It was a weekend like any other weekend in the Botanic
Garden. Set in the midst of a gray concrete jungle was a mass of lush green
vegetation. Trees' branches stretched skyward, casting rippling shadows on the
sandstone paths. Flowers bloomed profusely from every conceivable bush, stalk,
and bed. Koi swam lazily in their ponds, swarming only when someone approached
the edge of the pool with a small cup of purchased carp food vended from a
machine cleverly disguised as a traditional roadside shrine.
In this idyllic setting, a handful of couples meandered,
enjoying the scenery… and each other's presence.
One of these couples stood near a fountain surrounded by
roses. The red-haired feminine half of the couple was gently touching the
velvety-soft petals of the flowers. The black-haired rasta-braided masculine
half of the couple was watching the fountain play and trying very hard not to
tell the feminine half what it made him think of.
So he mentioned the other thought which was currently being
entertained in his brain.
"Oi, Neon-han, I think I'm dizzy from too much oxygen
in this place."
"You could have stayed outside in the Osakan smog,"
replied Neon in a clipped tone. The soft nature-loving expression on her face
disappeared and was replaced by something that suggested that perhaps she had a
few thorns of her own.
"So harsh," remarked Joker, and although his tone was
sympathetic that such a lovely woman was marred by such unkind thoughts, his
hardly-suppressed smirk suggested that he could care less. "You know that I
would deprive myself of my usual dose of smog, just to spend a precious moment
It was their game, and he knew it.
"Perhaps the lack of oxygen had an adverse affect on your
brain after all," suggested Neon dryly.
"Perhaps an overdose of Rosa villosa has impaired
your ability to recognize the most perfect specimen of Osakan manliness in the
world," suggested Joker, puffing his chest up with pride.
"What about him?" Neon jerked her head in indication of
a young man standing on a bridge nearby, watching the koi as they swam under,
and speaking on his cell phone.
Joker scrutinized the man. "He's not from Osaka," he
said distastefully. "Not with his hair like that— and not dressing like
that, he's not."
Neon looked at him again. There was nothing wrong with his
hair or clothes… but to keep from appearing ignorant, she refrained from
asking. After all, it wouldn't do to encourage a show of superiority from her
Instead, she turned the other way. "Come on. Let's go
Her voice trailed off abruptly when she saw it. His feet
were protruding from behind a large Acer palmatum, clad in gray argyle
socks and black patent leather shoes. Neon stood motionless as Joker knelt down
"He's dead," Joker diagnosed after a quick check.
Neon felt urged to make an irrelevant comment regarding Star Trek, but then
decided against it.
The difference between her and Joker was that she knew how
to keep her Comments to herself. Well, * one * of the differences,
anyways; there were several, but that was the one that came to mind at the
"Who is he?" asked Neon, not looking. By no means was
she afraid of looking at a dead man… she had seen more than her fair share of
them, and more often than not, she was the Cause of such a state of being… but
rather, she was on the lookout in case anyone caught Joker in such a
Joker patted the man's pockets. "No wallet," he
proclaimed in a low voice.
Joker wrinkled his nose. "How about five bullet holes in
his chest?" he suggested. "That is, unless, someone's been slowly
poisoning his Cream of Wheat for the last eight months, and disguised the
poisoning by shooting him."
"This is kind of public for this kind of occurrence to
take place," remarked Neon, ignoring the lapse into facetiousness.
Joker shook his head and rose to his feet, brushing the
dirt from his knees. "Not offhand," he said. "But I suppose we ought to be
good citizens and report this to the authorities."
"Why don't we just leave and not get involved? It might
get messy," suggested Neon. It wouldn't do to draw extra unwanted attention
Joker dismissed her fears with a derogatory noise. "It
would be more suspicious if we left," he remarked in a low voice. A couple had
turned a corner and were now walking down the path directly towards them.
Neon rolled her eyes. The last thing she wanted to do was
get involved… but there seemed to be no way around it. Without missing a beat,
she hurried forward in tripping little steps, the fastest stride her high heels
allowed her to run.
The couple looked at her in alarm.
Neon burst into hysterics. "He's — he's — he's
— he's dead," she sobbed, burying her face in her hands. With a
trembling finger, she pointed at the enormous bush behind which the body lay.
The man's eyebrows raised. He made a gesture that
indicated his girlfriend should stay behind and try to help console the weeping
Neon. With his manliest stride, he made his way over to where Joker stood,
punching numbers into his cell phone, dialing the emergency number.
He knew the number to call for homicide. He'd never
dialed it himself before, but it was always a handy thing to know.
The second man surveyed the body solemnly as Joker muttered
into the phone like a dutiful citizen. Then he snapped it shut and pocketed it.
"He's dead," the newcomer remarked, taking care not
to touch it.
"Yeah," agreed Joker. "He's dead."
A short silence.
stood there, their hands in their pockets, trying to look nonchalant and
masculine as they warned others away from the site.