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KIYOTAKA ISHIMARU: ACE ATTORNEY

Chapter Text

Day 1: Part 1

“Is the defense ready?”

The Judge's gruff voice was still ringing through Kiyotaka's flabbergasted brain. He kept checking the gaping wide doors that led to the rest of the courthouse, blindly hoping his mentor would magically materialize at any moment now. But the seconds were creeping by, slowly, solemnly, and the sweat was trickling like icicles down Kiyotaka's hot forehead.

He gave it another moment before capitulating in defeat. “Y-Y-Yes, the defense is ready, Your Honor.” So Mr. Jin had left him all alone for his first ever trial, huh? Kiyotaka gritted his teeth. He'd have to somehow pull this off on his own. He couldn't leave his defendant hanging... like how Mr. Jin had just left him...

He repressed a scream. If he messed this up, his defendant would die. The courtroom of the futuristic Japanifornia was a brutal lawless hellscape, and any defendant proven guilty was sent to their death with little to no respite. Kiyotaka still hadn't figured out if his client was guilty—to be honest, he was so nervous that he'd totally forgotten to even speak with him beforehand—but he had to believe, for his client's sake, that there was more to the truth than what the nasty prosecution had devised.

Not that he even knew who the prosecution was. Fashionably late, had Mr. Judge said?

“Oh ho,” chortled the Judge. “You're Jin Kirigiri's new protegee, aren't you? Isn't he coming to help coach you during the trial?”

Kiyotaka bit the inside of his cheek. GEE! He sure HOPED Mr. Jin would! Struggling, and partially failing, to keep his tone cool and low, Kiyotaka said, “I suppose he's putting a lot of trust in me t-today!” He ignored how badly his ears were burning and smoothed down his white suit, straightening his lilac tie. “But Mr. Judge, where is the prosecution?”

“That's right.” Mr. Judge checked his papers before glancing down to the bereft prosecutor stand as if noticing it for the first time. “This one tends to be a bit tardy, so I usually give the benefit of the doubt—”

“I'm so sorry! I'm here now! I'm sorry, Mr. Judge!”

A bright, hopeful tone broke out from the front of the courthouse as a young man raced to the prosecutor stand, setting up his briefcase and files of evidence. Kiyotaka swallowed nervously. Mr. Jin had said he would bring the evidence they had proofed through beforehand. All he could do was vaguely recall an autopsy report and the bloodied murder weapon, a kitchen knife.

The prosecutor had fluffy spines of brown hair and one big ahoge. He had a perpetual pale pink blush adoring his cheeks and the most indescribable hazel eyes. His suit was black, his pink tie oddly matching with his naturally soft complexion. He glanced over to Kiyotaka, beaming. “Oh no, are you missing the trial's evidence? Feel free to share mine!”

Kiyotaka's mouth fell right open. The one thing Mr. Jin had told Kiyotaka was to never accept help from the prosecution. There were rumors floating amongst the courthouse that a number of other lawyers were now utilizing forged evidence to forcibly win cases, and even Mr. Jin hadn't quite figured out who was safe and who wasn't yet. He'd taken Kiyotaka's training very seriously, drilling into him not to ever make fake evidence—the highest importance was finding the truth.

Which was weird to Kiyotaka. Why wouldn't he want to find the truth? And why did so many lawyers seem desirous of working against him?

While he struggled with the prosecution's proposal, Mr. Judge spoke up. “Go ahead, Mr. Ishimaru.”

Well. He'd just received the Judge's full permission.

Kiyotaka fast-walked over to the prosecution stand and awkwardly took note of the various pieces of evidence Makoto had collected before him. As he feverishly wrote down his findings, Makoto would helpfully point out extra tidbits about them, such as the murder weapon's smudged, impossible-to-discern fingerprints and the autopsy report's state of incompleteness. “Look out for that one. When I was at the precinct, a detective warned me that they weren't done examining the body. It had been found the victim may have been drugged beforehand, but they're still working through the whole examination.”

How fascinating that Makoto proved to be much more useful than Kiyotaka's own mentor.

As Kiyotaka finished up his notes, Mr. Judge looked over his perch to say, “I thought this might happen. Did your prosecutor make you take the stand again?”

Makoto let out a long sigh before blinking sharply. “Oh! That's right! Allow me to introduce myself.” Bowing, he said, “My name is Makoto Naegi, and I'm a prosecutor's secretary! Unfortunately, my prosecutor likes to send me off to do trials that are allegedly too easy to bother with, so I must apologize for my tardiness. I only learned ten minutes ago that I was expected in court.”

Mr. Judge started laughing over Makoto's sheepish sigh, as if this was all one delightful joke to him. “Not to worry, Makoto. I understand. Your prosecutor does tend to be... a bit strange, if wildly successful.” That caused Makoto to crack the slightest chuckle.

Kiyotaka returned to his stand in a hurry, his mind struggling to keep up with all the information he'd just received. So he was facing a prosecutor's secretary—not an actual prosecutor. And this secretary was about the kindest person he'd ever met. Kiyotaka shook himself, blinking rapidly. And not only that, but he'd shared his three key pieces of evidence with Kiyotaka.

He took a cursory glance over his court record to examine them.

There was the kitchen knife. Its hilt was covered liberally in blood—a messily intimate wound must have resulted from contact with it. He reminded himself, as Makoto had told him, that the prints were hard to read, and not even the suspect's prints could be lifted.

Then there was the autopsy report. The victim, a girl named Sayaka Maizono, had died somewhere between 2 and 3 AM the night before. Her death was most likely caused by the kitchen knife, as the wound in her stomach matched its blade. However, it may have taken multiple stabs, as it appeared other wounds decorated the entryway of the killing blow. And there was that tricky point about the victim potentially having been... drugged?

His only other piece of evidence was the shattered glass found in Sayaka's apartment. They appeared to form the shape of a bottle, though it was difficult to tell while in so many pieces.

He vainly wished Mr. Jin had bothered to show up. How was he supposed to figure out any of this one his own?

“Mr. Ishimaru, would you introduce yourself to the prosecution?”

Kiyotaka flushed. “Y-Your Honor, I'm in the court record's profiling system!” Makoto's information had just been updated to it as well.

Mr. Judge cleared his throat. “Please?”

Well, Kiyotaka couldn't say no to a please.

Bowing stiffly, he said, “My name is Kiyotaka Ishimaru, and I'm an up-and-coming defense attorney. Th-This is my first case.” Just saying it caused the ground to tilt beneath his boots.

“Oh, wow. No wonder I didn't recognize you! I thought Mr. Kirigiri would be in charge of this one, so I figured I might as well prepare to lose immediately.” Offering a nervous grin, Makoto said, “I hope we can find the truth together.”

Kiyotaka hoped so, too. Fisting his hands, he prepared himself for what came next.

Mr. Judge smacked his gavel against his desk, then asked, “Makoto, do you want to bring in the defendant?”

Makoto nodded. “Yes, please bring the defendant to the stand. I'd like to hear his testimony first.”

“Sounds good.” Mr. Judge rapped his gavel one more time and repeated Makoto's request to a “Bill Bailiff” who apparently was not a bailiff but, due to his friendship with the Judge, sometimes helped out with bailiff-esque requests.

It was then that Kiyotaka realized he would be utterly exhausted by the end of the day.


“I swear, man! I had nothing to do with it! See?”

Kiyotaka's client was pulling a crystal ball seemingly out of his beige cardigan's droopy pockets. He began to rub his hands along it, then raised it and, peering through it, cried, “Yes! See? I had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with this trial! And my crystal ball is right 30% of the time, so you gotta believe me!”

Hmm. It was looking bad for Mr. Yasuhiro Hagakure.

“C'mon man, back me up.” Hagakure stared despondently at his defense attorney. “30%. That's pretty high, if you're playing Fire Emblem.”

“Playing what?” Kiyotaka tightened his already tight grin. “Mr. Hagakure, put that away. This is a court of law, not... fortune telling!”

“Yeah, man, but this is my law, right here? And I said, call me Hiro. And I'll call you Taka. We'll be like best friends. See? I'll predict it.” Hagakure picked up his crystal ball, began peering into it, and then promptly dropped it onto his foot in one clean motion. The ball, after rolling off Hagakure's sandal, spilled down the little staircase into the middle of the courtroom. It then veered directly at the Judge's stand and shattered into a million pieces against the wood.

Makoto opened and then shut his mouth. “Name and profession?”

Frantically struggling to keep up, Kiyotaka's court record updated with profile information on the victim and defendant. Hurriedly Kiyotaka glanced over his records—Sayaka Maizono, 22, the singer of a small indie band; Yasuhiro Hagakure, 25, high school drop-out and pizza delivery man with a penchant for fortunes. Makoto seemed to wince as he looked over the profiles.

Hagakure made a wobbly attempt at a bow. “Oh, yeah. Sorry about that, little dude. Totally forgot. So uhhh, name's Yasuhiro Hagakure, but everyone should just call me Hiro, aight? I feel too old if you use my last name. Oh—And I'm a fortune teller.”

Kiyotaka, releasing a defeated sigh, sucked in a breath and cried his very first “OBJECTION!”

Then he glared right at Hagakure. “It says right here on your profile record that you're a pizza delivery guy, and fortune telling is just a hobby!”

An odd thrill passed through his veins. Okay, if this was what being a lawyer felt like, then he figured he could get through this on his own. Also the slamming of the stand felt really good, despite how much it hurt his hands.

Hagakure had already begun to sweat. Kiyotaka wondered if his client would receive a guilty verdict in the time it had taken Makoto to prepare and arrive at the courthouse. “Y-Y'see, that's true, man, but it just, it sounds cooler when I say that I'm a fortune teller. Because I am! Technically. Or I will be, when someone buys one of my fortunes.”

Perhaps politely, Makoto asked, “How much do you charge for them?”

“A thousand dollars. But you can get a 10% discount if you try me not guilty!”

Makoto's mouth opened, but no sound came out.

Mr. Judge said, “Ah, bribery,” and slammed his gavel. “We can't have that, Hiro.”

“Awww, maaaaan! Fine, how about a 20% upcharge?”

Mr. Judge nodded. “Much better. May we proceed with the testimony?”

“R-Right.” Makoto shook himself. “Mr. Yasuhiro Hagakure—”

“Dude. Just call me Hiro.”

Makoto, mouth agape, slowly recovered his senses once again. “Hiro, please testify about the scene of the crime.”

Hagakure nodded slowly. His massive brown afro shook as he stumbled around with his cardigan and unearthed a second crystal ball. Peering into it, he suddenly gasped. “Aha! Yes! The scene of the crime!”

Kiyotaka rolled his eyes. Mr. Jin had warned him that he'd heard tales of defense attorneys cursed with ridiculously unrealistic witnesses, but it had never occurred to Kiyotaka that he might be one of them.

 

Testify: “My Crystal Ball Says It Wasn't Me!”

 

Hagakure laughed nervously, putting his crystal ball away. “Okay, I had noooooooo relation to the crime, so I didn't actually even see the scene. I was just super unlucky!

“See, I happened to be in the area, doing pizza deliveries, and I was walking by the hallway when the police busted in.

“They were like, yoooo, Hiro, what's up? And I said what's up back, because I'm best friends with everyone.

“See? No relation! They just got confused!

“Also, the victim, like, died at 4 AM, so it definitely wasn't me, because 4 is my luckiest number.”

And then his big fat mouth shut.

Kiyotaka thought his head might explode and ravage the entire courtroom. But first, the cross-examination. Mr. Judge gestured for Kiyotaka's turn, and gratefully he slammed his hands upon the wooden stand and cried, “OBJECTION!”

He pulled out the autopsy report and began waving it against his hot, sweaty face. Very satisfying. “Mr. Hagakure, the victim died between 2 and 3 AM! Your testimony is false!”

Hagakure winced. “Oh, shoot. You're totally right, man. Hey, Mr. Judgey?” He looked up at the Judge with pleading eyes. “Can I amend my testimony?”

Mr. Judge nodded solemnly. “Go ahead, Hiro. But make sure you get your facts straight this time, alright?”

“Cool, cool. I only have to change one thing, anyways.”

So he changed the victim's time of death to 2:30 AM.

And nothing else.

Kiyotaka glanced frantically at his 3 pieces of evidence. The knife hadn't even come up at all—and Hagakure's prints weren't pulled because the grimy knife was so muddled with blood that nobody's could be located. And the glass was found at the scene of the crime, which Hagakure was convinced he had nothing to do with.

None of his freaking evidence contradicted this totally bogus testimony!

The only thing he could think of was that the glass at the crime scene vaguely resembled the glass of Hagakure's broken crystal ball, but that seemed too thin a connection. He had to prove somehow, without a doubt, that Hagakure had been at the scene of the crime.

Makoto was smiling weakly at the other side. He knew that if they didn't find the truth here, Hagakure would get dragged away anyways, since there was no other evidence that anyone else could have done it. Hagakure probably didn't even realize his idiotic testimony could end his life, and Kiyotaka wasn't sure if he could convince someone this monumentally stupid that he needed to take that into account.

For the sake of Hagakure's chances at living, Kiyotaka had to find a contradiction..!

As he struggled over his extremely little evidence, he froze as something hard crunched onto his shoulder and bounded over the defense stand. Kiyotaka peered at it—a wad of paper. He glanced back at the milling crowd of juries and audience members, but he couldn't find any obvious perpetrators.

Scowling, Kiyotaka went back to furiously scanning his client's incredibly unhelpful testimony.

Then a second wad of paper hit him, this one less tightly-packed than the last. Scrawled on one of its folds was a poorly-written note: Open the other paper.

Kiyotaka glared back out at the seats behind him before carefully unfolding the wad of paper. It read, Do you need help?

Kiyotaka's brow furrowed. Had Mr. Jin's phone died, and this was his only way of communication? But everyone knew Mr. Jin was supposed to be here, so there was no need for him to go snooping around like this. And his handwriting was much neater.

Before Kiyotaka had a chance to consider what else might be vying after his attention, a pair of thick boots clomped down beside him as a large figure hefted over the partition separating the audience from the lawyers and landed in a pile of biker jacket at his feet.

“That's not legal,” was Kiyotaka's first sentence, as the man picked himself up and brushed himself off.

Suddenly legality did not matter, because oh god was he hot.

He had this tanned, chiseled face that screamed danger. Kiyotaka prided himself on his rule-abiding nature, but something about this total rule-breaker's aesthetic had caused his heart to start pounding. His piercing lavender eyes were lined in artistically-drawn lashes that accentuated his rough beauty. His lips were scarred but full and an alluring peachy complexion. And his hair—a waterfall of fluffy, dirty blonde locks that pillowed about his shoulders.

Before Kiyotaka could remember that this was totally suspicious and should be immediately reported, the guy extended a calloused hand. Kiyotaka apprehensively twined his smaller alabaster fingers with the rule-breaker's and visibly deflated when the man gave a single shake before withdrawing and dipping his fist into a pocket. “Name's Mondo Owada. I have your mentor on speed-dial. He's my go-to. I've kinda been here a lot.”

Ooh. His voice was hot too. Low and gruff and—dare Kiyotaka say lovely.

Owada waved up at the judge. “Hey, what's up, Udgey.”

“Why, hello again, Mondo! Lovely to see you.” Mr. Judge waved down at the troublemaker.

He threw a fist-bump into Makoto's direction. “What's up, little dude.”

“Good to see you again, Mondo.” Makoto proffered a tender smile.

Shrugging around his jacket, Owada said, “So yeah, at this point I'm basically a lawyer myself. I, like, absorbed your lawyer jargon through osmos... osmo... uh... fuck, I'm qualified.” Fingering the busted flip phone in his pocket, he pulled up his recent call history. “I owe your boy one. He called me and told me to help you out since something came up with him.”

Oh, no. Kiyotaka forgot to tell Mr. Jin that he didn't mix well with hot men who were troublemakers! Sweating profusely, Kiyotaka cried, “Y-You can't possibly assist me! That's gotta be outside of the rules!”

Mr. Judge banged his gavel, silencing Kiyotaka's mewl. “Assistants aren't actually required to have any amount of legal experience to be let into the courtroom, so long as their residing lawyer has passed the bar and gone through law school.”

Wh...WHAT?!

Kiyotaka stared hopelessly at his outstretched hands.

Owada helpfully tapped his shoulder. “I have an idea.”

“Oh, do you,” mumbled Kiyotaka, glaring up at him.

“Yeah. Check this out.” He pointed at the defendant, who'd been standing there repeating his testimony for the past five minutes, totally checked-out, and yelled, “HOLD IT!”

“YEEP!” screeched Hagakure before dropping and shattering his second crystal ball.

Owada narrowed his eyes. “On your second statement...” He elbowed Kiyotaka. “Hey, this is called Pressing, by the way. Nifty, ain't it? Jin's gotten me outta so many jail times with it.” Then he refocused on the defendant, gaze icy cold. “Do you have any proof that you were delivering pizzas at 2:30 in the morning?”

Hagakure blinked, staring dumbly ahead. Then his hands disappeared into his massive hair, untangling a third crystal ball. After peering into it, he breathed out a huge sigh. “Yeah, man, course I do! Says here the prosecution knows what the heck you're looking for.”

Owada shifted his blinding stare to Makoto, who let out a nervous yelp and shifted hurriedly through pages of evidence. “A-Ah! Yes, the precinct just finished printing out the defendant's call and text history for us.”

Arising from the shadows, Bill Bailiff handed some hot papers from the press to the prosecution, who passed them like kindergarten worksheets along the courtroom until everyone had a set of Hagakure's phone data.

After thanking Makoto, Owada leaned up into Kiyotaka's personal space and peered over his own copy with him, despite the fact that Makoto had handed him his own sheet. One calloused finger landed upon a certain contact. “Hey, see this, Taka?”

“T-TAKA?” shrieked the attorney. “HOW C-COULD YOU ASSUME WE'RE ON A—”

“—first name basis?” Owada snorted. “Makes things simpler, don't it? If we're gonna be relying on each other, we might as well act like it. I'll call you Taka, and you can call me Mondo, aight?”

Kiyotaka considered dying on the spot.

But—No! He had to figure out if his client was guilty first!

Shaking himself, Kiyotaka regarded his new assistant, and, with a sigh of capitulation, said, “F-Fine. Mondo.” He had a point... Mondo. If they couldn't trust each other, then Kiyotaka pretty much had no one. Well—Technically, he had Makoto too, but he still wasn't entirely sure if all that innocence was just a front.

“So, uh, Mondo, what did you want to show me?”

Mondo gave him a weird look before returning to the evidence at hand. “Y'see this? Up at the top, we have a list of all the people our pizza man contacted last night for deliveries.” At the fourth name in the list, Mondo's finger twitched. “Look at this. 2:30 AM, he texted one Sayaka Maizono: Ok I'm here, whats ur rm #.

Kiyotaka's eyes blew open. “NO WAY!” There it was, irrefutable proof that this total idiot had gone to the scene of the crime!

He unleashed an “OBJECTION!” and smugly straightened his tie. “Mr. Hagakure, care tell me how you could have nothing to do with the crime if your cell history reports that you had every intention to enter the apartment room where Ms. Maizono lived?”

Hagakure's mouth dropped open. A massive crack shuddered across his ball, but somehow, perhaps out of sheer desperation, it held itself together.

“But I told you, man! I wasn't there!” he whined, cheeks filling with air.

Mr. Judge shook his austere head. “Now, now, Hiro, Mr. Ishimaru caught your lie fair and square. Your call history clearly proves that you had every intention to enter Ms. Maizono's residence.”

Makoto jumped in, oddly helpful. “Unless... Hiro, do you have any proof that you didn't enter the building? Like... Ms. Maizono's order? Is it still in your car? I don't believe the police confiscated it off of your person when they arrested you.”

Bombarded with so many questions, Hagakure's hair stood on end as a wail broke out between his lips. “I don't knowwwwwww!” he cried, eyes swimming with tears.

“Defendant!” Mr. Judge rapped his gavel several times until Hagakure had found some semblance of calm, wiping the wet streaks from his stretched cheeks. “You're supposed to testify with the truth and nothing but the truth.”

Hagakure pouted. “But what if the truth makes me look bad? I mean—Uhhh, not like, murder-y bad, buuuuut...”

“Keep your mouth shut, defendant!” squeaked Kiyotaka. But it was too late. Hagakure's reputation had crashed through the floor. He could hear the gallery jeering.

“Hmmm. Hiro, I'm sorry to say that it's not looking very good for you.” A new wrinkled had cropped up on Mr. Judge's brow as he examined their lost cause of a client.

Makoto slapped his pink hands onto his desk, wincing in pain. “W-WAIT, PLEASE!” Was that his version of the “Hold it!” gesture? “I'd like to ask the defendant to testify once more before you rule for or against him, Mr. Judge!”

“Oh! Of course, Makoto. Go right ahead.”

Breathing a heavy sigh, Makoto fanned his face, his ahoge swaying. “Hiro, now that we've proved you were at the scene of the crime, could you testify about what you saw there, before the police arrived? I'd really like to get your perspective on what may have changed between what you and they noticed.” Then he updated the court record with a police-drawn map of the crime scene.

Mondo beamed. “Great, new evidence. Make sure to look your evidence up and down, Taka. You never know what'll end up saving your butt.”

Kiyotaka nodded gratefully, shaking the sweat from his face. “Right.” He and Mondo huddled close to examine the map.

The front door opened up into a small rectangle of a room. There was a couch situated against the back wall, with a television set up in front of it, and large speakers adorned the corners of the room. A small kitchenette was squished behind the couch. Other than that, a door on the left wall led into a small bedroom with only a bed marked at the corner, and another door in the back led to a single bathroom.

The body was marked close to the front door of the residence. The shattered glass evidence was also marked, crowded around the victim's white outline. Nothing else of note was drawn.

Humming to himself, Mondo looked up to ask Makoto, “Did this Sayaka chick live on her own?”

“No, actually.” Makoto cleared his throat, looking a bit relieved to be interrogated by the more relaxed biker rather than his red-faced lawyer. “She lived with her boyfriend of two years, but he remembers nothing of the night before, so he must have either been asleep or out of the building.”

Mondo's dark brows raised. “Fishy,” he murmured to Kiyotaka. “It all points to our client, but remember what Makoto just said there about that boyfriend being out of the picture. Sounds too convenient, don't it? I wonder...” Gaze dark, he kept his eyes trained on their new evidence and muttered a little more to himself.

“Okay, I think we've given ourselves enough time to look that over.” Makoto gestured to Hagakure. “Please testify about what you saw, Hiro.”

Hagakure's mouth flinched into a twisted grin, like he was already coming up with another terrible lie to try and save himself. Kiyotaka inwardly groaned.

 

Testify: “I Don't Get Paid Enough For This!”

 

“I swear, man, I wouldn't kill the girl! You think I make enough to bail myself out?” Wiping the sweat from his brow, Hagakure twirled his crystal ball like a basketball.

When it stopped, he clenched it, his face reflecting through it at an odd, disfiguring angle. “I dunno, it was pretty dark in there. Hard to see what was going on.

“I remember the TV was blaring something. It was the only light in the room, besides the front door.

“The bedroom door was open, and uhhhh, I bet the dead girl's boyfriend was hiding in the shadows!”

(Baseless conjecture. Kiyotaka cringed, tensing.)

“But anyways, that Sayaka girl wasn't there when I came in. How the heck would I grab a kitchen knife and walk all the way back to her without her getting wise on me?

“You think I'd stab a girl with the front door open? C'mon, man, not even I'm that stupid!”

Then he drew silent, wiping away another trickle of sweat.

Kiyotaka sighed. No obvious contradictions, other than a load of baseless fluff. And that wasn't so easy to prove, since the whole point of it being baseless was that it wasn't an obvious contradiction.

Mondo clapped his shoulder. “Don't worry. If this isn't the truth, there'll always be something we can contradict. Besides, he's got a good point about that knife thing. How the hell'd he get in there and take a Maizono knife without her noticing? Makes this whole deal seem pretty sketch.

“Oi, Makoto!” The secretary blinked, glancing over to Mondo. “Who called the police?”

“Uhhh...” Makoto closed his eyes, clearly exhausted. “The apartment owner. Someone saw Ms. Maizono's body in a security camera—the door was left wide open and she was visible—and alerted them. Unfortunately, the knife was left at the crime scene and the only person who reportedly left the apartment room after Ms. Maizono's reported death was the defendant, so... it looks like a botched murder attempt.”

“But he had no motive!” Kiyotaka tried, only for Makoto to deftly shake his head.

“Hiro told it to us himself. He's not paid enough. Conversely, Ms. Maizono and her boyfriend were part of an indie band that's recently hit their big break.” Swooning weakly, he murmured, “I even got to see them in person...” before shaking himself and returning to the facts. “Just last night, they'd gotten home late from a gig that had sold out completely. It's entirely plausible that Hiro saw them on the news and thought he could make some easy cash off of them, his big break being that he'd miraculously been called by Ms. Maizono as their pizza delivery man. Unfortunately for him, his robbery attempt ended not only in failure—as no vital items appear to have gone missing from the house—but in murder.”

Makoto's eyes tightened. Kiyotaka realized that Makoto couldn't help but be a little biased against Hagakure purely for being indicted of killing a musician that he had liked. Not only that, but a band who'd finally achieved their big break!

Kiyotaka nervously glanced between his evidence and the defendant's recorded testimony as Mr. Judge signaled for the cross-examination.

“Let's try Pressing him a bit, huh?” Mondo's warm voice bloomed as his ear. Kiyotaka ignored his flustering heart. “A lot of his claims are unfounded, so if we put on some pressure, he'll probably crack.”

“Oh! That's... a really good idea.” Flushing, Kiyotaka bowed to his assistant. “Thank you!”

“Yeah, no problem. That's how Jin saved me this one time. I'd gotten into a huge wreck, but the other guy totally hit me. Bastard couldn't handle it when Jin poked through his lies like tissue paper. Ha!”

At his gruff laugh, Hagakure flinched.

Now was his chance. Kiyotaka scrutinized the testimony before settling on some of the more unfounded claims.

“HOLD IT!” He pounded a fist into his desk. “Mr. Hagakure, why are you so insistent that the victim's boyfriend was in the bedroom?”

Hagakure glared into his crystal ball feverishly. “Beeeecause... where else would he be? He wasn't in those security cameras or anything!”

“You know what's weird, Hiro?” Mondo broke in, causing Hagakure to yelp. “You insist that you saw the victim's boyfriend, but nothing about the victim! What about her, huh? Didn'cha see her?”

“N-N-N-N-NOPE!” cried Hagakure.

“STOP LYING!” Kiyotaka shot back, only for the defendant to drop to his knees and crawl under the witness stand, holding his crystal ball up in the air like it might testify for him.

Kiyotaka ignored him, mind circulating. Surely Hagakure would've tried to prove it, had he legitimately seen this boyfriend, rather than continually insist on intentionally vague testimony that didn't cover him all that well. If that pizza had gotten delivered to the right apartment, then, wouldn't the victim have been the one to take it? Kiyotaka fumed, hands over his head. He had to think. What was going on in his client's head to make such a scrambled attempt at blatant perjury?

The Judge's gavel was going off like firecrackers overhead. Scowling, Kiyotaka pounded his desk in an attempt to steady himself. Mondo glanced between him and that gavel, his lilac gaze steady. “Mr. Ishimaru,” stated the Judge into the cool, placid climate that came after, “do you have anything to say for the defendant's sake?”

Him? Kiyotaka swallowed tightly, loosening his tie.

But of course he had to say something. If Hagakure kept lying, then this case would go nowhere and he would be consumed by the smog of guilt threatening to overwhelm him. Hagakure was still hiding under the witness stand, his hand wavering with the weight of his crystal ball. Sweat clung to it in melted hand-prints.

If Kiyotaka couldn't get the witness to crack... it would all be over. Already.

“Mr. Ishimaru?” pressed the Judge.

“Yes!” he shouted back, somehow finding the enthusiasm deep within to continue on. Clearly Hagakure was still hiding things—therefore, he had to have a contradiction lying about in his evidence. “I will prove to this courtroom without a doubt that the defendant still has important testimony to tell us!” ...If they could only coax him into sharing it.

They had to keep him relevant, or they'd lose him.

No pizza box at the crime scene to prove that Hagakure had delivered the order... and no other pertinent evidence, such as a receipt, either. Then what did he have?

Kiyotaka rummaged through his meager evidence, Mondo leering over his shoulder. The autopsy report—the allegedly unfinished report. There were strange markings surrounding the stomach wound, but other than the knife, nothing else could have made it. The map, the knife itself...

...perhaps, in Hagakure's exasperated state...

“I present these pieces of evidence to the court!”

Gesturing to the map and the shards of glass in the court record, Kiyotaka projected his voice for the stands. He couldn't quite swipe the giddy grin from his face. “This glass was found at the crime scene, but no windows or other obvious glass items were broken. Just look around this very courtroom... it must be another of Mr. Hagakure's discarded crystal balls!”

“NOOOOOO!” emitted a wail from behind the podium before the telltale shatter of glass. Kiyotaka wiped the sweat from his brow, a trill jumping through his veins.

“Hmmmm.” Mr. Judge eyed the evidence with the examples of broken glass scattered about the room. “That does appear plausible, but is there any way we can prove that the glass matches that of a crystal ball?”

“Is that really my job?” squeaked Kiyotaka. And hadn't Hagakure just screamed in an incredibly incriminating manner?

Mondo nudged him. “Here, look. 'S like arts 'n crafts, really.” Like it was nothing, the biker started sketching out the shards of glass from the court record onto a spare napkin and ripped them all into their appropriately-sized pieces. “Jin told me one time there was this lawyer who had to reassemble an entire vase for the court. Well, we don't got the glass, so, uh, gotta improvise. Just make it look circle-y.” He puzzled the pieces together as he explained, and before Kiyotaka's astounded eyes, Mondo assembled an unnervingly spherical-shaped form from his napkin pieces.

“Huh. That's weird,” he remarked, flicking at a small pile of extra napkin scraps. “Wonder if that'll make somethin' else.” He carefully scooped up these extra pieces and stowed them away between a couple of files, muttering under his breath about air conditioning stealing away his hard effort.

Mr. Judge, upon eyeing Mondo's masterwork, gave a satisfied nod. “I suppose that proves Hiro's presence at the scene of the crime.”

Makoto, releasing a relieved sigh, stepped in, smacking a hand onto the desk and wincing immediately. “Hiro! Will you tell us what you saw of the victim now?” His cheeks were redder now, his lip bitten.

“I... I...”

Hagakure had fallen backwards, head smashing into the floor.

Kiyotaka blinked. “M-Mr. Hagakure?!”

Oh, great. He wasn't responding. “Mr. Hagakure, please get up! We're trying to prove your innocence, and we need your cooperation to find the truth!”

Miraculously he lifted his head back up and returned to the witness stand, hands anxiously scrabbling for purchase. “M-Man... I got nothing left...”

“You?” Mondo smirked. “You got nothin' left, uh?” An odd twinkle darkened his expression by its sheer brightness. “Then tell us, bud. Tell us what happened.”

Geez, what a rollercoaster. Kiyotaka couldn't undo the knot in his stomach. What, was his witness going to confess to the murder of Maizono now?

“I'll tell you everything. E-Everything about how I killed her.”

Oh, great.

Mondo rolled his eyes. “We'll see about that. Remember to keep checking for contradictions, Taka. Don't let your guard down now.”

What Kiyotaka really wanted to do was get this over with and go home. It wasn't even noon yet and he was ready for bed.

But—He still had to do this. For the sake of the truth, if not for the sake of his unruly client.

 

Testify: “Put Me in Cuffs and Send Me Back to Jail!”

 

“Okay... I know this sounds crazy, but...” Hagakure wrung out his hands. Still empty. He must've finally run out of crystal balls to destroy. “I did it. I'm the murderer.

“I-I didn't mean to! It was a total accident! S-See—I asked for a tip, and she started yelling at me!

“Then she walked all the way back to her little kitchenette and came back with a freaking knife!

“I got scared and pulled out the only weapon to my name: my trusty pizza cutter.

“We had a really epic battle. If you press this statement, I'll totally relay it for you.

“But once I'd exhausted her, I-I cut her... and she fell over... and she totally died right in front of me, man. I killed her with my pizza cutter. I'm a failed pizza guy.

“Now I'll definitely get fired...”

He was crying by the end of his testimony. Kiyotaka's gut pinched in some sort of mixture of half-sympathy, half-pity.

“I kinda wanna press on that fifth statement, Taka... I just, I'm so curious about that epic battle...” Mondo muttered into his fist, beholding their blubbering witness.

Kiyotaka shook his head. “Didn't Mr. Judge say that off-topic conversations could be penalized?”

As they conversed, Mr. Judge went ahead and signaled for the cross-examination to begin.

“Nah, nah. Let me show you how a real lawyer gets away with off-topic conversations.” Mondo cracked his knuckles and looked straight at Hagakure, offering a reassuring smile to Kiyotaka that did not come off as reassuring whatsoever. “Hey, HOLD IT! I wanna hear about the epic battle.”

“You do?” Surprisingly, Hagakure perked up.

Mr. Judge was already clasping his gavel. “Mondo, I don't believe that will be necessary. This epic battle sounds very cool, but how could it have anything to do with the trial?”

Mondo outright scoffed. “Udgey, lemme tell ya. You don't know what the witness will dredge up until you press it. I got this.”

The Judge smiled around his fluffy beard. “I believe in you, Mondo. I'll overrule myself for you.” Makoto had remained silent for the duration of this testimony so far, but here he covered his face with his hands.

A silence had descended upon the courtroom. Mondo helped himself to it. “Well? Ya gonna share or what, Hiro?”

As Hagakure worked himself up to it, Kiyotaka nudged his assistant, whispering under his breath, “Don't you think the knife proves sufficiently that Hiro couldn't have killed her?”

Mondo shook his head. “With the testimony we got, I'd say it's possible someone—maybe even he himself—tried to obscure a pizza cutter wound with the knife gouge. The knife's sharper and thicker, so it'd hide any pizza cutting killer wounds. Dunno yet.”

Oh. Kiyotaka sighed. He really thought this would be an easy one, too. Foolish of him.

Then Hagakure clapped his hands together, and once again the resumed mutterings of the courthouse fell silent. “Alright, so it all started when Sayaka went for me. It was so scary!” His hair stood up on end as if to accentuate the point. “But—Well—You should've seen me at the scene of the crime. There were pizza sauce stains and bloodstains alllll over my body. It's a good thing that nice cop at the precinct let me go home to take a shower.”

“Let you what?” shrieked Kiyotaka. Now that surely couldn't be—

“Hey, hey, shhhhh.” Hagakure waggled his fingers over at his attorney. “Don't worry about it. Forget you even heard that.” Then he went back to describing his big battle with the victim like it was nothing. “I dunno what was going on, but she didn't have great aim. She kept calling me really bad names too. Kept swinging at me and screaming bloody murder, her spit getting all over the place.

“She cut me a couple times, but they were pretty shallow cuts. Either she didn't usually attack her pizza guys, or maybe she just never got any good at it? But eventually I deflected her with my pizza cutter and tried to, like, push her onto the ground? Except I did it with my hand that was holding the pizza cutter? So I, like, pushed her with the pizza cutter.”

So he pushed her with his pizza cutter. Kiyotaka also covered his face with his hands. Now both the prosecutor and the defense attorney were hiding their faces.

Mondo was humming to himself over the din of the courthouse. “Hiro, can you describe this pizza cutter to us? What's it look like? What's it made of?”

“Oh, those things were tragic. I have to buy a new one every time my company pizza cutter breaks, except, joke's on me, they almost always break every shift. They're super duper flimsy. And then I have to buy another company cutter even though I know they're gonna break again! They're just playing with my paycheck at this point.”

“Hmm. Very interesting.” Mondo pounded a fist at the desk, and said, “Udgey, please append that to the witness's testimony.”

Mr. Judge said, “Oh, sure,” before including it after the epic battle.

Then Mondo made an oddly quiet objection, adding, “Okay, who the fuck thinks he could've killed a woman with a pizza cutter that breaks while cutting hot dough?”

Kiyotaka resurfaced from his self-imposed isolation to squeak, “You're a genius, M-Mondo!”

Mondo was beaming. He looked away when Kiyotaka made an attempt to meet his eyes, cheeks tinged.

Unfortunately, the Judge's gavel broke their jubilation in half.

Makoto jumped onto their case.

“Mondo, while I agree that the witness couldn't have killed the victim with his pizza cutter, he did also mention deflecting her knife. Nobody else was located at the scene of the crime, so it's looking quite clear that, despite the number of odd twists and turns in this case, the defendant is still the culprit. You might want to give yourself in as guilty now and save us some trouble, Hiro.”

Hagakure cringed, then opened his mouth.

“OBJECTION!” shrieked Kiyotaka, slapping his desk.

He didn't actually have an objection. He was just trying to keep Hagakure from giving himself up so easily.

As he panted, his mind wandered and latched upon another segment of the witness's testimony. “So we have no proof that Ms. Maizono's boyfriend was present at the scene of the crime?”

Makoto shook his head. “That's why he's not here today. He couldn't be a witness, either, because he simply wasn't present by the time the cops arrived. They found Hiro collapsed in shock before the victim. The pizza cutter wasn't at the scene, so he must have hidden it with the rest of her home appliances.”

“Must've been a shitty investigation if they couldn't even find it,” Mondo muttered.

Makoto looked oddly defensive. “It's only because their best detective wasn't on the case.”

Mondo rolled his eyes. “Doesn't excuse the rest of 'em for sucking ass.”

“P-Perhaps not.” Makoto bit his lip. “This still doesn't change the state of the evidence. Nobody except Hiro could've committed that crime. Unless you can somehow prove that someone else had to have been there, only to leave before the police showed up... I'm afraid this trial is over.”

The Judge nodded thoughtfully. “That's correct, Makoto. Oh, don't you just love him? I hardly have to do my job up here when he's around.”

Kiyotaka winced. “Please do your job, Mr. Judge.”

But... now what? Had Hagakure really committed the murder all along? That last testimony sounded like the truth. No mind tricks with crystal balls, no wobbly pride horrifically constructed in some lame attempt to make him sound perfectly innocent... Hiro himself was convinced that he'd killed her.

But he never mentioned touching that knife, the only possible murder weapon located. He'd just been trying to hide what he thought was her death. (Because he was stupid.)

Kiyotaka, swallowing nervously, asked, “Didn't you tell me, Makoto, at the start of this trial, that the victim's autopsy report wasn't yet complete?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes, that's right.” He stepped back and took his smartphone out of his pocket. “I have my ringer set on, just in case they call me... but how would the victim's state of being potentially drugged prove anything about Hiro's own innocence?”

“Because it could change what we know about the crime last night!” Kiyotaka bit his lip, pounding his desk. The tears jolted into the edges of his eyes. “We can't let someone who might be innocent be tried guilty! We have to examine every single avenue for the truth, Makoto! Come on, you said that yourself!”

He did not like the exasperated look Makoto threw back at him.

If the complete autopsy still wasn't ready, then he had to stall, somehow, or search out yet another way that someone other than Hiro could've killed the victim. And he had to think fast.

Everyone was hanging onto his last word.

Hurriedly Kiyotaka scanned his evidence only to find little to no useful leads. The knife without prints taken off of it, the broken pizza cutter, the ludicrous napkin art, the map, the unfinished autopsy report...

Evidence, evidence, evidence...

Suddenly, like a frigid meteor glancing over the sky, a bright idea careened through Kiyotaka's mind. “Mondo,” he murmured, nudging his companion, “can I ask the defendant about evidence that wasn't found?”

“Uhh. I don't see why not. If you can make up a reason why it's relevant, Udgey here'll buy about anything.”

“I-I'm not making up a reason!” Kiyotaka shrieked, then slammed his hands onto his desk. “HIRO!” His defendant let out an involuntary shudder. “You never did give us a straight answer. Where was the pizza box that you had every intent to deliver to Ms. Maizono's apartment room?”

Hiro was sweating profusely, eyes wide and glassy and almost transparent. He clearly was trying to decide whether or not he should tell the truth, so Kiyotaka pressed a little harder. “We already have conclusive evidence that you entered her apartment with your last testimony, so it won't make you look any more guilty if you did.”

With a sort of sagging finality, Hiro collapsed over the witness stand.

“OKAY! I DID! BUT YOU CAN'T GET ME FIRED B-BECAUSE OF THAT!”

“Is that really what you're...” Mondo drew off, rolled his eyes. “Okay, Taka. You know what to do with this?”

Kiyotaka nodded excitedly. Pointing over at Makoto, he unleashed a thunderous “OBJECTION!

“Makoto! You insist that this case is closed, but here yet another riddle has been uncovered by my client, something your detectives didn't pick up!” He balled up his fists and punched them into his desk. “Makoto, if Hiro left the pizza box at the scene of the crime, but none of the police officers saw it, then someone ate that pizza! Whether it was a still-alive Ms. Maizono or somebody else entirely, we yet lack conclusive evidence. But this hereby proves that there are still secrets left to be uncovered throughout the duration of this trial!”

Taking in a deep breath, he cried, “The defense requests to hear testimony from the only surviving inhabitant of that apartment who could have information on the whereabouts of the missing pizza box: Ms. Maizono's boyfriend!”

Mondo whistled, clapping a hand at Kiyotaka's shoulder. “Nice one, Taka.”

Hiro had gone utterly slack-jawed. He probably had no idea what had just happened.

So, too, were the Judge and Makoto similarly shocked into speechlessness.

Finally, croaking, Makoto ventured a sound. “I don't... I don't think we can learn much more from Hiro, so perhaps it would be best if we brought this man onto the stand. We might learn more about the whereabouts of Ms. Maizono's, um, demise, if we ask Mr. Leon Kuwata to testify about last night.”

The Judge nodded solemnly. “Okay, Makoto, if that's what you think is best.” He banged his gavel once. “We will have a 30 minute recess while Bill Bailiff hunts down Mr. Kuwata to testify.”


To Be Continued...