Like a baby from its crib, Richard Takahashi is pulled out of his coffin and embraced by The Soldier – the real Blake Manly.
‘You’re alright,’ says Blake, relief in his voice.
‘Of course, I am old boy, of course.’
Blake shakes his head and falls back against the dirt wall. He clasps his hands together between his knees and nods for Richard to take his first step up.
‘That was extremely foolish, Dicky. You could have been crushed, you could have suffocated, and for what? You’ve proved nothing to anyone.’
‘I didn’t…’ said Dicky, struggling to pull himself out of the grave until Blake jumps and throws him out entirely. ‘Oomph.’
Blake is out and standing before Dicky is standing straight and looking down at his dirtied death-suit. ‘You didn’t what?’
‘I didn’t need to prove it. I just had to play the part, old boy.’
‘Dicky…’ Blake rubs his temples and sighs. ‘I just had to pay two gravediggers an absurd amount of money to disappear for half an hour. There are too many factors. Your father won’t believe it. Mrs Aoki won’t buy it. I’d wager they’d both dig up the grave themselves if anyone insisted otherwise. Your ruse is as plain a ruse as ever was rused.’
‘Rused is not a word, old boy.’
‘Then – it’s as plain as Ichika is not.’
Dicky screws up his nose and turns back to Blake. ‘That’s an even stranger way of putting it. As Ichika is not…’
‘My car is at the gate,’ says Blake, interrupting. ‘Everybody seems to be heading for that club of yours, The Nunnery.’
‘You’re not convinced about it all, are you, old boy?’
‘Would you stop calling me old boy? I’m one year older than you, and you’re not The Great Gatsby.’
‘And you’re no sport, either. I hope you haven’t any doubts about keeping this from the old man?’ Blake shakes his head and starts walking; Dicky flinches at a bat passing overhead and quickly follows behind. ‘Blake, it’s brilliant really. A death certificate clears both families. Neither my father nor Ichika’s mother are left to pay tribute in this circumstance. It’s the perfect solution. Everybody wins.’
‘Except Ichika is getting married at midnight, Dicky.’
‘She’s free to do so now. There’s no reason why she can’t. I have no brothers, or sisters. With the Arrangement voided by my funeral being today, by midnight tomorrow we’ll be in the clear. Once the Arrangement is dissolved, I will declare myself alive again to marry my lovely Sophia-Grace. And you – well – I don’t know what you’ll do, old boy.’
‘I’ll bury the next Dicky to call me ‘old boy’. I know just the place too.’
The interior of The Nunnery on 55th street is a strange hybrid of throw-back 1930’s décor and upsold gothic symbolism. Where lions’ heads might have once hung from the second story banisters, the faces of ghouls look down over stained black hardwood and a trail of flowers.
‘Yumi, more along there please,’ says Sophia-Grace, instructing her friend to lay out more flowers before the arbour.
Yumi gives Sophia-Grace a sour look and throws out her remaining flowers like a bucket of water. ‘Why aren’t you helping?’
‘Because I’m directing, darling. I can’t get too close to the canvas.’
‘Why aren’t Katsumi, George, and Mikki helping us?’ Sophia-Grace reaches into her bag and pulls out her brand-new mobile phone. ‘What the hell is that?’
‘I’ve haven’t heard of it. It’s so tiny. And it’s red.’
Sophia-Grace gives a knowing smile while punching in numbers. ‘I know, darling. It’s not being released until next month, and it won’t be available in red. It’s just a little gift from Dicky. He has one in black.’
‘Oh, my, god, I’m totally in love with it.’
‘He’s answering… Hello? Dicky? I – I can’t hear you over the… What? Honey, please roll your window up. Your window. Roll it up. ROLL UP YOUR WINDOW. Yes, that’s better… oh, okay. See you soon.
‘He’s on his way. Says he’s bringing a friend with him.’
Yumi squeals with excitement. ‘I wonder if it’s his brother.’
Sophia-Grace rolls her eyes. ‘How many times do I have to say he doesn’t have a brother.’
George Aoki drifts sombrely between the two women. He stops at the line of roses, contemplating crossing over something so delicate and beautiful. He lifts one shoe, holds it extended for a while, and then withdraws from the threshold. ‘When are we starting?’
‘Not for another five hours,’ says Yumi in a stern voice.
‘So long to sit and breathe,’ says George, lifting his paled face up to look at Yumi. ‘Why have you done this to me?’
‘Could you not right now?’
Sophia-Grace rubs at her eyes. ‘Oh, please. Could you two just stop dumping each other for one day. It’s really distressing.’
‘I haven’t dumped him. I’ve just asked him to stop wearing so much white makeup. I’d like to kiss him on his face just once without making myself sick.’
‘Soon, you’ll have asked me to cut my hair, turn myself into one of the robots marching down Manhattan.’
Yumi rushes to him. ‘George, no, I would never baby. I like your hair.’
‘But I like your eyes too. And I can’t see them anymore.’
‘You’re a curse to me, Yumi. Don’t you see? I’m wearing the straight jacket and noose you’ve purchased for me.’
Yumi starts to tear up. ‘But it’s Armani…’
‘Then my death will be Armani.’
‘You two, go to the Wellington and have sex.’ Sophia-Grace turns away from them both. ‘Does anyone know how to play some music in this dump? Anyone that’s not Yumi or George?’
Julia Spring lifts herself of a chaise lounge, her brother standing along with her. ‘We’ve got it covered, Sophy.’
‘Are you certain? We need Here Comes the Bride by Wagner to play by when Ichika enters.’
Julia puts down a glass of wine and picks up a Sony remote console. As the bridal chorus begins to fill The Nunnery’s dance floor, a man busts through the doors and walks into the room. In the lighting of the room’s entrance, all they can see of him is his upper torso and face. There’s blood on both.
‘Who are you?’ calls out Nathan Spring.
Yumi gasps. ‘My god, are you alright?’
As the stranger proceeds forward, the gun held in his right hand is illuminated, and all before him taking a retreating step.
‘Who I am and whom I work for are not for me to disclose,’ he says. His voice is gravely, his manner rigid and unfeeling. ‘But I suppose it will be of no mystery to any of you once I’ve made my request.’
Sophia-Grace can’t keep her eyes from the barrel of his gun. With urgency, she asks, ‘What request?’
‘That Ichika Aoki be given to me, so that I can take her back to see Mrs Aoki. If this is not done by the minute, I will not hesitate to use this gun on anyone left standing in my way.’
‘But Ichika isn’t here.’ Yumi is clinging to George, almost shielding him, while George stands frozen to the spot. ‘She’s—’
‘Yumi!’ Julia Spring stops the music. ‘Don’t say another word.’
‘Where is she then?’ asks the stranger.
‘Not another word, Yumi. He won’t shoot us. He clearly works for the Aoki family.’
The stranger raises his gun at Julia. ‘You’re wrong. I will kill her first if you don’t give me what I want Yumi.’
‘We’re all staying at the Wellington Hotel.’
‘Ichika was told to wait there while we set up for the wedding.’
Sophia-Grace raises her hands. ‘It’s okay, girls, it’s okay.’ She gives the stranger a cruel stare and says, ‘Room 204, the suite, entry code is 22-22. Don’t bump your head on the way out.’
‘If you’re lying, I’ll come back, I’ll burn this place. The wedding is off. Tell all your friends.’
Sophia-Grace smiles and waves at him. ‘Okay. Bye-bye now.’
The stranger’s stern stare begins to falter. There’s more a sense that something moves behind him than a knowing. It’s in the eyes of Sophia-Grace; the lady looks excited by something just past his shoulder. But before the stranger can turn his gun on the young gentleman named Hollow, it’s pinched by a vice-like grip, twisting its barrel down. A shot fires into the dancefloor. His wrist is broken, his elbow dislocated, and after nothing more than pained yelp, he is struck unconscious.
‘Remember not to mention my name to anyone in there until I’ve found out what this imposter wants with us all.’
Richard Takahashi gets out of the sedan and closes the door, speaking through a gap left in the passenger window. ‘Blake, I’m not daft. I’ll be fine.’
‘Then don’t call me Blake again.’
‘Are you sure Ichika’s staying at the Wellington.’
‘Yes, I’m sure.’
‘402 passcode 22-22
‘Yes – 402… or 204.
‘Maybe it’s 304. You’ll figure it out, old boy.’
Blake opens his door and bolts up out of the car, but Richard has already started sprinting inside.
Blake takes off his jacket, puts it in the car, and locks it up. He walks down and across the street, checking his surroundings as he approaches the hotel; nobody seems to be watching or following. He notes the architecture from the outside. It’s scalable, if he fails to get a room. The balconies almost connect from room to room – it’s a dangerous crossing, but he could jump the gap from 401 or 403 to 402.
‘Can I help you sir?’
‘You know, the last time I was here you called me madam.’
‘I’m sorry sir?’
‘When I was a boy. I was brought here once to meet a friend of Mr Takahashi, and you called me ‘young Madam’.’
‘Mr Takahashi – I… Had I, sir?’
Blake smiles wearily and says, ‘I’m after a room for the night.’
‘Alright, sir. Was it a room for one?’
‘That depends. I was after room 402. I have fond memories of staying there.’
‘I’m afraid it’s in use, sir.’
‘Oh. That’s a shame.’
‘But there are suites on that floor near identical to 402. And, yes, I believe you’re in luck in this case, as we are almost at full capacity, but room 403 is still available.’
‘Alright. I’ll take it.’
‘Will sir be paying with cash or with credit card?’
Blake reaches for his pocket, understanding he’s spent all his cash from the car on the gravediggers, and that his credit card has been stolen along with Dicky’s navy blue Brioni suit. ‘Ah, may I finalise my payment in the morning?’
‘Have you made payment with us before?’
‘I don’t believe so.’
‘Then I’m afraid it won’t be possible, sir. We only hold payments for established patrons.’
‘Wait, wait. Blake Manly.’
‘Excuse me sir?’
‘The name, Blake Manly, is it on your books?’
The nightwatchman pauses, looks up at Blake, then decides to slide the reservation book from view. ‘Are you Blake Manly?’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘I would need to see your identification to continue this discussion.’
‘No, I – left my wallet in the car.’
‘And that is why you cannot pay, is it?’
‘I can pay in the morning.’
‘I’m sorry, sir. Without a form of payment or identification, I cannot put you into a room tonight.’
‘I wish you safe travels tonight. Please visit us again soon.’
‘Very soon, I assure you.’
The climb is harder than it first appeared, and the leap from balcony to balcony much further apart, but at last Blake Manly has found his seclusion beyond the windows of Ichika Aoki. He waits a moment, watching her pace in and out of the bedroom, talking to someone from the other room, parts of her wedding dress in hand. She dances in front of the dressing mirror, flinging a train of white over her shoulders.
Blake removes the torn Polaroid from his pocket, holds it up, then flicks it through a gap in the balcony windows. It spins and flies all the way to strike up against her mirror. He watches her jump with surprise, turn about to try and find him, and finally pick up the photograph. She looks at the lady within it a moment, letting go of her wedding dress. She turns the photograph over, and Blake knows she is reading his newly inked words on the back.
Blake Manly is a fraud. Don’t trust her. Get her out.
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.