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Profit & Loss

A CAPOW Thread

[Dare wrote:]

Belinda wasn't sure where she was anymore. She had followed Elyssa after classes to the bar she worked in as a part-time waitress. The thought of serving people and menial labour gave Belinda a shiver. But still, she was curious to learn more about her rival, Elyssa Au Yeung. The girl had certainly climbed up through the ranks and was directly below her for the top spot. Not that Belinda didn't have an already secure position as the number one student in class. But she couldn't just ignore her competition. That would be foolish.

The neon sign above the building read 'Lurker's Retreat' and it had the familiar buzz that most flourescent ones made. The flickering of the words was pretty much expected from something so large and Belinda was a little surprised a letter hadn't shorted out.

Belind didn't know how she got here. Details of the trip were a blur. She just kept Elyssa in sight as she traversed across the campus at Tokyo International College, through the suburban streets and somehow winding up here. Belinda checked her watch. She might as well go in now.

The door creaked open and a smoky haze was the first to greet her. She waved a hand in front of her face, hoping to clear away the smoke. The bar was dim, as she had expected. It certainly looked like a run-down, almost seedy place. She smirked mentally. Leave it to someone like Elyssa to work in a dingy joint like this.

The girl in question was in the corner of the bar, taking down the order of some people at a table. She was still dressed in her school clothes but had on an apron that held her pencil and notepad. It was hard to believe the same girl was the second highest student in the electronics program at school. Belinda was surprised she couldn't find a better part-time job working in an industry. Who in their right mind would want a waitressing job?

Belinda took a seat. Elyssa gave her a glance to indicate she was aware of the new customer. She turned back to the people at the table. Belinda frowned. She didn't expect to be ignored like this. Although she and Elyssa had never spoken, she at least expected the courtesy of being acknowledged properly.

Finally, Elyssa came to her table. "About time," muttered Belinda with an ungrateful air. She didn't wait for the girl to ask her what she wanted. "Get me a root beer."

Elyssa paused, a little taken aback by her attitude but Belinda was used to people doing that. They obviously weren't used to her and it was only natural they be stunned by someone so confident of herself. "Okay, one root beer," Elyssa repeated.

Belinda propped an elbow on the table and drummed her fingers as Elyssa went to fill out her order and the orders of the other table. She brought their drinks back first and went back to the bar a second time for Belinda's root beer. She came back with a smile, a little forced perhaps. "Here you go," she said and was about to leave.

"Hey, Elyssa, why don't you sit down?" Belinda gestured.

Elyssa paused again and tilted her head a little. "Sorry, I didn't catch your name?"

Belinda was shocked inside. 'She doesn't know my name?' she thought? As if! Belinda was certain this was some sort of psychological game Elyssa was playing. Belinda smiled cunningly. "I'm Belinda Wittman. I'm in your electronics program. I'm sure you've heard of me, I'm ranked right above you."

"Oh really?" Elyssa replied genuinely, for she had little care for such details.

Meanwhile, Belinda continued her own psychological analysis and took the statement in the most extreme, paranoid way. "Yes, really," Belinda answered back.

Elyssa smiled. "Wow, that's cool. Hey, I gotta get back to work, but I'll see you in class okay?" She left to greet some new customers.

Belinda frowned. What was her problem, brushing her off like that? She watched Elyssa interact with the new customers. It seemed they knew the girl for they chatted a little, Elyssa laughing and smiling. What could be so fun about working in a dirty old bar, Belinda wondered. And also be second ranked in class. It was all very perplexing.

The more Belinda watched Elyssa do her job, the more she was convinced that she found some sort of happiness in it. It was as if she was showing Belinda how good a job she could do, how easy it could be. Finally, Belinda had enough. As her self-declared rival, Belinda had to answer the challenge.

"So, you think you're a good waitress, huh? Well, let's just see about that!"

* * *

"What do you mean you're not hiring?" Belinda asked belligerently.

PiXeL shrugged. "We're pretty much happy with the staff we got." She turned her head back to the kitchen. "No, no Iahfis! The plates go in the other drawer! And you better not drop anymore today!"

Belinda rolled her eyes upwards. "Sounds like you're having a bit of trouble with your 'staff'."

"Oh, don't worry, Iahfis is new."

"Look, I'll tell you why you need me. Ambrosia's has been the only decent competition for that stupid bar in this town. But it looks like they've always been undercutting your profits by a lot! And from what I heard, they're just in the midst of changing management."

"So?" PiXeL asked, not really following along.

"So?! You're missing out on a huge opportunity here! This is your chance to have your establishment go on the offense!" Belinda waved her arms emphatically.

"Go on the offense? We're not at war.." PiXeL trailed off.

"Of course we're at war! This is business and unless you treat it as a big battle, you're going to go nowhere." She pounded her fist into her hand. "Like I said, this is the best chance you've got to get back some of your profit. All we need to do is convince the patrons over at the 'Lurker's Retreat'," she added a little disdain to the bar's name, "that the place to go is here at Ambrosia's. Think of how much money we could make!"

PiXeL eyed the girl cautiously. "What do you mean 'we'? This is my grandmother's restaurant, after all."

"Yes, yes, details. But are you following my point?" She didn't wait for an answer and just assumed she was hired. "Listen, I've got some great ideas for promotions. Ever heard of 10-cent buffalo wings? And I think we should start changing our hours to better match the competition. And another thing..." The ideas Belinda had kept pouring out as she explained how they would put 'The Lurker's Retreat' out of business.

[Alex wrote:]

"Now wait.." PixeL started. "..I honestly must say that those are some pretty good ideas. Really, they are. But with some of the expansions that we're planning, that wouldn't really be the best thing to do."

Annoyance crossed Belinda's face as Pixel continued to talk.

"...arcade for the college and high school students across the street.. Everyone else thinks that would be a good idea, and the plans are being approved soon--"

Belinda let out a loud sigh as she rolled her eyes and interrupted her. "-- I'm sure that's all well and good, but with my ideas, its almost guaranteed that you would get more business."

Iahfis chose that moment to walk up. "Pixel, could you help me with some of these things? I'm still a bit confused as to where they go.."

Belinda turned and assed him, then disregarded him as someone beneath her notice. "Can't you see that she's still talking? Now back to what I was saying--"

"--I'll come help you in a moment Iahfis." Pixel said, interrupting her. Pixel turned and said over her shoulder to Belinda in an annoyed tone of voice, "Look, if you really want to, go and talk to my Grandmother about this. Follow the stairs up," she indicated a set of stairs just past the edge of the bar, "and go talk to her. This is her restraunt, after all."

Iahfis, who was still waiting behind her, looked at Belinda in dislike and started to walk back behind the bar. PixeL started to follow.

Belinda was already moving to put herself between PixeL and the bar. "But what room is it?" she asked with a bit of attitude. "It would hardly do for me to wander around knocking on all the doors."

PixeL just manuevered around her and said, "Last room at the end of the hall. You'll know it when you see it." In her mind she was already formulating a prank worthy of Belinda's attitude.

[Dare wrote:]

After a few minutes of helping Iahfis put away the dishes, steps echoed as Belinda came back down. She had a satisfying grin on her face. "It's a go," she announced.

PiXeL was surprised. "WHAT?"

"Are you deaf or something?" Belinda retorted. "I talked to your grandmother and she agreed that things had been getting slow and that we should pursue a more aggressive pitch to the customers. We can still do the expansion to the arcade and everything, but the primary focus should be on food and drink. After all, this is an eating establishment, right?"

PiXeL was a little speechless. Disbelieving, she stormed up the stairs to talk to her grandmother.

Iahfis stood quietly, holding some dishes in his hand. He looked at Belinda curiously. "You'll see," was all the girl had to say to the stare.

PiXeL came right back down in half the time Belinda was up there. "Hmm, I guess she does like your idea," PiXeL admitted. She really did have something fun planned for the bossy girl, but she also had to admit Belinda was right about drooping sales. And there was always a bit of fun to be hand with the Lurker's Retreat. Although the bar and the restaurant had always a mutual respect, she supposed they were sort of in competition. Besides, she had heard there was a new owner. This would be a sort of test to see who she was up against.

"Alright," PiXeL said resignedly with a half smile, "what sort of fun can we have?"

"Ah, that's the spirit!" Belinda responded heartily. Noticing Iahfis' lack of emotion, she slapped him on the back, "right?"

* * *

"Is it me or is there less people today?" Elyssa noted to herself. Friday was usually a very busy day at the bar. The work week was over and many liked to celebrate by spending some time at the Lurker's Retreat. Today, however, there was perhaps a little more than half the usual capacity.

She stepped outside to see how the weather was. It was a fair day, a little windy. Suddenly, a piece of paper floated by on a gust of wind and she grabbed it.

"Ambrosia's?" she read aloud, "'Fun Fridays, all drinks half-off'? No wonder why there's nobody around!"

Elyssa raced back into the bar and went to find Miyuki, the new bar owner. She wanted to show her the flyer.

Instead she saw Ray Ronkyo sitting at the bar. "Have you seen Miyuki?" she asked him.

"The new owner?" Ray asked back. "Nope, can't say I have. She's not as 'easy-to-find' as Madoka was, so to speak."

Elyssa decided to show her the flyer. "I was wondering why the bar looked so empty today."

Deductive thinking was a natural part of a detective's work and it was pretty obvious to him what was going on. "So you think Ambrosia's is stealing the bar's customers?"

"Yes," Elyssa said. "It's not really like them to be so aggressive but I guess it was bound to happen. Maybe I should head over there and see what's going on." She started to go but stopped. "The Lurker's Retreat was going to close but Miyuki came along and bought Madoka's share. We owe it to her to see that the bar doesn't go under, now!"

"Hmm," thought Ray, "yeah I guess. Maybe we can think of a way to get the people back here, too."


Ambrosia's had never seen so many customers at once. Almost every seat on the bar was occupied, almost every table was filled with patrons. Belinda Wittman smiled proudly to herself. Her idea of aggressive promotions was paying off and she was sure that the Lurker's Retreat was suffering.

'Hah! Beat that, Elyssa,' she told herself mentally. Belinda turned her head. 'Speak of the devil...'

Elyssa Au Yeung walked in through the door of Ambrosia's. Her first reaction was surprise. Belinda revelled in that look. It was the look of her enemy, stunned and outclassed by a superior advesary.

"Ooh, it's her," PiXeL said as she walked by, carrying a few plates of food. Her tone was icy.

Belinda arched an eyebrow. "You know Elyssa Au Yeung?"

"Of course," PiXeL replied, keeping her watchful gaze on the other girl. "And every male body under the age of twenty-five. I still remember last year's Halloween party and the little group of potential dates she was hogging to herself."

"I never knew you felt this way about her," Belinda said, "I think our collective dislike for her will bind our alliance even more!"

PiXeL tossed her a weird glance. "You talk as if you should be fighting some war or something." Before the other could respond, PiXeL said, "Oh, look here she comes now."

The oriental girl walked up to the two Ambrosia employees. "I see business is booming here."

"Yep," Belinda answered smartly. "As you can see, the place is packed full of customers. Lots of customers. It's a shame, your place must be really empty."

Elyssa's eyes narrowed. "You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?" She held up the flyer she picked up outside of the Retreat. "'Drinks half off'?"

"Hey!" PiXeL interrupted, "we have the right to conduct our business however we like to! Now, if you're not going to stay and buy something, you should leave. We don't want people hogging all the space." She sniffed audibly and headed back to the kitchen. "No! Iahfis! How many times did I tell you not to put that there!!"

Belinda continued to smile triumphantly. "Can I take your order?" She laughed, tone dripping with sarcasm. It was an annoying, semi-high pitch, shrill, mocking laugh. Belinda liked to think of it as her "Laugh of Superiority".

Looking somewhat peeved, Elyssa's eyebrows arched in an angry manner. "I don't know what's wrong with you. I never bothered you, I didn't know about you before a few days ago. I don't know what you're problem is!"

"My problem? I don't have a problem." Belinda pulled out a small wad of bills. "Except maybe where to spend all these tips."

'God, she is the most egotistical, conceited tramp I've ever met! And I thought Dachend's rude behaviour was bad enough!' Elyssa just glared as she said this in her mind. "You're looking for a fight, huh? Is that it? Well, fine! I'll see that the Lurker's Retreat gets back all its customers, one way or another!"

Putting a hand next to her ear, Belinda cocked her head towards Elyssa. "Ooh, is that a challenge I hear? Go right ahead!" She laughed. "Just remember who you're second place to!"

"Mou!!" Elyssa shouted, throwing up her arms. "This is idiotic." Floundering for something to say, and throwing out some rather nasty cusses Dachend might have approved, she finally decided on, "Grow up!" She turned on her heels and left the restaurant.

"Finally left, huh?" PiXeL asked, coming back out of the kitchen.

Without bothering to respond, Belinda put her hand on PiXeL's shoulders, "Alright, we have to start formulating more strategies, now that she's thrown down the gauntlet."

"'Thrown down the gauntlet'?"

"Yeah! You know, challenged us?" Belinda waved her hand in the air confidently. "Don't worry, there's nothing to worry about! Just leave everything to me."

Suddenly there was a crash in the kitchen. Belinda and PiXeL gave eachother a look. "Iahfis," they concluded in unison.

Stepping into the kitchen, the found several plates broken on the tiled floor. A guilty, but sorry, look was spread on Iahfis' face.

"You're paying for this out of your salary, you know that?" admonished PiXeL with a wagging finger.


An idea sprung into Belinda's mind. Moving next to Iahfis, she put her arm around his shoulders. "Say, Iahfis. I think you need a break from all this kitchen work. How about going outside, getting some fresh air, doing a bit of reconnaissance.."

"Reconnaissance?" Iahfis repeated.

"Yeah! Now here's what I want you to do..."

[Joseph wrote:]

Elyssa grabbed the sleeve of Miyuki, doing some of the Retreat's finances, on the way to the Lurker's Retreat Snug. "Miyuki-san, a word?"

The diminutive brunette was undaunted and, as it turned out, unmoved. "Just hang on a minute... Do you realize that no-one's actually touched these figures for _years_ now? I don't know how Madoka survived..."

"Miyuki --" Elyssa put her mouth up to Miyuki's ear furtively. "We have to hurry," she hissed. "_They_ could be watching."

Miyuki stared at her. "Have those American dollar bills been hypnotizing you again?"

"Oh, just _come on_," said the barmaid, dragging Miyuki up out of her seat and into her office.


The two stepped out after some rapid whispering. It was already after closing time, so the Retreat was mainly deserted.

Not that it was exactly packed when it was open, nowadays, thought Elyssa. Except for a few devoted regulars, or perhaps irregulars, she corrected.

In the empty bar, Chisa wiped down the tables with zest and verve*, Chris replaced the chairs in a seemingly random but orderly manner, and Chika, doing her little bit, collected the forgotten mugs and carted them behind the bar.

Miyuki took a seat at a table, and Elyssa followed suit. The bar-owner and -tender rapped the wood with an empty glass. "All right... I'd like to call a staff meeting here, if you guys don't mind. Chika, honey, you come too."

After a moment's pause, the three left their work and took seats around the table, Chika and Chisa making sure to sit next to each other. The two had become fast friends, Chisa because she liked little kids and also because she hoped that she might look older by contrast to the prepubescent girl, and Chika on the basis that Chisa must be only a year or two older than herself, and thus could be looked up to while being young enough to play with. Both of them were very wrong.

"Trying something new, Miyuki?" asked Chris, approvingly.

"Yeah, Madoka-neechan never did stuff like this," said Chika, disapprovingly.

"Well, I'm not Madoka-neechan, dear. But I bet if Madoka was watching, she'd like it. Anyways, I'm calling this meeting because --"

"-- because our profits suck," Elyssa interjected.

"Well, no, no, I wouldn't say that..."

"Oh, yeah? Well, then, what would you say?"

Miyuki paused. "Well, I would say that, you know, due to the idiosyncracies of the current economic climate and the increased competition for a shrinking clientele pool that... our profits suck."

"Right," said Elyssa. "And do you know _why_ our profits suck?"

"Maybe because we have no customers," Chisa pointed out. "Which might have something to do with those flyers for Ambrosia's we saw."

"There's more to it than that. There's this girl over at Ambrosia's... _Belinda_," Elyssa spat, as if she had accidentally discovered that the exotic dish she was sampling was in fact a fancy word for snails. "She's got some weird rivalry thing with me, and since I work here, she wants to put us out of business, too..."

This time there was a collective pause. "So this is _your_ fault?" said Chris.

"No, no, I haven't met her since yesterday! I don't know where she got the idea that I'm her rival..."

Miyuki sighed. "Well, nothing we can do for it. Anyone have any ideas on how we can get business back up again, then? And no, you may _not_ kill Belinda or maim her in any way, Elyssa-chan," she said, cutting the girl off. "And I don't think that talking it out with them will work very well in this case, dear," Miyuki added, her eyes on Chisa. "Some people will do anything for a profit."

The bluehead squirmed a bit under Miyuki's gaze. She'd gotten it from lots of people, that sense of maternalness that made her feel like she was a child again, and she'd gotten used to it, but still... Chisa honed in her thoughts and tried to redeem her maturity. "Well, maybe if the bar _looked_ full, more people would notice and come in?" she suggested.

"I can get Joseph and Anne and Ryan and Samui and Marie and Katt and everyone to come in and bring their friends more," Chika piped in.

"If we cut costs a bit, we could spend some money on advertising..." mused Chris.

Ideas came and flowed, like water.

And in the eaves, someone was listening, catching the drops...

* Like she does _everything_. Most people find it endearing. Most people also find the Teletubbies endearing.

[Alex wrote:]

Iahfis stood there, leaning against the wall under the window of the meeting room they were using, listening to the meeting going on inside. It wasn't like he hadn't done this before, so he wasn't completely nervous. Nonetheless, he tried to keep alert.

"--seriously think that there should be something we can do", said a voice.

"Its not like we're helpless here.."

There was the sound of a chair being pushed back as someone suddenly stood.

"She's got a point. How about a band?"

Someone else spoke, still sounding annoyed. Iahfis recognized Elyssa's voice. "That's a nice idea, but where would they set up? There isn't that much room in the Retreat, you know.."

"Rats.. Sorry, I forgot."

A young voice hesitantly offered, "How about the roof? Isn't there room up there?"

"Hmm.. That's a good idea, Chika, its a possiblilty." The first voice mused. "But who'd come to play?"

"I'll do some checking..." replied the voice that had suggested the band.

"Miyuki, How about matching their specials?" someone spoke up. "It couldn't hurt to try.."

"That would be a bit difficult with the current financial state of the Retreat." the first voice reminded. "Things aren't that great here."

Iahfis was paying attention to what they were saying, but it was dull just standing here, listening.. His mind wandered, and he found himself thinking on how things at Ambrosia's had changed since Belinda was hired. Or, more precisely, how PixeL had changed since Belinda was hired. Granted, business had changed for the better, but PixeL was also changing. It seemed to him like a bit of Belinda was rubbing off on her.. Especially when he broke something. It wasn't entirely his fault, it was just that when he was doing something routine, --like washing the dishes tended to be-- his mind would wander and he would find himself thinking about her and forgetting what he was doing...

He was startled out of his reverie by the sound of a glass rapping on the table inside.

"That settles it then.. You check and see what band we could get to play here, and I'll see if we have enough room in our budget to try and match or beat their offers. Your other ideas have merit also, you all see what you can do about them and we'll meet again at the end of next week. Chika, why don't you call Joseph and Anne tomorrow.. Its getting late."

"Hai, Miyuki-san." she replied.

*Sounds like they're almost finished.. I'd better go.* Iahfis started to walk out of the alleyway, but failed to notice the the nail sticking out of a piece of wood that his cloak had gotten hooked on. Pulled by his cloak, the stick fell, and hit a garbage can, making a good bit of noise.

Everyone in the room heard the noise, and Iahfis heard Elyssa say "What was that?"

Now frantic to get away before anyone --Especially Elyssa-- caught him, Iahfis yanked it forcefully and was rewarded by a ripping sound as his cloak came free. Grabbing it so as to prevent it from getting caught again, he hightailed it out of there as fast as he could.

[Dot wrote:]

Alzena felt Belinda's eyes on her before she saw them. They had been trained on her the instant she walked into Ambrosia's and Belinda had introduced herself and greeted Alzena with obviously forced cordiality.

Even now, Alzena could feel Belinda's eyes burning into her as she looked at her menu.

"Well, let's see now," Alzena muttered to herself, drawing her hand across her lips. Some of the dishes sounded interesting, but she wasn't in a hurry to eat.

"You don't have to decide right away," Belinda said. "I'll be back to take your order later."


'That...that hussy!' Belinda seethed as she watched Alzena out of the corner of her eye. The second Alzena had walked into Ambrosia's, she had become the center of attention. As if knowing this, Alzena had shown off every curve of her body as she strutted into the room. 'And then that little gesture when I asked what she wanted to order...ugh!'

But a customer was a customer. And even if Belinda's skin crawled every time she laid her eyes on Alzena, she couldn't let her feelings get in the way. After all, every dollar that was spent at Ambrosia's was one not being spent at the Retreat.

Belinda cleared a table for a group of men who had been sitting close to Azlena and suppressed a growl when she saw how many bloody napkins they had left.

'Really...flaunting her looks like she were some supermodel...' Belinda shot another glance at Alzena's direction. 'I'll bet at least half of her body is silicon...'


It was really starting to get annoying. Heck, it had been mildly irritating even from the start, but the thought that someone was jealous of her had been gratifying enough to overcome that. But now Alzena was reaching the limits of her patience. She didn't have to put up with this leering, and she wasn't.

Belinda approached the table to clear the dishes. "How did you like your meal, miss?"

"I would have enjoyed it if you hadn't been staring at me like you wanted to throttle me," Alzena replied casually, letting the slightest undertone of ice slip through.

"I'm sorry," Belinda apologized, but in a way that made it completely obvious she didn't mean it in the slightest. "Would you like anything else?"

"No, I'm pretty much full." And what's left of my appetite's completely gone, Alzena added mentally, but she said nothing.

"I'll get you your check, then."

Alzena got up and stretched lazily, and her skin-tight shirt rode up on her middle. "No, thanks, I'll pay at the counter."

Belinda's eyebrow twitched. "Very well. Please come again."

Alzena barely managed to keep herself from smirking. "I'll consider it."

[Dare wrote:]

Belinda smiled as she stood outside The Lurker's Retreat. She was certain they were suffering from Ambrosia's sudden surge in business. Now was a good time to visit her rival, Elyssa Au Yeung, and do a bit of psychological damage. After all, she had no qualms about kicking a person when they were down.

A trio of customers walked to the door and went inside. Belinda frowned. Must be some ultra hardcore patrons, she thought. Ah well, she told herself, there's bound to be a few people inside.

Then, another group of people rounded the corner and went into the bar. Wait a minute, Belinda thought. She was certain those two were just at Ambrosia's the other day. Why would they suddenly be coming to the Lurker's Retreat now?

Belinda's smile faded away and her curiosity piqued. Opening the door, she was greeted by the blast of loud music and the murmurs of people talking. What in the world?

The Lurker's Retreat looked a little different the last time she was around. For one thing, a little makeshift stage was built in the corner, with loudspeakers set up and a mixing station. A small band played on the stage, complete with a drummer, guitar lead, keyboard bass player and a young woman crooning on the microphone.

Tables were filled with customers. Some watched longingly at the woman on stage while others just sat and enjoyed themselves amoung the company of their friends.

Belinda stared angrily. So this was their idea of a counter-attack? Why hadn't she been notified earlier of their plans? She had sent Iahfis to spy on them but he had failed to mention anything to her.

The woman on-stage finished her song and the patrons whistled and cat-called. She was gorgeous, and dressed in a gown that very much accentuated her figure. Upon stepping down, she headed straight for Belinda. At first, she paid no attention to the singer coming towards her, but then she noticed the familiarity.

"Well, isn't this a surprise," Alzena said, smiling.

Belinda kept her frown. She didn't have to be nice since she wasn't serving. "So this is where you've ended up? A barfly at a seedy joint, doing gigs on stage?"

"Temper, temper," Alzena warned. "Your agressive marketing doesn't seem to be looking so good now, does it, Miss High and Mighty?"

Belinda was about to retort when her eye caught the bar where Elyssa was talking to Miyuki, the new bar-owner. Elyssa gave Belinda a glance in her direction, continued talking to Miyuki and then stopped. Miyuki nodded and came over.

"Hello," Miyuki greeted in a very professional tone, "I'm afraid you'll have to order something or leave. We've got a lot more customers coming in and frankly, you're blocking the door." Miyuki smiled triumphantly. Any prouder, she would have pulled down an eyelid and stuck out her tongue.

Deciding not to waste her breath, Belinda turned around and exited. She discovered all she needed to know.

* * *

"Where is he?!" screamed Belinda upon entering the kitchen of Ambrosia's. Although business was still good, there were noticeably less people than on the first day of their new sales pitch.

"Who?" PiXeL asked, frowning at Belinda's tone.

"That idiot, Iahfis! He was supposed to report all the things that were going on!"

"Iahfis called in sick," PiXeL answered, wiping a dish. "He said he caught a cold being out last night. I don't suppose you know why he was out so late in the cold night?" PiXeL's voice was very much accusing.

"Of course I know why! I sent him out to do some reconnaissance!" Belinda fumed. "So he's got the sniffles, big deal. That' no excuse to call in sick! We need him to run the kitchen!"

"Don't you know anything?" snapped PiXeL. "I can't have sick people in here and contaminating the food with germs! We'd lose all our customers! Are you nuts or something?"

Belinda had no good response to that and just grumbled something unintelligible under her breath. "Okay, fine, forget it. I was just over at the Retreat and they're not doing as bad as we thought they would be. So I think it's time to raise the ante up to the next level."

PiXeL gulped. "What do you mean, 'the next level'?"

"I mean, take things a little more aggressively. You know, my aunt's new husband is a city inspector in Tokyo. If we could get him to go to the Retreat and think of some way to close them down, he could slap them with an illegal operating permit!"

PiXeL blinked. "You mean shut them down completely?" She looked away. "I don't know, that's kind of harsh."

Belinda hit her palm with her fist. "In this line of business, you gotta be! It's everyone for themselves, put the competition away or they'll put you away! Don't worry, I'll handle everything. Before you know it, The Lurker's Retreat will be closed down and we'll have no problems about customers."


"Right this way, O-jisan," Belinda opened the door for her uncle. He was a short, almost balding man, dressed in a tidy suit. Under his arm, he carried a wooden clipboard and pencil with many stacks of paper.

"Arigatou, Beriinada," her uncle thanked as he walked into the Lurker's Retreat. The bar was not as crowded as the other night Belinda was here. For one thing, it was early in the morning when most people were still at home, suffering through hangovers.

Miyuki was busy wiping the bar with a damp cloth when she noticed Belinda and the well-dressed gentleman enter her bar. She stopped cleaning as the two approached and the man pulled out his wallet.

"Good morning, Miss Kashiwa Miyuki, owner of the Lurker's Retreat bar and establishment?" he asked.

"Hai, atashi desu," bowed Miyuki in response.

"I'm with the City Ordinances and according to our records in Tokyo, your bar has not been in through a health and safety inspection since you took ownership of the bar." He said this while looking through his clipboard.

Miyuki gulped. "Ano, I wasn't aware we had to do any inspections. And I certainly didn't hear anything in advance."

Belinda smirked. "What's wrong, Miyuki-chan? I'm sure your bar is just perfect and would pass a quick inspection with flying colours." Her tone was drowning in sarcasm. If she was anymore sarcastic, life preservers would have to be thrown overboard and the coast guard radioed in.

Miyuki glared back at the Ambrosia-waitress, giving her the evil eye. Belinda's uncle interrupted their staring match, nearing spark of electric bolts, by asking, "First, I'd like to go through your liquor licenses."

The next half hour was spent going through the documents. These included licenses to sell liquor, the papers on the building and other miscellany. Belinda drummed her fingers on the table all the while, bored. She knew they would all pass. That wasn't what she was betting on to close down the bar. She had more interesting surprises ahead.

Belinda's uncle stood up and stretched. He picked up the clipboard, check marked a few more things and put the page to the back. "All the documents look in order. Let's have a visual inspection of the premises."

Miyuki's eyes went wide. "Anoo.. hai."

A quick inspection of the main bar area was conducted first. Belinda tapped her foot impatiently. "Ojisan, everything looks fine, why don't we go look at the basement?"

Miyuki shot her another glare. Belinda smiled proudly. "Good idea," her uncle responded and headed to the door leading to the basement storage.

Miyuki quickly stepped in front of them both. "Ano, there's really nothing in the basement to see. I don't think you want to waste your time. I mean, there's lots of bars and places you still need to check today!"

"Not really," the inspector said. "In fact, today is my day off but Belinda urged me to complete this one inspection. She said she wanted the bar's inspection process to get out of the way quickly so everyone could enjoy your establishment. Isn't that nice of her?"

Miyuki answered, "Oh, yes, that's very nice." She was equally sarcastic as Belinda was before, knowing full well what Belinda was up to, now.

"In any case, I have to look at your plumbing downstairs. Now, if you excuse me..." He waited for the bartender to step aside.

Miyuki sighed resignedly and opened the door. The inspector went down first, followed by Belinda, who gave a silent, mocking laugh at Miyuki.

"Hey, it's so dark down here!" Belinda yelled at the bottom of the stairs. "Don't you have any lights? We could have tripped on those stairs!"

"Gomen!" Miyuki apologized and flipped on the light switch.

The basement area wasn't too large. The boxes were neatly stacked against the walls in assorted piles. Belinda skipped over to one such pile. "Hmm, I wonder what's behind these boxes," she said with dramatized over-acting. She pulled one of the boxes away.

"Eek! Rats!!" Belinda cried to her uncle. She shied away as the inspector and Miyuki raced over. "Ewww, how dirty!"

"What rats?" the inspector said, peering over the box.

Belinda blinked. Looking back, she saw there was nothing there. "I thought I saw one! I think it might have ran over to the other boxes," she cried in mock hysteria.

Putting his clipboard on one of the piles, the inspector walked over to the other piles and pulled the boxes aside. "Nothing," he commented. He looked carefully for cracks and holes in the walls. Those were good indications of rat infestations but found none. After a few minutes of hunting, he gave up. "Are you sure you saw rats?" he asked his niece.

Belinda cocked her ear. "Wait, did you hear that squeaking? Those are rats I tell you!" She walked over to the door of the other room. "I think they're in there!" she pointed.

The two walked over to where Belinda was standing and opened the door. The unmistakable squeaking of rats was heard inside. "I was right!"

The trio walked into the room and Miyuki turned on the light. Belinda's jaw almost dropped out of her mouth. Three interconnected cages of white laboratory mice were scurrying around. "Oh, these are my pet mice," Miyuki responded to the inspector's unspoken question. "Aren't they kawaii? Rats have never been a problem around here ever since I got a cat. His name is Tenris and he does a VERY good job."

The inspector grunted and check marked another page, much to Belinda's dismay. Disappointed the rats wouldn't work, she suggested to her uncle, "Ojisan, you forgot to check the plumbing."

"Ah, soo desu," he replied and waited for Miyuki to lead them to the main water valve.

A small tap and bucket were attached to the wall near the valve. The inspector began turning the valve, which squeaked from age and rust. Belinda stepped back, anticipating the filthy goop that was to spray out.

Instead, clear water poured out of the tap. Belinda, again, was completely surprised. Her uncle filled half the bucket and pulled out a little strip of paper from his pocket. Dipping it, he waited a few seconds, pulled out the now coloured strip and compared it to a little chart. "You've got a bit of akaline in your water, Miss Kashiwa. I suggest adding a bit of acid supplement to the valve down here so the water upstairs will come out neutral."

"Hai," Miyuki acknowledged and gave Belinda a gloating look. Belinda just scowled back.

"Well, that pretty much concludes it," the inspector said, checking off the last page. "It looks like you passed!"

"Wait, Ojisan!" Belinda cried desperately. "Shouldn't you test out these basement beams? They look like they could collapse any time!" She tried shaking one of the support struts.

"I'm not a civil engineer, Beriinada," he said. "I'm tired and it really is my day-off. I want to go home and rest with your aunt. Now, you should be happy I finished so quickly. You and your friends can enjoy the bar without any further trouble from City Ordinances." He said the last comment mostly to Miyuki as his final conclusion about his inspection.

"Arigatou gozaimasu," Miyuki bowed.

The three walked back up to the main floor, Belinda mostly trudging, trying to think of some way to get her uncle to stay, but could not. She didn't understand how all her plans got fixed. The rats and mice she had snuck into the basement the night before and the secret pump she had put into the plumbing were gone. She fumed silently.

"Would you care of a drink on the house?" Miyuki offered, trying to butter him up even though the inspector was finished.

"No, thank you," he declined. "I'll wait for you in the car, Beriinada." And he stepped outside.

Belinda quickly followed but Miyuki grabbed her by the arm and pulled her aside. "If I were you," Miyuki hissed under her breath, "I wouldn't go back to your apartment tonight."

"Is that a threat?" Belinda hissed back.

"No, a piece of 'friendly' advice." Miyuki winked and let her go.

* * *

Belinda turned the key to her apartment. She was tired from having to wake up and spend time with her uncle at the stupid Lurker's Retreat. All her plans had been for naught. Someone must have told Miyuki about all the things she had done to the bar and promptly fixed them.

Belinda walked to her bed and flopped down on it. Exhausted, she rested her eyes.

There was a squeaking sound. Odd, she thought. Then there were more squeaking sounds. What is that damn noise? she asked herself.

Then, something touched her leg. It felt like four tiny little feet were crawling up her body and onto her chest. Belinda opened her eyes and tilted her head up. Two beady little eyes stared back at her.

"A RAT!!!" Belinda shrieked and batted the rodent onto the floor. She stood up on her bed and was shocked at the horror. Dozens of rats were scurrying along her wooden floor. She quickly grabbed a blanket and pulled it up to her neck. "RATS!!!!!!!"

After a moment of terror, her frightened mind raced and she immediately knew who was to blame for her misfortunes today. There was only one person devious and cunning enough. "ELYSSA!!!!! I HATE YOU!!!!!!!!"


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