When they arrived at the hotel Kuri stood waiting for them. It was darkening rapidly and the lamp above the entrance threw its own gold onto Kuri's. She gave them each a long stare and palmed her face.
“Kids,” she said, but she smiled before she shook her head and led them inside. “Noriko, I need your help with introducing the four of you,” Noriko felt herself being scrutinized, “I really need your help now.”
Introduce? Noriko looked at the three others. If we all look like this I can understand why Kuri needs help. Crap! During the ride down to the hotel most of the waterlogged flour had fallen off their faces, but there was no hiding the stuff that clung to their hair and shoulders.
Still smiling Kuri walked towards the dining hall. “Who's the genius behind your exciting make-up?”
“Eh, I came up with the games, but...” Ryu began.
You idiot! Know a trap when it's dumped before you feet!
“Then you'll be in charge of tomorrow's activities,” Kuri said and gave him an outright malicious grin.
How could you not see how you were being set up for a job? Noriko sighed and waited for Kuri to continue.
“Sure,” he answered without faltering. I'll run the members through some physical exercise. Maybe my own take on a walking talking session.” Ryu looked at Noriko as if to see what she thought of his ability to take things in his stride.
“Not our members,” Kuri answered, and her grin grew if possible even more sinister.
Not our members? Then they rounded the reception desk and entered the dining hall. Noriko stared in stunned disbelief. When did all that people arrive here?
The hall was half full with the kind of people, all men, who usually surrounded her father. At least that was what it looked like. When Noriko gave the assembly a second look while Kuri savoured her last surprise, she saw that the faces lacked the assertiveness and self-reliance the knew from her father's associates. They don't look… they don't look like Urufu, she finally realised.
“Looks like the people who carry out dad's orders,” Ryu commented silently. “What do you want us to do with them tomorrow?” he asked and surprised Noriko with how quickly he accepted the situation.
Bro's becoming like dad. He always admired dad. Noriko glanced at Ryu. He's growing into what Urufu already is. That's the real difference between them. Urufu's already an adult, but Ryu's growing into someone I can't call idiot bro any more. It shocked her more than she wanted to admit that her brother was already in the process of becoming someone she would one day come to respect.
Noriko watched Kuri look at her brother with equal parts surprise and approval. Then she nodded thoughtfully. “I might just have to change my initial introduction,” she said and strode into the hall to get the attention of everyone present.
Her Japanese has really improved a lot this summer. Must be the time she spends with Urufu, Noriko thought, and with that thought came a sudden thorn of unexpected jealousy. And I thought it had stopped hurting. And with that thought came yet another realisation. They're both adults. She's already what he needs, and I'm only just growing into someone who could someday fill that need. That hurt a lot more than seeing him with another girl, because it meant he probably didn't even see her as a woman at all. We're just kids to him.
“Go ahead,” Ryu proposed to Kuri's back, and his words shook Noriko out of her thoughts.
“Wakayama Ryu, our resident clown,” Kuri said and bowed ironically to Ryu after she had got the attention she wanted, “will handle activities until lunch is served tomorrow. He just returned with his staff after arranging games for the students who are currently camping on the mountain. I'll leave your questions to him.”
Noriko watched her brother shrug the challenge off, and then he dressed up in his most winning smile and walked to Kuri's side.
“Gentlemen,” he said in the voice he used whenever he was allowed to take part in conversations with their father's business partners, “let not our unseemly outward appearance dissuade you.” With a discreet gesture he introduced Yukio, Kyoko and herself. “And please do not mistake our youth for a lack of training in the work we have ahead of us tomorrow morning.”
“What kind of joke is this,” an older man in a conservative business suit drawled.
Over fifty and past his last opportunity to make a career, Kyoko noted. She had seen enough of the men and women who passed though her father's professional life to identify the failures without thinking. And so had her brother, she knew.
“The only joke is a misjudged estimate of time-boxing earlier. The event couldn't be called off despite the need for our presence here. Any more questions” he asked.
He was rewarded with several smiles and a few soft laughs.
So most of them are already tired of the old geezer. Noriko slid behind Yukio and grinned.
“What did you have planned for us?” another man asked.
He might have been in his mid thirties, and the edge in his voice made Noriko come back from her temporary hiding place. Hungry eyes. Careful bro. To her left Kuri looked at Ryu with a predatory, calculating gaze. She's assessing him. That's the look mom has when she helps dad hire the really important ones.
“An appropriate question,” Ryu said. “We'll run you through a physical and mental workshop we call walking talking.”
“Yes?” the man said. He was clearly waiting for Ryu to stumble and make a fool of himself.
“Basically it's a long walk during which you're called to handle cross competence problems in teams. In order to be a good member of a cross functional team one should get used to cross competence thinking.” Ryu took a few steps and Noriko could see how he moved his gaze over his audience to call for more questions.
I never noticed he listened that closely to Urufu's reasoning. Damn, my idiot bro could actually land this one! She knew he had already lost most of them, and that he had done so deliberately. Well done bro. They wouldn't dare to show that they didn't understand a high school kid.
Kuri must have seen something else though, because she cut in before any more questions could be asked. “As you may have assumed by now these four are employed as junior consultants in TAP.” She paused just long enough to awaken the want to pose a new question, but not long enough to ask one. “While they lack work experience from the industry you can rest assured that Hamarugen Urufu, the Swedish CEO, has invested a substantial amount of personal time in training them to the best of his ability.”
“Will we see this CEO of yours?” It was the same man again, and for the first time Kuri faltered.
“During the walking talking? No,” Ryu said, and Noriko saw the grateful look he got from Kuri. “He's otherwise occupied for the morning.”
“He'll make an appearance during the afternoon. I'm afraid I don't know his schedule, but I promise to pass on your question to him.” Just as Kuri was on the verge of saying something Ryu continued. “Would you want me to return with his answer later this evening?”
“No, no that won't be needed.”
Gods! I didn't know you could gamble this way! Noriko sent her brother a thought of respect. Tomorrow afternoon then. You bought us at least that much time. She glared at Kuri to make her keep her silence, and after that the five of them filed out into the lobby.