Six: A Myriad of Meetings


"Hey, you."

The officer on reception looked up at the rude greeting and frowned at the figure casting a shadow over her paperwork. The subject was a teenager—female, judging from the hint of a bust—with brown eyes, and above-the-shoulder, light brown hair. Dressed as she was in baggy t-shirt beneath an over-sized men's flannel, long denim shorts and a pair of combat boots, the officer's first impression of the girl was 'delinquent'. "Can I help you?" asked the officer, a hint of distaste in her voice.

"Is there a Shinichi Nakajima working here?" asked the teen, leaning on the counter and propping her chin on her hand. "I need to talk to him. It's important."

The officer sighed. "If this about the Blue Wolf case please call the hotline," she said. "If it is necessary to speak to Nakajima-san in person you may try to arrange an appointment. However, Nakajima-san will only meet with people who have solid leads pertinent to the case. He does not have time to waste speaking with..."—her lip curled as she looked Ren up and down—"unreliable individuals."

"So he is here."

"I didn't say that," replied the officer, returning to her paperwork.

No, she hadn't, but it was easy enough to read between the lines. "Is he in a meeting right now?" asked Ren, drumming her fingers on the counter. "If he is, I can wait."

Without looking up from the form she was filling out, the officer repeated, "If this is about the Blue Wolf case please call the hotline. The number is—"

Ren groaned. "Okay, I'll call the hotline, yeesh. But if you happen to see him today, tell him that Ren Aoi needs to speak with him. My address and phone number are written on here." The teenager pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and left it on the reception desk.

The officer made no move to take it.

Scowling, Ren shoved her hands back into her pockets and stomped off towards the doors. "'Nakajima-san doesn't have time to waste talking to unreliable individuals,'" she said, mimicking the officer's high-pitched, prim tone. "Judgemental old hag..." She'd spent three days scouring Tokyo for the Metropolitan Police Department's headquarters—courtesy of her lousy sense of direction—and now that she'd finally found it, her progress was barred by this.

Her phone let out a chime and she checked her messages—Mayuuki telling her to meet him and Akira at some sappy-sounding café. Distracted she almost walked straight into a man in a navy blue suit as she exited the building. "Excuse me," she muttered, bowing her head and heading for the street.

He shook his head to indicate that he didn't mind and continued through, resuming his phone conversation as he stepped into the building. "So nothing new being circulated in Shiryugumi's territory. What about Kagehyougumi, Juureikai and Hidorikai, heard anything from them?"

"My apologies, Nakajima-san. We're using every resource we have. But you know the yakuza, they don't want to talk to the police. Aoi-san was the one with all the connections."

"Keep trying, Kawaguchi-san. Someone has to know something. Let me know if anything pans out."

Shinichi Nakajima sighed as he hung up the phone and turned his attention to the receptionist on duty. "I don't suppose the Blue Wolf happened to turn up while I was out of the office, Satou-san?" he asked half-jokingly.

"No, sir, he did not."

"I didn't think so. Well, tell the Inspector that I'm on my way up."

"Yes, sir," answered Satou and picked up the phone. The piece of paper on her desk fluttered as a draught swirled around the room. As she hesitated, Nakajima began to walk away. She scowled.

Just as he was about to turn the corner, she got to her feet and called, "Nakajima-san, wait!"

~x~

"Sooooo we have one soda, one iced chocolate, a strawberry milkshake and some cake—on the house—for Maa-chan and his friends~" said Nao with a sparkling smile as he twirled and bowed, presenting a tray before the table.

"Uh, yeah... thanks, Shimizu-san..." said Mayuuki, standing up and taking the drinks before they could topple over. He slid the soda over to Akira, the chocolate over to Ren and placed the milkshake in front of himself. "You didn't need to give us the cake though," he mumbled as he placed the plates in the centre of the table.

"Nonsense!" declared Nao, spinning his tray. He looked over the tables occupants and beamed. "It's so rare for you bring friends over—and on a weekend too! Nao-chin was beginning to worry that you didn't have any. Truly, Maa-chan, Nao-chin was always worried that you were being bullied and didn't have anyone to rely on. But it turns out that you have two lovely ones right here. It's very nice to meet you two."

In the middle of eating a scoop of ice cream from the top of her glass, Ren swallowed and blurted out a greeting. Akira simply grunted.

Bending down to whisper in Mayuuki's ear, Nao asked, "Is that strapping young lad there Cub?"

"No, Shimizu-san; that's Tatsunoda-san."

Nao blinked. "Isn't Tatsunoda the name of the boy who was bullying you?"

"Yes. That's him."

The store owner stared at him. "Nao-chin is confused."

"We're planning how to find Cub," said Mayuuki. He gave his boss a shove. "Now go. There are customers waiting. I'll make sure that we're done before my shift starts."

"Ahaha! No need to push me, Maa-chan! You three take your take your time now. No need to rush on my account," said Nao cheerily as he waltzed away to show a pair of teenage girls to a table.

"He seems nice," said Ren, grabbing a fork and stabbing at a slice of cake. "Is he always that uh... motherly?"

"He acts like a woman," said Akira.

Mayuuki pouted. "We're not here to talk about Shimizu-san. We're here to talk about our plan to lure out Cub."

"We've over this fifty times in the last week," groaned Ren. "Tatsunoda-san pretends to beat you up. I keep an eye out and yell when Cub shows up, and then you guys get to question him." She popped a slice of strawberry and cream sponge cake into her mouth. "This is really good, by the way. Who made this?"

Mayuuki's face lit up with pride. "I made it this morning. I knocked on your door to ask if you wanted to help but Takamura-san said you'd gone out."

"Oh, right..." mumbled Ren, and began to shovel more cake into her mouth to avoid answering any further questions. She didn't need Mayuuki poking into her personal life and interfering with her mission any more than he was already.

"You've been going out a lot lately," observed Mayuuki, his large brown eyes seeming to grow larger with curiosity. "I've been meaning to teach you how to cook dinner, but you're never around."

The girl coughed and began to choke. He really couldn't take a hint, could he? Slapping herself in the chest to clear her airways, she spluttered, "I've been, uh, busy. There were some um... things I needed to do." She polished off her drink in one gulp and got to her feet. "Well, plan's settled, so I'm heading home to... erm, clean... my room."

Fortunately, Mayuuki was just as oblivious as always. "Remember: tidy, dust, and then vacuum," he called, housekeeper mode setting in. "Don't do it the other way around."

"Yes, mother," answered Ren, pulling a face as she stood up and looked for her wallet. She counted out her portion of the bill and left it on the table.

"Don't be late to the Strip," added Akira, taking a swig of his soda. "And then after we catch Cub, maybe you and I can go home together and do a little strip—"

He landed face-first in the cake as she smacked him over the head on her way past.

Akira waited until the door had slammed shut and then sat up to lick the cream off his face. "She's right, Yuuyuu-chan, this is good. I should've made you cook for us back when you were our dog."

~x~

A very conspicuous orange beanie caught Ren's eye as she approached the Akabana apartment complex.

"Yo, Ren-chan!" called Kaito, waving with both arms. "You're looking remarkably tomboyish today."

She scowled; Jin had told her almost the exact same thing when she'd left that morning—just with slightly more inappropriate phrasing.

"Why do you people keep calling me Ren? It's Aoi-san unless I tell you otherwise," she said, stomping past him and up the stairs. "And keep your voice down, would you? People aren't supposed to know that you're here. What if someone mentions it to Shirogami-san?"

"I'll just tell him we're dating," replied Kaito, nonchalant.

Ren stumbled and almost tripped. Kaito reached out and caught her before she could smash her face into the stairs.

"You have some very funny reactions," he said with a chuckle as he helped her straighten up.

"Just be glad I haven't kicked you down the stairs," she muttered and stepped out onto the second floor landing. She eyed the delinquent warily as she searched for her keys. "I'm not sure if my brother-in-law is home, but if he is, just ignore any inappropriate comments he might make."

Kaito grinned. "He sounds fun."

Bracing herself, Ren opened the door.

True to form, Jin was ready with a quip. "Back from your date with Yuuki-kun already?" he asked without looking up from his newspaper. He was, as usual, sitting on the couch two metres away from the door.

Ren sighed as she removed her shoes in the entranceway. Placing her hands on her hips, she scowled as she looked down at him. "Do you ever leave that spot?" she asked. The seat was probably so well moulded to his ass that it left a flawless impression of the thing when he stood up. "It's a wonder you don't turn into a blob with all that time spent sitting there reading."

"I get exercise on most nights."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes," said Jin, looking up. "When I work, I meet women, and when I meet women, I have—" To Ren's immense relief, Jin caught sight of Kaito and stopped there. Her brother-in-law looked the boy up and down and frowned. "What's this, Ren-chan? Are you cheating on Yuuki-kun already? And here I thought you'd made a promise to make him into a real man. I take it that the shotgun wedding is a no-go, then?"

Ren scowled. "I promised no such thing, you perv."

Beside her, Kaito grinned and jostled her with his elbow. "You and Shirogami, eh?"

"Shut up."

"And who are you?" asked Jin, raising an eyebrow at the youth in the orange beanie.

The boy saluted him. "Kaito Tsukinoumi, member number three of Ren-chan's harem, reporting for duty, sir!"

Jin smirked at his sister-in-law. "Member number three, hmm? Where's number two?"

"Non-existent because I don't have a harem," she shot back.

"At a café having drinks with Shirogami-kun," supplied Kaito with a wink. "We're meeting them later."

"For happy happy fun times? Do me a favour and don't break Ren-chan, she's useful as a slave."

"We'll try, but no guarantees."

Ren groaned. She should've known that these two were going to get along. "I'm just going to get Cub's clothes," she mumbled, tottering off to her room. "You two can stay here and... stop talking about me..."

The two men exchanged looks. Without a word, Jin went back to his newspaper.

Kaito waited a few moments before breaking the silence. "You've got a magazine hidden in there, don't you?" said the teen.

"Observant," replied Takamura, turning to the next page. "Ce Maison de Jour to be exact."

"The Gentle Men's Club edition?"

"Correct."

"Lingerie or nude?"

"Lingerie."

They exchanged glances again and bumped fists.

~x~

"I'm amazed that this fits and with room to spare too," said Kaito, tugging at the cuffs of the borrowed leather jacket as he and Ren headed for the Strip to meet Mayuuki and Akira. He looked down at Ren from beneath the visor of the blue cap and grinned. "You must be drowning in material when you dress up as Cub. This hat's nice as well. Admittedly not as cool as my beanie, but it looks like an exact replica of the Blue Wolf's hat."

She frowned and grabbed his wrist as he flicked gave the visor a flick. "Don't do that," she told him.

He raised an eyebrow. "It's just a hat," he said. As the scowl on Ren's face deepened at his nonchalance, he raised his brow higher. "Or is it?"

"It's a memento—the jacket too," answered Ren, looking away.

"From the real Blue Wolf?" asked Kaito, leaning down and craning his neck to peer at her face.

She grabbed the visor of his hat and pulled it down over his eyes to avoid answering the question. "You ruin them and I'll ruin your face," she said, taking the opportunity to walk ahead as he stopped to fix it.

"Sentimental attachment duly noted," murmured Kaito, frowning as he watched her retreating back. There were rumours about the Blue Wolf's real identity, about his real name. If they were true then...

He locked eyes with Ren as she turned and glared at him. "Are you just going to stand there all evening?" she demanded. "We've got a show to perform. Although I still don't see how you hope to fool them. They may be gullible but I doubt they're quite that stupid."

Kaito beam and trotted over to clap her on the shoulder. "You worry too much, Ren-chan. It's all going to be A-OK."

"I think it's more like you don't worry enough, Tsukinoumi-san. And it's Aoi. Aoi-san. Come on, say it with me."

"Ren Aoi-chan," he said promptly.

The girl groaned and face-palmed.

~x~

Ten minutes after Ren and her new friend left the apartment, someone rapped on the door to 202. Grumbling to himself about the unexpected interruptions, Jin opened it and found a familiar man in a blue suit standing outside. "Well, well," he said, narrowing his eyes and folding his arms over his chest. "If it isn't the great Officer Shinichi Nakajima of the Metropolitan Police Station. Here to deliver bad news to my sister? Let me guess, Hanta-kun finally turned up dead."

Nakajima frowned. "I thought that Izumi was in America."

"She is," answered Jin. "I was talking about my sister-in-law. You're here looking for Ren, aren't you?"

"She came to the precinct this morning and asked to speak with me. I wasn't in so the reception officer took her details." Nakajima waved the slip of paper Ren had left at the MPD. "Is she here?"

"You just missed her. She's gone out to meet some friends."

"I'll come back later then. Thank you for your time, Takamura-senpai," said Nakajima and then paused when he realised what honourific he'd used. "Takamura-san, I mean. We're not in high school anymore."

"No, we're not," said Jin with a grin. Feeling the tension ease, he stepped aside and jerked his head towards the room. "Come in and have some tea. Ren shouldn't be too long."

Nakajima shook his head. "No, that's alright. I have other duties to attend to."

Jin snorted. "You have no leads and we both know it. Come inside, I want to talk to you about Hanta-kun anyway."

"You know I can't disclose information about the case, Takamura-san."

"You sure?" asked Jin, raising an eyebrow. "Someone told me that you're investigating Shiryugumi. I happen to know someone with connections."

Nakajima leaned forward. "You do?" He narrowed his eyes. "Who?"

"You tell me about the case and I'll tell you who I know. Fair trade."

"I think you and I have very different understandings of 'fair'. "

Takamura shrugged and began to close the door. Nakajima quickly stopped him.

"But," he said, with a somewhat resigned sigh, "I suppose I have time for one cup of tea."