After he fetched his unwilling sister from the room Yukio and Urufu shared with him Ryu led her to his parent's room.
Noriko hadn't even taken the time to switch into her yukata, but dad had been adamant that they signed the contracts before Urufu woke up.
Ryu couldn't understand how they had made Kuri's guardian sign it, because she was about to lose a lot of blackmailing money. Then again, he really didn't care.
He dragged Noriko through a corridor with wooden floors, up a carpeted stair and halfway through another corridor until they arrived and he slid the door open. Inside they quickly removed their slippers, slid the next door open and sat down on the tatami mats.
Their parents already sat waiting there together with Kuri and Sato-sensei, and to his surprise, so did Principal Nakagawa and Ashiga James.
What are they doing here? “Dad?”
“Son, I guess you wonder about Nakagawa-sensei and Ashiga-san.”
“I'll explain while we wait for dinner. Noriko, Ryu, sit down.”
Ryu followed his sister who had already anticipated the invitation and was on her way to one of the four remaining seats. He gave Ashiga-sensei a thankful thought when he saw the young man sitting cross-legged. There would be no need for a traditional knee-breaking dinner tonight. To make him even more at ease both his father and Nakagawa-sensei switched into a more relaxed pose.
Behind him Ryu heard the doors slide open and when he turned he saw Kyoko and Yukio enter the room. Both were properly clad in their yukatas, something that made his sister stand out even more. Before he had a chance to give her a nasty remark Kuri intervened.
“Noriko, thank you for watching over Ulf. I apologize for the inconvenience it caused you.”
Damn, you had her back. Oh well, there will be more opportunities. He growled in response to Noriko's out-stuck tongue. And sis, you know you were just saved by Kuri. Girlie conspiracy!
From her seat his mother gave Kuri an approving nod.
Yes, definitely girlie conspiracy.
“If you're done with your antics, could we please proceed?” his dad said. “I called Nakagawa-sensei here to get a written confirmation that Himekaizen approves of the unusual part time jobs related to these contracts. He'll also confirm that the school approves of the contracts.”
Everyone round the tables nodded understanding.
“Ashiga-sensei will handle some of Ageruman-san's financial transactions, and must sign one of the contracts for that reason. He represents Stockholm Haven Café.”
Once again they nodded understanding.
Kuri broke the silence that followed. “I'll continue my modelling work as before. My guardian has to believe that she controls my income.”
“That's unfair!” Ryu said.
“No Ryu. I appreciate that you care for me, but that's just me being smart,” Kuri objected with a smile. “I'll enter into a formal partnership with your father's company concerning any side-incomes I may have though.”
“Side-incomes,” Ryu murmured. Saving only a small share of what she earned still seemed unfair.
“Yes, side-incomes.” Suddenly Kuri looked like a much older woman, a dangerous woman. “I plan to become famous enough to brand collections after my name. If I'm successful the old hag can have all my modelling money, and I'd never notice.”
Ryu stared at her. The billion dollar empress. That's what Urufu called you. I've never seen that face of you before.
The signing was a quick affair after than, and then the dinner arrived. It was a traditional multi-course thing that partially was more eye-candy than truly tasty. But Ryu knew a lot of his friends loved the traditional sashimi accompanied by rice and the endless side dishes.
During the dinner his father poured Kuri a very small cup of sake with the apparent approval of all other adults, and she very pointedly only sipped it when they toasted her new partnership. It was tradition, and it was treating her like an adult. And you would have choked on your sake had you only known how old Kuri really is, Ryu thought and smiled.
“Something funny?” his mother asked.
He smiled even wider and shook his head. “Not really, only a memory,” he lied.
From across the table Noriko grinned just as mischievously.
“You know I didn't really drink any,” Kuri protested, which changed the grins into laughter.
When dinner reached its end it was finally time for Noriko's mad plan. Ryu disliked it, but he had been overruled first by his father and then by his mother. That Sato-sensei was present just proved how alone he was.
Nakagawa-sensei had already started to sign a staggering number of contracts, as did Sato-sensei. In the meantime Ryu's father unfolded what Ryu recognized as a partnership contract. He put his seal to it, signed for the benefit of a potential future western solicitor who might refuse to recognize the seal internationally, and turned it over to Nakagawa-sensei who did the same. Sato-sensei didn't have a seal and merely signed.
What are they up to? That huge chunk over there includes employee contracts.
“Noriko, sign here,” his father said.
What the bloody hell is going on?
“Ryu, Yukio, Kyoko, you sign each of these.”
Ryu grabbed the contract his father gave him. “What's the meaning with this, and what kind of company is Twin Arc Production?”
Kuri roared with laughter. “TAP, you had it named TAP? He'll kill you!”
Ryu's father made an utterly failed attempt at pretending he didn't share Kuri's mirth. “Twin Arc Production is your new employer. Hamarugen Urufu is its CEO as well as only owner. Congrats, you just got a job with your friend.”
“It's the only way, idiot bro. We have to tag along with him anyway, and this way we get paid.”
“No, sis, I refuse. It's his money. I'm not going to steal his money behind his back! Sorry father, but I won't do this.”
Ryu only received a frown and a stern glare in return.
“Idiot bro, I didn't say we won't have to work for our salary. You won't get single yen you didn't earn.”
Ryu stared at Yukio and Kyoko who looked just as stunned as he. “What could we possibly do?” he asked. “Yukio, Urufu does corporate management consulting and there's just no way we can help.”
Noriko growled. “Shut up and think, or at least shut up and pretend to think while you listen to someone with a functioning brain!”
That earned her chuckles of approval from around the table, Kuri included. The last fact made Ryu reassess his position, and he closed his mouth. I'll listen, and then I'll decide, he thought sullenly.
“Ryu, Urufu has the last word. He's the CEO after all. He'll assign work for us, and I believe there is work he can assign provided we're formally employed. Can't you wait until he's had his say?”
Ryu shook his head. “Sis, we just forced him into a partnership and weighed him down with four employees without even asking him. Having his say? Are you insane?”
Noriko looked at their parents for support, but none came.
“I'll handle it,” Kuri suddenly said. “Noriko's idea is sound, and if Ulf complains I'll just bash his head in until he understands what's good for him.”
“But it's still something he didn't agree to,” Ryu protested.
“Now you arrogant little kid. Just listen and shut the hell up! Ulf is in no damn condition to have a say in this. When I tell you he'll do as I say you had damned better believe me! Get it kiddo?” The outburst came out in an awful mix of Japanese and English.
Ryu stared at Kuri. She had just turned into the cold hearted business woman Urufu once said she had been forced to become. For the first time Ryu began to grasp what the word 'empire' meant. And for the first time in his life a girl scared him more than his sister. He looked across the table to see how Noriko had reacted and only found a meek little girl waiting for the verbal abuse to end.
So that's it. When it really comes to calling the shots you'll back down. I never thought I'd see this day. “Fine, I'll ask Urufu,” Ryu said. Around the table he saw the adults watch in stunned approval. He didn't have to like it. Just obey for the time being. With a sigh he signed his contract.