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22 October 2011 @ 01:02 am
Refuge at Sea [Part 2]  
Part Two

‘The Lanturn Hotel’ was a stone building at least a century old, probably one of the few survivors of the war. Other than that, though, it was every inch the modern and exclusive venue. Looker felt uncomfortable as soon as he stepped through the doors. His salary was hardly meagre and his clothes were always well-made, but even so he conscious of his well-worn trenchcoat. This was certainly not the kind of place he elected to stay in normally.
Mihara looked even more uncomfortable - she’d returned Ken before they’d even stepped inside the place, probably a wise idea, but still she was receiving more than a few distasteful looks (apparently, he had passed muster). She shrank under all the attention, looking painfully young, and Looker resisted the urge to poke and prod her into at least standing more confidently. He’d gone through the same thing and straightened himself out; he’d promised himself he’d let other rookies find their footing, too. It wouldn’t last if they didn’t do it on their own.
Surge, despite being the most inappropriately dressed, managed to look the most at ease. Looker found his good mood rapidly dissipating.
“Good afternoon,” he said, to the receptionist. He pulled his ID from his pocket again and showed it to her. “I am here regarding the Matthews case.”
“Of course, sir,” she said, after a careful study of his ID, indicating a door to their left. “The restaurant is right over there. If you ask one of the staff in there, they will gladly show you to the private dining room that was being used at... at the time of the death.”
Well, whatever he thought about these grand hotels, he couldn’t fault the woman’s professionalism. Her tone barely faltered. “Thank you.”
“Do you also wish to speak to Ms. Matthews?”
He hesitated. Witness - potential suspect - first? Or the crime scene? Seeing the scene for himself would clear up things when he questioned her, but depending on what Veronica Matthews said in her interview, he might want to go and look at the scene again anyway.
In the end, he reached a compromise. “If you could be so kind, could you ask Ms. Matthews if she is willing to join us in that room? Ah, but please to be clear that if it is upsetting for her, it is not necessary.”
She picked up a phone. “I will certainly do so, sir.”
She then switched to almost perfect English to pass the message on. Looker sourly noted that it was better than his English, and resisted the urge to frown.
“Sure that’s a wise idea?” Surge asked pointedly, although he did keep it too quiet for the receptionist to overhear.
He shrugged, mentally shoving the brief flare of resentment to the back of his mind. She’d never be able to speak Greek, and that was the important thing. “It is convenient.”
The amount of polished white in the lobby was beginning to grate on Looker’s nerves. He’d never been much for the colour, and he liked it even less when it was so bright. The feeling wasn’t helped by the grand scale of everything - the designs, the quality of the marble, the amount of marble - and he was already itching to have a poke around the crime scene. Even if it was part of the same hotel, it was something with which Looker was more familiar.
Ms. Matthews eventually agreed to talk at the crime scene. Looker asked for her to be sent through, and wasted no more time in the gleaming lobby.
The dining area was far different from the lobby, different enough that even Lt. Surge did a double-take. Looker contained his surprise to a blink, and tried not to feel smug about it. That would be petty. Instead of white, it was full of dark colours, from the deep red carpet to the mahogany tables and chairs to the brown-purple walls. It might have felt oppressive anywhere else, but here it was lit well enough to be mere lavish decoration instead. It was less grating than the lobby, at any rate.
It turned out that the crime scene was decorated in the same way, but the scheme looked a little ridiculous on a scale that much smaller. The door was locked, but not marked as a crime scene, though this was understandable given that the main dining area was still in use by other guests.
“We haven’t had a chance to fix the room up yet,” the waiter told him. “Although it wasn’t that disturbed in the first place, to be truthful. It should be as the police left it.”
“Thank you,” Looker said mechanically, already comparing the police report to what forensics had left behind. He heard the door shut a few moments later.
Most things had been removed, but the furniture was still here and it was easy to mentally reconstruct the events of the night. No matter which way Looker examined it, though, a method of administration for the poison failed to appear. He frowned at the table where Matthews and his sister had been sitting.
“Um, Agent Looker,” Mihara said, startling him out of him reverie. “Why are we at the crime scene? I-I mean, the evidence has already been taken away...”
“It is not that I think I will find anything else,” he assured her, with a small smile, although he was planning on looking later anyway, just to be sure. “It is simply easier to myself to picture what happened this way.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well, um... shall I take notes of the interview?”
“I think that will depend on how good Ms. Matthews’ Japanese is,” Looker said. He was betting it wasn’t great, not if the receptionist had to phone up in English. Mihara, who had already taken a notepad from her pocket, looked dismayed. “Although you should not worry if that is the case, as we have a second option.”
There was a pause, and then Lt. Surge caught on. “Hey, wait...”
“You have an objection to being, for once, useful?” Looker asked innocently.
“Will you drop that laissez-faire bullshit already?” Surge snarled, in English. “I’m not someone you can just order around, you know.”
Why the sudden switch? Looker blinked, too confused to be truly intimidated. Did he think English sounded more frightening? More eloquent, perhaps? What?
“That is true, however - you are the best English-speaker in the room, yes?”
Surge glowered at him. Looker returned it without flinching.
Eventually, Surge sighed in irritation and grudgingly held out his hand for the notepad. “Since your English is just as bad as your Japanese, I guess I don’t have much choice.”
Well, he couldn’t manage it without trying to get an insult in there, but he had agreed - perhaps he could be taught after all.
Mihara handed it over without hesitation, but she looked upset. “What am I here for then?”
To keep an eye on me for your boss, Looker thought, but he didn’t say it. She must be in her twenties, probably mid-twenties, but she struck Looker as much younger, partially because of naivety like this, and partially because she had little enough faith in herself that she needed something to do in order to feel like she belonged here.
“In case I need to know a detail in the case,” Looker said. “You have had longer than myself to become acquainted with them.”
“...I guess that’s true,” Mihara admitted, now with a frown. Apparently she was smart enough to know when she was being pandered to.
Luckily, Looker didn’t have to continue that conversation, because there was a knock at the door and a tall woman with black hair and a tight blue dress that had Surge raising his eyebrows (and Looker resisting the urge to roll his eyes at him) entered. “I was told to come here - Veronica Matthews?”
She spoke in English, which meant that Looker had been right. The language barrier was certainly a better explanation than ‘they didn’t have the time’ for why she’d yet to be interviewed, but he did wish that Detective Yamato had thought to tell him about this. Looker had overestimated him. He hated doing that.
“Yes,” he said. “I am Agent... Kokinos, from Interpol.”
“So... you’ll be here about Kent’s murder,” she said, closing the door behind her and taking a few steps into the room. She wasn’t too eager to hang around the escape route, then - but Looker wasn’t sure what to make of that. No need to run? Or she just wanted it to seem that way? It was possible.
Surge narrowed his eyes at her. “You seem sure he was murdered.”
“I recognise a poisoning when I see one. What killed him?” she asked firmly, turning to Looker. She twisted the ring on her middle finger. That spoke of nervousness, but she seemed otherwise calm
It was a little confusing and Looker still wasn’t sure what to think of her, but he decided to answer her question anyway. There was no one here to critique his methods. “Potassium cyanide.”
Ms. Matthews visibily flinched. “Oh. I suppose that... makes me your prime suspect.” She stood a little taller and swallowed, looking him straight in the face, and he couldn’t help but admire that a little. “Well, to make things easy for you, my inheritance has gone from six million to... oh, I don’t know, several more millions. Kent was going to get the bulk of the share, which always irritated me, it’s just so old-fashioned--”
He’d known this before, and it didn’t make him any more inclined to suspect her now. The sort of people who killed for money were not the sort who worked in a high-skilled job with a large salary. He did think of her as a suspect, but he wasn’t sure how ‘likely’ yet, and he wasn’t going to tell her that in any case. It was always better to take people by surprise - it left less room for panic. “Be that as it is, I do not consider you a suspect.”
“Really?” She blinked at him several times, and went back to twisting the ring on her finger. She didn’t speak up again for a good few seconds, frowning the whole time. “So, then... how can I help you?”
Looker regarded her with some amusement, although he did his best to hide it. He recognised the type now - so used to getting things right that they weren’t quite sure how to handle surprises. It was satisfying to pin down her character, but that didn’t speak of someone who would act rashly, which was what she would have to be for this murder to make sense. “Ms. Matthews--”
“Call me Veronica, please. I hate Ms. Matthews.”
Please call me--
He forced himself to unclench his teeth and speak lightly, hoping no one would notice the pause. “Ah, I am very sorry, but you understand, I must speak professionally - you would prefer Miss? Mrs?”
She winced, but muttered: “...Miss will do.”
“Then, Miss Matthews, I need you to talk through what transpired in the evening yesterday,” he said, in the same mild, polite tone, shooting Surge a significant look.
Looker didn’t normally need to take many notes himself - his memory was quite good, and in any case it was hard to listen and write at the same time. But since Surge had insisted on being here, he could at least make himself useful. It would probably do him good to have to do something other than battle - something ordinary people did.
Miss Matthews talked through the events of the evening in a voice that was mostly calm. She hadn’t had a great relationship with her brother, and she didn’t fit the profile he was slowly building up, but even so being so calm seemed a little... off to him.
The calm started to waver when it came to describing the actual time of death. She started to twist her ring again, preferring to stare at her hands rather than them. So it was a nervous tic, but one she was aware of? She probably would have made an effort to conceal it if she’d had something to hide. “He started complaining of a... a headache partway through desert. Though that’s not -- that wasn’t unusual for him; you always had to have painkillers on you when Kent was around.”
Looker saw Surge half smile to himself out of the corner of his eye. So this was something he did with everyone, not just his sister.
“He’d had some already, but he used to double up the doses, they got too weak eventually...” Miss Matthews cleared her throat, apparently realising that she was rambling. Something started to click in Looker’s head and he tried to keep the frown off his face, not wanting to throw her off when she might be about to say something important. “I had a new box of paracetamol with me, and he had some of those - he only seemed to get worse, though; I thought he had a migraine coming on - he used to get those when we were children... but then he collapsed and--”
“Your paracetamol,” Looker interrupted, voice clipped in a way that made her jump. He barely noticed. His mind was racing - they hadn’t found how the poison got into his system, but if this was the first time she’d been questioned... and if no one had taken those things off her... it could have been through the paracetamol. “What variety do they take?”
“What?” she asked, surprise giving way to confusion.
“What variety are they?” he repeated, and let out a noise of frustration when the look on her face didn’t clear. Language barriers! Of all the times for them to appear! “They are tablets, capsules...?”
“Oh! Capsules.” Miss Matthews wasn’t an unintelligent woman; she furrowed her brow thoughtfully, piecing together what Looker suspected. “You think that was how...?”
“You still have them?” he asked, sharply.
“Yes, I--”
There was no time to listen to extraneous information. He cut her off. “You have not taken more yourself?”
“Good. Where are they?”
She seemed a little dazed, and put a hand to her head. “Uh, they’re still in my room... I...”
“Go get them,” he said urgently. Miss Matthews nodded slowly, blinking. Looker took a slow, deep breath and tried to calm himself. This was potentially a breakthrough, but that was no reason to be inconsiderate of other people and, in any case, sending a civilian to collect evidence was the sort of shortcut that got cases thrown out. “No, on second thinking, I believe it would be best if Detective Mihara went with you. Simply show her where they are, and she will collect the packaging. Is this okay?”
Miss Matthews nodded again. “I... yes, that’s fine.”
She seemed a stunned, almost to the point of distraction, more than worried. If the cyanide had come from those paracetamol capsules, and she’d put it there, could she fake a reaction like that? Perhaps, but it would have been simpler to not mention them in the first place.
Looker turned to Detective Mihara and summarised the situation for her. Her eyes widened immediately. “No wonder they couldn’t find out how the poison entered his system!”
“This is not for certain how it was done,” Looker reminded her, and she nodded dutifully, though he admitted that, like her, he found it likely. “But you must take the packaging for testing straight away, is that understood?”
“Yes, Agent Looker!” she said firmly. Then she frowned. “But, sir, what will you and Lt. Surge do?”
“I will spend a bit more time here, I suspect,” Looker answered. “Maybe I will think over the case. However, there is very little that it is possible for me to do until the testing is done, so I must wait for the response.”
This said nothing about what ‘Lt. Surge’ would be doing, but Mihara didn’t seem to notice. She nodded vaguely - probably distracted by their discovery - and started for the door.
Miss Matthews made to follow her, but Looker caught her arm gently as she passed him, and said, “Ah, it is probable we will need to ask you more questions at a later point, but for now I believe it would be best if you were to rest. Of course I have to ask that you inform the police if you consider leaving the city.”
“Of course,” she answered, relaxing a little, and flashing him a weak, but sincere, smile. “I understand. Thank you, Agent Kokinos.”
Looker wasn’t sure how to answer this, so he merely took his hand away and nodded curtly. Miss Matthews ghosted out of the room, followed closely by Detective Mihara, who was still watching her like a hawk as she closed the door behind her.
“So,” Lt. Surge said, after a pause. “Not a suspect, huh?”
Looker hadn’t been paying him much attention, too caught up in his discovery. Now he realised he was within striking distance and took several hasty steps back. If Surge had looked angry before, this was pure fury, and the fact that he had enough control over himself not to lash out immediately was more frightening than his unrelenting stare.
It made Looker really wish he knew what had pissed him off. “What?”
“I thought you guys were supposed to be impartial,” Surge drawled, sneering. He was between Looker and the door again, but this time it seemed like he’d moved there purposefully. Looker couldn’t remember any other exits and didn’t dare take his eyes off Surge for long enough to look. “Is all that it takes to get off the hook a pretty face?”
“Kokinos, stop daydreaming! She can’t be the first pretty face you’ve seen.”
Looker forgot all about escape routes. He thought he was capable of lifting one of those chairs; he could probably use one of those as a weapon. He moved closer to the table and felt his hands curl into fists of their own accord. He wanted to keep his voice level so he wouldn’t tip off Surge, but he thought a voice utterly without inflection was probably just as much of a give away. “...What did you say?”
Surge gave him a cold and mocking smile. If he had guessed what Looker was thinking, he didn’t care. “Don’t think I’m questioning your taste...”
“You think--” Looker’s throat felt constricted by anger and he had to swallow past it before he could attempt to get his words out without his voice shaking.
“What should I be thinking, then?” Surge demanded, before Looker had the chance to speak. “When you tell the murderer that they’re not a suspect, that makes me pretty fucking suspicious.”
“Then maybe it would not be good for you to make stupid assumptions,” Looker growled.
“She’s probably the murderer is a stupid assumption?
Looker made a noise of frustration, and forced himself to reel his anger in before he started a fight that he would probably lose. Intellectually, he knew that Surge had no idea what he was really accusing him of, but that helped very little. He was still tense, still trying to find a decent opening in Surge’s movements. His hands were starting to cramp from how tightly he had clenched his fists. Looker tried to level his voice again. It didn’t work.
“You do not understand,” he told Surge, picking out his words delicately, slowly. It was the only way he could keep his voice steady, and Looker would not let a Gym Leader believe that he was afraid. “Judging, that is not your job--”
“It’s not your job either.”
Looker lost control of his temper completely. He still recognised attacking Surge as a bad idea. The table was the nearest object. He threw that instead and it flipped over. There was a loud bang as it crashed into the wall.
You do not understand!” Looker snarled, in the shocked silence that followed. Surge didn’t understand because all that he knew of detective work was from television, from crime shows where sympathising with the murderer hurt no one, so of course, because he had done it, he thought nothing of accusing Looker of the same thing. He was forgetting that, although sometimes convincing, none of that was real. “A detective can not-- should not feel sympathy for a murder suspect, because then it becomes ‘oh, she is not so bad, he was deserving of being killed, so what if I am a little slow, a few more days does not hurt anyone’ - you forget that they have killed to be rid themselves of a problem, and killing for the first time, it is hard, but afterwards...”
Surge looked almost stricken. At the very least, he seemed like he might finally understand. Looker’s anger started to ebb, and he was left with a desire to start breaking things but no energy to fuel it. Of course Surge knew what killing was like. Looker didn’t think much of him as a Gym Leader, but he had been a soldier once.
“...Yeah,” Surge said carefully. “Afterwards, it’s easier.”
A tense silence fell. Looker didn’t want to end it; he’d given too much about himself away already, and he was still too angry to trust himself to think before he spoke. It wasn’t exactly that he minded talking about his past mistakes, but it hurt to do it, and it wasn’t worth it unless he was talking to someone that he trusted with that knowledge.
In the end, he didn’t have to break the silence, because Surge did. “I think I understand a little about the consequences of doing the wrong thing.”
He let himself relax a little and slowly - slowly - unclenched his fists. Surge wasn’t going to push it. Good. “...Perhaps you do,” Looker allowed. He felt suddenly drained, and it came out more tired than he had meant. He didn’t want to let on just how tired, but it took all of his willpower not to sag in relief.
There was another pause, more awkward than tense.
“What do we do now, then?” Surge asked.
Looker debated whether he ought to comment on the ‘we’, but decided to play it diplomatically; another argument and he might not go for the table. Then he would be in serious trouble. “I do not know. Really, there is very little to be done until the test results come back. Since no other source of cyanide was discovered, it was probably through these painkillers...”
It still didn’t really add up, though. Even if it was through the paracetamol capsules, the problem remained: why would Miss Matthews feed her brother poison at a time when she’d be the only real suspect? If she’d had enough forethought to add potassium cyanide to the capsules, she surely would have thought to give them to him at another time.
“Still leaves Veronica as the main suspect,” Surge pointed out unhelpfully.
Looker sighed. He half-wished that he had sent Surge to the lab - at least Mihara would have a detective’s mind and be less likely to state the obvious. But Looker wouldn’t have trusted him with evidence like that, no matter how many arguments it would’ve avoided. He turned to right the table instead, even though turning his back on Surge made his spine itch. “Yes, I am aware. But, it is also possible that there was a contamination at the factory. If there was, cyanide will also most probably be in the others.”
“Huh. You know, I think I heard about something like that happening before, back in America.” Looker turned abruptly, but Surge was looking at the floor, looking distant. “When was it... ’81? ’82? Some nutter added poison at the factory where they make these things. Whole bunch of people died.” He frowned. “It seems a bit farfetched, though.”
If it was true, the industry certainly wouldn’t have taken an incident like that lying down. There would probably be safeguards in place. Looker mentally added to the same category as ‘factory contamination’. Possible rarely meant likely. “Yes.”
Surge shrugged. “So, what will you do if it comes back negative for cyanide?”
Looker thought about it for a few moments. What would it mean, apart from causing a huge headache for him? “There is two possibilities if that is the case. Veronica Matthews killed her brother and only doctored two of the capsules, or... the cyanide came again from some other place.”
“And you still don’t think she did it?” Surge asked pointedly, raising an eyebrow.
Looker bristled and couldn’t stop himself from adding some bite to his own tone. “Did Miss Matthews seem to you to be stupid?”
This made Surge blink, and then frown. “Well, no, but...” He made a frustrated noise. “Where the hell else would it have come from?”
Logic left one other place, but Looker hadn’t heard anything too suspicious about it, and it felt a little like jumping to conclusions to speak it aloud this early. He hesitated. “...There is only truly one option. It must have been his ship.”
“The Jamison?” Surge straightened, looking thoughtful. “He never talked badly about anyone on there before... although I guess that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”
Looker brightened a little and nodded. He was learning! It seemed that Gym Leaders could be taught after all. “That is correct.”
“But that still leaves you with the same problem of the fast-acting poison.”
It was true, and the thought made Looker frown. Perhaps he was simply trying too hard to avoid an obvious and stupid answer because it was so obvious and stupid? The case did make a certain kind of sense if Veronica Matthews had doctored two capsules... but then again, Looker was one of the elite of Interpol for a reason. He had been wrong before, but not on such a grand scale. Doctoring painkillers implied premeditation, which simply didn’t fit with the way Miss Matthews would have had to have carried the murder out. She had access to much more slow-acting poisons than cyanide, as well, probably including several that would be flushed out of a system quick enough to avoid detection. Assuming her to be of reasonable intelligence, the modus operandi simply did not fit her.
That only left the Jamison, which presented its own problems. For someone on the Jamison to be responsible, there must have been something to delay the cyanide somehow - and not for five or ten minutes, but for hours. But what on earth would that be? The crew of the Jamison had already been interviewed, as well, and Detective Yamato probably would have noticed something odd about them... although this was the same man who had forgotten to mention that Matthews’ sister only spoke English and had kept the autopsy report back for an unnecessarily long time, so maybe that didn’t mean very much.
Ugh... this case was turning out to be nothing like Looker had thought it would be. Except for his suspicions about the headaches. How ironic, that the victim had suffered from them and was now causing them.
Looker started and blinked at an amused Surge. He’d just been completely lost in thought for a good few seconds there, hadn’t he? That must have looked very professional, and in front of a Gym Leader to boot. Looker’s tiredness was making him clumsy, and he almost dropped Mihara’s notebook when it was thrown at him.
“There,” Surge said. His expression was neutral now, but Looker wondered what might be behind that mask. “It might jog your memory. Hope your English comprehension is better than your catching skills.”
“My English comprehension is excellent,” Looker retorted, feeling a little stung. Maybe if Lt. Surge spoke five different languages he would have trouble with fluency, too. Looker peered at the slanted scrawl. Then he squinted at it. It didn’t magically become perfectly readable. “...But I am not sure completely that this is English.”
Surge just chuckled and shook his head. Looker was about ready to give up on trying to understand him - he had been ready to hit this man earlier, but now he was laughing? Before Surge had seemed to dislike him just as much as the opposite was true - now he was comfortable enough to laugh off an insult. As insults went, it had been pitiful, and Looker hadn’t really thought hard enough about it to mean it... but it was an odd development all the same.
He didn’t understand it at all and it bothered him, just as it always bothered him when he couldn’t nail down someone’s character. He forced the whole thing to the back of his head. It didn’t matter, anyway. The murder mattered, and although he wasn’t sure about the suggestion, he had the notebook in his hands and skimming it would be a better use of his time than speculating about the character of a Gym Leader.
Surge’s handwriting actually wasn’t too poor; it just took a few seconds to adjust to. Looker muttered under his breath as he skimmed Miss Matthew’s description of the evening. It was only a half-hearted attempt. He didn’t really feel like it would help anything, but the only other thing he had to do was to speculate about a potential murderer on the Jamison, and that was going to get him nowhere whilst he knew so little about it.
Then maybe a few minutes later was when he collapsed...
Looker sighed.
“Problem?” Surge asked.
He shook his head slowly. “A dead end. There is very little which I am able to do with so little information, and nothing more which must be done here without lab results firstly. I must interview the Jamison crew as soon as possible.”
“Not all of them, I hope,” Surge muttered. “That would be a couple dozen at least.”
Looker waved a hand dismissively, although if it came to that, he wasn’t looking forward to reading a few dozen interviews in Surge’s handwriting, either. “The relevant crew members. There has already been the basic statements taken, so I should be able to hopefully pick out those who it would be wise to question further.”
“Right. And how long will that take?”
There was something in Surge’s tone that made Looker frown at him. He couldn’t quite place it; it wasn’t hostile, he didn’t think, or even particularly cold, it was simply... different. “That will depend exactly on how many members the crew has, and also probably what I wish to be asking them.”
“Uh-huh,” Surge said, in a voice that was almost sceptical, but not quite. “And when was the last time you ate?”
Looker blinked. “Why are--”
“Just answer.”
He had to think about it for a second. The plane journey had been too short for an in-flight meal, and Looker didn’t trust the fast food chains at the airport itself. ...Did he eat after the arrest or after discovering the family had been behind the kidnapping...?
“You know what?” Surge said, sighing. “If it takes you more than five seconds to answer, it’s been too long. Come on, there’s a place round the corner that gives me a discount.”
Looker frowned at him. “What...?”
“You can study all your notes when you’re there,” Surge added, probably as an attempt to seem placating. It didn’t quite work on a man who had once been a drill sergeant and was exercising every bit of that power now. “Interpol Agents need to eat just as much as the rest of us.”
Oh, now he could place that tone of voice. Surge was being patronising.
The restaurant which Surge got a discount at turned out to be a small, family-owned place two streets away, which Looker was honestly surprised a Gym Leader had noticed. Apart from its size, it was tucked between two much more gaudy places - another restaurant and a foreign films cinema - and most of the cloth-covered tables inside were empty. In comparison to its surroundings, this place was faded; even the paint on the walls looked paler than it ought to have been. Looker much preferred it to the Lanturn Hotel, but he couldn’t call it his favourite place in Vermillion City.
There was one very bored waitress sitting at one of the tables, occupied with something on her cell phone. Her long hair was dyed a bright pink that almost made Looker squint - it was certainly the brightest thing in the room. She looked up as Lt. Surge pushed the door open and cheered instantly.
“Hey, Akane,” Surge greeted cheerfully.
“We weren’t expecting to see you until this weekend!” Akane said, putting her cell phone away. “What are you doing here so early?”
He gave her a lopsided grin. “I was in the neighbourhood, and I needed to feed a... friend. He’s in the city investigating a murder. Interpol.”
Looker caught the pause, but the waitress didn’t seem to notice. She gave Looker a curious glance, to which he inclined his head and tried not to look uncomfortable. He was used to going in disguise or, well, at least flying under the radar. Being advertised like that would have gotten him killed on some of his past assignments.
“Anyway,” Surge continued, “I should be asking you what you’re doing here. You better not be skipping again.”
“I’m not!” she said defensively, pouting. “The teachers have the day off to go to our old headmaster’s funeral, and I’m covering for Soichiro because he thought his girlfriend’s birthday was next week.”
“That idiot,” Surge said, but his tone was affectionate. “So, what’s the special today? Anything good?”
Surge picked a table in the corner, and Looker tried not to frown at the selection of food when he was shown a menu (faded and worn, like the rest of the place). Why was it that only Greeks made decent food? Even after many years of eating out of his home country, it continued to baffle him. In the end he ordered a chicken salad and tried not to become too optimistic. Ordering the Greek salad would have just been setting himself up for a disappointment. Eating out was the only time that he ever really got homesick.
“You could look a little less miserable,” Surge said, peering at him. “A break’ll probably do you good, anyway.”
“Hm,” was all Looker said. He might have had a point there - and at the very least taking a break wouldn’t damage his progress right now - but he wasn’t willing to admit it aloud. He tried to change the subject instead. “Why is it that you get a discount here?”
He could see instantly that it had been a bad subject to pick. Surge did laugh, but nervously. He glanced around the room rather than meet Looker’s eyes. “Ah, well, you know. War stuff. Is it that important?”
Interesting. For all that it made him uncomfortable, he had told the truth - at least partially. “It is not important,” Looker said, but he filed the information away anyway.
The waitress Akane returned and Looker took out the police files rather than be drawn into a conversation. Surge, thankfully, did not protest his. It was technically against regulations to have these kind of documents out in the open, but no one in this place cared and what Kinney didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
Lulls like this in a case were frustrating. Looker was known for getting things done quickly. There were always things to wait for, yes, but normally there was always someone else to interview, another part of the case to be worked on. It was because he didn’t often get put on murder cases. Not that he particularly wanted to get more murder cases, but he wasn’t used to working with such a narrow focus. Especially not with a sole suspect, which still bothered him. Veronica Matthews was not that stupid! So why was it shaping up to seem like she was?
He bit back a sigh and started glancing through the hotel staff interviews instead. They mostly said the same thing - victim arrived at 8.30pm, met sister for dinner, collapsed 12.15am; they must work terrible hours at that place - but a few of the dining staff had been in and out of the room all evening, and it would help corroborate Veronica Matthews’ story. He’d been intending to ask Mihara about it, but he’d had to have her playing gopher instead.
I took their orders at about 8.40pm...
...Mr. Matthews seemed normal when I checked in at half past ten...
...and when I took the desert order he asked for a glass of water to take some painkillers, but otherwise he seemed perfectly healthy.
Something was off.
‘When I took the desert order’?
Looker frowned at the interview for a few seconds. Matthews had collapsed after desert; he distinctly remembered that. If he’d taken the (potentially) poisoned paracetamol when they ordered...? That was an awfully long time for the cyanide to hit his system. But that would depend on the brand of painkillers. A lot of capsules didn’t dissolve immediately. The timing was delicate, but it was just a matter of more testing to establish exactly when it would have started to take effect. Looker wished now that he’d gotten a look at them before he sent them for testing, just so he could start making estimations, but it was too late now.
No, there was something else. Something... when he took the desert order...
Urgently, he fished out Surge’s notes again and started flicking through them. Veronica Matthews had said-- there! Headache partway through desert... It was possible that she’d just been misremembering about the timing, but - no, a few sentences later: he’d had some already, but he used to double up the doses...
I had a new box, and he took some of...
Strange. Strange of her to say that the box was new when he took the second dose of paracetamol rather than mention it along with the first. In fact, the only reason why she would say it would be...
...Would be if the first dose had come from somewhere else.
Kent Matthews had taken painkillers from two different sources. He had swallowed cyanide disguised as a painkiller, but it was from the Jamison, not his sister!
No - no. Looker closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down. No. That was getting ahead of himself. Then he would be leaping to conclusions that weren’t accurate. He had his theory, and it was a fine theory, but theories do not trump evidence. Ever.
“You look like you’re having a seizure,” Surge said.
Looker started. The waitress had disappeared at some point - he hadn’t noticed when - and Surge was watching him with... a look that wasn’t exactly concerned, but certainly interested. Before he could decide whether he should answer, Akane was back with a salad and something meaty and probably American (ugh). At least that explained where she’d disappeared to.
He still didn’t know if he was going to tell Surge or not. He hadn’t been helpful so far, really, but he hadn’t quite been unhelpful either - yet. With how he seemed prone to flying off the handle, maybe Looker was thinking a little prematurely. But at the same time he had proven, at the very least, that he was better than some Gym Leaders he had met. That wasn’t saying very much, but he did have power in this city and if Yamato kept up this streak of incompetence, Looker might need to have him on his side.
“There is another way in which Matthews could have ingested the poison,” he said, eventually. “There were two sets of painkillers.”
Surge almost choked. “What?
Looker analysed his salad a little critically. There wasn’t enough lettuce, but it seemed otherwise above the normal standard. He pushed the papers across the table.
Surge frowned at them in confusion. “What?”
...Of course he didn’t get it. Looker reminded himself again that he had not been unhelpful. Yet. “Miss Matthews does mention specifically two separate doses of painkillers. The first does not seem to have been given by her to the victim, however.”
“Huh.” He sat up a little straighter and studied at the papers for another few seconds. “I dunno if I would’ve seen that,” he admitted, eventually.
“You are not a detective.”
“Neither are you,” Surge pointed out, “Agent Looker.”
This was true, but Looker had never stopped thinking of himself as a detective. He had first gotten into law enforcement as an officer with the desire to become one, and even joining Interpol - where Agents operated a little more broadly than detectives - hadn’t changed much.
He didn’t say this, though. He merely shrugged.
“Earlier you said any other source of cyanide must have come from the Jamison,” Surge said, after a pause. “So you think... what, someone doctored some painkillers there and... gave them to him?” Looker nodded, a little exasperated. What else would his theory be? “Okay then. So who did it?”
“I do not know,” he muttered, taking the papers away from Surge aggain. Looker had been planning to look at the statements taken from the crew to see if he could narrow down the suspect list, but he’d had no chance yet.
“Who could have done it?” Surge persisted. “It’s not like they work in pharmaceuticals. I’m no expert, but I’d bet good money cyanide’s not exactly easy to come by.”
Looker frowned halfway through skimming a list of names. This, too, was a good point. The Jamison had not been docked long when Kent Matthews left it; certainly not long enough for one of the crew to go out and procure, then return with, potassium cyanide. So it must have been present on the ship before docking. But that had been checked by the Vermillion police - the Jamison did not ship anything containing cyanide and neither did their company. Unless--
He tapped his fingers against the table absent-mindedly. It might be considered a stretch of his theory, but on the other hand, if he couldn’t explain this, then he had no right to be making such a theory anyway. “Cyanide is required for health for many poison types...”
Training laws were complicated things - Interpol knew better than anyone because they had to wrestle with them every day, not least because they tied into every other section of the law. Employment was an especially tricky one. Many companies would provide a pokemon for the work you had to do, but where did you draw the line between a trainer and a worker? Some countries required registration of all pokemon to company records, some only required registration of company pokemon, and some just didn’t care at all and left it up to the company in question. It was a headache.
“The shipping company which your friend worked for,” Looker said slowly, still half lost in thought, “It was British? American? Do you know?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” Surge asked, but he relented under Looker’s glare. “I don’t know, it’s not the sort of thing I ask.” He seemed almost suspicious. “Why? What are you thinking this time?”
Looker was barely paying attention. He was flicking through the papers, mentally cursing this alien admin system, and hoping that Detective Yamato had thought to collect something that at the time he’d had little reason to suspect was relevant. “Which laws the Jamison is under.”
“Why does that matter?”
This time he ignored Surge. Doyle&Co. had their headquarters in America, but the Jamison would be bound to the laws of its home port, which was probably America but could equally have been one of many other places in the world - including Britain, Matthews’ birthplace. Yamato hadn’t collected the information either, so Looker had no real way of finding out that wouldn’t potentially tip off the murderer, and if he did that, the chances of securing a conviction dropped significantly. He could ask Kinney for help, but he was a busy man and if the company was stubborn and demanded to know why...
Surge suddenly slapped his hand against the table, making Looker jump so violently that he smacked the back of his head on the wall behind him.
“Whatever you’re doing, stop,” Surge said forcefully.
Looker blinked at him, too surprised to even feel indignant about the head injury.
“You’re panicking,” Surge continued, “And--”
“I am not--” Looker began indignantly.
Surge ignored him. “And it’s obviously not helping.”
“I am not panicking,” he repeated.
“Whatever you say,” Surge drawled. He obviously didn’t agree, but he spoke again before Looker could argue the point. “Frankly, I kinda got lost when you started going on about poison-types. Now you want to fill me in on the problem or are you just going to sit there and fret?”
Looker was getting tired of explaining everything to Surge. To be honest, he was getting tired of everything. Not for the first time, he wished that humans were capable of the same sort of feats of endurance as pokemon. Not having to sleep and eat would help him a lot more in the long run.
He ended up telling Surge anyway. His thoughts about having a cooperative Gym Leader following him around rather than a disagreeable one still stuck with him.
“So why can’t you just walk up and ask if any of them have any poison-types?” Surge said, almost as soon as he had finished.
“It would be - I think you say tilting your hand?” This got a chuckle and a nod. Looker was confused, but he assumed Surge knew what he meant, so he pressed on. “If they are under American law, where employment and trainer pokemon are considered to be separate, then it is perfectly legal for them to refuse to cooperate. It is probable that I could gather evidence that would require them to reveal, but it would take time, and in that they could have... disposed of the pokemon somehow. There would certainly be records of it, but they could claim they had released it long before the murder, and it would be very difficult to prove otherwise.”
“Okay,” Surge agreed. “But if they’re under - for example - British law...?”
“There remains the problem of disposing of their pokemon,” he admitted. “But here there is no separation, and therefore I could arrest them for the crime of disguising this from the law. It would be easier for myself in general.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Surge said slowly. He was frowning as he said it, and Looker thought he was struggling to keep this all in his head - but in his defence, he certainly didn’t go looking for this sort of mess as a Gym Leader, and he was coping well for a beginner. At least he was trying. “But you have to somehow find that out and who has a poison-type before you can even think about arresting anyone?”
“That is a good summary.”
He laughed quietly, shaking his head in disbelief. “Jesus, how do you get anything done in this job?”
“There is a way I might be able to discover something, which I have used previously,” Looker mused. Dolos hadn’t had a real chance to rest from the last case yet... but he should be fine if it came to that. “I would rather not resort to it, however.”
 “I don’t think I like the sound of that,” Surge said pointedly, raising his eyebrows.
“It is not illegal!” Looker assured him. After achieveing some sort of peace, he didn’t particularly want to provoke him again. “It simply... does not give an impression which is the best.”
Surge relaxed, but winced a little. “Okay, this is reminding me of some of my conversations with Koga. Let’s stop there.”
Koga... right, he was the one who pretended to be a ninja... or was actually a ninja, depending on who you talked to. Why did Japan always turn out the weirdest Gym Leaders?
“Actually...” Surge said, breaking Looker out of his thoughts. He was frowning, and didn’t immediately continue. “Centres keep their records going a while back, don’t they?”
“It varies,” Looker said mildly, but he’d already started thinking. “Most do so.”
Kent Matthews had obviously been to Vermillion before, and it was likely that most of the rest of the crew had too - and unless this had been planned years in advance, which was highly unlikely, they probably all would have checked their pokemon in there at one point or another.
The Centre would still have those records; that was a certainty. It was also very frustrating, because Looker had no legal way of getting at those records.
Lt. Surge, on the other hand, did.
“I think I might be able to solve half of your problem,” he said.

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