“Yes?” Reiko asked, coming to a halt to address the pair. Though her body tensed slightly, she tried her best to be all smiles.
Haruhi glanced at Reiko’s slightly exposed midriff, noting the slightly toned abs. Her eyes drifted to her equally toned arms, then darted down to her legs. Finally, Haruhi’s gaze settled on Reiko’s strained smile.
“Well, I was going to ask you if you’ve seen anything suspicious, but I’d say that you’re plenty suspicious!” Haruhi accused, pointing a finger up at Reiko’s face. If Haruhi seemed intimidated by her height and build, she wasn’t showing it. Mikuru, on the other hand, looked utterly terrified. “S-Suzumiya, you can’t say things like that to someone!” she cried out. Her fidgeting body, huddled nervously behind Haruhi, spoke volumes to Reiko – the girl was terrified. ‘Yuki’s friends, huh. One is clearly as stuck up as she is, and the other has to be a groupie being forced along for the ride.’
“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” Reiko spoke, trying her best to keep her anger in check. It was barely working.
“S-she’s right, Suzumiya,” Mikuru timidly whispered, glancing warily at Reiko. Under normal circumstances, Reiko would have stood a head above the pair; with both girls wearing high heels, the woman only loomed over them by half a head. The effect was still present, however, as both girls were forced to glance up to look her in the eye – something Mikuru was avoidant of doing, the wavy-haired woman noted. Even if Mikuru didn’t voice it, her body language said that she agreed with Haruhi.
Haruhi pressed on, ignoring them. “What were you doing in that alley?”
“…walking home? I live nearby, and I was taking a shortcut. Why?”
“A friend of ours vanished without a trace and didn’t even say anything! You wouldn’t have happened to have seen someone dressed like us?”
Reiko didn’t like the accusatory tone the girl was using. ‘What a stuck up brat,’ she thought. “You know how many times people start pointing fingers at me thinking I must be some kinda thug, just because of how I look?!” Though she denied it on reflex, Reiko was forced to acknowledge that someone was rightfully justified in their suspicion about her. The irony of pretending not to be a thug when she was, for once, doing exactly the contrary wasn’t lost on her.
A feeling of shame bubbled up briefly as Reiko realized that she was playing right into the archetype expected of her. The longer she stared at Haruhi, posed with her arms crossed and a stern look on her face, the more incensed she felt as memories of past accusations came back to her. ‘They think I’m the bad guy? Fine; let’s give ‘em what they want!’
The charade needed to be maintained if she planned on getting away with it. “Look, I’ve had a long day, alright?” Reiko ground out. Her teeth began to grind together without even noticing it. “I put in some hard work at my job and all they do is give me this beat-up carpet as a bonus.” It was all technically true, Reiko thought. “I want to get back home and unwind, so if you two would kindly move aside…?”
Haruhi glanced at the carpet, studying it carefully. Reiko shifted the carpet around on her shoulder, hoping that neither girl peered too closely at the taped over end of the carpet. Perched on her shoulder, the carpet came up above their heads. “…that’s a pretty lousy gift.” Clear incredulity laced her words.
“I don’t need you to tell me that!”
‘Man, this brat is so rude! I bet this is Yuki’s best friend; they must go out and flaunt their superiority in everyone’s faces together…’
Briefly, the bungling kidnapper considered the extra bunnies as potential income. She immediately ruled the redhead out of the equation after eying her up. ‘Nah, too timid. Looks the part, but she probably got forced into this,’ Reiko thought sagely. The thought of carting off someone like that for profit made her feel uncomfortable. ‘Now this other brat, on the other hand…’ Reiko mulled it over. ‘Nah, I already got my hands full with one brat, might as well see how this plays out first.’ Something about that nagged at her. Reiko ignored it, instead refocusing on the pressing matter at hand.
“Look, are you sure your friend didn’t just take off? Maybe she had to go to the bathroom?”
“M-maybe she’s right?” Mikuru offered. “Her book wasn’t there, so she must have taken it with her, right…?”
“Yuki wouldn’t just leave like that without a good reason! And no, we’d have seen her if she came in!” Haruhi gestured to Mikuru’s bare legs. “We just came from the bathroom to get you changed, silly!” she said, in reference to the redhead’s stained pantyhose.
“Look, I’d love to stay and chat more, but I really need to get home now. You’re probably blowing things out of proportions anyway. Maybe your friend might’ve attracted a fan or something and the two are ‘getting to know each other’ better somewhere private. Who knows?”
Reiko pushed past them and continued her trek to her apartment, leaving the Brigade bunnies in her wake. Fuming, Haruhi watched the woman’s toned back as she sauntered away. “That lady really rubs me the wrong way.”
“Wait…Yuki getting up close and personal with a fan…?” Haruhi’s eyes widened. “That’s a bit specific, isn’t it, Mikuru?”
“U-uhm,” Mikuru blinked. “Maybe?”
“That lady was screwing with us! She knows what happened to Yuki!” Haruhi smacked a fist into an open palm. “She must’ve seen Yuki getting preyed upon by some pervy jerk while we were gone! Right this very moment, Yuki’s purity might be at stake! C’mon, Mikuru! We gotta search every nook and corner for hiding spots for a creep to go to steal a fair maiden’s first kiss!”
“Wh-what?!” Mikuru gasped, utterly flabbergasted. “That’s…that’s horrible!” ‘But, I can’t imagine miss Nagato letting something like that happen…’
Haruhi grabbed Mikuru’s hand, pulling her towards the alley Reiko had exited. “C’mon, let’s start here!”
Unbeknownst to Reiko, her captive stirred awake as the woman beat a hasty retreat back to her abode. Heavily sedated, Yuki was barely cognitive at all. It was only from getting jostled as she sat atop the woman’s broad shoulder that the window of consciousness had been opened. Tightly bound, gagged, wrapped and within the grip of the woman’s steady arm, there was little she could do.
Drowsily, Yuki considered her options. Distantly, she could feel a faint breeze coming from the end of her ensnarement close to her heel-clad feet. Unsure of what awaited her, the sleep-addled interface made a hastily calculated gamble – a desperate measure, to one such as Yuki. Using every last bit of remaining energy, Yuki began to sluggishly press the end of one heel against the back of the other. Wiggling her feet around, the interface began to attempt to slip one of her heels off.
‘Consciousness rapidly decreasing…’
Drugged as she was, it proved to be far more laborious of a task than it should have been. With sluggish, sedate motions, Yuki loosened one of the heels and weakly kicked it off. It fell to the ground, unnoticed by Reiko.
Reiko entered her apartment complex and began making her ascent up a flight of stairs. Yuki used up the last remnants of her strength to work on the second, rubbing her pantyhose-clad toes against the heel. Her dainty foot slowed to a stop, the fleeting gap of consciousness leaving Yuki. She had done just enough, however; as Reiko stomped forward, the loosened heel slowly slid off, until it fell with a soft clank onto the staircase.
Lost in her thoughts, Reiko barely registered the noise. “Eh?” She glanced around briefly as she cleared the stairs, trying to identify the source of the noise. Up ahead, another tenant of the complex – an old man that Reiko had never bothered learning the name of – had just poked his head out of his apartment. ‘Tch, nosy old man,’ Reiko thought. He always seemed to be keen on checking who came and went from the building. He never said much, but Reiko was sure he always thought she was up to no good whenever they crossed paths.
‘Well, he’s right for once.’ Thankfully, his apartment didn’t face the café; otherwise, Reiko belatedly realized, he might have seen her approaching Yuki.
‘Crap, I hope no one else was around to see that.’ Reiko thought, reaching her door. After fumbling with her keys – made somewhat difficult with the concealed girl perched on her shoulder – the black-haired woman made her way into the apartment. The packed girl was hauled into Reiko’s bedroom, where she was laid down gently onto the floor.
Reiko took her purse off and tossed it onto her futon. The woman ambled into the living room, slipping out of her boots along the way. When she returned to the room, it was with a pair of scissors. The tape pinning down the carpet to her captive was carefully cut; Reiko took particular care in making sure her cargo wasn’t damaged. ‘Can’t say the same for the carpet,’ Reiko lamented, noting how the tape ripped patches of the carpet as it came undone.
With the makeshift means of mummification no longer clinging to her captive, Reiko began to unfurl the carpet. There she was; the sleeping beauty that would, in theory, solve Reiko’s problems, laid out on her back. Yuki shifted slightly, a soft, almost inaudible mewing noise escaping her muffled lips. Reiko reached for her purse, unzipping it and taking her cellphone out. The men whom she owed money to were unsavory sorts with plenty of ties to the underworld. “If you expect a payoff of any kind,” the man over the phone had calmly intoned, “You’re going to need to show us that your prospective catch is worth our time. Send us some photos and we’ll talk further.”
“Oh,” he had added, as an afterthought, “And if this doesn’t work out, babe, well…maybe this girl of yours isn’t the one who should be worrying about getting sold.”
Reiko wanted nothing more than to punch the snide bastard’s face in – again – but that would only lead to more trouble, she knew. ‘And this won’t?’ Reiko couldn’t help but feel a tinge of self-deprecation at her current act of desperation. ‘Stooping this low…well, this brat probably had this coming, dressing up and flaunting herself like that,’ she thought bitterly. She zoomed the camera in on Yuki’s unconscious face; Reiko wasn’t entirely certain, but it seemed as though there was a hint of disquiet in the snow bunny’s slumbering expression. She took the shot, though Reiko continued to linger on the soft, delicate features of the pale girl. ‘This is all natural.’ Reiko breathed in shallowly. ‘Her skin looks this smooth and feminine and she doesn’t even do anything to achieve this?’
There seemed to be no end in sight to the growing list of things Reiko found herself jealous of in regards to the petite girl.
Angling the phone’s camera to get a good, clear shot of her entire body this time, Reiko finally noticed something off about her “guest”.
Her pantyhose-clad feet were missing something.
“Wait, what?” Blinking, Reiko realized that at some point, her captive little bunny had lost her heels. Distractedly, she took the second snapshot. Lightly biting her lip, Reiko tried to remember. ‘She definitely had them on when I approached her, and they were on her when I was tying her up…right? I’m pretty sure they were!’
Stalking back to the living room, she glanced out the window and down the street. ‘Damn it, they must’ve fallen off somewhere in the alley. Those two other brats are probably still snooping around, too.’
Reiko weighed the risks. “I could go out there and search right now, but if someone sees me, like those two brats, that’ll just raise too many questions. Ugh…”
She spared a withering glare at her unconscious guest. ‘She’s certainly not about to go anywhere.’ Reiko rushed over to grab her purse. The book she had lifted from Yuki slid out and fell to the floor, but Reiko paid it no mind. Pausing long enough to hastily shove her boots back on, the broke woman turned kidnapper raced out the door to begin her search.
As it turned out, she didn’t have to go far to find the first missing heel; it had fallen down by the staircase leading up to her apartment. “How the hell did it end up here?” Reiko wondered, bending down to pick it up. “And where’s the other one?” She glanced around furtively, its missing pair nowhere to be found. Reiko examined the white heel in her hand. ‘This doesn’t look like it’d be flimsy enough to slip off on its own…I wasn’t moving her around that much, right?’
Something about this didn’t seem to add up to Reiko. Slipping the heel into her purse, she stepped out to get a better view of the street. Examining the surroundings, Reiko spotted its matching pair, sitting rather conspicuously a short distance away on the sidewalk. No one was in sight, as far as Reiko could tell. Her long legs pumped as she surged forward, quite eager to snatch the heel. ‘So the first one fell over there, and the second one fell near the stairs?’ A stray thought came to her as she lifted it up. ‘It’s…almost like she was trying to leave behind a trail?’ It seemed improbable; that would have implied that her captive had somehow been conscious enough to slip them off.
Any further thoughts on the matter were promptly put on hold when she spotted a familiar pair stepping out from an alley. The alley, Reiko marked. And the brunette was looking rather incensed. ‘Yeah, time for me to scram,’ Reiko realized. They had already seen her waltzing around, the last thing she needed was one of them noticing her going after the heel. ‘Damn it.’ This day was proving to be more and more bothersome. Turning around abruptly, she slunk away back into her apartment complex. Reiko wrestled with her purse along the way, fumbling to shove the second heel inside. Making her way back to the stairs, Reiko hurried on along back up to her apartment. ‘I just might be in the clear.’
Haruhi and Mikuru had searched the alley thoroughly. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, as far as Mikuru had been concerned. Haruhi, on the other hand, wasn’t entirely convinced.
“That lady was far too suspicious! There has to be a clue around here somewhere…”
“Aren’t I what?” Haruhi asked, distracted. She was peering around a grouping of trash cans.
“Reading too much into this,” was what Mikuru wanted to say. Knowing full well just how capable Yuki was at taking care of herself, the reluctant bunny girl found herself wondering if it really was a worst case scenario. As easily swayed as the gentle girl was, Haruhi’s insistence that something must have happened to Yuki was starting to get the time traveler fretting a little.
“Ugh, what’s wrong with lazy people these days?”
“H-huh?” Mikuru peered owlishly over towards the brigade leader. “There are no less than three garbage cans back here and what does someone do? They toss their trash on top of the lid! That’s gross and inconsiderate!”
“I-I guess so…” Mikuru agreed. “Hmm…actually, this thing is pretty drenched," Haruhi pressed on. "Someone must have just recently chucked it…”
The brigade leader looked torn. “Ugh, this might be a clue. Why did it have to be a gross one, though?” Haruhi decided then and there to examine the balled up rag closer. Mikuru gasped, bringing up a dainty hand in front of her mouth. “S-Suzumiya, who knows where that’s been!” Mikuru protested.
Ignoring her, Haruhi brought her face closer to the rag. “Yuck. Don’t want to touch this…thing…” All at once, a sickeningly sweet scent wafted from the rag. It filled her nostrils like a foul wind and left her feeling vaguely lightheaded. Haruhi took a step backwards, away from the dosed cloth. “Suzumiya, are you alright?!” Mikuru cried, beset with worry. She stepped closer to the brigade chief, ready to attempt to brace her if needed. “Guh – I – that – Mikuru, there’s something odd about this rag!” Covering her nose, Haruhi warily picked up the rag, pinching it with her thumb and index finger’s nails. Unfortunately for Mikuru, who had sidled up next to Haruhi, the sickening scent drifted her way. “What is this stuff?” Haruhi groused. “S-Suzumiya, th-that – “ The doe-like girl felt incredibly lightheaded; far worse than Haruhi’s reaction. With shaky legs, Mikuru made to move away from the offensive scent. Instead, she found herself swooning.
“Mikuru?!” Haruhi quickly put the rag back on top of the can and rushed towards her fainting friend. Haruhi tried to wrap her arms around her fellow club member’s waist to support her. Instead, with a yelp, they both tumbled to the ground. “Ugh…” Haruhi moaned from underneath Mikuru. Gently moving the girl off from her and onto the ground, Haruhi began to shake her shoulders. “Mikuru! Hey, Mikuru, snap out of it!”
“muu…Suzumiya…?” Haruhi sighed in relief as Mikuru’s eyes fluttered open. Helping the girl onto her feet again, the brigade chief couldn’t help but wonder, “What the heck was that?”
“I…” Dazedly, Mikuru tried to latch onto a nebulous memory. “I think that was…” the auburn-haired girls eyes widened in realization. Gulping, she softly whimpered, “…chloroform.”
“Chloroform?!” It was little wonder why Haruhi hadn’t recognized the scent immediately. ‘It makes sense though, given its effects on us,’ Haruhi thought, mind racing. “Wait a second…how do you know what chloroform smells like?!”
Mikuru paled, realizing what she had let slip. “U-um, w-well, you see…I…uh...I…” She remembered why she recognized the sweet smell of chloroform and the dizzying effect it had. She hazily remembered the group of espers rival to Koizumi’s faction pulling her right off the street and into a van, and being overpowered soon after by the scent of chloroform pressed onto her face, before everything faded to blackness.
“Mikuru…” Haruhi gripped the smaller girl’s shoulders and peered intently into her eyes. “Are you telling me that someone tried to kidnap you before?” she asked seriously.
“Th-that’s clas-“ Mikuru squeezed her mouth shut, realizing what she was about to say. Her fidgeting body and eyes told everything Haruhi needed to know. “…you were. Someone tried to kidnap you! When did this happen?!”
Realizing she wasn’t going to get out of this, Mikuru resigned herself to their current situation. “…it was months ago.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me about it?!”
“It was – I mean – it’s…classified information…?” Mikuru defended rather sheepishly.
“I – argh,” taking a deep breath, Haruhi let go of her friend’s shoulders. “We’ll talk more about that later, alright? For now, we need to focus on our current case. If you were kidnapped before,” Haruhi paused, giving Mikuru a significant look, “Then that’s all the more reason to be worried about Yuki! There are too many things off about this situation, and to top it off, there’s a rag dosed with chloroform just left sitting around here too? Why would anyone even have that unless they were old school creeps?!”
“You…you think Yuki was kidnapped?” Mikuru gasped. She couldn’t imagine the stoic girl, silent, elegant and deadly, possibly getting subdued in such a manner. It simply didn’t seem possible to the time traveler. If it truly was the case, she realized, this would require her to call backup – the type of backup that Haruhi couldn’t know about.
“I’m sure of it! C’mon Mikuru, we have to hurry!”
Haruhi strode past Mikuru, her heels clicking confidently against the ground. The brigade leader paused long enough to grab her upperclassman’s hand. “Where are we going?” Mikuru meekly asked, allowing herself to be tugged along. “That lady we saw, leaving the alley? She’s our only lead! I bet she knows something about this!”
Haruhi scanned the street, trying to remember which complex the woman had retreated towards. As though summoned by her thoughts, Haruhi had something even better to work with when she looked to the other side; the tall, toned woman was there, across the street from them. She was facing away from them, heading back into her apartment. Something fumbled around in her hands, but Haruhi couldn’t get a proper view of it. The small glimpse of white was all she had to work with.
For someone like Haruhi, that was all she needed. “Let’s go see what our first suspect is up to.”
For all of her mind’s vast prowess and capacity, Yuki’s mental facilities had been rendered inert. The high concentration of the earthly chemical compound proved to be too much for even an interface to handle. Heavily dosed as she was, Yuki could barely focus on anything during her scant few fleeting moments of consciousness.
What little processing power she had left served to inform the interface that her conditions, as expected, were far from ideal. During the moments of blurred, disjointed awareness – if it could be called that much – Yuki distantly recognized something was preventing her from much in the way of movement. Just as quickly, the moment was gone and the call of slumber enticed her once more.
Unable to concentrate or focus on anything to any significant degree, no matter how much she willed herself to, the normally capable alien was rendered powerless to even observe her surroundings. All she could do now, at best, was moan in a soft, quiet voice, further silenced by the thick, layered gag, and shift around minutely.
It was such a scene that Reiko returned to. “There’s no way that both of these heels fell off by themselves…” she muttered. She pulled out the heels from her purse, not wanting to have shoes of all things defiling it any longer than necessary, and dropped them to the floor, before tossing the bag back onto her bed. The scowling woman glared hotly at the seemingly unconscious girl. “You left a trail on purpose, didn’t you?!” she accused. “Thinking you’re sooo smart, too, eh? Well, it didn’t work!”
“…mm…” Yuki shifted slightly. It wasn’t in response to Reiko’s statement, but to the incensed woman, it served as all the confirmation she needed. “Damn, I can’t believe this! You’re still conscious, aren’t you? Faking being completely asleep this whole time?”
Reiko glanced at Yuki. ‘Did I leave her right there, or did she move from her spot?’ It almost looked as though Yuki had moved further away. Feeling more paranoid than she could ever recall being, Reiko decided to play it safe. She lightly nudged Yuki’s side with one of her feet, eliciting another soft sigh from the girl. Reiko was convinced that she had just seen the girl’s eyes twitch. “Alright, I don’t know if you’re really awake and messing with me or not. Don’t think bunnies are the type to play dead, but, well, I sure ain’t taking any chances now!”
Drifting over to her supply closet, Reiko went to grab a fresh roll of duct tape. She had three rolls sitting in her closet for a while now, rarely seeing any use; two orange, and one silver in coloration. She had managed to find them on sale, but only one roll of silver tape remained. ‘What am I supposed to do with orange tape?’ Reiko had groused grumpily that day. And yet, here she was now. Already, she had gone through the entirety of the first roll, back in the alley. Much like the carpet, the woman never would have imagined that this would be what drove her to putting them to good use. She grabbed the other orange roll of tape and returned to her captive.
The surly captor focused her attention towards Yuki’s legs. ‘The brat must’ve kicked her heels off by rubbing them together…’ Reiko thought. Sliding a hand underneath her ankles, Reiko began to bend Yuki’s legs backwards, until they were neatly folded. There was no resistance, much to Reiko’s relief. “Maybe you aren’t playing dead, after all.”
Up close and personal with Yuki’s legs again stirred the simmering emotions within her. “There’s no way anyone would really put much stock in legs like these, right? They’re practically sticks compared to mine!” And yet, no one had ever complimented her own legs before, Reiko thought. “…just to be safe,” the woman muttered sourly as she began to unwind the roll of duct tape.
The restraints already adorned on Yuki’s legs were joined by several additional loops. They circuited the bent limbs and around her ankles and thighs, adding to and overlapping the bonds already there. Like this, Yuki’s knees were forced to remain bent and her legs compacted into a strict, tight pose.
Reiko lightly rocked the unconscious girl’s body, satisfied with the addition. “Let’s see you try any funny business now.”
“mm…” Yuki bleated weakly. Her tiny body twitched slightly before stilling once more.
“Heh! That’s what I thought.” Reiko fetched her cellphone again, intent on finishing up what she had started. The two photos she had taken of Yuki previously were still there, waiting to be sent. Just to be safe, Reiko angled the phone for another full body shot of Yuki’s newest pose. Now she had two shots of Yuki’s front and back, as well as a close-up of her face. “That should do it…”
With everything in order, she sent the photos to her “contact” – a word Reiko was thoroughly hesitant to use to describe them. “And now, to play the waiting game.” Now left to her own devices, a seed of worry wormed itself into her psyche. ‘I’m taking a major risk here,’ she mulled, ‘Just straight up kidnapping someone? Can…can I even come back from this?’ There would surely be repercussions from this impulsive, desperate act, Reiko knew. “I guess I’m solidifying my “thug” status, huh. Well, if that’s how the world wants to see me…might as well use that image to my advantage.” Somehow, Reiko wasn’t entirely reassured by her train of thought.
‘Or, maybe…if this all works out, I’ll go all out with trying to play up my own feminine charms? Put this all behind me and show the world they can take their – urk – rightly justified in this ONE case – preconceptions about me and shove it – ‘
Her phone was buzzing. “Huh…that was fast.” Reiko looked over the text she had just received. “Looks like you managed to pull in a haul after all. You even went out of your way to repose and tie her even tighter. Are you certain you aren’t new to this?” Reiko wasn’t sure she felt too hot about having someone like them praising her. “I digress. Based on your pictures so far, this one looks like she might be profitable, after all. However, we’re going to need a few more pictures to better gauge how much quality this girl is packing. For starters, take a close-up shot of the bunny’s derriere.“ Reiko scoffed indigently at this. “So they actually do find her to be appealing, huh?” She was torn on that; it meant that she might just be getting her payday after all, but a part of her couldn’t help but feel irked at the further confirmation about Yuki’s beauty.
Quite reluctantly, she angled her phone’s camera over Yuki’s rear. Having just folded Yuki’s legs in place with tape, Reiko was partially relieved that the slip of a girl wasn’t lanky. The balls of the bunny girl’s feet came to a halt right at her cottontail-clad butt, providing a mostly unobstructed view of it. Mostly, as Yuki’s feet hung limply, tilted forward slightly over her corset and pantyhose clad rump. Reiko found herself gripping them by the toes with one hand to pull them backwards and out of the way. With that obstruction out of the way of Yuki’s derriere, Reiko lined up the shot.
‘This isn’t even that impressive, if you ask me.’ It looked soft and curvy enough, she begrudgingly recognized, but she doubted it’d rank highly with anyone. Still, Reiko hoped that it wouldn’t somehow deter the prospective buyers.
Snapping a photo of it and sending it, Reiko found that she didn’t have to wait too long this time. “From here, it looks nice and firm, but curvy and soft enough, too. It seemed that way in the first group of pictures you sent us, but it seems as though she measures up sufficiently for someone of her stature. Not bad. For the next order of business: Take a shot of her shoulders front and back – the collarbones in particular.”
“What, seriously? That’s not good enough for you?” Reiko was at war with herself; the man had expressed interest, albeit in a somewhat detached manner. But as aloof as he tried to be, it didn’t change the fact that he had approved of her captive’s rump. “I can’t believe it actually got the pass…” Reiko groused pettily.
For the next shot, Reiko didn’t have repose the slumbering captive; her bare shoulders and collarbone was exposed by the corset and facing upwards for all to see. Reiko snapped a shot, then flipped the girl over. Another shot was taken of Yuki’s collarbones this time. Despite herself, Reiko’s eyes lingered on the girl’s porcelain skin. ‘She really is like a doll…’ Tentatively, she reached out and poked Yuki’s collarbone. As she traced Yuki’s skin, Reiko couldn’t help but feel a pang of melancholy. “I could never get my skin this soft, no matter how much I tried…”
Catching herself daydreaming, Reiko jerked her hand away. She was already stooping to taking suggestive photos of a captive girl, but now she was feeling her up a little, too? ‘I think these guys are starting to infect me with their perversions,’ Reiko growled. She glared at the bottle of chloroform that had given her this idea in the first place.
The photos were sent, and the response was swift. “Nice shape, and that skin of hers looks smooth and unblemished. It gets a pass. Your next photo: A close-up of her face, sans gag.”
“Really, now…” Reiko eyeballed the thick, layered gag she had given the tiny girl. She would have to reapply the gag with fresh strips of tape. “Seems like a waste…” she thought. But now wasn’t the time to be frugal. With a surprising delicacy, Reiko began to peel the winding strips of tape from Yuki’s mouth. “mmnh…” Yuki felt a brief flicker of consciousness return to her. Her eyelids felt as though they were burdened with a great weight; try as she might, the interface simply couldn’t beckon them to open. Distantly, she thought that she could feel a foreign, prickling sensation along her face. The moment vanished and Yuki slipped fully into senselessness once more.
Reiko took note of the twitching of her captive’s closed eyes. “Well, I guess she really is out cold,” she mused to herself. The tape had been peeled off, completely, something Reiko winced slightly at. ‘That probably smarts a bit,’ she paused, ‘but a brat like her probably deserves it, right?’ The handkerchief Reiko had slipped underneath all of the tape clung to the adhesive. Reiko clicked her tongue at its sorry sight; it had been drenched in the chloroform that had soaked Yuki’s face – and had been pressed up against another girl’s face, period. “I’m going to need to get a new one…”
The handkerchief and tape had absorbed much of the chloroform staining her captive’s face, but small traces of it lingered. Wetting some paper towels in her kitchen, Reiko set about wiping clean Yuki’s face until it was spotless.
Reiko noted how peaceful Yuki seemed to be, sleeping away as though without a single concern in the world. ‘She probably cruised through life having everything handed to her so easily. Well, she’ll have plenty to be concerned about soon. Who knows? Some hardship in her life might just build character for her.’ Whatever the case would be, it wouldn’t be Reiko’s concern anymore after the deal was done. If it was done, Reiko reminded herself. The woman kneeled down and brought Yuki’s head up onto her lap. Awkwardly, Reiko tilted her phone forty-five degrees to line up the shot. With that business taken care of, she hurriedly made to get Yuki’s head off of her lap. Yuki stirred, a weak moan drifting from her mouth, but otherwise remained unresponsive. Reiko sent the photo and waited a moment for the response.
Once again, she didn’t have to wait very long. “A shame we can’t see her eyes opened up, but sleeping beauty there gets a pass in terms of facial features. Just right, in the right spots. Her eye color – what is it?”
Reiko fumbled with the phone, sending a text back. “goldn brown.”
“I see. That’ll do. Now, for the final close-up: Take a shot of the soles of her feet.”
“…what the heck?” Reiko stared owlishly at her phone. ‘That…that wasn’t a typo, was it?’ She sent another hasty text back, to check. “srsly?”
“…wow, these guys are…interesting…” Reiko concluded, still very much confused. A request was a request, and with more than just money on the line, Reiko found herself doing what was, oddly enough, one of the more bizarre things she’d done that day. The phone’s camera lined up both feet into view, yet Reiko found herself hesitating. Staring inquisitively through the phone’s view of her captive’s feet, Reiko couldn’t figure it out. When she shifted her focus beyond the phone towards the genuine articles themselves, the perplexed woman still found herself lacking in answers. “…they’re just feet. Why are they ranking as highly as all these other things?”
Tentatively, Reiko reached out a hand and prodded one of the clothed arches of Yuki’s soft feet, noting how the girl shifted slightly at the touch. She supposed they were certainly dainty enough - was that what they were worried about? Instinctively, Reiko found herself curling her own toes. ‘My feet wouldn’t classify as dainty, would they? Do…do people actually care about that?’ Shaking her head, Reiko moaned to herself. “Ugh, I’m starting to feel self-conscious about my feet now, too? What’s the world coming to?”
Ignoring the cocktail of conflicting emotions – the confusion chief amongst them – Reiko snapped a shot of Yuki’s pantyhose clad soles, as requested.
“Hard to say, precisely,” the subsequent text read, “what with that pantyhose covering them, but even the feet seem adequate enough. I think this girl will suffice. I’ll give you a call in a moment.”
“Her feet,” Reiko repeated slowly, shaking her head. “What a bunch of weirdos…” As befuddled as she felt, it had at least seemed as though they were genuinely interested in what she had to offer. ‘Or, rather, what this brat has to offer…’
This time, Reiko found herself waiting longer than before for them to get back to her. Several minutes passed by. The impatient woman paced restlessly throughout her apartment, stealing glances at her phone. Her head jolted up when a ringing noise finally sounded throughout the apartment. The problem was that it wasn’t coming from her phone; it was her doorbell.
“Who…?!” Reiko hissed. Now definitely wasn’t the time for her to entertain visitors. Reiko ignored it, hoping whoever it was would go away. The doorbell continued ringing, much to her continued grievance. “Fine…fine! I’ll answer the damn door…” Reiko stomped towards the doorway, intent on telling off whoever had decided to annoy her now. Halfway there, a thought occurred to the fuming woman. ‘Wait…what if it’s that creep, here to talk about the deal in person?’ Reiko wouldn’t put it past him to have been in the neighborhood already. Suddenly feeling a bit nervous, Reiko switched tactics, approaching the doorway to her apartment with caution.
Reiko peered through the eyehole on the door, eager to see just who had shown up. A brief tinge of confusion tinted her mind before alarm and annoyance filled her. She couldn’t see the person themselves, but she didn’t need to; the black bunny ears she could make out were telling. ‘It’s that Suzumiya brat! What’s she doing, snooping around here of all times?!’
Undoing one of the locks and cracking open the door slightly, but not even bothering to undo the chain lock, Reiko peeked out at them from the gap. “You two again? What do you want now? And more importantly, how did you even know where I live?”
Haruhi huffed. “The how is easy; we just asked around. That old man sure was helpful in pointing out where the “thuggish woman” lived!”
“Gramps did that, huh…” Reiko scowled.
“More importantly,” Haruhi continued, undeterred, “we’re onto you! You were purposefully holding back information on the disappearance of our friend!”
“That’s quite the accusation there…” Inwardly, the fledgling kidnapper struggled to remain calm. ‘I got so easily sniffed out by a bunch of brats? Oh, come on!’
“We were in that alley you came out of, and we found this!” Haruhi presented a rag out expectantly. “…you found some trash in an alley. Congrats?” Reiko studied it a little more. A sense of dread began to form when it dawned on her what she was looking at – the lingering scent only further confirmed it. ‘That’s the rag I used on that other brat…oh crap!’ Reiko’s sloppiness had come back to haunt her in the form of a self-righteous teenager.
Worse yet, Haruhi seemed to pick up on the poorly concealed recognition Reiko displayed. “I knew it! You do know something about this!”
Thinking quickly, Reiko attempted to grasp for an excuse. “Look, I saw some…guy with a girl in an outfit like yours as I passed through the alley, but I just figured it was, y’know, some strange couple trying to act all lovey-dovey out of sight.”
“Really, now.” Haruhi sent Reiko a challenging glare. “Then why didn’t you mention any of this when we first asked you?”
“Thought your friend snuck off to have some fun with her boy-toy behind her friends back,” Reiko bluffed, sounding as annoyed as she felt. “I just didn’t want to get involved with that sort of teen drama. I have far more important things to take care of today.”
As though to punctuate the point, Reiko’s cellphone began to ring. “Speaking of which, I really need to take this call. Sorry about your friend, but that’s all I know. Bye.” She closed the door in their faces and locked it tight, before stalking off deeper into the apartment. “This is horrible!” Mikuru fretted, “Something really did happen to Nagato…w-what should we do?” Haruhi stared at the door, unconvinced. “…she was still hiding something. Her eyes – they shifted around too much during her explanation. She was lying, somehow.”
“About what?” Mikuru asked timidly. “Well, that’s what we’re going to have to find out.” Taking a deep breath, Haruhi bellowed at the doorway, “LISTEN UP LADY, WE KNOW YOU’RE STILL HIDING SOMETHING! AND UNTIL YOU TELL US EVERYTHING YOU KNOW, WE’RE NOT GOING TO LEAVE THIS SPOT!” Mikuru flinched, covering up her ears belatedly. “W-we are?!”
Placing her hands on her hips, Haruhi turned to address her smaller friend. “Of course! We’ll stake out right here and wait until she’s ready to talk! She’s our only lead!”
“B-but, shouldn’t we at least call the police?” Silently, Mikuru wondered to herself if she should perhaps try to get in contact with her own people. Haruhi’s bunny ears flopped as she shook her head. “Not yet…it’s up to us to get as much information before we make a call – any call. And my gut is telling me that this lady is part of this, somehow.” Haruhi looked at Mikuru’s face, marred with doubt and worry. Recalling the svelte girl’s recent admission of having experienced a kidnapping attempt of her own, Haruhi felt her prideful stance slipping slightly. Sighing, she patted Mikuru’s shoulder reassuringly. “Look…we’ll wait a little while to see what this lady is hiding, and then make the call in half an hour, regardless of whether or not we squeeze any more information out of her. Does that work for you?”
Mikuru hesitantly nodded. Sighing once more, Haruhi returned her attention to the shut door. “I’d just hate to give them so little evidence to work with…if Yuki’s really been kidnapped, I want them to have as much of a head start on this as possible! We’re here, on the scene, so it’s up to us to make sure we deliver whatever we can!”
Mikuru could understand the sentiment, a little. “O-okay…but, uhm,” a thought suddenly came to the red-head, “What about our table? We left all of our stuff back there…”
“Oh, yeah…” Glancing between the door and Mikuru, Haruhi came to a hasty conclusion. “Alright, Mikuru, hold down the fort for a second. I’ll go get our stuff!”
“You’re leaving me here by myself?” Mikuru didn’t like the idea of being outside of the apartment of a woman who had clearly shown annoyance at them all by herself. “Relax! It’ll only take a minute to dump all the stuff back into the bag. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Mikuru watched Haruhi beat a hasty retreat, her heels clicking rapidly as she made a beeline for the café. She didn't feel very reassured...