Most of the characters in this piece and the setting for it, were conceived of by Rumiko Takahashi for her Ranma1/2 series of Manga. All such characters and the setting are the property of Takahashi-san and her licensees. All other characters in the piece are purely fictional and any resemblances to actual persons living or dead, are purely coincidental.
His name is Norio Ohga. He is the one with the quick reflexes and no sense of humor. His partner's name is Tetsuro Shirikawa. His reflexes are fast, but not as fast as Ohga's. His is the brighter mind of the pair. They went to high school together. They dated the same girls. They both loved to drive fast. That is why they went to the police academy together. So they could take turns driving fast legally. So that they could take turns driving fast legally in a car that was made to go fast from scratch that they would not have to pay for. They love their job. They even love the people they pull over. They especially love the truckers and the motorcyclists. They love the motorcyclists the most because the motorcyclists usually give them an excuse to drive really fast, but they do dearly love truckers. Oh, Kami-sama! They love truckers almost as much as dogs love trucks. They are behind one now on this fine, clear Wednesday morning after Akane's aborted wedding. They are following a tank truck headed west on the expressway in the northwestern quadrant of Tokyo. The truck is traveling along at one hundred and five kilometers per hour, fifteen kilometers per hour faster than the law allows a truck to travel on Tokyo's express ways.
"Okay, Norio! I got him," Shirikawa says as he looks up from his little laptop, "He's Yoshinao Nakada and we've busted him before. His log book is never in order. Blip, 'em!"
Ohga steers a little to the right so that he can see the trucker's mirror, then turns on the prowler's flashers and blips the siren. The trucker responds immediately with his left blinker and backs out of his throttle. Ohga slows the prowler in sync. The trucker pulls his rig over onto the shoulder and stops, then turns on his emergency flashers.
"I'll do the talkin' this time, Norio old buddy. Keep your seat."
"'Cause we don't need another collar this week, that's why."
Ohga gives forth with an exasperated sigh, but makes no objection. Shirikawa gets out of the prowler and approaches the truck. Nakada is already holding his logbook and licenses out the window.
"Hey, howzit goin', Yoshi?"
"Oh, it's been a pretty good day so far, Officer," Nakada says.
"Is yer logbook in order?"
"Oh, I think so. I ain't as good at math as I used to be."
"Well I guess I'd better give it quick audit then, hadn't I?"
"I reckon that'd be best, Officer."
Shirikawa opens the logbook. There are two, five- thousand yen notes bound to the second page with a paper clip. Shirikawa slips the bills into his shirt pocket, then begins filling out a form on his clipboard.
"You do realize how fast you was goin', right?"
"I wuz only doin' a hunnert and five!"
"Yoshi, Yoshi, Yoshi! You know you aren't s'posed drive this thing over ninety!"
"Aw, come on, boss! I got forty-thousand liters o' milk in this thing. You want the school kids ta do wi'out milk?"
"What can I say, Yoshi? The law's the law. Tell you what, since you been so nice about it, I'm gonna let you off with a warnin' this time, okay?"
"I really appreciate that, Officer. I promise to keep an eye on my speedometer from now on."
"I'm sure you will, Yoshi! Sign here."
Nakada doesn't look all that happy, but he signs the citation and hands the clipboard back down. Shirikawa tears out Nakada's copy and hands it up to him.
"Drive carefully, Yoshi!"
"I will, boss."
Shirikawa returns to the prowler with a spring in his step. Once inside he hands Ohga one of the five-thousand yen notes. Ohga grunts and puts the money in his pocket.
"I'll be glad when ball season starts," Ohga says.
"Not me. I'd rather have the money."
A motorcycle whips by fast enough to rock the prowler.
Shirikawa barks like a dog. Ohga grins and tramps down on the prowler's accelerator.
"It's a beautiful day, Tetsu!"
Shirikawa barks again as he flips on the prowler's flashers and siren.
"Woof! Woof, woof! Woof!"
"Have I called you an idiot today?"
"You _are_ an idiot."
Xian Pu made it to Nerima's little fish market with her second set of orders on time, despite the rear wheel of her bicycle rubbing against the frame. The men here were all large and well muscled, and all of them appreciated Xian Pu for more than just the food she delivered. Several had asked if she were married, many more did not seem to care. One of them foolishly tried to pat her butt. Xian Pu seized his hand with thumb and forefinger, applying just enough pressure to the right places to make the big man drop to his knees.
"That not nice! You no be good little boy, you have big troubles!" Xian Pu said, leaning so close to the man that their noses nearly touched.
The man made a little squeaking noise and nodded his head. The rest of the men roared with laughter. Xian Pu took it all in stride on the surface, but inside she was thoroughly frustrated. She wished Ranma would react to her the way these men did, but Ranma was not the weakling these men were. Xian Pu was fairly certain the every man in Japan except Ranma was silly in this way. All of them weaklings. Ruled by their testicles. There was not a one she had seen that she could not charm out of his britches. They were more foolish than Muu Su, letting their glands run their lives for them. Ranma though, was different. He had not shown the first sign of weakness to this day. Sooner or later though, she would wear him down. All she needed to do was to make sure he stayed single until the temptation became too much. Then, after Xian Pu got through with him, he would beg to be taken back to China. She was determined that she would not share the fate two of her friends had suffered. They had been defeated by men that refused to marry them because they had been too easily defeated. Their shame was so great that they had cut their hair and took jobs working for Revered Grandmother in the archives. The Joketsu did not dominate their men by force. Force was useless against a man worth having.
With deliveries made and money collected, she began her trip back to the Nekohanten. Thanks to the problem with the rear wheel of her bicycle, this proved troublesome. She could have just resorted to applying enough power to the pedals to overcome the friction, but she knew from previous experience that this did bad things to the tires. She hated riding a bicycle with a flat, especially a rear flat. A front flat she could cope with rather easily, but the rear tire caused too much trouble when it was flat. Gritting her teeth, she took her time getting back to the restaurant.
"Hello, Xian Pu," Ko Lon said as she set a bowl of ramen and quart pitcher of cool water on the bar. "Eat now. You won't have time later."
"Is like battle!"
Ko Lon cackled. "So it is, child. So it is."
"Xian Pu having troubles with bicycle, Great- grandmother."
"I'm on it!"
Muu Su grabbed his pliers and both of his screwdrivers, the only tools he had, then went outside. Ko Lon watched him go, muttering under his breath. I guess I really should buy him a decent set of tools, she thought. He's learned more than enough about making do.
"Have list, Great-grandmother?"
"Here you go, child."
Xian Pu took the list and read as she ate.
"One of these is a special delivery, Xian Pu. I want you to be extra careful with this particular customer."
"Okay, Great-grandmother. What you want Xian Pu to do?" Xian Pu took a deep breath through her nose. "What that smell? You bake bread? Soup smell funny, too."
"Yes, child. Now listen carefully..."
Nabiki decided to skip school once she got a look at what was left of Miyagi's. Nearly every last yen of her cut from the betting pools and every other scam she had going this week would now be poured into the bedraggled sake parlor. It was infuriating. This week promised to be a record and she wouldn't see a dime of it, thanks to Happosai. She caught the bus and got off at the stop nearest post office. She needed cash for Happosai's bail. She did not expect to be getting him out of jail today, but it never hurt to be prepared. He might agree to whatever she demanded without encouragement. Cash in hand, she caught another bus and rode it to the stop nearest the Nerima Ward's police station. Hopefully, they would still be holding the old man there. If she did not get him out today, they would probably transfer him downtown. Getting the old pervert out after that would just about double the expense, but Nabiki was very much inclined to let him go there and stay cooped up with nothing but men for company for a week or so. The authorities could hold him for up to twenty-days without even allowing him a phone call if they wanted, but then they might turn around and bill him for his stay in their luxurious accommodations. They almost never did such a thing of course, but they could anytime it suited them. It was one of the cops' favorite threats against chronic brawlers.
The desk sergeant recognized Nabiki when she walked in, even though it had been a while. Yes, she could see Happosai. Sure, they could transfer him downtown and hold for a few days if she wanted him too. The old man had been getting on their nerves for the past few months anyway. No, they wouldn't say anything to Happi. Great idea to let him to stew in the dark for a few days. How was Genma? Oh, he was in the zoo again. Big laugh. Soun's in bed again, right? Another big laugh.
Happosai clanked and rattled out into the visitors area wearing the two-hundred kilograms of chain suit that the Nerima Ward station had gone to the trouble and expense of having made special, just for Happosai. He did not look very happy.
"Good morning, Ojiisan!" Nabiki said cheerfully.
"How was breakfast?" she asked. She knew full well they did not serve breakfast in jail. Prisoners got two meals a day. One at noon and one at six in the evening. Her asking did not improve Happosai's moral any, which was exactly what she wanted.
"You know they don't serve breakfast in this place!"
"I'm sorry, Ojiisan," Nabiki said contritely as she struggled to suppress a smirk. "I forgot."
"How come they put me in a cell instead of the drunk tank?"
"You mean you don't know?"
"Know what?" Happosai asked, very clearly alarmed.
"They are charging you with indecent exposure."
"They said nice young ladies like me shouldn't have to listen to sordid details."
"Nice my ass! I wanna know what's going on."
"Well find out!"
"I tried, but they won't tell me anything. You'll just have to ask them yourself."
"They won't talk to me. They haven't told me anything other than tellin' me to hire a lawyer!"
"Ooh, sounds expensive."
"What about bail?"
"I don't have it."
"What do you mean you don't have it?"
"Well, they said if Miyagi didn't press charges they would go a little easier on you, so I have to make sure his place gets fixed, right?"
"Uh, huh. And you remember that little bomb you clobbered Ranma with?"
"So, it did something funny to his head. He's lost control of his ki. Now every time he goes to sleep, he generates cold ki."
"Cold ki? So? What's that got to do with the price of tea?"
"Last night he generated so much cold ki that Tofu's clinic collapsed."
"Oh, shit!" Happosai looked more than a little alarmed by this.
"I thought that, but didn't say it. As you can imagine, we're a little short on cash at the moment."
"Oh, shit!" Happosai clapped boht his hands on the top of his bald head. "Oh, dear!"
Nabiki did her best Kasumi imitation. "They said you would be transferred downtown this afternoon. You ought to be happy about that. They said the food is a lot better there."
Happosai turned green. This did not surprise Nabiki at all. The jail downtown was always overcrowded, usually three prisoners to a cell. While Happosai had little to fear from even the worst of that lot, the prospect of being confined in a small space with two other men would probably make him ill.
"Is there someone I can call for you?"
Happosai turned purple.
"You aren't going to help me at all, are you?"
"I'll do everything I can, Ojiisan, but there isn't much I can do."
"Surely you've found out how much it is going to take to get me out of here!"
"Well how much?" Happosai nearly screamed.
"Only ten-million yen."
"Uh, huh. Something about what happened to the jail the last time you were in here." This was ridiculous of course. Repairs to the jail were a normal part of the city budget, but it never hurt to browbeat Happosai whenever you got him over a barrel.
"I don't know how you did it, Gramps, but you managed to piss off just about everybody in Nerima this week."
"I guess I have been overdoing it a little."
"You might say that, yes."
"You're pissed at me, too."
"Me? Never. I just stay out of the way and enjoy the show."
"All right. You win, Nabiki. You know where my seal is."
"Do you still have my account number?"
"How long will it take to get me out?"
"Ten days, I think."
"They really are pissed this time, Gramps."
"Just be sure you don't take anymore than I need from that account! It earns good interest."
"Have I ever cheated you?"
"No, you just take advantage of an old man's folly that's all."
"That's what pretty girls like me are for, Gramps," Nabiki said with a winning smile.
"Get me out of here as quick as you can, Nabiki. I don't think I can stand ten days of nothing but men.!"
"I'll try my best, Ojiisan!" Nabiki said as she got up and undulated towards the door. Happosai's chains began rattling.
Nabiki left chuckling to herself. This little snafu was only going to cost about five-million yen, but now she would have enough reserve to cover the next phase of this still unfolding disaster--she hoped. Things would without doubt become exciting again once Ranma was out of the clinic and Happosai was out of jail. Well, both of them would need a week or so to recharge once they got out, but chances were good that more money would be needed. Nabiki did not really mind the trouble. She just considered it to be training. The founder of the Anything Goes School of Capitalism needed to be the best at her Chosen Art, ne?
Riding on the bus she started thinking about the tapes of Akane's recent clash with the Hentai Brigade. She had a potential best seller there if she could improve it a little. Quite a few people had asked about already. It needed editing and a good sound track. She began replaying the video's in her head, thinking about what needed to be cut and what sort of transitions to use between edits. During this process a violent piece of organ music came to mind, but it took a while for her to remember the title. It was Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. She remembered that an old movie with lots of fight scenes had used Bach's masterpiece for its musical theme. It had been a good choice and would work beautifully again. She whipped out one of her cellular telephones and called Gosunkugi. He was good with video. All she had to do was give him a general idea of what she wanted. The sooner he got to work on it, the sooner they could start making more money from video sales.
It became considerably easier to study once Uchigawa's work crews installed a temporary partition between the lobby and the rest of the building. He even erected a temporary stairway with his scaffolding so his men could go through a second story window rather than use the stairwell inside. Surprisingly, few of Tofu's patients seemed to mind all that much. Several came in and caught up on overdue bills. Still it was not quite enough to give Ranma Saotome the edge he needed to concentrate.
(You know we gotta do somethin', Red. We might freeze everyone to death in our sleep.)
(So what have you got in mind, Saotome? We could sleep in the alley.)
(That probably ain't far enough away.)
(Then who'll be watching over Akane, Saotome?)
(Oh, man! We got big trouble.)
(We could try staying up all night.)
(Yeah, but I really don't think we should, Red. We're supposed to be healin' up, remember?)
(Hey! We're a lot better today. Haven't been dizzy but once since daylight and that was because you bent over.)
(Oh yeah, sure. Like its all my fault! You dropped the soap.)
(Saotome? You ever notice how much trouble soap causes us?)
(It ain't near as much trouble as water causes us.)
(They go together, though.)
(Never mind that, Red. What are we gonna do about tonight?)
(Hey! I got an idea.)
(We sleep as much as we can during the day, then stay awake all night.)
(That might work, but what if we start havin' bad dreams during the day?)
(That's the beauty of it, Saotome. Somebody's bound to wake us up before things get out of hand.)
(You're right. Talk to Akane about it.)
(Oh, so you want _me_ to talk to her now, huh?)
(Hey! It was your idea, Red.)
(So? You don't mind me cuttin' in, huh?)
(Well, I gotta admit. We did do pretty good last night--until we went to sleep that is.)
(Yeah, it figures. We're the only person in the world that cause serious trouble in our sleep.)
(You know, Red. I hate to say this, but that might actually make us worse to have around than Happosai.)
(If I didn't have to share your mouth, I'd make you eat soap for that.)
(We've had enough trouble with soap for a day. Talk to Akane, will ya?)
"What is it, Ranma?" Akane asked, feigning irritation.
"I'm gonna get some sleep, okay?"
"So don't let anyone bother me unless I, uh, unless..."
"You start your own, personal cold front?"
"You know what I mean," Ranma said, doing his best to sound aggravated.
"Let me see if Doctor Tofu can give you something to help you sleep."
"Just so long as it ain't a high speed, flying barbell or nothin', okay?"
"Actually, I was thinking of using his ball bat, but I saw him take it home yesterday."
"Kawia-kune no onna!"
"You know, Ranma, you used be a pretty nice guy while you were asleep."
"Oh, ha-ha! That was a good one," Ranma said, trying to sound sarcastic but grinning through his best efforts to suppress it.
Akane left the room and returned in less than five minutes bearing a large tumbler filled with what appeared to be orange juice.
"Here. Doctor Tofu says you should drink all of it."
"What is it?"
"He said it was mostly orange juice with a little potato juice mixed in. Now drink it! Doctor's orders."
(This is some really stout orange juice, Saotome.)
(Tell me! What'd he do? Put rocket fuel it?)
"Are you okay, Ranma?" Akane asked.
"This is orange juice and potato juice?"
"That's what Doctor Tofu said."
"I'm sleepy already."
"Good! Maybe now I can study."
"Me bein' asleep won't help you any. You know you can't concentrate while you're around a hunk like me."
(Saotome, you jerk!)
(Hey! It's part of the act, okay?)
Akane stuck her tongue out at him.
"Good night, Tomboy."
"Get some sleep, baka! I hate guys with baggy eyes."
"Yeah, I know. You told me that before. As if I'd care."
By eleven o'clock on the Wednesday following Akane's failed wedding, Jean-Luc Thibbedeaux had finally finished with the American's mountain bike and was trying to decide whether to remove the tires and hang it from the bar-joists of his shop, or if he shouldn't perhaps go ahead and have it crated. Hanging it would mean that every time someone saw it they would ask about it and would want to buy it. Crating it meant an unnecessary expense if the American kid never came through with the rest of the money, which Jean-Luc had to admit was a distinct probability. The boy had taken a very nasty fall.
He was hampered in making this decision by the approach of luncheon. At home in France, luncheon had been his favorite meal. Here in Japan it was something of a bore. At home he would have taken a minimum of two hours for a mid- day meal, but here he rarely took longer than thirty minutes. The food here was passable fair for the most part, but nothing like the sumptuous dining available in his beloved France. Here everything had noodles in it, or noodles on the side, or it had sticky, glutenous rice as part of the main course. Jean-Luc despised noodles. Noodles were entirely too Italian for him. He liked his rice light and fluffy, carefully seasoned with saffron, black pepper and a good chicken stock. Oh well he thought. May as well take a little time today and try what's her name's crepes. They were not anything remotely like French crepes, but they were filling and her waitress was a joy to flirt with. Much to his horror, he was developing a taste for Fiery Steed beer. He really was going to have to visit home soon. This place was ruining his palate.
Jean-Luc walked out onto the side walk, then turned and reached up to lower the main door to his shop when his nose froze him in place and pose. The first scent to assail his olfactory nerve endings of course was freshly scrubbed, but nicely warmed up young woman. The next thing was the assault upon his ears by the screeching and clattering of the incredibly bad piece of commercially made junk so laughingly called a bicycle in Japan, but the real show stopper was the smell of a freshly baked brioche. Jean-Luc could not believe his nose. He sniffed the air. Not only was he smelling a nicely warmed up young woman and a brioche, but a bouillabaisse. In addition to the brioche and bouillabaisse, there was the definite hint of fresh butter. Not just any butter mind you, but fresh butter from a Jersey, not a Holstein cow.
"Nihao!" a soft, sexy voice said.
Jean-Luc slowly lowered his arm and turned around. She was incredible. Not only was the young woman a treat for the eyes, the power in that young body was unmatched by any cyclist Jean-Luc Thibbedeaux had ever seen. And the aroma emanating from inside the take-out box she held in her right hand was something he would have willingly killed for right there on the spot.
"Good morning," Jean-Luc finally managed to say without spraying.
"Great-grandmother send you gift. Is too, too delicious bu ya be su."
Jean-Luc forgave her the quaint manner of speech. He even managed to ignore that horrible monstrosity she stood astride. There was a brioche in that box! And a bouillabaisse! And butter! Fresh butter! From a Jersey! Tears came into his eyes.
"Gift? For me?"
"Yes!" Xian Pu said in her deadliest kawai voice. The one that had been known to bring men to their knees at a hundred meters or more.
Jean-Luc reached out with trembling hands and took the box, then walked on unsteady legs back into his shop and set the box down on his desk. Xian Pu followed him, pushing her bike along behind. Ordinarily he would have thrown a fit if someone had defiled his premises with such a rude contraption, but today was different. Today he would forgive, or grant, anything.
"Great-grandmother ask how long to make bicycle for Nekohanten. Price no object."
"You are making deliveries with that dreadful wreck?"
Xian Pu answered with a silent nod of the head.
"Sacrebleu! You poor child!"
"Bicycle is mostly bad today. Xian Pu ride it all over Nerima many months now."
"I have a bicycle you can use for today. By tomorrow morning, I shall have a new one, tailor made just for those lovely legs."
"By tomorrow?" Xian Pu could not help but giggle. Men outside her tribe were so silly.
"Mademoiselle, I am Jean-Luc Thibbedeaux! If a thing can be done, it must be done, and it is I, Jean-Luc who will do it for you!"
"Xian Pu so happy!"
"Merde! Get away from that dreadful thing before it bites you!" Jean-Luc said, referring to her bicycle. Xian Pu looked around for a dog.
"Here! Take this machine," he said, bringing out the mountain bike he had just brought to a glittering completion, "It does not really suit you, but I think it will do until I have yours ready."
"Aiyaa! Is beautiful bicycle!"
"Fah! It's nothing! I made it for an American. Come back here this same time tomorrow and I will have a masterpiece waiting for you, my dear."
"What do with old bicycle?"
"Oh, leave it here. I will use it to properly size your new machine. Then we will throw it into the scrap bin together, yes?"
"Okay. Xian Pu go now. Must make more delivery!"
"Fair well, my Goddess!" Jean-Luc said in French.
"Bai, bai!" Xian Pu said with her patented, bring 'em to their knees giggle. It was so potent, Jean-Luc watched her pedal completely out of sight before remembering the brioche.
"Aiyaah!" he cried as he ran back into his shop.
Xian Pu was rather disappointed with her new ride after a block or so. She had to pedal it too much. Then she discovered that it did not have any brakes. Backpedaling resulted in nothing but backpedaling and strange clicking sounds. This made it necessary for her to dodge in and out of traffic. Once she started to pedal again, she was shocked by two things. The bicycle was much harder to pedal, but was suddenly and inexplicably faster than any bicycle she had ever ridden. Oh, Kami-sama was it fast. Her shirt tail did not merely flutter in the breeze, it made snapping noises. This was both good and bad. It was good because she really and truly appreciated the speed, but it was horribly bad because the damned thing did not have any brakes. It did not have a bell, either. Had it not been for her incredibly fast Amazon trained reflexes this would have ended in disaster for her. As it was, it made a mess of everything in Nerima between Forges Street and the Nekohanten as she zipped in out of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, like a cat with her tail on fire. It was Mousse who rescued her by serving as a crash barrier and soft spot for her to land on. Xian Pu found herself lying on Muu Su face to face.
"Xian Pu sorry, Muu Su. New bicycle not have brakes."
"It has brakes, Xian Pu."
"No it not! Xian Pu try very hard to stop. Hit Muu Su instead."
"They are on the handle bars, Xian Pu."
"Silly Muu Su! How handle bars stop bicycle?"
"Pedals work funny, too."
"I know. You see it's because it's a different sort of bicycle than what you are used to riding, Xian Pu. Are you okay?"
"Xian Pu, okay. How Muu Su?" Xian Pu got up and helped him to his feet, having decided that he had been exposed long enough to refresh his loyalty to her. For a moment she feared that she might have overplayed her hand, as he appeared ready to go into one of his ecstatic flapping fits. Fortunately, he somehow maintained his self-control. Xian Pu felt vaguely disappointed.
"Oh, it's minor. Nothing to worry about."
"Bicycle crazy! First it make Xian Pu pedal too much. Then no stop. Then go very, very fast. Xian Pu no understand."
Muu Su fetched the bicycle and whistled once he got a close look at it.
"Whoa! This is one of the best mountain bikes I've ever seen."
"What is mountain bike?"
"It was made to ride in hill country, Xian Pu. Like back home."
"Aiyaa! Nerima flat."
"Is this the bike he sold you?
"No. Silly Frenchmans say bring this back tomorrow. He give Xian Pu better bicycle then.
"Come get on it. I'll show you how it works."
Xian Pu caught on to the caliper brakes and how to operate them fairly quickly. The gears though, were a different matter. She did finally understand how to change them, but the purpose of the lower gears eluded her. All she wanted to do was go fast. Muu Su kept trying to explain, but was not getting it across very well.
Ko Lon watched the pair from inside the Nekohanten and smiled. The ways of the middle Tendo might be mysterious, but the ways of an Amazon were more than potent. It was going to be an interesting battle, and a profitable one to boot.
Jean-Luc Thibbedeaux felt the sudden stab of fear in his heart as he approached the take out box Xian Pu had left. Fear of disappointment. How on earth could Chinese noodle cook possibly know anything about producing a genuine brioche, much less a bouillabaisse? Yet his nose told him it was so. He opened the box. It really was a brioche. It really was bouillabaisse. He was in heaven. He spent two hours consuming a meal that would have disappeared in fifteen minutes had anyone but a Frenchman been eating it.
He sketched as he ate. He was having a vision. Racing bikes, though very light, durable and in the case of mountain bikes, maneuverable, were not suitable designs for the lovely Xian Pu making deliveries. They were too rough riding. A delivery person needed a milder mannered mount, that was tough and reliable, yet lightweight. The frame needed to be longer and it needed a little more spring in it. The wheels needed to be a bit taller. The spokes slightly more flexible. Perhaps he would eliminate the spokes altogether and use some of the new fiber composites for the wheels. Certainly the fenders would be fiber composites. A wide range of gearing was a must. Delivery people ran into all sorts of conditions and weather plus, they lacked the luxury of simply modifying the bicycle for different parts of a known course. He would have to make some very careful choices. Tires! He really needed a special tire design. The standard ones were entirely inadequate.
Two hours later the meal was done and Jean-Luc had finished his fourth sketch and was well into the final calculations on the gearing. He ran a fast check of his material inventory through his head. He had what he needed for the sprockets and chain. He did not have the tubing he needed and he would have to schedule a welder to come in. He no longer did his own welding because his eyes could not take it anymore. He would have to call the sheet metal shop. Suddenly, he found himself shouting into the telephone at his various suppliers and subcontractors.
Now, it must be said that no one can speak French in a manner suitable for most Frenchman unless they have spent a great deal of time in France. Speaking French is an art form in its own right. It takes years and years of practice. In order to speak perfect French, one must do more than practice. One must live the language. French is perhaps the only language on earth that is like this. There are however, certain unfortunate side effects. Most Frenchman have great difficulty speaking any other language without a pronounced accent, as the late, great Peter Sellers was so fond of pointing out.
Jean-Luc, in his excited state and inflamed by an intensity of ambition he had never before felt, was perfectly incoherent over the telephone. Not only did his Japanese suffer from a perfectly execrable accent, he mixed more than a little French into his discourse. He also kept forgetting that Japanese sentences always have their verbs at their ends and that an unfinished sentence usually cannot be understood, even when the speaker spoke perfectly good Japanese. What he did get across however, was that peculiar form of infectious excitement which only a grand master of his craft can transmit. The Japanese are quick to recognize the passion of a grand master fully engaged, heart and soul, in his craft. Within minutes, a host of salesman and technicians were dispatched to the little shop on Forges Street in Nerima. Go find out what he wants and see that he gets it, were their orders. This guy is on to something big and we must be part of it.
Few them had any idea how big it would be. They did know however what it would be called. It would be called "Enterprise," because Jean-Luc was designing for the small entrepreneur. And, because it was based upon Jean-Luc's fourth sketch, it would be called "Enterprise D," or, when spoken in Japanglish, "Ayn Tah Pu Raisa Day." The start was a little rocky because they had to drag Jean-Luc away from his lathe where he was hogging out a new, never before seen set of sprockets.
They did eventually get him away from the lathe and his enthusiasm was even more infectious in proximity than it was over the telephone. Within an hour the requirements for Jean-Luc's new design were hammered out. Everyone soon understood what was needed and their deadlines firmly established. A storm of activity with feeder bands from all over Tokyo converged upon Thibbedeaux's little shop on Forges Street. Mechanical design is one of The Arts. The great masters of that Art sometimes birth a design so superlative that it inspires entirely new industries. Ford had his Model T. Edison had his light bulb. Douglas had his DC-3. Thibbedeaux would have the Enterprise D. A design which was, in the opinion of future environmentalists, destined to save the planet. Only a very enlightened few would realize that the Enterprise D and its variants would never have become the huge success they were to eventually be, without the extraordinary performances of a young, mouth-wateringly beautiful, Chinese Amazon named Xian Pu.
For most people, money is a problem. The nature of this problem falls into three general, sometimes difficult to distinguish categories. Too little money is the problem we most often hear about, while not quite enough money is the one most people are confronted with, but for a benighted few, too much money is the problem. The problem of too much money is most often the bane of those who did not themselves earn it, such as the victims of a sudden, unexpected windfall, or heirs to a great fortune they themselves had little or no part in making. It can also be a thorn in the side for those who obtained their fortunes by surreptitious or illegal means. In the case of Kodachi Kuno, an heir to a great fortune, the too much money problem was exacerbated by an almost complete lack of parental guidance. Money will buy its owner very nearly anything, save genuine affection. This can have an extraordinarily corrosive effect upon a person's ego and Kodachi was by no means immune to it. It made her desperately vulnerable to an event which is best described as the "casual kindness." A good example of such an event is being saved from a nasty fall by handsome stranger.
For all her riches, Kodachi Kuno was desperately impoverished in the ways which truly mattered. This form of poverty was part and parcel with her heritage. She was the third generation of Kuno's born to great wealth, who had not had a part in doing the work necessary to create that wealth. Her great-grandparents had made the mistake of sheltering their children from all the sharks they knew and did not know, in a vain effort to protect the family's wealth. This is understandable, but is a stratagem easily overdone. Most wealthy families find a balance in this regard. Kodachi's family did not.
Kodachi's personal trainer, Saeko Shimazu, knew all of this. She was from a family that had been quite wealthy at one time and had gone through the cycle of rags to riches and back to rags again. It left her with enough money to get through college and enough status to build up a long list of wealthy clients once she had graduated from school. She had majored in psychology and was a fourth-dan Martial Arts Gymnast. This rare combination of skills and education had allowed her to remain in the employ of Kodachi Kuno where others had failed.
Her skills did not however, make her job easy. Kodachi could go from sweet, compliant little girl to ravening, medieval bitch in the twinkling of an eye. All this week, the bitch had been roiling just beneath the sweet little girl surface of Kodachi's personality, ready to lash out at everyone within reach on the slightest excuse.
More acutely, the bitch was ruining Kodachi's performance of their newly choreographed floor routine. Coaching Kodachi through one of these spells was never easy and they had a competition coming up. A competition which did not involve combat. Grace and sensitivity were needed to carry the day and while Kodachi was displaying her world renowned grace, she was attacking the program like a hungry tigress. The best she could hope to do in the competition, unless she improved her aesthetics, was third place, perhaps as low as fourth place.
Shimazu dreaded the thought of such a result. It would mean months of hard work rebuilding Kodachi's fragile ego. Too much of the girl's self worth was a reflection of what complete strangers thought of her. Kodachi was one of those unfortunates who had no choice about winning or losing. For her, it was win or else. Criticism of Kodachi in her current, emotional state was unlikely to help either. Shimazu had therefore decided to tape today's practice. This would allow Kodachi to see her problems for herself, with no criticism from Shimazu required. Kodachi completed the floor routine in exact time with the music. Technically, she had it down pat. She had performed it with out single flaw or misstep. Esthetically however, it was a complete disaster.
Shimazu briefly considered changing the music and Kodachi's costume, and letting her do her usual, sexy-evil, witchy rendition of a floor routine, but rejected that notion almost out of hand. Several other girls had decided to try beating Kodachi at her own game with similar routines. Two of them were showing every sign of perfecting such an act. Shimazu did not believe in engaging an enemy on their choice of ground, even if it was home turf. A twist in the routine was a must. Kodachi must be evilly sexy, witchy and gently loving as well, to win this competition. None of the other girls could ever hope to emulate such a routine. A resounding defeat in this competition would reduce the number of Kodachi emulators to zero. The beautiful witch was Kodachi's trademark and Shimazu was determined that no other competitor should succeed against her client while infringing upon it.
"How was I, Shimazu-sensei?"
"Technically perfect, Kuno-san. I think the judges would grant tens on that score," Shimazu said while hooking the camera up to the small television she had brought into Kodachi's gymnasium.
"Why am I not thrilled at this news, Shimazu-sensei?" Kodachi asked.
"Perhaps you would understand more by watching yourself perform, Kuno-san."
Kodachi did understand. She watched. She crumbled. She cried. Shimazu did her best to console the poor little rich girl. It was not easy, but nothing to do with Kodachi ever came easily.
"You have been working very hard, Kuno-san. Perhaps it is time we took a break, ne?"
"Yes! Why don't you go grab a quick shower and we'll go out on the town. We'll spend a spend some time watching all the little people as they struggle, hmm?" Shimazu had no qualms about pressing certain of Kodachi's buttons when she thought it necessary.
"Excellent idea, Shimazu-san! Do you have anything in particular in mind?"
"Oh, I thought we'd dress down a little and try the local coffeehouse."
"Ho, ho, ho, ho! I just love slumming! Watching the little people struggle is great fun!"
Shimazu had another agenda of course. Kodachi was one of those people seldom impressed by mere instruction. Demonstration was required and there were a disheartening number of times when even that failed to work. Shimazu used every excuse she could think of to get Kodachi away from her weird, rich bitch friends and exposed to normal people. Granted there was a shortage of "normal people" in Nerima, but the majority of them were in far better mental shape the Kodachi's friends. The exposure had helped some. Shimazu might be the only person who could see the improvement in Kodachi, but it was most definitely there. Kodachi's falling so hard for one of the local boys from a family of modest means had helped a great deal. Kodachi could never have the boy of course. The gulf between them was too great, but at least Kodachi's interest in him had damped some of the wilder delusions she had harbored prior to meeting him. She had not spoken of her plan to take over the world and having herself declared Empress of the Universe for almost six months now.
Sometime around noon, Genma Saotome woke with a splitting headache and a taste in his mouth which was more than a little reminiscent of a latrine. He took this to mean that he was probably in trouble. He cracked one eye open and waited patiently for the sake induced bleariness to dissipate. Much to his horror the scene resolved itself into a familiar one. He was lying belly down in his panda form beneath a tall tree. A short distance away was a pond with a bubbling fountain in it. On the far side of the pond was a thick grove of bamboo. Yep! No doubt about it. He was in the zoo again. Worse, he was in HER pit again. He lay very still hoping she had not noticed his presence. Preposterous of course. All animals keep themselves acutely aware of their surroundings and the Nerima Zoo's only female panda was no exception. She was very much aware of his presence. She was just waiting for him to wake up.
Another thing about animals. They can almost always tell if you are awake or not, even when you are quite good at feigning sleep. Patsu the Panda was no exception. It was going to be a long day. The first of several, unless Genma missed his guess. The women of the Tendo household did not hold him in great esteem and were therefore unlikely to be in any hurry to rescue him. Remembering the noise Soun made during the fight at Miyagi's, Genma figured he would be in bed for at least two days, maybe three. All he could do was hope that Nabiki did not stall too long on making arrangements for his release. The other thing he had to hope for was that Soun would overrule Ranma's sentiments in the matter. He could count on nothing from Happosai. The old Master considered escape from incarceration to be a vital part of the Anything Goes School training regimen. Besides, from what Genma remembered, the old coot was most likely in jail himself.
There was no doubt about it. He was in the lurch with an amorous female panda that simply could not understand his lack of reciprocating interest. He could distract her by playing "Bat the Tire" with her for a day, maybe two at the most. After that, things would become complicated. Genma found himself wishing he could convince the zookeeper to give him dozen or so aspirin. Oh, well. He would look and see if there was any bark left on that old willow. It invariably gave him a bad case of indigestion, but at least it would help his head. Maybe he would get lucky and Patsu would let him chew his bark in peace.
It was not to be. Patsu realized he was awake and demanded his immediate attention. Fortunately, all she seemed to want for the moment was to be cuddled. This suited Genma to a tee. He was in no shape to play bat the tire. The bark could wait. He would cuddle Patsu and get a nap. It was the smart thing to do under the circumstances.
Kasumi and Nodoka made a great team insofar as housework went. In fact, Nodoka proved to be far less troublesome than Kasumi had anticipated. She had not shown any inclination to disrupt Kasumi's routine, and always asked how Kasumi preferred things to be done. This made it even harder for Kasumi to understand what made Nodoka tick. A woman Nodoka's age usually had very definite ideas on how things should be done and would never dream of asking a woman of Kasumi's age about her preferences. Kasumi had to wonder if it would have been the same had this been Akane's household, as it one day would be. Still, the morning had passed pleasantly after Nabiki called and told them that everything at the clinic was back to normal, or at least as close to normal as things around Ranma and Akane ever were.
By ten o'clock they found themselves at loose ends. Nabiki had promised to see after Ranma and Akane's luncheon. Soun would not move from his bed for at least another day. Happosai was nowhere to be found. Nabiki was at school, or busy dealing with the myriads of finicky details of the innumerable schemes she seemed to thrive on. The house was clean. The laundry was done and hung out to dry. The two of them were suddenly very bored.
"Don't you think we should take Ojisan some hot water?" Kasumi asked. After the third time of trying to get Genma out of the zoo by going through the proper channels, they had learned to just toss Genma's panda form a thermos of hot water. He somehow always managed to get out on his own once he could resume his human form. Normally Ranma would take care of this, albeit only at his mother's insistence.
Nodoka regarded Kasumi with a surprised look before answering.
"After we just finished cleaning the house?"
Kasumi giggled. Nodoka joined her.
"I suppose we could go shopping instead," Kasumi said.
"How have you tolerated this constant insanity all this time, Kasumi?"
"Oh, I just look on it as part of my training."
"The Anything Goes School of Martial Arts Housekeeping?" Nodoka asked.
"I never really thought of it that way, but I suppose you _could_ call it that. At least it has never been boring."
"I can see how it might ruin your taste for soap operas," Nodoka said with mock grimness. They shared another giggle.
"Shall I heat some water?"
"Oh, I suppose we should, but I am of half a mind to just leave Genma where he is. At least while he is in the zoo he isn't under foot."
"True," Kasumi said, but sounded vaguely doubtful.
"Then again, if he were here I could put him to work on building your father a pull cart."
"Oh! That would be so nice. It makes shopping much more convenient."
"Very well then. We will first take my honorable husband a flask of hot water, _then_ we will go shopping. Agreed?"
"Hai!" Kasumi said with a happy smile.
They had to do all the things women always do before going anywhere of course, which included a quick change of clothes. Kasumi put on the only casual kimono she owned. Much to her shock and amusement, Nodoka came out wearing western style clothes. Unfortunately, an outfit like hers had not been seen since the late nineteen fifties. Kasumi laughed out loud before she could stop her self. Then Nodoka laughed.
"I suppose we should check with one another first, next time," Nodoka said.
"We really should, I think," Kasumi said.
"I think I'll go put on a kimono."
"Oh, would you please, Auntie Nodoka? I hardly ever get to go anywhere in this."
"I'd be happy to dear."
Kasumi collapsed into seiza and covered her face with both hands as soon as Nodoka disappeared into her room. It was the only way she could hold in the laughter. They would have made an impossibly outlandish looking pair traipsing around Nerima in such out of date garb. Fortunately, Kasumi had managed to regain her composure before Nodoka came downstairs again, looking every inch the severely proper, samurai wife in her pale blue kimono and bearing her cloth covered katana.
They arrived at the zoo only to find Genma sound asleep beneath the large ginkgo tree in the panda pit, being cuddled by the constantly amorous, Patsu Panda. Nodoka was not amused. The sizable crowd they had joined at the edge of the pit was amused by the sight of the two, cuddly looking animals cuddling, and were all ooing and ahhing over how cute they were. Nodoka was so steamed she quite forgot about the crowd.
"Well I never!" Nodoka said in severely aggrieved tones as she placed both fists on her hips. This took the crowd's attention away from the pandas. They began staring in fascination at the furious Nodoka.
"Tendo-san, have you ever seen such a flagrant, public display in all your life?"
"No Auntie, I have not," Kasumi said, desperately trying not to laugh at the steely Nodoka for a second time that day. She did succeed in maintaining her composure, but only by the tiniest of margins. One thing about having the Saotome Clan around she thought, they beat the living daylights out of anything on television.
"Would you mind holding this for a moment, Kasumi- chan?" Nodoka asked as she handed Kasumi the katana.
"Not at all, Saotome-san," Kasumi said as she took the proffered weapon.
"I'll show him a thing or two!" Nodoka said as she tramped out of sight behind a large, nearby clump of azaleas. With Nodoka out of sight, the puzzled crowd now focused their attention upon Kasumi. Kasumi gave them a polite bow, rather than rolling on the ground laughing.
Nodoka returned fuming. She had rolled up the sleeves of her kimono until they were well above her elbows. She had likewise rolled up the lower portion of her kimono until it was well above her knees. She had a pair of fist-sized stones, one in each hand and a third rock tucked into her obi. Once she was back on the sidewalk that wound around the panda pit, she carefully stepped out of her geta and gave her somnolent husband a very hard stare. Her green eyes glittered like emeralds in the sunlight. The crowd watched with growing alarm. Kasumi continued the struggle to maintain her composure.
"I'll show you, Genma Saotome!" Nodoka said through gritted teeth. Then, with a graceful wind up that would have been the envy of any professional baseball player that witnessed it, she flung the fist-sized rock in her right hand at her still oblivious husband. While Nodoka was incapable of throwing a fast ball as powerful as say, Nolan Ryan's, the rock did emit a fairly wicked hum as it sailed across the panda pit.
Thock! the rock noised as it bounced off the top of Genma's skull.
"Oowaahr!" Genma yowled.
"Genma no baka!" Nodoka shouted.
Genma produced a sign which read, "This isn't what it looks like!"
"I'll just bet it isn't!" Nodoka shouted as she passed the second rock from her left hand to her right. "You pervert!"
Nodoka began another wind up. The crowd gasped. Genma blinked trying to understand what she was doing. Nodoka let fly before he figured it out.
"Eeeyower aaah grrr!"
Genma held up yet another sign.
"You don't understand how it is with animals!"
"Why I most certainly do, Genma Saotome! I've been married to _you_ for years!" Nodoka shouted as she struggle to remove the third rock from her obi. It had slid down a little during her last wind up.
Several people in the crowd fell to the ground holding their sides. Others gasped. Most of them just stared in open mouthed wonder. Kasumi put one hand to her mouth, her eyes shining and face reddening.
"I am _not_ an animal!" Genma's next sign read.
"Says who? Who says you aren't an animal? _They_ all think you are an animal!" Nodoka said, indicating the thoroughly shocked crowd. Genma began desperately trying to scribble yet another sign, but Nodoka managed to free the third rock from her obi before he could finish. Seeing her begin another wind up, Genma tried to hide behind the tree. Unfortunately for him, the tree was not quite adequate to the task. The rock hummed across the panda pit and struck him in the left flank, making a funny kind of sloshing sound when it struck, as though it had impacted a base drum half full of water.
"Bleh-urk!" Genma noised, as he desperately searched the pit for better cover. Genma sprinted a quarter of the way around the pit, then dove between a large clump of azalea bushes and a large boulder, hoping that if Nodoka could not see him, she would go away.
"Here ya go, lady," one of the teen aged boys in the crowd said as he handed her a fourth stone. He had a malicious smirk on his face.
"Why thank you, young man. That is very considerate of you," Nodoka said in exceedingly cultured tones.
"Not at all, ma'am," the boy said.
"Come out from behind that bush, Genma Saotome! Take your punishment like a man!"
Genma held a sign up past the top of the azalea bush which read, "I'm just poor dumb animal! Remember?"
"Oh, you are _so_ correct dear. I had _quite_ forgotten!"
With that, Nodoka let fly with the fourth rock. This throw was more of lob than a fast ball type pitch. It ricocheted off the boulder and struck Genma between the shoulder blades.
"Geerrrryow!" Genma howled as he stood up.
"Sugoi!" the teen aged boy shouted in admiration.
The crowd laughed and cheered uproariously. Nodoka gave them all a curt bow, then rolled down her sleeves and straightened out the rest of her kimono.
"Shall we go, Kasumi-chan?" Nodoka asked as she stepped into her geta.
"Only if you are ready to go, Auntie Nodoka," Kasumi said.
"Hold on to that flask, dear. I think it best we wait until he tires of his current paramour," Nodoka said as she accepted the proffered katana back from Kasumi. "A week or so should do it, I think."
The two women left behind them a bemused and befuddled crowd of onlookers. Some of the more imaginative individuals among them began looking for a hidden camera crew, but they failed to find one. They found this absence to be very disconcerting.
"Auntie Nodoka, surely you do not really think that Uncle Saotome is in any way enamored of that other panda!"
"Of Lady Patsu I cannot be certain, Kasumi-chan," Nodoka said calmly if grimly, "About those floozies working in Miyagi's I have no doubt whatsoever. Genma _is_ a very manly sort of man you know."
Kasumi was again having an exceedingly difficult time containing herself.
"What is it, Kasumi-chan."
"Well you know, I was just thinking about Ranma. It is often said that men almost always marry the girl that most reminds them of their mothers."
Nodoka laughed out loud. This was not as unnerving as Kodachi's laugh, but it came close. They walked on a few steps in silence. Then Nodoka spoke up.
"I wonder how Akane-chan would look in a poodle skirt?"
"Oh that would be darling," Kasumi said, "She would be so cute."
"I suppose we had best applique a "Hello Kittie" doll on it rather than a poodle, though."
"Oh! You are actually thinking of making her one?"
"I think it would catch Ranma's eye, don't you?"
"They are tastefully sexy," Kasumi said, "Why not a panda, instead!"
"No, no pandas!" Nodoka said, laughing. "Perhaps a nice little pig? One like P-chan?"
"Oh, yes! That would be perfect!"
"Then perhaps we had best visit the fabric store before we go to the vegetable market."
"Akane is going to be _so_ surprised!" Kasumi said, grinning from ear to ear. The style of the skirt in question mattered not at all. The fact that Auntie Nodoka would go to the time and trouble to make one for Akane was all that really mattered, and it really would matter a great deal.
End of Chapter 3 Part b
Copyright © Don Granberry