‘Hello, Private Investigator – Jim Finch.’
Eyes open to coffered ceiling design, falling across chequered cherry walls and stained-glass windows, settling on a young man kneeling down before him. The young man – if he were not a mature boy – is tying his ankles to the chair. The binds are silk-soft, almost pleasurable in comparison to the shooting pains in his right arm, but all that accounted for, he cannot escape them.
‘You sound nice,’ he says to the young man.
‘Over here,’ says Sophia-Grace, dragging the man’s attention aside. ‘It’s my pretty voice you’re hearing.’
‘I take it back.’ The PI rolls his head to the right and finds a collection of gawking characters: Yumi, George, Martin, Nathan and Julia Spring.
‘What is it?’ asks Yumi. ‘What are you looking at?’
‘You all look like models…’
‘Oh, that’s so nice—’
‘And yet you’re all so ugly.’
‘If only you knew the whole of it,’ says George.
‘Are you in much pain?’ asks Sophia-Grace.
He rolls his head back over to Sophia-Grace and says, ‘My wrist looks like a chicken’s neck and my elbow is the size of a grapefruit but, surprisingly, there’s a lot of pain.’
‘Try not to move your wrist,’ says Loque, still tending to the last knot by his ankle. ‘I’ve only just pushed your radius back into place.’
‘Thanks a bunch, mate. ‘Preciate it.’
The young man stands up and walks over to Sophia-Grace. They whisper in each other’s ears. The PI smiles mockingly at the pair of them. ‘Is that your girlfriend?’ he asks Loque. He watches Sophia-Grace slide his own fake ID back into his own bifold wallet before tossing the lot aside. ‘Little old for you, isn’t she, lad?’
‘Now listen here,’ says Sophia-Grace, ‘you’re staying put until this ceremony is over. That’s not going to change, no matter how much you plan on suing me; you point a gun at me, my friends, I promise broken bones will be the least of your concern.’ The PI smiles again, showing too bloody sockets where teeth use to be. Sophia-Grace grimaces and pulls away from him. ‘Oh, gross.’
‘So, he’s not your boyfriend? Fancy exchanging numbers?’
‘Tell us who you really are, who sent you, and I’ll have Nathan walk across to the pharmacy to buy you some oxycontin.’
‘Why would I do that?’ ask Nathan.
‘Because you have two legs, Nate.’
‘So does everyone else here. I didn’t beat him up. Make your trained psychopath do it.’
‘No, I’m not sending Loque anywhere until PI Flirt is out of our hair.’
‘Then make George go. He’s not doing anything, are you George?’
George nods. Nobody knows if he’s agreeing or disagreeing.
‘He’s helping me decorate,’ decides Yumi.
‘It’s a ruse,’ snaps Nathan. ‘They only do sex together.’
‘Nathan, you’ve done nothing but lounge around and eat cake. The pharmacy is a five-minute walk.’
‘That’s ten minutes both ways!’
‘So, it’s my wedding day. Am I not supposed to be enjoying myself?’
‘Have you ever been married before, Nate?’ asks the PI, slowly shuffling his feet and twisting his chair around in circles. ‘Don’t you know the word groom is just the word gloom, but with additional erectile dysfunction?
Nathan throws his hands up in the air. ‘Fine. I’m going. I didn’t want to be here anyway. I should be with Ichika.’
‘Is he dead?’ Everyone turns towards the stairs from where the voice has come. Richard Takahashi’s leaps to the top and spreads his arms. ‘Or is he alive?’
‘Dicky!’ Yumi runs over and gives him a hug. ‘You’re alive.’
Richard pats her on the head. ‘Well, of course I am. Nobody wished me dead, did they? Great Scott! What is going on here?’
Sophia-Grace nods down at their bound guest and says, ‘He walked in with a gun.’
‘What?’ Richard gingerly approaches the PI. ‘I – who – who is he? Why have you tied him up?’
‘Do you not know him?’ asks Loque, his eyes narrowing in on Richard’s.
‘My real name is Jim Finch,’ says the PI. ‘I do work for Mrs Aoki. Miss Spring was correct in assuming that much.’
‘He’s showing signs of lying,’ says Loque to Sophia-Grace.
‘No, no,’ says Richard, nervously licking his lips, ‘I think he’s telling the truth. Yeah, now that I remember, I’ve seen him before – at the Aoki estate.’
‘As I said,’ he says, absorbing the icy stair of a disbelieving wrist-breaker, ‘I’m just here for Ichika.’
It’s a funny name, Manly, being both so forward and aggressively suggestive, both ugly and wonderful. Ichika believes to have first heard it when she was thirteen, visiting Takahashi Tower, and stumbling across a peculiar teenage boy tending to the indoor flowers. He was not much older than Dicky, and he was said to be a friend of the family, though he had the makings of a Takahashi.
That boy was her first crush, due to little else than his last name and his unsatisfactory elusiveness during her visits. While Ichika had never once spoken to him, those passing moments were enough to develop a deep obsession that lingered even now. She remembers his last name as Manly, and wonders if his first had been Blake too, but her memories of that time are vague and almost forgotten.
When Julia introduced one Blake Manly at Dicky’s funeral, Ichika briefly wondered if she were being greeted by her teenage crush. But the Manly she knows now hasn’t fit her perceptions of the boy back then, and what was just a subconscious struggle to resolve the two persons has suddenly become a conscious struggle not to leave them separate entirely.
Blake Manly is a fraud. Don’t trust her. Get her out.
Ichika reads the message over and over again, her heart racing ever faster with each glance towards the balcony doors.
‘Miss Manly?’ calls Ichika.
‘Yes, darling?’ comes an answer from the next room.
Ichika pauses, still watching the balcony doors, anticipating someone bursting through them at any moment. ‘Would you mind calling in Drew?’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Nothing. I need – a bit of jewellery – that I gave to him at the funeral,’ she lies.
‘Your bodyguard has your jewellery?’
‘Yes. Foolish of me to forget it. But I need it.’
‘Why is your door closed?’
‘Naked,’ she lies again. ‘Getting changed.’
‘Darling, I’ll go fetch Drew if that makes you happy, but I’m sure you’d look good with or without jewellery on your naked body.’
‘While I appreciate the compliment, I’d be ever so grateful to you for finding him, if you can.’
‘For the jewellery?’
‘Yes. He’ll know precisely what I’m talking about.’
‘He’s probably fallen asleep in the lobby.’
‘Oh, Drew never sleeps. Not while I’m still awake, anyway.’
‘Very well. I shall return.’
Ichika presses her ear to the door, hearing the front door open and close. She then turns to the balcony doors, plucking up a miniature wine bottle from atop the mini-fridge and concealing it behind her back. Breathing a few short and steady breaths, she says to the air between them, ‘Alright, show yourself.’
‘I slipped in while you were talking to the other me.’
‘Chikushō.’ Ichika wheels around and discovers a man leaning against her bedpost. She hurls the mini-rosé right at his face, and is shocked again to see him catch it like a pair of gently tossed keys. ‘Flippity Flubs!’
‘Are you trying not to curse?’
‘Who are you?’
‘Blake Manly. I’m a friend of Dicky’s. Matter of fact, I’ve just gotten through digging him up.’
‘You’ll have to do better than that, Blake Manly; you’re neither the first or fairest dressed under that name.’
‘Yes, I’ve heard the same from Dicky. Her real name is Hannah Ferris. She works for your mother, and she’s determined to see you unmarried.’
‘Holy…’ Ichika circles towards him. ‘You two even talk the same.’
‘Surely, she’s not that good of an actress. You can’t fake a quick wit.’
‘Neither of you have been witty so far.’
‘You don’t remember me, do you?’
Ichika does remember him, that boy, that face, but she doesn’t tell him so. She asks instead, ‘Why are you looking at me that way?’
‘Because I’m in love with you Ichika.’
‘What is it?’
‘She stole that from you too.’
‘She told me she loved me, out of the blue, just like you did. Except…’
‘She didn’t mean it.’
‘And you do.’
‘You mean ships.’
‘Whoever she is, she’ll be back soon. I only sent her to the lobby. And if you’re not who you say you are, my bodyguard will fold you in half.’
‘Drew isn’t coming up.’
Ichika slowly sits on her bed, keeping to Blake’s eyes with her own. ‘Why is Drew not coming up?”
‘Because Hannah never left.’
‘Hannah never left.’
‘No. She’s on the other side of this door, listening to us talk, probably with a gun drawn.’
‘I readily admit to my own revolver being unloaded and unintentionally harmless, to avoid either of us getting shot, but I think Hannah already knows this, as she took my bullets.’
Ichika cannot take her eyes from him. Her voice is light and airy. ‘Why would she take your bullets?’
‘Do you see the four shadowed lines at the bottom,’ he asks her.
She looks down at the shadows beneath the door. She slowly nods.
‘Those are made by a pair of size eleven oxfords turned sidelong against the door. They’re about three sizes too large for Miss Ferris, but I think she creeps silently enough in them.’
The door slowly opens, and Hannah Ferris enters silently, weapon drawn high and steady. ‘You just stay on the bed Ichika.’
‘You see,’ says Blake, a short smile for his loved one, ‘we two really look nothing alike.’
Mrs Aoki jolts up from her bed, pulling off her eye mask and reaching for the telephone. She pushes #1, waits for a click, and says immediately, ‘Michael. Call it off. Call it all off. I don’t want it to be involved anymore.’
A calm voice readily replies with, ‘Yes, ma’am. Right away.’
Mrs Aoki swiftly places the phone back in its cradle and her sleeping mask back over her eyes. Her head falls back into the pillow, only to bounce back up. She picks up the phone, dials again, waits for the click. ‘Let me make myself clear: you’re to call Miss Ferris and make it clear that we are no longer preventing my daughter from making the single most outrageous mistake of her adult life. If she wants to marry a nitwit, she’s entitled to do so. I’ll pay the tribute to Mr Takahashi in full tomorrow morning.’
‘Of course, ma’am.’
The phone is put back and picked up again. ‘Michael. You’ll see to contacting our accountants first thing in the morning. There’s an awful lot of tax involved in transferring a quarter billion, if done incorrectly.’
‘Shall I contact them immediately after Miss Ferris?’
‘What do you think? Why would I want to wait till morning, Michael?’
‘Naturally, ma’am. They’ll be given notice within the hour.’
‘Within the minute, I’d imagine.’ The phone is put back. Mrs Aoki turns out her bed and on a light. ‘Foolish, defiant girl, you’ll end us all.’ The phone is collected, but the first line is busy. #2 is dialled. ‘Hello, Marcus?’
‘Yes, Ma’am. Something from the kitchen?’
‘Of course not, it’s after eight o’clock, don’t be foolish. I’m calling because I can’t get through to Michael as he’s placing calls. Walk to him and tell him to report back to me once he’s finished making his calls.’
‘I can do that, ma’am.’
‘It’d be a good idea that you do ‘do’ in spite of your ‘can do’ attitude.’
‘Of course. I meant, I will ma’am.’
‘While I’ve got you, I could do with slice of meringue, and bring up some tea.’
‘Right away, ma’am.’
Mrs Aoki bounces the phone of its hook, dialling #99. It rings, and rings, and nearly rings out. She waits that time, gazing down at the back of her own hand, noticing her veins in the low-light of the lamp, almost allowing the phone to slip from her grasp before a ‘click’ on the other end has her tense up again. ‘Hello? Hiroto?’
‘Sakura… is that really you?’
‘Yes, of course. This business—’
‘It’s been how many years?’
‘Hiroto, listen. My daughter’s not going to marry Richard, and I won’t pay a billion just to see her marry some fat Englishman in spite of me. I’m calling it all off. You’ll get your tribute, don’t worry.’
‘Will I? You’d pay your debt to my deceased son?’
‘What did you say?’
‘Richard, he’s – he’s killed himself – at least it appears that way.’
‘What on earth do you mean, appears that way?’
‘Well, if he was going to kill himself, I’d have hoped he had the decency to stay dead a week at least.’
‘He’s alive then?’
‘He had a secret funeral. He invited only Ichika and her friends along to witness it. It’s all been officiated and properly recorded. They’ve written him up a death certificate, I haven’t had my lawyers look it over yet. I’m still processing it all.’
‘Well, process faster. Where was this funeral held?’
‘A local cemetery, not twenty minutes from his club, I can’t recall the name. His body wasn’t in the coffin.’
‘He likely thinks that ends our arrangement,’ she says, ‘but he clearly doesn’t understand the contract or its inescapable nature.’
‘I know, I know.’
‘It’s far beyond your control now, Hiroto. All those people you have working for you, trying to cut you open from the inside out. It’s time I put an end to the whole arrangement. I’ll pay the tribute. I don’t care about the money.’
‘I know you don’t have it, Sakura. Neither of us do any more.’
‘Don’t tell me what I do or don’t have. It can and will be done.’
‘Maybe they can learn to love each other, like we did with ours.’
‘Love? Have you lost your mind? Love? What has love got to do with anything? My heart is lightened to hear your son may not truly be dead, and I have absolutely no interest in my daughter marrying a fanciful, foolish, British buffoon on a whim. If she loves Richard, fine, and if he loves her, all the better, but don’t pretend marriage and money have anything to do with love in our world. Are you listening to me, Hiroto? – Hiroto? – Are you still there?’
‘Ma’am, it’s Michael. I may have accidentally disconnected you.’
‘How has that happened?’
‘Perhaps because you had called me prior, ma’am?’ says Michael.
‘I believe it’s reverted to the house in some strange way,’ says Marcus.
‘Alright. Enough about the phone. Marcus, make my tea and meringue to go. Michael, cancel your calls and send up Chiyo; I’m getting dressed.’
‘Should I prepare a car, ma’am?’
‘Should I rather take public transportation Michael?’
‘Not at all, ma’am.’
‘Then you expect me to walk?’
‘To flap my arms?’
‘I think a car would be best, Ma’am.’
‘Yes, Michael, I do too.’
‘Marcus, here, again, ma’am. It appears we’ve run out of the lemon meringue.’
‘Well how is that possible? I’ve only had four pieces.’
‘I had sliced it four ways, ma’am.’
‘A miniature meringue, was it, Marcus? And you call yourself a chef not to slice a meringue by eighths or sixteenths? I’m astounded at you.’
‘I have some cream-filled lamingtons in the fridge—’
‘Curse your dry and bony lamingtons, Marcus. I’d sooner set them to fire than upon my tongue. You should wash the fridge out once you’ve disposed of those devil’s feet and bake me a new meringue tomorrow.’
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.