"Last night, when I closed my notebook and took a nap, I had a dream. His figure was vague, and I couldn't see well, but... On his light brown skin, a white T-shirt, and long and slender jeans on his legs. A wonderful man. I feel a premonition of love. But then he vanished into the twilight, as if he was swept away by the wind." – Ami Mizuno, monologue, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon: In Another Dream
In the dark of a small room, empty and cool but for the warmth of computers, an old man was surprised by the sound footsteps behind him. He turned in his chair to see a young man, head hung in a hunched posture, with his hands in his pockets. The light from the computer monitors was only enough to illuminate some of his face, but the old man knew well who the young man was, even though he stood just at the edge of the light.
"What's the matter, Ryuzaki?"
The young man made no reply.
"What's the matter?"
"Yes? What is it?"
"We are almost finished with the investigation. It will not be long now," said the young man, hardly breaking a monotone, "but we still have work to do."
The old man remained silent and contemplated the reason for Ryuzaki coming to see him face to face instead of simply using the phone or sending a message from the computer in his own room. He waited for Ryuzaki to continue, knowing the young man was not one to make an unnecessary trip. In fact, apart from briefly examining this computer room when the workstation was first installed, Ryuzaki had not stepped foot in this room, though Watari had spent most of his waking hours for the past months in the dungeon-like chamber.
"Do you remember the instructions I gave you regarding the electronic data stored in this building?"
"Good." Ryuzaki's feet remained fixed in their spots while his head lowered and a thumb rose to rest momentarily between his teeth. "Please send word out to the American wardens. I will need two prisoners scheduled to be executed, thirteen days apart. We will also need to make arrangements for them to receive a deal similar to the one we offered Lind L. Tailor."
"I will do so immediately," the old man answered. He waited in the quiet dark for a moment, listening to the cooling fans of the computers. "Ryuzaki?"
"Do you need something else?"
Ryuzaki made no reply but bit slightly harder into the tip and nail of his thumb.
"Is something wrong?"
"I am also hungry."
"I can bring you something after I contact the prisons," Watari said, still wondering why Ryuzaki had come in person. "I can bring it to your room, or shall I bring it to the main room?"
Another idle moment passed in quietness as Ryuzaki turned his head aside pensively. "Neither," he said finally. "I'm going out this morning. I will be back before the afternoon. Please do not tell the others I've gone."
"You're going out?"
"Yes. To get something to eat."
Watari studied the shadowed face of the young man. Having known Ryuzaki nearly his entire life, the old man could not help but feel somewhat ill at ease at the young man's uncharacteristic behavior: not only coming to see him in person to say nothing he could not have communicated barely moving in his seat, but now he had declared he was going out to eat. In all the years of working as the young man's assistant and handler, he had never known the detective to take time away from an investigation to eat out. Typically, the young man would go almost without sleep, working tirelessly to solve cases. At such a crucial time in the most challenging case they had ever worked, Ryuzaki's behavior was not only odd but disconcerting in its inexplicability.
"Where are you going exactly?" asked Watari, not wanting to overtly declare the extent of his concern. "In case something happens," he added vaguely.
"I am going to see what I can find," Ryuzaki cryptically explained. "I will have a phone with me, of course, if an occasion should arise that demands my immediate attention – but until we have access to those inmates, there is little we can do. Higuchi is dead; there is no one to interrogate. Our only workable clue is the notebook itself. I intend to test it. I cannot do that without someone dying, so until the wardens find volunteers, there is no hurry."
With or without urgency and immediacy, the young man seemed more phlegmatic than usual. He stood fast in the penumbra. Despite Ryuzaki already having given instructions, Watari continued to gaze at him, waiting for him to speak again, to hear the real reason why he'd come to the room. The explanation seemed poised to emerge from Ryuzaki any coming second. Deep in thought, he again lifted his thumb to his mouth, bit the tip. No explanation came. Ryuzaki turned and walked into the umbra, to the door and out.
Retrieving only a disposable cell phone, a pocketful of cash, and a pair of hardly-broken-in sneakers from his room, the world's greatest detective boarded the first bus he located after walking several blocks from the task force headquarters. As he slouched through the streets and as he sat on the bus, his eyes darted around at the other people in Tokyo, walking and sitting more straightly than he. Salarymen moved swiftly and efficiently to office buildings, toting briefcases and straightening neckties. Police sat idly but on duty in boxes. Peacefully and quietly, human life coursed around him, and Ryuzaki, sloppily dressed and without any clear purpose but to locate an appealing bakery or café, felt alienated amid the docile masses.
Committing his path to memory, after a few stops, he disembarked the bus, walked a few blocks, and boarded another bus, repeating this pattern several times until he had little idea of his whereabouts except the bus route. Each bus he rode bore a nearly identical assortment of people: businessmen, clerks, laborers, who checked their watches casually, contemplating the day's work. Gazing languorously out a window at a lightly trafficked sidewalk, Ryuzaki wondered how many of the people around him secretly and silently cheered on the killer he was hunting, how many were secretly terrified a heart attack would be the price of their guilty consciences.
He stared obtusely at a middle-aged man in a pinstriped business suit in a window seat, adjusting his glasses to read a newspaper. Ryuzaki considered, not lamenting his position and circumstances, whether the man felt secure in his future, whether he felt he could make it through the day without his heart stopping, whether the thought crossed his mind. He wondered about the terror of living for the average citizen in a world where wrong-doers fell victim to ostensibly divine judgment. Did he commit tiny sins and rub his chest in silent worry that one day, sooner or later, he too would be judged unfit? Did he know it was not God who played judge but a petulant childish murderer? In this own admitted childish streak, Ryuzaki balled a fist with indignation against his opponent, wanting to be the one to defeat the supernatural terrorist. Equal to his desire to win, however, was the sunken feeling under his ribs, which relaxed his hand from a fist to a bony cage over his knee. He acknowledged to himself that he was not thinking clearly at the moment, that he was, as Matsuda had observed the previous day, "kind of out of it." When rolling dice made of your own bones and staking your life, there is no avoiding a sense of impending loss.
As the young man pressed his lips with his thumb in thought, the man in the business suit looked up to notice his observer, and Ryuzaki, undeterred, continued to stare until the man hunched his shoulders and raised his open newspaper to conceal his face. At this and the sudden stopping of the bus, the detective stood from his squat on a bus seat and left the bus. Not halting the momentum of his disembarking stroll, he continued up the sidewalk, head hung but eyes raised to watch for bakeshops. Far from the vapidity of the task force headquarters, he found himself walking on streets lined with greenery, growing and full of vim. Finally yielding to his appetite in these pleasant streets, he strolled up a small flight of brick stairs into a café, where he was briskly greeted by a smiling waitress in an apron. The café was almost empty; it was still early for a weekend. There were only a few boys around twelve or thirteen drinking shakes and laughing loudly and a table full of teenage girls dressed in bright colors in a rear booth.
After telling him he could sit anywhere he liked, the waitress followed him to a small booth and presented him with a menu, which he rapidly, almost violently, perused. As she began to turn and leave to allow him a chance to decide, Ryuzaki spoke without looking up from the unfolded menu, which he held by its upper corners. "Please wait," he said softly. "I would like each of your flavors of pudding, a slice of your strawberry shortcake, a banana sundae, and a cup of coffee. A plate of red bean cakes and a slice of cheesecake, too, please."
Hesitating but understanding the order, the waitress offered a polite smile and replied, "Certainly." She quickly moved for the bakery display and coffee percolators.
By the time she had prepared each of his requests and arranged them on a large tray to deliver them, several minutes had passed during which time the phone in Ryuzaki's pocket came alive with an electronic ring. Since only Watari had the number, Ryuzaki immediately flipped the phone open and held it to his ear.
"Ryuzaki, I sent word out to the wardens as you requested, and there are inmates in Texas and Florida who may fit the criteria you set. But there is a problem."
"What is it?"
"I contacted the governors' offices in those two States, and both of them informed me that at this time their States' governors are unwilling to propose to alter any mode of execution or offer commutation of a death sentence."
"Why the change in attitude since the beginning of the Kira investigation?"
"There is a case that has reached the United States Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of certain modes of execution. There is an ongoing debate about the amount of pain caused during an execution. Right now, no state government wishes to dirty their hands by offering a deal such as ours to a death row inmate at a time like this. They are concerned with the message it will send. They're afraid making an arrangement like this will be seen as an assertion of State rights over federal rulings. Some States have already postponed executions until after the ruling is over. Once the case clears the Court, however the Justices rule, both governors will likely be willing to assist us. For now, they consider such dealings untimely."
"What you mean is that they're cowards who refuse to stake their reputations against possibly appearing to flout the Supreme Court's authority. They would rather wait it out and make sure they stand a chance to be reelected than take on Kira now."
"What shall we do now, Ryuzaki?"
"Nothing for now," Ryuzaki muttered. "Until we can test the notebook, we have reached an impasse. We will continue to research criminals killed by Kira, but at this stage, the decisive information we need must come from testing the rules of the notebook themselves."
With that, Ryuzaki shut the phone and replaced it in his pocket, just in time for the waitress to return with his large order of sweets on a large tray. The young detective thanked her as she transferred each of the many dishes onto the tabletop in front of him. With a quick and polite bow, she took her leave back toward the kitchen with the oversized tray. Ryuzaki immediately rested his bare feet on the edge of the table and began dropping a copious amount of sugar cubes into his cup. As he stirred the cup, he heard a cry from several tables away:
"Wow! That's incredible!"
Over the back of a booth seat, a teenaged girl had propped her head up, her blue eyes wide and fixed on the prodigious load of confections on Ryuzaki's table. Her mouth was agape in awe of the sweets, and she stuttered as she began speaking, seemingly flabbergasted at the volume of the food.
"Are you going to eat all of that yourself?" she asked, adopting a charming countenance of childish desire, as she waved a pointed finger at the sweets. "If you can't finish it all, maybe I could help you." She quickly folded her hands as if begging and locked eyes with Ryuzaki. "So it doesn't go to waste," she added grinningly.
The girl's blond hair, which was done up in two long tails flowing from small buns atop her head, had dropped down over her shoulders and over the back of the booth seat, giving her the appearance, with her hands folded so meekly, of a nun longing for a divine provision of beatitude engendered only by masses of sugary foods. Ryuzaki stonily shifted his eyes from her yearning face to his five glass bowls of pudding, slice of shortcake, dish of bananas and ice cream, five red bean cakes, and slice of cheesecake. His evaluation expressionless though not uninfluenced by his quiet sympathy for the poor girl's indigence of sweets, he considered the possibility that he had indeed ordered too much. Simultaneously, the emptiness in his chest and stomach, not hunger alone, demanded satiation, and he could scarcely think of a better way to relief than through this preponderance of food.
"I doubt I'll finish all of it," Ryuzaki admitted in summary of his thoughts, monotonely but matter-of-factly, "but I am very hungry." His eyes glanced behind the girl, to her two friends sitting with her, who all bore nervous, embarrassed smiles.
One of her friends, a girl with long and boldly dark violet hair, arched her brow slightly and scolded her: "Usagi-chan, leave the man alone."
"I wasn't bothering him!" she exclaimed, turning back to face her companion. "But he has so much!" She thrust a finger at the assortment of fare on Ryuzaki's table as if it were irrefutable evidence of her innocence.
At this haughty insistence, the violet-haired girl grew hot and retorted, "Just let him eat in peace!"
The tall girl sitting between the blond-haired girl and violet-haired girl at this point decided to intervene. She raised a soothing hand toward both her friends and said to the blond-girl, who seemed on the verge of tears from the light besetment, "Usagi-chan, I can make cookies and a cake once we're at Haruka-san's apartment. How does that sound?"
The with rapidity Ryuzaki thought possibly pathological, the blond crybaby Usagi suddenly shifted moods into chipper glee, tears gone from her eyes, pout superseded by a joyful smile. The sated girl turned back to her Ryuzaki for a moment to say, "Okay, you can have all of it after all!" She then returned to her friends and began chatting animatedly as she had before noticing Ryuzaki's overlarge meal, and Ryuzaki, pleased that the three girls had retuned to normality and minding their own business without any need of him doing anything, lifted a red bean candy to his mouth and took a satisfying bite.
The girls continued to chat, friendly and lively, until after Ryuzaki had finished the better part of his ordered sweets and three cups of coffee. After paying his bill with a crumpled pile of one-thousand yen notes, he slipped his feet from the seat cushion under the table, tucking his toes into his sneakers. He then rose and made for the door, feeling full but unsatisfied. The shadowy feeling in his chest had not abated. Despite his lack of relief, Ryuzaki thought it best to return to the task force headquarters, where the team would wonder where he had been all morning.
In the doorway of the café, he passed a young man and a woman, arm in arm, who had just gotten out of a bright yellow sports car parked out front on the street. "Don't be too long!" the man called out from the door to a girl, about the age of the three inside with whom he briefly interacted, who was lifting a handbag and a stack of books from the backseat of the yellow convertible.
"Okay!" the girl energetically replied, as she hoisted a textbook into a cradling arm.
As Ryuzaki ambled passed her on the sidewalk, headed for the bus stop to take the convoluted route back to headquarters, a quick gust bereft a felt beret from the girl's head of blue-colored hair. She let out a squealing gasp as the wind took the hat sailing, and the sound she made was enough to steal Ryuzaki's attention from his thoughts. His head jolted around to see her chasing the airborne beret, and with a single swipe of a deft hand, he snatched the hat from the air. In his bony hand, he held it out to her.
"Thank you so much!" she exclaimed, struggling to take hold of the beret with her hands full of books and a bag.
Seeing her difficulty, he reached up and replaced the beret gently on her head and adjusted it to its proper position. He returned his hands to his pants pockets and noticed an expression of mild surprise on her face, accompanied by a pair of cheeks flushed pink.
"Thank you," she very nearly whispered.
Ryuzaki's eyes drifted downward from her face, and the girl, thinking the slouching and disheveled young man was eyeing her chest, blushed a deeper shade of red, before he read from the spines of her books: "Murder on D Slope, Spinoza's On the Improvement of the Understanding, Gray's Anatomy, and Goedel's Proof." His tone was a balance of admiration and disbelief.
"Y-yes." She did not know what to make of this man, helpful but uncouth.
"Are all of these yours?"
"You're studying to be a doctor?"
"Yes," she nearly gasped. "How did you know?"
"The spine of Gray's Anatomy is most worn of all books," he explained. "Are you a university student?"
Meekly, she answered, "Second year of high school." She seemed embarrassed by this fact.
"Amazing," Ryuzaki said flatly. "What do you think of Spinoza?"
Her face tightened and paled slightly. Unsure of whether this question was some sort of test of her intellect, her demeanor snapped into defensive, but a sincerity or simple curiosity she detected in the languor of the man's eyes softened her. Blushing again, she answered honestly, "The idea that God is a harmony visible through the natural world is appealing and sweet."
"Sweet," he echoed without a tinge of judgment.
"Some of his thoughts compete with modern quantum mechanics, but…." she began but trailed off into embarrassed oblivion. The corners of the young man's mouth were raised, and a thin index finger was pressed against his lips, though she was unsure at what exactly he was pleased.
Before he spoke another word, the man from earlier leaned out of the café door and called out, "Ami-chan, are you coming?"
"Yes!" she called back, beginning to jog to the door, not saying goodbye to the awkward lank young man. She vanished into the café with her books and her bag in her arms, her hat securely on her head, and her face flushed with red.
On the street, Ryuzaki spent a moment perplexed at the anxious flutter in his chest, swollen against the persistent sunken feeling, before he turned and began making his way back to task force headquarters. On the returning buses, his thoughts could not remain on the investigation and drifted repeatedly and consistently back to the girl outside the café – her deep blue eyes full of wonder and sincerity and intelligence. Ryuzaki squatted awkwardly on a bus seat, wrapped his knees with his hands, and recalled the softness of hair against fingers when he had placed her hat on her head. Her attention, her eclectic expertise, her acuity, the pink in her cheeks – Ryuzaki gazed from bus windows and remembered these things without critical judgment; he simply remembered and remembered and remembered, and he forgot for a time the hollowness under his ribs. Ami was her name? Second year of high school? She should be easy enough to research.