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On Dragonfly Wings

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Genji always struggled not to grin when he saw Detective Kobayashi. The knee-breeches that had made him look like a schoolboy were gone now, but Kobayashi still appeared to be twelve, maybe fourteen at the most. No stylish suit, no serious expression could erase that. Only time could -- and Genji was fairly sure Kobayashi would still look twelve when he was sixty. Just a twelve-year-old with gray hair.

But it wouldn't do to say that to the boy -- the man -- in charge of hunting K-20. Especially not when Kobayashi was there to investigate K-20's latest crime.

"It was a terrible shock," Genji said as he showed the detective around the rebuilt home of the Grand Circus. A handful of police offers were sniffing around, mingling with the men from Thieves’ Alley who were busy righting the benches and railings that had been knocked over in the chaos. "I thought I knew Heikichi. Nice lad. Talented acrobat. Who knew he was using it for crime?"

Kobayashi frowned, studying the arrow machine. Genji bit his lip. It wasn't Kobayashi's fault that he looked like a kid playing at being a detective. And if the kid was smart -- which, unfortunately, he was -- he might use that to lull people into giving away things they shouldn't.

"You didn't suspect anything before he was arrested?" Kobayashi asked, skeptical.

Genji shrugged. "Things used to go missing. Gears, little tools. But the Grand Circus doesn't go to the best parts of Teito, you understand. Gears and tools aren't the only things that vanished. It never occurred to me that Heikichi might have been taking them to build devices for his work."

"And you believed him when he said he wasn't K-20."

For a moment there, with contempt weighing down his words, Kobayashi actually sounded like an adult. He'd taken Akechi's death very hard. Only a few people knew the truth, that the famed and admired Detective Akechi had been Teito's most wanted criminal; the rest thought K-20 had killed him. And they thought Endo Heikichi was K-20.

Kobayashi had been there when Heikichi protested his innocence. He'd never been convinced, though. And unfortunately, the explosion of the Tesla device had ended any chance of proving it to him. Now the young detective watched Genji and the rest of Heikichi's former associates with a suspicious eye, looking for any evidence that they might be helping their old friend evade the police and carry out his crimes.

Genji bit down on what he wanted to say. Would you have believed it, if somebody told you Akechi was K-20? But rubbing salt in Kobayashi's wounds wouldn't do Heikichi any good. Instead he lowered his chin, doing his best to look betrayed and grieving. "I'm an old man, and I'd known Heikichi for years. I thought I could trust him. Letting go of that isn't easy."

He didn't expect sympathy from Kobayashi, and didn't get any. The detective straightened and said, "Show me where the machine was."

A blind man might have overlooked it. The pedestal was painted red and gold, and dominated the center of the big top, drawing all eyes. The cables of the empty rig still dangled above it, swaying gently in the breeze from the torn side of the tent. Shinsuke sat at the foot of the left-hand ladder, looking so morose that Genji almost kicked him. This wasn't a performance for circus audiences, where everything had to be exaggerated to the point of clowning; it had to look real.

But Kobayashi barely spared Shinsuke a glance. He climbed the other ladder, onto the platform, and examined the snapped ends of the cables. "Why did you build it?"

"We needed a new act," Genji said, as if it was obvious. "Audiences get bored. And we don't have any acrobats now who are as good as -- well." He rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment. "Shinsuke was going to be the Amazing Dragonfly Boy."

Kobayashi glared down at him. Genji wondered if that was why he'd climbed up there: for the advantage of height, so that he could glare without looking laughable. "You realize that your circus has just given K-20 a new tool? He's announced that he is going to steal the Hakusei Diamond! Half the security measures put in place to protect it are useless now. He can just fly up to the top of the tower."

Genji could have pointed out that Heikichi had once climbed to the top of the Hashiba building, without any tools beyond a rope and his own agility. He also could have pointed out that K-20 was a master of disguise, and more likely to sneak in as one of the security guards than to make any kind of obvious exterior assault. But that would have done about as much good as telling Kobayashi that Akechi had been a criminal -- which was to say, the exact opposite of good.

He was about to bow and apologize when he had a better idea. After all, hadn't he just been betrayed? His good friend was a thief and a murderer, who had just burst into the tent of the Grand Circus and vanished again with their equipment, shocking the audience and leaving shambles in his wake. A man in his position shouldn't apologize. He should be angry.

He planted his feet and returned Kobayashi's glare. "Oh, it's our fault now? You're the police! You should be able to catch him! But no, K-20 is still on the loose, terrorizing innocent circus performers and stealing a man's work. Where were you when he cut open our tent, eh? That's what I want to know. And when you catch him, I want my Dragonfly Wings back. Undamaged! Those took me months to build, you know, and they're worth as much to me as that diamond is to Wakatsuki-sama. If they get broken, I'm holding you responsible!"

It rocked Kobayashi back on his heels. The detective climbed down in a hurry, and by the time he reached the ground, he looked twelve again. But a very determined twelve. "I'm not doing this for you and your Dragonfly Wings," he said, "or for Wakatsuki-sama and his diamond. I'm going to arrest K-20 for Akechi. Now if you'll pardon me --" He strode off through the torn wall of the tent, leaving Genji with Shinsuke.

The boy looked up and grinned. Genji frowned and made a quelling gesture; it wouldn’t do for one of the police officers still present to notice Shinsuke looking too happy.

But it turned out he had a reason. Shinsuke pointed with his chin toward the far side of the tent, where one of the laborers was picking up the splintered pieces of the bench broken during K-20's dramatic theft. Genji followed the movement, and saw the laborer nod at him before carrying his burden through into the backstage area.

Sighing, Genji followed.

By the time he arrived in his workshop, Heikichi had already removed the cap and rough jacket of his disguise. He dropped them and bowed as Genji entered -- never a good sign. “Ah, I’m very sorry to say this, but . . . .”

He trailed off. Genji cast a glance back over his shoulder, nervous that one of the police might decide to come back here and investigate some more. They’d already taken his diagrams for the Dragonfly Wings. “What are you doing here? They’ll spot you!”

“Nobody is looking for me here,” Heikichi said, far too reasonably. “But, um. The Dragonfly Wings.”

Genji set his jaw. He’d known there was a problem, the moment Shinsuke pointed him out. “What happened?”

“I crashed them.”

Heikichi sounded as sheepish as anyone could want, but it didn’t stop Genji from whacking him on the shoulder. “What?! Those were brand new! How could you crash them?”

“I’m not the pilot; Yoko is,” Heikichi said defensively. “And I think I’m too heavy for them. You built them for her, not me.”

That, Genji thought guiltily, might be true. He’d been planning for the wings’ eventual use -- Yoko’s diversion, while Heikichi swiped the real target -- and not thinking about the preparatory caper, K-20's “theft” of the wings in the first place. They’d agreed it was necessary, so that Kobayashi wouldn’t look into where the master thief had gotten a device like the wings, and wouldn’t track it back to Genji’s workshop. Better if he knew up front where it came from, and believed Genji was upset about the loss. But that part had come after he was almost done building the wings, and he hadn’t adjusted for Heikichi’s greater size.

“You’re the star of the Grand Circus,” he said, not quite willing to admit his mistake. “The acrobat who surpassed the real K-20. I would have expected you to be able to handle a little thing like a backpack helicopter.”

Heikichi gave him that look, the one that said if Genji thought these things were so easy, he could try them himself some time. But all he said was, “They’ll need to be repaired.”

“Not tonight. The police are everywhere. But yes, I’ll fix them.” And then, because he knew Heikichi was waiting for it, he added, “A ‘thank you’ would be nice.”

He would never get one. Heikichi grinned, put his disguise back on, and slipped out. A moment later, Shinsuke came into the workshop. To Genji’s surprise, he looked morose again.

The reason soon became clear. “I wanted to fly with them at least once.”

Heikichi, the star of the Grand Circus, the great K-20, had crashed the Dragonfly Wings. Genji shuddered to think what Shinsuke might have done with them. Crashed into the audience, probably, in a way that wouldn’t bring the publicity that a visit from the master thief had done. Yoko-sama was the only person he trusted with those things.

He ruffled the boy’s hair, thinking of a good distraction. “What would you say to being shot out of a cannon instead?”

Shinsuke grinned from ear to ear, and Genji went to find the diagrams.