Almost all dreams, good and bad alike, vanished when one woke up. The few whose bits and pieces one could still retain were usually the most remarkable. Indeed, of the two weeks the boss spent dreaming in minimal consciousness state, only a fragment of the dreams remained when he transited to full consciousness.
Past full consciousness, it took him another week to be able to get up on his own. In this one week, a middle-aged man he did not recognize come by every now and then to ask him simple yes-no questions. He was no doctor, but a police inspector who gave up easily after just five minutes or so without an intelligible response.
Soon enough, he was transferred to a lower ward where he could lie without breathing tubes and other intrusive machines. He was still guarded by two policemen outside and a few others in the hallway. It appeared the police had caught on and he was not going anywhere without a policeman or two.
And that did not even make it to the top three worst things about this whole experience.
The afternoon after he was transferred to a lower ward, the police inspector with an actual notepad this time and his cellphone in a clear plastic bag paid him a visit. Unlike before, the youngster showed admirable patience to the old boss’s slow and difficult speech.
“Ah, you are in good health today, I see. Let me introduce myself. I am inspector Ishikawa from the Fukuoka prefectural police department. I have heard many things about you, Mr. Kojima Goro.”
“Uhm…What was the name again?”
“Hmm, that does ring a bell, somehow…So, inspector Ishikawa…you said you…have heard about me?”
“Yes. Everyone at the organized crime investigation division has heard about you. I must say, you’re quite a celebrity here.”
“Is that so…? I am a celebrity…eh?”
“You don’t have to feign amnesia, Mr. Kojima. Our prosecutors are going to press charges against you whether you can remember your own name or not.”
“Press charges against…me? Why? Was I not…a star detective?”
“Like hell you were! You were a criminal, the most wanted man in this country. Do we have to play this game, Mr. Kojima?”
“Are you…sure I am…the one you want?” the boss asked in a low tone.
The inspector frowned and rubbed his forehead in a futile attempt to relieve the frustration he was getting from this contrived conversation. Then, he let out a sigh.
“We spent two months looking into your cover as Mr. Shinoda Ichiro, whose dead body was found in an alleyway near your house last August. We know about everything you did at Fukuoka High and in Omuta. Yes, we are sure you are the one.”
“Hmm? Omuta? Why did I…go there…again?”
“Like I said, you are going to stand trial whether you remember your own name or not,” the inspector reiterated, raising his voice.
The boss cracked a self-deprecating laugh. He then realized he could not even get that right with some of his facial muscles no longer working the way he wanted.
“If you can…make me stand again…yes, stand trial I will gladly.”
There was a hint of sorrow purposefully added to this statement.
On the countdown list of worst things about getting beaten into a coma, the second-worst thing involved the realization that he would never be able to use his legs again.
The doctor said the muscles and bones were miraculously intact and mendable. But, the motor cortex part of his brain governing the legs and shoulders were banged up badly in the incident and the brain swellings during his long three-week coma had wiped out a good chunk of it. He could move his toes if he tried and he could still feel stimulations in the region but that was about it.
As for his other limbs and his numbing case of stiff shoulders, physical rehabilitation was possible. However, for someone of his age, it would likely take many months, possibly years, to accomplish and a full motor function recovery remained highly improbable.
If there had been any saving grace in this one medical catastrophe, it would be that his critical thinking faculty seemed to be intact and at full capacity. Ever since he passed the legal retirement age, which happened only two years shy of two decades ago, he had been preparing mentally for the time when he could no longer rely on his physical prowess to get out of sticky situations.
His worst fear came true abruptly like a stroke. Alas! Since he had gotten two decades to practice this scenario, nothing thus far had been too much for him to handle. Still, he would much rather be surrounded by his trusted aides and be taken care of in such a time than keep his rear clear of some filthy sniffing cops.
The guilt-tripped inspector lowered his voice as he was forced to explain his insensitive statement like a politician caught in a scandal.
“I don’t mean in a literal sense, Mr. Kojima. You know I did not mean to mock your disability…”
“It was only…a joke, inspector…”
For a moment, there was a gloomy silence in the hospital room.
The inspector coughed lightly and started the conversation anew with an offer.
“Notwithstanding, I’m here to ask for your cooperation. Provide us with information about the syndicate and we will make arrangements to have you live peacefully for as long as the shinigami allows you.”
The boss closed his eyes to think for a moment.
On the offer, he did think this inspector was a sham. There was no such thing as a plea deal in the merciless—even by a crime boss’s standard—legal system of this country; it happened behind the scene, sure, but not to the extent that it would get a “celebrity” such as himself out of capital punishment.
Moreover, those damn prosecutors, whom this lying monkey kept bringing up ad infinitum, cared for nothing more their high conviction record. They would write a best-selling fantasy novel out of his testimony if that could get him convicted! Why yes, good sir! Once the prosecutors got their sight on a cat, that cat was a cold-blooded murderer and not a fluffy house pet.
What this guy wanted was not information but a confession, a confession that he was indeed Kojima Goro, the boss, and that he had been directly involved in any number of crimes his underlings had committed. He was not about to tie a knot around his neck himself just because his old mentor told him to give up in a dream.
This was not a game of Go, this was a game of poker. The boss had been dealt a strong hand and he must appear weak in order to trick this fool into raising the stake.
“And, what makes you…think. I would want to…live like this?” the boss asked.
The inspector shrugged.
“I don’t imagine you would either…but, that’s the deal you are given and I’m not in the position to change the terms. Take it or leave it, your call.”
Without a pause, the boss replied.
“I don’t mind…cooperating. But…I want…the death sentence—”
The inspector gasped in shock.
“Are you out of your mind?!”
“Well…I do have…brain damage…so, technically…yes?”
The gloomy silence once again befell upon the hospital room. The pace of this conversation was his to set. He could stop and start the negotiation at will.
“That was…also a joke. No offense taken, inspector. Anyhow…I am…serious about…cooperating. Please tell…your boss…what I really…want.”
The inspector hesitatingly asked: “You don’t mean…the death sentence?”
The old boss nodded and pointed at the inspector’s notepad. Even this simple action was slow and agonizing.
“And…I’m just guessing…that you have…questions prepared. I do not think…I am…the one you want. But, let me…hear them…just in case…I, a star detective, did know…something…”