Kiyotaka's ~special~ lawyer trinket. Helps him get through to people whose versions of the truth don't align with his, as well as visualize a more well-rounded perspective of the case as as whole.
Was missing until Kiyotaka located it in a drawer within Taeko's secret hideaway. How did it end up there? Is Taeko still hiding what she knows about the Sakura's death?
Verified to have held the Hi-C poison at the scene of the crime. Poison residue on the lip of the cup proves that Sakura did indeed take a sip of the deadly concoction.
-Hi-C Antidote Bottle
Located in Sakura's purse. Records indicate that Sakura bought it roughly 2 weeks ago. Taeko reportedly advised her to buy it. If Sakura had access to the antidote, did she die before she could take it? Or was she killed in a manner entirely separate that made her unable to ingest the antidote after being poisoned?
-Pale Yellow Letter
Written in Sakura's handwriting multiple days before the crime. An apology to Aoi that had been hidden in the gambling den's restroom. Taeko apparently did not know of its existence.
Incomplete. Sakura died between 6:30 and 6:50PM on the day of the murder. The Hi-C poison was found in her veins, but her body was so wracked with flames from a postmortem accident caused by Taeko and her servant that it is difficult to tell if she suffered any other wounds.
Records of an interrogation by Prosecutor Togami detailing Aoi's account of the crime, gifted by Makoto. Largely inaccurate. Aoi herself wrote over her testimony to corroborate what she actually experienced: She and Sakura entered Praying Stars; Sakura excused herself to the restroom; Sakura returned, then died in front of Aoi's eyes. What happened when she was in the restroom?
-Bedazzled Black Bell
Used to call for Taeko's “Servant” Hifumi Yamada.
-Expensive Picture Frame
Worth $250. Contained a photo of Taeko prior to Mondo breaking it. The faces of the other people in the frame have been cut out.
-Body Repossession Sheet
Taeko apparently received ownership a corpse. It is difficult to make out what circumstances surrounded her coming to own it. The body vaguely resembles Sakura's, but the faces are all wrong.
-“League of Lesbians” Sign-Up Sheet
Found in Taeko's secret hideaway. Only four names are on it: Komaru Naegi, Toko Fukawa, Genocide Jill, and Sakura Oogami.
Taeko Yasuhiro (16)
Formerly known as “Celestia Ludenberg”. The owner of Praying Stars and the latest defendant for the murder of Sakura Oogami. Was disowned at 14 and became a runaway. The survival skills she picked up on the street helped her create the gambling queen persona she had donned until Prosecutor Togami revealed her true name.
How much of what she's revealed to Kiyotaka is the truth? Can he trust her, or has her entire life story been a manufactured lie to appeal to Kiyotaka's sympathies?
“Court is now in session for the trial of Miss Celestia Luden—”
Prosecutor Togami snidely straightened his crisp white tie. “Her real name is Taeko Yasuhiro, Your Honor.”
The Judge blinked. “Oh, that's right.”
“He didn't have to cut in like that,” Mondo muttered, rolling his eyes. “Asswipe.”
It was too bad Prosecutor Togami couldn't hear Mondo's insults from across the room.
The Judge cleared his throat and began anew. “Court is now in session for the trial of Miss Taeko Yasuhiro. Oh,” he started, “how funny! Wasn't that the name of that man you defended in the last trial, Mr. Ishimaru? Do you think they're related?”
“N-No.” Kiyotaka gawked. “My first defendant's first name was Yasuhiro, not his—”
“Oh, you kids and your first names and your surnames.” The Judge waved him off with his gavel. “You've become a real man once you've forsaken both.” To the utter silence of the gallery, he unabashedly rapped his gavel once. “Is the defense ready?”
Kiyotaka was nudged by his partner. “Yes! Yes, the defense is ready, Your Honor!” He was ready, as long as he didn't think too hard about the mess of a trial looming before them. He still hadn't spoken with Taeko since his visit to her hideaway, and he could feel her needle-like crimson eyes sluicing him from the defendant's bench. He knew she had every intent to corner him as soon as she could pounce upon her first opportunity.
And oh how he feared that moment. The thought of it sent icicle daggers slashing into his veins.
Even after managing some sleep, Kiyotaka still couldn't tell what to think of Taeko. So badly as he wanted to trust her, the bracelet—and the body accumulation—and the documented truth that she had conversed with Sakura prior to the trial—seemed to play directly against her assertion that she would never harm the victim. Not only that, but her final proposal to the court, that someone had mortally wounded Sakura before she could take her antidote, had no evidence to substantiate it. So it was still highly likely that the poison and the—failed?—antidote had caused Sakura's demise.
The ever-beckoning impossible-to-answer why? pervaded the testy courthouse.
After offering Kiyotaka an unreasonably friendly smile, the Judge turned toward the other side of the court. “And the prosecution?”
The sweat was cascading down Makoto's forehead. He glanced up at Togami, gaze pinched, and tensed when the prosecutor smacked his hand flat against their desk. He pounded once more with a fist, then coolly replied, “Yes, Your Honor. And we intend to make this case quick.”
Makoto met Kiyotaka's eyes and mouthed NO, I DON'T, frantically shaking his head and pointing at himself. His brown spines of hair shuddered.
Mondo had to cover his snicker with his hand.
Before the Judge could prompt him, Togami said, raising his smarmy voice, “The prosecution would like to bring Detective Kirigiri to the stand.”
The laughter drained from Mondo's eyes. “Shit,” he hissed.
Kiyotaka wondered idly how she was planning on flipping her perspective of the case so wholly as to indict a completely separate person after having been so confident on Aoi's guiltiness. A part of him was oddly excited to witness it. Or perhaps it was the exhaustion kicking in.
Upon hearing her name called, Detective Kirigiri approached to the witness stand. She passed the prosecution—purposely?—on the way and whispered some indiscreet advice over Makoto's head. Prosecutor Togami, seething, said hotly, “I don't require your pithy apology, Kyoko.”
So much as he hadn't sensed the sexual tension behind the prosecution's desk yesterday, Kiyotaka could do little but swelter in the uncomfortable heat that had developed between the prosecutor and detective. Makoto, ever the soft in-between, kept staring at the wall just by Kiyotaka's head, maybe pretending this wasn't happening as the sweat trickled down his cheek.
“This'll be interesting,” Mondo whispered. “Hopefully they'll sabotage each other.”
“I worry you're being a little too hopeful. They're both logical adults. W-Well. Kirigiri is a logical adult.” Kiyotaka fisted his hands and steeled himself for whatever the detective's next onslaught of a testimony would provide.
“How lovely!” said the Judge. “I do adore watching the three of you work together.” He waved a hand toward the storm brewing about the prosecution and detective, Makoto awkwardly positioned in between them. Their glares cut like swords through the room, their ever-squishy boyfriend all that kept them from tearing the other into bloody pieces. “Detective, please enlighten us as to your latest theory of the crime, now that we have the added clarification of the more likely suspect.”
Detective Kirigiri's frosty gaze glided across the courtroom, hovering at the prosecution. She had left her trench coat at home and stood in a sheer sleeveless violet dress that clung to her curves and ended just at the thigh. Her thigh-high boots clacked against the floor as she paced in front of the witness stand. Her hair was down, and it blustered about her furious movements.
She served another reminder as to why Kiyotaka would never in his life date a woman. He feared her with every aching bone in his body.
“Right,” she finally said, coming to a halt. She had been holding a manilla folder that she now stretched out and opened. After sifting through its files, she plucked one specific page from its midsection and stared out at the gallery over the paper. Her fury was immeasurable.
“I will begin my testimony now, Your Honor.”
The Judge nodded amiably, the only one in the room not rendered frozen by the intensity of Kirigiri's frigid tone. “Go ahead!”
Testify: “The New Murderer”
“So we have a new murderer now,” she said smoothly, straightening her notes, “just like that. I suppose the last murderer decided she no longer felt very murderous, and now we've just had to slide the evidence that specifically incriminated her under a rug.”
The pen in Togami's hand crunched. One splat of ink landed on Makoto's cheek.
“Let's see,” she hummed. Hummed. She'd allowed one cursory glance to roll over Taeko. “Miss Taeko Yasuhiro, the daughter of a prodigious oil tycoon and a middle-eastern immigrant. You ran away from home at fourteen when your parents disowned you for having a girlfriend. Now you stand before us as the murderer of a woman of more than three times your muscle mass.
“The murderer of a woman who in fact identifies as a lesbian. How odd. It almost seems like something that would never befit your character.”
Taeko shivered. She wore the same clothes as yesterday—the ridiculous crimson gown, her hair a massive floor-length stream. The blank shock in her face told Kiyotaka the detective had found information on her that not even she knew the source of.
Kyoko cleared her throat, said, “But we can't have that, now can we? The prosecution indicted you; therefore you must be suspicious.” She peered at her notes for effect.
“Ah, the poison. There were bottles upon bottles of Hi-C discovered in your building's bar-top shelving units. Perhaps you accidentally slipped some of it to the unaware Ms. Oogami.”
Rolling her eyes, she gestured at Kiyotaka. “Go ahead, cross-examine me.”
Kiyotaka's mouth fell open.
Mondo sputtered, “That's... huh...”
The courtroom had gone silent.
The Judge raised his gavel. “Go ahead, Mr. Ishimaru. Detective Kirigiri asked so nicely, after all.”
Kiyotaka blew out a long breath.
His “OBJECTION!” felt particularly lacking of energy. “Detective Kirigiri, I have here, uh”—he held up the Hi-C antidote, as well as Sakura's drink cup—“two pieces of evidence that contradict with your idea of how—”
She didn't bother to let him finish. “Oh, how odd. It appears that it is incredibly unlikely the defendant was the murderer!” Casting another glare at the prosecution's side, she returned to her folder, and out came a deluge of paperwork.
Togami's eye twitched, his hands instinctively fisting around air. Makoto was pretending to be dead.
Kirigiri cleared her throat. “Your Honor, may I testify about my own theory of the crime scene?”
The prosecutor's mouth clenched shut with such force Kiyotaka worried he may have bitten his tongue off.
The Judge blinked. “Why, of course! That's what the detective is supposed to do, yes?”
Detective Kirigiri didn't bother answering. Kiyotaka nervously reached for Mondo's hand for support; Mondo took it, muttered, “This is the scariest shit I've ever seen. And let me tell you, I've seen some fucked up trials.” He blew out a breath, eyes trained on Detective Kirigiri.
Taeko, at least, seemed relieved. From out of—well, somewhere—she had procured a bottle of blood-red nail polish, and was busying herself with painting her nails. She had laid her white gloves on her lap. Her hands were covered in freckles.
There was an odd twinge in Kiyotaka's gut as he watched her. He could sense this loneliness emanating from her—could tell she'd covered her hands in gloves for the same reason she had painted up her face with makeup. While he still couldn't construe for himself what had happened at the scene of the crime—and he knew Taeko had to still be hiding something—he couldn't help but feel a little bad for her.
Her name would be all over the news now. He already knew she was terrified of her parents finding her again. Perhaps, as they had disowned her, they would not care, but it didn't negate the shame that must have overcome her.
He asked softly to Mondo, “Do you think she's actually the murderer? I...”
“I don't know, bud.” Mondo had followed his gaze, and the same concern Kiyotaka had felt now came awash upon his face. “Hopefully Togami will get her back on the stand soon. I feel like that's our best bet at puzzling out whatever it is she's got going on.”
There was nothing else to say. Kiyotaka's gut pinched.
Then Detective Kirigiri cleared her throat, having thoroughly searched through her notes and plastered the witness stand in evidence and testimonies linked with red string, and began anew.
Testify: “The Victim's True Cause of Death”
“I ordered a deep-cleaning of the gambling den yesterday afternoon. My team searched every last corner of the crime scene, even venturing into areas not explicitly connected with the murder as to better enhance our perspective of what had truly occurred two days ago.”
(Which of course brought Kiyotaka's question to the forefront: Had she found the secret hideaway?)
“I was even shown a secret passageway by the defendant's servant that led to the defendant's hidden parlor.”
(Kiyotaka gaped. She hadn't. Yamada had likely shown her the fake secret office—the one with the fireplace that led to the real hideaway—to throw her off her tracks. Taeko—a sixteen-year-old who was currently under arrest—had outplayed the detective.)
“I believe what I have discovered contains the most accurate depiction of the crime scene possible.
“The defendant committed an elaborate suicide attempt.”
(Kiyotaka's blood ran cold. He saw Taeko stiffen out of the corner of his eye, her usual easygoing smile smeared into a disgusted scowl.)
“This is the only explanation I can think of that would explain why the victim didn't use her antidote if she had access to it, perhaps as a means of escaping her decision if she went back on it, and why she wrote the letter to her partner in advance. I couldn't find more evidence at the gambling den, but I did at her house.”
She pulled out an entire journal from her manilla folder. Its cover was watercolor pink and decorated with lovely orange-and-purple butterflies.
“The victim's diary. In here alone did she write about her concerns.”
This was all too much to take in; sensing this, Detective Kirigiri paused. Togami continued to seethe in his corner. His hands flexed at his sides, but he yet made no move to counter the detective's testimony.
Her gaze fell on Kiyotaka. Her face seemed to taunt him: Go ahead, Press on my statements.
Nothing else to do about it. “HOLD IT!” he cried; then, “Please relay to the court what you learned from Ms. Oogami's diary!”
He knew Aoi was in the gallery, and he knew if it wasn't illegal she would've run down and stolen the diary back. This wasn't right. This wasn't right. Sakura's private thoughts were about to be unveiled to perhaps hundreds of people, thousands if their court proceedings aired on television. Perhaps even more than that. The thought of all those people being privy to his deceased best friend's diary—which likely held secrets she hadn't even wanted to yet tell Aoi about—was staggering.
...but apparently it offered a new perspective of what had occurred. And it might show them the truth. So he—So he had to Press.
This diary apparently was Detective Kirigiri's trump card. She'd already revealed to them that she'd learned next to nothing else about the crime.
Mondo reassuringly squeezed his hand. His pinched eyes reflected back Kiyotaka's discomfort.
He refocused back on Detective Kirigiri, who flashed a focused grin. “Yes, of course.” She flipped through the diary's pages without another thought of it. Kiyotaka could make out tight, overly neat handwriting in red ink all over the book's careful penciled-in entries. “Just over three weeks ago, Ms. Oogami made her first important note: 'I think I am being followed on my walk home.'”
She knew—She knew she had the entire court's unbridled attention now. Not even she could stifle her hiked-up smirk. “The victim added, 'It is only on nights when I walk by myself to the grocery store, or spare Aoi a trip. And it is not every night. But I saw the silhouette of a person trailing after me on my walk today, and the glint of metal in their hand on the edge of a streetlight. It could have been a knife, a sword, a gun. It matters not.
“'I must do something to protect Aoi. My greatest fear is of her suffering.'”
Kiyotaka froze. From across the courtroom, Togami was pointing straight at the detective, his smarmy grin smeared into a furious snarl.
“This has nothing to do with the defendant's guilt! You are going out of your way to ignore the obvious conclusion: that the defendant was—”
The sweat cooled at Kiyotaka's cheeks. Detective Kirigiri had whipped her head aside to sneer at the prosecution. “I am not done yet, Prosecutor. Why don't you shut your mouth for a minute so that I may finish my testimony?”
Togami clenched evidence files with his clawed hands. His face was profuse with magenta.
Allowing a moment of silence, Kirigiri cleared her throat once more and knocked her hair over her shoulder. No other objections tore through her self-imposed quietude. “The next important clue came two entries later—'I met an incredible young woman today. While it could have been risky to trust her, I sensed I could relay to her my fears of being followed. She took them very seriously and fretted that someone might be scoping me out. Hopefully we will create a countermeasure soon.'
“Then the very next entry, 'We have a plan. I am sorry, Aoi. I wish I could tell you, but I fear your knowledge could spread to my pursuer and catalyze their actions.'”
Kiyotaka covered his mouth with his hand. His eyes were wet with horror.
Mondo squeezed his other hand. His rough expression had tightened, his mouth set in a grim line.
There was nothing they could say, nothing they could do but let this horrid barrage rain down on them.
“She made no mention of this plan until the day of her death, to which she said: 'I may have compromised our plan. I think Aoi knows. Does she know, or did my pursuer find out? Perhaps these very pages are giving me away. I will have to think ahead of them.'
“This was Ms. Oogami's final entry.” Detective Kirigiri released a sharp exhale. “She must have doubted the success whatever plan she had concocted and decided to take the safest measure that would keep her partner what she had hoped to be out of harm's way.”
Kiyotaka couldn't stop it from flying out of his mouth—
Detective Kirigiri flinched. “What do you mean, ob—”
“Sakura knew better than that!” He'd slipped out of his courtroom etiquette and couldn't bring himself to care. He released Mondo's hand to pound his fists into the desk. His hands ached with rage. “Aoi would not be unharmed if Sakura... i-if she ended her life! Wh-Wh-What are you talking about?”
Instinctively Kirigiri's gaze leapt at Makoto, whose soft hazel eyes had sought out hers. Her cheeks colored, but she remained silent.
“D-Detective Kirigiri, what you're suggesting is no better a solution than if Sakura's pursuer had gotten to her! That can't possibly be what—”
“Then you tell me!” she shouted back, her hair whipping about her when she turned to face Kiyotaka. “Prove me wrong, Ishimaru! Show me the evidence that proves Ms. Oogami didn't commit suicide!”
Togami's mouth opened; without turning around, Kirigiri fired back at him: “Don't, Prosecutor. Unless you've a better argument than the one you kept throwing at me last night.” His mouth snapped shut. “Ruined our evening with Makoto,” she muttered to herself.
Kiyotaka frantically turned to his own evidence. His hand instinctively reached for Sakura's bracelet—
—It was so carefully undone... as if its owner had untied it knowing it could be besmirched, coated in blood, ripped apart or otherwise come to harm if she had worn it to her final outing...
...no, no no no...
Hurriedly he flipped back to Aoi's testimony, fighting to outpace the chills of dread that buckled his hands. Swallowing tightly, he grasped the document and shouted, “Ms. Asahina, the witness to Ms. Oogami's death, reported a strange occurrence that could be hiding the truth of the murder before us in her testimony!” Surprisingly, Detective Kirigiri grew still. She scrutinized the attorney with a new, foreign fierceness that she hadn't bothered to use on him yesterday.
Kiyotaka continued, his heartbeat spiking up his throat. “We're missing the crucial moment of Ms. Oogami's incapacitation: What happened when she entered the restroom? Since there, w-well, there are no cameras, it's impossible to tell if Ms. Oogami actually took the poison when she was in there by herself, or if someone hurt her first!”
He realized, skin crawling, that he was utilizing Taeko's testimony from the day before. He glanced over to her, and—her eyes had widened—she knew it too. A big grateful smile had seized her face.
Detective Kirigiri puzzled over his evidence. “But I don't believe we found any signs of violence in that restroom.” Her brow furrowed. “If there is no evidence displaying Ms. Oogami's struggle with an unknown assailant... is it even likely she was assailed whatsoever?”
Togami coughed into his fist. Everybody ignored him.
...this line of questioning had dried up. There was no way to prove or disprove what might have occurred in the restroom, unless Taeko's new plan of testimony included her meeting Sakura there. But that couldn't be right—she reportedly hadn't noticed the yellow letter, which meant she hadn't seen Sakura place it there. Due to timing constraints, it all depended on if there were some surprise witness who had seen Sakura in the restroom—or even a surprise murderer who had expertly hidden their crime.
Kiyotaka stood there like an idiot for a second.
But of course there wasn't a surprise witness!
He almost smacked himself. How could he hope for something that fruitless?
Swallowing tightly, he said, “I'm not sure. I'll have to return to your previous testimony.”
Detective Kirigiri's brows raised, but she did not comment and even dutifully repeated it.
About halfway through, Kiyotaka cried, “HOLD IT! Detective Kirigiri, are you sure your depiction of the crime scene isn't missing any—”
An entire vial of deep red nail polish splattered across his suit. The words died at his lips.
Blinking furiously, he turned in the direction of Taeko's apologetic gasp. He already knew it was staged.
“Oh my! I am so sorry, Kiyotaka! I cannot believe I upended all of my nail polish on top of you! How clumsy of me!”
His suit... His white suit...
Even Mondo was peeved. “What the fuck, Taeko? What was that all—”
“Your Honor!” squeaked Taeko, trampling over Mondo's voice. “Your Honor, may I please escort my attorney to the restroom? I have nail polish remover in my pocket that I would like to try on his suit, please! I am so very sorry for this inexcusable misdeed!” She made a deep curtsy, her head fully bowed.
Togami broke in once more. “OBJECTION!” With all eyes trained on him, he drummed a fist upon his desk. “Clearly we cannot trust this—”
“Really?” Kirigiri's hands crested her hips. She rolled her eyes over the prosecution. “Are you still going on about this?”
“O-Of course!” Togami's cheeks seared a violent crimson. “Nobody else could have—”
“Did you listen to any of my testimony, Prosecutor?”
“It could have been staged, Detective—”
Makoto had disappeared under the prosecution's desk with a high-pitched “Not this again!”
Between their squabbles, Taeko raised her hand and waved. Her nail polish flashed under the lights, returning the Judge's gaze to their side of the courtroom. “Well...” Their grizzled overseer thought about Taeko's request for a long moment. “Oh, all right. You're just so cute, how could I refuse?”
Mondo cringed. “Really, Udgey?”
The Judge shrugged. “She reminds me of my granddaughter. How could I say no to that face?”
“Oh. Okay. I guess that's better.” While Mondo babbled, Taeko linked Kiyotaka's arm with hers and rushed him toward the exit. “H-Hey! Wait! I'm coming too!” The biker's big clonking footsteps chased after them.
As soon as they'd passed through the hallway and into—they bickered a moment before choosing—the nearest men's restroom, Kiyotaka screamed, “TAEKO! DO YOU EVEN KNOW HOW MUCH MONEY I SPENT ON—"
She'd turned on the sink faucet and filled her hands with water as he yelled. She now splashed his face with her handful, shutting him up. “Kiyotaka, I wax money. Just by existing, men and women alike pay me copious amounts.”
Kiyotaka, sputtering, squeaked, “But your gambling den's under—”
Taeko happily shook her head. “My onlyfans does very well, I will have you know.”
“TAEKO! Y-YOU'RE SIXTEEN!”
Taeko frowned. “Goodness, your mind is dirty, Kiyotaka! People pay me for my imaginative and, may I add, fully clothed dress-up outfits.” She shook her head. “But no matter. I will buy you a new suit, worry not.” She cringed. “A better one, too. This one is so... plain.”
Kiyotaka's head was so full of volcanic rage that for a second there he was too steamed to get any words out. Did he really have to explain to her that some people actually preferred a plainer suit?!
He was so focused on his clothing that he didn't notice she had backed toward the door until she was lodging one of her ridiculous high heels into its looped handle as to forcibly jam it shut. Then, testing the door—it jiggled, couldn't open—she folded her newly-painted fingers over her midsection and brandished an all-too-big smile.
“What evidence did you find in my private dwellings, Kiyotaka?” She kicked off her other high heel and stood in her socked feet on the restroom floor without even recoiling. Sans heels, she was actually shorter than Kiyotaka by a few inches.
He opened his mouth—to say something—when a voice erupted from behind the restroom door.
“Taka? Taeko? Are you in here? Uhhhhh... or are you in the ladies' room..?!”
Taeko stared up at Kiyotaka, eyes unnervingly wide.
Kiyotaka rolled his eyes, whispered, “Just let him in.”
She made a silent sigh, then struggled with the shoe lodged in the door handle. Eventually she got the heel out and ushered Mondo in before painstakingly working at the door again and finally, after a couple laborious minutes, managed to jam it shut again.
She should have realized in all the time it took to jam the door that if Kiyotaka and Mondo had felt all that threatened about her attempts to lock them in, they could have easily overpowered her and taken her makeshift weapons away. By the time she was done, Kiyotaka had carefully removed and folded up his soiled outer coat, then draped it over Mondo's generous shoulder. Mondo eyed his lavender undershirt—it complemented his deep blue-violet tie—and murmured, “Damn. Still crisp as fuck.”
Now was not the time to blush, and yet Kiyotaka's cheeks defied him.
“Now,” Taeko said, straightening, “please relay to me what you discovered in my private chamber, both of you.” It would have felt a great deal more intimidating had she not spent the last two minutes cramming her high heel into the restroom door's handle.
Kiyotaka set aside the brewing argument in his head concerning his suit. Sakura's murderer was still unknown, and that took the highest precedence. “I was about to relay testimony that would have furthered the argument and created an opportunity to present exactly what I saw, Taeko. You didn't have to—”
“Tell me.” Her voice raised an octave. “Tell me now.”
“Shit, Taeko,” Mondo muttered. He placed a protective hand at Kiyotaka's shoulder. “Taka just told you he's gonna get to it in a couple seconds. Calm dow—”
“What did you see?” Her breathing had gone erratic, her cheeks flushed. “Wh-What did you see of me? Tell me now!”
She lunged at Kiyotaka, the claw-shaped ring on her middle finger gleaming—
—when Mondo's strong arms shackled at her wrists, holding her in place. “Taeko, relax! What's going on?” She wouldn't speak, just started struggling. “Hey! You're the one who gave us access in there anyways! Don't you know what we would've seen?”
Big gloppy tears had formed at the edges of her eyes. She kept struggling, mouth clamped shut. Surely she knew that Mondo was stronger than her.
Mondo let out a breath. He met Kiyotaka's eyes over her head. “Can I...” To Kiyotaka's nod, he relaxed his grip. As soon as she wrenched her hands free, Taeko rushed back at the restroom's entrance, guarding the door with her body. “Hey, you're alright. You're our client, aren'cha?” He held out his hands to show he wasn't hiding anything. “But if we're gonna trust you, you have to trust us too.”
“Yes, w-w-well...” Taeko folded her arms across her chest. “S-So what? You don't trust me anyways. I am untrustworthy.”
Kiyotaka scowled. She wasn't wrong... but she didn't have to be. He stepped in front of Mondo, said, “Then give us a reason to trust you. Please. Taeko, we really, really want to help you.” The things she'd told him yesterday as the tears ran down her face came back in starbursts. “You... You didn't kill Sakura, did you?”
She bit her lip, staring into a corner of the restroom. Her mouth wobbled, but she wouldn't let any words come out.
Mondo broke in. “I don't think so. But there's gotta be a reason why you're too scared to tell us.” He drew out a tense breath, then stepped back, giving Taeko space, and dumped his hands into his hoodie's front pocket. “We don't wanna freak you out, kid. We're tryna figure out what actually happened so you don't go to fuckin' jail for a crime you didn't even commit!”
Her gaze darted between them. She knew, she knew if she kept quiet she could risk her own life. Yet she still didn't dare speak.
Kiyotaka swallowed tightly, asked, “Is it the pursuer?”
“I-Is..?” she echoed.
He'd gotten her voice to return. That was as good a sign as any. “Is that why you're afraid, Taeko?”
She stared at the ground, then nodded almost imperceptibly.
Okay. She felt threatened in some way by their mysterious—assassin?—murderer?
“Taeko,” he prodded, keeping his voice soft, low, “do you know anything about the pursuer?”
She stifled a whine. “No...” Kicked her discarded shoe. “B-B-But they were going to hurt Miss Sakura... And I—And I had to stop them...”
Mondo opened his mouth—Kiyotaka squeezed him by the wrist, hissed, “Wait.” Catching his intent, Mondo drew silent.
As if recognizing what she'd almost revealed on her own, Taeko ducked her head, exhaled sharply. “J-Just tell me what you saw, Kiyotaka. What did you find?”
His heart twinged. They should have spoken with her yesterday after their investigation. He could just feel Taeko staying up, waiting, waiting for them to come back. The mounting fear that must have paralyzed her when they didn't return and provide her an opportunity to explain the evidence they had collected from her private quarters...
Kiyotaka bowed his head. “I'm sorry, Taeko.” He heard her gasp softly. “I should have trusted you with our findings. I—I'm afraid my own presumptions caused me to assume the worst about you. I... I'm supposed to believe in you, but I didn't yesterday. I'm truly sorry.”
He heard her crying again... and it was his fault. His blood ran cold.
With a blast of alacrity he recalled that picture frame Mondo had dropped. The photo in it—Taeko, with her companions' faces all cropped out—proved her claims yesterday. She... She was all alone, wasn't she?
He needed to make this right.
“I'll show you what we found, Taeko. So please trust us too. We need your help to save you from the prosecution.”
Mondo broke in. “God, let's just request a fuckin' recess from Udgey. This place stinks.”
Taeko paled, as if recalling where she had attempted to corner them from. She furtively wiped the wet streaks from her cheeks. “Yes, you m-men sure do stink.” She went about recollecting her shoes, strapping the one on the floor to her foot, then struggling with the one still jammed in the door handle.
She fiddled with it for a long minute, then hissed “shit.” Hands raw, she stepped back a second to stare at her stuck shoe.
“Here.” Mondo surged ahead and knocked it free. “There you go.” He handed it over to Taeko.
Her nose wrinkled. “Thank you, accessory.” She quickly strapped it to her foot. “After you.” Her eyes were trained on Kiyotaka, and something like—something like appreciation had softened her complexion.
Upon their return, the Judge granted Kiyotaka's request for a ten-minute recess to help prepare Taeko for her upcoming testimony, as Detective Kirigiri had left the stand shortly after her dispute with the prosecution had escalated. Kiyotaka could only imagine how bad it had been, having caused Makoto's cheeks to drain of color, his hair razzled, gaze unfocused. That poor boy really was powerless between his overwhelming partners.
They found one of those courtroom couches by the edge of the hallway and plopped themselves down with their evidence.
Taeko remained silent as they showed off and explained each piece they found. Her fingers curled at the sight of Mondo's ridiculous fail-safe, the repossession of that corpse that vaguely resembled Sakura, but she didn't speak up until after Kiyotaka had finished showing her the bracelet, their last piece.
Then he asked, “How did you come into possession of this, Taeko?”
“Oh,” she said softly. “In case our plan went poorly, Miss Sakura asked me to hold it for her. She did not want it to be destroyed.”
Oh, the answer had been right there all along...
Kiyotaka broke into an exasperated laugh. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed out all that anxiety. “I can't believe how badly I misread the circumstances...”
“Hey.” Mondo's hand rested at his thigh. “She was your best friend. Course your emotions're high. Plus, we didn't know about Oogami's diary when we found it.”
Taeko gaped. “That is what confounded you? A bracelet?” She scowled. “Really, Kiyotaka?”
“W-Well! Sakura would never take it off of her own volition! She never took it off! So if it wasn't on her wrist, and someone killed her... I just”—he shook himself—“I made the worst assumption. I'm sorry. Can we move on?”
Taeko thought about it. “Fine, I suppose. I will have to keep careful guard over the rest of my bracelets now, in case I lose one and you assume someone has fucking murdered me in cold blood.”
The color sucked out of Kiyotaka's face.
“It was one time!” he cried.
Mondo burst into laughter, and Taeko giggled behind her hand, her colored nails shining under the courtroom lights.
She'd calmed down once she knew what they had. Now she considered their options, and, musing, finally said, “I created the sign-up sheet a few weeks ago. What with my network of informants, I had gained a great swath over San Fransokyo, so I decided to use my new influence to seek out other, um, women who had inclinations similar to my own. I just... I wanted to see lesbians who were happy.
“I made a group chat for us. We do not speak often, but it just helps to know there are other women like me out there, living incredible lives. That is how I came to know Miss Sakura, and how she came to trust me with her plight.”
“Did she know about your past?” Kiyotaka asked.
Taeko shook her head. “She likely assumed I was a capable adult, as I believe you did when we first met.”
Mondo snickered. “You scared the shit out of us. Taka thought you were a fuckin' demon.”
“I am pleased to hear it.” She self-consciously tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, her smile brilliant.
Kiyotaka hated to steer the conversation away, but they still did have a murder on their hands. “Taeko, what about—I just... I need to know. What is this?” He held the corpse repossession paper in front of her.
She opened, then shut, then reopened her mouth. “It is exactly what it appears to be.”
Kiyotaka tensed. “Did you—”
“I simply claimed possession of this body.” She nonchalantly twirled her hair with a finger. “You never know when a dead body will come in use.”
Kiyotaka decided not to question this line of thinking any further.
He redirected the conversation once more. “Can you tell us what actually happened to Sakura? Do you know how she died?”
She pressed her lips tightly together, then said, slow, “I thought about it for a long time, and I... I have decided that I do not know how she died.”
Hurriedly Kiyotaka grasped his katana—but there was nothing, no sense of any ulterior motives. She did not know how Sakura died.
“So you weren't in the restroom,” he clarified. She shook her head. “You really believe that she was killed by someone in the restroom?”
She paused. Squinted. “I think... I think that if anything caused her death, it would have to be a third party working from the restroom without my foreknowledge. And... there is one person who would know how to reach the restroom without arising suspicion...”
Kiyotaka and Mondo both gasped. “Who?”
“Servant, of course.” Taeko glanced away. “But that does not make any sense! I would never request Servant to kill Miss Sakura.”
Yamada... tried to kill... no... That was simply too insane to be true. How could he even do that? Ignoring the strange power balance between him and Taeko, he was a portly man in a cat onesie theoretically up against the strongest person Kiyotaka knew.
Unfortunately, Makoto materialized before they could get any more out of this conversation. “Hey, guys. Mr. Judge wanted me to let you know the recess has been over for the last five minutes.”
Kiyotaka gaped. He pulled out his phone, and surely enough, they had gone over time. “My apologies!”
Mondo shrugged. “Eh, it happens.”
Makoto glanced between the three of them. “Were you able to get the stain out of Taka's suit?”
Kiyotaka's face flushed deep red. He glared over at Taeko, who offered an incongruous smile. “I am afraid red refuses to come out of white fabric! I will have to purchase my attorney a new suit.” She side-eyed Mondo. “Accessory could also use a suit. I do not think golden-fringed biker shorts go very well in a court of law.”
“Hey!” Mondo flushed too. “These are great! Comfortable and easy to wear. They work for any old occasion!”
“I don't know...” Makoto mumbled. “We are in a court of law...”
Taeko nodded to herself. “If the suit is black with golden fringe, will you wear it?”
Mondo's eyes lit up. “Yeah, sure. If you're paying.”
Taeko happily clapped her hands together.
Kiyotaka got up to start filing away all their evidence. Mondo helped shuffle things into folders, whispering curses when he crinkled them by accident.
Taeko hovered by Kiyotaka's side. When a police officer approached her, she attached herself to the attorney, linking his arm with hers. He dropped his folder in shock, and with Taeko stuck on his arm, he couldn't reach it. “Taeko,” he hissed, before Mondo stepped in to pick it up for him.
She glanced between the officer and her attorney, and she said, “No thank you, Sir Officer. Kiyotaka will escort me to the stand.”
He closed his eyes, sighed. He supposed he would.
Prosecutor Togami threw a fit when they returned.
Taeko excused herself to the witness stand. Mondo and Kiyotaka returned to their desk and resorted their evidence. So badly as Kiyotaka would have preferred to focus on the evidence before them, Togami was doing a terrible job at keeping his voice low.
As soon as Makoto reached the prosecution stand, he growled, “Where have you been?” There was a quiet, hurried response from his secretary. “I need you here. Why do you keep associating with the other side?” Another mumbled reply. “You don't have to say anything. Just... Just stand here. You don't even have to do anything. I'm not paying you to do anything but just not... leave.”
Kiyotaka couldn't help but glance up at the prosecution. Togami was flustered, running his hands through his disheveled dirty blonde hair. Makoto wasn't quite meeting his eyes, just bobbling his head and apologizing here and there.
The Judge raised his gavel once their chit-chat dwindled. “Detective Kirigiri posed a most interesting argument before the break: Did the defendant take her own life?” A chilling silence proceeded. Kiyotaka grabbed her bracelet, stared at it. She wouldn't. Right? She couldn't.
“As it stands,” the Judge continued, “we lack conclusive evidence that proves Ms. Oogami was the cause of her death. The likeliest candidate is still, though I hate to admit it, Miss Taeko.”
“Correct,” interjected Prosecutor Togami. “The prosecution will now question the defendant once again. Yesterday she proved to be completely useless.” Taeko mimed Togami's words with her right hand as she stared up at the ceiling. Kiyotaka had to stop himself from laughing. “We hope that today she will actually submit to the truth.”
Taeko met the prosecution's eyes, then said, “If you intend not to be a little bitch today, then I would love to comply.”
Togami scowled, cheeks blustering red. “If you intend to be reasonable today, then perhaps you won't be found guilty of murder. Unless, of course”—his glasses flashed—“your lies are all a terrible camouflage for your cold-blooded crime.
“Defendant. Testify to the court about how you think the murder occurred. I want to know your thoughts of it.”
Taeko bristled. “Had I not already given you my testimony yesterday?”
“Do it again.” Togami drummed his fingers along his desk. Makoto glanced feverishly between his prosecutor and the defendant. He looked about as helpful as an egg. “I intend to pick apart your lies this time, and fashion them into stepping-stones toward the truth behind your actions. I am ready.”
“Oh?” Her dark brows raised. “We shall see in due time, Sir Prosecutor.”
The Judge pounded his gavel, and she began.
Testify: “An Impossible Crime and Impossible Murderer”
“I believe I already relayed to you that I could not have been in the restroom at the time of Miss Sakura's unfortunate incident. Else I would have known about her letter.
“Sir Prosecutor”—she turned to Togami—“how could I have poisoned her, marred her, hurt her or otherwise if I was not physically present at the necessary place?”
She paused a moment; Togami opened his mouth—and she then raised her hand, said softly, “Well, could anyone have entered the restroom without leaving a single speck of evidence? And if so, was their form of leaving evidence the choice to place the letter as bait in the restroom, to lead a foolhardy procession to presume she had ended her own life?”
(Wait... Kiyotaka was having trouble keeping up. What was she trying to say here? That Sakura... couldn't have been her own murderer?)
“But then where are their fingerprints? A bloodstain? A weapon? Your detective scoured my gambling den all afternoon, did she not? Then where is the evidence that I—or anyone else—entered the restroom with Miss Sakura?”
She turned and looked directly at her attorney.
“It is surely impossible for anyone to have snuck into the restroom without arising suspicion.”
And she winked.
Mondo froze. “She's tellin' us something.”
“Really? You think?” Kiyotaka muttered. So much fun as she had prodding the prosecution, that last snippet of testimony had certainly been meant for them.
...was she implying...
Before he had the chance to question Taeko's judgment, the prosecution launched an “OBJECTION!” her way. Prosecutor Togami straightened, then delicately tugged the topmost slip of paper off his stack of files. “Clearly you poisoned her drink, defendant.”
Kiyotaka opened his mouth—but Taeko raised her hand toward him. “Please, Sir Prosecutor, enlighten me as to how I could have sequestered a poison into her private drinking cup without her—or her loving girlfriend—noticing."
Togami was fuming. Her grin hiking up a notch, Taeko added, “Didn't Madam Detective just make that claim earlier today so that Kiyotaka could easily prove its contradiction? My, my, are you slow!”
Makoto was hiding a cheeky grin with his hand. He nudged Togami and whispered something to him. The prosecution's face blurted red. “I—I'm certain of it! You had to have poisoned her!”
“Are you accusing me of murdering Miss Sakura because I am a lesbian?” Taeko gasped. “Are you homophobic, Sir Prosecutor?” She clapped her hands over her cheeks, her mouth stretched into a gaping smile.
“O-Of course not!” Now his ears were burning. “There's just—You're so—You have to be the murderer!”
Taeko pouted. “Why? Because I am smarter than you? Are you trying to put me in prison because I intimidate you?”
“N-NO!” Togami slammed his fisted hands into his desk, and his glasses slid askew. “BECAUSE... YOU DID IT!”
Makoto very gently laid a hand on the prosecutor's forearm. He flinched a second—as if to swat it away—then hesitated.
Kiyotaka decided now would be a good time to step in. “Prosecutor Togami, do you have any other evidence that gives you cause to think that Taeko committed this crime? Because if not, I'd like to get back to my cross-examination.”
“You're working with her,” Togami seethed.
Kiyotaka blinked. “She's my client! Why wouldn't I work with her?”
This caught the prosecutor off guard.
Mondo sniggered, clapping a hand on Kiyotaka's shoulder. “God, what an asshole. Too bad he can't hide behind his detective anymore.”
Even the Judge had something to say. “Mr. Togami, is everything alright? Usually you work so much better with Makoto—”
Togami shot a glare at the Judge, then settled his frigid gaze upon Kiyotaka. “You should know better than to listen to her. She's a living lie! Aren't you an attorney? Isn't your job to find the truth of what happened? The victim was your friend, Ishimaru. And you're letting this insolent child dictate how we see the events of Oogami's death?”
His blood chilled.
Kiyotaka swallowed tightly.
He knew that there was something Taeko still wasn't sure about—or... was hiding from them.
Her voice surged over him—I do not know how she died.
Then why did she now suggest that Yamada, who knew the secret entrances to all the rooms in her building, could have had access to the restroom that Sakura was in, even if Taeko did not?
...Yamada wore that collar. She could pick up on voices through it.
That would mean that she would have known what had happened in the restroom, if she was going to imply that Yamada could have been there at that time. And Yamada was crafty—He'd set Sakura's body on fire under Detective Kirigiri's nose, and not even she had been capable of stopping him.
She knew. That meant Taeko knew. Whatever happened in that restroom, she knew.
But she'd said she did not know how Sakura had died.
...Slowly Kiyotaka began turning over his evidence from yesterday, witnessing it alter under a new light. Aoi's testimony of Sakura dying wearing the bracelet. The bracelet that Sakura had apparently given to Taeko for safe-keeping. The photograph that illustrated just how alone the teenager was—and her ridiculous “League of Lesbians” as some sort of means to fill that gap.
The body repossession.
...The body repossession.
He recalled that between Sakura's death—Aoi running away—the other detective ditching the crime scene—himself and Mondo inspecting the bathrooms—and Detective Kirigiri having been tripped up by Yamada... there cropped up windows of time in which only Taeko was in the room with the corpse.
His shaking hands went numb. There was no way.
And yet... and yet it was the only way all of Taeko's patchwork testimony and strange remnants of evidence all fit together.
When he met her eyes, she flinched.
She knew that he had figured it out, and the fear had pulverized her. Her hand tried to reach out to him, but she stole it back and squeezed her fingers together, her bright crimson eyes fixated upon him.
He had the power to ruin everything she had been laboring to mask. And she knew she couldn't stop him if he did.
His lips parted. He said, “I was speaking with Taeko during the recess about what may have occurred in the restroom. There is only one person who could have snuck in after Sakura, one person who could have witnessed the event—who had the power to kill her.
He met Togami's eyes and, hoisting Taeko's stupid sequined bell, said:
“I call Hifumi Yamada to the witness stand.”
Taeko collapsed. He darted over to his client, and she grabbed his hand, squeezing fitfully. She leaned into him for support, grappled his shoulder, tilted him close enough to rasp, “You understand.”
Across the room, Prosecutor Togami had begun to walk toward the exit. “This is ridiculous,” he said, when his secretary rushed after him, grabbing him by the hand.
“Byakuya, wait!” Makoto pleaded. “I think... I think we're really on to something! I know you don't like that witness, but Taka might've just figured it out!”
And he had... and he had...
Kiyotaka whispered, “You said you didn't know how Sakura could have died.” Swallowing tightly, Taeko nodded. She knew where this was going.
Since she couldn't know how Sakura had died if Sakura had not died at all.
Mondo blundered over to them. “Taeko, you okay?” he asked even as the young lady picked herself up and out of Kiyotaka's arms, rebalancing on her heels.
She glanced at Kiyotaka and smiled sweetly. “Yes, I will be. Thank you for trusting me. I am happy we are in agreement that Servant holds the rest of this case's answers.” She held her attorney's gaze, knowing fully well that he had just protected her deepest secret and even helped her shift the trial in the opposite direction as to better mask the truth.
He was still quaking a little on the inside. He couldn't believe he had looked right in Prosecutor Togami's eyes and essentially lied in return. The Kiyotaka of two weeks ago would have been appalled and possibly died on the spot.
...but this case had displayed very quickly to him the nasty underside of the law.
And lying about the truth in this moment might be the only thing keeping his best friend alive.
He shivered as he relived the pounding he had heard over Taeko's secret hideaway. The pounding of footsteps—footsteps that could only belong to one person, hidden within the secret hideaway... within the secret hideaway.
Someone who was pretending to be dead for the sake of her survival.
To Be Continued...