Destroyer of Worlds
Case IV - Smoke and Mirrors
"The human who uses the notebook can neither go to Heaven nor Hell." - Rules of the Death Note
The 'King's Tea' was not a famous establishment, nor did it have particularly many visitors, even on a good day. It carried a certain air of Britishness, and even though the waiters were decidedly American, it was no surprise that Alfred liked the place. The furniture was exclusively made from natural wood, and the main hall practically hummed with a homely atmosphere.
The clients of the teahouse visited the place for its quiet, soothing music, and relaxation that was difficult to come by in a bustling city. One could leave a lot of worries behind, sitting there with a tastefully decorated cup of Elminster tea, taking in the delicious aroma, and soaking in the pleasant taste. There were also small snacks available, even for those without the sweet tooth.
The warmth of the room clashed with the chillingly cold rain outside, and dozens of umbrellas and jackets littered the hangers, dripping remnants of rain onto the floor. Alfred held his hands by a small fireplace, almost as warm as the one he maintained at Wayne Manor for the colder nights. The light of the flames was dancing across the room, illuminating the nearby tables with intermittent brightness.
A small bell rang, signalling that someone had just arrived at the entrance. Alfred took his place at the table nearest to the fireplace, taking in the new arrival with interest, especially after Bruce's revelations about the man's peculiar calling card. Ronald Richardson was followed by a small gust of wind and the splatter of water, and steam rose from his raincoat as he closed the door behind him to keep the heat in.
Alfred met the eyes of his acquaintance, and nodded pleasantly. "Good day," he said as he stood to shake the man's hand. "Rather ghastly weather today, it seems. I feel sorry for offering to meet under such dreary conditions, in retrospect."
"No matter, no matter." Ronald shrugged off the comment. "I'm sure a cup of good tea will make up for the trip. I hope you did not have to wait too long; I had a little trouble with the arrangement." He grimaced. "My employer got out of the wrong side of his bed, I believe – if he went to sleep at all."
"I have only just arrived myself," Alfred assured calmly.
"Hmmm," Ronald shrugged, sitting down across from Alfred as he looked at the other man's cup. "Do you have a particular recommendation for a specific beverage? I'm not familiar with local blends."
"I appreciate the sweeter teas," Alfred noted. "You may call the waiter to make something for you, or do so yourself, here at the table." He smiled, enjoying his own cup. "I hope I didn't get you into trouble with your boss, by the way – you could certainly have turned down my offer if it was an inconvenience."
Ronald nodded, rubbing his ear slightly as he poured a cup of hot water, taking the first flavour of tea he came across. "I have been quite busy. My employer has been a bit antsy of late, due to what has been happening here in Gotham. He seems to think that the city is cursed."
"Well, I didn't say it was a very rational concern," Ronald noted with a small smile. "He seems to believe that with murderers and vigilantes running all over the city, the market here could crash at a moment's notice. Granted, Gotham seems more than capable of taking care of its own problems, but still." He frowned. "Naturally, that's a concern for anyone who settles here."
Alfred raised an eyebrow, recognizing the hook in that statement. Suddenly, Ronald did not seem so innocent anymore; he was looking for information. "I am certain that the police -"
There was a muffled sound, a distant rumble; after a few moments it resolved into the loud noises of a powerful motor that approached at speed. The sound slammed rudely into the calm atmosphere of the little tea place, and people glanced towards the entrance in confusion, while Alfred groaned. The sound ended suddenly, and was followed by the slamming of a car door. Strange giggling sounds were followed by a couple of scantily clad young women who burst into the establishment. They were slightly wet because they ran the couple of meters in the rain from a black, expensive car that was parked at the entrance.
"Oh dear, I see he brought the women," Alfred muttered, before turning to Ronald. "I am terribly sorry for this," he said with a sigh. "I have been trying to persuade Master Wayne to come for years, to no avail. I never imagined he would choose today. I suppose he was curious when I mentioned him I had an appointment..." He rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Let's pray that he does not ruin my reputation."
Bruce Wayne, as if on cue, strolled in like he owned the place. That was a distinct possibility, though Alfred was certain for once that this particular tea house was still owned by Joffrey, a long-time acquaintance of his. Bruce met Alfred's eyes for a moment as he looked with interest around the little cosy room, which seemed suddenly overly full with him in it. Everyone was watching the man as he swept his beautiful female companions into his arms, and headed straight for the table in the centre, a bit to the side of the one Alfred and Watari were sitting at with their steaming cups. They were the most visible seats around – that was no surprise.
"Oh dear," Alfred said again. Bruce had actually never visited the tea house before, that was the truth, and now he was acting like his public image demanded – which meant that outside of business deals, he lacked a little something in maturity and tact. Alfred hoped dearly that he knew what he was doing.
"He does know how to make an impressive entrance," L said reluctantly, and Watari had to suppress a sardonic response as he took in the loud and boisterous millionaire with barely concealed unease.
"Please ignore the intrusion," Alfred murmured as he glanced to the man and back, flushing with embarrassment. "If I had known he would come..."
"It's no trouble," Watari replied easily, glancing with narrow eyes between the uncomfortable valet and his boisterous master. "I know a thing or two about immature employers, if you recall. I wish that intruding upon my private meetings was the worst mine had done."
"I am beginning to suspect you enjoy these insinuations." L commented darkly. "It is interesting that someone such as Wayne would appear just when you are meeting his valet, isn't it? Still, your friend seems suitably surprised, which might suggest that Wayne took advantage of the man to find out about your presence here. He is a successful businessman, after all. It is understandable."
"It's what you would do," Watari muttered under his breath as he held his cup before wasn't sure if L was ascribing sociopathy to Wayne, or genius, or something else entirely. Thankfully, Watari wasn't the one who had to make that assessment.
"Bruce Wayne is loud, egocentric, and clearly has a poor self-image if he must support it by means of women and fast cars. Not unusual for a child born in wealth who inherited it at an early age without working for it." L cleared his throat. "He is also an accomplished actor."
Watari did not ask how L had figured out something like that – probably some subtle movement, some gesture that was a little too forced, maybe a momentary expression when Wayne thought nobody was looking. He stared at Wayne as the man entertained his two companions with something that looked a lot more like wine rather than tea. For a split second, the man glanced his way, and Watari felt like when L was staring at him with that unreadable expression of his – a shrewd businessman was hidden under all that bravado, studying a new person of interest. Suddenly, L's assessment seemed far more plausible.
"Ladies!" Bruce called suddenly, and he quickly walked towards the fireplace. Watari almost cringed as dozens of people looked over at the commotion, and Alfred buried his face in his hands with a sigh. "Look who we have here! You owe the discovery of this incredibly cosy place to this lovely Englishman!"
"It seems that Wayne seems quite content with manipulating the situation to favour his ends - not uncommon among the shrewd, admirable in many ways."
"You would say that," Watari murmured as he smiled congenially at the new arrival. One of the girls on Wayne's arms said something that could have been a thanks, while the other looked too busy playing with his hair to pay attention, which the man looked to be rather pleased with.
"Good day, Master Wayne," Alfred said as he stood up, and he nodded his head in greeting, though rather more stiffly than seemed proper. Watari looked away, trying not to show his pity for Alfred's embarrassment. "I wasn't expecting you to follow up on my offer today, of all days."
"Well, I always keep my promises," Bruce argued. "Sit down, Alfred, I don't want to spoil your meeting with your..." He paused turning to Watari, who had stood up as well. "...friend," he finished looking down the old Englishman. "My name is Bruce Wayne, and you might have seen it spelled on a couple of buildings in the city. And you are?"
Watari smiled thinly, bravely holding up appearances. "Ronald Richardson, a pleasure to meet you. Bruce Wayne, eh? I have heard you're one of the best Gotham has to offer."
"Come now, Watari. That was corny. Surely you have more wit than this?"
"I like to think I have some importance," Wayne agreed, nodding, and his smile slipped momentarily. "I have heard very few things about you, Mr. Richardson, was it? Alfred only mentioned me of your arrival in the city. Pleasure to meet you."
"I assure you, the pleasure is mine," Watari said, nodding courteously. "Please, take a seat."
Bruce lowered himself into one of the large chairs, and the two girls behind him giggled as he distractedly played with their long hair. "You're in business, I understand? Hotels? I dabble myself, though the brunt of it is taken care of by Fox - a business manager of mine."
"Lucius Fox - I already have him on file. I wonder whether Mr. Fox is responsible for the impressive security systems within Wayne's manor?" There was a silence for a time, followed by the unmistakable noise of crumbling cookies. "Most interesting..." L said while munching on his snack.
Trying to ignore L's mutterings, Watari smiled. "The hotel business has been in trouble of late, with this economy - you must understand. People are prone to remain at home, or to go to smaller, cheaper venues. The very best hotels are simply forgotten. It is something I intend to change on behalf of my employer."
"Perhaps he and I know each other - I am well-connected," Bruce said. "Regardless, it is nice to meet you." He laughed lightly. "These two lovely ladies are Cindy and Diana, by the way. I can practically feel their impatience - and something else."
"Samantha," one of the girls corrected, not insulted in the slightest. "Not Cindy. Cindy's got long, red hair."
"My apologies, Samantha," he pronounced her name by dragging the word for a few seconds, a lot more than was necessary. "I won't forget it again. How about we sit down somewhere private and finally have some good tea?"
"Waiter," he called, and the slightly nervous man hovering nearby the whole time, took cue to approach him. "I'd like a few cups of the best tea you have for me, Diana, and Samantha. And put everything these two gentlemen ordered on my tab, too. It's the least I can do for my valet, I think."
Watari didn't even start to protest when Bruce turned back to him, and explained. "I have interrupted your meeting - it's just my way of saying I'm sorry, I promise. Had I known Alfred wasn't alone, I wouldn't have intruded this much." And he was looking back at the waiter. "What would you recommend to go with the tea, sir?"
As he walked away with his two women in tow, L spoke. "An obvious attempt at misdirection, his claimed apology. Wayne was looking for an opportunity to take stock of you, either because he is overly interested in his valet's personal acquaintances, or because he found the card you left with him. We had best assume the worst." L paused, and there was grumbling sound over the line. "Watari - where did you leave my cake?"
Watari sighed. "Second cupboard to the left," he murmured.
"It had better be there."
"Hmmm?" Alfred raised an eyebrow. "I'm sorry?"
Watari smiled tiredly. "I could use a snack, I believe. My stomach's practically talking to me."
I had seen enough. Ronald Richardson had been the man I thought he was. An agent, or at the very least, a very paranoid businessman. My sensors had found an impressive amount of tracers and bugs - there were at least three different complex groups of devices hidden beneath or within his suit alone. Audio and visual recording, geo-location, possibly communication. One even seemed to be pulsing in tune with the man's heartbeat.
The approximate placement of these, couple with their sheer number, implied cooperation of their carrier. No sane spy would go to such lengths to bug an unwilling person. Every bug increased the chance of being detected, thus the only logical conclusion - this jungle of devices had to have been deliberate on Ronald's part. This meant that either the man constantly reviewed the recorded information, trying to catch what he had missed from the conversations, or that he had a whole team of collaborators, watching the scene from afar. Of course, that could explain why he had bugged Alfred, too. The man simply had enough bugs to leave one with everyone he met.
I was ready to leave, to do further research, but for one peculiar happenstance. Because in that moment, the music went suddenly silent.
The large television on the eastern wall, which had been playing soft music to the image of a picturesque little village, suddenly showed a bright black-and-yellow text instead. Ronald had quieted down, and was watching it with a frown. Someone had just asked for increased volume and the sound was suddenly loud enough for all to hear. There was some sort of formal announcement, and Bruce caught a glimpse of Gotham's Police logo in the corner of the screen. Intrigued, he stopped his cup mid-air and turned to watch.
"This is a special report from the Gotham Police Department. As of this morning, there is confirmation of a serial killer, active in the greater Gotham area. The police will be issuing an official statement on the matter within several minutes. Nobody should go out alone at night, except in direst emergency, until this matter is resolved."
Bruce frowned. He had heard nothing from his sources within the Police department - much less from Gordon - about an imminent broadcast. Alfred glanced nervously at him - he ignored the look, though he understood the underlying warning. The mystery man, Ronald, was staring at the screen with discomfort, rubbing his ear.
"Good evening," said a voice on the television, and Bruce's gaze snapped back to the screen. The person on the television looked tired, with heavy bags under his eyes, and his long black locks hung down his face haphazardly. He sat behind a large desk with a little sign on it that showed his name. 'Lind. L. Tailor.'
"Oh, you're not telling me that's..." Bruce muttered to himself.
"Please allow me to introduce myself. I am known as L." The figure said, staring into the camera. "I am a criminal investigator that is presently engaged in tracking down a suspected serial killer, known to the police as the Midnight Murderer, named for the time of his crimes." He paused. "Hello, Midnight. It was inevitable that we would clash. Don't worry, this war will be short."
"Good lord," Ronald said under his breath, wiping his forehead.
"I know how people like you work, Midnight," the man said. "I know what you are doing. You believe you are working for justice. You think that taking out the darkest elements of society in brutal displays of merciless judgement makes you a hero - but justice is not vigilantism, nor is murder an acceptable means of punishment for these crimes. You do not have the authority to decide such matters. You are not a god."
Bruce narrowed his eyes as he stared at the screen. He suddenly had a creeping feeling that he knew where this was going - and it was not good. He knew about the man named L, and he highly doubted the one on the screen was really that person. The legendary detective, sometimes rumoured to hold the top three spots as best detective of the world under three different names, would hardly unveil himself so publicly. But he would certainly zero in on any of the more unusual elements of Gotham, especially by making a statement like this - and that meant he was after Batman too.
"Hunting those who you believe guilty of crimes is crossing a line into crime yourself - and that is why I am going to stop you. Because you are just a spectre of the night, a ghoul, incapable of understanding what justice really is." He crossed his arms. "I will not stop until I have found you - and then you will rot in prison for the rest of your days, reflecting on your misdeeds." The screen quite suddenly blinked back to the normal news, where a few baffled pundits took a moment to get back to their normal programming.
"Well, that was dramatic," Bruce said easily, raising an eyebrow. "As if Gotham did not have enough vigilantes - let's add a serial killer and a detective with a chip on his shoulder."
Ronald sighed as he turned away from the screen. "Murderers on the loose, and all the other boogiemen of the night... Gotham's a creepy place these days."
"Perhaps, but it's still home." Bruce stood up, urging the girls to join him - he would need to take the presence of L into account - and double the security of all his facilities. He turned to Ronald with a false smile. "I should really go. This is truly a nice place, I might even think about buying this place. Wayne Landing, it has a ring to it." He grinned, without a care in the world. "It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Richardson." He waved the waiter with his credit card and entered the code when prompted. "If you ever need anything, don't hesitate to call." He quickly procured a small business card of Wayne Enterprises to give the man, and distractedly accepted one of Ronald's, putting it next to his credit card. He would need to analyse it later, and see if he could triangulate the home position based on the different signals of the two cards he now had in his possession.
"Thank you very much," Ronald agreed, smiling.
"Alfred, please make sure the dinner is ready for my return," Bruce said, and his eyes met his valet's for a split second. "I'll be in the manor in-" he looked at the smiling ladies. "Let's say five hours - give or take one. I've got a few promises to keep." He turned and waved as he strode to the exit. It was time to further his own investigation. L's presence would complicate matters.
He was going to be late to dinner, again, Bruce realized, fixing his cowl in place. It was the fault of his innate paranoia - he had plans for the next night, and that meant he could not just go in blind, taking a leap of faith. Not when so much could be at stake. Thus - his current location, and the last preparations. The coordinates he wrangled from the Dealer's key helped him to find the approximate location of the meeting place. Even if the auction would not be taking place on the exact place Sal Maroni was expected to arrive at, the true hideout was supposed to be somewhere near. And it was his very intention to find it, under cover of darkness and blanket of heavy rain. The matter of L would have to wait.
The problem now was that he had to be very careful, so as not to scare the Dealer by his presence. That meant moving slowly and with incredible precision. The guards usually employed dogs with a passion, trained to warn them about any intruders sneaking around, but this time, the heavy rain was on Batman's side. It was like the nature decided that after leaving the city alone for a couple of weeks, it just had to return with an unrelenting determination to flood everything. The rain had been falling for the whole day, and it did not look that it was going to end anytime soon. That was a perfect setup for throwing off any trace of his scent.
The masked vigilante stood on the highest point of the small warehouse complex - on the very top of the tower crane, overlooking the men moving below. Heavy raindrops flowed down his shoulders, onto his cloak and joined their brethren on the long fall to the ground. Batman had a small camera to mount - he was reasonably sure that he had found the best place for the auction to be held at, and figured out a perfect angle for observation. He'd have preferred to have a video feed from the inside, of course, but it wasn't a night for risks, not when a wrong step would have cost him his lead.
A couple of tired men were making rounds around the complex. With dogs, as expected - but Batman would have been surprised if the hounds could smell further than their nose in such a downpour. The guards met every couple of minutes, exchanging pleasantries and complaining about the weather - their patrol pattern, sadly, did not confirm if the Batman's initial choice had been correct, but at least he knew that something was going to happen in the area tomorrow.
Continuing his work, he allowed his mind to wander - setting up a transmitter was something he could do in his sleep, and he had his mind to sort out before returning to Wayne Manor. The shadow game of this on-going case was getting more difficult by the minute. Interpol involvement signified inconvenience, and the measures their agents took were so overboard that it lifted a red flag in his mind.
The coincidental arrival of Ronald Richardson, and the apparent paranoia of the Interpol - including how vast the surveillance equipment on the man was, had pointed only at a couple of suspects. Coupled with the recent broadcast it left only one true possibility - Ronald was under employment of the elusive L.
After all, who was a paranoid detective that Interpol called upon when the cases were too difficult for them to handle? When you took a list of people who could have access to such equipment and would be able to find his transmitters in the police department and worked with the police, there was but one man who could be responsible.
His guess was confirmed by the show that aired that very day - and in all the numerous meanings of the world, most seemed to fit perfectly. A show, a provocation, a challenge, maybe even bait - for a renowned, yet secretive detective, to reveal himself this way was unthinkable. It had to be an attempt to force the Midnight Murderer to move and walk into a trap. He was curious as to the outcome - the Lind L. Tailor, if that was the man's true name, would be kept under constant observation.
Batman allowed himself a content smirk - working on the assumption that Ronald Richardson worked for L and had detectors monitoring his heart rate, Tailor would likely be watched with even bigger scrutiny, bringing the term under constant observation to the whole new level.
He'd have to acquaint himself with L's other works, the Batman mused to himself, moving on to set another device with infrared coverage of the whole warehouse area - just in case he had to retreat tomorrow. Knowing the playfield and the moves of the opponent would give him a distinct advantage.
He stilled. It would be a perfect advantage, wouldn't it? L, in essence, was an unknown, an entity with resources deep in the police and Interpol network - with a vast array of tools and information at his disposal. What was more, the man was supposed to be a genius - and, judging by the sacrificial pawn he just put in the Midnight Murderer's sights - wasn't above killing to get what he needed. The worst case scenario was a murderer in charge of his own murder investigation - and no one would be the wiser. Batman would have to prepare accordingly, however unlikely the event was.
That left only one question hanging - if L was the one responsible for the deaths, what was that drove his attention to Gotham? Could it be that for his crusade against criminals, he simply chose a place with more of them to start with? Or perhaps he chose to represent both halves of the equation, on both sides of the thin line that he as the Batman straddled - a grotesque play against himself, disappointed in the challenge others could offer? On the one hand, the killer who murdered for justice, on the other, the genius detective who would do anything to bring such people into custody?
Even when he achieved a drop of invaluable information, he could not make full use of it. Not by investigating Ronald, in any case. His opposition would notice something was wrong at the slightest mistake, and that would compromise Alfred. That was an unacceptable outcome - Bruce Wayne wasn't the kind of man to sacrifice others for his goals.
His work finished, he waited until the guards weren't looking in his direction, spread his wings that hardened into a glider in a moment, and jumped. The dark shape cut through the curtain of rain, disappearing without a trace.
Only a small, unobtrusive lens continued to watch the stormy night.
Lind L. Tailor should have been calm and collected. He had done what they asked of him, adhering to the script to the letter, playing the part of a detective. They had promised to reduce his sentence, and all manner of other small pleasures - he had just finished smoking a Cuban cigar, one of his more outrageous requests, yet they surprised him by managing to procure him two - and they were the real deal.
The smoke allowed him the outward appearance of relaxation, even as he felt everything but calmness - there was a nagging feeling that he should have refused the offer. The thought that he should have gone with the death sentence was silly, to say the least, but now the wait was killing him. People in charge, he knew, were watching him under a live feed, and there were detectors under his skin, many lenses of cameras glimmering from all kinds of odd angles.
With that sort of scrutiny in observation, he couldn't help but give in to silent panic. They believed that there was a chance someone would kill him - with all the guards and security in the way. It was insane - but still, how could he be calm with that hanging over his head?
The seat Lind was sitting it, even though really soft and comfortable at first, was now chafing him a little. He shifted a bit, trying to find a better position, sure that the shift in his centre of mass was constantly being measuring by some sort of detectors underneath. He had seen the small wires in the chair - what else could they be for? He scratched the armrests with his nails - at least they hadn't tied him up.
There was a guard standing right on the other side of his glass cell - he had heard a short conversation about filtering out any possible gasses, and seen the borderline obsession with double checking his food and drinks.
His thoughts returned to the whole mess he was in. It was inconceivable, but they were expecting something to happen to him, inside a glass cage, surrounded by cops and surveillance equipment.
He should have asked for more cigars.
Lind's eyes widened, focusing on something just before him, and though he tried to scream, nothing would emerge. His whole body twitched in a strange spasm, some inner daemon taking over. Then, his arms, trembling with a stinging tension, rose up like a puppeteer was moving them. Lind glanced at the well groomed nails, moving towards his face with an inhuman determination. Confusion and fear found way into his expression as he took a long, hissing breath and plunged the sharp nails deep into his own eyes.
There was an alarm going off somewhere, as the guard tried to get into the room in time, but Lind ignored everything. He was howling in pain, blood flowing down his face in two endless streams of bloody tears, his nails were digging deeper and deeper, scratching, tearing, pulling, squeezing. He screeched with inhuman intensity, his nails fractured, spasms travelling through his whole body. His voice was desperate, ringing with strange echoes in the glass chamber.
The guard tore the door open at the very same moment the man suddenly went limp, his left arm falling down with a silent thump, sending a torn out eye splashing and rolling on the floor - the other hand was still stabbed deep into the eye socket, blood and gurgling noises pouring outside through the frozen fingers.
As wet, rolling eye stopped at his heavy boot, the guard's expression fell and he doubled over, heaving, pouring the last dinner on the floor.
If the time of death is written within 40 seconds after writing the cause of death as a heart attack, the time of death can be manipulated, and the time can go into effect within 40 seconds after writing the name. - Rules of the Death Note
"Master Wayne, you should certainly try the olives," Alfred offered, as he served a midnight meal. "They are freshly plucked, and quite delectable."
Bruce nodded distractedly, puffing on a Cuban cigar as he looked into the silent night.