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"I'm not. Often he can fix a watch with his bare hands. He's got such control of his fingertips that he can unscrew a tiny screw with his index finger, and screw it back in with his finger when he's done. When a screw was too tight to use his hands, he used the blade of a folding pocket-knife. Besides that knife, he kept a pair of tweezers in his workspace in his father's pub, and I believe that may've been all of the tools he was using before we met. We've given him proper loupes and tools and lamps he can use at home now, in addition to his work desk at the plant. And of course having decent tools has just fired him off like a rocket, in terms of what he can do, and how fast."
"So does he have any interesting designs for new watches?" Brown asked.
"Um, no. We were very hopeful about that at first, but the idea of designing something new doesn't seem to interest him at all. He wants to fix things. He sees a watch and as if he immediately imagines a Platonic ideal of the perfect version of that watch, and he wants the watch to be as close to that imaginary perfection as it can be. And that's how he expresses it, too: as approaching perfection. He's quite clear that he doesn't consider any existing thing to be perfect, and that everything is just a matter of trying to come close to perfection. If it's close enough to perfection it gives him pleasure. If it's not it can distress him quite a bit. And we're not just talking about watches here, he wants to fix everything he possibly can: he'll move a fork a tenth of an inch to make a table place-setting more symmetrical. He'll insist on walking a certain route because it'll shave ten paces off of a half-mile walk. He'll complain that there are too few pigeons sitting on a statue to make a pleasing arrangement. He'll notice if an animal is injured. He's very concerned about animals. He might see that a pigeon has a sore foot, and he can't do anything about that, and it upsets him greatly. He'll see that a shoe on a horse pulling a hansom cab is loose, or too thick or too thin, and he'll try to tell the driver about it. Some drivers actually listen to him about such things, because, ...Hmm. Well, because they've learned that he's always right. He's simply a genius."
"That's extraordinary," Brown said. "I'd only heard about the watch repair, I hadn't realized his talents extended to those other things. But I gather that he's also, oh... Forgive me..."
"Yes, in addition to his unusual abilities he also has unusual weaknesses. He doesn't understand people very well. He can be quite awkward socially. And so at first many people assume that he's quite simpleminded, when in fact the opposite is the case. Let me put it this way: he's very sharply focused on some things, such as watch repair, while he has great difficulty focusing on some other things which most people understand, and take for granted that others will understand them too. For example, if a group of people are walking and conversing, it will be clear to most people that whatever it is they're talking about is likely to be much more important than whether the route they take to their destination gets them there a few seconds sooner. Crowds generally are difficult for him. He doesn't seem to lie, as far as I can tell, nor do I think he can tell when others are lying. Not right away. Sometimes he'll figure out after the fact that things which have been said don't all add up. That can sometimes distress him quite a bit. In some respects he's innocent in the extreme."
"You said that crowds generally are difficult for him. Generally, but not always?"
"That's right, not always. Depends very much on the particular crowd," Latham said. "What are you getting at?"
"Well. He's obviously an extraordinary man. I thought it might be nice to introduce him to society."
"You want to show him off as a freak at one of your parties." Latham knew this wasn't quite accurate and he blushed as soon as he'd said it.
"Latham! What do you take me for?" Latham had begun to breathe heavily and to become dizzy. He felt the need to rock and forth or moan, to do something to soothe himself. Something or other which he always did after he had gone off by himself and hidden. He felt that whenever the conversation was about Charlie, people perceived that he was unusual like Charlie, although they never admitted this to Latham's face. He imagined them laughing at him and Charlie behind his back. He was fairly sure that it didn't happen quite as often as he imagined, that these anxieties were irrational. But it was hard to control them, and the fear that he would be exposed as a lunatic, and sent to some torture-chamber of an asylum, never to be released. This fear of awful asylums was even more irrational than the concern that people could see that he shared Charlie's characteristics, and that they regarded both of them as imbeciles, but it was hard to banish the fear even as he recognized it as irrational. Latham was upset with himself for confiding in Inspector Raymond about autism. Raymond simply didn't understand. He'd been the wrong one to confide in. Or perhaps, on the other hand, it was the secrecy which had been ill-advised all along, and he ought to have been perfectly open about his condition all along, never made the slightest attempt to conceal the ways in which he was unusual. Various scenarios of alternate pasts, if he had done or not done this or that, and imaginings of various possible consequences for each choice he might have made differently, began to race faster and faster through his mind, and the need to get away, to rock, to clutch his head and wring his hands and moan, became ever more desperate. Brown was saying, "Latham! My God, what's wrong? Do you need some water, some brandy? Do you need a doctor?" Obviously, Brown was a much better one to confide in than Raymond. But he had to open up generally. Let people think what they would. As with anything, the more intelligent would understand and the stupid ones would draw stupid conclusions. No one was going to put him into an asylum. Get it out, get it out. Tell the truth at last.
"Water," he said to Brown. "Water, please." Brown went running out of the office and soon was back with a glass of water. In the meantime Latham had begun to rock and moan and wring his hands, and this time when he was no longer alone he didn't attempt to hide these behaviors. He took the glass from Brown, drank down half of it at a gulp. It was icy and good. He put the glass down on Brown's desk, Brown raised a hand as if to lay it comfortingly on his shoulder, he gestured for Brown to please keep his distance, Brown understood the gesture and and stayed back. Latham took another gulp of water and nodded toward Brown's desk. Again, Brown understood the wordless request, and he went back and sat behind his desk again.
And then Latham told him, in detail, about how he shared many of Charlie's characteristics, with the major differences that neither his genius nor his social awkwardness was as pronounced as Charlie's, and that since early childhood, sensing much better than Charlie did how some people reacted to others who were different, he was in the deeply-ingrained habit of hiding the ways in which he was atypical. About the effort it took him to attempt to blend in. How things like the rocking and moaning and hand-wringing, which he usually did in secret, helped calm him down when his mind began to race uncomfortably. Clutching his head also, and striking the tendons below his knees and under his feet to set off his reflexes, how these and other things also helped. Things like a drink or two, for instance, or the company of some pretty girl or other with whom he managed to get along. How he had instantly known that he had many of these things in common with Charlie, the moment he'd first seen Charlie in agony, being held down by two constables on a crowded Waterloo station platform while an inexpert doctor methodically made things worse. About his anxieties about being confined in an asylum, and how he realized that those fears were irrational. Each big secret he gave up to Brown was like a heavy stone lifted off of his chest. He could breathe easily again. "I know you would never want to show anyone off as a freak," he said the Brown, "I know you're not like that at all. I lashed out because I was panicking. I'm sorry."
"My dear fellow," Brown said. "My dear Albert."
"I really prefer being called Latham. Sorry."
"Not a problem at all, Latham. Well, I must honestly say, as far as I was ever able to tell, you always fit in quite convincingly. Only thing a bit unusual about you has been how little eye contact you make. Just a split-second here and there to sort of ground things, and otherwise you're staring off somewhere. But even that isn't terribly unusual. I had no idea at all. My god, the strain it must have cost you."
"So, yes, by all means, let's let you have a party and introduce Charlie to some nice sensible people. You're quite right, it's time to introduce him to the wider world. What sort of event did you have in mind?"
"I was thinking of my uncle's place, actually. Does Charlie like the countryside?"
"I've no idea. I'll ask. And of course you've got to invite Charlie's Dad as well. I'm not sure how often he leaves the pub to someone else, or for how long."