The last tears
It would be Christmas in less than a month; the weather became extremely cold and the Poinsettias proudly opened their red and gold petals. The children and I were practicing some carols, because we got included in the winter festival of Winchester. We also decorated Wammy's House with ribbons and garlands, and put a huge pine plenty of spheres to deposit the gifts, but I didn't know whether to buy fifteen presents, or only fourteen.
Quillsh went to the capital to make the tax returns of his businesses and buy a suit for his upcoming marriage. He had reserved a place for L in a famous institution, but did not know how to communicate him the decision.
The kid awoke in a luxurious bed of the big Wammy mansion. His guard was sitting beside him, smiling.
—Great! We finally have traveled —the boy exclaimed—. Are we in Osaka?
—No, my dear. I took you to London; I need your help to prepare my wedding.
—It's all right, if it doesn't take too long. I have other important affairs to manage. When will you get married?
—On Saturday 12 will happen the civil contract. The religious ceremony will be later.
—Don't you think it's too soon, Wammy-San?
—If you were fifty-six you'd also hurry.
The gentleman gave his protégé a bath and put him on a pair of shoes. The child complained at first, but resigned when he knew they were going to visit Quillsh's father. He also had to promise not to intervene in adult conversations.
Edward Wammy had been transferred to another room, since he no longer required intensive care. The new suite had a huge window that showed a nice view of the city. The nurse announced the visitors, and warned them that they could only be there for twenty minutes.
—It's you again! —the old man said, without even deigning to look at his son.
—Hi, Dad. How do you feel?
—Don't try to pretend that you care about my health.
—I'm glad to see that you look better. I will not bore you; just came to invite you to my wedding.
—And above all, you're mocking me! Respect my convalescence!
Quillsh told L to go looking out the window, as he approached the bedside of his father. The boy obeyed, helped with his crutch.
—What's that cripple doing here? —the sick man asked.
—He's my friend —Quillsh said, and taking an envelope out of his pocket, he changed the subject—: Here I leave the invitation. My fiancée's name is Elizabeth Melbourne.
The old man took the paper and made a gesture of disdain.
—Wow, that's serious! And who is this parvenu? I had never heard of her.
—She's Thomas Melbourne niece. She is an entrepreneur, and also a great pianist.
—Couldn't you get a better bride? Why did you have to pick a rival's relative? How low have you fallen, Quillsh!
The great inventor flushed with anger. He was used to being humiliated, but he couldn't stand that L was aware of it.
—Come back when you get a decent woman, and don't bring this kind of rabble again—. When Edward pointed to the child, my friend could not resist anymore; he snatched the invitation from his father's hand and ripped it.
—This is over, Dad! I love you, but I won't tolerate your offenses again. When you're ready to treat me with the respect I deserve, call me back.
The astonished old man looked with wide eyes at his visitors leaving.
The rest of that day my boss locked himself in his office to organize bills, and his protégé silently accompanied him. When he finished, already at night, they went to London Bridge. The city sparkled adorned with the Christmas lights, and the Thamesis doubled the fascinating stamp. L asked about the big column with the golden urn, and Quillsh replied that it was the Great Fire monument.
—I'd like to inherit to the world something that will endure as that pedestal —the detective sighed—. I only have about seventy years remaining of life, and I have not done anything important yet.
His companion smiled. To see someone of that age concerned by existential problems seemed really funny to him.
—Well, then you should study hard to become a great man.
—I'll go to school when I find mom. For now I can't think of anything else. In fact, I would like to fly tomorrow to Japan. I just need a day there.
Wammy sighed. He had just dealt with a painful issue and was already facing another.
— I cannot take you abroad with a provisional birth certificate like the one you have.
—Then please adopt me, Wammy-San. It would be a temporary fix. When I find my family we can undo it.
Quillsh bowed his head and swallowed, knowing his next words would be too rough.
—I'm sorry, little one, but my fiancée would not agree; she hates orphans and doesn't want me to get even more involved with the hospice.
L frowned, and then asked—: What is the reason for their hatred?
—Lizzie is a woman who has fought hard to succeed, and cannot stand people who believe to deserve everything just because life denied them a family.
A light snow began to paint the London Bridge white. Quillsh took off his coat to put it on the boy, but he rejected it.
—And what you think? Do you agree with her? —he inquired with a penetrating gaze.
—I think we're digressing. Either way, we will not go out of England. I want you to stay here to study.
—But why? If you are trying to protect me, let me inform you that I am about to finish the case of the bombs.
—I told you already: let the adults manage the adults' affairs.
—Negative. If you are corrupt, I must be justice.
—Let's make a deal: if after six months I haven't found your mother, I'll leave you free. By then, you will have learned everything you need to be a real detective.
—I'd ask you to promise that, but I already know that you don't keep your word.
L got into the car, and Wammy followed him. To dispel the bad atmosphere, Ralph put a cassette of Clayton, but everything got worst when "Our Promises" started.
The next day, they went shopping; Quillsh commissioned her bridal attire in the best tailoring, and then went to the most expensive stores to buy a new wardrobe for L. The boy did not complain, but I guess in the depths of his being he must have hated to replace his preferred outfit. They were on their way to the boarding school, when Ralph took the road leading to Chessington World of Adventures, so Wammy decided to visit the park. "We will enroll you on Monday. We need to have some fun right now." he said to L.
The boy could not keep his bad mood when being surrounded by the many attractions and goodies offered by the place. As soon as the kid saw "Runaway Mine Train", he went to stand in line, because he felt identified with the title of that roller coaster. He boarded the circuit thirteen times in total, and then discovered the carousel, where he spent another hour up and down while devouring giant spiral lollipops. Ralph suggested entering "The Fifth Dimension", but the boy was bored with the tour. "Instead of that ridiculous monster, they should show a robotic Lorenzo" he said with annoyance.
The trio tried each of the rides, ending at the zoo. The child refused to go until he saw all the animals awake and moving.
Then they went to the Tower of London, because my boss was planning to rent a part of the castle to host their wedding reception. They arrived just in time to witness the ceremony of the keys to the Beefeaters, and L was delighted; in fact, he was not satisfied until he entered through all the rooms and towers, and even jumped into the pit. As the guardians wanted to close the place, they told him about the horrible ghost of Anne Boleyn who appeared at night, but he replied that that was another reason to stay. His companions had to drag him out. "If I have to stay locked up, I choose this jail" he complained, staring at the outside wall with sadness.
Early on Sunday they visited the Natural History Museum. L stood with open mouth before the huge Diplodocus that adorns the main hall. Quillsh also loved the skeleton when he was a child, and felt moved to see a new generation marveled. Each time they left the room, L went back to look again at his beloved dinosaur, and when they were about to leave, the boy said he would go to the bathroom, but he actually mounted on the formidable replica. The good thing was that Wammy discovered him before the guards.
After a good meal, my friends continued their tour. My boss couldn't help but think that his protégé would remain cloistered, and wanted to show him the wonders of the outside world while possible.
The next stop was the National Gallery, whose very facade is a gem. Inside, the detective enjoyed the centennial works of European masters, and met in person canvases that had long watched in books. Quillsh and the driver decided to wait outside because the child wanted to see the collection twice, but when it passed too much time, they decided to look inside and found him in front of Seurat's "Bathers at Asnieres" with glowing eyes. Only by buying a small reproduction of the painting they could convince him to leave.
Already at home, Ralph said that he never had fun like that, and Wammy seconded his opinion. The cosmopolitan meetings with Elizabeth were unforgettable, but they left a bitter taste like that of the wine after providing euphoria; on the other hand, looking to L discovering the world with innocence, gave him a lasting peace.
The inventor left the boy reading in his library and went to sleep, but about to be the morning got up to hear him screaming.
—It was France! —L said while looking at the image of an old bridge in a book—. Here's where Lorenzo took me away from mom —he said, and then began to draw on a globe a route that ran from Japan and passed by Malaysia, Somalia, Egypt and Spain to reach France—. Based in the days of travel, transportation and languages I remember, I could finally determine the course of our escape.
Quillsh knew the viaduct of the photo leaded to an orphanage called "Pont Blanc", but preferred to be silent; it was evident that Rei intended to leave his son there, who knows for how long. At that time the clock alarm rang and he had to return to the present. While my boss was taking a shower, he heard the sound of a washing machine, and later found L clean and dressed up; Understanding what happened, he thought of inventing a special machine to sanitize humans, but dismissed the idea when comprehended that soon there would not be someone to use it. That thought made him very sad.
Wammy ordered Ralph to take the day off and drove himself. A sudden blizzard blurred the windows, which forced to go slowly. When they had before them the elegant façade of the school, the bells of a church rang, reminding them of the time they came together for the first time to Wammy's House. The inventor knew he was breaking that special bond between them, and was embarrassed by his decision. He thought of Rei, who instead of struggling to be together with his son, had chosen the most cowardly solution and felt like imitating her, so he stepped on the reverse and drove away. L didn't say anything, but expended the time drawing smiley faces in the crystals along the way, which was much longer than expected. They did not return to London, but went to Coventry.
Quillsh parked his limousine at the entrance to a cemetery. He had referred to the site as "much scarier than hell, the physical representation of the wound that never closes". Why was there then? Because his best friend was with him; in L he found the strength to face his ghosts.
They walked slowly among the graves, reading many names of people who had died during the war's bombings. The inventor looked at the flowers that their families had left, and felt responsible for so much desolation. They explored every inch of the cemetery, until they located a simple forgotten tombstone with an inscription that said "Rose Mary Wammy". My friend leaned to clean the name; although the remains of his mother rested in a very different tomb, for him that one was the authentic. He had many nightmares about that place, but being there for real, didn't feel scared, rather filled with sadness for understanding that he had suffered needlessly for decades.
—Why are you so sad, Wammy-San? —L dared to ask.
—Every single day of my life I had thought of this tomb. I would gladly have given my fortune for it did not exist, but I have learned that my pain was not kept here, but in my mind. My mother died in peace, so proud of me. She would not want me to be tormented.
—When a child in the foster home is unhappy, the others embrace him to make him feel better. They report that it works. Could I try it with you?
—Of course —said the gentleman squatting. The detective carefully placed his right arm around him, and when he figured it was in the right place, did the same with the left arm.
—Do you think I'm applying the correct amount of pressure? —he asked, and his partner could not restrain a slight laugh.
—You are smiling. It seems that it works —L added. As response, my boss held him tight.
—You are very good at this, Wammy-San. Do not forget to teach me your technique.
The two held hands and retreated, leaving behind something more than the cemetery.
When my boss came back to Winchester, confided me that he would adopt his protégé after Elizabeth's birthday party, when he would make public the marriage commitment.
Despite having always lived in Hampshire, I had never entered the Great Hall of Winchester Castle. Its towering stone walls, harmonious columns and elegant windows took my breath away, but when I saw the round table of King Arthur hung in the center of the room, felt I would faint. As my friend had not yet arrived, Miss Melbourne welcomed me. She looked more beautiful than ever, with that violet silk wrap dress that matched the floral ornaments of the tables. The lady asked me about the show that my choir would offer, and Marshall did not get away from her even for a second.
Meanwhile, at the Lions' Mansion, Wammy hastened to change his clothes, because L had thrown ice cream over him.
—I forgive you just because it was an accident, but please stop eating sweets and go wash your teeth —he said. The boy got up and went to drop his dessert again on the gentleman, who was desperate to be dirty again.
—I can't believe it! At this rate we'll never arrive to the party!
The boy did not flinch, and went to the fridge to get another scoop of ice cream, but my boss stopped him.
—What are you trying to you achieve?
L sighed, and finally admitted—: The truth is I do not want you to go to the party. Actually, I think you should cancel your engagement. I don't like that woman.
—I can't believe you are doing this to me! You don't even know her!
—I suspect she sent the bomb to the orphanage.
—That's completely absurd!
—It's not absurd if you consider the modus operandi. This time they wanted to have victims. At first, I thought that the intruder had allowed me to give the alarm, but later I realized that he could not have seen me. The roof was in total darkness.
—Why in the world my fiancée would want to do something like that?
—Marshall not only beat Lorenzo, but tried to steal from him his bomb, perhaps to use it against us. The theory behind this is that your girlfriend hates Wammy's House.
—Stop the nonsense! I can see that you're jealous, but soon you'll have no reason to feel that way —. The inventor made a pause and took him by the shoulders—. In case that you couldn't go home, would you like to be part of my family?
—If that unlikely event occurs, would love to live with you, but not with Miss Melbourne. I'm sure that she would mistreat me —L replied, after a moment's thought.
—Today I will introduce you to her, and she will like you for sure. I just ask you to be polite and omit imprudent comments.
The boy nodded and allowed Quillsh to comb him, and then they rush out toward the party hall.
The guests welcomed the groom with a burst of applauses, after which they rushed upon him to shake his hand and tell him congratulations. I approached the detective, who looked like a little prince, and whispered in his ear: "Wow! You finally look like decent people" but he did not answer my taunt, because he was determined to behave.
When the attendees returned to their places, the stunning birthday lady crossed the room. His man kissed her hand gently and looked ecstatically at her. "I still can't believe that I'll spend the rest of my life with the most perfect woman," he praised, then added solemnly: "Dear Lizzie, I want you to see someone who is eager to meet you."
Wammy led his girlfriend to my table, where L had settled. The kid stood up and extended his arm to greet the lady, but started shaking when seeing her closely.
—He is my friend Reizo —Quillsh declared—. He is very intelligent and kind.
The little hand stayed up in the air, but Elizabeth did not take it; instead, she stared at the boy with a gesture of callous disregard that froze our blood. All the hostility of the world lay behind those pretty eyes that cut like luxury swords.
—He forgot the gift in the car. We are going to retrieve it —I lied, while grabbing the arm of a dazed L.
It was raining outside, but the atmosphere was more bearable. I put the little kid on the stairs that lead to the hall and pinched him in the cheeks to revive him, but he pushed my hands and asked me to leave; then he hid her face against a wall and stayed like that, allowing the water to soak him furiously. I kept watching him from a distance.
Meanwhile, my boss was dancing. The orchestra played delicate waltzes, but he didn't even hear them, just went round and round, as if in a blender. He tried not to look at the face of his girlfriend, not wanting to see again her previous gruesome expression. He felt like holding in his arms a refined ribbon which was actually a snake. Suddenly, arrived the press and started taking pictures. Reporters interrogated the inventor about his health because he was showing a dismal countenance, but he just pretended to be dizzy; then he sat down, and asked Elizabeth to continue dancing with someone else. He was very disappointed, so he desired to break the engagement, but didn't want to expose the lady to a humiliation of enormous proportions. He tried to calm down thinking his nerves had played him a trick, so he decided to talk to his protégé to fix everything.
Wammy scolded me when he saw L under the downpour, and set out to rescue him. He noticed that his crying eyes looked empty, as if something had escaped from them with the tears. It seemed that the weight of the world had fallen on him turning him into an adult in just a moment.
—The truth exists only for those who are willing to see it —the child declared with faded voice.
—Everything will be fine. There is nothing to fear —Quillsh said, while getting him to his car. I went to the banquet to announce that my boss was facing an unexpected problem, whereupon Elizabeth was very upset, claiming she wouldn't eat dinner until his fiancée returns. That night she stayed with an empty stomach.
After the party, I decided to go to the Lions' mansion to know how my comrades were. Ralph told me that our boss was asleep because he had taken a sedative, and the detective refused to talk. I had brought for him a giant slice of cake, thinking that would get him out of shock, but I could not give my present: he had escaped. I immediately went to look for him at Wammy's House and then to the abandoned building, but there was no sign of him. Since his ankle had healed, he could have gone too far. I was about to report it to the police, but I feared to alert his pursuers; then it crossed my mind that Lorenzo could have kidnapped him and ran to the hospital where he was recovering. I almost had a heart attack to find the site closed and full of polices.
—What are you doing here, Mr. Ruvie? —Collingwood rebuked.
—I need to see your wounded man.
I got frozen when the boss told his men to take me into the patrol. Once in the police station, I was interrogated.
—What do you wanted to ask to my friend? —Albert began.
—One of the orphans disappeared, and I think Lorenzo is involved.
—Lorenzo? You mean Lawrence, right?
—All I know is that he had kidnaped the child before.
—I've had enough of your incongruous excuses. You will stay arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.
—Me? Why? —I exclaimed, feeling the ground beneath my feet quaking.
—Well, I guess it's your right to be informed: yesterday, someone sent to my man a bouquet of flowers and a letter containing an explosive.
—Is he dead?
—Fortunately not, because he fled helped by his custodian when he suspected the gift. He was trying to communicate with the hospital to warn of danger, but the phone lines were blocked because they were found to be spied. A poor nurse opened the envelope this morning and was very hurt.
—And what does it have to do with me?
—In the next room we have your friend Peter Salvin, who kept the spying device. He testified that you and one orphan committed the crime while were refugees in his home.
I decided not to declare anything until I could have Quillsh's advice, but couldn't reach him because he was out looking for L and had forgotten his cell phone. I really missed my friends! I felt totally lost without them. I didn't grudge the teacher for having betrayed us, because after all he had told the truth, but trembled at the thought that the police could discover at Wammy's House the revolver or other of our secrets.
In the afternoon Mr. Wammy finally appeared, accompanied by a lawyer. It was the same man who had managed of the case of Morello the swindler, saving him even when everything showed he was guilty; I couldn't be in better hands. We talked for a while, and then my employer announced that he should retire.
—It's a pity that you won't be tomorrow at my wedding. I wanted to postpone it until our problems were solved, but Elizabeth refused. Sorry — he said, and left with sadness.
That night I slept in a jail cell, hoping that something would prevent the marriage... as long as that was not a bomb.