The Rules of Arrangement

Part 2

James Devitt

‘Shouldn’t we stop them from lowering the coffin?’

Julia is leaning forward from behind Ichika Aoki to whisper in her ear. Blake Manly, having only just been introduced to Ichika and invited to sit alongside Ms Spring, is leaning forward as well – but merely to look at her in admiration.

With Julia on her left shoulder, and Blake on her right, Ichika smiles and says in a whisper, ‘Not yet, good ladies, not yet. He is to be buried completely.’

‘But what’s the point of that?’ asks Julia. ‘Everyone here already knows he’s faking, even the cleric.’

‘Dicky insisted we do it this way. He swore his father would find a way to spy on us all.’

‘But all that dirt…’

‘Don’t worry,’ sooths Ichika, keeping her delightful voice to a whisper, ‘it’s all reinforced steel, and Dicky has two tanks of oxygen stuffed into the panelling. His brother promised to dig him up, once the coast is clear.’ She turns to Blake. ‘Was that the tip of your nose?’

‘You smell like orange blossoms,’ says Blake. ‘It’s enchanting.’

‘Thank you. Would you believe it’s a ten-dollar perfume?’

‘My new friend is in love with you.’

‘It’s true,’ says Blake, ‘but cruel of Julia to give away.’

‘That’s good to know,’ says Ichika. ‘It allows me to act appropriately.’

Blake props her elbow up on the chair beside Ichika and rests her head into the palm of her hand. ‘And to who’s favour will you be acting?’

‘To mine, mostly. Now that I’ve learned this much about you, I may pretend to forget it.’

‘You will?’

‘Of course, Miss Manly. I must, so that we can flirt innocently and without consequence, but I’ll have you know that I’m already desperately in love with another.’

‘Impeccable timing,’ says a new voice.

Blake squints into the setting sun to make him out. This is not a tall man. He could look down and bump head with anyone sitting. Instead, he stops unnaturally by Ichika’s side, his back rigid and upright, then he bends his knees to lower himself inch by inch until his lips have met Ichika’s patient cheek. When he stands back up, there is a sharp, whistling breath drawn between his teeth.

‘Where have you been?’ asks Ichika, seemingly delighted to have him back.

‘Excuse my brother’s manners’, says Julia. ‘This is Nathan Spring.’

Nathan extends his hand. ‘Oh. Hello there, madam.’

‘Your brother?’ says Blake to Julia, reluctantly taking hold of Nathan’s hand. Then looks to Nathan and says, ‘Well, that explains your appearance. My name is Blake Manly.’

‘Pardon?’ says Nathan, beginning to grimace. ‘My appearance?’

‘Oh, nothing, nothing,’ says Blake. ‘It was only something your sister said about keeping particular friends. But you’re not her friend, Nathan, you’re her brother.’

‘My god, you’re squashing my hand.’

‘Am I?’ Blake releases him. ‘Forgive me.’

Nathan sits and holds his hand up to Ichika. ‘Look at it. She’s folded my good hand in half. Are you hiding a hydraulic press under that suit?’

‘Goodness. It really does look diminished,’ says Ichika, lowering her sunglasses.

‘How did you do that?’ asks Julia.

‘I’m a brute. Allow me to apologise twice, Nathan Spring.’

‘No – no matter.’ Nathan smiles nervously and looks over his shoulder at Blake. ‘I should be calling you Kara Zor-El from now on.’

Ichika has been enthusiastically watching Dicky’s coffin lower into the ground, but she hears the enthusiasm in Nathan’s voice and turns to him suddenly. ‘Why on earth would you call her that?’

Nathan smiles by halves at a time. ‘Because she’s so strong.’

‘I still don’t understand, darling.’

‘Supergirl. Kara Zor-El is the name of Supergirl. Well, at least that’s her Kryptonian name—’

Julia interrupts him. ‘Don’t talk comics at a funeral, Nathan. I was just about to suggest that Blake is still spying on us.’

Nathan blinks in confusion. ‘Spying on us? Still? What do you mean?’

Ichika has been staring at Nathan the entire time he’s been turning between Julia and Blake, as if there is a spot on his nose. But when she speaks, it’s in that bright and gently eloquent way that accompanies all her transmissions. ‘Nathan, darling, listen to me. Miss Blake was found auspiciously in the gardens as a spy for Takahashi, but it can’t be so, because Blake herself knows about the plot to bury him alive and Mr Takahashi doesn’t know.’

‘So far as we know he doesn’t know,’ clarifies Julia.

‘And she even had her own invitation from Dicky.’

‘We had Drew pat her down,’ Julia says. ‘But Miss Blake cuts a fine figure and poor Drew went as flush as a rose, didn’t you Drew?’

Ichika’s bodyguard doesn’t move a muscle.

‘But he didn’t find anything suspicious,’ continues Ichika. ‘The only thing strange about her was a bunch of orange mints floating freely in her jacket pocket.’

‘You never know when you’re going to meet someone special,’ Blake says. ‘Wouldn’t you agree, Nathan?’

‘I suppose.’

‘We’ve now been shifting our attentions internally,’ says Ichika. ‘Which of our close friends might be involved? George or Haru? What about Katsumi, Mikki, or Yumi?’

Nathan takes his time to look between his confidant’s and then over at the other’s sitting nearby, near enough to eavesdrop should they choose. ‘Surely not any of them.’

‘You look so splendid in it that I didn’t think to ask specifically,’ says Julia, turning to Blake and softening her voice, ‘but whose suit are you wearing?’

Blake shrugs. ‘Are you asking what label? I couldn’t say.’

‘No. I meant to ask what creature had worn it before you?’

The cleric comes forward and smiles down at Ichika, hands clasped together, politely looking for a moment to interject. ‘Would you like to be the first to lay dust over the coffin, Miss Aoki?’

‘Oh, yes. That sounds wonderful.’

‘I dibs second,’ says Blake, getting herself up in a flash to accompany Ichika. She sticks her tongue out at Nathan from over Ichika’s shoulder.

Nathan waits until the two are out of earshot and says to Julia, ‘Is that not Dicky’s navy blue Brioni?’

‘Is it?’ says Julia, leaning to speak closely with him. ‘I couldn’t tell, but I had wondered. So strange. I suppose we should keep our eyes on her.

‘Suits me perfectly.’

‘Brother, don’t.’

‘Yuck. That word gives me the shivers.

‘We’re almost across the line, brother. Just keep your composure. Don’t go chasing after Supergirl before Ichika is free.’ Julia breaks from Nathan’s confidence to smile at Ichika and Blake as they return to their seats. ‘I suppose we are next in line, Nathan.

‘Yes, yes. I suppose we are.’

‘Isn’t it all so exciting,’ says Ichika to them all. ‘Once Dicky’s brother pulls him out, we’ll exchange priests and get ourselves to The Nunnery.’

***

As the sun seeks out the last of an orange and purple sky, the small party of grievers departs in even smaller fragments. One of these fragments belongs to Sophia-Grace Esposito, Martin Gates, and a rather young and quiet gentleman called Loque Hollow. He steps quietly beside his two friends – he listens to them, and he listens to the trees.

‘I just hope Dicky’s brother can be trusted,’ says Martin. ‘I’ve never met the man myself and, by the sounds of him, I probably wouldn’t want to either.’

‘Dicky doesn’t have a brother,’ says Sophia.

‘Is that true?’

‘I’ve known him all my life. He’s the only man besides Mr Takahashi himself to ever claim the name… Could you hold this for me?’ Sophia is fiddling with a torch and a compact mirror while reaching for a tube of Guerlain’s Rouge Diabolique. When Martin takes the torch, Sophia says, ‘Trust me, if Dicky had a brother, Ichika would know about him. She’s been praying for one ever since she learned about the arrangement.’

‘That’s very true,’ says Martin. ‘I remember her calling me up on New Year’s Day, crying about it all.’

Sophia presses her lips together and says, ‘It’s been a long ten years for her, but luckily Dicky wasn’t going to lay down without dying first.’

‘I’m surprised. I’d have jumped at the chance to marry her.’

‘You and everyone else with eyes. But Dicky is different. Ichika might have even admired him at one time because he was so different.’

‘But that’s the limb of love,’ says Loque, looking off into the dark trees that line the graveyard entry, ‘to allow and disallow our own contentment.’

Martin stops and looks back at the gravestone, barely noticeable at its distance.

Sophia says, ‘He’s not actually dead in there, Martin.’

‘I know, I know,’ he returns, ‘but still… there he lies.’

‘You two go ahead,’ says Loque, ‘I think I left something back on one of those folding chairs.

Sophia takes him and kisses him on both cheeks. ‘See you at The Nunnery soon?’

‘Maybe.’

The young man walks back to the grave, noting when his friends have left the yard entirely. He stops, turns towards the trees, and removes a cigarette from his pocket. Loque finds the glint of an eye peering through at him when he strikes a match.

‘How did you know I was here?’ asks a voice from the trees.

Loque doesn’t speak right away. He draws and exhales, and slowly removes a snub-nosed revolver from within his jacket.

‘Easy,’ warns the voice. ‘I have one of those as well.’

‘You were watching us earlier,’ says Loque. ‘Then you left for a while, and now you’re back again.’

‘Quite the head you have on your shoulders, young sir. What is your name?’

‘Hollow. Why don’t you step slowly forward and tell me your name?’ The stranger does come forward, hands raised, but doesn’t speak. ‘Interesting,’ says Loque. He lifts the gun from his waist to chest height as The Soldier stands a few feet shy of its barrel. ‘You don’t look like them.’

‘Who?’

‘Mr Takahashi. Richard Takahashi.’

‘What do I look like to you?’

Loque pulls the trigger. The stranger flinches to the side, scrambling for their own weapon, eyes wide and worried, but Loque’s revolver ‘clicks’ harmlessly. He shows The Soldier a cruel and pretty smile. ‘You look like a liar.’

‘You ought to try it some time. Lying might make you nicer to strangers.’

‘You didn’t say your name.’

‘I didn’t want to say my name. And now that I know your gun isn’t loaded, I don’t think I will.’

‘Very well.’ Loque stamps out his cigarette underfoot and pockets his gun. ‘I’ll leave you to it then, Mr Takahashi.’ He starts to walk away.

‘That’s not my name.’

‘No?’

‘No.’

‘Are you certain?’

‘Quite sure.’

And, just as the young gentleman is lost to the shadows of his road, The Soldier hears him call out, ‘See you soon, Dicky.’

‘Oh, that’s right!’ The Soldier turns on his heel and marches towards the grave. ‘Don’t worry, Dicky, I’m coming.’

***

A man cries out for a cab as the city’s bone-dry streets turn to rivers in a flash of furious weather. The first two don’t stop for him, already crowded with unsuspecting pedestrians wishing to escape the rain. He hobbles across to the corner, where the white lights of a discount drugstore bounce off his bald and busted up head. He looks down, reaches up, feels at the swelling behind his ear.

‘Taxi!’

He notices a faint streak of blood running away from his left sneaker, carried along by the flooded sidewalk. A taxi stops.

‘55th?’

‘Sure,’ says the driver. ‘Ahh, but that’s on the other side of town, so…’

‘Will this do ya?’

‘How much is that?’

‘I don’t know.’ The man tosses him the entire wallet. ‘You figure it out.’

‘There’s two grand in here.’

‘Get me to The Nunnery on 55th in five minutes and you can keep the lot.’

 

Is The Soldier going to betray Ichika Aoki?

Are Julia and Nathan plotting against their friends?

Is Blake Manly dressed in Dicky's old suit?

 

James J. Devitt explores the romanticisms found in unremarkable people forced into extraordinary circumstances. Actively distancing himself from non-fiction, James enjoys working on his new fantasy series about a young, 20th century woman who is hired to work for a mysterious wizard. He lives day to day in a crumbling Caboolture cottage, with a strange grey stray called Marco who eats all of everything he owns.

SaBelle Pobjoy-Sherriff is a third year visual arts student minoring in film. Her art practice has an in depth focus on ideas of narrative and mythology, and tends to border on the obscure. She utilises illustration and sculpture to create vibrant worlds and creatures. You can find more on her Instagram @SaBelleeee.