A/N: I pretty much started typing this the moment I finished playing "The Stolen Turnabout". It was supposed to be just some random thing about Luke Atmey, but somehow I ended up adding von Karma and Gant in it and giving it an actual plot. I still have no idea how this happened. It's kind of an experiment, really, since I never tried to write a crime fic before, so I'll see how it goes.
Los Angeles, March 1992.
Manfred von Karma frowned in annoyance as the wind rushed over him the very same moment he stepped out of his car, ruffling his hair and causing his cravat to whip his face. He smoothed it down with an impatient gesture of his hand – thankfully, none of the officers currently watching the area had seen what had happened – and quickly walked to the entrance of the hospital, not even bothering to try smoothing back his hair as well until he was inside.
He briefly nodded at the officers, who immediately recognized him and let him get inside without even asking for his ID; everyone who had any business in either the criminal department or the courtroom could easily tell who he was. You don't go sixteen years without losing one case nor getting one single penalty without earning some notoriety and, of course, respect. Not to mention the rather satisfying aura of invincibility that seemed to strike deathly fear in any attorney who had to cross paths with him, and in any defendant whose case he would prosecute – winning a guilty verdict before the attorneys could even begin to guess what had exactly happened.
And even those who never had and never would have to cross swords with him were clearly intimidated by his mere presence. But isn't it just normal for imperfect fools to bow their heads in front of perfec-
"You look cheerful as always, Manny. Haven't been swimming lately, eh?"
…of course, not everyone was as intimidated by him as he would have liked. But after sixteen years he supposed he could say he had grown to at least tolerate that man's annoying attitude – an attitude that, he had learned to know that well, hid a cold and calculating mind almost as cunning as his own; something much more dangerous than most could imagine. "Detective Gant," he greeted him coldly, finally taking some time to smooth his hair back now that he was inside the hospital "this is hardly the right weather for that kind of activity."
Gant sighed. "Good point. But it was nice enough until Tuesday. And to think I wanted to take last weekend off. That guy at the museum sure picked the wrong moment to get himself killed, eh?"
"If anything it was a simple case we wrapped up quickly," von Karma cut him off, not really feeling like listening to his babblings on how he would have liked to spend the weekend "what about this one? Have you already searched the crime scene?"
"Sure. It's down in the hospital's basement, in the old boiler room. Bet you'll go to see it by yourself later, but the boys are not done yet. Mind if I tell you the basics in the meanwhile?"
"Do that and make yourself useful for a change."
Gant chuckled. "You really need a vacation, Fredo," he said lightly before turning back to the subject at hand "anyway, our victim was a surgeon called Stan Hewitt. He was killed during the night shift, probably no more than two hours ago, with a lethal dose of morphine, injected through a syringe we found stuck in his neck. No prints on it. If it was full as it looks like it was, he must have passed out immediately, and death must have come after mere minutes. There are no signs of struggle, which means he went down there on his own accord; maybe to meet the killer, since he didn't seem to really have a reason to be there and it's clear whoever killed him got very close to him without arising any suspect. It had to be someone he trusted, or didn't feel threatened by. And the murder had to be planned from the start – people don't walk around with syringes filled with morphine in their pocket just because."
"I see. Anything else?"
"The floor is very dusty, as you can imagine, and we have some nice prints in the dust. We took a few shots of them. Ordinary hospital shoes, the kind doctors and nurses wear."
Von Karma snorted. "Considering that the murder took place in the basement of a hospital, that's hardly a surprise."
Gant clicked his tongue, playing with his forelock. "Ah, but Freddie, what says it couldn't have been someone from the security, or the maintenance? The prints do. They wear different shoes."
"That's not enough," von Karma said, his left hand thoughtfully clenching a handful of his right sleeve "we have to make sure no doctor or nurse's shoes are missing. And even if none of them is out of place, some pathetic attorney could still claim the shoes could have been… borrowed."
"That's what I thought as well – one gets good at getting into an attorney's mind after being stuck with you for so long, you know – and already make sure of two things."
"First of all, no shoes are missing. And second, to get the spare ones the killer would have had to pass right next the security guard. The guard sitting there never left her position, and no one who wasn't a doctor or a nurse walked in. So no one but a doctor or a nurse could have those shoes."
"And you took her word just like that? She could be lying, and if she is and some attorney proves that the case might get difficult. I need solid proof, Gant!"
"Does the security tape suit your tastes?" Gant said with a smirk "of course I verified her claims right away. She truly never moved from the desk, and the tape shows no one but doctors and nurses getting in and out that room. Of course, if it's not good enough yet you could question the guard yourself. She's someone we had occasion to meet already after all – she sure didn't forget you…"
For a moment von Karma seemed almost about to lose his composure, his eyes widening. "Wendy Oldbag?" he asked, clearly fearing the answer. How could that woman be everywhere he went?
"Bingo. She asked me about you, you know," Gant winked at him "I didn't tell her you would be on the case, but if you feel like having a chat with your number one fan…"
"No," von Karma cut him off with something close to a snarl before clearing his throat "it won't be necessary. The security tape will be enough. I think we can establish that the culprit is a doctor, or a nurse."
"Most likely a man," Gant added "the victim was rather tall, and the angle shows pretty well that whoever stuck the needle in his neck had to be almost as tall as he was, at least. Also, that's what the prints' size tells us. No one but the victim and his killer was there recently. Them and, of course, our key witness."
Von Karma – who had been absentmindedly stroking his chin in thought – sharply looked up at Gant, a scowl on his face. "A witness? You told me nothing about a witness," he hissed, his eyes narrowing. He had no patience for Gant's games, and he didn't appreciate having any kind of information held from him, no matter how briefly.
Far from being intimidated, Gant smirked. "I was just getting there, Freddie. There is a grade-school kid who claims he saw everything. Apparently, he got out of his room tonight and somehow managed to wind up in the basement."
"Hmm. And how do you know it's not just making it up? I find it rather hard to believe even a child of challenged intellect could be foolish enough to get lost inside a hospital to the point of getting in the basement, and even harder to believe no one noticed. The paediatric ward is rather far from the basement's entrance, as far as I can tell, and there are supposed to be doctors and nurses around during the night shift."
Gant shrugged. "I know it sounds odd, but that's exactly what happened. Not only there are traces of his presence in the boiling room, but he was actually found there along with the body: the search for the boy was probably the reason they found out about the murder so quickly."
Von Karma frowned. "Alone with the body, you say?"
Gant laughed. "C'mon, Manny, you can't be seriously thinking anything like that! The kid is just eight, small for his age to boot. He's far too short to be the one who stuck a syringe in a grown man's neck. Not to mention he has a broken arm and is wearing a cast; it would have been impossible for him to even land a blow on Dr. Hewitt, even if he tried with all his might."
"It is my duty as a prosecutor to sort out all possibilities. Especially since a suspect is yet to be arrested," von Karma said pointedly, his scowl telling just what he thought of that proof of incompetence from the police's part "of course, I'm going to talk to this child right away. What do you know so far?"
"A nurse on the night shift found his bed in the paediatric ward empty around one in the morning, and immediately started a search. Only twenty minutes later they found the child in the basement, squatted under an old boiler not even ten feet away from the body of Dr. Hewitt. Hell knows how he got there, but what matters is that the kid claims he saw the murder happening," Gant told him as they walked into the elevator to rise up to the floor where the paediatric ward was along with a couple of officers "and with some luck, he also got a glimpse of the murderer. We'll find out soon, won't we?"
Von Karma scowled. "Given that they let us interrogate him," he grumbled "I've encountered such problems already – people claiming we shouldn't be let interrogate children, no matter what they witnessed, because they had been traumatized…" he scoffed "the excuses they won't make to let criminals walk free!"
"I don't think that's going to be a problem this time around, Fredo. From what I was told, looks like the kid is more hyped up than traumatized. He sounded more than eager to talk, so the psychologist can stuff his babblings about traumas and need for rest back in his throat. We've got to talk to him. What's his name again…?" Gant frowned a little and turned to a nearby officer as the elevator's door opened "Atmore? Atkins?"
"Uh…" the man shuffled through some papers he had in his hands – drafts of what would eventually become the report on the case, of course – before replying. "It's Atmey, sir. Luke Atmey."
Earlier that night.
Had anyone asked him why he was in that hospital, there was only one thing Luke Atmey would have replied – things got out of hand. Admittedly, that happened frustratingly often, but it was really all that happened: he would try to do something cool that would make his classmates like him, and he would wind up in trouble. Not that it had ever stopped him from trying, considering that there wasn't really any other way he could think of to make them actually like him.
Luke used to like being at the centre of attention – he still did, really – but it had turned out not all attention you get is bound to be good news: he sure didn't like it when they called him Pinocchio, and when they laughed at his attempts at doing as he was told in the gym class… well, getting their attention really didn't feel nice. He had been told countless time that if he just ignored them they would eventually grow tired of the game and stop. But ignoring them had never worked – he wondered why, since being ignored was the worst thing Luke could think happening to anyone – and trying to ignore everything they said it had gotten increasingly difficult.
So in the end he had thought that maybe, if he couldn't escape it, he could at least turn it into the kind of attention he'd enjoy getting. He had thought that if he could make them admire him, then everything would be fine and he'd get the kind of attention he liked getting from them… and possibly from that nice teacher all boys in the school had a crush for, himself included.
That was the reason why, the moment the ball his classmates were playing with during the break – without him, because he didn't like sports and he was always picked last and he didn't like that either – had gotten stuck in the branches of a tree in the middle of the yard, he had known that was his chance to do something cool that would impress them. So, despite the teacher's orders not to try getting the ball back until she got back herself with a ladder – well, a stepladder – he had begun climbing the moment she had turned away.
He wasn't really strong, but he was also small, nimble and light enough to climb up the branches without them breaking, so he had made it close to the ball quickly enough. The moment he had finally reached for it he had allowed himself to laugh at the murmurs of what he supposed was disbelief, and admiration coming from the other kids beneath him.
But his laugh had been cut short by the creaking noise of a branch bending and then breaking, the thin branch he had put his foot onto to hoist himself further up, and a second later Luke had found himself plummeting to the ground so quickly that he could barely even realize what was happening. He had managed to twist in mid-air so that it would be his shoulder to take the impact rather than the head – it worked so well in movies, just so well – but it had hurt so much more than he had expected, and he was sure he had heard something snapping just an instant before the pain in his arm hit him.
Luke didn't remember screaming, but he probably had, because he his throat was sore even later. He could only remember that all of a sudden the teacher was next to him, cradling him in her arms, and despite the pain he had chuckled – now that was something none of the others had managed to obtain! "He… heh. I got your attention, right? Right?" he had asked, but the teacher wasn't listening, busy as she was yelling for someone to call an ambulance.
But at least she hadn't yelled at him, as his mother had done later at the hospital. Then she had cried, and then yelled some more, and in the end he wasn't really sure whether she was yelling or crying, so he didn't quite know how to react – all he knew was that his arm hurt and the cast made him uncomfortable and he just wanted her to give him a hug and tell him it would be okay like the teacher had. He had also wanted to reply that of course he didn't want to make her cry – why would he? – but things… got out of hand. As always.
"Sometimes I think Luke will be the death of me," he had heard his mother saying tiredly at the phone right outside the room, while she thought he couldn't hear her. When she had gotten back inside she was a lot calmer, though, and she had stroked his hair and told him that he had to stay there for the night, that she would be back in the morning and to be a nice boy while she was away.
And so there he was now, trying to play solitary with a deck of cards his mother had bought him to keep him occupied since there were no other children in the room and she knew how he disliked being all by himself and having nothing to do. It wasn't that bad at first – it helped him keeping the dull pain in his arm out of his mind – but he eventually grew bored. He put the cards away with a sigh and glanced out of the window; it was night now, and he knew he was supposed to turn off the lamplight and sleep, but he still wasn't tired. Maybe he could ask for someone to bring him a book, but where were the doctors and nurses? Where was everyone?
Well, Luke told himself as he climbed off the bed, there was one way to find out, wasn't there? Sure, he knew he could call for the nurses from his bed, but it would be no fun. Wouldn't it be better if he took a look around? It would occupy some time, and it was totally what Sherlock Holmes would have done. He certainly would have wanted to check out the place instead of calling for a nurse after all, right? He wouldn't have stayed in bed if bored, because he was Sherlock Holmes and he was meant to look everywhere and investigate anything. And Luke wanted to be just like him when he grew up, so that meant he was going to look everywhere, too.
Maybe he'd also find his own Watson: what place is better than a hospital to look for a doctor who'll follow all your cases, praise you for brilliantly solving them and then write books about your accomplishments?
Still, only minutes were enough for him to regret his decision. Well, not to really regret it, just to… reconsider a few points. The hallways were longer than he had expected, and it was like walking into a maze, an empty maze with no one around. Really, where were the nurses and the doctors? Where were the patients?
"Sleeping, all of them. People in hospitals are sick, and sick people sleep a lot, and it's night now. So they're sleeping. Elementary," Luke replied to his own question, the sound of his voice in the empty hallway making him feel a little less lost. Not that he was really lost, it was just that… things got a little out of than. Again. But it was okay, he just had to find someone and ask for directions, and then-
His course of thoughts was interrupted as he spotted a small door on his right. He walked closer, adjusting his arm a little – they had put a cast on his arm that was now hanging from his neck, and it made him a bit uncomfortable – to read what the sign on the door said – Personnel Only.
Luke knew that was only a polite way to tell people to keep out, and the thought he was standing in front of a door leading to a place forbidden to him made a small shiver of excitement run up his spine. After all, he reasoned, if they wanted to keep people out of there it could mean they had something to hide. And if they had something to hide, it was probably something bad. And if it was something bad, then what would Sherlock Holmes do?
He would investigate, of course. And if he found something incriminating in there he would deduce who the responsible was and get them arrested, and people would stare at him in amazement and envy and Dr. Watson would write a book about that, too. Luke had yet to find someone who'd write books about him, but what was no reason not to get started, was it? Luke smiled in excitement and tried the handle; for a moment the door wouldn't open and he thought it was locked, but then there was a slight creaking sound and it opened enough for him to slip inside. It looked like it was a little hard at the hinges – someone hadn't been oiling it properly, Luke noted before taking a look around.
The light was very, very dim, only a few emergency lights on the walls working, but once his eyes grew accustomed to the half light he could see that he was on top of a small staircase leading down to the basement, to what looked like a large boiling room. At first it looked like there was nothing interesting in there and he was about to get back outside – it was also dusty there and he didn't like getting dirty – but then a faint sound reached his ears, a sound that sounded much like… voices?
Luke frowned and tried his best to listen better. Yes, he could hear two voices – two men talking. What were they talking about? Why where they there to talk about… whatever they were talking about?
What would Sherlock Holmes do?
Oh well, that wasn't even a question, was it? He would investigate, of course. And so would Luke.
The boy silently closed the door behind him and silently walked down the stairs, rather thankful of the fact the slippers he was wearing wouldn't make any noise on the floor. The voices were coming from behind a large, old boiler, and now that he was closer he could tell they sounded rather angry. No, he corrected himself, one of them sounded angry while the other one was still perfectly calm. Icy, even.
"This as come too far," one of them, the angry one, was hissing "it's getting out of control!"
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Stan," the other man's voice was still calm "everything is perfectly under control. You should learn to relax."
"You know exactly what I'm talking about!" the man called Stan sounded exasperated now "falsifying the documents to perform some extra surgery was one thing, but this? It's too much. The patient could have died!"
It took Luke a moment to realize he was standing frozen in place with his mouth hanging open. Once he managed to regain full control, he shut his mouth and tried his hardest to think quickly. That sounded serious, because when someone almost dies it is serious stuff, so he should keep listening without being spotted if he wanted to find out more. After a few moments of thought, he crouched down and squatted under the boiler so that he could crawl a little closer without being seen. He could see the men's feet now; they were wearing those weird white shoes he had seen doctors wearing.
"But she didn't, did she?" the calm man was saying "she's old in any case. A little complication didn't surprise anyone."
"No, Al, you just don't get it!" Stan sounded terrified now "there might be an investigation on this, and if they check carefully they'll find out…!"
"No one will find out anything. We just need to stay calm-"
"I can't stay calm, goddammit!"
A long silence followed, and Luke held his breath. One of the pair of shoes in front of him shifted, then the calm voice spoke again. "No, I see you can't. Too bad. If you lost your cool and spilled the beans, you'd drag me down with you. I'm sorry, Stan, old boy."
Everything happened so quickly that Luke could barely realize it: one of the pair of shoes moved quickly as their owner leapt forward, and a second later there was a loud gasp as the owner of the second pair of shoes seemed to be pulled forward first and then pushed back before stumbling on the ground. The boy could only stare with eyes as big as saucers as the man called Stan fell on the ground and stayed still after convulsing a couple of times, something sticking from the base of his neck – a syringe. Luke opened his mouth to scream, but only a weak squeaking sound came out, so weak that the man still standing didn't hear it, and it wouldn't be until later that Luke would realize his inability to scream had saved his life.
He's dead he's surely dead he must have poisoned oh mom don't let him see me please mommy I promise I'll be good and things won't get out of hand again and I won't make you cry ever again I promise I won't I promise…!
His terrified thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a loud sigh that made his mind freeze, and for a moment he was sure the man – the murderer – had heard him, maybe spotted him. But then the shoes moved quickly, away from the body and away from his hiding spot. Then there was the sound of steps fading and then the faint noise of a door opening and shutting again, and only after the last echo of the door shutting had faded Luke dared to breathe again.
Of course, Sherlock Holmes wouldn't have been scared; Sherlock Holmes would have stopped the bad guy, or at least he would have now left his hiding spot once he was gone to investigate, check on the body and the murder weapon, to find clues and deduce and find out what had happened, who the murderer was.
But Luke Atmey was no Sherlock Holmes: he was an eight years old who had just witnessed a murder, and all he could do was staying squatted under the boiling room with his eyes screwed shut so that he didn't have to see the body just a few feet from him.
He hadn't moved at all when they found him.