Character: Manfred von Karma
Word Count: 3292
Summary: If there was anything that Manfred von Karma's childhood taught him, it was that perfection could not be achieved without control and hard work.
The von Karma family had been rich once, but now there was nothing left but the empty manor to show for it. Growing up, Manfred had always heard his mother insisting that it was lucky that they still had the house, that after the war had ended, she had seen people starving on what had once been glorious streets.
Manfred wasn’t sure what he was meant to be grateful for, though. He was an only child, born late in his parent’s lives, almost as an afterthought – a need to keep the family name alive, perhaps, after everything they had been through. Not that the von Karma name stood for anything, anymore. All it meant was an empty manor, they’d kept the house but sold most of the furniture, days spent drifting away in empty rooms, full of dust, by himself. His mother was busy working hard for money that was almost worthless, and what little worth they did have, Manfred’s father traded it for drinks and gambling in shady alleyways.
He wondered if his mother knew.
They managed to send Manfred to school, under his mother’s insistence that every little boy should have the opportunity for education. Manfred scowled then, because could she really call him a little boy after everything he’d seen? He knew that some of his peers were kept innocent of knowledge of the war, as innocent as one could be, he supposed.
Manfred’s mother, on the other hand, reminded him every day how lucky he was.
School was boring, though, filled with almost illiterate morons who knew nothing of the world, who couldn’t even do basic arithmetic. Manfred was an intelligent boy; he’d taught himself to read the few remaining books left in the estate’s once vast library, and he’d been helping his mother keep their scant finances in check before he had ever needed to attend the farce they referred to as ‘school’.
It was in the afternoons, while his mother was out working and his father out drinking, that Manfred read the books that he’d started out reading as a small child. When his mother caught him once, she took the books away, saying they were too difficult to understand, that they were irrelevant and that it was foolish to dream. The books were about the field of law, and his mother told him that his father had once been a successful lawyer – and look where he was now?
After that, he just made sure he was out of the way, in the corners of the manor that were covered in webs and dust, when he read the books. They were the only thing to interest him in the dull afternoons, and sometimes, when the other children neighbourhood came by, asking him to come on their adventures, Manfred shook his head and withdrew. He knew what was important. He knew he couldn’t be like his father.
Manfred didn’t hate his father most of the time; his father wasn’t around often enough to be hated, but there were moments, once every several months, when his father came home early, and Manfred almost imagined he could smell the alcohol on his breath, when he did. Manfred kept out of the way, didn’t want to arouse his father’s ire, didn’t want to be told about how lucky he was and what he didn’t want to hear was the sound his father’s fist made when he hit Manfred’s mother, and nor did he want to hear the tears she cried afterwards once Papa stumbled outside again, perhaps to stare down another bottle of booze.
He wouldn’t be like his father, he wouldn’t rise so high just to fall so low. Manfred knew that he needed more than luck to get by in this world, because luck was just a circumstance, at most a foundation to build upon. No, to get by in life, he had to make sure everything was perfect.
It would be a lie to say that he tried hard at school, he didn’t really have to, even once he was a teenager, when many boys his age were being pulled out of school by their mothers, and told to go to work. Better for them, Manfred mused, there was no hope for them, anyway. None of them could measure up to what he had.
His father still came home drunk some evenings, but Manfred still ignored it, ignored it, because he knew he was better than that, that he was strong enough, perfect enough, never to lose control over his own life, no matter what happened. After all, only fools and imbeciles would let their lives rely so heavily on the luck of which his mother seemed so proud.
He still dreamt of being a lawyer, and perhaps his mother knew he was still reading Papa’s old books, because one day, she sat him down and told him to give up. It was time to reveal the plan, then – he was applying for a scholarship, to go to college in America.
He knew his mother wouldn’t like it; his mother hated Americans, hated everything they stood for. Then again, his mother had lived through the war and the Americans’ occupation immediately afterwards. But Manfred knew there was nothing waiting for him in Germany, that if he wanted to get anywhere in life, if everything were to be perfect, he would have to go to America.
His mother begged him not to go, once it had been confirmed that he had indeed received the scholarship. Oh, it’d be difficult, but he wouldn’t be like his father. He wouldn’t. Manfred von Karma would go to law school in America, and he would be perfect. He had little regrets when he left Germany, found that he hardly cared for his mother’s apathy towards life and his father harrowing drunkenness. He didn’t want to associate with them anymore, almost didn’t want to bear their name anymore, but the estate still looked grand from the outside, and Manfred felt determined to restore it to its former glory. He wouldn’t lose control, like his father had, he wouldn’t run the family into the ground. He would monitor every moment of his life to ensure perfection in every way, make that the new family motto.
If he ever came back to this forsaken country, he would be a changed man, no longer a little boy hiding in dark rooms, reading forbidden books, but instead, a lawyer, more specifically: a prosecuting attorney. Fools, everywhere, committing crimes and getting by on nothing but sheer dumb luck, he’d show them that to get anywhere in life, one hard to work hard. If there was anything useful his mother had taught him in life, it was this one ability.
The Americans at college were a strange, but not unfriendly, bunch. They noticed there was something strange about the tatty foreign student, but they still invited him to their parties, but Manfred refused – there was alcohol there, reminding him far too much of the times he’d walked past the alleys in which his father hid on his way home from school, and he scoffed at the men who would relinquish their control for such petty enjoyment. They would never be able to gain perfection the way he could. When Manfred drank alcohol, it was wine, he was alone and it was only one glass. He never had more than one glass in an evening. He would not be like his father.
He had to maintain control, so he could be perfect.
He worked multiple jobs, doing his best to make money so he could stay here after he finished his education. He certainly didn’t send any money home, certainly not, no matter how often his mother wrote, saying that she needed help. His mother…Manfred knew she couldn’t control Papa, and that life was useless without control. There was little hope left for his mother, and Manfred was not determined to help her. She’d reminded him how lucky he was every day when he was growing up, but the only part luck played in Manfred von Karma’s life was bringing him into a family so despairingly hopeless that he couldn’t help but be better by comparison.
The first years after his graduation from law school were hard, but while Manfred’s classmates had been wasting time boozing and playing football, he’d been busy making contacts necessary to advance in the field once he finished. He’d been told he was charismatic, and he hadn’t believed it himself, at first, but he remembered vague memories, neighbours talking about how charming his father had once been, and wasn’t it a shame what had happened to the von Karmas?
One of his professors even gave him some extra money, on the side, to make him look respectable, like a real lawyer. Manfred almost considered throwing it away; he didn’t need looks to be a real lawyer, but he knew not to look a gift horse in the mouth, to take everything that life handed to him, because hadn’t he worked hard for this? His professor had noticed him, above all of those other fools.
The suit was expensive, and dry cleaning was hell, so Manfred was careful not to get it wet on rainy days by also buying an umbrella. It didn’t matter that the apartment he lived in wasn’t all together, he’d deal with that later. The only place where everyone’s eyes were on him was the courtroom, and ten years later, Manfred von Karma had never lost a case.
That was the year Manfred von Karma fell in love. No, perhaps ‘love’ wasn’t quite the right word for it, indeed, it was a relationship built on mutual admiration and trust; perhaps it was also because she reminded him of his mother, in a way, determined to work hard, despite all that life had handed her, or in case, in spite of what life had handed her. She was rich, beautiful, and intelligent – or in simpler terms: perfect.
That was what prompted Manfred to bring her home, back to Germany, and perhaps it was the time he had spent away from the country, but the streets looked a little brighter now. His mother had grown ill, and moved to lived with relatives after his father had left her without a single word.
He paid no heed to the streets’ new shine, though. Anyone who was worth anything was in America. He took his now fiancée to the now furnished estate, and asked her to stay in Germany. She’d always wanted to live in Europe, she’d said, but wouldn’t Manfred miss the States?
It was only after they married, and she was three months pregnant with their first child that Manfred told her that he had no intention of staying. And then was when the ‘love’ first dimmed, or when the bonds of trust grew weak – whatever words one wanted to use. Manfred knew, that normally a woman like that would never sit still and do what her husband told her, but Manfred also knew what happened in a relationship without control. Sometimes he still heard his mother’s cries. Several months after his return to America, Manfred’s mother died.
He didn’t attend the funeral. It was foolish to dwell on what could have been, to depend on anything other than one’s own hard work, arbitrary things that were difficult to control, like luck and other people. He had everything he needed now, and he was building a reputation, in Los Angeles.
He was Manfred von Karma, and he was undefeatable.
His wife had a daughter, and they visited America sometimes, because Manfred refused to return to Germany. He knew his wife wanted to stay in America, be with him, but there was hardly any point, was there? He was hardly home, busy at the office, and having them so close by would make the absence more obvious. When he was growing up, he had admired the children who had fathers on business trips, who had the chance to dream of places other than Germany. Why would he want anything less for his own daughter?
Their daughter was a sprightly child, intelligent, but not too much so, not intelligent enough to need to live in a place like America, but perhaps, intelligent enough to dream. His wife taught their daughter how to work hard, and over the years, she showed interest in becoming a neurosurgeon; Manfred nodded, it was a respectable profession, and she had been raised well.
Twelve years later, his wife visited America alone; the estate had servants now capable of supervising their daughter for several evenings. His wife was desperate for something, pawing at him when he tried to go to sleep at night, and Manfred felt an acute loss of control – what had happened to the woman he had had trusted to stay in Germany when she was unneeded? She would only get in the way here.
His wife fell pregnant again, and Manfred was displeased. He never wanted another child, and such a conception did not fit his image of an ideal family. His wife eventually agreed to return to the estate, but there was anger in her eyes which made Manfred wonder where this would all end.
He started drinking two glasses of wine a night instead of one.
Their second daughter was born, and of course, Manfred was not there to see it. “Her name’s Franziska,” his wife murmured over the phone and Manfred was pleased. It was a strong German name, and there was nothing wrong with that.
For reasons unknown, his wife refused to return to America. Manfred never wanted to see this second daughter of his.
Now he had been undefeated for forty years, or thereabouts, there was no-one in this courthouse who isn’t scared of him, and everyone was under his control. And here, he was perfect. He was everything that his father was not, everything his mother had hoped he would become. He didn’t have to rely on luck, but instead, on his own natural ability.
Or perhaps, it would have been better to have used the phrase ‘almost everyone’. Manfred didn’t trust the new up-and-rising defense attorney, and started to keep an eye on him in a way he’d never bothered noticing defense attorneys before. Manfred learnt that his name was Gregory Edgeworth, an essential nobody, working under that old fool Marvin Grossberg.
So the penalty came as a surprise. After all these years, he lost control in front of this apparent nobody? He fumbled in front of the judge – yes, he, Manfred von Karma, fumbled - and made an apology. He won the case, naturally. He wouldn’t let little things like penalties get in his way when he had already came this far.
Like a gentleman, Edgeworth came up to Manfred after the trial, but Manfred excused himself, like a gentleman, to get himself some fresh air. He tried to ignore the apparent smile on Edgeworth’s face; Gregory Edgeworth was a nobody, had never had to work as hard as Manfred had, and to think the little upstart thought he could just come in and ruin everything Manfred had worked for in all these years! Peh!
He was stumbling through the hallways, going where his feet directed him, when the earth shook briefly – LA was always prone to earthquakes. What he did not expect, however, was the lights to go out, plummeting the court records room into darkness.
He groped his way into the hallway, hitting walls with his shoulders and he didn’t know how long he spent just circling the same floor of the building. He seemed to be at some sort of door now, but it could not be forced, so it was unlikely to be an exit.
Then, a gunshot, quickly followed by the sound of shattering glass, breaking the silence that had enveloped the corridor. That had been unexpected.
What had also been unexpected was the pain in his shoulder. Blood. He was bleeding. He was going into shock, almost slumping to the floor – how had the day become like this? – when almost magically, the lights flickered on, and the door – no, the elevator – in front of him hummed to life, the doors sliding open.
Manfred von Karma had spent most of his life maintaining control in the pursuit of perfection. He didn’t believe in luck and knew how to make the best out of the worst possible circumstances.
So he really wasn’t thinking when he picked up the gun at his feet, pointed it at the man who had embarrassed him in court only this afternoon. He didn’t have eyes for anyone else in the elevator. Only Gregory Edgeworth.
If someone was to have asked him what was running through his mind in that moment, Manfred would’ve told them that ‘it was fate’.
Manfred von Karma forgot that he didn’t believe in fate, and that mistake would cost him everything. Perhaps he was more like his father than he thought.
Manfred watched Miles Edgeworth sit across from him, eyes darting around nervously under Manfred’s continued surveillance. “I raised you, Miles Edgeworth, from the kindness of my heart, and this is how you repay me?”
The Edgeworth boy was too afraid to meet Manfred’s eyes, as he should be, losing to no-name, nobody defense attorney. He looked as though he wanted to murmur an apology, but Manfred had no time for his excuses. “You don’t know how lucky you are…” Manfred trailed off, because in that moment, he sounded like his mother.
“You’ve given me everything I need, sir,” Edgeworth said, his voice low.
Ah. Is that where Manfred had gone wrong? Had he been too kind, too lenient to the Edgeworth boy? Miles Edgeworth had never had to work as hard as Manfred has. Perhaps Manfred had forgotten, along the way, that perfection was attained from hard work, and making the best of bad circumstances? Manfred had done the hard work for Edgeworth and Franziska both.
Once upon a time, Manfred had been jealous of the other children, whose parents hid knowledge of them about the true nature of the war. Perhaps this was why he had done his best to keep his two protégés innocent, of the true nature of the world, of the true nature of hard work and discipline. Franziska was a force to be reckoned with, especially once she grew older, but would she ever be perfect? She didn’t know how lucky she was, either.
Luck. Uncontrollable. It got in the way of perfection. Manfred was the only who was truly capable of achieving the ideal; oh, Franziska might come close, but she would never be her father. He expected to feel more disappointed with this realisation, but instead, he felt relief.
There was just one matter that had to be contained before Manfred could declare everything under his control again, to be truly perfect. Of course, it had almost been fifteen years, and all he had to do was wait…but Manfred von Karma didn’t believe in luck.
“That’s all,” Manfred said to Edgeworth, dismissing the failure from his sight. Edgeworth smoothed out the wrinkles in his pants as he stood to leave.
Once he was sure Edgeworth was gone, Manfred pulled out the paper he had sitting in his desk and started writing a letter to a man who pretended to run a pasta shop while drinking his third glass of wine. With this, his life would perfect and in his control once more. He would never be like his father.
Manfred von Karma never bothered to learn why his father had left his mother – he never learnt that his father had passed away in jail.