Chapter 1: Session 1: If You Don’t Want This Puzzle to go Unsolved
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“I’m going to call out attendance. I apologize in advance if I butcher your name.”
The teaching assistant (TA) was met with silence. He should not blamed them for the lack of enthusiasm; it was a summer course after all. “If you have a nickname or a preferred name, let me know.”
She laid her head on the desk, waiting for the TA to call out her name. It was not first, nor was it last-according to the Latin alphabet.
Her hand whipped in the air; startling the students next to her. She slowly raised her head and gave the TA a deadpanned stare. “Sherlock,” she responded.
“I go by Sherlock.” The staring intensified. The TA flinched, coughed awkwardly, and moved on, quickly writing her preferred name in his notes. Sherlock smirked to herself. Another adult succumbing to her prowess was added to her growing list. She lowered her arm and rested her head, waiting for roll call to end.
She decided to use her summer semester for an exchange student program. It was a chance to hop across the pond from England. Also, she got to travel abroad, away from pesky relatives that would like to check up on her. Her brother had the same idea; he was on a backpacking trip across Central Europe. Once in a while, he occasionally emailed her, informing her where he was. Sherlock did not care, as long as he was breathing and not stupid enough to get caught in an accident-that was enough.
“And finally, Hikaru Utada,” the TA announced.
To Sherlock’s surprise this Hikaru Utada was sitting next to her. Unlike Sherlock, who raised her arm abruptly, the student remained in her seat, no limbs waving in the air. “Please call me Utada,” she stated. There was a clear tone in her voice. It reminded Sherlock of a bell. Yet, underneath the serene demeanor was confidence. It was always the quiet ones that had the last surprise. Sherlock liked that.
The TA checked off Utada’s name from the roster. “Right then, let’s begin with a recap of today’s lecture,” the TA began as he began writing on the whiteboard.
Sherlock rolled her eyes, but lifted her head up. It was a mere organic chemistry course; difficult, but stimulating for the mind. Intense course work, long-hour lab sessions, and constant memorization for quizzes and exams. She welcomed the chance to be academically challenged, but this TA was lame. Totally unprepared, easily a pushover, and the type with an annoying, patronizing voice that turned her off. He was failing to explain the basics of dot structures for single and multiple bonds. The discussion class moved so slowly because he was interrupted by many confused students.
Was this the best Columbia University had to offer? It may be an Ivy League school in the United States, but there was a reason why it was not part of the top ten world universities like Cambridge.
No thanks to the incompetence, she did not take notes. Instead, Sherlock crossed her arms and stared intently at the TA. It was time to engage in her favorite past-time: deduction. Let’s see what she can unearth from this man.
Top: rugby shirt
Bottom: cargo pants
Accessories: white belt, white puka shell necklace
Shoes: flip flops
Notable features: freckles on the neck, acne scars underneath the chin, bad tan lines at the feet, pierced ear.
Analysis: This man was a connoisseur of fast fashion, specifically for rugby. This was a man that was an ugly sport fan-arrogant and condescending know-it-all. Someone that would sprout shit and make sporting events unpleasant to casual and new fans. Yet, he cannot dress himself properly; no sense of color coordination nor clothes tailored to his body type. He was also trying to emulate the California beach style with a tacky necklace that was blatantly ripped off from the Polynesians and flip flops. His hair was tragic; the barber he was seeing clearly had no sense of style.
The annoying talk was interrupted from the beep of his pager. The TA blushed, embarrassed by the disruption. Nonetheless, he continued with his lecture. Sherlock inwardly sighed at the source of irritation. At the end of the lecture, the TA ordered everyone to exchange contact information with their seat partner for projects and lab work. Sherlock rolled her eyes and noticed Utada was writing in Japanese instead of chemical equations.
ここから ずっと 送ってる暗号
君は まだ 解読できてない
It was either poetry or song lyrics; perhaps the student next to her was fluent in Japanese and English like herself. It would be more convenient to speak her native language.
Of all the students she sat with, her partner was a budding musician who was not serious about taking an organic chemistry course for the summer. This class had a reputation for being rigorous for undergraduates. How the hell was she expected to do well if her assigned collaborator could not meet her expectations? Sherlock muttered displeasure under her breath in Japanese.
“I can understand you,” Utada snapped back, also in Japanese. Her face did not contort to anger. Sherlock respected that composure. “It was not like you were doing the same thing.”
The Cambridge student defended herself that the discussion session was merely a rehash of ionic and covalent bonds, one of the fundamentals of chemistry. Besides, she already learned this stuff for her general education back at her university. Whoever organized the transfer course for studying abroad had it wrong. It was Columbia’s fault, not Cambridge.
The Columbia undergraduate scoffed. “Mind your own business.”
“I would, but I need to swap numbers and emails with you for group projects and lab reports,” Sherlock countered.
The other student glared at her before tearing a sheet of paper and scribbled down her information. The international undergraduate reciprocated the gesture.
With information swapped, the two parted ways. Sherlock stepped out of the Lehman building. She spotted the TA chatting with some guy. The other man was taller and had a stockier built. It was clear that he was an athlete given the sporty clothes he wore. In a lightning reaction, it all came to her. This was the one that paged the TA. His profession was the wing for rugby and most likely bought the fan wear for the TA. She watched as the rugby player reached over the TA’s hand. The TA blushed as the athlete leaned closer and whispered. (It was most likely a seduction for a torrid sex affair for tonight.) His face grew brighter as the other man lead him away.
She was about eighty percent accurate. Sherlock resolved to get better at her deductions.
While the first day of their partnership was a disaster, both Utada and Sherlock learned how to salvage that train wreck. For starters, she discovered that Utada was not a rookie musician. Rather, the Ivy League student was a soloist! She was part of a quartet of top female artists in Japan. Her success was notable as she sold over 7 million copies for her debut album and continued the strong commercial performance in subsequent albums and singles. It was fascinating that she was taking a break to focus on her studies as a biology major. That really baffled Sherlock; she seen drafts of lyrics (which were very poetic and layered with deep meaning) and sheet music. Hell, she even saw the singer playing the piano at the recreation room!
Utada revealed that it was a backup plan. The Japanese music market was fickle. Acts like Koda Kumi and AKB48 were on the rise while veterans like Hamasaki Ayumi and Amuro Namie were seeking to maintain that popularity. The singer did not know how long could she last in the industry and make profit. Sherlock pointed out she had a distinct voice. In addition, the fact that she wrote and composed her own was a bonus. The international student speculated that she was one of the pioneers of female J-pop soloists for 2005 onwards. Her words unexpectedly made Utada feel better.
Academic partnership gradually transformed into close associates. To relieve school work stress, the two goofed off by playing Tetris (which Utada totally kicked her ass) and holding a cello and piano concert in the evenings. In the midst of fostering cooperation, Utada also learned more about Sherlock. Based on her accent, the singer-songwriter gathered she learned English in the UK and Sherlock had a roommate that was a Japanese American like herself. The biology student was even sharp enough to recognize that a bored Sherlock was a dangerous one. Hence she took it upon herself to be the voice of reason. To Sherlock, it was the complete opposite of Irene Adler. Her fellow schoolmate acted as an enabler towards Sherlock’s shenanigans and teased her when plans failed.
Utada was an associate Sherlock did not mind, but there was one flaw that annoyed the Cambridge undergraduate: her criticism of the Cambridgeshire dialect. Sherlock took pride in her international upbringing, thanks to her late parents’ careers. It was incredibly frustrating to explain there was no such thing as a British accent. There was a slight personal offense due to spending half of her life in the UK and taking linguistic classes to fulfill another portion of her GE requirements. Nonetheless, the Ivy League undergraduate continued to complain about her “British accent” made her stick out like a sore thumb in New York. The international student pointed out they were in Manhattan, one of the most densest boroughs in one of the most populous city in the United States. She would definitely not stand out at a university nor metropolitan that were hubs for international communities. Nevertheless, that did not stop Utada from giving phonological lessons of sounding like a New Yorker.
It could have been worse, Sherlock mused. She still had not forgiven Irene for dragging her to catch a red-eye flight to Ibiza. Due to the island’s reputation as a night life and electronic dance music (EDM) party destination, Sherlock promptly took the ferry to Valencia. Even though she was in Spain, she spent her time sulking and tasting paella. It really sucked that her roommate confiscated her passport; she was not keen on traveling back via train.
Lately, Utada had been declining Sherlock’s invitations for studying for the upcoming midterm exam, part one. The Cambridge undergraduate was not one to pry, but this absenteeism was unacceptable. Especially with the impending doom and stress of the midterm. Feeling frustrated by them musician’s lack of appearance, Sherlock forgone studying to hunt down her missing partner. She expected it would take all day, but it did not happen.
She found Utada sitting at a table with another Japanese student. Their table was littered with textbooks for an English as a Second Language (ESL) class.
Ah, so that was the reason for the singer-songwriter ditching her. She was acting as a mere tutor. That was cute, but she should have given a courtesy call, text message, or email! As punishment, Sherlock marched right up to their table and embarrassed the crap out of Utada. The new student did not understand what was going on, but introduced herself as Shiina Yumiko. Like Sherlock, she was an international student studying for the summer. Shiina decided to study abroad to fulfill her foreign language requirement. It turned out Shiina was a music major at Tokyo University of the Arts. She was a singer-songwriter like Utada and also had commercial success with her singles and albums since debut. Perhaps it was the similarities in the background that made them bond. She noted that Utada referred to Shiina as Ringo. Since she crashed their study session, Sherlock might as well have fun playing detective and analyzing their relationship.
After Shiina left for her class, Utada lectured Sherlock. The international undergraduate countered with her deep analysis. She was quite aware of how her delivery could make the recipient uncomfortable. Yet, the singer-songwriter did not flinch. Sherlock concluded by encouraging Utada to switch majors. She could clearly see the passion in Utada’s eyes when both singers discussed composition and music theory. Utada seemed to entertain the thought. It was up to her to start the paperwork for a major switch request.
Shiina unofficially became the third member of their study group. She and Sherlock did not share any classes, but the music student was happy to talk with someone that spoke Japanese. The Cambridge undergraduate enjoyed learning more things about Utada. For example, the two musicians were hit on two guys during a lunch run to a pizza parlor. Utada was the spokeswoman to firmly reject their advances. Men being men could not take a hint and insisted it was natural that they dated each other. (Sherlock inwardly made a face at that.) “Hikki-chan firmly looked at the guy and said ‘What makes you think I'm straight?’ They grew pale and quickly left us alone,” Shiina concluded.
The international student almost spat out her drink. First, Hikki? That was a new name. She was so used to calling her lab partner by her surname for weeks! Second, not being straight; what could that mean? Sexuality was something she did not feel the need to talk about with her lab partner. She loved analyzing, but speculating on someone’s sexual orientation was not one of them. Third, Shiina quoted perfectly. There was an accent when she spoke, however practice conversations definitely helped out enunciation.
Sherlock appreciated that she had a kindred acquaintance in addition to Irene. It was probably best if neither of them met. Who knew what the disastrous lesbian might do to the what-makes-you-think-I'm-straight Utada?
Throughout the summer session, Sherlock had been intensely focused on her classwork, lab reports, partner projects, and constant studying for the exams. She even gained a social life with the two musicians. Safe to say, her duration at Columbia University was academically fulfilling and mentally taxing. That was why she started to feel antsy by the time summer classes were drawing to a close. The Cambridge student had one of the highest grades in the class and set the curve for exam grades. Clearly, her university overly prepared her, taking an Ochem course was such a breeze. No more projects-except the final exam-resulted in a very bored a dangerous Sherlock.
The restlessness was even picked up by Utada. She was sure that the singer would lecture her for being an ass, but that did not happen. Instead, the musician shared interesting news. “The Rubin Museum of Arts will be doing an exclusive exhibition on rare jewelry from the Nepalese royal family,” Utada began. Sherlock raised her eyebrow. Was she proposing a museum trip? If so, the international undergraduate was on board. She would love to hone on her skills to detect fake jewels. Sherlock had her sights on becoming a detective after all.
“This exhibition is a target for triads in New York,” the singer-songwriter continued. “The collector that will be loaning it actually stole them during the Nepalese Royal Massacre four years ago!” That was a plot twist she never expected. How did Utada obtained this information? She did not seem the type that would have an intelligence network like Irene cultivated. The musician merely shrugged when Sherlock asked. “I listened to gossip among the streets, tuned in to police scanners, and browsed online forums.”
The Cambridge student continued to stare.
“I need inspiration for my lyrics!” Utada defended.
“So why are you telling me this?” She was an international undergraduate holding a student visa. Sherlock did not need legal complication if she got caught by the NYPD and have that go on her academic record.
“Despite my exasperation with you, I actually enjoy your company,” the biology undergraduate admitted. “You will be returning to the UK after the summer session. We wasted three months studying our asses off in one of the most difficult classes for bio majors. We need to create a kickass summer memory.” Sherlock smiled at that.
“Plus, you’re a criminology psychology major with creepy-yet-accurate analysis. Why not put your skills to the test in a real world application?”
“What kind of application do you have in mind?”
This time Utada smirked and told her plan. “We’re going to steal the crown jewels and return them to their rightful owner.” It would take place two weeks before their final. Sherlock questioned the musician’s sanity, but accepted the proposal nonetheless.
ここから ずっと 送ってる暗号|I've been sending you signals from here
君は まだ 解読できてない|You still haven't deciphered them
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Chapter 2: Session 2: You’ll Need to be a bit Adventurous
So who knew that planning a museum heist would be stressful?
Since their target was not The Met nor The Guggenheim Museum, that meant less security measures. The Rubin museum did not have the clout nor crowd like the other two. Even the security technology was not that sophisticated since this was 2005. Regardless, there was so much research she invested her time in. Utada scoured through architectural blueprints, profiles of the triad groups, security time schedules, the crown jewels itself, and potential equipment needed to pull off this heist.
Next to her was Ringo reading out loud for the ESL oral exam. “You’re not responding to me,” the Tokyo University undergrad pouted. “I finished fifteen minutes ago and asked for your review! Were you even listening to me?”
In her defense, she had been listening to the same passage for the past few days. She was certain that her fellow musician would ace the speaking test. Besides, she had a heist to coordinate! Sherlock was counting on her for one last kick ass experience in America.
“Hikki-chan! You’re not listening to me!” the English learner cried out in annoyance. “What are you even doing?” The exchange pupil swiped the paper before Utada had a chance to react. It took a moment for the music major to read and comprehend the English text.
“YOU’RE GOING TO ROB A MUSUEM?” the other soloist exclaimed.
It was a good thing that the outburst was in Japanese. Nonetheless, Utada did not want to attract attention. She placated her friend and fully explained everything. Ringo listened patiently, but that did not stop her from expressing her opinion. Her peer had a point that she and Sherlock were about to do an incredibly stupid and dangerous stunt.
“You two are in your early twenties,” the exchange classmate ranted. “This may be America, but do you know how to shoot a gun? This is reality, not a tv show like Alias or 24. You two can die!”
“And yet, I made a promise,” the Columbia student quietly countered. “That person is counting on me. I cannot let priceless artifacts of culture and history disappear into greedy hands that will sell it to the black market. The main line of the Nepalese royal family may be gone, but that memory does not need to be forgotten by the people and for the future generations.”
The Japanese national could not even rebuttal that. Yes, there was a thrill (especially for her collaborator), but there was an altruistic objective. Silence resumed after the singer-songwriter had the last word. Another forty-five minutes of studying passed by before Ringo spoke up again. The music peer asked her about her game plan. For the singer-songwriter, it was embarrassing to admit she did not have much of a concrete strategy. She chastised herself for the lack of inspiration. After all, she built a career of composing and penning her songs! Yet, creativity seemed to fizzle out. There was so much at stake: security, imminent gag threat, transportation, flying, equipment! There was so much that could go wrong. Their lives and careers were at risk.
Her disclosure drew sympathy. “Let me see what you have,” she urged. “It would not hurt to have a fresh pair of eyes.” The foreign peer scanned the highlighted texts and pictures. Ringo seemed she grasped a general understanding of the content. She looked up from the papers and said at point blank, “You’re thinking too logically for this heist.”
Utada raised an eyebrow. What did she mean by that?
“I can see you are approaching this from a structured view,” the Tokyo University of the Arts classmate continued. “Like a simple beat or even the most basic song structure: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, and outro. You definitely need rhythm, harmonization, and a bridge. Maybe an a capella inserted in the beginning or in the end.” Music analogy aside, the biology classmate understood her point. This was something that could not be pulled off on the day of. Timing was incredibly important. She listened to the ideas Ringo rambled off. They made a good team. Maybe someday they could sing a duet and star in a music video together.
The next day, she dragged Sherlock to a field trip at Rubin Museum of Arts. It was shame that neither of them were able to visit during the free entrance hours, but paying the student discount fee made them feel slightly better. The gallery had six floors; five devoted to the art collection while the first floor reserved for a gift shop and cafe (with semi-decent customer service). Each floor was connected by a circular central stairway. It greatly reminded Utada of her Guggenheim outing with Ringo. (She quietly drank her iced tea to distract herself from blushing.)
The students took their time in the establishment: slowly walking around each floor, reading the text printed on the placards, and participating in fun activities offered to guests. It was a fascinating experience to broaden her mind to a culture beyond East Asia. The biology major made a mental note to take a Himalayan art history course for a future semester. The only downside was the curators staring at their direction. It was due to the criminology learner being stopped for creeping close to the displays. The singer-songwriter refrained herself from rolling her eyes at her lab partner’s petulant attitude. It was understandable to be upset by the temper some of these workers were sporting, but this was too much. The songstress needed the study abroad pupil’s cooperation! Utada lightly whacked Sherlock’s shoulders and hissed they had an objective to complete.
The sixth floor was cut off. There was a sign that a special exhibition would be coming soon. It was no brainer that this was where the Nepalese crown jewels would be displayed at. The recording artist bit her lip; being on the top floor was certainly tricky. There was no straightforward entrance and exit. It was back to the drawing board to revise her tactic. Utada felt guilty to get Ringo involved, but her fellow recording artist would no doubt give her the fresh insight she needed.
Utada’s classmate remained strangely quiet. The Cambridge scholar narrowed her eyes (furrowed eyebrows included), let out a short grunt, and promptly marched away. To the untrained eye, there was no doubt Sherlock would be labeled as eccentric. The soloist, however, spent three months with the criminology student; it was incredibly easy to read the foreign undergrad.
She quickened her pace to catch up with Sherlock. The lab associate stopped at a particular door for employees. She watched as the Cambridge peer pulled out a keycard and swiftly swiped it. Realization clicked in, leaving Utada to marvel at the ingenuity. That sly criminology classmate stole it when one of the museum personnels talked to her! The Columbia student wasted no time following Sherlock.
The employee area was empty, but that did not stop the two from trekking quietly. There were placards on the walls that enabled them to navigate with ease. In their short stroll, they found a service elevator. That would have been nice to use it, but there was a risk of getting caught. Instead, they travelled down the steps. Their first stop was the security room. There were not many guards inside, though they dared not risk venturing in. Utada hoped that her collaborator was eliciting many details as possible. The Cambridge undergraduate turned her heel, signaling they were done with the security room.
The study abroad peer still took the lead, this time to the archive room where collections not on display were stored. This room was not far from the ground floor. Utada noted there was the service elevator nearby. Unlike the security room, there was not much measured to guard the collections. Thanks to that, they snuck in. Many of the collection were stored in large and long boxes; the two college pupils were dwarfed by the imposing height and size. The back of the storage room was a loading/unloading dock station. There was a clipboard hanging on the wall. The criminology conspirer grabbed the clipboard and flipped through the pages. According to the schedule, the crown jewel shipment was definitely coming in three days. Crap, they really did not have a lot of time to prepare. Eventually, time was exhausted for them; they had a bio discussion section to attend. Both exited the museum with a lot to think about.
After another session with the incompetent TA, they were back at the dorm, doing a mix of studying and planning. Utada already had their exit scheme to leave New York (thanks to Ringo), but it was the heist itself and the threat that vexed her.
“Hey, how hot will it be on Friday?” the British national spoke up.
Both Utada and Sherlock were lying on their backs, trying to keep cool with the air conditioner blasting from above. It was very rare for Ringo to not join them as the other musician had a study group with her fellow ESL classmates. “95 degrees,” Utada automatically answered, then did a rough conversion. “That is about 35 degrees in Celsius.” The other conspirer hummed in acknowledgement.
“What about the power grid for the Chelsea neighborhood?” Utada rolled her eyes; like she knew that by heart. Instead, she reached over for the map (that was out in the common room), outlined the neighborhood borders, then marked where the university and museum were at. Hopefully this would help Sherlock. “The neighborhood is 0.774 square miles.” She did not even bother to do a simple conversion; Sherlock could do that herself. “New York has lots of power plants,” the songstress warned. “Whatever you’re planning, it’s going have to be a wide scale operation.” Utada made a mental note to complete all her tasks that needed a computer before her colleague would do something destructive.
Again, Sherlock hummed in acknowledgement. “We’re going to shop for supplies.” That sounded like a daunting task. Utada reached for her cell phone and left a brief voicemail for Ringo.
“I can’t believe you’re making me do this!” Ringo whined over the walkie-talkie. All Utada could say it was Sherlock’s fault. She made them go out on a late afternoon to collect dust and lint from abandoned warehouses in the borough. They were to collect a decent quantity of the dirt and grime. The British national, on the other hand, was back at the dorms, trying to put a coherent strategem together to take out the triads. “I’ll make it up to you,” Utada offered.”There are other galleries we haven’t visited yet. Or maybe we can go back to Central Park and have a picnic by the lake?”
There was silence on Ringo’s end, but she heard rustling of the trash bag. Her fellow singer was still there. “I want to eat at Xi’an Famous Food,” the Tokyo University of the Arts pupil replied. “I heard lots of great things about that place. You’re taking me to Flushing.” That was unexpected. Utada was really hoping to stay in Manhattan, but for Ringo, she would do anything. Looks like she would have to plan a trip to Queens.
It was close to midnight when Utada and Ringo made it back to student housing. They were hot and grimy; the sweat and dusty air did not mix. At the dorm, Sherlock did not bother to greet them, she was spray painting a design. If she was not exhausted, Utada would love to smack her associate. Ringo cleared her throat, which prompted Sherlock to look up. “Oh, you’re back.” Then she glanced over the trash bags and hummed in approval before returning to her work. The two recording artists exchanged glances. It seemed like Sherlock had nothing else for them. So they left the filthy cargo at the front and retreated to the showers before tucking into bed.
The next morning, Utada woke up to the morning news alerting the public to be aware of random gang fighting in the streets. Apparently, several gangs claimed responsibility of knocking out grids in other gangs’ territories. (There were calling cards and gang insignias defiling private property.) Needless to say, it did not bode well. Many factions already had bad blood; the power incident was the excuse needed for violence. She spent the rest of the morning studying and preparing for the heist. It was a little after lunch when Sherlock contacted her. She hastily got ready.
Before she trekked to the Rubin museum, she made a detoured to the international housing unit. Many of the foreign students knew Utada and kindly directed her to Ringo. She was in the courtyard, strumming her guitar-probably composing her next song. The soloist stopped strumming when she approached her. Ringo’s eyes darted to the luggage at Utada’s feet. “It’s time, isn’t it?”
The recording artist gravely nodded. “We’ll be back before it is time for our final.”
“Give me your word,” the music learner demanded. “Otherwise, it’s an unfulfilled promise.”
Utada could not deny the serious look Ringo was giving her. “I give you my word,” she declared. “My word that I will return safely, back to you.” There was more she could say. Things like taking her to Flushing, helping her with English, composing new music, singing a duet, and asking Ringo to be her girlfriend.
Wait, what? Girlfriend? Utada felt a huge blush covering her face. Crap, this was so embarrassing!
“I will hold that to you.”
Utada barely had time to react as Ringo leaned closer, her free hand caressing the bio major’s cheek. Th music undergraduate intensely looked at her, waiting for an impulsive rejection reaction. Yet, there was none. The Columbia scholar’s mind went blank at the touch. That warm hand was the sensation that mattered. Given the lack of reaction, Ringo took it as a sign to lean forward.
Her world stopped when gentle pink lips brushed against hers. The movement she felt was her eyes closing. With the sense of sight gone, her body felt more sensitive to the touch. She could even hear her heartbeat pound faster. Yet, the sensation was gone all too soon. Ringo withdrew from Utada. She immediately missed the hand on her face. She opened her eyes to see the ESL peer looking flustered. “Go,” she mumbled, darting her eyes away. “Hurry up and return back to me.” In an instant, Utada was refocused on her mission. She nodded her head in thanks and steeled herself to turn away.
It was boiling hot when Utada entered. Sherlock was waiting at the cafe, looking unbothered by the heat. There was a cold bottle resting on the table. “What the hell is this?” she demanded as she sat down. The Cambridge pupil gestured to the drink. “You’ll need to stay hydrated,” she warned. The bottle was swiped and the cap was twisted. The criminology pupil remained seated until the bottle was discard. Then she got up and moved towards the circular staircase.
The heat distracted the guests and curators from watching the college students slipping through the employee entrance. Unlike the first time, the employee area was more noisy and busy. There were nonstop complaints about the heat and talks for the crown jewels. The constant distractions enabled them to enter the archive room without any trouble. It seemed strange that the room was quiet and calm. The rolling door for the loading/unloading dock was still closed. It was very peculiar that there was the lack of security personnels in the area. Nonetheless, it would make their job easier.
The lab partners crept closer to the dock, using the crates and storage bins to conceal them in the shadows. Now it was time for watching. She was content to let Sherlock take the lead and keep watch. That gave her time to think about how odd this situation was. From the corner of her eye, Utada noticed one bin was not closed properly. She crept closer to take a peek. She gingerly opened the door and muffled her gasp the best she could.
There was a body of one of the museum employees inside. There was no signs of fatal injuries, but the man was not breathing and his head limped awkwardly. The poor man met an instant death when his neck was snapped. The soloist leaned over and tapped Sherlock’s back. The conspirator turned over and looked when the biology undergrad pointed to. “His neck snapped, but the real cause of his death is strangulation,” her student exchange counterpart rapidly muttered. “He’s missing the suit jacket and badge.” Utada widened her eyes. Oh, no; that was not good. One of the triads already infiltrated the museum. It felt very real that they were against true danger: professional and trained killers. The recording artist shuddered, dispelling all thoughts of other victims hiding in the archive collection.
A loud buzzer coming from the side door went off. Sherlock and Utada peeked from the side. They saw a man wearing the museum suit jacket answer the door. The voice from outside stated he was the delivery guy for the new collection. The two exchanged looks: their target was within reach. The steel door rolled upwards. Simultaneously, the large moving truck backed up to the loading dock. Time seemed to pass incredibly slow as the crown jewels were transferred to a cart and rolled into the archive collection. There were not many boxes, but the songstress hoped it was not too heavy to lug.
At the end, the delivery man asked for a signature. The museum employee complied and scribbled on the form. Suddenly, the delivery man took a closer look. “You’re not the usual dude. Are you new here?”
The pen dropped. Then a shot was fired and a body slumped. The shot originated from the fake museum worker that received the shipment. In his hand, the writing instrument was replaced with a handgun. It was a clean hit to the head.
Utada took care to keep her mouth clamp throughout the transaction. It was one thing to watch gun violence in American media, but it was completely different to be a witness to a homicide. Her eyes darted towards Sherlock, who had her brows furrowed. She fervently hoped that her teammate was coming up with a plan! None of them were trained to handle a gunfight. The cheap bulletproof vest she got on Craigslist could only do so much to offer flimsy protection.
From the corner, another museum worker walked out and started to argue with the perpetrator. It was clear that the other was also a triad member. Their argument escalated into a shouting match. The shouting match lead to other members of the same triad come out and crowd around the two. They were also wearing the same suit jackets. Utada shuddered to think how many innocent employees died for this theft and the number of bodies hidden in the archive collection. The singer thought it would be a good time to reach over and roll the cargo away, however Sherlock did not budge. The criminology peer was waiting for something, but what could it be?
A sharp whistle ceased the arguing. A gruff voice spoke out, demanding that the suit jacket clad triad give up the crown jewels. (Oh crap, another faction just arrived.) One of the suit jacket gang member challenged that notion and suddenly, they had weapons in hand-ranging from guns, knives, and brass knuckles. At once, they leaped off the loading dock and engaged in a street fight.
Sherlock waited until all the suit jacket members in the archive room evacuated. She sprung from her hiding spot and swiftly dash towards the cart. Utada followed suit. The two students pushed the cart away from the fighting and towards the elevator service. The soloist did not realized she held her breath until the service door shut. There were so many questions she had for Sherlock, but now it was not the time. The elevator steadily moved upwards, there was not much time for them to transfer the crown jewels from crates to their bag.
Fortunately it was mostly earrings, necklaces, brooches, and bracelets. It seemed that the Queen’s Diamond Tiara, the King’s Crown, royal scepter, and sword were safely secured in Nepal. That was good, there was not much room in their bag for bulkier and noticeable items. Utada grunted when the heavy load rested on her shoulders. She underestimated how much it weighed. Sherlock also shared her thoughts through facial expression.
The sixth floor was empty, but it felt hotter than usual. Below, there were panicked murmurs from the guests and shouts from the museum workers to remain calm during the lockdown. While they were in the elevator, the street fight obviously attracted attention. The museum was now in confinement. Utada could hear sirens wailing from the distance. Good, let the police arrest them.
Sherlock led them to window that faced away from the street fight. Behind a pedestal, she pulled out a concealed bag. The bag contained a crossbow, a modified grapnel hook, cable, sheave, and two handgrips. This was all assembled with ease and precision (Utada was convinced that the Cambridge peer did something similar like this back in England). Then the window was propped open and the crossbow angled downwards. There was a balcony on the fourth floor of the neighboring buildng. The other undergraduate carefully aimed and fired. The projectile shot outwards and firmly lodged itself to the wall. The aerial ropeway was tugged and firmly secured. Before she knew it, Utada was squatting over the window ledge, clenching the handgrip tightly.
She never done anything like this before. Her heart was pounding fast and her breathing was shallow. With the weight she was carrying, there was an intrusive thought that she could lose her grip and fall to her death. “Ready?” Sherlock called out from behind.
No, she was not.
“On three, I’m going to push you.”
Utada steeled herself and renewed her grip; she was waiting for the countdown.
“Three,” Sherlock said, then forcibly pushed her off. This time, Utada screamed as she flew downwards. It was a sharp incline, hence impacting the speed. It was not long before she made it to the balcony in one piece. She gingerly removed her hands from the grip and slumped to the ground. The adrenaline rush was gradually leaving her. Sherlock followed shortly after; she even carried the bag that had the crossbow. Her landing was smoother than Utada’s. She flashed an enthusiastic grin. Again, the songstress wished she had the strength to smack her classmate.
The ropeway was soon dismantled; the only thing they could not take was the steel cable and grapnel that was deeply lodged in the wall. (Since both were wearing gloves, no fingerprint dusting could be traced back to them.) The two climbed down the staircase and used the backdoor exit. The crossbow equipment, aerial ropeway accessories, and Kevlar vests were tossed into the dumpster-it was a waste, but they could not afford to carry more baggage.
Utada cranked the air conditioner to full blast as she started the car. The two had to walk a block to a parked car the singer rented two days ago. She was hot from walking around in ninety-five degree weather, but it was more bearable than the museum. (She felt bad for the people suffering in the lockdown.) Since it was the afternoon, traffic was horrendous. Yet, that gave her an opportunity to ask questions.
“You have a lot of explaining to do,” the Columbia pupil began. “Start with the boiling hot museum.”
“There was a two-fold effect with raising the temperature to 38 degrees Celsius,” Sherlock started. (Rough calculation told her that was about 100 degrees in Fahrenheit.) “First is to render the thermal imagery cameras useless. These are used in specific rooms where there are priceless artwork. The archive collection is one of them. Raising the temperature causes living beings and inanimate objects to share the same thermal heat, creating a blind spot for the cameras.”
Oh, crap; that was good. Utada did not expect that at all. She imagined that the cameras would record a blank white screen, the tapes would not record any evidence of the murders or them infiltrating inside. Hopefully her teammate managed to erase the footage of them sneaking in three days ago. “Second is to demagnetize the magnetic window frame. One way to demagnetize a magnet is through heat; that is why the top floor is closer to 43°C.” Utada frowned, the top level was definitely in triple digits in Fahrenheit. At least it was confined to an area sealed off from visitors.
“Okay then, how did you escalate the temperature?”
“That I cannot take all the credit,” the Cambridge classmate clarified. “You and Shiina were a great help.” Her mind flashed back to collecting the filth from the warehouses. “What the hell,” she spat in disbelief; she wished Sherlock was not that secretive.
“The dirt helped soiled the air filter and condenser coils much faster, leading to overheating of the air conditioner. Though it did help that the power grids experienced an outage.” The musician recalled the news this morning regarding the gang activities. Ah, now she got it. The power outage was a diversion to prevent most triads to invade the museum. Even though they encountered two gangs, it was very clever. She and Sherlock shared the same smirk. Since her conspirator executed the heist, it was her time to shine with their exit strategy.
The car passed the sign that welcomed commuters into New Jersey. They were in Newark, heading for the Newark International Airport. The soloist could barely suppressed her grin at Sherlock’s puzzle face when they dropped off the rental car. Contrary to the criminology major’s expectations, they did not enter the airport. Rather, they commuted to the Newark Penn Station. She ignored the continuous prodding pokes throughout the train ride. Their final stop was the Linden station. Comprehension soon dawned on her ally as they arrived at Linden Airport, a small general aviation terminal.
“You did this to avoid customs,” Sherlock declared.
Utada nodded her head. “There is no plausible explanation we can give with all the jewelry we’re carrying.”
“Clever; now, you’re going to tell me you have a private pilot license.”
“Nope, but my producer’s nephew has one. He’s heading off to New Mexico, but he can drop us off where we need to meet.”
“Where is it?”
“Las Vegas, Nevada.”
The plane ride went smoothly; Utada nodded off while Sherlock pressed her face against the window, looking at the greenery below as they flew westward. The songstress knew they were in Nevada when the ground below was nothing but red dirt. The state was under the Pacific Standard Time, three hours behind New York. The jet lag would not affect her too badly. The small aircraft landed at the North Las Vegas Airport.
Utada groaned at feeling the heat of the early afternoon. The singer-songwriter was quickly developing an aversion towards the heat. It did not help that she knew the geography and climate of Las Vegas. The city was landlocked: the Mojave Desert surrounded civilization. Plus, it straddled the leeward side of San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. There was temporarily relief with the air conditioner running inside the airport. They could not stay there for long, they had a delivery to make. Sherlock watched their cargo while the recording artist made contact. She was told to meet at the Bellagio. She would receive further instructions at the front desk.
The front desk clerk handed an envelope. Inside, there was a keycard and new instructions to meet at the conservatory and botanical garden. The meeting place itself was breathtaking, there was so much care given to creating a horticulturalist’s paradise. Up ahead, there was a young woman surrounded by tall men in black suits and sunglasses. One of them noticed the two classmates and informed the young woman. She stood up and dismissed all but one guard. Then she turned around and gave a warm welcome to Utada and Sherlock. She revealed to be a noble whose family faithfully protected the Nepalese monarchy for several generations.
Burglary during the royal massacre was a huge blow for the people. The young noble used her connections to track down the stolen crown jewels. By chance on the internet, she corresponded with Utada, the catalyst for this summer story. She opened the bags, happy to see the lost jewels successfully recovered. The Nepalese profusely thanked them for their service. The noble lamented that monetary compensation was small in comparison to their bravery. The soloist reassured her that it was not necessary, the country was going through a political crisis. The noble invited them to visit the country once stability was achieved. Afterwards, goodbyes were exchanged and the two parties went separate ways.
“So she gave us sixty US dollars,” the Cambridge undergrad commented. “You should have charged more for your service”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the biology pupil snapped. “I was NOT doing this for the money.”
“Of course not, but sixty bucks is not enough to cover incidentals, let alone a plane ticket back to New York.”
The two lab partners were sitting by the poolside of the Bellagio. The knees and below were submerged in water. It was a small consolation to be cooled, but she would take it.
“We’ll find a way to raise funds,” the singer-songwriter reassured.
“That’s right,” a new voice chimed in from above. “You’re in Sin City. After all, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” They lifted their heads upward to see a beautiful woman in an attractive red bikini staring down and grinning at them.
“Irene,” the British national spat.
“Hello, darling,” Irene purred. “Fancy to see you here.” Then she looked at Utada. “It is even fancier to meet your plus one.” The singer-songwriter took a closer look. This was the roommate Sherlock mentioned one time. Her chaotic partner in crime and roommate back in Cambridge. Irene was like her, another Japanese American. Automatically, she bowed in greeting. “I’m Utada Hikaru, nice to meet you.”
“The singer-songwriter? It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Irene Adler, an actress.”
The actress? No way! Two Japanese Americans working in Japanese entertainment, imagined the odds to meet. Since both worked in the same industry and had public recognition, it was easy to bond. The two entertainers had fun roasting Sherlock. It was reassuring that she was not the only one that had to deal with Sherlock’s eccentric behavior. The roasting session came to an end when the topic herself interrupted them and demanded an explanation for Irene’s appearance.
The entertainer clarified that she was spending summer vacation with her family; dad was at an All-You-Can-Eat buffet at another hotel, while mom was driving to the Grand Canyon. That left Irene by herself to her own devices: poolside socialization. In turn, Sherlock’s roommate asked them what brought them to Vegas. The musician explained their story; the celebrity listened with rapt interest. “Fascinating; I had no idea a noble was at the hotel! Wished I met her,” Irene remarked.
“Well, she’s long gone,” the criminology learner countered. “Now, excuse us. We need to secure some capital for food and a trip back home.” Sherlock’s stomach grumbled as she stood up. Irene chuckled at her fooish roommate. She offered to buy dinner (for them, they were still on Eastern standard time). After the star changed out of her swimsuit, the three walked down the Las Vegas Strip. It was their first time in Sin City, everything was new and overwhelming. Utada wished she had a digital camera, the flip phone’s camera would not do justice for quality. The restaurant of Irene’s choice had tasty food, through the soloist was certain that Irene came here for the eye candy. The female waitresses were very fine to look at, but it made her miss Ringo more.
“So we need to come up with a plan!” Sherlock declared near the end of the meal.
“Surely, you’re not thinking of doing another heist,” the actress teased.
“Of course not!” the British peer contested hotly.
“Glad you think so,” Sherlock’s roommate retorted. “the Bellagio has a casino; there is a poker room.” Her eyes light up at the mention of the card game. That criminology scholar was a card shark, eh? Given her gift of observation, the recording artist should not be surprised if Sherlock could easily keep track of all the cards played.
“How about yourself?” Irene asked her. “What games do you like?”
“Roulette; there’s a thrill to watch the ball spin until it lands in a pocket.”
The entertainer flashed a wide grin. “Good choice; let’s hit the casino, ladies.”
The sixty dollars were split into three ways. The twenty dollars felt heavy in Utada’s hands as they all went separate ways: Sherlock to the poker room and Irene sauntered over to the craps table. Her lungs burned from the foul stench of smoke from her walk to the roulette tables. This facility was a hazard of carbon monoxide. The singer-songwriter resolved to score high. She went over to the European roulette wheels and observed each game. She lacked Sherlock’s gifted insight, but she paid close attention to croupiers spinning the wheel. The soloist scrutinized for any deformities in the ball tracks, wobbles when the wheel was spun, the weight of the ball, and potential bias from the dealer overseeing the game. She lingered at different tables to determine which one would work to her advantage. Thank goodness the sound engineer (that also moonlighted as a gambler in Macau) imparted her with knowledge to win the game. After much deliberation, Utada approached a table, wagered ten dollars, and placed her bet. Her eyes followed the ball as it made its revolution around the track There was some kind of mesmerizing allure: that glorious ten to fifteen seconds before the ball hit the pin and exited the track. Everyone waited in bated breath as the ball bounced before it landed into a pocket.
The ball settled on black 36. The soloist placed her chips on the outside bet section, specifically for black. Not bad, she earned her payout. Now, the casino worker called for new wagers. She gave ten dollars to the dealer again. This time she set her chips on the odd section. The employee turned the wheel and dropped the ball. This time, it was on red 7. The other players complimented her for winning twice. Utada merely smiled and planned her next prediction. For the subsequent rounds, the musician-gambler concentrated on outside bets. It sucked that the payouts were smaller, but it helped sharpen her prediction skills, especially when she lost her money.
Her lengthy stay fostered her confidence to lay chips on the inside bets section. This was when roulette became exhilarating. The stakes were much higher now and the pressure was immense. All the players and dealer were intensely focused on the ball revolving around the track. Its momentum slowed down and traveled across the wheel before it settled on red 27. Everyone glanced down at the layout. The soloist’s chips were on street, three consecutive horizontal numbers: 25, 26, and 27. A loud cheer erupted from their table. The players were excited for her winning streak! Joyful roars attracted a huge crowd following, but the influx never bothered her; Utada was used to it from her singing performances. She gave her money to the dealer, made a bet, and waited for the results.
Eventually all things came to an end. Utada entered the game with twenty dollars in pocket. She exited the table with $2,000 dollars. That was enough for a plane ticket, hotel, toiletries, food, clothes, and a souvenir. She spotted Irene at a table, nursing a drink. It must had been from shouting while playing craps. She waved at the songstress to come over. “Had your fill of Sin City?” she smirked.
Enough for a lifetime; the smoke was getting to her. “How was your game?”
“Earned $4,000 dollars and some numbers.”
Numbers? Then Utada saw a small paper slip between Irene’s index and middle fingers. Ah, phone numbers. Perhaps that was why her fellow Japanese American joined them on their gambling fundraising-it was not about playing nor winning, it was about collecting a ten digit number. The singer-songwriter noticed that Irene was an extrovert. She never anticipated that the celebrity was a true social butterfly. “How about yourself?” Irene purred, leaning closer to the biology major. Damn, Irene did not know the concept of personal space!
The star gave a low whistle. “That’s enough for you to make a round trip to New York.”
“Well, partially it’s for covering the expenses from the heist,” the soloist admitted. “Plus, I owe a food date.”
An eyebrow quirked. “What kind of cuisine does he like?”
“What makes you think I’m straight? She wants to eat at Xi’an Famous Food in Flushing. I owe her so much for helping us with the heist.” Utada glanced at Irene, who was staring at her.
The actress smiled. “She must be very lucky to date a girl like you.” The musician had her suspicions towards Irene’s sexuality ever since she met her just like when she and Sherlock became classmates. It felt safe to come out to the actress. Perhaps the other Japanese American felt the same way. She was impressed by her brazen nature when the star was not in front of the camera.
It was nice that both Sherlock and Irene bonded through their banter. They provided the emotional support needed during the turbulent known as college: freshman year.
“Let’s find Sherlock,” the celebrity proposed, changing topics. “I wonder how she’s fairing with the poker circuit.”
“I’m sure she’s fine; Sherlock seems capable to handle a card game.”
“Not if the dealer is a cute woman.”
It should not have been a surprise that Sherlock was playing in Bobby’s Room. That criminology peer certainly had a way to participate in a high-stakes poker game, especially starting with twenty dollars. The two spotted the Japanese player focusing on the game (perhaps it was good that the dealer was male). The musician had limited knowledge of poker, but she could feel the tension oozing from the table. Irene, on the other hand, had a good grasp of what was going on. Utada allowed her mind to drift elsewhere; now that she was not playing anymore, she was mentally drained. The soloist was content at nodding off at an empty table.
She woke up to a thunderous applause and cheering. Irene was on her right, clapping along with the crowd. The singer-songwriter looked ahead, the players stood up and shook hands. Sherlock had a satisfied smile on her face. That could only mean one thing: Sherlock earned a hefty payout. The British pupil sported a huge smirk as she approached them. There was a case in her hand, Utada imagined there was over $100,000 dollars in there. The two entertainers congratulated the poker winner as they exited out of the casino.
Since the singer-songwriter kept the Bellagio keycard in her possession, they had a reservation at the resort! The room was a Cypress suite with two bathrooms and a king sized bed. Putting the monetary reward in perspective, reserving an expensive room for one night was more than enough. Thank goodness she brought a change of clothes, she smelled like smoke. The entertainer took her leave, inviting them for breakfast with her parents in the morning. The musician opted to freshen up first while Sherlock chose to count her money; they might have to stop by bank and convert that money into a check-maybe even exchange it to the pound sterling.
Feeling clean, Utada checked her phone: there were lots of missed calls and voicemails from Ringo. She listened to each message and felt for making the Tokyo University scholar worried. The soloist quickly typed out a message and cringed while sending it. It was close to 10pm right now. In New York, it was passed midnight. The Columbia undergrad also debated with leaving a voicemail. She really did not want to disturb the English learner from late night study sessions.
Utada glanced over at Sherlock that just emerged from the shower. “You’ve been staring and biting your lip for the past fifteen minutes,” the lab partner continued. “Hurry up and stop making Shiina worried sick. It’s tragic to watch.” The Columbia pupil rolled her eyes at the bluntness. She would not admit that the Cambridge undergraduate had a point. Steeling her courage, she dialed the ESL student’s number. Her heart pounded faster and harder with each ring. The soloist fervently hoped it went to voicemail.
She was so relieved when it did.
Once the recording was done, the musician charged her phone and turned to bed. It was hard to believe how long this day was for her: from heist to casino. Now that was one hell of a summer vacation.
Sleeping on high quality mattress and luxurious sheets was refreshing. The bed was spacious enough for two. They got dressed and headed to The Buffet where Irene’s family was waiting for them. The Hanawas (Irene’s real surname) were pleasant and fun people. Irene’s dad was the coolest Japanese American father Utada ever met. Thanks to his upbringing in the US, he was not stern nor emotionally distant like other paternal figures back in Asia. Irene’s mother, on another note, was the epitome of beauty. She had the air of a German supermodel (clearly Irene looked like her mom even though her Japanese features were quite prominent), yet she was so friendly and interpersonal. She made sure that Utada and Sherlock were comfortable. It was heartwarming to see the closeness and openness of the small family; Irene enthusiastically shared their adventures and her parents barely batted an eye. (Although, the musician had an inkling they only knew the PG-13 version of the entertainer’s tales.)
With breakfast concluded, the Hanawas were more than happy to help them. The parents assisted them with checking out of the resort, accompanied Sherlock to the bank, and taught them how to buy plane tickets. Their flight was in the evening so the Hanawas took them around Las Vegas. Utada was touched how the star’s parents embraced them into the family. It gave her the familial love she had not experienced in a while. She missed her parents, but the soloist was reassured that she now had a second family. One glance at the criminology undergrad told her that Sherlock felt the same way.
It was a bittersweet moment at the McCarran International Airport. Heartfelt hugs were given and contact information was exchanged. The singer-songwriter intended to keep in touch with the family. Since the Hanawas resided in California, she planned to visit the West Coast. She also coordinated to spend time with Irene when they are back in Japan for work. Utada was surprised that Sherlock took the longest. She knew that her partner was not the most affectionate person. Yet she gave long, meaningful hugs to the parents.
Then she took her time chatting with Irene. The musician heard snippets of their conversation. It was basically about Irene teasing Sherlock being roommates for the upcoming school year. Her lab partner snidely retorted that she played high-stakes poker so she could rent her own apartment. (That answered Utada’s silent question about the motivation for the excessive winning.)
“You can’t live without me, darling,” the other Japanese American smirked. “How else can you tell the difference between dishwashing soap and laundry detergent? I’m the life of the party with good housekeeping skills.”
“Yes, I can!” the international student countered, a little too quickly for her taste.
Utada merely quirked a eyebrow. So who was the whipped one now?
Another round of goodbyes later, they passed through security and were seated on the plane. They were on their way back to New York City.
“Hikki, wake up!”
Utada lightly groaned from being shaken. She was in bed with the alarm clock informing her it was 7:43 pm. Oh, the summer vacation she had with Sherlock thirteen years ago was just a memory dream. Sitting on the edge of the mattress was Ringo looking down with gentle, loving eyes. No matter how many times she looked at her girlfriend, the musician was always awestruck by her beauty, whether it was in the morning, afternoon, or evening, with or without makeup. The two singer-songwriters went through so much in the last thirteen years: long-distant relationship, breakup, marriage (to men), divorce, and reconnecting. Utada felt blessed that Ringo not only wanted to start their relationship anew, but also accepted her son.
“Babe, what’s going on?”
“I wanted to wake you up to watch The Japan Bachelorette.”
She double-checked the time. “The program won’t start until nine.”
“Yeah, but they’re airing the pilot again! You fell asleep in the first ten minutes last week.” Her girlfriend pouted. There was no denying from the fatigue of last week. Concert preparations kicked her butt. With Ringo pushing her, she had no choice but to watch.
Few minutes later, she was in the living room with Ringo. Utada did not say much until the first commercial break. “Anyone we should keep our eyes peeled for?”
“Look out for a pediatric surgeon.”
The musician obliged and watched how Tachibana Wato stood up against Sherlock twice. That was amazing. By the time the first episode ended, she was hooked. The dating variety show was much better than she expected. She did not anticipate that Irene would appear as well. (Part of its success was Irene, but she would never admit that to the actress. It would inflate her ego too much.) Now she had to tune in and watch the misadventures of her college friend and possible romance between Sherlock and Tachibana. Utada looked forward to her former lab partner surviving this train wreck.