"Good evening, Tenma-sensei. I'm Detective Sergeant James Johnson, attached to Interpol." Quil flashed his fake ID and switched to German. "This gentleman will verify my authorization."
"His ID checks out," said the policeman helpfully.
Standing at his hotel door in sweat pants and a T-shirt, Tenma stared with the bafflement of utter exhaustion.
Quil suppressed a twinge of guilt and reverted to Japanese. "I apologize for tracking you down like this. You've been pestered quite enough before and after the court ruling. Congratulations on your acquittal, by the way. However, if I could take up just a little more of your time, your knowledge may prove invaluable to the continued investigation--and I'm afraid time is of the essence."
Tenma continued to stare, as if Quil had been speaking Swahili. "Your Japanese is fantastic."
"Thank you. I was raised in Japan. Might I come in for a moment?"
Tenma rubbed at his temple and stepped back from the door. "Please." He indicated a chair at the room's small table. "Would you like coffee?"
"No, thank you. Not so late in the day."
Tenma wandered over to the room's coffee maker. "If you don't mind, I think I'd better have some, or I'll fall asleep where I'm standing."
"I woke you up. I apologize." As Tenma put on the coffee, Quil went on, "The first thing I should tell you is that, while I am a licensed detective, I'm not primarily attached to Interpol."
Tenma shot him a suspicious look.
"I'm actually here on behalf of L."
"I'm not familiar with that organization."
"L. The detective." No response. "The one Die Zeit described last year as a Sherlock Holmes for the new millennium."
"Oh. Sorry. My brain's not working on all cylinders just now."
"Running on all cylinders," Tenma-sensei, thought Quil.
"I'm sure I'd be more help if you came back later." While the coffee perked, Tenma sat down opposite Quil.
"I won't take long," said Quil and started in on L's questions.
Tenma attempted reasonable answers, sharing details of his encounters with Johan's contacts. Most of the information was old testimony, but he showed no frustration at repeating it. He did, however, make a few observations that contradicted his prior accounts, and as the questioning went on, his memory grew fuzzier.
This had been a bad idea; Quil should have put his foot down when L suggested it. "All right. I'm sorry to have disturbed you. Just one more question: apart from its denoting..." He stopped.
Tenma's chin had sunk onto his chest, his breathing slow and even. Sound asleep.
How can you have seen all the things you've seen, Doctor, and still be so much too trusting? I could shoot you dead where you sit.
Quil studied him, Tenma Kenzo. He was just like his pictures in the papers but different, like a dream upon waking. He looked young for his age, despite three years on the run. But his cheeks were hollow; he needed a shave. His Japanese had a curious quality that Quil couldn't pin down. It was--well, it was the German, of course. He'd picked up a German accent.
Tenma jerked awake and fixed Quil with frightened eyes. "L--Johnson-san, why didn't L get involved till now?"
"Initially, he didn't see it as the sort of case he deals with. He typically works on behalf of governments. As the case unfolded, however, it became clear that Johan's influence in the underworld could pose a national--or international--threat."
"He's very good, isn't he?"
Quil hesitated. "L or Johan?"
Tenma looked muddled. "L."
"Yes, he is."
"Could he find out what happened to their mother? Johan and Nina's?"
"I'd like to hire him to do so. I can't pay very much right now, but once I'm formally reinstated at the hospital--"
Quil smiled, genuinely moved. "Tenma-sensei, that isn't how he works. You couldn't afford what he charges--and he'll find her for you for free if it's relevant in the slightest to his case."
"But is it relevant to Johan's current underworld ties?"
"It may not be." Quil took a breath. "But I have some influence with him." On a good day. "I'll see what I can do."
"Thank you." He reached out and pressed Quil's hand.
It had been so long since anyone had done that, Quil wasn't sure what to do about it. "It's nothing," he said, a touch bashfully. "I'll be in touch."
"Mr. Wammy, you retrieved useful answers to only two of my questions."
Quil watched L arrange his popsicle sticks in a helical design. "The man was half asleep, L. I'll try again when he's more cogent." He put the kettle on and took off his jacket.
"Aspects of this case are time sensitive--"
"Yes, well, that's the rub, isn't it? You have to accept people's limits."
There it was: the moping teenager frown, that I-don't-need-you-to-lecture-me-but-I-can't-say-so-because-that-would-just-make-me-sound-childish frown.
Quil rolled up his sleeves; the evening had turned muggy, and though the hotel room was cool, he was still warm from walking outside.
L stole a glance at him. "You look like a lorry driver."
"Somebody has to." He made the tea and handed L a cup. "Too hot for tea, you know."
"Not indoors." L took it, as usual, without saying thank you. "My investigations are hampered by my inability to speak to Johan; Tenma is the nearest substitute."
"Yes, I'll keep working on him. Anyway, perhaps Johan will come out of his coma."
"Yes, the odds are 83--no, 84--percent."
Quil tensed. That was much higher than the official hospital report. "How so?"
"He did before when suffering similar brain trauma. Even though the trauma this time is more extensive, such injuries are often susceptible to individual will, and Johan's personality profile suggests a will to recover." He dipped a lollipop in his tea. "But the odds are under 10 percent that that will afford me a chance to meet him."
"He'll escape." He set aside his teacup and rested his hands on his knees.
"Surely, you could find him."
"Yes. But I shouldn't."
Quil waited, intrigued but trying not to show it too much.
After a moment, L said, "I had a constructive phone conversation with Lunge of the BKA."
That was a private joke between them. Quil sang off the refrain: "'Lunge of the BK--, Lunge of the BK--, Lunge of the BKAh-ah-ah'" to the tune of "Lemming of the BDA."
"His record shows he's not intrinsically inept, yet he handled most of his investigation of Tenma with extreme ineptitude. The reason is clear: his intuitive belief in Tenma's guilt clouded his judgment, even leading him reject evidence of Johan's existence. I find this instructive."
Ah. If Johan slips out and keeps a low profile, L shouldn't pursue him because to do so, in the absence of a legitimate large-scale case, would be indicate obsession. "How is it instructive?" he asked all the same. Still feeling overheated, he made for the freezer and dug for the snow cones.
"I, too, often select avenues of investigation based on intuition. The process can be highly effective, but, as Lunge illustrates, its margin for error is immense. If Lunge had qualified his hunch by framing it probabilistically in terms of available evidence, he could have utilized his intuitions instead of becoming enslaved to them."
"How would that work?" Quil stopped his puttering to attend to the answer.
"For example, the evidence of Tenma's guilt at a certain point in his investigation might have been 12 percent. Even if Lunge believed 98 percent in Tenma's guilt, he should still have framed his belief as 12 percent. In that way, he could keep the facts in perspective and retain his 2 percent margin of doubt in Tenma's guilt, which, in turn, would be leave him receptive to evidence that countered his personal theory."
"Not bad," said Quil.
"On the other hand, Lunge does make use of one technique I admire: psychological manipulation through vocal presentation. He has a voice like a bass opera singer, and he uses it pervasively to establish himself as dominant male in diverse social settings."
"Yes, well, it's a man's life in the Bundesrepublik Kite-Flying Association."
"Mr. Wammy, please find a TV series to obsess over that is less than twenty-five years old."
"Oh, you love the Pythons. You know you do." He fished up the snow cones for himself and L. "Tenma would like you to find to the twins' mother."
L balanced his tea in one hand and the cone in the other. He looked unable to choose between them.
"Would you do that?" Quil prompted.
"He wants their real names."
"Yes, I expect he does."
L licked at the snow cone thoughtfully. "It's not a pivot point, but I'll let you know if it comes up."
It came up less then 24 hours later. Quil was just leaving the police station, when his mobile rang.
"Mr. Wammy? I've found the twins' mother."
A chill trickled through the phone into Quil's ear. "B, do you have us bugged?"
"Mr. Wammy, I'm offended you'd think I need a bug to realize she's crucial to your case. Of course, since she's crucial, L's probably already talked to her, right?"
He does have us bugged, and he wants us to know it. "No, he hasn't, as far as I know." He paused. "That's good work, B. So where is she, then?"
"She's in France. I'll email you the precise location. The phones have ears, you know."
"Unlike the computers."
"You could always use Roger's scrambled line--"
"I'm not in Winchester; I'm in New York."
Wandering about by himself? "Well, what on Earth are you doing in New York, you strange boy?"
"Investigating. Investigating this, investigating that. General investigation."
Quil chuckled. Nothing like a Red Dwarf quote to win him over. "No, seriously: what are you there for?"
"Practicing my New York accent," said B with a very passable New York accent.
"Well, you sound fine, so you'd best get home."
"Mr. Wammy, every Eliza Doolittle knows that the accent is only half the game."
It was cute, but Quil didn't have time for this. B, like L at his age, was far more self-sufficient than the average fourteen year old. He didn't need hand holding. "All right, all right. Just don't do anything silly. Don't stay abroad too long on the company funds. And call Roger every 24 hours."
"I can't call you?"
"Well, yes, of course, you can call me, but I'll be on the road, and Roger will be waiting for your call. So you behave now."
A pause. "So should I email the location of their mother?"
"Yes, thank you. That'll be a great help."
"Tell L, 'anytime.'" Anytime, L can't get the job done, B will. Here we go again.
"I'll tell him," Quil sighed. "Talk to you later." He rang off, as always, with a certain relief--and a certain guilt about that relief.
"He needs handling," said L, piling his new shirts into the new hotel room's drawers.
Quil fired up the coffee maker before answering. "Well, we did teach him surveillance."
L stopped unpacking and put his hands in his pockets. "I don't plant bugs on you, even when it would be useful."
Quil sighed. "You're right; there are limits. Roger will give him a talking to."
"Roger is out of his depth."
"He's the best we've got," said Quil stiffly.
"You should talk to him," said L in that low, soft voice he slipped into when he was angry.
"I do talk to him; I talk to him all the time. The boy has me on speed dial." And it wouldn't hurt if you, L, showed him something other than disdain once in a while. He set out the coffee cups. "At least we're debugged now."
"Or 96 percent chance of it."
"I'll pass the mother's address on to Tenma." He'd got L to run some checks and determine it was probably accurate. "You have to admit that was damn fast work."
L ambled to the window and peered out through the blinds. "I've never denied B's perspicacity." He paused. "I hadn't found her because I hadn't started looking."
"You don't have to prove yourself to--"
"Yes, I do. Please don't spout nonsense, Mr. Wammy." He accepted the coffee Quil handed him, and sat at the table to adjust the sugar.
Quil watched him crouch there, piling cubes into his cup. He was right: anyone who held the title "world's greatest" spent every day proving that title was his.
L sipped his coffee. "I gave Interpol 23 arrests yesterday."
"L, don't let him get under your skin. You know that's exactly what he wants."
"You misunderstand, Mr. Wammy. I'm not referring to my cognitive superiority to B. My difficulty is...." He set his coffee down and started pacing the floor, hands in pockets again. "The people I'm flushing out now are stupid; they're a waste of my time. Detectives on the level of Lunge could find them."
Quil leaned back against the dresser and crossed his arms. "Are you saying we're finished here?"
"I'm saying I arrived too late."
Quil understood. Too late to come face to face with Johan, a genius of a different order from L. Johan's intellect was plainly inferior, yet his skill at manipulation was virtually unparalleled. In his twenty-three years, he had manipulated a vast array of foster-parents, children, his peers, the helpless, the violent, stupid, intelligent. Twisted though his mind might be, he had a gift for human socialization completely alien to L. He was beautiful, serene (when he so chose); he had a sister who possibly meant more to him than life.
He embodied so much that L lacked and might learn from, and L craved that contact and blamed himself for missing his chance to find the genius and defeat him and understand.
He paced like a hyena. "Yes, we should wrap up here. I have other cases awaiting my attention."
Quil's heart sank at the thought of saying goodbye to Tenma. He would have liked to know the man better.
L made a dive for his suitcase and pulled out his shoes. "I'm going to play tennis."
"Good idea." He needed to blow off steam.
Quil trailed after him and watched at some distance as L pummeled his opponent into the turf in an absurdly short match, then in a second, marginally longer. The third, he lost; he was tired by then.
It was dark out by the time he joined Quil at the edge of the court, his T-shirt drenched with sweat.
"Are you going to shower perhaps?"
"At the hotel," said L, walking past him down the street.
Quil fell in step. "Give me a little while to finish up with Tenma; then we'll be out of here."
L turned his tennis racket over in his hands. "If he determines Johan's real name and tells it to him, the odds of Johan's awaking will increase by 7 percent."
"Shall I tell him that?"
"If you want."
Kenzo awoke to a nameless terror. He groped for time, place, the noise, the face. He couldn't remember. It was too much for the human mind to confront. Grimmer knew that; Nina knew it.
It was afternoon. He lay fully dressed on a hotel bed.
Another knock sounded at the door. He knew at once it was the second. He jumped, reached for his gun, then remembered he didn't have it. All that had been months ago. He'd be home right now if it weren't for the press badgering him.
The press at the door maybe?
"Who is it?" he called warily.
"James Johnson. I wonder if I might offer you dinner." He spoke in Japanese, wiping out any doubts as to his identity.
Kenzo hauled himself off his bed and got the door. Johnson smiled, lines of long experience crinkling up his middle-aged face, like Grimmer, though he was older than Grimmer.
"I realize you're being rather harassed by reporters," said Johnson. "So I'd like to invite you to my hotel suite; I took one with a kitchenette."
"You're going to cook?" said Kenzo. What was the man's game? To ambush him with more questions? He didn't need to ply him with dinner for that. But if he was going to be pestered for information he didn't intrinsically mind giving, he might as well give it now and have dinner. "Well, that's hardly an offer I can refuse."
"I thought you would cook English food."
Quil looked up from slicing the pizza. "Have you ever had English food?"
"You've no idea what you're missing: the blandness, the brownness, the excessive potatoes. The tea's good though." He served the plates.
Tenma bit in and wiped tomato sauce from his face. "You make an excellent pizza chef." The man had an uncanny ability to make stock politeness sound sincere.
As Tenma bent over his plate, Quil studied his long, rather melancholy face. "Thank you. Cooking's one of my hobbies."
"Thank you for inviting me to dinner; it's the most fun I've had in... a long time." He contemplated his pizza. "I wondered if this was a excuse to question me more."
"No, no. Not for L anyway."
"Then, for what?"
"Nothing. We don't have to talk about anything. Myself, I'm full of questions, of course, because you're an intriguing man. I'm sure you've heard that quite a lot."
Tenma gave his plate a noncommittal look. After a moment, he said, "I'm tired. I wonder if I'll ever stop feeling tired."
"You will; people like you always do."
"You sound as if you know me rather well."
Quil laughed. "Sorry about that. It's a hazard of the trade, forming snap profiles." When Tenma said nothing, he added, "Johnson isn't my real name."
"I had a feeling it might not be. Are you Watari?"
Clearly Tenma had been reading up since their first meeting. It gave Quil a tiny, pleasant tremor. "I am. I'll give you one guess as to whether that's my real name."
He expected a smile from Tenma but got a pensive, middle-distance stare.
Quil was sick of fighting down the urge to share himself, even though he knew the urge was deadly. It didn't matter who you let in; it was a danger to you or him or both. "My name's Quil."
"That's right," Quil chuckled. He'd expected a Japanese pronunciation and got a German one.
"Is that a usual English name?"
"Hardly. But you can call me by it."
"First or last?"
"First. I think it's safest we stop with that, for all of us."
Tenma nodded and chewed his pizza in silence. Finally, he said, "Three years ago, I couldn't possibly have imagined the layers of secrets so many people live by, secrets even they themselves may not know."
"Like Johan's name?"
Tenma sat forward. "Do you know what remains obscure to me, secret in the deepest sense? It's what the people who tormented those children were hoping to achieve. I've heard them explain. Words come up like supermen and great leaders.... And I know the words, but...." He took a swallow of wine. "And old man who's spent decades mutilating children's minds can profess a revelation that the real indomitablity is love. I hear that, and I want to say, 'Why didn't you know that when you were four?' My family was full of Sturm und Drang, but when I look back on my childhood, I can't comprehend how blessed I was. I can't imagine how those children survive. And perhaps the most remarkable part is that some of them emerge intact, like Nina."
Something deep inside Quil hurt, not for Tenma or Johan or his sister, not primarily. Something that was Quil's alone.
"There is--" Quil paused. "--nothing more dangerous than taking responsibility for the life of a child with... unusual needs, be they health problems, or trauma, or deficits... or gifts. And those... those traits, they never exist in isolation. A gift is a deficit and a problem and a need. And vice versa, of course."
Tenma was watching him; it made him feel on trial. "Do you have children, Quil-san?"
Quil forced a smile and drank his wine. "No. No, what I have...." Was he actually going to go into it all? "About twenty years ago, I was working with a partner, and we happened on a case that involved a little girl, Mandy--Mandy River, a niece of a victim. She was, I suppose you'd say, an idiot savant, socially disconnected but sharp as a tack. She solved most of that case for us. She was six."
He bit into his pizza and chewed thoughtfully, remembering. "We began to research children with unusual cognitive abilities. We both ended up getting certified in counseling and family services and opened a school--well, a foster care home technically--for orphaned or relinquished children who were gifted in areas that lent themselves to detective work. A detective academy, you might say. Mandy became our first student and one of our most brilliant."
Tenma, Quil decided, had piercing little eyes, disturbing little eyes. "Is she L?"
I'm going to tell him damn well everything; I can't stop it, Quil realized and smiled again, like a suicide. "You're not bad at it yourself, Tenma-sensei. No, Mandy didn't become a detective." He cleared his throat. "My partner and I developed a division of labor. He'd oversee the upbringing of the younger children, and for those who seriously tended toward detective work, I'd manage their higher education. I haven't the time to educate many, though, only the best of the best." He paused. "You're thinking I sound like those old men who talked of creating supermen."
Tenma looked down, his frown immobile as clay.
Quil drained his wine glass. "Yes, L's one of them. The one really. Now you're thinking I sound like I'm talking about Johan." He felt a little surge of indignation. "L's not a serial killer, though. He puts killers behind bars."
"How old is he?"
"Good God. I've found articles on him going back to '91."
"Sounds about right."
"It's too young," said Tenma softly. "I don't care how brilliant he is." He stood and crossed to the window.
Quil's chest tightened up a notch. "What you say makes perfect sense. But if you knew him, you'd understand how impossible it would be to ask him to live any other kind of life. He needs mental stimulation, and solving crime is his sphere of action."
"Quil-san, I don't doubt your intentions are good. I don't doubt you care; I can hear it in your voice. I just... I've seen so many children... molded like weapons to fit some purpose." He turned to Quil, eyes full of pain. "Tell me the children you raise aren't weapons."
"Against crime, whatever."
"I never thought of it that way."
"You're right," said Tenma. "It's a dangerous game you play. It's the most dangerous game." He paused. "Maybe even more dangerous than mine."
He was sorry now that he'd agreed to dinner, but here he was, trapped.
His appetite gone, Kenzo gazed out onto the cobbled street below, a soft pink-brown, colors gentle and muted, like Johan. Johan could stroll by on that street, invisible. Except to Kenzo, who could feel his presence behind closed doors and up hidden stairs, and even where Johan wasn't.
Johan never left for long. Kenzo would blink and see him, bright as flashes of physical pain shooting behind his eyelids.
It was easy to say that a doctor's duty was preserving life and none of the consequences of that act reflected on the doctor. It was easy to say. But the reality is we're responsible for every consequence we can or should foresee. The first time, Kenzo might, indeed, have been called innocent. He'd saved Johan's life from the best of motives, seeing nothing but an injured boy.
This time... this time, he knew exactly....
Sometimes it seemed the whole world was black. That was what Johan taught, and Kenzo finally understood why. He could feel the darkness lurking, after just a few years. How could a boy raised in that world see anything else?
But why not Nina or Dieter? Why not... why not Grimmer? How did some people wrest their souls away from the press of horrors under the surface of face after face?
He wanted to believe in Johns--in Quil. He liked him; his old instinct counseled trust. But scratch the surface, and there was one more old man bringing up children like capital for a bank.
"He does other things, you know."
Startled, Kenzo glanced at Quil. "What?"
"L." L. Another name stripped away. "It's not as if he does nothing but detective work."
Kenzo turned to face Quil. "What does he like to do?"
"Well, for one thing, he's very good at tennis. I mean very good. He likes chess and go and computer programming. He likes TV. In fact, I never cease to be amazed by shows he finds interesting. He likes pop idols, would you believe it?" Quil grinned.
The tide changed.
Kenzo smiled back. He could hear real love in the man's voice now, a parent's fascination, not just with his child's achievements but his idiosyncracies. Comforted, he sat down again at the table. "I meant it when I said I knew you cared."
"I didn't doubt it. You don't seem the lying kind." Quil laughed. "Sorry, now I'm quoting anime at you."
"Does he like anime too?"
"I wouldn't say so. That's more my other boy, Beyond, who's the big manga and anime fan."
Kenzo frowned at the randomly inserted English word. "Beyond what?"
"Oh, that's his name. A bit strange, isn't it? It's not his real name, of course, but it's what he's been using since he was very little. He's the one who made me watch that anime; it's called Lain. Do you know it?"
Kenzo shook his head.
"It's about a little girl who's really an emergent intelligence who sprouts out of the internet. 'You've got to see it!' said B to me. 'It's got Vannevar Bush.' He was the capstone of my dissertation, you see. He's mentioned in the anime for all of five seconds." He chuckled. "He's a great one for hogwash, my B."
The story warmed Kenzo. "He just wanted an excuse to share his interest with you."
Quil's face went sober. "No--it--no, that's not B. He's subtler than that."
"Why do you think he wanted you to see it?"
"I don't know. The story's a lot about father and daughter, about..." He paused for some seconds. "It's about what makes a family, I suppose." He gave Kenzo a measured look. "B found her, their mother."
Found her. So quickly. Already.
Alive, approachable? He could go to her, ask her.... Should he...? "Where?"
Quil reached into a pocket and pulled out a slip of paper with a name and address. France. France?
Kenzo stared at the paper. "I'd never have guessed. May I see her? Does she see people?"
"I don't know; I suppose you'll have to ask her."
He leaned back in his chair and took a breath. "I will. Not now. I need time to think and not be hasty."
"Always a good idea."
Their mother--Anna--vanished for so many years, and all it took was a couple of days--just days--for L to find her... no, B.
"Is B... Beyond with you too? Here?" He realized as he spoke that he didn't even know if L was in Germany in the flesh.
"No, he called it in," said Quil with a polite smile.
"You've built a brilliant family."
Quil took a deep, enigmatic breath. It suggested something like, You have no idea.
"Are they all known by letters?" Perhaps he'd know the twins' names soon. Perhaps he could tell--
"We assign them letters, yes," said Quil, "for security, but of course they have names."
"Secret names," murmured Kenzo. If he said it to Johan...
Quil shrugged. "L is L's real name."
Kenzo shook himself out of a reverie. "L? The letter?"
"Don't blame me; it's what he came with."
Would Johan hear him? If he heard the name he came with? Would strip away... what would it strip? "May I meet him?" asked Kenzo in something of a daze. It took him a moment to realize that Quil had made no answer.
At length, he said, "I'll ask."
Kenzo hadn't realized till he laid eyes on L that he'd been expecting to see Johan: a flawless, angelic statue, a meticulously constructed Aryan superman.
When he saw the slovenly figure slouching by the window, the thought flashed through his head, "That must be B." No. It was L. Not so strange really that teenage genius would look like a computer geek.
He hadn't expected him to be Asian.
"Pleased to meet you, Tenma-sensei," said the boy in native-sounding Japanese. "I'm L."
Jolted out of his staring, Kenzo bowed. "It's a pleasure. Quil-san has told me so much about you."
The big eyes--weirdly big--rolled toward Quil and then away. "Watari has chosen to compromise our security for no reason other than that he likes you." A soft noise that might have been a laugh came from Quil. "I have chosen to compromise it," L continued, "because I wished to better understand Johan."
Kenzo's heart crunched. The last thing he wanted was more questions about Johan. Yet, why else did he imagine L agreed to meet him? He was curious about Johan, just as Kenzo was curious about L.
"Ice-cream?" put in Quil unexpectedly. He went to the freezer in the kitchenette and started scooping cones. "Please, have a seat, Tenma-sensei."
Kenzo took a chair and watched curiously as L climbed into another and pulled up his knees, balancing on his feet.
Quil came around with ice-creams cones an unusual dark green.
"What flavor is that?" asked L, taking one.
"Watari, don't lie to me regarding ice-cream."
"Yes, you caught me. It's avocado."
"All right. Scout's honor: it's--what is it?--chocolate-key lime."
Kenzo smiled at the interchange but was perplexed by their forms of address. He'd considered them to have something like the relation of father and son, so he'd expect them use plain form with each other. If anything, L's address to his elder might be polite. In fact, it came out the reverse: L addressed Quil in plain form, and Quil used -masu with L. Did he think of L as his boss?
"Did the two of you meet in Japan?" he asked to have something to say.
"Yes, that's right," said Quil, sitting with them. He didn't elaborate.
"Coffee, Watari?" said L with his mouth full.
Like a dutiful servant, Quil got up to make it. "You might notice, Tenma-sensei," he said with an anxious laugh, "that L's eating habits are unconventional. And lest we offend your physician's sensibilities, I should assure you he's in excellent health. We've had him to eleven different nutritionists, and it turns out he metabolizes processed sugars like most people do carrots. Now, that we keep under our hats; if word got out, he'd spend the rest of his life locked up in a cell being poked by dieticians."
L had already finished his ice-cream and was into a box of chocolates he'd pulled out of nearby drawer. "My energy output is extremely high; that's why my metabolism runs so fast."
Kenzo frowned, mentally reviewing the generation and utilization of ATP and the construction of organelles. L's explanation made no sense.
"I realize," said L, "that my explanation violates established medical principles, for example, failing to account for my low intake of several vitamins, protein, and fiber. However, years of empirical evidence indicate that the energy intake-outtake correlation is almost exact."
"That's--amazing," said Kenzo, not sure what else to say.
Quil came to his rescue. "I believe you come from Yokohama, Tenma-sensei?"
They chatted for a while about Japan, L contributing little besides the occasional correction to a geographical error or statement about crime rates. Eventually, the talk of crime brought them back to Germany and Johan. L asserted that Johan had been indirectly responsible for at least 3462 deaths (a good number from Ruhenheim) and probably more than 4000.
"And how many after I saved him?" said Kenzo before he could stop himself. "No, please don't answer that." He stared into his cooling coffee, feeling L's eyes on him. But when he looked up, L was gazing rather blankly at the floor. "He told me--" Kenzo's voice gave out. He tried again: "He told me once that I was like a father to him. Out of all those people, he spared me because I saved him."
"No," said L with no change of expression. "He didn't bond with you because you saved his life; many people have done that, and usually he killed them. He bonded with you because he saw in you his antithesis. You, like him, have a singular talent for bending people to your will. But while he did so with nihilistic aims, you do so to solicit proactive action, and while he did so extremely methodically, you do so predominantly unconsciously."
Kenzo gaped at this bizarre pronouncement. His first inclination was to snap, "What makes you think you know him--or me--so well?" He said, "I don't know that I have any great skill for bending people to my will, consciously or otherwise."
L sipped his second cup of inconceivably sugary coffee. "You've bent Watari to your will, and he isn't easy to bend."
Kenzo glanced at Quil, who was studying L with a raised eyebrow. How out of the ordinary is it for them to have a guest? Do they feel that much risk in revealing themselves?
It took Kenzo a few moments to gather up something to say. "I'm sorry if I've compromised your security by my visit. I promise you I won't tell anyone about this." He stood. "Thank you very much for the ice-cream and coffee. It was very nice to meet you, L-san." He turned to go.
"I'm glad you came," said L. "Seeing you has clarified several matters."
Kenzo glanced back at him nervously, then let Quil lead him out into the hall.
"Sorry," said Quil. "He wasn't trying to rush you off. He's just... he's rude sometimes."
Kenzo's heart went out to Quil for being embarrassed by the behavior of a boy he was so proud of. "He's a remarkable young man."
Quil gave a weird little laugh.
"It must be hard for him to be so isolated from people his own age--he has to be, I know, for the undercover work." He hesitated. "Has he ever been to therapy?"
Quil's eyes sparked. "Well, of course, he has. Do you think we just go around picking up atypical orphans and send them off to school without appropriate support?"
"I am, I assure you, well aware of his peculiarities. Yes, he's rude, unkempt; he eats deplorably; he's self-entitled. No, he doesn't have scads of friends his age. He doesn't have a lot of things. But don't presume to tell me how his life ought to be managed. Don't you even contemplate passing judgment on my boy. You don't know him."
"I'm sorry," Kenzo repeated. "I meant no disrespect."
Quil exhaled sharply and leaned back against the wall. "I'm sorry. What I said was completely uncalled for. I do beg your pardon."
Kenzo laid a hand on his shoulder. "Of course. He's very lucky you're protective of him. I wonder if things would have been different if Johan had had someone like that."
"He has you, I think."
At those words, Kenzo's heart stuck in his throat... because he knew it was the truth.
"Things are calming down." Kenzo never knew what to say to Johan, so he often blathered about mundane things. "I only had to fend off one reporter to get here."
He settled in his usual chair and gazed at the more-than-sleeping face, drawn but beautiful, like a nineteenth-century poet failing from a wasting sickness.
Day by day, as the chances of Johan's waking faded, Kenzo grew calmer in his presence. But the terror was never far submerged. A breeze could stir the curtain, and he would jump.
"I had a dream the other night. It was a very short dream. In it, I was standing next to Herr Grimmer. We were in a street at night, listening to someone tell us something. I don't know who or what: their life story maybe. And he was standing there with me in his gray slacks and pink shirt, listening to this story with great attention. And I felt stronger because he was there beside me."
He thought of how Grimmer would leap unthinking to help people and of Quil's commenting that Kenzo was all Johan had. He wondered what Grimmer would say to Johan. He'd know the right thing to say. Kenzo could only plunge on.
"We're all stronger when we have someone else. You know that. You know, your sister loves you very much. It's just hard for her to be here." To say she was busy at law school would be the truth--but not the real truth. And Johan, if he could hear any of this, would immediately know that. "I know that you love her too and you'd want to see her safe and building a good life."
In fact, he doubted that Johan would want Nina's happiness. Not because he didn't love her, but because happiness was something he rejected in general. Still, he didn't know what else to say.
"She'll come to see you if she can. But I want you to know I'll always be here for you." At the words, he could feel an iron weight descending. It was already true, whether or not I said it. "I may not always come to your room; in fact, I may be leaving soon to practice medicine abroad. But if you wake up and you want me, I won't be hard to find, not for someone like you. If you ever need to talk to me..."
He broke off, mesmerized as he so often was by the face of the boy he had failed both to kill and to resurrect.
Please don't die.
It was a stupid thought, for nothing could possibly be better for both Johan and the rest of the world than his slipping out of it without ever waking.
But I don't want you to die. I want you to heal, to turn all your prodigious powers to living a good life, like Nina. Yet that would never happen. Johan had been too badly damaged too young. He'd be a psychopath forever. Best case scenario, he'd end up in a psychiatric ward, bored and deadly.
Best case scenario, he'll die in this bed.
"Don't die," Kenzo whispered. "Stay alive a little longer because I'm going to find your name."
"All right, I'm off," said Quil, "to apologize again for our bizarre lack of social graces."
"Oh, here, Mr. Wammy. Give this to him."
Quil turned back and took the envelope from L. It had been sliced open by letter opener. On the back was handwritten, Chan, pok. č. 301. "What's this then?"
"It's a letter from Wolfgang Grimmer that got filed away in a bottom drawer in their hotel in the Czech Republic. I've already assessed it for investigative relevance, so he might as well have it."
"Have any relevance?"
"Not really. There's about a 75 percent chance Grimmer thought he was being pursued by the Czech police who were actually closing on Tenma, which means nothing except that his skills as a spy needed honing."
Quil bit down a rush of anger. "Yes, well, perhaps that's how he managed to get himself murdered."
L turned and ambled back to chair. "Tenma really has bent you to his will, Mr. Wammy. Try not to lose all perspective." He climbed into the chair and resumed typing at the computer.
"What is it?" said Kenzo warily, when Quil held out the letter. At this point, he automatically assumed that any information from those years must be bad news.
"A letter from Wolfgang Grimmer that apparently never reached you."
For a moment, Kenzo felt positively faint. His head heated up; his eyesight fuzzed. He forced a calm breath and took the letter. The envelope bore the dark shape of letters that refused to compute in his mind.
Quil said something and left. Some seconds after Quil had closed the door, Kenzo wondered if he'd remembered to say goodbye. It didn't matter.
He swallowed and made his brain focus on the letter. His hands didn't shake; he didn't let them. The handwriting scraggled, worse than on the envelope, and it struck Kenzo he'd never seen Grimmer's handwriting before.
My Dear Friend:
It must have seemed very offhanded of me to stroll off like I did. Fact is I spotted unsavories trailing me, and when that happens, one must move fast. On bus back to hotel now, then off. Hope letter finds you. Wanted you to know it wasn't offhanded. It's been good, good enough I could imagine keeping it up: another sign it's time to go. Safer for both.
Wanted to tell you: the other day I woke up; you were asleep. I got dressed, then nudged you and said your name--first name, seemed right. And you shoved my arm without waking and said, if heard right, "Nii-chan, urusai na." Guess your brother used to bug you in the morning? So I went to breakfast. You remember; left you note, like now.
Be careful. Good luck. Don't forget the things that matter; they try to make you forget. Don't forget.
Kenzo put the letter back in its envelope. He felt tears heat his eyes, but they wouldn't fall.
His thoughts were sparking again. Flash--and there was Gimmer at the hotel catching up on the newspapers. Flash--and, yes, he remembered the way he'd called him, "Tomodachi" with that big, wrinkled smile. Flash--the dawn and his sleepy arm warm and heavy over Kenzo's.
Kenzo wished suddenly Quil hadn't left.
He could call him; he had his cell phone number. But he shouldn't. They barely knew each other. He wasn't even sure how much he should trust him. But he needed to talk to someone. That's why people had friends. Kenzo had friends, but he didn't like to call them. He'd already prevailed on them for so much. Some had risked their lives for him; they deserved a break from his crises.
He paced the room.
Nina he'd absolutely promised himself he wouldn't bother. She needed to get back to law school. She needed to get on with her life. And if he called Dr. Reichwein, Dieter would want to talk to him, and he couldn't put on a good face for that right now. He could call his brother maybe. No. He'd be at work. He even contemplated calling Eva--but that would be cruel, to drag her back into his life when she was just starting over.
He stared at his phone, decided to give it up. He just needed to time to think. He could do that alone.
He got a glass of water.
He set it down and picked up the phone and fished out the paper with Quil's number. Two rings.
"Yes?" came the crisp voice in English.
"Quil-san--" What was he supposed to say? "It's Tenma. Thank you for the letter."
"Not at all. I'll let L know you appreciated it."
"Thanks. Um, would you like coffee?"
"Yes, certainly. Soon, I hope; we'll be leaving Germany in the next few days."
Kenzo sat down on his bed. The news hurt him. I'm just like a kid when his parents leave him on his own at school. "Would you have time this evening? I know you've already been here and gone."
There was a pause that made his chest prickle.
"I should have asked when you were here," Kenzo added.
"No, no. Sorry. I'm just pondering my schedule." Another pause. "Look, I'm on my way back now, and I can stay for about an hour."
Kenzo sighed aloud in relief. "Thank you, Quil-san. I'll see you soon."
When Tenma opened the door, Quil put on a smile, as if this meeting meant nothing but afternoon tea--or water since the day was hot.
"Do you ever put on your air conditioning?" Quil asked, sitting at the hotel room's small table.
Tenma smiled broadly. "Well, it's on account of Eva. When we were engaged, she was very particular about the temperature of rooms, so after we broke up, I let the thermostat go: it was a gesture of my independence, I guess. Perhaps I've taken it too far." He turned on the cooler. All at once his face was serious; he came back to table and fingered his cup. "Did you read the letter?"
"I'm sorry; that sounded rude. I understand if you did: it's an open investigation."
"I didn't. L did."
Tenma's face grew harder, no doubt imagining a peculiar teenager rifling through his personal documents.
"He determined it had no relevance to the case."
Tenma smiled tightly. "Of course. It's just a note scrawled on a bus. Just--just so him." He gulped his water. "You know he was raised in 511 Kinderheim."
"Yes, in the first generation."
"I don't know how he got there--because he didn't know. I don't know what they did to him. But it was bad enough to split his personality--you've heard, of course. Bad enough to give him traumatic amnesia. He never even remembered his own name." He looked up at Quil. "So why did he turn out to be such a good man? And please don't say because his negative impulses were channeled into that other part of his personality. That's not what I mean. He didn't even know..."
Tenma rested his forehead in his hands and went on, "He talked about not knowing how to feel. It bothered him that he didn't grieve enough when his son died. The first time I met him, he told me he wished he could have taken his son fishing. And I never for a moment doubted that he'd loved his son. His attitude was precisely normal. And he didn't see it." Tenma stopped, staring at the table.
Quil waited, senses pricked and fully present, and thankful to be here and fearing vaguely the day he and L would leave Germany and not see this man again.
"Everybody loved him, wherever he went. I loved him." He faced Quil again with desperate eyes. "I loved him, and I didn't realize it until he was bleeding to death. I stood there, and I watched him die; all around me there was weeping. And I had no tears. I didn't lift a finger to save him. Why didn't I--?" His voice caught on the last words, but he pulled back the tears with a quick swipe of his hand across his nose. Then, he made his face go very still.
Strange that a man so replete with compassion should be so reserved in expressing his own pain.
"I loved him," he whispered. "I thought my heart would break... in a way--in a way that was different, that was more personal--no--more particular than the thousands of times my heart broke in those years. That day... it broke for me. I didn't know--I'd barely known him, and I didn't know how to imagine never seeing him again--I still don't."
Quil waited. There was nothing he could say. He thought of his father, whom he wished he could see.
"We were lovers," said Tenma suddenly--but not unexpectedly. "For two days." His face was bright red but his eyes far away. "And by the second day--night, whatever--part of me felt I was with still with a stranger, part felt like I'd been with him all my life." He stared deep inward for perhaps half a minute. Then he glanced up at Quil. "I'm not gay. Neither was he."
"I'd never been with a man before, except once in high school, just... well, you know."
"That's high school for you."
It seemed to take a couple seconds for Quil's words to reach Tenma. Belatedly, he flashed a slight smile. "I feel stupid, Quil-san. But I don't want to misrepresent myself to you."
This time, the delayed reaction was Quil's. His presumption--He's scared I'll think less of him if I think he's gay--twisted abruptly into the realization: He thinks I want to sleep with him, and he's letting my down easy. Quil's face flushed hot with embarrassment and a tinge of anger: at Tenma, at himself. Had he seemed so desperate?
Safest, he decided, to respond to the superficial, let the topic of Grimmer rest a few minutes, let Tenma rest. "Me, I experimented back in college." When he thought back, he had the sense of decades of newsreels run backward; it had been so long ago. "It was still illegal in England then, which was part of the allure. We were a bunch of young scallywags." He threw the word in in English because it seemed the best one, though Tenma probably didn't know it. "It's funny how our ideas change. Not long before I did it, I'd never have dreamed I ever would."
Tenma was sitting back, watching him, calmer.
"Of all people, it was my father who got me thinking differently." Quil smiled. "He always was a man ahead of his time. He was a doctor, you know. An oncologist."
"That's why he moved to Japan?"
Quil didn't answer that because the answer was plain, and it hurt to think about those days. "When I was a lad, I knew precisely what I was going to do with my life. I was going to major in Mathematics and spend my life developing computers. I was a tremendous devotee of Alan Turing. You've heard of him?"
"Suffice it to say he's one of the founding fathers of modern computing. He did a great deal of theoretical work on artificial intelligence, which was the area I wanted to work in then."
"What's that for?" asked Quil.
"You are still fascinated by the nature of intelligence and its unusual manifestations."
The observation was both flattering and slightly perturbing. If you're suggesting I see L as a machine... "Yes, well, I eventually decided human intelligence was more rewarding. At any rate, I had just started high school--no, I was still in junior high--when Turing scandalized Britain by being arrested for homosexual activity. There was my idol ripped precipitously off his pedestal. I told my father how disillusioned I was, expecting his condolences. What he said was 'Quil, old chap, you're just as bad as the young Mrs. Dalloway.'"
Tenma gave him a puzzled look.
"I was perplexed myself. He was talking about Virginia Woolf's novel, but that's as far as I could figure. What he was referring to was the scene where the young Clarissa--not yet Mrs. Dalloway--hears that a childhood companion had a baby out of wedlock. And, all innocent, middle-class virtue, she avows that she'll never be able to speak to her again. Her friends, quite rightly, tell her she's a prig." Quil gave a small laugh. "My father knew a prig when he saw one."
Tenma studied him with a light smile; then, his eyes and his smile both slipped.
"It's amazed me sometimes," said Quil when Tenma didn't speak, "that sex can by driven by such a near infinity of forces. Sometimes--too often--it's entirely physical, and sometimes it has very little to do with the appearance of a partner's body."
"That's what he said," interjected Tenma. "He said--how did he put it?--he said as a spy, when you've lived as a spy, in danger, in hiding, under false pretenses, he said you learned to find comfort where you could--" He stopped all at once, as if he'd said too much.
After a moment, Quil said, "He was right."
"We met on a train. He was tailing me, but he pretended just to be chatty passenger--and he was; that wasn't a lie. He started talking to me about his trip to Japan around 1980, and I kept wondering when he'd shut up and leave me alone. And then, he started to sing in Japanese, very badly." Tenma laughed a little. "And he made me smile."
"I am so sorry," said Quil.
Tenma's face broke. "If I were a religious man, his death would shake my faith in divine justice. Since I'm not..." He shook his head. "It's pointless to hate anyone for it. It's just pointless. His not being here is so pointless." He squeezed his eyes tight shut.
King Lear came into Quil's head: the ageless mystery of death, that all the base creatures of the world should have life and thou no breath at all. He moved his chair closer to Tenma's and laid a hand on his shoulder. The gesture felt foreign. How long had it been since he'd comforted someone that way? As long ago as Priscilla's mother dying? Twenty years? She'd been a pillar at the hospital, and back at his flat, she'd leaned her elbows on the table and sobbed while he held her.
Remembering Priscilla back then, before they'd split up, he slipped his hand further across Tenma's back and rubbed it up and down. Tenma made no particular response, but--not unlike Pri--he set an elbow on the table and hid his eyes in his palm.
He is like her, Quil realized. Warm and open and cool and closed. Perhaps that was why Quil liked him.
Then, Tenma drew back and said softly, "I keep marveling at the arbitrariness: that he died, that Johan lived. Arbitrary, that hospital facilities were accessible when Johan was shot and not when he-- when Grimmer was. But..." He hesitated. "Equally arbitrary are my own decisions: not to save Grimmer but to try to save Johan, after years of promising I'd be the one the kill him. In another moment, I might have killed him."
Based on Tenma's personality profile, Quil doubted that exceedingly, but he held his peace.
Tenma frowned. "And part of me keeps feeling I did kill him after all. The brain--the brain is.... I know Johan was deranged before I ever met him, but the brain is such a mysterious intertwining of structures, I keep wondering what I might have disrupted when I operated on him the first time. And the second time--" He stopped, eyes glistening. "I could see the scars of my own work, and I close my eyes sometimes and see my fingers digging in his brain."
Utterly irrational, absolutely understandable. So Quil reached out to hug him, and to his relief, Tenma turned into his arms, resting a heavy chin on his shoulder.
"I hate it," Tenma murmured. "Sometimes I hate having that power."
"L thinks he'll recover," said Quil a bit stupidly.
Tenma tensed. Over Quil's shoulder, he finally asked, "Why?"
Quil shook his head a little. "A number of factors; his present condition, his personality, his past recovery." He paused. "Do you think he'll recover?"
"I don't know."
Softly Quil asked, "Do you want him to?"
"Yes. And no. Yes and no." He sighed.
They sat in silence, wound in each other's arms. Quil thought of the times he'd wished he could hug L like this. Rarely, years ago, he'd seen L cry. But even then, even in his childhood, his personal space admitted no such closeness. In the very beginning, he'd clung to Quil's hand, but those days were long over.
Tenma pulled back then and looked at Quil with puffy eyes in a sallow face. He seemed older than his forty years. "I'm sorry you'll be leaving."
"So am I."
"You've been very kind."
Quil liked the weary sincerity in those eyes. "Well," he said, suddenly embarrassed. "From you, I take that as a high compliment." Quil glanced at his watch. "I should be going." In fact, he could have stayed a little longer, but his better instincts told him it was time to go.
Tenma walked him to the door.
The moment come, Quil threw caution to the wind and turned to Tenma. "I admire you tremendously. And I should like to kiss you goodbye."
Tenma went red but otherwise showed no change in expression. After a second, he stepped up and pressed his lips chastely to Quil's. Then, he kissed him again, deeper. Tenma's mouth moved wet on Quil's, his hands warm on his face. Quil ran his arms around Tenma's back and held him. How long had it been since he'd felt this. He'd told himself he was getting old, that sex didn't mean much to him anymore. But this...
Arms still wound around each other, they stumbled to the edge of the bed and sat and kissed again. Quil closed his eyes and savored Tenma's lips on his lips, his cheek, his neck, Tenma's hair brushing his ear.
Then, Tenma drew back. "Sorry."
Quil found himself breathing hard. He took a moment to collect himself, to fight back the need to be touched. "It's all right," he said and took a guess: "It's all right to kiss me and think of him."
Tenma looked away. "May I write you, Quil-san?"
"Only if I may write you back," said Quil and dug out one of his safer business cards.
Tenma took it and walked him back to the door. There, he bowed, and Quil bowed back and closed the door between himself and Tenma, and set off for the market because L would expect him to arrive bearing éclairs.