It just did.” She rubbed a spot in her lower back. “A knot…right…here…”
“Well, I know some massage techniques. Maybe I can relax it.”
“Worth a try.”
Jo sat on the edge of the bed. Kyo sat next to her. Jo turned her back towards Kyo, and Kyo started kneading the knot in Jo’s back.
“Ohhhhhh…” Jo groaned. “Yeah, right there….oh, man, Kyo, that’s awesome…”
Meg said, “You know, with hindsight, I have been an idiot. I should trust Jo after all this time.” She and Sei were sitting at a table in a swanky restaurant.
Sei smiled. “Of course. But it doesn’t matter to me who Kyo is with. It could be you or Jo—theoretically,” she added quickly, “…or anyone. That Shiho Kazami seems like a very nice girl. It wouldn’t bother me in the least if Kyo went out with her.”
“Exactly! And Jo has no interest in guys so I shouldn’t be concerned about that. And she’s never looked at other women. I should trust her and learn to feel secure in our relationship.”
Sei raised her wine glass and Meg followed suit. Sei said, “To healthy, trusting relationships and friendships.” They clinked glasses and sipped some wine.
Sei put down her glass and pulled out her cell phone. “Which reminds me—I have to call and see if Kyo has arrived.”
“He should have. Old reliable.”
Sei put her phone is speaker mode and dialed.
Jo answered. “Yeah?” She sounded like she was breathing heavily.
“Jo?” Sei said. “Is Kyo there?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jo moaned, “he’s here, he….oooooohhhhhhh, yeah, Kyo right there--”
Meg half rose out of her seat. “Jo!? What’s going on?”
“What?” Jo said. “Oh, it’s no big…oh, yeah, Kyo, right there…harder…deeper…uuuuuuhhhhnnnnnn…can I call you back?” She hung up.
The waitress came over and said, “Your dinner is almost ready. Can I get you anything else?”
Sei and Meg stood up and chorused, “We’ll have ours to go.”
Jo’s back felt like a million dollars after Kyo’s massage. They ate together at the kitchen table.
Jo drank the last of her soda and burped.
Kyo said, “So what do you think?”
“Well, I’ve never had takayaki, but it did taste good, up to your usual standard. With and without hot sauce.”
“Good. Are you going to call Sei back?”
“Damn! I forgot about that. But they should be back soon, so I’ll just wait until then.”
They got up and Jo stumbled. Kyo caught her.
“Damn brace,” Jo said, as she and Kyo ended up facing each other in each other’s arm at the exact moment the door opened and Meg and Sei came in. “Thanks, Kyo--”
Meg and Sei’s eyes were wide. Meg said, “Did we come at a bad time?”
Kyo said, “What? No. Jo stumbled and I caught her.”
“‘Stumbled’?” Meg said. “Seriously? You expect me to--”
Sei interrupted, “Wait—Jo, are you wearing lipstick? I believe that’s Meg shade.”
“Uh, yeah,” Jo said. “I didn’t think Meg would mind, and Kyo said it looks good on me. What do you think?”
A bathrobe on over his pajamas, Don Laoban came into the foyer of his house, where Jo and Kyohei were waiting with Laoban’s butler.
Jo said, “Sorry for disturbing you at this hour, sir, but Kyo and I were hoping for a place to crash for the night, and I have reason to believe this place is the most secure.”
Kyo said quickly, “Separate rooms!” Jo pointed at him and nodded.
“First of all,” Laoban said, “would this have anything to do with Sei’s text messages asking for clarification on Bailan’s rules governing contract assassinations?”
Kyo yelped, “Assassinations!?”
Jo said, “It’s all a misunderstanding and we’ll clear it up in the morning.”
“I see,” Laoban said. He had the beginnings of a hunch about what was going on. “In any case, you should know there’s only one guest room. And it has only one bed.”
Kyo rolled his eyes. “It would.”
“No,” Jo said. “It’s not a problem. Kyo can take the room, and I can sleep anywhere—a couch, recliner, kitchen table, ironing board, the garage, any vehicle in the garage, a lawn mower—you know, I think there’s a place on the roof I could wedge myself in--”
“Ahhhhhhhhhh,” Laoban interrupted, “my butler will see to you. Sebastian?”
The tall, thin butler said, “This way, please.”
Laoban watched them walk away and said to himself, “‘Stay in Tokyo while you convalesce. You can spend time with Sei and get to know her friends. It’ll be fun.’ Welcome to Tokyo, Don Laoban.”