Thursday, 30 April 2015

Chapter three (segment three), twenty four years earlier, May, Kyoko

“I don't understand why she hasn't responded. I mean, if she wasn't interested in the club she could just have said so.”

Club? Oh, it's you two! Kyoko looked at the backsides in front of her and closer to the gym hall. She was looking for somewhere to sit outside the cafeteria. Kuri-chan and Noriko-chan, no you prefer being called Nori-chan, were coming after her.

She found a bench wide enough to house three in the shade outside the school cafeteria. Both wings flanked the area and great canvas sails strung to the walls gave protection from both sun and rain.

“Sorry, but I gave her the letter, OK?” Matsumoto-san's back moved when he shrugged, and so did his short hair at the nape of his neck.

“My bad. I apologise. Should have handled that myself.”

Behind them Kyoko reddened. Please, don't let them know I'm here!

“Don't worry man. If I'd known she was worse than blondie I'd kept quiet. I decided to confess, so that's my fault, not yours.” It wasn't all that surprising that Matsumoto-san hated her.

They're talking about me. I'm embarrassed! I'm eavesdropping! What would father think if he knew?

“Disagree. I bet if I hadn't made you drag Christina into it things would have turned out better.” Hamarugen-san, because he was a name now and not merely 'the geek from 6:1', slapped his friend on the back.

Even sitting down he was very much the taller of the two, and Kyoko could, in a detached way, understand why she had been drawn to him first. But he had that awful hairdo glued to his head.

“Ko-chan, there you are. I thought we'd never find you. Look, there's...”

“Shush, quiet!” Kyoko hastily slapped her hand to her mouth and beckoned her friends to sit down in silence.

Kuri-chan gave her a startled look. Then she recognised the boys and nodded. Noriko-cha… Nori-chan took her seat in silence as well and gave both backsides in front of them a sullen stare.

Poor kid. You have it bad. I'm over him already, but you've got that bug real bad.

“Who cares? Maybe it's better this way. At least I know what she's like when things don't go her way,” Matsumoto-san said, and his voice turned hoarse.

That hurt, but she deserved it. She had behaved poorly.

Kuri-chan gave her a look full of questions. Kyoko nodded back. The two of them didn't need words to confirm something this obvious.

It felt a bit funny, sitting like this squeezed into the middle. To her left the amazingly tall and slender object of admiration she had made into her best friend. To her right the petite sister of the prince of Himekaizen Academy, and she was cute enough in her own way with her short haircut matching her small body. That left her, Kyoko, as the odd one out with her marginal overweight.

“Don't be like that. I'd be pissed off like hell if a girl made me look like Ryu's tool,” Hamarugen-san suggested in what was a poorly disguised attempt to put the blame on himself.

Nori-chan looked up, but Kyoko grabbed her hand to keep her silent. “Yes, that's why we just listen,” she whispered to Nori-chan.

We really are eavesdropping now. This is so improper, but I want to know.

“Yukio, I'm really, really sorry. I'll treat you Fridays for the rest of the month. And I'll try to find a way to patch things over.”

Yes, please do!

“You know, I'm not certain I can afford any more help from you.” Kyoko could almost hear Matsumoto-san grinning widely. Maybe he wasn't as angry as their conversation led her to believe.

“Man!” Hamarugen-san said, and they both laughed. “Coffee?”

“Yeah, with milk.”

Hamarugen-san handed a can over to his friend. Kyoko heard the metallic click when they opened a can each. Beside her Nori-chan stirred, but Kyoko shook her head. Just a little more.

“It's Matsumoto-san I'm interested in. I'm not looking at Hamarugen-san,” she whispered to Nori-chan. It was a minor bribe, and she felt ashamed for it. Still, it served its purpose, because Nori-chan calmed down somewhat. One rival less for you.

“Yukio, I'll handle her myself, OK?”

“Both guys yours?” Kuri-chan asked in her other ear. She mustn't have heard what Kyoko had just told Nori-chan.

“No, he's talking about you,” Kyoko explained silently.

“Me, handled? What the hell?”

“Wait!” Kyoko yanked her friend down.

“Thanks for small favours,” Matsumoto-san said. “How do you plan to do that?”

“Well, she kind of owes me.”

Beside her Kyoko felt Kuri-chan flare up into silent rage.

“I guess that's true,” Matsumoto-san agreed.

That didn't exactly calm Kuri-chan down, Kyoko noted to her consternation. She had to pull on her friends sleeve to calm her down.

“And you. She should be on her knees thanking you for your quick thinking.”

Kuri-chan should kneel down in gratitude to Matsumoto-san? How did that happen? Kuri-chan sat down again. Kyoko could feel her curiosity winning over her anger.

“You took all the flak. I just ran around telling people.” Matsumoto-san scratched his head as if listening to Hamarugen-san's praise embarrassed him.

“That's bull. You saw what happened. You acted on it. You even guessed about all that water and had them bring clothes. Damn, that makes you my hero.”

Kuri-chan gave Kyoko a hard stare, and Kyoko shrunk and pointed at Nori-chan.

“Yes, he did. He was off like lightning after you ran back to the locker room. To gather our class,” Nori-chan whispered. “He's your hero in the shadows if you go for that thing,” she finished and glared at Kyoko.

That stung. She and Nori-chan weren't on the best of terms with each other right now, even if they were still friends.

“What are you going to do?” Matsumoto-san asked.

“Well, if she hasn't read the letter I'll just have to ask her about the club.”

“Club?” Kuri-chan said.

That makes two of us.

“Club?” Nori-chan asked.

OK, three of us.

“I don't understand why she'd dislike a chance to speak that horrid language of yours. Oh, forget about the horrid part! Maybe she just has better taste than you?”

“Oh, shut it!”

“What club?” Kuri-chan asked loudly enough to turn heads around them. She obviously couldn't keep it in any more.

Both boys turned. Both boys grew tennis balls instead of eyes. Both boys dropped their jaws deep enough to make room for those tennis balls, and then some.

“You heard?” the comedy duo spoke as one.

“You weren't exactly discreet,” Kuri-chan said. “What club?”

“Eh, the one in the letter.”

“Oh, that one?”

Kyoko hid from the glare Kuri-chan gave her. Maybe tearing up the letter hadn't been so smart after all.

“Mind if we join you?” Hamarugen-san asked.

Matsumoto-san looked like his friend had suggested they seek the company of vipers.

“Be my guest.” Kuri-chan's words.

“Please.” Nori-chan's offer.

And they had spoken at the same time.

Kuri-chan and Nori-chan exchanged looks. Nori-chan's was less than friendly.

And you just gained a new rival. Sorry, but she's way more dangerous than I am. Nori-chan, I apologize, but you won't stand a chance if Kuri-chan joins the match.

Ahead of them sunlight and shadows played chase as the clouds above them ran over the sky. Kyoko reseated herself and made room with her legs to allow the two boys to join them.

Both of the boys took seats facing them. Matsumoto-san looked away. Kyoko did the same. This was, mildly put, awkward. He hates me. He's right in doing so. I'm awful.

“Club, shoot! I misplaced the letter before I could read it,” Kuri-chan lied.

Hamarugen-san explained. It took a long time.

“Why me?” Kuri-chan asked when he was finished.

“Not just why you, why all of you. You, I want for president.”

“I'm listening.”

“I'll handle the real set-up, but it looks better if you're our official face.”

Kuri-chan snorted. “A little child wants me as a puppet? I think not.”

“A little child?” Now it was Hamarugen-san's time to snort.

“Look, I've done...”

“...this kind of job...”

“...since before you...”

“...needed that runny nose of yours...”

“...wiped clean!”

Whoa! School just got a new dynamic duo!

Matsumoto-san, Nori-chan and Kyoko stared dumbfounded at the duellists. So did quite a few of the other students around them as well.

“What's with...”

“...that oversized attitude...”

“...of yours?”

They stared at each other. Then both of them burst out laughing.

Sorry, Nori-chan, but you're not even in the match any longer.

“Aww, look, this club is kinda important to me. You be president, and I'll do the vice presidency, OK?”

“As long as you don't try to micromanage me.”

“Sure, I won't.” Hamarugen-san looked strangely excited for just having been defeated.

“I'm your treasurer,” Nori-chan suddenly decided.

“Why, thank you!” Hamarugen-san threw a quick look at his friend, and Matsumoto-san nodded eagerly.

Matsumoto-san likes Nori-chan? Well, it's not like he has a reason to like me any longer. But I want to at least be friends with him, like he wanted when he confessed. “I'll be your secretary, scribe, whatever,” Kyoko volunteered.

“Ryu will be our mascot. He'll join or he'll sleep outdoors until summer break,” Nori-chan said gleefully.

“I guess it's settled then. I have a charter if...”

“What are we called?” Kuri-chan asked.

“Himekaizen Cultural Exchange Club,” Matsumoto-san and Hamarugen-san answered in union, “if miss President agrees, of course,” Hamarugen-san added shamefacedly.

“Miss President agrees, and it's Christina, or Kuri-chan, whatever you prefer.”

“Christina, it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Ulf, or Urufu if it's too hard to pronounce.” The last was added for the benefit of the rest of them.

“Call me Yu-kun, then. Club members shouldn't be so formal,” Matsumoto-san offered as an invitation.

Hamarugen-san rose and extended his right hand to Kuri-chan. “Christina, or in this case, miss President, should we go see the student council?”

“Uh? Yes, yes, of course.”

And with that the two of them left for the cafeteria. The remaining shrunken circle of three fidgeted uncomfortably.

Nori-chan, your love just left with the most attractive girl in school, Matsumoto-san likes you, and I, I think I'm falling for Matsumoto-san. What an utter mess!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Chapter three (segment two), twenty four years earlier, May, Ulf

There were times when he wanted Yukio by his side. Most times were those times. This time, however, wasn't.

Ulf had stolen inside Red Rose Hell, or Red Rose Academy as the clowns running it preferred to call it. It even had a brass plaque nailed to the gates stating the lie. He wore a stolen senior high school uniform. He was the thief. Now he was on the look for a certain fictional second year.

There was a certain symmetric irony to the exchange of uniforms. One bad deed balanced by another.

If he had been told early October that he would ever set foot here again, he would probably not have believed it. What was probable was that he'd club such a person to the ground for suggesting anything that distasteful.

Last October he had still been scared enough to willingly resort to violence. It wasn't that he had developed gloriously as a person since then. Fifty year old people seldom did. But he did feel a lot more comfortable now, and that made clubbing people to the ground a less appealing option. Which was probably lucky for the student he tried to find.

He wasn't about to use violence if he found him. He was about to hurt the bastard much, much worse.

Nakagawa wanted the problem to vanish permanently. Ulf planned to oblige him.

In the end it took him three hours of skulking around in the school. Three hours for catching a glimpse, and another five minutes to make it out of the school-grounds.

Ulf waited for his prey a block away from the school. He stalked it for another five. Then he opened up his ambush.

“Senpai, could you please help me?”

The prey stopped, unaware of the assault that was about to follow.


“I'm looking for a second year student from Himekaizen Academy.”

“From where?” But there had been a tell-tale glimmer in his eyes.

“It's this student,” Ulf said and flashed his smart phone to the prey. The photo was a perfect face shot. Much better than anything Ulf could have dared to hope for without the object noticing the photo shot.

Nakagawa's gift was enlightening.

The prey stared at him with the eyes of a deer facing headlights of an onrushing car.

“Within two weeks that person has dropped out of high school, or these pictures will start circulating among the Red Rose parent community.”

Ulf flicked to photos where his prey received a large sum of money from a Red Rose teacher. They showed the prey in a Red Rose uniform, with what was clearly a Himekaizen uniform in his hands.

The prey stopped breathing.

Nakagawa's gift was profitable.

“After dropping out, this person will never, ever, attend any education of any kind again. That is a lifetime condition.”

Ulf flicked from photos to a film where a second year male student hammered Christina Agerman into a locker room wall. The face of that student was splendidly captured.

“This film, and a lot of other interesting data will find its way to the police should that condition not be met.”

The prey was on his knees sobbing.

Nakagawa's gift was instructive.

Ulf called Nakagawa and reported that the gift had lived up to all its promised attributes, and that he had recognised the student after all. It was the limping that gave him away.

All in all it took Ulf the better part of five hours to permanently destroy the life for an eighteen year old school kid. He had seldom felt better.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Chapter three (segment one), twenty four years earlier, May, main cast

Home is the place where you happen to live.

That was always the case for Christina. Wherever she lived, and living was being alone. It was, for lack of a better word, practical. Home was clean, because home never stayed the same for very long. For as long as she could remember she had been on the move. First with her parents moving from job to job like a grazing herd, and then she on her own.

From seventeen to fifty. Three years behind the same door was the longest she could recall being in one place. This small room, in a different world, was maybe less grand than most of the places she had called home, but it was really no better, or worse, than most of them.


Home is where you grow up.

She was born here. Literally. In the bathroom. Kyoko hadn't know any other place than this one. Within walking distance from both school and cram school. Within walking distance from her old middle school, grade school and elementary school. Within walking distance from her entire life.

Home is where you learn to behave as is proper. Where your parents live proper lives. Home is furnished according to your family's status, is of the proper size for a public servant family and is situated where other families of equal status are likely to be found. Home is – proper.


Home is family.

It doesn't really matter where you live as long as your family is there. Maybe they had moved a couple of times, but the Wakayamas had always stayed together. And they always stood together. Four of them, like the four walls of what others called home.

The latest building that others named their home had seen them playing out their merry antics the last five years. It was, Ryu gloated and Noriko admitted, large. Abundantly so. Both their parents worked, and they were, mildly put, well off.
But this house, or their previous, small one, was equally home. Home only when there was family there, because an empty house is a dead thing and not a home.


Home is a tennis court, with a net in the middle.

That net had separated Yukio's life into two halves for the better part of ten years. Like the ball he was bounced between his parents. One lived close to school, and lately he spent most of his sleeping hours there, but his father lived less than half an hour away with train. Occasionally during school days, and usually during school breaks he lived there.

But never on Fridays. Not for half a year. In a sense that café had become his third home. A neutral zone, like where the umpire sat.


Home is sharing and safety.

Home is where those you love stay near you. Home is never loss. Home isn't a place you need to leave behind because you can't stand it any longer.

Home is always in the now. Before that time he had known that home had also been a place he could remember from earlier. But after that time home was always a place that belonged to the here and now.

Home is shared with Amaya. Home is two bedrooms and a living room. Home is where he can make her safe. Home is safety, the safety he can buy, the reason he works and the place where, every day, the same two faces will show up before sleep.

Home will one day become where he can see a future. Not today, not tomorrow, but one day.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Midsummer's eve, coffee is served

“What is that?”

“That?” Ulf pointed at a bottle with yellow liquid inside.

Noriko nodded.

“Punsch. Sweet liquor. It's a Swedish speciality.” At least I'm not making a fool of myself this time. Yeah, that party was awful, really awful. He grinned at the memory.

“You should wait for the coffee though,” Christina added from the left. She played around with the flower decorations on the table.

Noriko nodded again and hesitantly agreed to have a small amount poured into her glass. “We don't have this at home,” she said. “Swedish speciality and all.”

“Well, we don't have umeshu at home neither,” Christina countered. “Japanese speciality and all.” And with that she placed another bottle on the table.

The two women eyed each other as if sizing each other up. Tall, blond beauty versus the Wakayama midget. “I guess,” Noriko broke the silence first, “that it could serve as this punsch of yours?”

“Yes, it's definitely one of the things I like with Japan,” Christina agreed, and the tension between them vanished as if it had never been there. They laughed and drunkenly high-fived each other.

So it was all an act after all. Ulf sighed in relief. “You bring to home what you take from home,” he said in a rather lame attempt at making a joke.

On the other side of the table Ryu lit a cigarette and smiled. “Coffee is served,” he announced. “Umeshu or Punsch? Take your pick from home.” Flashing his more childish side he stuck his tongue out at Ulf. “Last time it would have been illegal, but sorely needed.”

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Chapter two


I've made links between prologue and the finished chapters. You'll find them at the very end of the text.

Tomorrow I'll post the framing scene for chapter three, and after that I'll follow up with the seven segments that (currently) constitute chapter three. One per day.

Chapter two (segment eleven), twenty four years earlier, May, Principal Nakagawa

After the problematic Hamarugen had left his office Principal Nakagawa nodded to the young woman in the door opening. She went for a chair by the wall, grabbed it and sat down across him.

Young people today. No manners.

“Suzuki-san, what on earth did you think you were doing?”

“Things didn't happen the way I planned. I'm sorry.” She moved her hair away from her face with her fingers. “I was busy filming. Never expected him to assault her.”

“You could have interfered.”

“Oh?” she said. “And blown my cover?” She pouted.

That was the problem, Nakagawa admitted silently to himself. He inclined his head slightly in approval of her course of actions.

“No, I need you where you are. We haven't flushed out their plant yet.”

Suzuki grimaced. “I don't like it myself. Forgot how mean high schoolers can be.”

“Forgot? Can't have been that long. How old are you really?”

“21 in October. University is different.”

“I'm sorry about that. We'll make sure you won't suffer for skipping a year.”

“What about the two arrivals? I guess that's why you called me here.”

Nakagawa grinned. A very improper grin for an old principal, he knew. “You're called here to receive punishment for bad behaviour. You'll be suspended for a week, along with the other idiots.”

“Why only one week? I thought we'd have the police crawling all over the place by now.”

“Because we need to look like a rotten and corrupt school that prefers protecting its good name rather than protecting its pupils.”

“That's cold. And the real reason?”

Good girl. You know you're only acting out a role. It's not you who's being punished. “I want you to speed things up with the formation of a club. We need an existing one to go defunct.”

“Why do you help him that much? He can make the arrangements himself.” She was sulking visibly now.

Nakagawa smiled. Officially an adult, she was still a young girl after all. “He's not only off by three decades. He's a foreigner as well. Absolutely no clue about how we do things here.”

“He could have studied us.” She was still sulking.

“You know,” Nakagawa began, “there's a difference between studying and learning. He grew up elsewhere. He became an adult elsewhere. He made a family elsewhere, and when he was about to crown his career he got caught in transition. This is a restart for him.”

“But he still has the advantage of experience.” Suzuki let her fingers flutter over her lips.

Going cute on me won't change my mind. “Experience from elsewhere. When you're older you'll understand.” Nakagawa mentally congratulated himself for not having said 'when you grow up'.

“What about the Ageruman girl?” Suzuki tried to change the subject.

“She'll be fine. We managed to keep her away from Red Rose. Hamarugen is the more important player, though.” He's a mover, but Red Rose. What horrid luck! We need him on our side.

“Anyway, I guess I should thank him for handling the situation after I lost control,” Suzuki said. She must have understood that he didn't intend to allow the conversation to veer away from Hamarugen.

“You should, but you won't.”

“I know, I know. I'm supposed to be one of his enemies.” By now she had ceased her childish games at seduction.

Nakagawa smiled again. Not your enemy. He's far too old for that. As far as he's concerned you're a problem that has been defused. “I hadn't expected him to be so violent,” he said instead. “But that was probably only to be expected.”

“Last year's incident?”

“Yes. Damn that Moltke.”


“European history. Look it up. Should be instructive.”


“I planned to set him up for a minor offence, and then the other side upped the ante with that attempted rape. They must hate the Wakayamas real bad.”

Suzuki looked at him.

He had told her what role the Wakayama family had played earlier, so she should be aware that the assault on Wakayama Noriko wasn't merely a coincidence.

Suzuki looked like she was still trying to understand where Moltke fit into the situation. Then she apparently came to a conclusion. “Still, the results were what you had planned anyway. He transferred here.”

Nakagawa nodded. “But not the way I planned.” He had to tell her the bad news now. “At the moment the other faction has gained the upper hand,” Nakagawa continued. “I just told Hamarugen I'm getting ousted. Well not in those terms, but I think he understood.”


“I'm retiring in a year. Not voluntarily. Bad thing is they'll be in control of the school. Good thing is we'll know about one of their major players.”

He remembered something and dug up the bill he had pocketed earlier. It made company with the other ten, and after giving it some thought he added five thousand yen of his own.

“This school. Always this school. What makes it that important?” Suzuki looked at him when he stacked the money.

“The arrivals. We place them here,” Nakagawa said and put the money in an envelope. He put in the safe behind him.

“But? Oh. I see.” She looked at the safe.

“Perceptive. From college and onwards they're dispersed again.”

“Arrivals. You make it sound there are a lot of them. And what's with that money?”

“The kid believed I'd make him pay for the damage he did.” Nakagawa sighed. “Anyway, you're right, but there are enough. Or used to be. Apart from those two the youngest is 25, and he's a local. From 30 and up there are over three dozen though. Enough to fight over.”

“I didn't know there were that many?” She still looked at the safe. “But you still took his money?”

“It might come in handy one day.” That bribe wouldn't fly anyway. He'll never tell anyone, so it'll be our private secret.


“You'll understand.” If I had given him time to think he'd have seen though my act.

Suzuki nodded and faced him again.

“As for the number of arrivals. Now you know. They're important to us. And to the other world as well.”

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Chapter two (segment ten), twenty four years earlier, May, Ulf

Called to the principal's office for fighting in the girls' locker room. Although slightly different it still brought forth memories. Well, this time there were no injuries, but at the other hand he had smashed a door. In the girls' locker room.

It was his first time on the main building's fourth floor.

Should I give him a copy of my recordings and photos?

Expulsion, well that might be too harsh, but some kind of repercussions lay in wait for him. That much was a given.

But from what I heard the teachers didn't give a damn about what she had to go through.

Ulf walked through the door, crossed the distance to the desk, and pretended to stand waiting for what was to come.

The principal was an older man with short, salt and pepper hair and expensive glasses. He wore an impeccable suit that made him look more like a successful businessman than someone ending his career chained to a medium-sized high school.

A power monger of the Old school. Door, mat, big desk and a single chair with him in it. If I had been fifteen I'd shit myself by now. But I need to put a stop to the bullying. OK, let's play!

“Good afternoon, sir,” Ulf said in English.

“Good day to you as well,” the principal answered in Swedish.

What the fuck?

“It has come to my attention,” the principal opened the real topic in English, “that you have been involved in some unseemly activities, my laddie,” he continued in an English Ulf would be hard pressed to match.

It was time for a restart.

“Sensei, I'm sorry if...” Ulf started in Japanese.

“Cut the crap kiddo. I'm old enough to have changed your diaper.” Still English.

Haven't I heard variants of that spiel before?

“Cause I swiped the dirty behinds of my siblings as a high schooler.”

Damn, the geezer doesn't keep to my script.

“So, you're forty, forty-five, fifty?”

“Eh, fifteen,” Ulf tried, but he had long since lost this one.

“Yeah, and I sprout wings and do Tokyo by night.”

“OK, what now?” Ulf said, defeated and deflated.

“You accept you're the kid you are. I'm older than you and I have more experience with your, hmm, rare dilemma than you.”

He must have seen Ulf's face radiate sudden hope.

“Sorry kid, I'm the 65 I look. But I've met your kind before.”

My kind! Maybe.

“You'll need contacts there as well, so get that club of yours up and running. I'll find a sponsor. The student council will approve or they'll wish they were never born.”

What's going on?

“Now, as for the mayhem in the locker rooms. You will be punished.”

Well, that was a given.

“We don't condone bullying. We also don't condone vandalism. Your parents will pay for the damage.”

Not Amaya. No! “How much?”

“One hundred thousand yen.”

Ulf fished up his wallet and pulled out eleven bills.

“That will suffice,” the principal said as if every normal high school student carried around a week's salary in cash.

Corrupt bastard. He didn't even blink at the bribe.

“Have to accommodate your prejudices. Public servants in Japan are corrupt and all that.”

Whoa! Didn't see that one coming!

“I'm retiring within a year. Need a little bit of dirt on me or some very bad people will do a thorough search, and we wouldn't want that, would we? Your petty bribe fits the bill, pardon the pun,” the principal said and pocketed ten thousand yen.

I'm way out of my league here.

“Now, two things, or I make your next three years anything but the best three years of your life.”

He's Japanese after all. What bloody idiots remember high school as the pinnacle of their lives? Oh, yanks of course, but they don't count.

“One. The stranger parts of this conversation never happened.”

Ulf wouldn't have called the one-sided affair a 'conversation', but apart from that, item number one made perfect sense.

“Two. Have you seen this student before?”

Ulf looked at the picture of a second year student. “Sorry, can't say I have, sir.”

The principal looked him directly in his eyes. Very slowly, and very softly he said: “Then that makes two of us.”

Ulf thought of what the principal had just said. Hmm, oh? Oh!

“My colleague at your old middle school has, though. I want this problem gone. Permanently.”


“It's all connected. Trust me,” the principal said and slid a memory stick across the table. “You'll find the photos and videos instructive, enlightening and profitable.”

I'm way, way, way out of my league here. He's playing me like the kid I look like. Shit, I'm scared! “What do you want me to do?”

“No physical accidents. We can't have him hospitalized four times, if you get my drift. With your business background I'm certain you'll find a more, ah, elegant solution.”

I'm not leaving without something. At least one small victory. “Why my old middle school?” He had one bullet to fire, and it had just left the barrel.

“I like how you connect the dots.” It was the first time the principal had looked at him with something that resembled approval. “Escalator school.”

“I know. I helped four of their high school students to a prolonged vacation.” Just thinking about that memory made bile rise in him. “I'd understand if they went after me, but Christina? She didn't even go to that school.”

“You're so full of yourself. They're not going after you, or her for that matter. They're going after us.”

That didn't make any sense at all. He needed to think like a CEO and not like a school kid. Business. Money. Oh, crap! “Your welcome speech.”

“I take it your company in the other world was fairly successful?”

Ulf nodded. “That really was a special greeting to us.” He needed to verify his suspicion. “Usually, how many students from my middle school begin as freshmen here?”


And Ulf had known that answer before it came. Maybe not zero, but at least less than a handful. “And...”

“27, out of 40 applying.”

He made a quick calculation. “Fifteen percent of their ninth graders, top performers to boot. Damn, that'll sting in their corporate wallet.”

“And all because they failed to convince everyone that raping juniors is a happy pastime that should be shushed up lest it reflects badly on the school.”

“I didn't know.”

“No, you were expelled. After that they tried to buy the Wakayamas off.”

Ulf thought of the faces he remembered from his old school. 27, and another dozen tried to get out. “That must have backfired badly. Who are the Wakayamas?”

“Old money. Not a whole lot of it, but it's a respectable family.”

“If you excuse me, but how do you know?”

“Children of old friends. I owe them.”

He knew their grandparents. I guess that counts as old friends. Ulf looked at the principal with a lot more respect. “I'll see what I can do, sir”

“You can't tell anyone, you know.”

“I know.” On impulse Ulf bowed deeply, Japanese style. It was, he felt, the right thing to do.

On his way out he met a third year. One of the girls from the locker room.

Have fun. He'll eat you alive. Suits you.