For all the polish in the life of an Agent -- crisp formations, rehearsed moves, the ridiculous cool factor of a hoverpad or a jetpack -- J liked patrol work best. Just rhythms and beats to follow, wherever they pulled him. Just his own footfalls on concrete and good honest sweat dampening his back. He roamed the city's back passages, exploring on cat-quiet feet, watching the world through tinted shades. As an Agent, J was enigmatic friend to all.
The park's sandy path led him closer to someone's faltering beat. Someone in trouble, full of hot-blooming worry and frantic awareness. J sped his pace and the oak trunks vanished, the canopy's dappled light blurred; he saw, felt, and breathed only music. The target thrummed nervous, she walked on age-stiff joints and a presence followed her, someone rapidly skewing from friend to foe. Her name ghosted on J's tongue, all round consonants. A frail-built woman, arthritis-gnawed hands, fear liquid in her heart and a cry trembling in her throat -- help, she cried. She needed an Agent.
J stopped, skidding on leaves, snapping into basic position. Guitar's growl flowed through him and his blood kept time; he tightened his grip on the microphone's hilt and began.
Makes me that much stronger~
Suspicion, and a ragged man looming closer. Step and tap, sweep an arm and snap his head to match every driving note.
Makes me work a little bit harder~
She turned, quivered with new courage and wide hands came anyway, with a snarled demand for what she carried. Hop and shimmy, flow with the baseline and press harder, brighter.
Makes me that much wiser~
A grab for her purse, but she blazed now, her rhythm beating strong. A swing of the purse, a scolding cry and startled choke in response. Defensive strikes bubbling upward through her memory's depths. Repeat the moves, measure and mirror, a flick of hips and finishing step and J pointed at the world, at the audience. The terror fled, and she stood breathing hard and grinning.
So thanks for making me a fighter~
The beats faded, like a passing rumble of thunder. The urgency bled away and J stood in a calm forest grove, his limbs singing with adrenaline and sensing the woman's rhythm falling back to routine. Another job well done. He wiped hot sweat from under his pompadour and smiled broader -- he wouldn't trade the long days and aching muscles for anything in the world.
Onward, then, to find another target, someone else in need of a helping hand. The park path opened front of him and J looked ahead at the distant, heat-shimmering asphalt of the street, the stinging glint of cars' chrome in the midday sun. Traffic murmured, somewhere beyond the park trees. It was open out there -- too open. Any number of idle gazes could snag on him. Pausing, canting his weight onto one leg, J combed his memories of the terrain, every alley and footpath and sidelot. Foster Park curved over bush-thick hills and down a creek's shallow bed. His socks would squelch wet with every step afterward but a little water never--
Shock flared red from the corner of J's senses. He looked toward it -- at breeze-fluttering oak leaves, and a sparrow sailing past, and open columns of sun -- and the sensation dulled, and faded away. Too brief to be anything serious, J hoped. Maybe a hiker coming across an especially hairy bug, or a coordinator remembering something about whatever huge gathering was milling at the park's center. There were hundreds of rhythms out that way, blurring amiably together, maybe a wedding or something. Definitely no going over there for J, then -- gazes crept on his skin, under the Agent suit. He looked back to the street, tried the maps in his head and couldn't remember the streets' names, just their sprawling directions. That diner was nearby, he knew that much. He remembered its cluttered alleys full of the muddled-wonderful scent of food cooking, the starchy, frying smell and visions of glistening-hot French fries.
And thinking along those lines meant break time had arrived -- a good music rush could hide even the most determined hunger pang, after all. J lifted a hand toward his earpiece. A quick check-in with Missy, her chirp of permission and J could--
And then fear ran hot across his mind -- not just fear but desperation, terror. Close enough to sting nettle-sharp but moving away, across the road and into shadows, someone scared and running and it gripped J to sink claws into his heart. He ran, but the asphalt loomed ahead and he jerked to a stop: open space. Witnesses. He couldn't but he had to, someone was drowning in that fear and it keened suddenly: pain, dazzling agony, a mouth opening to spill voice. Help -- they needed help. They didn't say it but J knew. Movement in the open meant blending in: he was wearing a suit, there was a wedding nearby, and that coincidence would have to do. He tore off his shades, dropped his mike and ran, into the sun and heat and acrid colours. Beats hammered up ahead of him. Road and sidewalk flowed under his pounding feet, he was surrounded by tall shadows and hulking boxes but the sensation was moving again--
A flicker of pain, a trace slithering away and it was gone. The bass line dwindled to nothing and J stood on alley dirt, alone with his own deafening pulse. A false alarm? It couldn't be. He knew when people needed help, knew better than anyone and the soul couldn't lie. The target must have just gotten away, farther away than one Agent could pinpoint. J looked around, and details formed in the shadows for him -- fence boards, cardboard's edges, darkness. A vacuum hung where song should have been. He grabbed for memory, for scraps of colour and feeling. Something, somehow, had gone wrong here.
"Police! Put your hands up!"
Flashlights strobed suddenly on the fence ahead, and eyes bored into J's his back. Had he really attracted that much attention? He was just a friendly neighbourhood Elite Beat Agent, but that couldn't help him now: the world didn't know, they couldn't know the truth. One wrong word out of J could reveal what people just wouldn't understand. His training spoke to him, in the Commander's voice: don't run, don't resist. You're never alone. J's hands rose -- empty, too empty -- and the footsteps closed in. Murder stood out stark in the droning voices. Cuffs bit his wrists.
The back of the squad car swallowed J. He ached for teammates at his flanks. The police asked if he understood his rights, and he picked careful words:
"I want a lawyer."
Song used in this chapter is Fighter by Christina Aguilera.
Chapter 2: The Turnabout Beat
However long Phoenix stared, however full of fiery determination he was, Wright and Co.'s collection of law textbooks never got any less intimidating.
He didn't need to look at Maya -- her smile was cheeky and her eyes danced with mischief. He knew that expression like the insides of his eyelids.
"Reading books is easier when you open them."
Phoenix sighed, and forfeited his staring contest with Litigation in Concurrent Tribunal. "Reading law books isn't as easy as it sounds, you know."
"Well, you've gotta start somewhere!"
Pages rustled. Phoenix glanced to Maya -- lounging across the armchair, kicking her sandalled feet in the air, absorbed again in the tabloid spread colourful over her lap. She wasn't exactly one to talk about advanced reading, but the point stood. With a steeling breath, and with Mia's stern presence ghosting in his thoughts, Phoenix placed fingertips on a leather-bound tome and tugged it from the shelf.
"Ooh, another Agent sighting," Maya said. "With a jetpack and everything!"
Musing over a book's title counted as reading, really. Right and Responsibility: Sixth Edition. Very educational.
"Agents? Do you honestly believe those magazines?" Phoenix asked. Personally, he couldn't look at a tabloid headline anymore without wondering whose lunkheaded best friend was at the core of the story.
"You don't believe in Agents?! They stand for everything good in the world, Nick! They're defenders of the innocent! Helpers of the underdogs! Shining beacons of truth and justice!"
With a pitch like that, it was a wonder Agents didn't have a line of action figures.
Smirking, Maya added, "They're a lot like lawyers, you know."
Phoenix paused in sliding his thumb under the book's cover, and he frowned. It was a wonderful thought -- mysterious heroes swooping to the rescue -- but a bit too saccharine for his tastes. Bad things happened to good people. That was just how the world worked. If a quick song and dance could fix everything, why would lives end up ruined? Why would anyone know the feeling of being scared, or heartbroken, or without a friend in the world?
Justice, it seemed was a harsh mistress, and not one to approve of shortcuts. Before he could reconsider, Phoenix opened his textbook.
Lunch came and went. Maya chattered about the latest boogeyman theories and polished off more than her share of the pizza. Phoenix read the textbook's table of contents, and strongly considered the possibility of turning the page.
That was when the front door's hinges creaked distant. That meant maybe a client, and maybe another month's rent. Barely noticing the textbook thump against the desktop, Phoenix straightened his tie and left the office.
The visitor gazed idly around the foyer, tucking a purse under her arm and smoothing night-coloured bangs to one side -- her eyes landed on Phoenix, and lit with relief. She smiled as Phoenix introduced himself and Maya, a proud, knowing smile that seemed to fill the room.
"Stella Nocturne," she replied, and offered a firm handshake. "I've heard a lot about you, Mr. Wright."
"You're practically famous, Nick!" Maya prodded him with an elbow.
Stella slid her tinted sunglasses up to perch in her hair. "Famous enough where I'm from. Which is why I'm here. It's--" The liveliness left her blue eyes; her smile drained away. Now she looked like someone who needed a lawyer on their side. "My friend needs your help, Mr. Wright, he's been arrested for murder. But he'd never do that, I know he wouldn't!"
Phoenix thought of the detention center, of someone trapped there, alone and frightened. It always stirred a feeling he couldn't name -- aching, fiery and full of teeth.
"When is the trial?"
Stella wilted. "Wednesday morning."
Maya's hand flew to her mouth. "Tomorrow?!"
"We don't have much time." And with ever harder plea in her eyes, "He'll be assigned an attorney if we don't choose one by four o'clock. I didn't know who else to ask ..."
Things always seemed to be a panic-spurred race for Phoenix's clients. He looked to his watch and nodded. "We have a few hours, let's go meet your friend. Maybe we can figure something out."
Clasping a fist to her breastbone, Stella smiled, small and grateful. "Thank you. I ... Well, you'll see."
Phoenix got the cramped center seat of the cab, Maya's robe folds against one arm, Stella's ruffled sleeve against the other.
"So," he asked, glancing to Stella, "Can you tell us what happened?"
She looked to her lap and frowned. "He -- my friend, Stewart -- he was in Foster Park, at the same time an elderly lady was murdered. Just this morning."
"And the trial's tomorrow," Maya murmured. "That's awfully fast, isn't it?"
It was fast -- that wasn't enough time for the police and the prosecutor's office to assemble a proper case, never mind let the defense have a chance. Phoenix squinted at nothing. But only someone bold would kill a harmless old lady, in broad daylight, in a public park. News like that made people scared and outraged, a knee-jerk reaction on a massive scale; maybe the police department hoped to prevent backlash before it started. Declaring someone guilty could do that.
"I don't know why they think Stewart did something so awful ..." Stella tapped fingertips on her bare knees. "He was running away from the park, he said, so maybe he looked suspicious."
"Running?" Phoenix asked. Why would an innocent person flee the scene of a crime?
"Well, that's ..." Stella's voice dropped; her tapping quickened into a nervous, muted tune. "I can't tell you."
She shook her head, long hair swaying. "I'm sorry, Mr. Wright. We need your help but you'll have to find out from Stewart."
Suspicion prickled, low in Phoenix's gut. The last thing he needed was another client with dark secrets, another agonizing trial he couldn't win. He was a defense lawyer -- he was supposed to protect the innocent. He was supposed to have truth on his side.
Stella's tapping continued, blending with the radio mutter Phoenix hadn't noticed before. She watched out the windows, following the streaked grey of passing high-rise buildings, worry gripping her face. Something held her tongue; once that was gone, the information would be his, and the uneasy weight would lift from Stella. It was too early to leap to conclusions.
"Well, uhh, meetings at the detention center are confidential," Phoenix tried. He glanced to the back of the cab driver's head -- there was an eavesdropper among them. That, he realized, would keep anyone tight-lipped. "You can speak freely there, your information is safe with us."
Stella still watched the scenery, but she smiled, slow and golden. "That's good to know. Thank you."
Odd, how familiar her idle tapping seemed even though Phoenix couldn't place the tune. If he didn't start paying more attention to the radio top forty, Maya would probably call him old again. He watched Stella's hands for a moment -- two fingernails began tracing circles over her knees -- and he nodded. "We're here to help, Ms. Nocturne."
Touch broke him from the reverie, Maya's small hand on his arm and her gaze bright from under her bangs. "That's the spirit, Nick! We'll take care of it!"
No matter what his past held, no matter how bleak the case looked, Phoenix had to believe in his clients. He nodded, and watched traffic sluice past. The truth always came out, and this case would be no exception.
The detention center always felt cold, and always looked winter-stark under its fluorescent lights. Maya stayed pressed to Phoenix's elbow, and Stella found a wall to lean against, to fold her arms and stare away some more. Phoenix knew every inch of the grey concrete and glinting metal -- he examined it all anyway, and half-remembered dozens of visits that felt the same. Movement snatched his attention as blue-clad officers entered, ushering the defendant to the visitation chair. His jeans were worn, and his mop of long blond hair swayed in front of his eyes -- he was young, maybe Phoenix's age. Someone he could have gone to school with. The defendant sat, settled a clear bag full of something in his lap, and faced Phoenix. This, apparently, was Mr. Stewart Lowe.
"Mr. Wright?" he asked, smiling regretful. "Well, d'ya think you guys can help me out?"
"We'll need to know a bit more first, Mr. Lowe." Phoenix folded his hands on the table, and leaned closer to the plexiglass separating them. "What happened?"
"I haven't told the police anything, not without a lawyer," Stewart said. Wariness drew him tighter, straight-backed. He adjusted his grip on the bag, the plastic crackling. "An' they aren't tellin' me much, either. I was at work in Foster Park at the same time some lady got killed this morning, that's all I know. Guess I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
That was how most people got swept into murder cases, after all. Pure bad luck. Curiosity stirred in Phoenix, and Maya voiced it first.
"What do you have in that bag?"
"This? Oh." Stewart set the bag in front of him with a thump: it held dress shoes, glossy black and immaculate. "They took my suit for testin', I don't mind that, but the shoes, well... I really don't want 'em outta my sight. The police checked 'em already, they're lettin' me hang on to 'em."
"You're really serious about your shoes, arent you?" Maya's voice held a teasing note.
He grinned, sheepish. "Hey, they cost an arm an' a leg, awright? I just don't want anybody messin' with 'em."
Open smiling was a good sign, but Stewart still wasn't telling his story. Questions swelling, shifting colour in his mind, Phoenix laid his palms flat on the table. "Mr. Lowe, what is your job? What were you doing, exactly, when the police apprehended you?"
Silence fell, smothering. Stewart tightened more, his shoulders squared, and he held Phoenix's gaze.
"I ... You're gonna have to figure that out yourself, Mr. Wright." Apology swam over his face, deepening his sand-green eyes, but he held firm. "It's not somethin' I can just come right out an' tell ya."
If Phoenix had Maya's magatama to palm, if borrowed magic sharpened his vision, Stewart would surely be heavy with chains. And how could Phoenix have faith in a client full of secrets? I didn't kill anyone, dude, the memories hissed.
"Mr. Lowe." Phoenix hated his suspicions, hated the cold-blooded need to know and asked anyway. "I need you to be honest with me: were you involved in this murder in any way?"
A quick blaze in Stewart, tightening fists and set jaw. "No," he snapped, "Never! Nobody deserves that!"
And slowly, the blaze faded, dwindled to stubborn coals until Stewart slanted his gaze away and took a steeling breath.
"I can tell ya ... that my job is helpin' people. When they're in trouble an' they need it. I wouldn't hurt anybody, Mr. Wright, you gotta believe me on that."
Full of secrets, maybe, but not all secrets meant to hurt someone. Phoenix of all people ought to know. Before he decided, he glanced to Maya, for her nod and clasp of hands: she liked this client, and would work and ache and bleed for him. They both would.
"I believe you," Phoenix said. Memories be damned; it wasn't as though he had never solved a mystery before. Phoenix opened his briefcase and sifted papers. "So let's make this official."
"You don't know what this means, Mr. Wright," Stewart murmured, "Thanks."
Echos of experience told Phoenix he'd know plenty before the trial was over.
Stella stayed leaning on the detention center wall as they passed, and smiled at Phoenix and Maya in turn. "Lots of questions and not much time, I guess?"
That summed it up in a neat package, yes.
"Let us know what you find, Mr. Wright, Miss Fey." A fond light came to Stella's eyes, "I'm sure you'll figure it out."
Foster Park spread out lush and green, bordered by oak groves, doused with midday sun. Police milling about the park's edges, however, ruined any relaxing mood the place might have had. The taxi grumbled away down the road, and Maya looked expectantly up at Phoenix.
"Well," he said, and passed a hand through his spiky hair, "Let's get started."
The cobbled main pathway wound through the center of the park lawns -- it was probably full of pedestrians on any other day. litter flecked the grass with white. Dark bars in the distance formed a stage platform Phoenix couldn't recall seeing before. All in all, an ordinary park. But the police movements drew Phoenix's eye, along the trees' shade and between tall trunks. A person could be spotted easily in such open forest, with little leafy underbrush for cover. There would surely be witnesses with stories to untangle, and half-truths about a menacing, lurking figure in Foster Park's shadows.
"Hey," Maya said, tapping Phoenix's elbow, "There's Detective Gumshoe! Let's go ask him what's going on!"
There was no need to go anywhere. Gumshoe already stormed toward them across the open field, bull-fierce determination set into his face.
"Listen, pal," he bellowed, "I know what you're up to! Don't think you can get away with it!"
Maybe, in a past life, Phoenix did something to deserve such a welcome. He rubbed his neck, and stayed quiet as Gumshoe reached them, puffing ferociously; discretion was always the better part of valour.
"None of your lawyer tricks! I can't afford to have anything mess this case up, see, so no snooping around!"
"You got reinstated, Detective Gumshoe?" Maya asked.
Catching his breath with a gulp, and settling a little as he looked to Maya, Gumshoe swiped at the back of his head. "Yeah, thanks to Mr. Edgeworth. He explained everything to the chief. And this case is serious! Half the force is working on it!" Back to bristling excitability, and back to glaring at Phoenix. "I can't even let you in, pal! Not this time!"
Understandable enough. Anyone who didn't know Gumshoe might have been discouraged.
"We're representing Mr. Lowe, the defendant. Can you tell us what happened?"
Glancing away, Gumshoe muttered, "I guess so. Just don't tell anyone, alright, pal? The details are confidential."
Which was why he was going to freely reveal them, of course.
"We got a call at about eleven-thirty this morning about a mugging. Our men caught your guy making a break for the alleyways, and the lady was already dead."
"Yeah, here." Gumshoe fished in his pockets and came up with a crumpled autopsy report, which he stuffed into Phoenix's hands. "A sweet little old lady, pal! How could anybody do that?!"
Morna Beasley, the report's cold print said, age eighty-six. Cause of death: head trauma. And that was all it had to say. It was too early yet for a detailed report, Phoenix supposed.
"Just walking in the park minding her own business," Gumshoe blustered on, "And somebody comes along and whacks her in the head! It says somethin' about people nowadays, doesn't it?! The murderer'll wish he'd never looked twice at her once Mr. Edgeworth is through with him!"
Edgeworth was prosecuting a sensitive case: no wonder Gumshoe stood over the crime scene, snarling at intruders. With so little preparation time, details were crucial, anything might reveal itself as a weapon in their upcoming duel. The thought of Edgeworth's steel to rely on was at least reassuring, but if neither of them knew the full story--
"Detective Gumshoe," Phoenix began, rubbing his chin, "This is a serious accusation, isn't it? Murdering an elderly woman in cold blood."
"Darn right it is!"
"Then it's important we find the truth here. This murderer is obviously dangerous." It made even more sense outside his head. Phoenix got the feeling he was on to something; he snatched the idea and ran with it. "If you accuse and convict the wrong person, the real murderer will still be at large. We can't allow that to happen!"
Gumshoe's face twisted with with the logical recoil. He scratched meekly at his head. "That's ... Yeah. I guess you're right, pal. Here I go, sticking my neck out again!"
"We'll be careful," Maya offered, smiling impishly. "Promise!"
She could at least speak for herself.
"Listen, just don't draw too much attention to yourself, alright?" With a jerk of his chin, Gumshoe added, "Take the back way, that path down there. There's not much except an outline at the crime scene anyway." A smile spread wide on him. "Hope we can crack this one open, pal!"
The main path led Phoenix and Maya down a gentle slope, past the neat-groomed grass with its peppering of litter. The garbage was mostly leaflets and balled paper napkins, a large function's leftovers fluttering and turning restless somersaults in the breeze. One paper cartwheeled to rest at Phoenix's feet and he stooped for it: lacy script drew out Jessie and Jim's wedding itinerary, from opening salutations to closing ceremonies.
"Oh, a wedding!" Maya gasped, peering over Phoenix's elbow, running fingertips over the paper's flower petal border, "I wish we could have seen it!"
None of the events looked especially interesting -- speeches, dancing, a lunch that was probably underportioned and overpriced. Karaoke caught Phoenix's eye and he grimaced -- people still did that?
"Weddings? I didn't think you liked that kind of thing."
"A girl's gotta have dreams, Nick!" She plucked the itinerary from his hands, and it promptly vanished into her waistband's bow. "Just think of all that food!"
He got as far as imagining poofy white lace and a cake big enough for Maya to have twenty-six servings of, and that was when sympathy pain began in the general area of his back pants pocket. Weddings went through money like it was going out of style. Phoenix shuddered, scooped another itinerary off the grass for his own records, and looked over the nearby stage. It was the light-built, temporary variety, probably there only for the wedding but now it was neighbour to a murder scene. If the wedding actually took place between the ornately-printed times of nine AM and noon, there would be more witnesses and more conflicting stories than Phoenix cared to think about.
"Hey Nick, Maya!"
And speaking of witnesses and stories, Larry appeared from one of the branching pathways, wearing his usual easy smirk and carrying a stack of papers. Phoenix nodded his greeting.
"Hi, Larry!" Maya clapped her hands together, shining bright, "What brings you here?"
He juggled the papers to his opposite elbow. "Passing out flyers." With a wink -- probably more impressive in his head than in any form of reality -- he gave Phoenix and Maya sheets from the top of his stack. "Drop by the Orchard, where the finest flavours in town grow!"
A vaguely tree-like design graced the sheet, followed by paragraph-long dish descriptions of food. The Orchard, apparently, was some sort of restaurant.
"I hope you're being paid to go around saying that," Phoenix muttered, and stuffed the flyer into his pocket.
Scratching his head, Larry drawled, "Yeah, and the ladies like that kind of stuff. I promised Latisha I'd take her there, I just need a paycheck first!" He grinned and stopped scratching -- his hair held the wild spines.
"Stevia panacotta with Ida Red compote and creme anglaise," Maya breathed. "I have no idea what that is but it sounds great! Let's go there sometime, Nick!"
Oh, the world was a cruel place for poor, innocent wallets.
"Larry," Phoenix tried, "There was a murder in the park this this morning, at around eleven AM. Were you here?"
"Eleven? Nah, I was long gone by then." Larry shifted the stack again, slapping a hand to the top too late to save a handful of flyers from sliding free. "I hit up the wedding party with these things but they were starting the karaoke. Geezers trying to sing, man!" He wagged his coat sleeve, a slow to-and-fro. "Nobody in their right mind'd stick around for that! I went to the other end of the park, there was some kids' soccer game that just let out maybe half an hour ago."
In that case, Phoenix decided as he gathered the fallen papers, Larry had gotten lucky and not seen a thing -- which meant they were all lucky. "Good. We don't have time to talk, but stay out of trouble, alright?" He returned the sheets to Larry's pile, and gave the least pained smile he could manage.
"Always do, Nick!" Another juggle, and Larry produced a thumbs-up. "And really, drop by the Orchard and buy something! The boss could use a little peace of mind!"
Couldn't they all; couldn't they all.
The path Gumshoe suggested was an unassuming gap in the shrubbery, the beginning of a packed dirt footpath. Bootprints clung to the path's low points, at the edges of dark mud puddles. The path meandered around oak trunks and Phoenix looked up at the green-lit canopy, listening to breeze in the leaves and dirt grinding under their shoes.
"Not much at the crime scene ... I wonder if Detective Gumshoe knows anything else," Maya mused, hopping over a log with a flap of purple-clad arms, "Something he's not telling us. Or maybe it really is too early for the police to find anything, and we can grab a few clues?"
"Probably not this soon. The police'll still be there working on the crime scene." Being thrown out of places by stern-glaring officers never had been Phoenix's idea of fun.
Maya murmured disappointment, and fell quiet. Trees gathered denser around them and the path slithered around a thicket, joining up with a straight-ruled path that crunched sandy with their steps. A bird chirped in the distance, its two-note cry familiar but nothing Phoenix could match a name to.
"This park's nice," Maya tried. Clapping hands together, she turned to him. "We should take Pearly here sometime, Nick, she'd love it. Maybe bring a picnic basket, and--"
"Maya, keep your voice down." Phoenix looked to the trees again, this time searching for moving figures. "We're not supposed to be here, remember?"
"Oh, right!" And in a hissing stage whisper, "Sorry!"
He stifled the urge to roll his eyes, and instead watched the shapes of leafy branches passing by. Maybe the distant dark shape was a police officer -- it kept still and offered no comfort. They carried on, over the sand-cupped shapes of footprints, through the sun-dappled woods.
Footprints formed strings when Phoenix looked at them the right way: tight lines where walkers meandered slow, with wobbling breaks where something caught their attention. Who knew what stories the path had to tell, and that just since the last rain. A set of footprints veered in from the forest to join the others, blend with the parade and carry on. Daylight and concrete showed at the path's end, but closer than that, police tape cordoned off a square of pathway full of numbered flags. Footprints were noticeable again -- running footprints, dug in hard. Hadn't Stella told them that Stewart fled the scene?
It took a moment to notice Maya missing -- the quiet hung too thick without her, the air felt too empty. Phoenix turned, and her familiar shape demanded his attention, emerging purple and raven from between saplings.
"Nick," she cried, holding up her find between two knuckles, "Look! I thought I saw something shiny!"
It was a pair of sunglasses, half-opened and gleaming. Phoenix dug in his briefcase for a zip-top bag, gratitude swelling warm at Maya's careful grip that wouldn't leave any fingerprints. So much for seeming like she never listened to him. "Good, where was it?"
"Just over there! They looked like someone threw them. And if Stewart was running ..."
The glasses landed in the bag with a short, sharp rustle; daylight grabbed the lenses. There was a slight yellow tint to the dark plastic.
"Do you think these cool shades mean anything, Nick?" She plainly didn't mean it as a question -- she pried at him with her eyes.
Fingertips rising to her mouth, Maya wondered, "It's just that Stewart wouldn't tell us about his work, and--" Her eyes widened. "And in the cab with Stella, you decided you were going to solve a problem instead of just being all quiet and grumpy about it! Something was different!"
Phoenix tried to connect the pieces, and they refused to mesh. He just held Maya's fiery gaze.
"And the sunglasses, they're--" She flung her hands down. "Agents, Nick! Agents were here!"
"What?! It can't--" And as he spluttered it, the pieces suddenly fit: sleek shades and Stewart's mention of a suit, his tight-guarded secrets and his reluctant confession. My job is helping people. But that was tabloid fare, how could--
"And Stella was tapping out a song in the cab!" Maya clenched fists. "Maybe they're both Agents! You were acting different and there was music! Don't tell me you didn't hear it!"
Stella's fingers tapping, spinning, conducting and the tune he couldn't place. But how was idly tapping a tune anything like a heroes' life-changing powers? How could that be real? Pinching the bridge of his nose, Phoenix tried, "Maya--"
"Look, we can-- We can ask Stewart!" Digging in her pockets, Maya said, "Ask him and see if he has a Psyche Lock, I think there's enough power left. I tried to recharge it, but ..." She drew the magatama out, gripped it hard and her face fell to aching regret. "I just haven't gotten that training yet, I'm sorry."
For all she learned, more always lay ahead -- but that was true for everyone. Phoenix warmed inside and sighed. "All right. We can ask him." She nodded, and pressed the magatama into his hands; it still glowed ocean-green, and tingled with medium's energy. "We'd better hurry, then!"
And as Maya's grip closed on his wrist and she began to drag, as the magatama sat smooth in his grasp and brought womens' smiles to his edges of awareness, Phoenix believed, just a little. For all he had seen and done, what was another miracle?
They found Stella where they had left her, leaning on the detention center wall, smiling encouragement.
"Well, did you get what you need?"
"We sure did," Maya chirped, and tilted her head knowing, "But you can't always get what you want."
Stella lit again, the same golden satisfaction as when she had tapped notes in the cab. An old rhythm drifted through Phoenix's thoughts -- maybe they were following the right path after all.
When Stewart returned to the visitation chair -- still clutching his shoes, placing the bag careful on the table before him -- he moved carefully, and met Phoenix's eyes like a friendly challenge.
"Got somethin' to ask me, Mr. Wright?"
"Just believe, Nick," Maya murmured.
Phoenix nodded. "I do." He didn't know who the answer was meant for, and it didn't matter. He slipped a hand into his pocket, and palmed the magatama.
The world changed when he borrowed Fey talents. An extra sense served him, a weird other dimension of awareness. Auras blended, colour and sound forming a haunting-dark song where they met. The rattle of chains filled Phoenix's head and three Psyche Locks bound Stewart, steely and defiant.
"If ya think you know somethin'," Stewart offered, "Shoot."
Nerves prickled on Phoenix's skin, a wave of emotion not his. Hiding something, came Pearl's echo, protecting something. He could nearly see the little girl by his side, watching with more wisdom than age.
"You're keeping something from me, something you don't want anyone to know. Maybe it's about your job?"
"Yeah, I was workin' in the park that morning." Stewart stared, and a shudder darted through the chains. "Is that really important?"
"It's very important. We found running footprints on the forest pathway, and--" A glance to the shoes. Sure enough, sand gathered in the bag's corners. "Those footprints belong to you. "
Chains tremored, as tumbles ground inside one of the Locks. Stewart chewed his lip.
"I was in a hurry, what's weird about that?"
Phoenix shook his head. "You were arrested outside the park, weren't you? Running down a hikers' path, headed toward some back alleys? You said you were wearing a suit and those good shoes -- that doesn't sound like a park employee to me."
A jolt through reality and one Lock gave way, a thousand dissipating smoke-fragments around Stewart.
"Yeah, you're right, Mr. Wright. S'not a very good story, is it?" Raking a hand through his thick hair -- and there was more evidence, just a glimpse before blond buried it again -- Stewart smiled wry. "Okay. What d'you think I was doin', then?"
Being an urban legend, right alongside the lake monsters and UFOs. But who was Phoenix to look down on things like that and then scry souls with a medium's ancient jewel? Reality was subjective and the evidence all lined up; he placed the sunglasses on the table between them, near the plexiglass. He just had to be sure.
"Are these yours?"
A strange pulse, fear and relief blending together neutral. Stewart's smile didn't falter. "What makes ya think that?"
Not all secrets are painful, Mr. Nick, Pearl murmured. But then why would they be secrets at all?
"We found these in the park, thrown aside from the path. If these sunglasses were part of a distinctive uniform, and you didn't want to be recognized, you'd need to get rid of them while you ran."
Shrugging -- too stiff, stirring more pale feelings -- Stewart replied, "Ehh, I wear shades once in a while."
Phoenix smirked. "More than once in a while. The evidence is right there on your face. You have a tan line from sunglasses." A faint mark, across Stewart's nose and temples, but it was enough.
A twitch through the locks, tumbles clicking into place; Stewart paused for thought and the magatama's tune filled the space between them. "Awright, they're mine." He leaned back, smile spreading wider, knowing. "But what're ya gettin' at, Mr. Wright? D'you really know what I do?"
It all came to this: a target in the mists, and blazing pain through Phoenix's soul if his shot didn't fly true. Grip tightening on the magatama, taking a breath to gather strength, he said, "You were wearing a suit and sunglasses. And you help people, but can't say how. If you're anything like your friend, Stella, if you help people the same way ..."
The magics pulled him, tugging eager toward the conclusion so that each note sang clearer.
"You're an Elite Beat Agent. "
Cracking metal as the two Locks shattered, spinning away in glittering shards. Relief won out and swelled, and Stewart's eyes closed, the chains snaking off him and rattling into nothingness.
"Glad you think so."
The magatama's spell faded, and the world sank back to plain grey walls. Stewart shifted to pull a wallet from his back pocket, and pressed it open against the glass -- not a wallet at all, but a code number and the gold luster of a badge. His smile shone real in his eyes.
"Agent J, here."
As Stewart returned his Agent badge to hiding, as Phoenix searched for words, slender hands fell on his and Maya's shoulders.
"Come on," Stella said. "We've got a lot to show you."
They left the detention center, following Stella's dark fall of hair into shaded alleys full of piled garbage mazes. And then, when they reached a dusty-quiet back road, Stella stopped suddenly. She dug in her purse and pressed something that made a dull electronic chirp. The space in front of her responded, shimmering, reforming -- and there was suddenly a chrome-gleaming car sitting in plain sight.
"Just like in the movies," Maya hissed, tapping excitedly at Phoenix's elbow.
Circling to the driver's side, Stella shot a smirk at them. "You wouldn't believe what a little ion technology can do."
The car's seats creaked soft, and the engine growled to life. The star insignia at the center of the steering wheel drew Phoenix's gaze, magnetic.
"Agent Starr, here," she corrected, and produced a badge case to flip open, showing her own code number and flash of gold. She glanced warm to him. "Just call me Starr."
"I told you, Nick," Maya chirped from the back seat, "She's an Agent!"
"So ... Starr," Phoenix tried, "Can you tell us what's going on, now?"
She nodded, and turned the car onto a side street. "We're going to the nearest Agency base, Mr. Wright. There's plenty you'll need to know if you're going to help us. As for J's story? He was on patrol duty this morning and he helped a lady being mugged, most likely the same lady who was killed. Moments later, he sensed someone else lacking rhythm -- don't worry, we'll explain all that."
He hadn't thought his bafflement was that obvious; Phoenix tried smoothing his face into something a little more studious.
"--And that was when he threw off the shades and his microphone. Oh, did you find a microphone?"
They should have searched more carefully. Any other evidence hidden near that forest path would surely be in police custody now, the opportunity lost. "No," Phoenix said, "We didn't. I'm sorry."
A grimace washing brief over her face, Starr went on, "Anyway, that was when he ran from the park, into the alley. Whoever he was chasing disappeared and that was when the police caught him."
"Disappeared?" Maya leaned in between them.
"I'll let the Commander explain our theory on that." Starr sighed, and flicked dark hair out of her eyes. "You've got a challenge on your hands, Mr. Wright. We'll help you any way we can, but ... It's still going to be a trick to pull off."
Phoenix wasn't sure what he was expecting -- a large compound building, maybe, something glass-and-steel sleek -- but the car purred to a stop outside the worn grey of an ordinary office building. The car doors' thump resounded in the empty lot. Soot-dark alley walls surrounded them, and Phoenix looked up to the shard of blue sky. It made sense, he supposed. Agents were obviously good at staying out of sight, and who would bother to look closely at a place like this? He rounded the car's gleaming hood and let his female friends take the lead.
"So, is there a cool secret agent entrance?" Maya followed close at Starr's side. "Maybe a DNA test? Or a retina scanner? Do we get to backflip through laser beams?"
Coming to a door, one with a number pad in its dingy surface, Starr smiled warm at Maya. "Sorry, nothing that interesting."
"Oh." She watched Starr's fingers flurry over the digits, a clicking tune. "That's not very dramatic."
Opening the creaking door, Starr ushered them in with a waved hand. "Well, technology is all about picking your battles."
And Maya's free time seemed to be all about renting her movies. Phoenix paused in the dim hallway -- Starr waited to follow them, looking around, breeze stirring her blouse's ruffles. Secrets always forced people to watch their backs. After a few duty-wary seconds, she came in and let the door groan-click closed.
"Welcome to Elite Beat Agency base Alto," Starr said, passing Phoenix and Maya to lead them again.. "I know, it doesn't look like much right now. Wait 'til we get to the lower levels."
Fluorescent lights flickered overhead, and Starr's heels clacked harsh on the off-brown laminate. The frosted glass doors and dull plaster looked a lot like the Wright and Co. Offices's entrance, years away in a future without sympathetic janitors. If this place's aim was to look unimpressive, it was doing a marvellous job.
"Are these Agent offices?" Maya wondered. "Don't tell me you have to do paperwork!"
Starr laughed, a sunny ringing in the stark hallway. "Only if we're bad."
Phoenix, in all honesty with himself, couldn't tell if she was serious.
She stopped at a set of silver elevator doors and turned to Maya, regret drawing her brows. "I'd give you a full tour, but everything in here is need-to-know basis, sorry. There are no lasers or anything else fun, I promise. Not on this floor, anyway."
The elevator slid open with a mellow chime, and they stepped in: Phoenix kept careful watch over Maya, nightmare visions of her disappearing to borrow secret agent equipment lurking in his imagination. As the doors closed -- and as the elevator rumbled downward, with no pressed buttons to guide it -- Starr leaned on the wall to regarded them, her head canted. It was a look of confidence, Phoenix could see that now in the gentle calculation dancing behind those tinted glasses.
"You'll be briefed on arrival." Thought laced her Agent jargon -- she was trying out the words in a new context. "Arrival on the next floor, that is. I think my role here is done. So ... I'm glad you're the ones on the mission, Mr. Wright, Ms. Fey. Best of luck to you."
A sudden sharp urge inside Phoenix hated the formality, the Misters and Misses and the distance they created. He bit back call me Phoenix and nodded, shifting grip on his briefcase handle.
"Starr," Maya murmured, and twisted her robe's hem between her fingers, "Will we ever see you again?"
She smirked broad at that. "When you wonder if you'll ever see someone again, the answer is maybe. No matter what."
And however odd it sounded, Phoenix realized, glancing to his Fey companion, it was very, very true.
With another chime, the elevator doors opened and Phoenix followed Maya out, eyeing the surroundings over her topknotted head. The walls shone cleanly white, and that was all he noticed before movement caught his eye, someone brown-haired and dressed in vivid scarlet jerking to a stop in front of them.
"Mr. Wright, Ms. Fey?" This girl clearly already knew the answer, excitement shining in her wide eyes.
"Yes," Phoenix said, at the same time Maya chirped, "That's us!"
And with a flick of gold Agent's badge, the newcomer squeaked, "Agent Missy, here! You're really doing it! Wow, this is great!"
She put away the badge -- where, Phoenix wasn't sure, and examining her revealing cheerleader's outfit for pockets would be all sorts of inappropriate. Missy offered a hand, beaming. And after a baffled moment, Phoenix took it to shake.
"Welcome to base Alto," Missy said, enfolding Phoenix's hand in her smaller ones. "And thanks so much for coming, you're the perfect team for the mission, I just know it!"
The word mission began to itch: what did the Agents have in mind? A full-scale courtroom invasion?
A eternity passed while Missy gazed up at him -- radiating delight with a bonfire-like intensity -- before she moved on to Maya, taking her hand for a much briefer moment.
"Okay, so I'm supposed to take you to the Commander." Missy turned, twin braids whipping, and beckoned. "He's right this way. Let's go, please!"
And the trek resumed, and Phoenix took in as much as he could -- the blinding white all around, the computer-panelled security station Missy must have come running from, steel doors evenly spaced in the corridor. He thought he would have noticed Starr slipping away.
"Well, the Commander's's not really this way, but his satellite uplink is." Missy peered over her shoulder at them, braids bouncing with her stride, tinted glasses flashing. "Everybody's on tenterhooks over poor J. We're all behind you on this one, Mr. Wright!"
Faintness fluttered in him, the nerves that ushered in every case he had ever defended. Phoenix raised a hand to his neck. "E-Everybody?"
"Oh yeah, the whole Agency!" She banked sharp around a corner, heading deeper into the bright-lit warren. "You're taking care of one of our own, Mr. Wright, and we know you're good! Go get 'em!"
He swallowed, and hoped hard that wasn't a wink Missy shot back at him.
"You really are famous, Nick!" Maya's ever-subtle elbow jabbed at his side. "You'd better sign some autographs before we go!"
"I'm just a defense lawyer."
"A great defense lawyer," Missy chirped.
"Who helps innocent people," Maya added.
"When they need the help!"
Maya balled determined fists. "And when they have nowhere else to turn!"
"When the odds are stacked a mile high--" Missy turned a circle, walking momentarily backward, sweeping a dramatic red-clad arm. "--And it's down to the wire and only the very exceptional best will do!"
"Yeah, that's him, all right!"
A shared grin flashed between the girls. Phoenix tried, and couldn't stop the smile tugging at his own face.
Their path wound, more featureless white until Missy stopped sharp. Phoenix heaved against his own momentum and hoped for a panic-blinding instant not to step on her.
"Right here," Missy said, and her grin held mischief, "Ready?"
Maya nodded, too quickly. And nothing in the world could have prepared Phoenix, but unfortunately, that had never stopped him before.
Faint sketches of boardrooms fled Phoenix's imagination as soon as he walked in. The uplink room looked more like an office break room -- open and café-sleek, all white and black and chrome.
"What a high-tech coffee machine," Maya remarked -- apparently about one of the silver appliances gleaming on a far countertop. "I'll bet you discuss Agent business over fancy cappuccinos, don't you, Missy? Shaken, not stirred!"
Phoenix shifted on his feet. "I don't think anyone shakes coffee ..."
"Caffeine," Missy said, dolloping sarcasm thick and rolling her eyes, "Is bad for you. That thing's a juicer and I never want to see a carrot ever again." She perched on a tall black chair, draping one leg over the other. "Everything's a go, Commander!"
Phoenix hadn't noticed the video screen until it hummed to life -- it was a full wall lighting up. And there, behind a desk, sat a grey-haired man wearing a military uniform. His hands were laid together; thought lining his face.
"Thank you, Agent," his voice rumbled from speakers. "And welcome, Mr. Wright, Ms. Fey, to base Alto. I am Commander Kahn, head of the task force we call the Elite Beat Agents. Thank you for joining us."
His authority wasn't a look, wasn't a sound so much an instinct: Commander Kahn was to be obeyed. Phoenix straightened, gripped his briefcase handle tight and nodded. Maya's salute caught his edge of vision and he winced inside.
"You have questions, I'm sure, so I'll begin from the beginning." Kahn adjusted his sunglasses -- they flashed jade -- and he leaned forward. "Our world is one driven by music. Every living thing exists to a rhythm and a beat, even one as simple as a heartbeat. And in the right hands, music can be a powerful force."
"Music power," Missy agreed, maybe to herself.
Kahn let a pause linger brief, and continued, "When a person is scared and overwhelmed, their rhythm falters. It's a difference as clear as day to those able to sense it."
"Sense it?" Phoenix wondered.
"Like hearing a string played and recognizing that it's out of tune. Or recognizing that a band is playing out of synch. Music sense is a rare gift. With enough practice, a person with this gift can hear the innate rhythm in the world around them. They can make their body an instrument, and channel the very essence of life. That's what my Agents do when a person needs help."
"Music sense," Maya murmured. "It sounds almost like spirit channelling."
A smile came to Kahn, pulling crows' feet under the frames of his sunglasses. "Spirit mediums and Elite Beat Agents are a lot alike, Ms. Fey. Our training protocols drew inspiration from the the Kurain Technique."
"Oh, you know about that?" She clapped her hands together, delighted.
Nodding, his face hardening once more to business, Kahn said, "And that's why this murder accusation is so serious. I'm sure you're familiar with Misty Fey, and the way her channelling was used in an attempt to solve a murder case."
Quiet hung thick -- they both knew. The worn edges of case files stirred in Phoenix's memory, sorrow-heavy.
"That seance had an unfortunate result, because ..." Kahn paused, maybe looking for tactful words. "Such uncommon abilities are difficult for the public to grasp. It can't be rationalized. They become suspicious. So mediums keep their talents within their traditional villages, and the Elite Beat Agency doesn't technically exist. Not on any records, and not as far as any government official knows or will state." His jaw tightened. "Mr. Wright, Ms. Fey. Agent J cannot be tried for murder. That would expose our operations, that could confirm the existence of the Elite Beat Agents, and that would defy our investors' trust."
"Then," Phoenix tried, "We're ...?"
"You'll be defending a Mr. Stewart Julian Lowe. And as far as any and all records show, he is not a member of any agency."
Realization widened his eyes; dread gathered. "But that's--"
Kahn folded his hands on the desktop. "To be frank, yes. We're asking you to lie, Mr. Wright. But it's for the good of everyone involved. This team does good work, I have the utmost faith in every member and I wouldn't compromise this Agency for anything." He paused. "Maybe someday ... the world will understand. Maybe Agents will be loved and cheered for. But that day isn't today, and it won't be anytime soon if Agent J is accused of murder."
It felt suddenly tragic: Maya pouring over tabloids' murmurs of Agents, Stewart sitting nerve-strung in a cell. The miracle was real, but at what price? How hard did the Elite Beat Agents work to guard their existence from the very people they helped? Phoenix nodded slow. He couldn't argue with any of that. "All right."
"And I'm sure you realize that everything you know of the Agency must be kept confidential. Strictly confidential."
"O-of course." He didn't want to imagine the trouble brewed from spreading secret agents' information around. He looked sharply to Maya, and she added, "Right!"
"Excellent," Kahn said. "As you know, we don't have much time. You'll have all the information our network can provide, and every Agent who can be spared will come to your aid. This is our highest priority, Mr. Wright, Ms. Fey."
"Part of our team." Missy stood by Phoenix, shooting a smile sideways at him -- he hadn't even heard her move. "So, are we all set, Commander?"
Kahn nodded once. "In the interest of time, you'll be briefed separately: Mr. Wright on the case's known details, and Ms. Fey on the nature of music sense. Individual specialties make for a stronger team. Good luck," and a proud smile pulled across his face as he said, "We're counting on you."
The bright-lit hallways felt nearly familiar now, even though each turn was still foreign.
"It's a lot to take in, huh?" Missy glanced back at them with a whip of braids. "My first briefing wasn't that long ago. It'll all make sense soon, don't worry!"
"If music sense is like spirit channelling," Maya thought aloud, "Then it's not that complicated. It's got rules just like everything else. This won't be so hard, Nick!"
Maya definitely needed to start speaking for herself.
"Nick?" A flash of smirk from Missy, the look he was already starting to dread. "That's the cutest nickname! But yeah, when you're with the Elite Beat Agency, the first thing you learn is that you're never alone. You've always got teammates to help you! Even if you can't see them, they're there." Her back straightened, and the bounce of her stride evened -- dignity, it seemed, wasn't just a word to the Agents. "So if you're confused or worried about anything, just ask us! It wouldn't be the first time we've helped you!"
"You," Phoenix forced from his mouth, "You mean you've--"
Missy waved a hand. "We haven't completely bailed either of you out, no! But the rhythm you stir up when you're in a trial? Especially you, Mr. Wright?" She walked backward, clasping her hands together, shining adoration widening her eyes once more. "Wow. It's ... it's this huge rainbow of feelings, you're so desperate and scared but you're not going to give up, either, not for anything! The Commander finally decided we didn't need to worry about anything Mr. Phoenix Wright was involved in. Things always turn out okay when you're around!"
His mouth worked and he couldn't speak. Agents could tell exactly how panicked and lost he got, and they thought he was a capable teammate anyway? Phoenix had no words for the shivering pride, no way to express the sensation of standing strong. But he had gotten through his bar test just by trying to be good enough. He knew his objections could stop terrible things from happening; he just had to believe that.
Maya caught his eye and smiled -- just for a moment -- before saying to Missy, "So the spectator stands at Nick's trials were full of Agents cheering him on, right?"
She giggled, and turned to watch where she led. "Best mission ever! No, he just kept distracting the heck out of Agents on patrol. Nobody actually made an assist. Well ..." And with a sly look thrown back at Phoenix, "Except me."
"You?!" he spluttered. "Really?" Intense as trials could be, Phoenix was fairly sure a dancing girl in bright red chaps would catch his attention.
"I wasn't dancing!" Missy flailed both hands. "I just watched a few trials, and there was one where Ms. F-- I'm going to call you Maya, okay? Good. Where Maya wasn't there and there was something about a detective and a thunderstorm ... I don't remember the details. I just remember you at that defense stand, pounding on it like you could hear yourself off-tempo and you knew but you just couldn't fix it. And you felt so alone, Mr. Wright." Her voice was soft now. "I thought if you didn't have teammates that day, I'd just have to help you instead. So I channelled for you. Just a bit of finger-tapping while I was sitting there in the gallery, I hope it helped!"
Case details swarmed back to Phoenix. Yes, he had fought alone on that court day -- with Lana tight-lipped, Ema oblivious, and Gant a cold-eyed predator across the courtroom. No Feys stood by him and he had somehow heard Mia's murmur of encouragement, anyway. Maybe music had played a role then. Maybe his new allies weren't so new after all.
"Anyway," Missy chirped, "Oh, hey, Starr!"
They rounded a corner and there leaned a familiar figure. She wore cheerleader's scarlet, and her tumbling hair was blonde now, but she gave the same considering gaze through tinted shades.
"Hello again," Starr said. "I'm on call until this is over, no missions. Can I help with the briefing?"
"Sure!" Missy turned, jerking a thumb at Starr. "Our master of disguise here, she gets all the cool undercover stuff. So, Maya, we'll be briefing you all about music sense, right this way, please!"
"Mr. Wright," Starr said, gesturing to the open doorway she stood beside, "You're right through here. Agent Foxx will go over the case details with you."
He nodded. Time to get down to more business.
"I don't know if I'm much good at dancing, but I'll try my best!" Maya turned eager-bright eyes to Phoenix. "See you later, Nick!"
"Yeah," Missy chimed, grinning mischievous, "Later, Nick!"
He managed to close his mouth as the three of them left: clacking shoes, vivid colours and Maya and Missy's bright voices. Rubbing his neck, Phoenix faced the open doorway, and hoped for the energy to keep up.
The doorway led Phoenix through a cramped turn of corridor, to face a wall cluttered with computer panels and tiny, blazing coloured lights.
He hadn't noticed the room stretching away to his left until the voice pulled his eyes that way -- here was another red-costumed Agent, moving a tangle of wiring from her lap to get up. The revealing costumes were obviously a trend with female Agents.
"Hello, Agent Foxx here." She flashed her gold Agent badge and smiled apologetically, brushing snowy hair out of her face. "Sorry about the mess, I've been on hertz tweaking all day. Have a seat, anywhere at all."
He had no idea what hertz tweaking meant but -- judging by the tools and wiring heaped in Foxx's chair, forcing her to perch on the desk's edge -- it was a very serious undertaking. Phoenix lifted a stack of electronic repair textbooks aside and borrowed their chair.
"So." Foxx leaned on her sliver of open desk space, and searched the rattling piles of wire beside her. "Scenario's up on the whiteboard. As near as we can tell, that's what happened. J's the yellow dot, and the victim's in blue."
It took a moment of examining the wall he faced, gaze magnetically opposed to all the algebraic notations, for Phoenix to spot the diagram she meant. J's marks were surrounded by wide yellow circles, and the victim's mark was fenced in by unsure black lines. Both were surrounded by the doodled green equivalents of forest and buildings and streets.
"J was patrolling this morning at approximately eleven-eighteen AM, down that path of Foster Park. The victim was attacked and J assisted. That part was successful."
If the scribbled numbers and arrows were accurate, Agent J probably never saw Morna Beasley. Foster forest visibility was good, but not that good.
"He could do it from that far away?"
Foxx glanced up from her work: a screwdriver the size of her pinky finger and a spider of impossibly fine wire. "I don't know how far you've been briefed. Think of music sense like a radio signal. Everyone's different, but J receives pretty well. He gets a clear sense at six hundred feet depending on the field and intensity of the rhythm disturbance -- that's without visuals or triangulation."
And Foxx, Phoenix suspected, could slip into jabbering technospeak as easily as she breathed. He rubbed his chin. "So … He knew the victim was in trouble, but he never actually saw what happened to her?"
Foxx murmured negative. "He didn't need to see it. Whoever attacked the victim left--" She paused. "Yes? ...Really? Try twenty-six twelve." Her gaze refocused on Phoenix, and she pointed to the side of her head. "We're working on a channel for you."
Too much of her long hair hung in the way for Phoenix to be sure, but the wiring Foxx worked on suddenly made more sense -- it was the beginning of some sort of earpiece.
"As I was saying, someone attacked the victim and then fled the scene. It seems that the police found the attacker's footprints but we can't get close enough for confirmation. Approximately two minutes after that, another target caught J's attention near the bistro across the street."
J's whiteboard marks stretched across the street and into an alleyway dead end. Phoenix imagined a suited hero charging to the rescue, a professional now disguised as his scruffy client. It was a bit of a stretch. Only a bit, though. The scrawled numbers caught his attention.
"Six hundred eighty feet?" he asked.
"Give or take." Foxx stood, circled her desk and typed on a tiny laptop, glancing to Phoenix. "The target was lost, and J was taken into police custody immediately afterward. But nearly seven hundred feet is maxing out J's range. Whoever caught his attention was not happy -- panicking, maybe in pain. He should have checked in with HQ and requested visual confirmation or backup, but that's J for you. Tactics never were his strong point." Fondness warmed her voice; she smiled rueful. "Now, most of what we know right now is what J's tapped to us--"
"Infrasound transmitters in his shoes for Morse communication, they're a standard Agency mod. We've disabled his voice communicator as long as he's under close police watch. The last thing we need is to get our signals traced." Hiking her tinted glasses higher on her head, Foxx paused and relocated her train of thought. "We know what J's tapped to us, so we're working to fill in the blanks and we're not ruling anything out yet. Multiple attackers, even deliberate sabotage against the Agency."
"But, how would anyone ...?" Phoenix scratched his head. If someone as benevolent as an Elite Beat Agent was framed -- plucked out of intricate webs of stealth and skill -- what sort of a mind could they be up against?
"Unfortunately," and Foxx's voice cooled, turning as metal-clinical as her circuitry, "Not every mission goes as intended, Mr. Wright. A small fraction of the public has natural music sense and can tell when rhythm is being manipulated around them, never mind when Agents are outright seen. And even if the target is unaware that they're being helped, some missions fail, whether due to Agent error or the victim's reaction to music power. Maybe some missions fail simply because the situation wasn't meant to turn out -- who can tell?" She came to the desk's front and retrieved the delicate earpiece, adjusting its wires with a careful thumbnail. She frowned, thoughtful. "The Commander keeps tabs on missions and their results, to better figure out how the Agency can improve. Anything you find out, the slightest hint that a person was involved with this incident, let us know. We might have a record of that person in our database. All right, let's try this out."
And it wasn't until Foxx was at his side, winding something thin and cool around his ear with deft fingers, that Phoenix realized it. She wasn't fiddling with the beginning of a communicator -- this was the entire, finished apparatus.
"Your communicator is a little different. Less visible, mostly. Don't pause to listen to it -- act normal at all times -- and you shouldn't have to answer any difficult questions."
Phoenix nearly nodded, and focused instead on keeping still. "Uhh, all right." He'd get used to the foreign presence clinging to his ear, he supposed.
Foxx stood back a step, ran a critical eye over him, and hummed approval. "I'll need somewhere to plant a mike. That badge of yours ...?"
"It's an attorney's badge," Phoenix said, plying the pin loose. "No one would believe I'm a lawyer without it."
She took it with barely a glance. Why was Phoenix the only person in the world who found the badge interesting?
"Should work," Foxx muttered to herself. She bent over the desk momentarily, hair spilling over her bare curve of lower back, and turned back to return the badge to Phoenix's collar. Hurrying to the laptop to strike keys, she said, "Now for a field check. Chieftain, say hello."
A voice like thunder rumbled in Phoenix's ear. "Agent Chieftain, here. Good to have you on the team, Mr. Wright."
"Err," Phoenix sputtered, and looked to his badge -- which didn't look any different to his eye. It was still just a little pin with chipped gold finish. "Hello."
"Loud and clear," Chieftain replied, presumably not to Phoenix. "Defendant Lobbies One through Five are clear of interference, on the move to Six now."
Foxx watched the screen, her brows drawing with annoyance. "Still getting low-band resonance. Did you recal?"
"Did I what?"
A pause spread out thick.
"...I don't speak tech," Chieftain grumbled.
With a roll of her eyes -- like tech was the standard spoken language of business and commerce -- Foxx tried, "Recalibrate. Set the channel to zero-zero, sweep for interference and reset to twenty-six twelve."
The words clumped useless in Phoenix's mind, but it didn't matter as long as they made sense to someone. Static crackled brief in his ear, followed by a swell of mumbling hallway noise, and then the sound faded to silky quiet.
"There." Foxx put thoughtful fingers to her communicator ear. "That's better."
"In Lobby Six now. All clear?"
"Everything's a go, Chief, thank you." She straightened, smiling. "Good luck on Project Christmas."
An acknowledging mutter -- Phoenix imagined a nod to go with it -- and Chieftain said, "Over and out."
Foxx typed a clattering sequence, paused, and commented, "Bless him, he couldn't program a VCR."
That was hardly fair. VCRs were evil old beasts.
"I can patch other lines through, but you'll mostly be in contact with me, Mr. Wright. If you want to catch my attention without speaking aloud, touch the center node of the earpiece -- it's pressure-sensitive. Whenever a situation comes up, any time of the day or night, I'll track down the info on it." She meaningfully patted the laptop's edge. "My mission is to back up your mission, essentially. Whatever you need."
Then, the Agency wasn't just his backup waiting in the shadows. The Agency would be in Phoenix's ear, there beside him whenever he summoned. Not unlike a channelled friend. The formal feel of Mr. Wright itched harder than ever.
"Call me Phoenix, then."
Her purple eyes lit with intrigue. "Oh?"
"If we're going to be in contact a lot, I mean." He tried a smile. "'Mr.' just doesn't sound right if I'm not calling you 'Ms'. Nick is fine too, if you want."
"Fair enough." And she looked at him differently for a moment -- considering him, maybe trying out the name in her head -- before putting hand to hip and wondering, "All right, Phoenix, what haven't I covered..."
The details had just begun, it seemed. Phoenix retrieved pen and paper from his briefcase, and hoped he hadn't forgotten how to take lecture notes.
It was incredible how much technology was woven into an Agent's uniform. There were sensors and transmitters, tracking chips and delicate metaphysical amplifiers. J's careful guard over the shoes made more sense now that Phoenix knew they held precious -- and probably very expensive -- secrets.
"So," Phoenix wondered, sketching a microphone and wondering what exactly a metatreble resistor looked like, "Have the police found any of this? They took J's suit for testing, and they might have his microphone."
"Our designers are mad geniuses. They planned for the worst." Foxx idly erased street lines from the whiteboard and redrew them straighter, more meticulous. "We use regular store-bought clothing and karaoke mikes, they're just tailored to our needs. The suits don't have anything detectable in them, the shoes' insoles are locked up tight enough to be repairwoman's nightmare, and the microphones are perfectly ordinary unless you break them down to nuts and bolts." She paused, and rubbed away some green smudges with her thumb. "The police are probably looking for fingerprints, DNA, residue. Obvious traces on the outsides of objects. Draw attention away from hidden Agent equipment if you can, and we might just be all right."
It was quite a gamble; Phoenix looked up to say just that.
"Yes, it's taking a chance," Foxx continued -- was he really that predictable? "But uncertain situations are our specialty. Just go with it, Phoenix."
He swallowed, and nodded. This would be another mess of a case to win on a wing and a prayer. He supposed he should have been used to it by now.
Maya's excited chatter was audible long before she burst in, a purple-robed typhoon with Missy and Starr following in her wake.
"-On a mission and you forget the steps, do you just make it up as you go along? Hi, Nick!"
"Sure do," Missy chirped. "That's half the fun! How's it going in here?"
"I think we're finished." Foxx gave the whiteboard a last cursory glance, and then she noticed Phoenix's sprawl of scribbled notes across his makeshift briefcase-desk. "Just be careful with those, all right?"
He gathered the papers, tapping them together into a sheaf. It hardly looked orderly when the sheets were all bent and smudged with cheap pen ink, but the thought counted. "They won't leave my sight, Foxx."
"Nobody can read Nick's handwriting anyway," Maya offered. "Not even Nick!"
That wasn't true. He could make out at least half of it. On a good day. With a rosetta stone.
"Anyway," Missy said, twirling silver keys around an index finger and flashing a disturbing grin, "It's been a long day and you guys probably need your rest for tomorrow. How 'bout a ride home?"
Maya clapped her hands together. "I call shotgun!"
The nightmare visions of borrowed Agent equipment returned, this time with more than one giggling girl prancing through smouldering rubble. Phoenix shot an anxious look between the other two Agents -- Starr shrugged, and Foxx rolled her eyes.
"You'll probably live," Starr said, smirking.
"Remember, Phoenix," Foxx offered, and waved a pointing finger by her ear, "Anything you need. Emergency response vehicles included."
"Great," he muttered. And that was when realization struck him like a bat to the head -- Phoenix juggled his briefcase aside to check his watch. "I should check back ... Can we stop by the detention center?" If anyone could get them there before the last moments ticked away, Agents could.
Sure enough, Missy drove like a Formula One racer and the chrome-gleaming Agency car squealed in behind the detention center at precisely five-fifty-eight PM.
"You should get a cool car like that, Nick," Maya decided, waving to their waiting chauffeur. "Maybe even get your driver's licence!"
Phoenix boggled at her. It went unnoticed, as usual. "And do what?" Other than shorten his lifespan.
"Lawyer business! "
He definitely didn't want to know.
But once his heart rate returned to normal and Maya calmed down, and once the guards had been talked into a brief and very important consultation, it was detention center business as usual. Cold concrete and the glare of fluorescent light; stiff plastic chairs; stern officers ushering Agent J in.
"We meet again," he quipped, perching his Agent shoes in his lap. "Lot to learn, huh Mr. Wright?"
Phoenix dug in his briefcase. "That's one way to put it."
"Nothing we can't handle!" Maya swung her crossed ankles. "You don't have a thing to worry about with us on the mission!"
Lifting two fingers and flicking them in salute, J smiled at her -- easy, but not enough to cover the tightness in his motions. The day must have taken its toll.
"So," and Phoenix paused, choosing carefully, "Mr. Lowe."
This client, according to any and all records, belonged to no agency. Phoenix nodded. "All right. So, you've pleaded the fifth when your lawyer isn't present and as far as anyone knows, you're a regular civilian." If Foxx implied what Phoenix thought she did, a cover story would be arranged by morning. "But I still need to know anything you can tell me, so ... Is Stewart Julian Lowe your real name?"
The same unfaltering smile as before. "Maybe."
"I think that's a yes," Maya said, elbow digging between Phoenix's ribs.
Raking a hand through his hair, grinning sheepish, Stewart said, "That bad a liar, huh? Awright, fine. That's me. I never thought I'd use that name again, t'be honest."
Maya's fingers rose thoughtful to her mouth, and she murmured, "Being an Agent really is your whole life, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is." No hesitation in Stewart -- he had quick pride and a lion's gaze. "You can't be half an Agent. I made my choice, an' ... The music sense, s'like breathin', I could never just sit when I know somebody's in trouble. I can feel how scared an' lost they are, an' how all they want in the whole world is a friend to help 'em out. How could anybody turn their back on another human being like that?"
How, indeed? It was no different from seeing an innocent person held prisoner in the detention center and remembering how terrible that kind of loneliness felt. Fire stirred in Phoenix.
And Maya nodded, tensing up with determination. "Absolutely! We won't let you down, Mr. Lowe! We'll figure out what really happened!"
By cobbling the answer together in court, no doubt, under Edgeworth's relentless attack. Steeling at the thought, Phoenix put pen to paper. "What else can you tell us about this morning?"
When all was said and done, Missy relented to driving them to Phoenix's apartment at somewhere near the speed limit, and she bade them goodnight with a wink. Cool dark crawled in. Phoenix shed his jacket like an old skin, yanked his tie loose and leaned heavy over spread papers. Somewhere, encrypted in his scribbled notes, was everything he had to know and never repeat.
Maya's chatter floated in from the kitchen, starting with bright cheer and quickly fading to regret. "Sorry, Pearly! He's a really really important client and everything's top secret. Maybe I'll be allowed to tell you about it after the trial ..."
Turning back to the notes, Phoenix forced his drifting attention to his jagged penstrokes. Foxx's techspeak made little enough sense at the time, never mind in his own shorthand. He wished idly for that rosetta stone, and didn't notice the rich smell of coffee in the air until a mug clunked beside his wrist.
"Pearly says hi." Maya sat across from him at the dining table. Her sleepover mode was in effect, complete with loose hair, the oversized, chili-stained Ronin Rangers T-shirt, and a gaze like she wanted nothing more than to paint Phoenix's toenails.
Nodding thanks, he took the mug and downed a searing gulp. Sleeping before a first trial day proved hopeless most of the time, anyway.
A frown swept over Maya's face. "You're sure we can't tell her? It's Pearly. Maybe she can help!"
"See if you can make out any of this, will you?" Phoenix pressed two sheets across the table and let his brow furrow. "Maya, you heard what Commander Kahn said. This is all strictly confidential."
Picking up a page, pouting ferociously at it, Maya murmured, "I guess so. But you know you can count on us, Nick."
He knew that. Not a day went by that Phoenix wasn't grateful.
Night dragged on, and the coffee pot drained, and Phoenix still couldn't figure out what on earth a metatreble resistor was for. He shoved the messier pages aside and leaned back in the hard kitchen chair. He had compiled the standard Agent equipment functions, and Maya's summary of music sense, and all relevant points of Stewart "J" Lowe's account. Phoenix couldn't manage more than that on his own and he had only a few hours to wait -- but that didn't stop the nagging thoughts of people to needle for information, places to scour, the earpiece linking him to a far-reaching database.
He turned the empty mug between his palms, and watched Maya. Anyone else would think her deeply asleep -- head pillowed on her arm, probably drooling on the notes knowing Phoenix's luck -- but he knew better. He recognized the slow prickle of magic, the presence creeping down his spine and the tune at his senses' blurred edges. Maya was actually suspended in trance. The tick of the wall clock across the apartment began to grate in the silence, and Phoenix watched out the window instead. Dark, run-down housing crowded around his apartment, but the sliver of starry sky he could see was interesting enough.
And then time twitched forward, a chunk of memory was gone and he was crisply aware of existing. Phoenix's heart leaped glorious like it did every time she returned. He looked back across the table as she stirred, turning sleep-misted eyes to him.
"Hello," she murmured.
"Mia." He straightened, and offered her a smile. "Good to see you, Chief."
She straightened as well, slower, glancing around to get her bearings and tugging the T-shirt even on her borrowed body's curves. "Burning the midnight oil, I see."
So much for strict confidentiality -- but if anyone bent secrets to their will, it was Mia, the woman even death couldn't stop. Phoenix sighed, and waited until she was done reading both sides of Maya's letter.
"Elite Beat Agents are real," he said. "The rumours are true. But no one can find that out, and I don't even know yet what I'll have to tell the court about Stewart. I just hope we can keep the story straight." He ran a palm over his face. How could he fight for truth under false pretenses? It defied everything Phoenix stood for; it made him little better than the schemers he exposed on the stand. He remembered Stewart through plexiglass, tense with the strain of lying.
"Phoenix." Mia's mouth tightened; she lit with fierce justice, it shone in her eyes. "The truth isn't always tidy. Remember what your job is -- your client is innocent, right?"
"Yes." He was sure this time.
"Then defend him any way you have to, and seek the truth. This is serious. You have no room for error."
Like he needed to be told that. But under Mia's hard stare, while he stood an inch tall, Phoenix always seemed to sense plans falling into place. "Y-yeah, you're right." He would fight because that was all he ever could do. Phoenix looked to the scattered notes and found that his penmanship marked passing hours -- it got worse on each consecutive page, melting and sagging like a burning candle's wax. "I just hope Edgeworth's case is missing as many pieces as ours."
Mia folded her arms under her chest, smirking. "It's not like Edgeworth to be unprepared for a fight."
Phoenix rubbed his neck, and tried, "There's a first time for everything ..."
"Look, Phoenix, you have an entire network of highly skilled operatives at your back, from what Maya says. And I'll be there tomorrow, too." Mia leaned across the table, and laid a cool hand over his. "You'll do fine. Leave the coffee alone and get some sleep."
Easier said than done, but he nodded. The Chief knew best.
In the haze between dreams and daylight, Phoenix thought about his allies. He had friends to help him, plenty of driving presence at his flanks.
Morning came too soon. Phoenix paced in front of the defendants' lobby couch, still mulling over the particulars of shoe technology. What was the difference between infrasound and regular sound, anyway? Did it matter?
"Relax, Nick," Maya said around a last mouthful of breakfast bagel, flicking sesame seeds from her robe, "We have plenty of time."
"I hope so," Phoenix muttered. They still had a cover story to memorize -- a story with all the lines and cues of a Shakespearean epic, probably.
He didn't need to look at Maya to see the lip-chewing thought. She stayed silent, and the otherworldly tingle of magic soon began trickling in.
Twenty-six minutes until court began, and the bailiffs finally delivered Stewart. Something careful and docile laced his movements, as though he put in a special effort to obey the officers. He watched the bailiffs' every retreating step out the lobby doors, and turned back to Phoenix.
"Mornin'." He looked hopefully between his new team members. His hand crept to his ear -- idly scratching under his blond mop, as far as the world could see, but Phoenix could guess what he really pressed at.
"I'm here," came Foxx's voice, cool and reassuring. "Ready, boys?"
"Foxxie." Stewart's grin spread, relieved. "Did I ever miss you. So what's the story?"
"I hope I won't be left out?"
Stewart looked to Mia, jolting with realization. The two-person conference became a circle of three.
Mia offered her hand. "Mr. Rowe ...?"
"It's Lowe," Stewart said, accepting the handshake. He did an admirable job of almost not letting his eyes wander. "You're-- Wait, you're ..." He squinted, considering her features. "You're not Ms. Fey, are you?"
"I am." She canted her head, smiling. "Mia Fey, though."
Agents were familiar with Kurain techniques, and had a hand of their own in the mystical arts. If anyone would recognise a channelled spirit among the living, Agent J would. It was strange, having this secret weapon seem like common knowledge, but it was fair considering what Phoenix knew about the Agency -- more than fair.
And after another considering moment, Stewart said, "It's just Ms. Fey, Foxx. We're free to talk." He looked back to Phoenix, grin returning. "We'll make sure she stays up to speed, too. All set, let's hear it."
Their backup stood ready to assist and time grew ever shorter. Phoenix nodded, and had fresh notepaper at the ready.
The cover story was no classic of fiction -- just a careful bending of the truth, and Stewart looked nearly as relieved as Phoenix felt. Court filed to order. Stewart was led to his defendant's box, and Phoenix squared his shoulders and arranging notes on the defense stand. The spectators' chatter echoed off grand, morning-gold courtroom walls. Edgeworth leafed through a folder, a thousand miles away, magenta and ruffles pulling Phoenix's attention every time he tried to concentrate on written words.
"This should be interesting." Mia watched Edgeworth as well, arms folded; Phoenix could practically hear the gears at work in her head. She looked sidelong at him, theories in her eyes. "Things really have changed between you two, haven't they?"
How could they not? The sleepless nights and frantic days of the Engarde trial had only begun to fade in Phoenix's memory; rival and friend were words too simple to hold everything he and Edgeworth had struggled through. Phoenix studied his hands against the notepaper, and he sighed.
"They've changed for me. Edgeworth ... Maybe he knew all along. But we trust each other, Chief." Phoenix could only hope he believed his own words.
"Be careful, Phoenix," Foxx murmured. "He'll still rip our cover to shreds if you give him the chance."
Whatever the past held, whatever Phoenix imagined, Foxx was absolutely right. It was quiet -- he could feel Mia's stare picking his locks -- for a crowd-muttering moment, and the Judge entered with a swirl of dark cloak. Order fell, and there was no more time for wondering.
"The court," began the Judge, "Is now in session for the trial of Mr. Stewart Lowe."
"The prosecution is ready, Your Honour."
Edgeworth's eyes flicked to meet Phoenix's -- for a instant he forgot briefings and plans. His fires lit and the guilt nearly left him.
"The defense is ready, Your Honour."
The Judge lowered his head, passing gaze over each side. "Then let the prosecution give its opening statement."
"The prosecution will prove that Mr. Stewart Lowe is the only reasonable suspect in the murder of Ms. Morna Beasley. He was apprehended fleeing the scene of the murder, mere moments after its occurence, and this places considerable suspicion upon him."
Toying the gavel's handle between his fingers -- wasn't it a little early to be considering a verdict? -- the Judge nodded. "Yes, that is definitely cause for suspicion. You may proceed, Mr. Edgeworth."
"Since the defendant has yet to give a statement on his whereabouts at the time of the murder," and Edgeworth glanced to Phoenix, all poise now, theatrical in every motion, "The prosecution requests a cross-examination of the defendant."
"Mr. Wright," the Judge asked, "Do you have any objections?"
Attention weighed on Phoenix. The game had barely begun but they couldn't hide, couldn't show Edgeworth anything but the willingness of a client not guilty.
"Go ahead, it'll be fine," Foxx said, as Phoenix was drawing a breath to speak.
"No objections, Your Honour."
Mia shifted in his peripheral vision -- maybe nodding thoughtful.
"Then the prosecution calls Mr. Lowe to the stand."
Baliffs swarmed and the defendant's box hinges creaked, thin and distressed in the silence.
"You'll do fine, J," came Foxx's voice, a low murmur, a harsh rubbing of balm. "Agents are just assistants, the specifics aren't important. You can do this, I know you can."
Phoenix was sure he saw Stewart's adam's apple bob as he passed, but everything else about him was the ready ease of a performer taking the stage. They knew their lines and they could match any performance Edgeworth came up with.
Stewart took his place before the court -- Edgeworth eyed him briskly.
"Please state your name and occupation."
"Stewart Lowe." He smiled, hooking his thumbs in jeans pockets. "An' I do a bit of everything."
Edgeworth's brow arched. "Everything?"
"Helpin' people move, consultation, runnin' errands, little bit 'a surveillance work." He shrugged. "Everything."
"Oh, I see," the Judge commented. "Odd jobs."
"Yeah, that's a good way to put it." Stewart's smile turned real, and Phoenix could tell the difference now. "I just help people with whatever they need."
Carefully silent, Edgeworth carried on staring Stewart down -- searching for flaws in the testimony, and maybe trying to imagine Stewart as a roving jack-of-all-trades while he was at it. "And what were you doing yesterday morning at eleven twenty-five AM?"
"I was workin' all that morning, I take care of events in the park sometimes. My boss really keeps me hoppin'!"
It wasn't often that people meant the phrase so literally.
"Did you encounter the victim, Ms. Beasley?"
Scratching in his shaggy hair, Stewart replied, "Never seen 'er before. So, nope."
"Did you meet with anyone?" A razor barb slipped into Edgeworth's voice. "Did anyone know you were in the park that day?"
"I talked to my coworkers first? You know, before the wedding."
"Working on that one," Foxx added. "We've got him listed in the caterer's registrar as a general helper, if anyone decides to get nosy."
And Phoenix certainly wouldn't put it past Edgeworth to be nosy.
"An' I had to meet some event coordinator offsite," Stewart was continuing, "Just make sure their specs were turnin' out okay. I thought I might be too late, so I was runnin' down that forest path to meet 'em. Maybe not the best time to be wearin' a doofy penguin suit, but what can ya do?"
Foxx, from the sound of things, tried to snicker and choked instead on a live rodent. Phoenix filed the term doofy penguin suit with all his other colourful terms for stiff suitcloth, promising himself to use it sooner or later.
But Edgeworth had no room for merriment, and he tightened, laying a hand on the stand too carefully. "So, let me get this straight, Mr. Lowe. You were near the scene of the murder before, during, and after its occurence, and no one can account for your exact whereabouts during that time? Can an event coordinator come before the court to confirm why you fled the scene of a freshly committed crime?"
The ease drained from Stewart; biting his lip, he glanced to Phoenix like a plea.
"Slant the truth, J," Foxx murmured hard. "It's all right. You didn't see the victim, the other target, anyone."
Phoenix backed it with his own nod -- he could work with the truth, any fragments of it he was allowed. He could piece it together and make it work.
"I ..." Stewart looked back to Edgeworth. "No one was around, no. An' the event coordinator I was lookin' for, I didn't have a name or anything, I just knew I had to find 'em. Nobody saw me."
Secrecy was an Agent's best defense any other time, but now it turned against them. It made murmur flicker through the gallery and made Edgeworth smile satisfied, shaking his head slow.
"No further questions."
The Judge grumbled thoughtful. "I hope some more concrete testimonies will be brought forth. This wouldn't be much of a court of law without any proof! Mr. Edgeworth, you may proceed."
"You've won cases on less likely stories, Phoenix," Mia offered. She nudged a note sheet to perfect right-angled organization.
"Good," Foxx decided, as Stewart was led back to the defendant's box, "That went all right. Keep it up, team."
For a moment, Phoenix wondered if the defense stand was made of real wood, and if he should knock it. But however alarmist his imagination could be, however many variables were beyond control, he knew how Edgeworth worked: methodically. Edgeworth would want to calculate the trial's size and shape, scrutinize every piece of evidence and lay traps far and wide. On short notice, with the defendant's side of the story so vague, the first witnesses would need to lay groundwork. It would be someone like--
"The prosecution calls Detective Gumshoe to the stand."
Someone like the most doggedly faithful investigator the L.A. force had to offer. Gumshoe took his place before the court -- tie a little neater than usual, hope shining a little brighter.
"Please state your name and occupation."
"Dick Gumshoe, sir," he beamed. "I'm a detective with the homicide unit down at the precinct."
Edgeworth lifted a hand to flourish. "You may give your testimony now, Detective."
Phoenix glanced to his aide -- Mia smiled slow, and she resettled her folded arms.
"Let's see what we can get out of him," she said, under her breath.
Here came their best chance for footing. Anticipation drummed harder in Phoenix's veins, the world narrowed to words and logic and Gumshoe's eager nod.
"The murder took place yesterday morning at around eleven-twenty-five AM. The victim, Ms. Beasley, was in Foster Park, headed down the south trail." Gumshoe bristled suddenly, and bit out, "Minding her own business, and this happens!"
"Hold it!" Calling out was a reflex more than specific intent. Phoenix rubbed his chin as he thought. "Why was she in the park that day? Do you know, Detective?"
He paused, blinking. "Well, the victim was dressed well, but wearing battered-up old running shoes."
He motioned to the evidence table, where a soft-looking white sweater and wear-creased sneakers filled a clear evidence bag.
"There are lots of trails in Foster Park, so she was probably just out for a walk."
"But," Phoenix said, leaning over the stand, "You don't know that she was minding her own business."
"Uhh ..." Gumshoe scratched his head. "No?"
"Detective," Edgeworth said, his tone dangerously mild, his finger tapping on his arm, "Your idle speculations about the victim have no place in your testimony. Please continue. And I'm sure you know what will happen if there are further indiscretions."
With a gulp -- thinking of his shrinking noodle rations, no doubt -- Gumshoe nodded. "Sorry, Mr. Edgeworth." And straightening, determination setting his jaw, he stated, "The victim was struck once with a blunt object, on the back of the head. She was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital."
A bailiff slipped to Phoenix's side, depositing new ammunition on the stand: a park map in crisp-printed ink, and a much wordier autopsy report. Excessive intracranial hemorrhaging due to advanced age, it stated, and Phoenix couldn't help imagining someone frail crumpled on the leaves. Morna Beasley's grandmotherly face gazed back at him from the photo attached to the report.
"There are footprints leading away from the crime scene," Gumshoe continued, "Through the woods, toward the street. It rained recently, so the ground was muddy and the prints are obviously headed away from the victim."
Another delivery from the bailiff: a pair of black-and-white crime scene photos, featuring a painted victim's outline and a close shot of a shoeprint pressed into mud.
"Which way did the victim fall, Detective?" Phoenix looked up at him. "Forward, or backward?"
Pausing thoughtfully -- it was an awfully important detail to forget -- Gumshoe decided, "Forward. She was found lying on her front. And since she was hit on the back of the head, and the prints angle away like that, she was obviously attacked from behind."
Mia murmured, and took the photos to glower at.
Glancing to the park map -- resisting the urge to sketch Agent J's flight path in on the main trail -- Phoenix asked, "So, did you find any other footprints?"
"It's a public park walking path, of course we did!" Gumshoe scratched his head. "Not from the attacker, though."
"The fleeing footprints," Edgeworth offered, holding a report before him, "Were from a size ten men's dress shoe of a common brand, the same shoe the defendant was wearing at the time of arrest."
Foxx's laptop keys clattered. "They're store-bought dress shoes. They could belong to anyone."
"Objection!" Phoenix brandished the wedding itinerary. "A wedding was taking place in the park at the time of the murder. The footprints could be from anyone at all!"
"Mr. Wright." Here it was, the old Edgeworth smirk, "Do you really suppose that wedding guests were running around in the mud?"
"Mud sticks to shoes! Did your analysis find any mud on the defendant's?"
Edgeworth's smirk widened, and sharpened. "As a matter of fact, it did. A close match to the soil of the crime scene."
A murmur rose from the gallery above. Phoenix clenched fists -- he had stumbled into a trap already.
"Phoenix," Foxx cried, "J was on patrol, he crossed just about every type of terrain there is!"
"But there was sand on his shoes," Phoenix muttered, and said louder, with a finger pointed at Gumshoe, "The defendant's shoes also had sand in their treads! Didn't the police find matching footprints on Foster Park's main sand path, well removed from the crime scene?"
Gumshoe blinked, as though surprised anyone remembered him. "Uhh, yeah, actually. The size and shape of the shoeprint is right, anyway."
Another murmur from the gallery, and Phoenix could nearly hear Edgeworth's teeth grind. "Hmm," the Judge wondered, "It looks like our defendant ran, he ran so far away, all night and day! Is there any evidence to prove where he was at the exact time of the murder?"
"There is, Your Honour." Edgeworth cast a glance across his notes.
"He'll have a good card to play here," Mia murmured, "Let's hope it's something we can explain using the story we've got."
Possibilities flashed across Phoenix's thoughts -- the missing microphone, the crime scene he should have tried harder to comb -- and then Edgeworth spoke.
"There is a witness to the murder, who was present at the wedding and can confirm details beyond a shadow of doubt. The prosecution calls Mr. Vanderspiegle to the stand."
Just as Phoenix thought, someone with a story to unravel. But how had Edgeworth prepped a witness when he had no defendant's statement to pick holes into?
"Vanderspiegle," Foxx wondered. "I before E, l hope... I'll have the info on this witness, just give me a moment."
The gallery chattered, and Phoenix steeled again for a fight.
The witness, it turned out, was theatre incarnate: he swept across the court with purple coattails flapping, back ramrod straight and barrel chest puffed proud. Taking his place at the witness stand, he flourished to no one in particular, gleaming all over with hair gel and gold detailing.
"Witness," Edgeworth said. "Please state your name and occupation."
Vanderspiegle, however, was staring directly at Phoenix. "You, sir!"
"Uhh." Phoenix couldn't help rubbing his neck. "Me?"
"Mmmyes!" Vanderspiegle beamed. "I never converse with an individual before committing their name to mind! What might yours be?"
Edgeworth was dismissed with a wave of white-gloved hand. "Terribly rude to not know the name of the gentleman I'll be speaking with this day, just terrible! Your name, sir?"
Phoenix grinned sheepish -- a little attention was always nice. "I'm Phoenix Wright, attorney at law." He had always liked the way it rolled off the tongue.
"Wright, yes, of course!" Brightening like a child presented with candy, Vanderspiegle asked, "Would you be any relation to Mr. Leften Wright? I'll understand if you aren't, of course, the name has got a remarkable history of--"
"Witness," Edgeworth growled, hunkered over his stand. "This is a court of law, not a social gala! Your name and occupation!"
And with a cluck of his tongue and a hand pressed to his chest, the witness replied, "I would be Cecilius T. Vanderspiegle, proprietor, director and executive supervisor of Extravagant Wedding Services and all related ventures. Really, Mr. Edgeworth, there is no need to be uncouth."
"Certainly not." Straightening, Edgeworth smoothed bland superiority back onto his face. "Your catering service was holding the wedding function in Foster Park yesterday morning, is that correct?"
"Mmmyes, our Sterling Memories package, plus Swedish meatballs -- no onions, our lovely bride was allergic. And with karaoke as a finale."
Never had there been a more effective way of making sure people didn't hang around.
"I personally oversee all catering ventures," Vanderspiegle went on, fluffing proud. "I was present yesterday to ensure that every guest received the proper Extravagant experience."
Edgeworth produced a report. "Mr. Vanderspiegle has a photographic memory -- he's proven this for police, beyond a doubt, by reciting twenty consecutive pages of the telephone book."
Another brightening of excitement in Vanderspiegle. "Shall I demonstrate now? Smith, John, five-five-five--"
"No," Edgeworth said, much too quickly. "No, that won't be necessary."
"A photographic memory," the Judge wondered aloud. "That's quite impressive. I can't even remember my own phone number!"
"And with such a memory, Mr. Vanderspiegle, you can recall every person you meet, correct?"
"That I can."
"I don't like where this is going," Mia muttered. She took the words right out of Phoenix's mouth.
Gesturing idly, Edgeworth continued, "And did you know everyone present at the wedding?"
Vanderspiegle nodded. "Mmmyes, I received introduction to each of the one hundred and seventeen guests, I made sure of it. And my usual roster of staff was present with the notable exception of Roberto, he was replaced that day by his brother Luka. Far less competent with a service tray but his effort was commendable, truly."
All Phoenix could see then was the smirk creeping onto Edgeworth -- he knew that look too well. That was a warning, the last rustle of feathers before a falcon's diving strike.
"Mr. Vanderspiegle," Edgeworth said, and pointed suddenly to the defendant's box. "Did that man assist in any way with the catering event in Foster Park?"
Silence gripped the court; Vanderspiegle stared startled. He looked to Stewart, and back to Edgeworth.
"Why, no. I've never seen him in my life."
The gallery rumbled, and the Judge's gavel cracked and cracked: it was all distant static to Phoenix. Testimony like that shot clean through their alibi, he thought with a cold dig at his heart, and all he heard was Foxx's voice.
"Stall, Phoenix, any way you can. I'll find cover."
He listened to clattering keys and held back most of a nod. He could forge on blind as long as his team watched out for him.
And when quiet resettled in the courtroom, the Judge turned to Phoenix, gazing down from his high bench.
"Does the defense wish to respond?"
Did he? Phoenix could let the declaration slide by, and then pry apart Vanderspiegle's testimony until he had no sway in the case. He couldn't have seen Stewart murder anyone -- which meant contradictions in the testimony. But doing that would mean leaving Edgeworth's dramatic point unchallenged in the court consciousness. Phoenix glanced to Mia.
"If we don't want problems later," she replied, "We should face an implication like that head-on."
Because once a testimony began to ravel, there was no saving it -- Phoenix knew that better than anyone.
"Yes, Your Honour," he said, and looked back to Vanderspiegle. "Do you manage all of your staff personally?"
"Of course, mmyes!" Vanderspiegle puffed a little, but the wide-eyed look remained. Maybe the reality of the trial had finally soaked in through his stage presence. "I meet with each new employee as soon as they express interest in employment. How else am I to ensure that they can provide the proper Extravagant experience?"
The man was definitely a people person; any weak point worth picking would be somewhere else. Phoenix rubbed his chin. "Catering fancy weddings? You must have a lot of staff members. How do you manage to keep them all straight?"
Phoenix cringed, and looked to Edgeworth in time to see his maddening finger wag.
"Mr. Wright," Edgeworth drawled, "It was just stated a moment ago that the witness has a photographic memory. Do try to keep up."
"Objection," Phoenix snapped back, and pointed across the court. "That wasn't my point!"
"The only points here can be seen in the defense's reflection." With a flourish, Edgeworth added, "But please, carry on."
Forcing open his clenched fists -- he couldn't let Edgeworth rattle him, not now -- Phoenix turned back to Vanderspiegle. "What I meant was, do you manage the employees' finances yourself? Payroll, taxes, that sort of thing?" Because if Foxx had gotten Stewart listed as a general assistant--
"No, no," Vanderspiegle said, and waved the suggestion away. "Nancy does all of that. Bookkeeping is so dreadfully uninteresting."
Finally, a point they could agree on. Phoenix was opening his mouth, wondering what to make come out of it, when Foxx spoke in his ear.
"Phoenix, hiring. There was a white-collar job fair a few blocks away that morning. J was on the move looking for a new job."
He let realization wash over his face: Phoenix had only to assemble this answer -- and quickly.
"So you don't take care of the business's records?" He rubbed his neck. "I think there's been a misunderstanding, then."
Vanderspiegle stared mildly. "I beg your pardon?"
And with an instant of hoping for his own bluffing ability, Phoenix faced the rest of the court ."Mr. Lowe wasn't literally working for Extravagent Wedding Services on the day of the murder. He was job-hunting that day, which means that he spoke with future coworkers--" Not that his fellow Agents weren't past and present coworkers as well. "--And was trying securing his position with Extravagant Wedding Services later on." Phoenix grinned hopefully. "I guess that wasn't very clear in Mr. Lowe's testimony ...?"
The Judge, blinking surprise, said, "No, it wasn't. All right, the court will keep this amendment in mind."
"Oh, Nancy," Vanderspiegle groaned, polishing a gold coat button between thumb and forefinger. "Not telling me of a newcomer? I've trained her better, truly, I have!"
"Now we need to--" Foxx sighed. "We'll take care of it, it's fine. Good, Phoenix."
But Edgeworth glared now, twisting a dagger into Phoenix from a room away -- that wasn't fine, not at all.
"Then I suppose," Edgeworth bit out, and the spite suddenly faded as he looked away from Phoenix. "It's irrelevant that Mr. Vanderspiegle had not seen the defendant until just now. But he still witnessed the murder -- Mr. Vanderspiegle, if you would please give that testimony?"
Nodding, Vanderspiegle replied, "Mmyes, of course." He paused, maybe for effect, and straightened to full height. "I noticed something amiss at eleven-fourteen AM, as Mr. Albert Tinear took the stage for his rendition of Livin' La Vida Loca."
"Hold it," Phoenix cried. "How did you know the exact time? Did you check?"
A smile spread over Vanderspiegle's round face. "Mr. Wright, my functions follow absolutely immaculate timelines. It would hardly be up to Extravagant standards if an event missed its cue. Now, I was discussing socioeconomics with Ms. Lilla Byes and not that it wasn't fascinating, of course, but something caught my eye across the park. The victim, I believe."
"Hold it! And how could you have known it was the victim?"
It took a moment for Mia's quiet words to register -- maybe a barking note was slipping into his questions. Phoenix didn't mean to snap, but it could still happen.
Vanderspiegle paused to look affronted. "Well, I had no such idea at the time, of course! I noticed a woman, a senior citizen I supposed, entering the park's walking trail. It was her sweater that caught my eye, quite a brilliant white against the foliage."
Phoenix glanced to the park map -- the trail's entrance and the wedding reception were several hundred feet apart. A reasonable range to notice a white sweater at, but could Vanderspiegle recognize a face? Not unless he had a telescopic lens on that photographic memory.
"And it was a moment later," Vanderspiegle went on, "During the spectacular final chorus of Mr. Tinear's performance, that I noticed a dark figure by the trail."
"Hold it!" The logistics glowed brilliant in Phoenix's mind now, every detail screaming. "Why did you notice a dark figure if the karaoke was so spectacular?"
"Because I am in charge of each and every function, Mr. Wright." Still performing his words, still smiling, but annoyance threaded through Vanderspiegle's voice. "I do not easily forget my role, you must understand."
Phoenix anticipated a cutting remark from the prosecution's stand, a jab to raise his hackles, but none came. He glanced to Edgeworth -- the icy stare remained. Phoenix looked away, and couldn't place how Edgeworth's silence was so much sharper than his tongue.
"Then," he asked Vanderspiegle, "What was this dark figure like?"
"That might be our murderer," Foxx offered, "J was never within sight of the wedding party. I need details, Phoenix."
What did she think Phoenix was trying to do?
"The individual was suspicious," Vanderspiegle said. He ran a hand over his slicked hair, forehead to ducktail. "Mmmyes, very much so. Creeping in the bushes like that."
A pause drew out.
"Err," Phoenix tried, feeling sweat trickle down the side of his head. "Is that all?"
"Indeed it is, Mr. Wright! Jackson informed me then that one of our buffet steam tables neared death's door, and I excused myself from Ms. Byes to see to Extravagant's equipment. But that figure in the bushes ... I had a bad feeling, I suppose. So when I saw that very figure fleeing the park, I immediately telephoned the police."
Glancing to the park map, sketching flight paths in his thoughts, Phoenix asked, "Fleeing? Which direction?"
"Out along the path for a moment, after which he cut through the forest." Vanderspiegle shook his head. "Terrible, such a thing ..."
"He's not very helpful for someone good with details," Phoenix muttered.
Mia smiled sympathetic. "We just need to keep pressing. He's sure to mention something important."
"I've found some optometrist's records, Phoenix," Foxx said, keys tapping. "Vanderspiegle's got twenty-twenty vision, no excuses there. Push him hard."
Wondering how far his Agent teammate could hack -- and whether the Pentagon's files might help their case -- Phoenix looked to Vanderspiegle to try again.
"Mr. Vanderspiegle, about this suspicious figure … Would you recognize that person if you saw them again?"
Squinting into the middle distance, Vanderspiegle decided, "Perhaps. I couldn't discern much except dark clothing, and the way he stumbled, I suppose on the forest terrain."
"What about hair?" Phoenix gestured to the defendant's box. "Was this figure blond, as Mr. Lowe is?"
"It's quite distinctive when he's in Agent uniform," Foxx added. "A work of architecture."
Phoenix couldn't be sure what Stewart muttered, not with so much courtroom floor between them, but his brief smile stifled behind his hand said enough.
Vanderspiegle said nothing, gazing thoughtfully at nothing. Quiet stretched out awkward. At the corner of Phoenix's vision, the Judge squirmed like a student at a dull lecture.
Edgeworth folded his arms, tapping a finger. "Mr. Vanderspiegle, if you would indulge the question?"
Shooing Edgeworth off with a wave, Vanderspiegle grumbled, "Mmmyes, yes, I'm thinking." And after a briefer pause, "The figure was fair-headed, yes. But I couldn't say for sure if he had blond hair or was simply ... wearing a hat." Realization lit Vanderspiegle, and he asked, "May I make a small request of the defendant? If you would stand up, Mr. Lowe?"
The court's attention turned to Phoenix -- he could guess where this was going, the train of thought Vanderspiegle was following. He looked to Stewart, and nodded.
Managing a nod back, Stewart faced the court and got to his feet. There was no trace of easy slouch in him now: he was tall and square-shouldered, stiff with Agent pride.
"Mmm," Vanderspiegle wondered, and tapped his chin. "No. No, the figure I saw was not like Mr. Lowe at all, he was ... Oh, dear ..."
He knew something. He had information and Phoenix wanted to slam the stand, but forced his palms down softer. "Mr. Vanderspiegle, do you know the person you saw in the bushes?"
"Objection!" Edgeworth snapped, "The witness has stated that he could only see dark clothing from such a distance! He couldn't reasonably identify a face!"
"But I don't need to, Mr. Edgeworth."
Silence rocked the court. And Vanderspiegle went on, gazing dolefully at the floor:
"I'm sure of it -- the figure I saw had an odd gait, he stumbled as he moved. And he wasn't Mr. Lowe's build at all. It was ... Oh, but he always seemed so harmless...."
"Who was it, Mr. Vanderspiegle?" Phoenix stared hard. "Who did you see?"
And with an excessive sigh, he replied, "Tucker. That's the only name of his that I know, he is a homeless individual. He must spend his time in Foster Park, since we see him at nearly every function we hold there. And no one else moves in such a way."
Just the foothold they needed -- someone else at the scene, maybe even the one to blame. It soared hot in Phoenix and he looked to the Judge.
"Your Honour, we can't reasonably continue this trial without this Tucker individual. He's a key witness -- or possibly suspect -- in this case."
Still no protest from Edgeworth. This was no time to question fortune.
"Hmm, I agree," the Judge said. "Mr. Edgeworth, would a half-hour recess be enough time to find the witness?"
"Allow me to help with the search," Vanderspiegle added, pulling a cell phone from his coat pocket. "My mechanically inclined employees are in Foster Park at this moment, disassembling the stage setup. Extravagant's staff are your staff, good sirs!"
"I believe we can do that, Your Honour," Edgeworth replied.
It was decided, then -- the gavel cracked, and the court fell to recess.
"Yer a real sight in there, Mr. Wright." Stewart said. The recess was bringing out his easy posture. "Seven-nation army couldn't hold you back!"
And Phoenix's briefcase looked like an army had tromped through it -- where was a paper clip when he needed one?
"We're not out of the woods yet." Mia brushed her bangs to one side with a delicately crooked finger, and refolded her arms. "Do we know anything about Tucker?"
"Not much at the moment," Foxx replied, "Tell her I'm working on it, but without a name or a decent description ..."
Phoenix closed the briefcase, grabbed for his nerve and turned to face Edgeworth. However far they had come, even now -- especially now -- that growl still chilled him.
"If I may speak with you," Edgeworth grated, fists clenched at his sides, "In private."
He knew this was coming: he knew Edgeworth wouldn't be fooled for long. Phoenix glanced to Mia -- he didn't miss the worry and the confidence in her eyes, the same as before his very first trial.
"Mr. Rowe," she said, passing Stewart on a determined gait, "Shall we get a soda?"
Stewart, jerked along by his wrist, had the sense to quickly agree with her -- Mia hadn't asked a question at all.
Edgeworth watched them go, his eyes demanding answers from Mia's back. Again wondering if Edgeworth could see Maya's change, and supposing that it didn't matter, Phoenix braced. Their cover was loosening already, before the case drew anywhere near its end, but he'd manage. He wasn't alone. He scratched his ear -- or, rather, mimed the motion enough to prod the round metal earpiece node, hoping he was doing it right.
"I'm here, Phoenix," Foxx answered. Her voice was low -- she braced, too.
And then the inevitable: Edgeworth's gaze snapped back to Phoenix. "What was that?"
"What was what?"
"Don't play oblivious." A scowl twisted Edgeworth's mouth; his head lowered, his gaze storm-dark. "Lying about your client's whereabouts? I thought you were above that."
"I wasn't lying," Phoenix said -- he hoped hard his voice didn't betray him. He was bending the truth to suit him, seeking loopholes to escape into and if anyone could spot that, it was Edgeworth. If anyone would refuse to forgive that, it was Edgeworth.
The quiet loomed between them. Edgeworth stared his disbelief, his cold fury; Phoenix must have looked at Edgeworth that exact same way a few months ago. It felt awful.
"You changed your story today. You grasp at straws, Wright, you stall and bluff and pull all manner of absurd stunts, but you never. Change. Your story."
God, it was true and every word stabbed. Phoenix looked away, raked at his hair, sank under all the guilt. "I--"
"You can't, Phoenix," Foxx hissed. He could practically feel her glare. "You can't tell him, not one word! Remember what you're protecting."
He knew that. How could he forget?
"I know this looks bad … But I took a hard look at myself, too." The past year's feelings fluttered, that raw sense that things could have been different between old friends turned rivals. Phoenix sighed. "I'm-- I'm protecting an innocent client, I'm sure of that. It's just complicated, there's confidential information involved. I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't have to. Edgeworth ... I need you to trust me."
And Edgeworth's scowl faltered, his glare flickered uncertainly over Phoenix and snapped away.
"You had better know what you're doing, Wright." That threat was barely loud enough to hear over Edgeworth's footfalls, as he stalked away.
Phoenix stood there a moment, not alone, but he might as well have been. His mouth twitched, and he murmured, "I'm sorry, Foxx."
"It's all right," she said. "That wasn't telling him much of anything. You sound almost like teammates, actually."
He managed a smile. "Almost."
A pause, and Foxx said, "Our Agents just need time to figure out the logistics, but we'll have surveillance on Edgeworth soon. He might have useful information and we can't be sure he'll share."
Also, water tended to be a little damp.
"Just keep at it, Phoenix. There's nothing we can't work through."
If he was lucky, that was true. Nodding, murmuring agreement, Phoenix began searching the lobby for the rest of his team. With new witnesses came new upsets, and he would need a plan of attack.
For all their brainstorming, Phoenix and his team couldn't do more than watch the clock hands shave the recess away to nothing. Foxx said it and Mia agreed -- they would have to wait and see who Tucker was, and what he hid.
Court filed back into place. Phoenix spread his evidence again over the defense stand, and tried not to notice that Edgeworth wasn't looking at him.
The Judge brought silence with a strike of his gavel, and looked to Edgeworth. "The court will now reconvene for the trial of Mr. Stewart Lowe. Has the prosecution found Mr. Tucker, the witness?"
"We have, in Foster Park as Mr. Vanderspiegle testified. He's being prepared by police as we speak." With a smooth gesture, Edgeworth said, "He is a rather unusual personality. It remains to be seen whether he has any merit as an eyewitness, Your Honour."
Rubbing at his beard, the Judge nodded. "All right, the court will take note of that."
"Undermining the witness's testimony already," Mia muttered. She stared laser-intense across the court; sometimes Phoenix wondered if she would rather lead the charge herself. "He's not sure of his footing, either."
And Phoenix resented it, suddenly -- how could a testimony be useful when Edgeworth had already discredited it? How was that trusting each other?
Tucker entered the court between two bailiffs, a shambling, brown-and-navy mass of clothes. He lurched on his feet just as Vanderspiegle said; he peered over the witness stand with nervous rodent's eyes, tugging his sleeves to cover his knuckles.
"Witness," Edgeworth said, "Please state your name and occupation for the court."
Tucker's gaze darted, like he was watching Edgeworth's voice echo around the ceiling. Then he squinted toward the prosecution, tugging his mustard-coloured cap tighter onto his head.
"Oh. You mean me?"
"Yes, witness." To be fair, Edgeworth seemed very nearly patient, arms folded and one finger tapping slow. "Please tell us your name and what you do."
Tucking faded shirttails tighter into his pants, the witness muttered, "I didn't do nothin'."
Quiet dragged out. Tucker had no more to say, and moved on to fussing with one of his sweaters. At least it was obvious how he got his makeshift name.
"That is the only statement the witness has seen fit to give police so far," Edgeworth eventually added, dry as desert sand. "Regardless of the question he is asked."
The Judge grumbled thoughtfully. "Would the defense like to attempt a cross-examination?"
Edgeworth wasn't being difficult, then. The witness denying everything really didn't make for a very helpful testimony. But they had no choice: they had no other leads and Phoenix had to try. Recalling an old boat shop owner -- and how canny someone apparently senile could be -- Phoenix nodded.
"Yes, Your Honour."
Then, rubbing his chin, Phoenix considered Tucker. The gallery above seemed to have captured his attention; his fidgeting slowed to pulling at his shirtsleeves.
"Mr. Tucker," Phoenix tried. "May I call you that?"
"They call me that," Tucker agreed, voice cloud-drifting.
Well, it was a step in the right direction.
"Were you in Foster Park yesterday morning?"
"I didn't do nothin'," Tucker immediately grumbled. The sleeve-pulling quickened, and his bushy brows drew, annoyed.
They seemed to have taken a step back just as easily. Phoenix rubbed his neck, and looked to Mia, who stood statuesque with concentration. "Uhh, what now?"
"I'm sorry, Phoenix," Foxx sighed. "I've tapped every database I can think of."
"I think he knows something," Mia mused. "Maybe we just need to jog his memory."
Jogging the witness's memory, at the very least, might cause a reaction in Tucker, something to make his cover slip -- if his behaviour was a cover at all.
Phoenix considered his phrasing, shuffled his words and tried again.
"So, uhh ... Foster Park is nice this time of year, isn't it?" He grinned hopeful. Who didn't like small talk about the weather?
Edgeworth's withering look was his answer.
Tucker, at least, muttered a positive. And after a moment's squinting thought, he decided, "The park ... I like the park."
"That's it, approach it from another angle," Foxx murmured, maybe to herself.
"Do you spend a lot of your time in the park, Mr. Tucker?"
Tucker muttered again, pulling at his collar. His shirtsleeve fell -- the wrist underneath was chalk-pale -- and he yanked the sleeve immediately back up.
"I ..." He stared suddenly at Phoenix, eyes wide. "You're not a cop, are you?"
He blinked. If this was a cover, it was a good one. "Um. No, I'm not a cop."
Nodding, Tucker returned to idly pulling his sleeves. "I like the park."
Another agonizing stretch of quiet, and Phoenix looked to the rest of the court. Edgeworth stood pensive -- maybe he would indulge the defense's methods, but the Judge was starting to stare. Phoenix would be accused of wasting the court's time at this rate -- he had to pick up the pace, but how? He would have to make the direct approach work.
"Mr. Tucker." He planted his palms. "Did you see a lady in a white sweater yesterday morning?"
This was too fast, he knew it was the instant fright spread over Tucker's face.
"I didn't do nothin', I didn't!"
"I know you didn't," Phoenix tried. "Uh, we just need to know what happened."
"It's all right."
He expected Mia's voice but not with such soft power, not meant to carry across the court. Phoenix looked to her and saw her encouraging smile, the one that greased wheels.
"You can tell us, Mr. Tucker," she said. "It would help the lady if you did."
Tucker watched Mia -- or maybe Maya, since there was no way to know what his darting eyes found. He finally looked away, around at the court and back to Phoenix.
"I-- I didn't do nothin' to her, honest."
This was thread to pull, which was all Phoenix ever needed. He smiled inside. "She was a nice lady, wasn't she?"
But he hadn't expected the hunted-mouse terror in Tucker's eyes, the reflexive yank at his sleeves. Why would mentioning an elderly lady -- an unfortunate victim -- do that?
"S-she-- I didn't do nothin'."
"Maybe he didn't." Foxx's voice turned thoughtful, a piecing together of answers. "If the killer was someone else, someone the victim didn't see because they approached from behind... This Tucker might not have laid a hand on her."
But what could he have to hide, then? Vanderspiegle's testimony placed Tucker fleeing the scene moments before the time of death, and Agent J helped the victim fend off a threatening figure sometime in those last moments. This was where Mia's strategies paid off. Phoenix made origami folds of logic: he wondered not how to prove that Tucker encountered Morna Beasley, but what came about because of the encounter.
"All right, maybe she was a mean lady." Phoenix tapped his chin. "Did you try to talk to her, Mr. Tucker?"
Pant-smoothing and sleeve-yanking was his only answer for a moment. There had to be some key hidden in Tucker's sleeves -- they were a focus point in his fidgeting, a magnetic draw.
"Don't have no friends," Tucker grumbled into his collar. "Never. She ... I just say hello to people sometimes, I didn't do nothin', I didn't!"
"Mr. Wright." The Judge's stern voice dragged Phoenix's attention up and away from those shirtsleeves. "Unless there is a point to this line of questioning, I will not waste more of this court's time. Can you prove that Mr. Tucker met the victim?"
Maybe he couldn't. Maybe he was leaping on nothing more solid than faith, but a hunch stirred determined in Phoenix. Morna fought off an attacker and Tucker had something literally up his sleeve.
"I can, Your Honour." Phoenix braced palms on the stand. "Please, just a little more of the court's patience."
Still no comment from Edgeworth: just folded arms and a critical stare boring holes in Phoenix.
The Judge stared dire himself, turning the gavel between his fingers. "Make it quick, then, Mr. Wright."
Phoenix looked to his paper-covered stand, combing quick through the rows of text and the diagrams. Something had to help him. Something might trigger Tucker but most of the notes were confidential and useless--
"Phoenix," Mia murmured, "Maybe if Tucker sees her again ..."
Morna's calm gaze, in the picture clipped to her autopsy report: it would be like a hot brand on a guilty conscience. Phoenix nodded to Mia, and waved a bailiff over.
"If the witness would look at this report."
Phoenix looked to Tucker -- he shook now, eyes darting, his clothing-pulling speeding up.
"Mr. Tucker, I think you did meet the lady, and you did do something to her."
"N-no," Tucker muttered. The bailiff came to his side and placed the autopsy report in front of him; Tucker glanced to it and recoiled, burnt.
Here was Phoenix's chance -- a crack to force wider -- and he stared. "Mr. Tucker. If you didn't hurt Morna Beasley, then tell us what happened!"
Hands curling to his chest, Tucker whimpered, "No, no, I-I didn't ..." That picture stared him down, Morna accusing silent until Tucker reached for the report, recoiled again and sobbed, hands flying to his face. "S-she-- I just wanted to say hello, I didn't do nothin' to the lady, nothin'! She's not a nice lady an' she didn't hafta do that, I didn't do nothin'!"
His sleeves sagged -- and two huge purple blotches showed stark on his forearms. Tucker bore bruises of self-defense.
It took long moments for Tucker to be led from the courtroom, still sobbing denials. Confessions could hurt but, Phoenix reminded the growing ache inside him, they were necessary. Absolutely necessary.
"Then the victim's fear, and J helping her ..." Foxx wondered. The gallery's mumble nearly drowned her soft voice out. "It was all a misunderstanding. She must have felt safer with our music power assistance, though ..."
Phoenix glanced to the defendant's box, and saw Stewart's twitch of a nod, his eyes casting to the floor. Sometimes there was no time for the full story, and no time for doubts -- there was only the blazing need to help.
He glanced to Mia, too. She folded her arms tighter, and had nothing to say.
The Judge's gavel hammered a demanding beat, and the court fell quiet once more.
"Well, that was quite a development," he said. "Would the defense care to make a statement?"
The story made more sense now. Phoenix nodded.
"As the court saw, Mr. Tucker's forearms are bruised as though he lifted his arms to protect himself. Maybe he tried to speak with the victim, and she struck at him out of fear." The truth straightened his posture, strengthened his voice. "And that contradicts the evidence! Morna Beasley was killed with a single blow from behind, meaning that she never saw her attacker! Not to mention that the killer's footprints lead through the forest, not out onto the path where Mr. Vanderspiegle could have witnessed someone fleeing the scene!"
Phoenix had nearly forgotten about Edgeworth, stoic as he was, but that smirk and head shake were all too familiar.
"So, what you've gone to great pains to prove, Mr. Wright," Edgeworth said, idly turning his palms upward, "Is that Mr. Tucker did not kill the victim, but someone else did. Let me remind you that there was only one other suspect known to be near the scene of the crime, who could have ambushed Ms. Beasley and fled unseen by Mr. Vanderspiegle. That person is your own client!"
A trap, a trap and this one wasn't even Edgeworth's doing -- Phoenix had walked into it all on his own. But he needed the truth. But not all of the truth could help him here.
"Objection," he snapped back, and he pointed, "Mr. Lowe has stated that he has never seen the victim before! Do you have evidence suggesting otherwise, Mr. Edgeworth?"
But he barely heard Foxx's voice; there was only the two of them, Edgeworth readily locking gazes with Phoenix but there was no smugness, no shock. Edgeworth's face was cool with consideration. Phoenix balled fists. Where did teamwork end and legal responsibility begin? Just what had he asked Edgeworth for when he asked for trust?
"I have no such evidence," Edgeworth finally said and looked to the rest of the court, breaking their electric tie. "At this time. The prosecution requests another day to fully investigate this case."
"There are indeed questions to be answered here." The Judge nodded thoughtful. "Then, court is ajourned. I expect to see decisive evidence tomorrow."
The gavel fell. They had survived the first day.
Phoenix let out a relief-heavy sigh as they left the courtroom's heavy doors. "I guess that could have been worse."
"Yeah, nothin's so bad if you know you're gonna have to wing it," Stewart offered, stuffing hands into his pockets. "That, an' havin' good backup."
"So, how did it go, Nick?"
He hadn't noticed Mia slipping away, the fading of that otherworldly tingle. He just saw the return of Maya's vivid energy and eyes full of questions.
"I'll tell you the whole story later." Phoenix tried to smile for her. "But we've got some of that morning's events figured out, anyway. And Mr. Lowe did fine."
"T'be honest ..." Stewart tried, raking at his hair, "It wasn't that hard. I just hated not tellin' the truth to you guys, I guess." He noticed the bailiffs approaching, and grumbled, face twisting annoyed. "Guess we'll hafta talk later. You too, Foxxie."
"Take care, J," she replied.
Maybe Foxx had more to say but she just typed instead, triggering whatever the Agents' network did while one of their own was under police watch. Stewart nodded his goodbye and, between two guards, left. Their circle was suddenly missing a piece. Maya looked to Phoenix, smiling hopefully: she held a piece of paper with Mia's handwriting on it.
"Mia said to tell you good work, and she wishes she could have had that kind of network."
If Mia had been working with savvy Agents and plentiful resources ... Well, the world would be a different place, that was for sure. A better place.
"Hey," Maya chirped, pointing past Phoenix, "Who's that guy?"
"Mr. Wright," came a voice like a fanfare of trumpets, "Sir!"
He should have known Vanderspiegle would stay after the trial, to meet people and talk their ears off. Phoenix accepted Vanderspiegle's firm handshake, and tried to match his beaming smile.
"I do hope I'm not interrupting, but I simply had to offer a proper greeting, you understand! Ah, and I don't believe we've been introduced, Ms. ...?"
Maya blinked. "Oh, me?" She brightened, and offered her slim hand, which was immediately swallowed up by Vanderspiegle's white-gloved one. "I'm Maya Fey!"
"Fey," Vanderspiegle wondered. "Would you be any relation to a Ms. Crystal Fey? It's such a distinctive surname--"
"Phoenix," Foxx murmured, her low tone drawing his attention to sharp focus. "We're going to need Vanderspiegle's help for our cover. This is nothing the Agency can't smooth over, but just make sure he's got a favourable impression of you and J, all right?"
He had nearly forgotten about that: Stewart had a cover story in the Extravagant staff registry, cover that Vanderspiegle could make or break. Phoenix chewed his lip.
"--She's my second cousin, anyway," Maya was saying, and she put a thoughtful finger to her cheek, "Or maybe third cousin? I forget, it's been so long since I saw Crystal!"
Wondering how long Maya and Vanderspiegle could happily chatter away -- and deciding that saints didn't have that kind of patience -- Phoenix pressed in, "Erm ..."
"Ah, yes, Mr. Wright."
And as he remembered something, possibly his point, Vanderspiegle deflated. His purple-clad shoulders fell and smile lines creased regretful.
"I must apologize, truly. If I had paid closer attention to my business's records, I may have been of more assistance during today's proceedings. I do hope Mr. Lowe wasn't ... shall we say, slandered in any way because of my oversight."
Being tried for murder was plenty slanderous by itself, actually.
"An Agent will contact him soon, Phoenix. Set him up."
"That ... makes sense if you don't do your own ... computer things," Phoenix pushed on through Foxx's presence. Once his thoughts were a single train again, he considered how to cast himself and Stewart in a favourable light. Some excuse a business owner would understand.
"Actually, Mr. Vanderspiegle, the way Mr. Lowe joined your catering service, uhh, wasn't as simple as your bookkeeper making a mistake. It just involves some confidential records that we'd rather not be made public, if it can be helped at all. Would ... it be all right if a colleague of mine got in touch with you? To clear things up."
"Oh." Vanderspiegle's considering squint vanished. "Oh! Mmmyes, of course, Mr. Wright! Business can be a terribly delicate venture, I am familiar with that! Here you are." With a practiced flip of his wrist, he produced a business card. "And I am available for any catering functions you may need, as well, Mr. Wright, Ms. Fey! Extravagant's specialty is weddings but we provide extraordinary service for any sort of function you may need. Birthdays, anniversaries, reunions--"
Vanderspiegle's card flashed dazzling as Phoenix held it. Was that much gold leaf really necessary?
"--Bar mitzvahs, awards ceremonies, we've catered business lunches on premises, and I once organized a soiree for a lady who had no occasion at all, she simply wanted to hold a party!"
"Catering?" Maya brightened, and looked to Phoenix. "We should order in sometime, Nick! Maybe have a nice lunch in the office!"
Good thing he was used to those bank-account-destroying puppy eyes.
"We'll ... consider it, thank you." Phoenix even managed not to wince. "But we really do need to go. The case ..."
"Of course, mmmyes! I understand, Mr. Wright," Vanderspiegle bubbled, shaking their hands again. "I'll be on my way, then. Best of luck to you and your client!"
With Vanderspiegle gone in a flutter of coattails, the defendant's lobby was mumbling-quiet and plain. Phoenix started toward the front doors, Maya close at his side.
Her reply was instant: "Good, Phoenix. Starr will be there shortly to intercept him. If he's willing to work with an agency that doesn't exist, we'll have a solid alibi for J before court resumes tomorrow."
And unless Vanderspiegle was that friendly toward all murder suspects, the chances seemed good. Relief warmed Phoenix; he nodded. All they needed now was a location, a clue, some starting point to investigate. The day had just begun.
Edgeworth had been asked for many things in his prosecuting career, aid and cooperation and silence. This development was much more dangerous. He had never been asked for his trust before, explicitly asked. But hadn't he asked the very same of Wright not long ago?
He laid his elbows on his desk, rested his chin against laced hands and considered the evidence before him. It was a wireless karaoke microphone, black plastic that caught the midday sun along its curves. Innocuous enough inside its plastic evidence bag, airtight and neatly labelled. Except that this recreational object was literally covered with the fingerprints of one Stewart Julian Lowe -- and it was constructed solidly enough to strike a killing blow with.
The only other evidence the defendant had in his favour was footprints in shifting sand. There was nothing of note in his background check; the past four years of his life were empty enough to echo. Lowe had information well-hidden and, more importantly, he had Phoenix Wright convinced enough to lie. Edgeworth had always imagined that would require the sky to fall. He had always hoped it possible to be truly just.
Life didn't limit itself to black and white. Evidence could hide the real story, and people could hide their stories, too. Wright was as human as anyone.
Perhaps this was how Skye felt when she looked at withheld evidence and was looked into in return. This wasn't the same: this microphone could do Edgeworth himself no harm. It could only riddle Wright's story with shrapnel and upset everything the two of them knew. There was a time and a place for this evidence -- Edgeworth just didn't know when, and he couldn't risk using it but he had a duty. He had a duty to bring evidence forward; he wasn't really the Demon; he couldn't be.
He raked a hand into his bangs and left it there. The office stood grave around him. The microphone stared.
And minutes slid away wasted -- Edgeworth would achieve nothing at this rate. He stood from his chair and jabbed the most worn autodial button on his telephone. Each ring tone spread tinny from the speaker and died in the office's expanse.
Edgeworth gazed out the window, seeing nothing. "Detective."
"Oh, M-Mr. Edgeworth!" A rustling in the background, doubtless some kind of clumsy fumbling. "What can I do for you, sir?"
He took a contemplative breath before he spoke. "I need more specific analysis of the fingerprints on the Lowe microphone."
A baffled pause, and a shuffling of papers.
"Really, Mr. Edgeworth? The lab had a hard time--"
"I know." There were simply too many fingerprints smudged together -- they were challenging enough to identify as Lowe's in the first place. Edgeworth rubbed his forehead slow. "I'm authorizing any measures necessary. I need to know what kind of grip this object was held in, Detective."
"Yes, sir." There was a dog-like obedience in his voice,. "I'll be right there."
The line clicked. Edgeworth ended the call with a button's press, and turned back to the window. He was reading too much into intangible details, and Wright was probably scrabbling about the crime scene for crumbs. Where were they going without ever knowing the way?
Knowing Lowe's grip on the microphone handle could help: it could determine whether this was the weapon that ended Morna Beasley's life. There was still paperwork to be done for Mr. Tucker's placement in social assistance. And more witnesses crawled from the woodwork, always -- a brassy voice leaped forward in Edgeworth's memory and he allowed himself a grimace, while he turned to a neat-edged stack of documents. His work was never done.
Of all things, Agent Morris never thought he'd pass for a lawyer.
He grinned a bit. He couldn't help it: the memory of grey, dour hallways and distracted interns kept replaying for him. Anyone in a suit could just wander into the prosecutors' offices -- go figure.
But good gravy, did surveillance jobs make him twitch, just sitting by himself in a dusty closet of a records room, watching the transcorder's tiny wheels turn. Draping a forearm over his knee and leaning onto it, Morris pressed his earbud in tighter, straightening its bent cord between his fingers. Prosecutor Edgeworth was still at his desk, rustling paper occasionally. Completely unhelpful for Mr. Wright, not to mention dull. How could anyone stand the quiet?
So Morris wandered -- no worries, he'd be right back. He closed his eyes and forgot the dull cardboard of filing boxes. Music sense swirled in, showing him a world humming with rhythm. Edgeworth was the most obvious person, only a room away: he was orange-bright with irritation, sitting rigidly straight, reading endless parading words. A headache began beating like drums in his head. Poor guy. With any luck, he kept aspirin around.
Onward through the building, to the people sweeping through their daily lives, thinking and grumbling and wondering. They marked out a map for Morris, all those people walking the lines and corners of hallways, resonating with each beat. He could nearly sound-see, follow the vibrations and know how their hands moved. More rustling paper, more reports and documents. Boring. But that was surveillance work.
It wouldn't hurt to check up on his partner. That one was trickier -- city blocks spread rumbling-thick around him, thousands of rhythms blurring to mud -- but Morris searched, back and forth and outward. There Derek was, river-calm, the beat Morris knew like his own.
"Hey bro," Morris murmured. He swung his feet, and drummed fingers on his box perch. "Anything interesting yet?"
Derek paused, his rhythm cooling. He was near a crime scene, maybe lurking in a shadow's safety, maybe gauging the chaos around him. He tapped a reply with beats more like a feeling than a sound, stringing Morse letters together.
Someone tampered w. secureity camera. Broken wires.
Spelling had never been Derek's strongest suit. But anyway, whoever meddled with security like that would have a reason. Morris palmed his fedora into place.
"Yeah? At the restaurant?"
Distraction pulled Morris's attention; he saw walls, and a desk the same, always the same. He blinked, and circled back to Derek's even beat.
J's alley. Maybe evidance. Waiting f. shot, police talking lunch plans.
It was worth waiting for that shot. Even if something looked like useless junk, Mr. Wright could work miracles with it -- or so Missy insisted. Morris nodded.
"Cool. I'm just--"
The pull returned; Morris felt someone's frustration, blunted by distance. Walls looming and deadlines and endless busywork, it never stopped.
Morris straightened. Unease hummed in his chest and he knew exactly why.
"Hang on," he said, hopping to his feet, tugging out the transcorder earbud, "I think I got a target."
Derek was silent. His rhythm shifted like ruffling feathers -- maybe he gave his options a grim look, and reevaluated.
Guilt stung Morris as he dragged a paper-heavy box over, hiding the transcorder from anyone just glancing the room over. This important gadget would be left unattended -- and Morris was hardly on surveillance if he was off chasing a target. But the Commander's code was very specific: people in need came first. That code was every Agent's road map to the world. With a quiet prayer to anything listening, Morris left the records room and slipped out into the hallway.
The worry lapped a little higher, out here in the halls standing silent. Morris glanced behind -- another stretch of hallway, no one there either -- and moved, his shoes clattering on the waxed floor and grey walls. He was nervous but the feeling wasn't his.
"Talk to me," came Derek's mutter in his ear.
They'd definitely need to triangulate to do this right -- all these walls blurred sound and muffled vibrations. The target threw up his hands, maybe, or some other gesture; the window called, a bright spot in the middle of the grey.
"Murphy, I think we got a jumper," Morris hissed, "Ten floors up, east side of the building. Target's in his office, I'm gettin' walls and paperwork."
He reached the end of the hall; the rhythm turned hazy and frantic, maybe it had gotten weaker?
Derek's presence grew, determined as the frown he wore. "Target's below you," he said.
The faltering beats called Morris, back the way he came but not exactly. He passed through the glass-panelled doors, heard them clunk closed as he flew down concrete stairs, and felt the tight-knotted strain of someone hunched over a desk.
"He's a desk worker, he's all worked up over ... backlogged files?" That had to be right, he knew as soon as he said it and the notes sang clearer, the rhythm emerged. "North-east side, looking out the window."
Another wave, another memory-glimpse of presence in the corner of Morris's vision: Derek's suit and bright red hair. Life energy called in them both with heartbeat and breath and sharp-edged hopelessness -- help, it cried -- and Morris turned a corner, the target drew closer.
Break through the undertow~
Your hands I can't seem to find~
"Got 'im," Morris said, and ducked into a room -- it had a long boardroom table and some chairs, minor things outside the driving beat of the song. He stopped, his feet formation-wide, and flicked his mike out of his sleeve. "Three-four time, good bass. You know this one, don'tcha bro?"
Grunted agreement. "Delta set?"
Derek liked Delta set's dance moves. Probably because he had picked most of them.
"Fine with me." Morris smiled, and raised his mike. Derek was as good as in the same room, present and synched, tall and steady-beating beside him. "Ready? Three, two, one."
This had been coming for a long time, this panic like slow drowning. It called him -- this guy had a short name, common and plain -- to the window, made the concrete draw his attention. His tie strangled, day in and day out; his fists tightened. What had he bothered going to school for? Paper, endless paper and a deep, scolding voice, a flash of desperation.
Rock bottom's where we live, and still we dig these trenches~
To bury ourselves in them, backs breaking under tension~
Delta was an aggressive step set; it cried for defiance, feet planted fierce as bull hooves. It was a set for the downtrodden, Morris felt as he shifted, turned, snapped his arms upward and Derek matched him -- electric rock built like thunder in the air, and the man's rhythm trembled answer.
For far too long these voices, muffled by distances~
It's time to come to our senses, up from the dirt~
A bright snap of courage. What had he gone to school for? His goals, of course, wrapped tight and cherished, goals he forgot too easily. Everyone had to push through some papers to prove they were capable. Coals stirred -- he lit, and he faced the papers that felt like so many sneering rivals blocking his path.
So wet my tongue, break into song, through seas of competition~
A hop and slide, two pairs of feet in quick tandem. Step, step, back and the guy's rhythm steadied, his courage rose proud. Move and shake, guide each note. A tremor in Morris's throat -- maybe he hummed, or sang. The music soaked everything in.
So please believe our eyes, a sacrifice~
Is not what we had in our minds~
I'm coming home tonight, home tonight~
The piles of overdue papers would make a sofa -- there was hasty movement now, rearranging the room with bright excitement. This would hide him from tearing eyes. This would buy him time. The papers vanished under a draped blanket and made a clever sofa indeed. A face smiled wider in his memory, stirred more pride: he shone and he could do this now. He sat, and he could try again, work until he oversaw the world.
Today I offer all myself to this, I'm living for my dying wish~
I give it all, now there's a reason, there's a reason, to give it all~
The song rippled away, drained from Morris's limbs, stretched a smile wide over his face. And he glanced to an empty boardroom, because Derek was gone. Derek had never been there -- not literally, anyway. Morris did the usual: closed his eyes, listened to empty air, remembered the textbook basics of triangulation. The world settled back to ordinary, humming calm instead of rocking glory.
"Whew." He leaned on the board table's edge, tucking the mike back into his sleeve, and grinned. "Makin' fake furniture … Well, that's a new one. Still with me?"
Derek hummed -- a dubious note through the com lines. "We shouldn't have."
Realization sank in Morris's gut, rock-cool and familiar. His grin vanished. Was it really a successful mission?
"But we had to." No one deserved to feel that hopeless, that alone.
A thick pause. Derek finally said, with infrasound's hum, You know what might happen.
Of course Morris knew. He couldn't forget any of his failed missions and no Agent could. He looked down to the sleek-buttoned front of his own jacket, tugging it straight.
"Hey, last time we backed up an office worker ... It was just how that mission went," Morris said, opening the boardroom door to peer out -- a bustling, green-clad woman vanished into an office, and the hall was empty again. "An' it just ... didn't work for that guy. Doesn't mean we can't help anyone at a desk."
It was too similar for comfort and Morris knew it: the crisp-edged documents, the deadlines, the desk monkey's peaking stress. He sighed, palming his fedora. The hallway felt endless at a walking pace.
"Well ... We just won't let J know, how's that?" It would tear the poor guy up at a time like this.
Derek probably frowned deeper, and looked away behind his shades' cover. But he didn't say anything. He knew Agent duty just as well as Morris did -- he'd get over it.
Slipping back into the records room brought back Morris's guilt, like a sweater's itch. The transcorder still sat behind its box shelter, receivers still clinging to the wall and wheels still turning, everything well in the world. He pressed the earbud back in, and tapped silver buttons to call up the playback. White noise roared and then there it was -- Edgeworth's voice, grudgingly polite fragments of it.
"Missed a phone call. Figures," Morris muttered, thumbing the frequency modifiers.
Pick it up?
The modifiers warped Edgeworth's pitch, stretching it like blown glass, but it didn't help the voice on the phone come out any clearer. Morris grimaced. Just traces, a high-squawking female voice but heaven help him if he could make out more than that. Edgeworth was no help either, calling her ma'am with tight-strained patience -- no name.
"Didn't get much. Maybe Foxx can do somethin' with it."
Morris should have been there to adjust the transcorder's settings in the first place. Well, no regrets: they were all doing what they had to do, as best they could. Morris sat heavy on his preferred perching box, and pulled off his fedora to rake a hand through his hair.
"As long as one of us does somethin' right." He smiled. "It's all you, bro. Find Mr. Wright some miracle-workin' junk."
Morris didn't need to see Derek to know that he nodded.
Song used in this chapter is Give It All by Rise Against.
The bus trundled off down the street, and Phoenix looked around at Foster Park's greenery. They were back where they had started.
"So," Maya wondered, peering around him, "Back to the crime scene?"
Police-blue figures showed through the trees: the investigation carried on. Edgeworth probably had the entire force on the Beasley case, and there wasn't even an encouraging glimpse of Gumshoe's green coat.
"I don't think we'd be welcome at the crime scene today, either," Phoenix muttered. He looked across the park's grassy field to where the karaoke stage no longer sat. "And none of the wedding guests would have seen anything ..." Nothing more helpful than Vanderspiegle had seen, anyway.
Maya put a thoughtful finger to her cheek. "Could there be other witnesses? Oh, or maybe someone with music sense! They'd notice!" She brightened to megawatt levels. "Stewart helped Ms. Beasley with music power! That'd draw attention like a big neon sign, if there was anyone with music sense nearby!"
It didn't sound very conducive to being a secret Agent, but Foxx did say it happened sometimes. Phoenix rubbed his neck, and was glad to openly be a lawyer.
"All right, then ... Where to?"
Maya surveyed the streets, focused like she was deciding what to pile onto her plate first at a buffet.
"Hmm. Well, it'd work better if they could see, and if there wasn't a bunch of stuff in the way, and I think Missy said something about coordinating … Ohh, look, Nick! An open-air café, like in the movies!"
Five seconds without thinking about food: that had to be a new record. The little restaurant Maya was looking at was a stylish-looking place, though -- wrought iron tables and chairs, shade umbrellas with breeze-fluttering edges, and an ornately scripted sign that stirred familiar in Phoenix's memory. He opened his briefcase a crack and dug inside, tactfully ignoring that Maya was dragging him by the elbow.
"Somebody at one of the tables might have witnessed what happened! And is that bread I smell? It is! Maybe they make their own big long sticks of French bread--"
Yes, Phoenix had definitely seen that tree-shaped logo before. He produced the battered Orchard flyer from the depths of his files, and wondered if Larry had a new job-of-the-moment yet.
"--Just like a real Paris cafe, and maybe people drink fancy coffee from tiny little cups and have those fluffy crescent-shaped biscuit things, I love those! What are they called?"
Phoenix managed to restrain Maya from walking into the street, long enough to check for oncoming traffic. The bistro was admittedly close enough to see the murder scene from. He didn't quite grasp the details of music sense yet but the Orchard's far edge -- and its alleyway, maybe that alley Agents kept mentioning -- looked about six hundred feet away. This could be a lead.
Bells jangled friendly as Maya shoved open the door, looking all around. The Orchard wasn't quite as stylish on the inside, not with the layer of food-smeared plates and napkins on all its elegant furniture. Broad windows let in the heavy afternoon sun, and a sliver of the park's green scenery was visible; maybe someone sitting outside could see Foster Park better.
"Oh, wow, Nick," Maya gasped. "Just smell that fresh-baked goodness!" She twirled gleeful, robes flaring around her, long hair swinging dark.
The yeast-warm scent tugged at his stomach, too -- this place would be doom for his bank account, Phoenix was sure of it.
"But where is everyone? Fancy places like this usually have lots of swanky people in them." Maya scampered to the wooden counter, leaning over it and stretching onto tiptoes to see past a row of coffee machines. "Anyone here?"
Phoenix looked up from a huge potted plant -- a withering specimen that could use some of Pearl's TLC -- and he hissed, "Maya, that's the kitchen! We shouldn't ...!?"
She was already through the waist-high swinging door, grinning impishly at him. "I won't eat anything, Nick! Not until you pay for it!"
"I just want to have a look at--" and she broke off into a gasp of delight. "Is that an oven? It's huge!"
She disappeared around the corner. Against every sensibility in his body, Phoenix followed.
Silver appliances loomed everywhere in the kitchen, and the black tops of stoves and grills lined one wall. Chaos reigned here too, in cluttered piles of bowls and long splatters of bright-coloured sauces. Not quite what Phoenix had expected a professional kitchen to look like, but all he had to go by was a few cooking shows he watched that time he had the flu.
"You could make an awful lot of burgers in here," Maya said, inspecting the wide oven perched at her eye level.
"Hamburgers aren't baked, they're grilled." He at least knew that much.
"Oh." Gingerly taking the door handle, Maya pulled the oven open enough to peek inside -- heat rolled out in shimmering waves. "Well, you could make a lot of ... What else could go in here? Pizza? I don't know, we just stewed everything in crock pots back in Kurain."
Crock pots the size of a cement mixer, probably, if they had Maya to feed. Phoenix rubbed at a smudge of dark grease on his suit -- he'd have to be more careful about brushing past surfaces -- and muttered, "Just don't touch anything, all right? We don't--"
"Shhh," she hissed, scurrying past Phoenix, "I hear something!"
He followed Maya's gaze to the open door at the far end of the kitchen -- yes, there were voices drifting in from there.
"--can't even keep the crème anglaise full," one snapped, female-sharp and growling. "Fish sticks! Fine, I'll get on another batch."
Low, murmuring reply.
"Half a batch, then, and so apple-picking help me if that brings the food cost up another--"
An instant's warning as the voice got louder -- Phoenix could only watch someone fire-coloured storm around the corner and crash into a surprised-yelping Maya.
"Kohlrabi freakin' slaw salad with hoisin-sauced duck!"
Who knew food could sound so much like profanity?
"Broil it au gratin, geez," the cook snarled, convulsively brushing at her red-trimmed chef's whites. She glared at Phoenix and Maya. "Who are you people, and what the hell are you doing in my kitchen?!"
"Wha--" Maya spluttered, "I'm sorry! We didn't, uhh ... You tell her, Nick!"
Why him?! Phoenix scrambled for words under the cook's glare -- if only Foxx would speak up and guide him.
"We're, err, lawyers and--"
"Suits?!" the cook screeched, bristling harder. "Oh, yeah, you think you can just walk in anywhere you please like you own the whole rice-fluffin' place, don'tcha, Mr. Thirty-Six Dollars An Hour Plus Benefrickin'fits?! Why, I oughta--"
Phoenix's mind raced, latching onto the papers and rabble he carried. Evidence. Maybe if he showed her something ...
"Uhh, what I mean is," and he pulled the sloppy-folded Orchard flyer from his pocket, "We heard about your restaurant." Phoenix held it out, like a roast trimming offered to a frothing wildcat. "A-and we just, uhh, wanted to see what it was like."
She snatched the sheet and glared at it, green eyes tracking over the lacy text and widening slightly.
"...Huh." She glared at Phoenix -- milder than before -- and gave the paper back. "Nice that somebody has one of these. I dunno what I'm paying that meathead flyer boy for."
"We're really sorry," Maya tried, a hand held meek to her mouth. "It just smelled so good in here!"
The cook straightened, eyeing Maya. Flattery, it seemed, soothed the savage beast.
"It better smell good, after all the orders we fired today." She suddenly held out a square hand to Phoenix. "Cherry LaFlamme. Owner and head chef. You are?"
"Phoenix Wright, and my assistant Maya Fey." He winced -- Cherry had a very commanding grip. "We're investigating a case, would it be all right if we--"
"Just stay outta the way," Cherry snapped, waving her free hand. "And don't touch anything, last thing I need is somebody frittering around in here."
With a nod to Maya -- what, Cherry didn't break other women's knuckles? -- she stalked off, gathering metal bowls and hissing to herself. Maya crept closer to Phoenix's side.
"Wow, I thought she was going to cook us for dinner," she murmured.
He wouldn't put it past Cherry. But if she oversaw this restaurant and might have witnessed something... Watching the cook flick her ragged red braids and pour cream into a bowl, Phoenix scratched together a handful of courage and approached.
"Don't call me Ms." She whisked the cream mixture harder, like it was to blame. "Sounds old."
Tough to say how old she actually was, with all those glower lines.
"Sorry," Phoenix said, and tried, "Uhh, Cherry, did you see anything unusual yester--"
"Look, I don't have time to cake-flippin' chat right now," Cherry spat. She shot a baleful look at him. "So poke around somewhere else, will ya?"
She was definitely not in the mood to cooperate -- why did Phoenix always get the difficult ones? Stifling most of a sigh, he motioned to Maya and they turned away.
"If you're that bored," Cherry added, "Why don'tcha bug my apprentice. Make sure he's not running around like a headless chicken. That'd be great."
Maybe the apprentice would be more helpful, or at least less likely to serve the two of them up with gravy. Phoenix nodded, and headed for the back of the kitchen.
Cherry had appeared out of what seemed like a storage nook. Shelves full of empty plastic tubs and bottles lined the walls, above rows of huge cooking pots. Nothing interesting, but Maya sauntered along the row, tapping the pots like they were supposed to be musical instruments. Maya would be Maya. Phoenix looked around the room and spotted a small window on the outside wall, maybe looking out on the alleyway but the glass was too hopelessly clouded to tell. Just by the look of the grubby wood frame and rust-dark hinges, Phoenix suspected he couldn't open it if he wanted to.
With a few more dull clanking noises and a disappointed pout, Maya left the pots. "Nothing here. Hey, let's go find that apprentice, Nick."
He couldn't argue with that -- letting Maya touch Cherry's equipment was asking for trouble, anyway. The nook led to a stairwell with plaster walls aged yellow, and they took the rubber-edged stairs down.
The tempting smell of baked goods only intensified as they reached the bottom. Noting doors along the way -- including a gleaming silver door with a weird handle, which had to be a huge refrigerator -- Phoenix followed Maya until another kitchen opened up ahead. There were more massive ovens and a lanky, white-clad cook minding them.
"Excuse me," Maya chirped.
The cook looked up, and startled like he had hit his head on the ceiling.
"Oh! I-I'm sorry, the temperature j-just ..." He smiled sheepishly, and adjusted his white cap.
"Sorry to interrupt," Phoenix asked, "But are you Cherry's apprentice?"
"What are you making?" Maya added, in a tone normally saved for proposing marriage.
Shuffling closer, the cook clasped his hands in front of his oily-smeared apron. "Baguettes, uhh, j-just a few loaves. And yes, I'm Chef LaFlamme's apprentice, my name's Barley Dempster. You can call me Barley. O-Or Dempster." His smile grew even more sheepish. "I couldn't help overhearing you running into Chef LaFlamme, I-I didn't mean to be rude."
Barley wasn't the one who needed to worry about manners.
"I'm Phoenix Wright, this is my assistant Maya Fey. We're investigating a murder case, could we ask you a few questions?"
"Murder?! O-oh dear ..." Barley wiped his hands on the apron, and fidgeted some more with his cap, poking mousey hair back under it. "If I can help you, o-of course! I-I just can't forget to watch these baguettes, Chef LaFlamme, she--" A sudden intensity came to Barley's gaze. "Please, don't think poorly of her. She's, w-well. It's been a bad day. And yesterday. Y-Yesterday was a bad day, too."
Yesterday was the day of the murder. Phoenix lifted a careful hand and prodded his communicator's round nub.
"Hmm?" came Foxx's murmur. "I'm here, Phoenix."
It never hurt to make sure.
Maya yanked her stare away from some racks of cooling pastries. "Is this place really busy?"
"Um." He glanced away, and shifted. "It's ... well, it comes and goes. A bunch of tourists have been coming by lately, w-we're not used to rushes like that. And then LaFlamme worries when it's slow ..."
From the sound of things, the Orchard was either empty or packed at any given time -- no happy medium.
"She does everything herself," Barley went on. "I just do the baking a-and some of the prep. A-and I wash dishes. LaFlamme takes care of the food, the inventory, bookkeeping, serving the tables. I-it's cheaper than hiring anyone. I-I haven't seen her outside the bistro in ... in, ah, goodness. Years." He frowned to himself.
"I guess anyone would be stressed out if they worked that hard," Maya murmured.
"It's just what a restaurant does. I-It's always like that for the owner, it just hasn't been Chef LaFlamme's week. O-Or her month, actually."
Did Barley honestly mean that to be reassuring?
"S-she wasn't always-- Cherry w-wasn't like this before. I-I guess it hasn't been her year, either ..."
Phoenix didn't need a magatama to sense the secrets here, in the way Barley wouldn't meet their eyes anymore.
"Can I ask how you know her?" he tried.
A pause stretched out while Barley contemplated the linoleum. He turned to the ovens, peered inside each one with a creak and thump, and turned back to fidget miserably with his cap.
"You met in the grocery store, right?" Maya tried, with a knowing smile. "Your eyes met over a vegetable display, and you both knew you were destined to make really good food!"
Did that happen anywhere other than romance movies? Phoenix managed not to roll his eyes -- because Barley had brightened faintly at the comment.
"Not quite ... I met her in culinary school. I-it was hard, I'm not much good with a knife. I sat in on an advanced pastry arts class, and she was just there to brush up. Cherry's amazing, her sauces are absolutely world-class. I was watching her put the finishing raspberry coulis on a plate, completely concentrating like that food was the most important thing in the world, and that's when I knew--"
Looking up from fiddling with his apron strings, Barley flushed.
"Uhh, a-anyway, I convinced her to take me on, a-as her apprentice. I dropped out of culinary school, and I've been learning from her ever since." His sheepish smile crept back. "I-I'm better off as a baker than a cook."
"Smells like it," Maya said. She pointed eagerly at a tray full of pastries. "Are those the flaky crescent-biscuit things? What are they called?"
Barley inflated with pride. "They're called croissants. We brown the butter for better flavour! A-and the other ones are passionfruit mille-feuille. You can try them, if you'd like, they're Cher--uhh, Chef LaFlamme's recipes. P-please tell me if they're all right."
And Phoenix was about to warn him that Maya could make a plague of locusts look like charming house guests, when Barley tensed, eyes going wide.
"Oh dear, oh heavens," he gasped, scurrying past them and away. "Should have beaten those egg whites longer, oh dear--"
If Phoenix listened closely, he could make out words in Cherry's far-off shrieking: --sonuvafishmonger, why do I even bother!? Dempster! I said get UP here!
Wandering back to Phoenix's side, a second croissant in hand, Maya wondered through a mouthful, "He seems nice. Kind of tense, though."
She could say that again.
"Foxx? Do you have any records on these two?"
"We know them very well," came her voice in his ear. "The Orchard bistro opened three years ago and it's been distracting patrolling Agents ever since."
"Really?" Maybe that alleyway had Agents in it all the time, not just when police were there to catch them.
Idle keystrokes as Foxx replied, "Yes, Ms. LaFlamme has never needed direct assistance, she just has extreme variations in her natural rhythm -- and that's a guaranteed way to catch a passing Agent's attention. Mr. Dempster received Agent support eight months ago, while preparing a large food order by himself. Would you like the specs on that?"
Specs, from Foxx, would probably be technological gibberish to Phoenix. His brows twisted.
"Uhh, I don't think we'll need those, thanks."
"Food service professionals," Foxx went on, "Have an overall high stress level, which can make field evaluation difficult. There are criteria for whether a target is handling a problem well on their own, but Ms. LaFlamme is … pushing those boundaries."
That was a polite way to put it.
"Your thoughts, Phoenix?"
"I ..." He wondered if Cherry had her rabies shots. "We need to find out what Cherry saw at the time of the murder, but she won't talk to us. Barley says she serves the tables ..."
Maya swallowed more pastry. "She was close enough to sense Stewart's music, maybe?"
"LaFlamme doesn't have innate music sense, to my knowledge," Foxx said. An unsure frown lined her voice; her keys clicked rapid. "Let me confirm that with other Agents. I know exactly who to ask."
Realization spreading over her face, Maya wondered, "If it hasn't been her day, her week, her month or even her year ... Do you think she killed Ms. Beasley, Nick?" Her horror didn't stop her from licking the butter off her fingers.
He hadn't thought about it such blunt terms -- did he think Cherry LaFlamme could wield a weapon and kill someone? Maybe over a blow to her chef's pride, maybe furious and red-blinded with the stress of her work? What exactly had the murder weapon been, anyway?
"I don't know ... Let's see what we can find here. Maybe Barley can-- Maya, will you stop eating those?"
"He asked me to try them," Maya said, and bit into another golden-brown victim, "To see if they're all right. I have to try enough to make an informed decision!"
Taste-testing didn't usually involve eating anyone out of business, to Phoenix's knowledge. He sighed.
"Let's at least--"
Phoenix turned, and managed to step back as Barley scurried by -- apron flapping, wide-eyed, muttering a steady litany of oh dear.
"Is something wrong?" Maya was so filled with concern that she gobbled the last of her croissant.
Looking away from the open oven door with a start -- maybe he hadn't even noticed the two of them standing there -- Barley made a panic-twisted attempt at a smile.
"I-I-It's, goodness, I-I'm sorry, the soufflés f-fell-- I-I didn't open that oven, I promise, it m-must have-- the egg whites, I-I'm sorry, they would have turn out if I h-h-- if I had done it r-right, dear heavens, oh dear, Chef LaFlamme has taught m-me better--"
Souffés hadn't turned out ... because an oven had been opened? Phoenix met Maya's gaze: she knew, and her hand rose slow to her mouth.
"I didn't think looking would hurt anything," she whispered, watching Barley bustle for a moment. She turned tear-shining eyes back to Phoenix.
"I didn't know, either," he said. Fine cuisine could be so complicated sometimes. Rubbing his neck, he tried, "Barley--"
"Chile syrup!" Barley shoved an oven door closed, turning to his countertop to look for something that, to his wide-eyed horror, wasn't there. "Oh dear, the chile syrup! I-I'm sorry, LaFlamme just, oh g-goodness I-I still h-haven't-- b-but where could they be?!"
"Uhh ..." No wonder Agents were drawn to this bistro -- Phoenix would have tried a little jig if he thought it would help. "Chile syrup...?"
Barley dug through the recipe cards and spoons littering his workspace. "J-Just a l-little package of-- of-- oh dear, I-I could pay for new ones-- They're chile peppers, j-just a little p-package of dried peppers for the tarts, they're the-- oh heavens, if we're out of her signature-- B-but the s-shipping time! Ohh, I can't do that, have to-- I-I'd better whip more egg whites, those soufflés--"
And then he bolted toward the storage corridors, and doors began to slam.
"Nick," Maya murmured. She gave Phoenix the puppy eyes once more, "Can we help him? If it's my fault he got in trouble for those soufflé things ..."
If they wanted any information, Phoenix and Maya would need to soothe a pair of the most high-strung people on the planet. Did the universe think this sort of thing was funny?
Running a hand over his hair spikes, Phoenix sighed. "I guess so. But where do we start?"
For a moment -- tipping her head to consider -- Maya looked a lot like her late sister. "He said the chile peppers he needs are in a little package ... Maybe he dropped it somewhere?"
And that meant the very important chile peppers could be anywhere.
"I hope he didn't drop them into a big pot of anything," Maya wondered. "Unless it was a dish that's supposed to be spicy. Like chili dogs! No, those aren't very fancy. I can't think of anything that's spicy and fancy, can you?"
It was going to be a very long day.
And so, the hunt for the chiles began. Barley's workstation had no hidden treasure to offer, unless enough spilled flour to write a name in counted.
"Crème caramel," Maya read from a bent, greasy recipe card. "Oh, that sounds good! We should try making some, Nick!"
"Please don't borrow any recipes from them," Phoenix muttered, brushing at the stubborn flour smearing his pant leg, "We'd be lucky if all Cherry did was sue."
"Oh, you're no fun."
Phoenix couldn't begin to imagine a cook's frame of mind, never mind where a little package of peppers belonged. He and Maya wandered the storage corridors, tried the doorknob of what seemed to be a tight-locked office, and then braved the big silver door. It was a refrigerator after all, one bigger than Phoenix's bedroom -- not that that was saying much. One naked lightbulb dangled from the ceiling and fans hummed steady; the cold air was a skin-prickling contrast to the ovens' heat. Phoenix folded his arms, examining a rack cluttered with jars: honey mustard, grainy mustard, Dijon mustard, and nothing that looked like it belonged on a hot dog. No chile peppers, either.
"Did Barley say what kind of package it was?"
Maya looked up from a crate of leafy vegetables. "I don't think so ... Just a little package." She dropped a head of something healthy-looking, and nudged the crate back into place with her foot. "Maybe he meant a box, or a plastic bag?"
They were currently surrounded by plastic crates and huge, mysterious cardboard boxes, none of which could be described as little. Unless Phoenix was just terrible at identifying condiments, there weren't any chiles here.
He rubbed his neck. "Let's try somewhere else."
The next room over smelled dust-dry -- and flicking on the light revealed enough colourful packages and bins to rival a supermarket.
"Well," Phoenix signed, "We wanted boxes."
"Come on, Nick!" Maya skipped past him. "Let's get cracking! No rest for the hungry!"
Hadn't she already eaten half a bakery? Phoenix lifted a plastic bin's lid, and something sand-like stared back at him. Cornmeal, maybe. Definitely not chile peppers. He closed the bin, and peered around and behind it, and ended up staring at the scuffed lid for a moment. They were going to have to talk to Cherry and Barley some more, after this errand was done. Unease roiled in him the way it always did when he sat right on top of an important detail -- he was getting warmer, warmer, boiling hot.
"Foxx?" he tried.
Silence. Except for Maya's sandals clicking along the shelves' length.
"Here's some pasta," she murmured, "There's some pasta, and some little curly pasta." She stretched onto tiptoes to peek at a higher shelf. "Noodle pasta, funny pasta, pasta, pasta ... rice!"
He was sure he had heard that tune somewhere before.
"Sorry, Phoenix," Foxx replied -- quickly, following a gulp of something -- "Went for latté. What is it?"
Hopefully not a carrot juice latté. Phoenix raised a brow, moving on along the bins. "You said the Orchard attracts Agent attention, right? And J noticed a music sense disturbance, and ran to the alley ..."
"You're thinking that Ms. LaFlamme or Mr. Dempster caught his attention?" She hummed thoughtful. "I suppose they could have ... The lost target fled through the alleys behind the Orchard, so the fence door was presumably unlocked. But J would recognize the cooks if they were in distress. He patrols that area on a regular basis."
These buckets were full of cake flour and pastry flour -- what the heck was the difference? With a last glance around the bins, Phoenix moved on to the towers of canned tomatoes.
"There's no evidence of who that target was?"
"All we know is what J-- oh, one moment."
"Nick!" Maya, crouched by the biggest bag of potatoes Phoenix had ever seen, shot a look at him. "Are you going to talk all day while I search this whole pl-- Ooh, what's this?" She rose to her feet, with clear plastic glinting in her hand.
"You found them?"
"Uhh," Maya worried. "How long ago did Barley drop those chile peppers?"
Phoenix came close enough to see the bag's contents -- black, shrivelled, and not food by Phoenix's definition of the word.
"He ... didn't say when he lost them. Are you sure those are chile peppers?"
"They've got little stems on them! ... I think." Maya pressed the cellophane's contents with her thumbs, experimentally, and then held the package out like a freshly dragged-in gift. "Here, Nick, you'd better carry these!"
What an honour. Rolling his eyes, Phoenix took the package: its contents felt leathery, not fossil-hard, and he wasn't about to debate which was worse.
"Let's just find out if this is what we're looking for."
He stopped -- Maya neatly stepped around him and took the lead. "Foxx?"
"We've got a contact with some new evidence for you, in the Orchard's alley. Stop by there as soon as possible, all right?"
"A-All right." They had another Agent to meet with, he could only assume. Phoenix resumed walking, quicker this time to follow Maya's robe fluttering around the corner.
Barley Dempster, thankfully, wasn't a difficult man to find. His frantic-mumbling voice gave him away as he paced circles in his bakery, fidgeting relentlessly at his hat.
"--A-and then the herb shipment came, put those boxes away, m-maybe in with the tarragon? No, no, LaFlamme would have--"
"Hey, Barley," Maya chirped. "Are those chile peppers you lost supposed to be old and dried out and ugly?"
He startled, and then smiled at the sight of them, brushing nothing in particular off his cook's jacket. "Oh, i-it's you! The p-- uhh, the peppers? They're-- Did you ...?"
Barley brightened like Christmas morning as Phoenix held up the little package.
"Ohh, goodness, thank you! I-I, Cherry, she-- uhh." Barley stopped, craning his neck thoughtful. "I-I guess they are awfully ugly ... Dried things usually are."
"So," Phoenix ventured, "You cook with these?"
"We make chile syrup for the Orchard's signature Cherry Fiesta tarts. They're Chef LaFlamme's most prized recipe! We just need to cook these in sugar syrup for a while. Uhh, y-you know, to get the flavour from them. L-like tea, almost."
Maya shot a grin at Phoenix. "We'll have to try those tarts, too!"
"If you can get Cherry to give you some free ones, sure …" But hopefully they'd get more out of Cherry than a free meal. "Barley? Can we bring these chile peppers to Cherry for you?"
"If ... y-you'd like, I think that'd be-- uhh, it's fine, you d-don't need to, she probably won't yell ... much. F-for her, anyway."
The poor guy must have taken more beatings than a punching bag during his typical workday. The thought made Phoenix braver in saying, "It's all right, we can do it. I was hoping to ask her some questions, anyway."
"You should stay here and focus on your baking," Maya said. "It'd be a shame if you burned anything!"
"If I--" Barley's eyes widened, and he scrambled to open an oven. "T-the baguettes! They're-- they're, oh dear, they're fine. Uhh, perfect timing, a-actually." Reaching for a well-loved pair of oven mitts, he smiled meekly. "Y-You're right, I'm needed here. Thank you so much!"
It was definitely better to let Barley concentrate on his work. With answers to find, and a culinary peace offering, Phoenix and Maya left to face the chef herself.
The upstairs kitchen was a slightly different flavour of mayhem than the last they saw it. A mountain of dirty plates had gathered around the dishwasher, and pans lay scattered everywhere. Cherry darted to the stove, stirred her simmering cream mixture, frowned at it like a warning, and returned to aggressively rolling dough.
"Uhh, Ms.--" Phoenix caught himself. "Chef LaFlamme?"
"Ehh?" She glanced poisonously at them, flinging a white plume of flour across her rolling pin. "You're still here?"
"Are these muffin pans?" Maya asked, peering at a stack of pans -- probably hoping to find more fresh-baked snacks.
"Tart pans, kid."
Maya looked to Phoenix. "What's the difference?"
How was he supposed to know? He shrugged. "There must be some important detail that's different about them."
She put a finger thoughtfully to her cheek. "I don't think so, Nick. It's not like we're talking about ladders and stepladders."
"If it's frickin' peachy with you people," Cherry said loudly, hunched over her dough, "I'm tryin' to work, here, Fiestas don't make themselves. You've got a helluva lot of nerve being in here in the first place."
Fiestas -- Cherry was in the middle of her signature recipe. Phoenix approached, staying carefully clear of Cherry's piston-like elbows.
"Actually, we found these ..." He held up the chiles by a cellophane corner. "Barley said he misplaced them."
She stared at the chiles. She stared at Phoenix. And, eyes closing, Cherry rubbed her forehead with a knuckle and hissed a sigh.
"Fine." She plucked the package from Phoenix's hand and beelined past him, to yank a small sauce pot from its wall rack. "Fine, if you're not leaving until you get your corn-shuckin' questions answered, go right ahead. Whattaya want to know?" She glared at Phoenix and Maya in turn, all feline contempt. "Just, for the love of Carême, stay outta the way. You."
"Uhh," Maya squeaked, "Me?"
"Move your keister. Sassafras, the second I need a damn baking sheet you're gonna get trampled. No, not there, either! By the stove. Yeah, right in the corner, that's good."
Maya looked hesitantly around at her new nook -- it was cramped, grease-splattered, and lacking anything shiny or edible but she certainly didn't look inclined to move. With a quick flurry of ingredients -- including one of the ugly little chiles -- Cherry slammed her pot onto a stove burner hard enough to make Maya flinch.
Shuffling a step back, wondering what defined out of the way, Phoenix rubbed his neck. "Err, so, Chef LaFlamme. What were you doing yesterday morning, around eleven o'clock?"
"Working, unlke some pe-- Wait, you said you're accountants?"
"Lawyers. We're investigating the murder of--"
"Yeah, close enou-- what, murder?!" Cherry snapped upright, glaring cleavers. "You're investigating? Why in my kitchen?!"
If she let Phoenix get a full sentence out, maybe she would know. He took another step back, eyeing the suit-ruining counter edges and oven surfaces around him.
"I-it happened near the edge of Foster Park. Someone in this restaurant might have witnessed it."
A long moment passed. Cherry turned back to her work.
"Well, I was busy then." She grabbed a small knife and cut leaf shapes into the dough, her wrist limp-deadly as a whip. "A whole busload of tourists showed up -- cut it brunoise, they just pull up and take over the whole place and it is beyond them to leave a tip, I swear! Ran out of ragout and then, it toast-munchin' figures, every table's full and I had to turn one of the bridge biddies away, and everybody's ordering the risotto but Barley's on the dishes and I've only got two hands, why don'tcha just stick a fork in me?!"
"Wait," Phoenix pressed in, "Bridge biddies...?"
"Oh, yeah." Cherry waved a hand. "Buncha old hens. They go out for lunch and usually take over a whole Bavarian-cream-filled restaurant to play cards and fuss over every French-fryin' detail of everyfrickin'thing."
Another glare at Phoenix. Odd, he didn't recall running over anyone's pet dog lately.
"Have you ever made a coffee," she hissed, "With one and three quarter sweeteners in it? Peas and rice, coffee shouldn't involve fractions, what the hell is wrong with people?!"
Cherry darted to the ovens, plucking a pair of tongs from her apron, to fuss with whatever was baking at the moment. Sparing a thought for the ill-fated soufflés, Phoenix wished hard that he could see into that oven, or maybe past it to keep an eye on Maya. But being out of Cherry's way was much preferable.
"So," he said, passing his briefcase to his other hand, shifting on his feet, "This bridge group comes often?"
"No." Cherry holstered the tongs on her apron strings, and stormed back to the dough. Phoenix hadn't thought to look earlier -- screeching rage could be a very effective distraction -- but Cherry had all sorts of things tucked into the strings circling her waist. There were dangling tongs, a few food-stained rags, a thermometer-looking clip, and that wasn't counting the untold troves in the apron's full-looking pocket. It never hurt to be prepared, Phoenix supposed.
"Most of the bridge biddies don't grace my establishment with their whiny blue-haired presence anymore," Cherry growled. "Which is fine, nuts to that, but--" She paused, and ran a narrow, considering gaze over Phoenix. "Have you heard of this place? Before you saw the flyer?"
"The Orchard? No ..." But then, Phoenix always seemed to be out of the loop on these things.
With a huff, Cherry retrieved a bowl of dark, rich-looking filling from the opposite end of the countertop.
"Okay, good, somebody knows us as something other than the place with terrible service, then." Filling balls formed between her fingers, with dough leaves pinched into place around them in a way Cherry had obviously done thousands of times before, as she glared wistfully into space. "This is a tough industry, you know. It's not just throwing mozzarella sticks in a deep fryer and calling it a day but it'd cream-whippin' kill people to understand that."
Something tingled at the back of Phoenix's mind, the tight-wound spite in Cherry's voice and the thought of an old woman turned away from the restaurant. There was more to this story. He slipped a hand into his pocket, fingertips finding the crystal-smooth magatama.
"You're worried about your bistro's reputation?"
That dimension of colour and sound revealed itself, soaking Phoenix in so he could hear a fine, echoing tune. Cherry wore heavy chains and a quartet of Psyche Locks -- they rattled as her head snapped toward him to glare, and rattled again as she set a half-formed tart down.
"Well, chicken-fried amazing! You must be some kinda genius to figure that out! Yes, I'm worried about this place."
It's buried deep, Mr. Nick. A sudden memory of robes brushing his knee, of little Pearl worrying her thumbnail between her teeth.
He hummed inside, like nerves and gooseflesh. With this much blazing anger and this many coils of chain and lock, Cherry would fight him for every inch -- and he didn't want to remember how agonizing that could be.
"I think--" His thoughts scanned frantic through everything he carried, every paper and trinket. "--There's a particular person you're worried about."
She tightened, bristling red. One lock shivered.
"Yeah, smart guy?"
But who was it? The melody shifted, warbled counterpoint to a low-humming beat and Phoenix held Cherry's glare. "It's someone you need to worry for every day, and during every shift," he said. No one customer could be that important, could they? Who else would loom in a mind as stress-filled as Cherry's? It was someone in her very kitchen. Phoenix had two choices and on an impulse-hot coin flip, he said, "It's you."
A twitch ran through her aura. Her eyes narrowed slow.
"Yeah, I worry for myself and my business, obviously. Of all the pudding-brained--"
The lock's shiver was fading away, this chance disappearing. Panic spurred Phoenix and he blurted, "And Barley! H-He looks up to you, he's followed you for years. You must want to protect him."
No change in Cherry's glare. A swirl of velvet-soft feeling was gone as soon as it appeared. The lock fell still.
"You don't have a macadamia-crusted clue what you're talking about," Cherry hissed, as the pain began. "Mind your own damn business."
It always took a moment for the acid blaze of failure to fade, for Phoenix's mind to gather and his breath to unhitch. When it was over, he stared hard at Cherry's carved scowl and dough-plying hands -- the magatama's low beat stirred and changed. He had a handful of fragments and just needed one that fit in here--
Mr. Nick, you need courage to know when to stop.
So much worry in Pearl's imprinted voice. Phoenix reconsidered, in the razor's edge of focus that the magatama brought, but nothing fit. He didn't know who Cherry really was. He had no cracks to pry at. He sighed, and let the colours slide away. Focusing so hard left a mark in him, flute notes' imprint in sand and a silence like the ones after Mia spoke.
You can always try again,Pearl said. Now just isn't the time.
He sighed, and nodded. Phoenix released the magatama, watching the world return to three dimensions of plain -- he stood alone between a towering stove and sauce-streaked counters, and Cherry was selecting a rubber band from the collection around her wrist.
"Everybody and their dishboy's gotta have an opinion," she grumbled, sliding the tray of tarts aside, rolling up and binding some bags of colourful spices. "Think you can just show up once and jump to conclusions, Crème anglaise, what a--" She froze. "Crème anglaise!" And, bolting toward the stove, "Filet of sole en frickin' papillotte with hollan-- Oh."
Phoenix sidled out of his safe corner: there stood Maya, in front of the stove, stirring the pot of cream mixture. Why, why hadn't she learned not to touch things?
"It was bubbling," she explained in a small voice, "So I thought I should stir it ... Is that okay?"
The pause lasted forever. Then Cherry took the whisk from Maya's hand and prodded the cream.
"It's ... Yeah. It's okay." Cherry slumped. She lifted her cap, and resettled it over her braids like summoning new strength. "Crème anglaise clumps like hell if you don't stir it, s'good, kid."
Muttered praise had to be worth its weight in gold, coming from someone like Cherry. She carried off the salvaged mixture, stiff with energy once more.
"Crehme angles?" Maya followed -- puppishly, willing to chance a kick. "What are you going to use that for?"
"Crème anglaise, pay attention, crêpes! It goes with the Fiestas. Gives a sweet, creamy counterpoint to the cherries, I use May Dukes for the nice little sour kick at the end. Now, the real trick is using the right amount of the syrup, mulato chiles taste like an tea-steepin' ashtray if you go overboard--"
Hardly any of the food words snapped harsh, and the knot between Cherry's shoulders slowly eased. It was amazing, sometimes, to watch Maya win people over like springtime sun melting ice. With a glance around him for suit-hazardous surfaces, Phoenix headed for the stairs. He had an idea.
"I-I really can't thank you enough, Mr. Wright."
A dozen baguettes sat on Barley's countertop, golden brown and powerfully fragrant. Barley himself perched against the counter's edge -- probably as relaxed as he could physically manage. He fidgeted at his cap and smiled apologetically at Phoenix.
"Those chiles, goodness, they'd be two w-weeks in the mail if we had to order new ones. A-and I'm not very good at looking for lost things ..."
"It wasn't a problem, Barley. Now, About Chef LaFlamme." Phoenix rubbed his chin -- how to begin? "She uses only the best ingredients?"
A convulsive nod from Barley. "Oh yes, she's very particular! Food is only as good as the ingredients you start with, that's w-what she tells me!" He straightened as he said, like his personal credo, "Insist on the best, and never settle! S-So I try."
His smile turned wan, his gaze wandering off in thought. Phoenix had hoped for more information than that, maybe if he asked about some other--
"This bistro is going to be great someday," Barley added. "Cherry j-just-- She has plans, really wonderful things!" His hands lifted, like he could paint the picture. "Five-star dining, dark wood furniture, m-maybe some nice mahogany and table service on carts. M-mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice … A live band playing soft jazz music, you should hear her talk about it!"
"Cherry has big dreams?" And she had a daily reality to deal with before she could get there. Everyone felt like that sometimes.
Barley nodded, smiling again, and his gaze fled to the floor.
A hunch Phoenix couldn't name pulled at him; it ran in his blood until he palmed the magatama. Darkness and melody swirled in around them. Chains clanked and Barley had a Psyche Lock, one ruby lock over his heart.
"And ... you want to help Cherry with her dreams?" Phoenix tried.
Clicking in the lock, and a tremor through Barley's chains. Echo ran through his notes, drumbeats rising from deep, warm earth. Phoenix couldn't remember noticing anything like that before. He was usually too focused on the grating of a jimmied lock to notice tunes much.
"I do," Barley said, "I want to help her. A-And ... th-that's all I can say right now, until I'm sure."
Until Barley was sure of what? There had to be a wedge to drive in, maybe some piece of evidence. Maybe Barley had seen something.
"I think you know something about the Foster Park murder, Barley. Did you see anything unusual yesterday morning?"
Shock washed orange from him, widening his eyes, sending his hands flying up to adjust his cap.
"Oh dear, no, I kn-know that's serious, I-I wouldn't ...!" Barley paused, eyes darting everywhere. "I-I cut mirepoix until service began, mostly onions and celery for the fish fumée, and then I w-was on dishes for the rush-- Oh, but I plated desserts for Cherr-- f-for LaFlamme, even though she's m-much better at it. It was j-just a few portions of millefeuille. And then I w-was back on dishes until, uhh, two o'clock? Maybe three? I-I'm sorry, I s-should have checked the time but I can testify if you need me to!"
It all matched with Cherry's story, and the Psyche Lock hadn't budged. Phoenix rubbed his chin. "So, you didn't see anything unusual yesterday? What was Cherry doing?"
Regret washed over Barley, water-chill.
"Uhh, s-she was very busy with the c-customers and the food, and I was focusing o-on all the dishes I had to do, Ch-- LaFlamme hates spots on t-the glassware ... I'm sorry, I w-wasn't watching her much, e-except when she yelled for m-me to get more coffee or something. I s-should have been paying m-more attention ..."
His chains lay perfectly still, and sincerity beamed bright from him -- Barley stammered over his nerves but he was telling the truth.
He's protecting her honour, came Pearl's murmur, delighted.
That was one way to look at it. But Phoenix had to be sure: he gripped the magatama tighter, listened hard to where the eretheral tune blurred and echoed to nothing.
"You're very focused on Cherry, aren't you?"
That turned tumbles in Barley's lock; his tune keened, and he nodded.
"But I-I told you, I can't talk about it yet."
You're breaking into his heart and soul, Mr. Nick. Do you need to do that?
If the secret was what Phoenix guessed it was, then no, it didn't matter how Barley felt. He hadn't seen a thing that would help the case. Phoenix sighed.
"It's all right, I understand." He released the magatama, the darkness and music whispering away.
Barley sighed relief as his bakery faded back into being.
"Whew … Y-You can be really i-intense sometimes, Mr. Wright …" He smiled sheepish. "I-I'm sorry, I really do w-want to help you ... And, Cherry, uhh, I guess s-she doesn't want to talk to you, does she? S-she does that. A-A lot, actually." He wiped his palms on his apron, glancing about. "Uhh ... M-maybe her side towels would help?"
Barley produced a rag -- it was damp, tattered and stain-streaked, hidden in his apron for good reason.
"These things. Th-they're a very important part of the uniform! They're potholders, washcloths, everything. No good chef is caught without a few of them!" He noticed the sad state of his towel, and stuffed it back into his apron, rubbing at his cap. "Goodness ... I-I'm not very good about t-taking care of mine, b-but LaFlamme, she changes hers like clockwork!"
Barley hopped to a quick walking pace, headed for the corridor, motioning for Phoenix to follow.
"I-I don't know what LaFlamme was doing yesterday," he said, fishing a ring with two keys on it from his apron pocket, "B-but her side towels, if she used them for e-everything she did in the restaurant, then t-they'd tell a story, right? T-They'd show what she was doing?"
Why was he asking Phoenix? But it did make enough sense -- Cherry's tools of the trade could be evidence of any food she came into contact with, or hadn't come into contact with.
They arrived at the locked door Phoenix and Maya had noticed before. Barley glanced warily behind, produced a small set of keys and unlocked the office with shaking hands, before vanishing behind the door. Phoenix followed him in. A worn couch and rack full of clothes took up most of the space, forcing a corner desk, a metal kitchen chair and a stack of paperwork to huddle in the corner -- maybe Cherry ate, breathed and slept her business enough to live in it, too.
"H-Here we go."
Phoenix turned to find Barley examining a handful of side rags, each one tie-dyed with stains.
"Here are Tuesday morning's side towels. She always has a wet towel," Barley explained, his voice taking on a food lover's excitement, "For spills and s-sticky things and cleaning, and a dry towel, for handling pans out of the oven, and a customer towel for the front -- that one has to be clean, s-so it looks good when she's wiping down a table. Uhh, l-let's see, red pepper coulis … She made that yesterday, r-right before the rush. And grease, this ... o-oh, the beef bones, for last night's stock! So this one--" and Barley lifted a towel dappled with brown spots, "--Must be her customer towel. M-Maybe this is coffee on it ...?"
Cherry worked at a furious pace. Figuring out her story from some smudged cleaning rags would be a jigsaw puzzle, but better than nothing.
"Would it be all right if I took all three?" Phoenix asked.
"Y-Yes, please do!" Barley pressed the towels into Phoenix's grasp -- they were still faintly damp from who knew what -- and wrung his hands together. "I-I don't think she'll notice a few missing ... Uhh, I-I hope Cherry didn't do anything-- b-but she might have told me i-if--" He swallowed, thought a moment, and turned wide eyes to Phoenix. "P-Please don't-- W-what I mean is ... Don't blame her, M-Mr. Wright ...?"
Stuffing the towels into his briefcase, remembering heavy chains and a trapped animal glare, Phoenix said nothing. It wasn't a promise he could make.
"You know," Maya pondered aloud, "Cherry's really not so bad until you knock over her bay chamel sauce."
That certainly explained the commotion Phoenix heard, while ascending the stairs, about how ham-hockin' much of a pain it is cleaning up béchamel. He gave Maya a bemused glance, and opened the Orchard's bell-jingling door for the two of them.
"Did you get any clues from her?" Other than new recipes and how to ruin them.
"She talked about the cost percentage on Fiesta tarts, whatever that means. And she mentioned a regular customer who eats there every day." Maya beamed. "And she showed me how to make a pretty swirl of sauce on a plate, Nick! Right before she started yelling."
None of that had anything to do with the late Morna Beasley, unfortunately. Phoenix and Maya turned at the corner, following the Orchard's brick wall into cool shade. Their sand-scuffing footsteps rattled away down the alley.
"The cost percentages make sense," Foxx offered. "I've found records of most of Ms. LaFlamme's payments through the Orchard -- utilities, taxes, payroll."
Phoenix's brows lifted, as he sidled around fallen police tape. "Should we be ...?"
"I'm not altering or copying a thing, Phoenix. No harm done. But you might be interested to know that LaFlamme is making minimum payments on her bills. She hasn't paid one cent more than necessary for as long as the restaurant's been open."
"She's in debt?"
Maya looked suddenly to Phoenix, wide-eyed, fingers lifting to her chin. A pang of sympathy struck him, the same as every time Maya gave him that look.
Foxx paused. "I can't confirm that without seeing the business's savings, and perhaps LaFlamme's own finances. But if I had to guess, LaFlamme is probably so ... tense because she's barely keeping her head above water."
"So, Cherry has good reason to worry about the Orchard ..." And to hate anyone who slandered it.
"That's terrible," Maya whimpered. "The food's really good!"
"Foxx," Phoenix said, his voice falling low, "You heard Cherry talking about the bridge group, didn't you? Can you find any records on them?"
"You're wondering if Ms. Beasley was part of the group?" A few keystrokes, and she paused like a pensive frown. "It's unlikely that an elderly ladies' social group would have records in any database I can access, but I'm working on it."
If she turned something up, it could be just the break their case needed: a motive, a reason to want an old lady dead.
"In the meantime, Phoenix, please meet with your contact. He's quite the nuisance when he's bored."
Phoenix looked around at the alley walls stretching away ahead and behind, broken on one side by the Orchard's small, filthy window. Then back to the board fence in front of them. "All right, we'll find him."
Unless their Agent contact was a master of camouflage, lurking in the trash bags and flattened cardboard, he had to be on the other side of the fence. And Maya was a step ahead of Phoenix, opening the board door with a long, groaning creak.
"No lock?" Phoenix wondered, eyeing the metal loop on the door's frame: it was the type meant to hook a padlock onto.
"It was open!" Pointing to the dangling brass lock on the door's handle -- and looking entirely too pleased about it -- Maya bounced past Phoenix. "Oh, I hear something! Mr. Agent? Mystic Maya, here!"
Now that she mentioned it, a melody tugged low at Phoenix's awareness, like someone humming barely loud enough to be heard. He combed gaze over the alley, the brick and gritty ground and a battered metal door that must have led into the Orchard.
The voice came from a corner Phoenix hadn't thought to look in: behind jumbled milk crates, a figure stood perfectly matched to the shadows. He grinned, teeth brilliant against his dark skin.
"Mr. Wright, Ms. Fey? Agent Spin, here." He showed his badge, a muted flash of gold. "Just in time, I was nearly done my serenade. She's a twentieth century fox!"
"I'm nearly sick of hearing it," Foxx muttered.
Spin came a leisurely step closer, shrugging, adjusting his large DJ's headphones. "She's so vain. She thinks that song is about her."
Phoenix could nearly hear Foxx's eyeroll.
"So," Maya said, smirking, "You have some information for us, right?" "Sure do. All right, so here's the deal." Spin shifted his weight to one foot, fishing inside his suit jacket. "The others are keepin' an eye on the police an' Edgeworth, I'm just passin' along this here."
The item in question crackled free of Spin's pocket -- it was a plastic bag with a sad, broken piece of electronic casing inside it.
"We figure it's a chunk of the security camera."
"Security camera?" Phoenix asked.
Spin pointed past Phoenix and Maya, at the wall above. A small security camera clung there, staring down at the unlocked gateway, its cables huddled where the wall and the fence formed a corner. Bare-tipped wires poked from the ground-level control box, through a panel left carelessly open. Phoenix took the broken camera piece from Spin -- its shredded wires practically screamed suspicious activity.
"The police know about that security camera," Spin went on. "Guess they asked the restaurant owner 'bout it. But here's the good part -- we found the broken chunk on this side o' the fence door. An' the whole time the police investigation was goin' on, the door was locked. They didn't pay much attention back here, figured it didn't have anythin' to do with J 'cause he didn't get through the door."
So there was traffic through this alley -- recent traffic, from someone with a key. That someone might know more about the damaged camera.
"Do you know who unlocked the door?" Phoenix asked, paying little mind to Maya tugging the evidence bag from his hand.
"There was a gap in Agent presence for approximately ten minutes," Foxx replied, "After the police left and before Spin arrived. Sorry, Phoenix, it must have happened then."
"It was open when I got here," Spin said, and added, with faint melody colouring his voice, "I can't tell you why."
Rubbing his chin, Phoenix wondered, "If the person who passed through here had a key for the locked gate, they must come back here a lot. What about Cherry? Does she have a reason to pass this way?"
"All I can tell ya," Spin said, grinning apologetic, "Is that nobody in that buildin' right now is yellin' for help. Maybe Foxx can pull up the blueprints or somethin'?"
"The alley door behind the gate," Foxx said, right on cue, "Leads to the second floor of the Orchard, according to the original schematics. There have been multiple contracts and renovations in the building since then, some for sizable sums of money, but there are no business records other than the Orchard's ... That second floor must be private property, Phoenix. Maybe someone's residence."
"Nick," Maya piped. She looked up from the security camera piece, head canted. "I have an idea. I'm going to go talk to Cherry for a minute."
Which was like going to poke a mountain lion with a sharp stick for a minute. "Uhh, why?"
"Well, the security camera is hers, right? And we know she came back here recently. So I thought she might tell me about this broken piece."
They didn't know for sure that Cherry had come to the alley recently. But Cherry definitely knew more than she was willing to tell, and she liked Maya better than Phoenix -- or at least glared at her less. Phoenix frowned thoughtfully; he fished in his pocket for the magatama.
"Take this, Maya. It'll show you if Cherry is hiding something from you."
It was like Maya was seeing her family's treasure for the first time, eyes lighting up before she took it. "Really? Neat! I'll be right back, don't leave without me!"
She trotted off, sandals scuffing away down the alley. And then Phoenix was left with Spin, who grinned far too knowingly.
"Err ..." Phoenix rubbed his neck. "What ...?"
"I thought there was some synchin' goin' on in there!" Folding his arms, tapping two fingers to an imagined beat, Spin shifted his weight to one leg. "No wonder you got the mission, Mr. Wright! Secret agent ma~an!"
"Synching ...?" More like Phoenix was living in a very, very mad world.
And then came a familiar chirp of a voice -- "Hey Spin, Nick! Do you guys copy?"
Phoenix's hand flew to his earpiece. "Missy?!"
She giggled, sunshine-bright. "I'm in your com link, hackin' your signals!"
"Actually," Foxx muttered, sounding like she couldn't quite swallow her smile, "It was just easier to patch her in than to relay everything."
"Did you just call to say you want me," Spin drawled, "To come back home?"
"I can't seem to get you off my mind!" A bare pause. "Actually, the pitch modding's done on that audio feed Morris got. Nick, a woman phoned Prosecutor Edgeworth, and it sounded like she's really been driving him nuts lately!"
For a deeply pitying moment, Phoenix recalled Edgeworth's office full of not-so-secret admirer's gifts. Getting attention could be a bad thing indeed. "Do you know who the caller was?"
"Turns out it was Cherry LaFlamme! She called to yell about how she has vital information on the case and she'd be on Edgeworth like white on rice until he called her as a witness."
"What?!" Phoenix spluttered. "She told me she didn't see anything!"
"Guess you'll have to do what you do best, Mr. Wright," Spin said. He -- presumably -- eyed Phoenix behind his shades.
"She'll be on the stand, Nick!" He knew the look Missy was giving him now -- wide-eyed adoration, maybe with fists balled determined. "You can handle anybody on the stand, I've seen you make stubborn people spill! And Ms. LaFlamme has something to hide, I just know it!"
If nothing else, Phoenix could back her into a corner in the courtroom. Those locks would open one way or another.
Maya came scuff-trotting back not long afterward.
"So," Phoenix asked, "Did Cherry tell you anything?"
Dropping the magatama back in Phoenix's grasp -- it was gently warm, from hands or magic or maybe both -- Maya paused.
"No ..." She brightened. "But I learned some new words!"
Phoenix had no words. He rubbed his forehead.
"Pushing Cherry isn't going to work," he muttered. "She's just getting defensive. We need to wait until we have a better idea of what's going on here, before we can force her to talk."
"Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this," Spin commented.
"Phoenix," Foxx said, "I've got confirmation -- LaFlamme and Dempster have no natural music sense, and they've never shown awareness of Agent presence or assistance. Treat them like you'd treat any other witnesses."
Easy to say, and trickier to do. Phoenix muttered agreement anyway.
They said goodbye to Spin -- and were told to keep on rockin' in the free world. Missy signed off, so that the the com link transmitted nothing but Foxx's reliable quiet. After such a long day, the rumbling dinginess of the city bus was almost familiar enough to be a comfort.
"These are pretty gross, Nick."
He looked to Maya, who held Cherry's clump of side rags in her lap to pick through them.
"They wouldn't be any use to us if they were freshly washed." What had Barley been talking about? Beef grease and red pepper ... something-or-other? "See anything you recognize?"
"I think this is the same sauce I spilled." Maya picked at a spot of crusty off-white. "And this black stuff is stove grease. Or maybe pot grease. Or pan grease ... Where does grease come from, anyway?"
Did they really want to know?
"And here's some green stuff." Maya squinted at the towels. "What kind of food is this colour?"
"No, this isn't broccoli green. Or pea green. It's not even mint frosting green!"
Phoenix decided to take Maya's expert word on the subject. "Uhh ... I don't know, then." He leaned over for a better look at the green in question -- a thin, smeared line, hidden momentarily as Maya's thumb passed over it. Spinach, maybe? Was there even such a thing as spinach sauce?
"Hey," Maya chirped, "Why don't we get Detective Gumshoe to check it out for us? I bet the lab could tell us about every speck of food on these rags!"
It figured that they thought of that five bus stops too late. Phoenix reached up for the cord.
The police station was the same as usual: rows of oddly neat desks, an occasional officer bustling by, the police chief grumbling as he started a new Solitaire game. Detective Gumshoe hunched over his desk, deeply concentrating for a change. His ratty coat hung on the back of his chair and his shirtsleeves were rolled past his elbows: maybe that was Gumshoe's equivalent of taking off the kid gloves.
"The thing with these frequency detectors," he muttered -- so that's what the mangled electronic innards in front of him were, "Is that they're not really hard to make. But they're a lot more sensitive than you'd think, pal. It just takes one little bent whatsit to throw the whole thing off."
"Whatsit?" Maya picked up a pair of pliers and hopefully didn't have plans for them. "Is that the technical word, Detective?"
He looked up at her, hurt and puppy-dog confusion on his face. "Hey, I don't have an electronical degree or anything."
It didn't sound like he had an English degree, either.
"I just know how to put things together so they work." Beaming, Gumshoe added, "I knew those old radios'd come in handy for something! Did Mr. Wright tell you, Maya? This frequency detector helped us uncover Matt Engarde!"
The lemon-coloured casing pieces did look awfully familiar. Watching Gumshoe adjust fine wiring, the screwdriver comically tiny between his fingers and his tongue studiously between his lips, was faintly like watching Foxx work. Very faintly. If Phoenix squinted.
"That detector really came in handy," he admitted. "And, speaking of useful--"
"You want information, don'tcha, pal?" Gumshoe's brow furrowed. "Well, I can't tell you anything about the Beasley case! Mr. Edgeworth is keeping a tight lid on it since that news report about the Grandma Murderer!"
"Well ... Could you tell us about Cherry LaFlamme, then?"
"Chef LaFlamme? She's been calling Mr. Edgeworth, actually. She says she saw the killer running from Foster Park and she's dead set on testifying about it. She wouldn't let me set foot in her kitchen, and she said she was too busy for questioning. And she doesn't like people tripping over her furniture." Gumshoe sheepishly scratched his head. "She's kinda grouchy, pal. But Chef LaFlamme did give a statement and security records, and she let us investigate in her restaurant's alley."
"The microphone," Foxx hissed, "Phoenix, he might have found it."
They still lacked that piece of the puzzle, didn't they? Watching Maya bend scrap copper wires into animal shapes -- that was actually a pretty good kangaroo -- Phoenix tapped his chin.
"Did you find anything else linking Mr. Lowe to the Foster Park trail," he asked, " Other than the footprints?"
Phoenix's mind still raced -- how might a person lose a microphone, accidentally and unremarkably? Dropping their ... what, bag of recording equipment? Stewart was supposed to be a handyman and errand-runner, not a rock star -- how did a microphone make any sense at all?
Gumshoe frowned, puzzled, and he opened a filing drawer to dig inside. "Actually, there's one thing we can't make heads or tails of. You're good at this kind of thing, pal. I'm not supposed to show you, but three heads are better than one!"
"Even if one's a head of cabbage," Maya added, adjusting the ears on a wire bunny.
"I thought you hated cabbage," Phoenix muttered.
She stared thoughtfully into the air. "I don't hate it. We just agree to disagree."
Funny how Maya found time for civil negotiations while vacuuming down her food.
"We found this," Gumshoe said, setting an evidence bag down on the desk with a heavy clatter, "By the Foster Park trail, pal. Off to one side, like somebody dropped it."
Or threw it, because he couldn't be caught with it. Phoenix stifled his relief, put on his best faintly surprised face, and asked, "Is that a karaoke microphone?"
"Yeah, you got it."
Foxx let out a breath of relief.
"But the weird part is it's not from the wedding. We checked with Mr. Vanderspielgle, it's not the same model as his equipment. And it's covered with your client's fingerprints, Mr. Wright. Really covered. The lab had a hard time finding clear hand prints, but Mr. Edgeworth insisted!"
"Hand prints?" Phoenix wondered. "To figure out what kind of grip the microphone was held in, right?" There was only one reason Edgeworth would want to know that.
"Yup! The mark on Ms. Beasley's head shows something rounded and about the size of that microphone's mouthpiece. But we didn't find any blood or hair or anything from Ms. Beasley on it."
Focus on the outsides of things, memory said with Foxx's voice. Focus on fingerprints and residues.
"Just Mr. Lowe's handprints …?"
"The lab figures they're all regular microphone-holding prints -- if you were hitting somebody with it, you'd hold it the other way around, and in a hard fist. See?" Gumshoe mimed out the difference, and then eyed Phoenix. "Why would your guy have a microphone anyway, pal?"
He just had to ask, didn't he? One hand creeping to the back of his neck, Phoenix tried, "Uhh, well, he was doing all kinds of things that day..."
"A singing job?" Foxx offered, "In a lounge, maybe? Or a bar?"
Sure, that would work. Phoenix just had to stop showing nerves, let a thoughtful look wander over his face and--
"I think he was going to try out at some lounges," Phoenix said, "You know, bars ... For entertainment sort of ... jobs?"
It was weak -- like impromptu excuses always were -- but Gumshoe's brows worked as he mulled it over. "Huh. He sings, too? Pretty talented guy."
Gumshoe stared; the most awkward silence in the world passed them by. Maya set a wire cow on the desk with a fine click.
"But anyway," Gumshoe said, "It doesn't look like Mr. Lowe whacked anybody with this. That's what Mr. Edgeworth really wanted to find out." Glancing over his shoulder, he added, "Look, I dunno how, but I've just got a gut feeling that microphone's important, pal. If anybody can figure out a piece of evidence, it's you."
"Actually," Maya piped, looking up from arranging her menagerie, "We've got some evidence only you can figure out! It's practically a trade!"
Gumshoe frowned at the neat row of animals. "I'll help you, just quit making giraffes out of my whosits!"
"I thought they were whatsits?"
Phoenix lifted his briefcase onto the desk, and didn't offer to call them thingies. "Can we just give you the evidence, already?"
With the side rags stuffed into evidence bags, and Gumshoe's assurance that the lab knew every shade of green there was, Phoenix and Maya left the police department.
"If you've got time, Phoenix," Foxx said, slow like thought, "Would you visit J in detention?"
Maya nodded eagerly, and then her attention went to waving down a passing taxi.
"Sure," Phoenix said. He glanced to his watch -- they had an hour left before the detention center guards would give him a hard time. "Is there something we need to find out?"
"Not especially, no. I'm not convinced that the murder wasn't part of an attack against the Agency, but J insists that the target he followed was in real need. That's all the help he can give us for the time being." Her voice lowered. "Honestly? I'd like to check in. We're still keeping transmission contact with J to a bare minimum while he's in police custody, but we need to know that he's holding up."
Because that was what teams did: looked out for each other. Phoenix nodded, watching the taxi glide up to the curb.
"We'll be right there."
Another ride in a ubiquitous cab, and Phoenix and Maya sat in the detention center once more, looking idly around at the camera and guard and stark walls. Stewart left the guards and took his seat, placing the bagged Agent shoes in front of him.
"Am I ever glad to see you guys." He managed a wry smile. "It's borin' in the can, ya know?"
"Were you in questioning all day?" Maya asked. "They like asking the same questions over and over."
"Well, for a while ..." Stewart glanced away, raking a hand through his hair. "Guess they got tired 'a hearin' I'm not talkin' without my lawyer present. Time's been pretty long after that." A smile suddenly brightened him. "But the Commander dropped a line!"
"I thought you weren't getting transmissions here in detention?" Phoenix asked.
"I didn't think so either, but then I notice infra an' sure enough, it's these!" He lifted the shoes, grinning. "The Commander transmitted slow. Real slow, so the beats were spread out an' if anybody noticed one, they wouldn't know it's Morse, right? It took a couple hours for 'im to tell me keep up the beat, Agent, we're all behind ya."
Maya clapped her hands together, shining with delight. "Oh, that's so nice of him!"
"It's just what we do." At that moment, he looked nearly at ease.
"Well," Phoenix said, "It's good to know that you're all right."
Foxx had to be listening -- she said nothing. Her words nagged in the back of Phoenix's mind; he took a breath and decided.
"Mr. Lowe, when you chased that target into the alley, you said they were scared, right? Possibly injured?"
Agent's dignity settled over him in an instant. "Yeah. There was so much panic an'... an' just feelings, it was like I was right there with 'em. It was like stickin' my hand in hot coals and knowing it hurt." He looked away. He chewed his lip. "I've been thinkin' about that a lot. I'm sure it was real ... I wish I coulda helped."
Phoenix could imagine it now, in a rough-sketched way: quick-pounding adrenaline from running, a gut feeling that someone was in need, extra senses colouring the world and something unexplainable urging, pulling. He nodded.
"We've got some leads on the real killer, we'll get to the bottom of this. And--" Phoenix patted his briefcase, "Your microphone is in safe hands."
"Oh, good! That's … Yeah, that's a relief." Stewart's grin crept back, and he scratched his head. "Losin' secret agent gear is pretty bad."
That was implied, yes.
"Would it be all right if I held on to it?" Phoenix asked. "Edgeworth had the microphone before we did--"
Stewart winced -- Phoenix's sentiments exactly.
"--And the police department couldn't make a connection to the murder. They didn't look at anything more than your handprints, but just in case ..."
"Yeah, sure, keep it. Just keep the switch off an' the conductor frequency to zero, it's that little twisty at the bottom of the handle."
"Err ..." Rubbing the back of his neck, Phoenix tried, "I just won't touch it, how's that?"
"Come on, Nick!" The look of impending doom shone in Maya's eyes. "You'd make a great Agent! Sis said you dance to the radio like you mean it!"
Hadn't Mia promised she wouldn't tell anyone about that?!
"Well, anyway," Phoenix said, "We'll work on the evidence we've got. The other Agents found some clues on what Edgeworth's doing ... We'll be better off in court tomorrow than we were today."
"We'll blow this case wide open tomorrow!" Maya smiled sunny. "So rest easy, all right?"
Stewart agreed. But they all knew it was easier said than done.
Phoenix usually slept alright before the second days of his trials. Waking up was the catch -- his thoughts were racing even as he jerked awake. If his mind was going to mull over the case without him, it could at least share its findings.
Gathering in the defendant's lobby -- with Maya and Stewart close by, Foxx electronically by their sides -- was beginning to feel normal, at least.
"So," Maya said, fists up like she was ready to wrestle the whole courtroom into submission, "We're going to get to the bottom of this today, right?"
"I hope so." Phoenix shifted his briefcase to his other hand -- the Agency notes kept getting heavier, but his own jotted writing made more sense with each review. "As long as we can find out how Cherry fits into all of this."
Scratching his head, Stewart wondered, "You guys really think LaFlamme's involved? I figured I'd recognize her rhythm if she was tied up in this, I check on her an' Dempster all the time..."
"She could have been calm at the time," Foxx said.
Were they talking about the same person ...?
"Maybe you just didn't notice her because you were focusing on other things! I do that sometimes!" And then Maya poked Stewart's elbow, chirping, "Hey, you're scratching an awful lot. Did you catch fleas in the detention center or what?"
He paused, and gave a sheepish grin, very deliberately hooking his thumbs into jean pockets. "Nah, this civilian thing's just weirdin' me out. You don't realize how much you miss hair gel 'til you don't have any. Y'know what I mean, don'tcha, Mr. Wright?"
Someday, the court would have to try the State versus Wright's hair. Defendant pleading innocent of all charges.
"Hey, Mr. Wright!"
Detective Gumshoe was a familiar sight, weaving around the lobby throngs, huge and beaming. Phoenix and Maya stepped back to add him to their conference circle.
"I got your analysis, pal," he said, shoving plastic bags full of side rags into Phoenix's hands, quickly followed by a bent sheaf of printed charts. "There wasn't time to check everything, so I just had them do the food traces you couldn't identify."
"Find anything interesting?" Maya asked.
She had no reason to light up like that. The food products they were talking about had long since ceased to be edible.
"I learned what a kumquat is?" Gumshoe scratched his head. "I guess there's a whole world of delicious treats out there! Oh, but this is the weird part. That green smudge wasn't food at all, it was ink."
"Green ink?" Phoenix had never found that colour while tearing Wright And Co. Offices apart for a working pen.
"Yeah, and not just any ink, pal. This was soy-based ink, the kind they use to print newspapers. You wouldn't find it in any old ballpoint pen!"
"But why would specialty ink be in the restaurant kitchen?" Phoenix wondered.
Foxx hummed, and began typing at a quick, clattering pace.
"Beats me, pal." With a glance around him, Gumshoe lowered his voice. "But Mr. Edgeworth has some leads. Bring up the ink during the trial and he'll tell ya how it relates to Morna Beasley."
Since when did Gumshoe try to be cryptic? Phoenix blinked, and looked to Maya -- she was as surprised as he was.
Gumshoe chuckled. "How's that for a clue? Like in the movies!" He sobered, and said, "I know I'm not supposed to be helping you, but when I had to tell Mr. Edgeworth I didn't have the microphone anymore ... He wasn't mad. He wasn't even surprised! I think he wants you to know what he knows now, Mr. Wright."
Phoenix could imagine Edgeworth's wry smirk and sidelong gaze. They were in this together and the two of them could finally admit it -- if only Phoenix could share the valuable information he knew.
As court filed to order, he got Foxx's answer.
"The detective is right, Phoenix," she said, through the courtroom's settling hum. "Soy-based ink is mostly purchased in large quantity and used in industrial applications. But there's limited use in environmentally-friendly office supplies and other specialty goods, so don't rule that out yet."
"Specially-ordered pens, maybe?" He picked up Cherry's customer side rag from the defense stand, turning it over to find the ink smear. "The ink here is smeared … It does look like a pen leak that was wiped up with the rag."
Phoenix glanced to Stewart, who shrugged: he was no help, and he was sorry for it.
"I don't know, Nick," Maya wondered. She scratched her temple. "Cherry takes her fancy imported food seriously, but I saw pens scattered around her kitchen and they're the same cheap blue kind you use. Do you really think she'd have a special pen? Or Barley would?"
Those two did seem to have bigger worries than the type of ink they wrote recipes down with. But it was the only theory they had at the moment. Phoenix adjusted the parade of notes and evidence under his stand, and he glanced across to find Edgeworth doing the same.
Sweeping in, the Judge took his place at the head of the courtroom and brought silence with a hammering of the gavel. "The court is now in session for the trial of Mr. Stewart Lowe."
"The prosecution is ready, Your Honour." Edgeworth shot a look at Phoenix, cool across the court's distance: I hope you are, as well, Wright.
"The defense is ready, Your Honour," Phoenix answered.
The Judge hummed thoughtfully. "Your opening statement, Mr. Edgeworth?"
Edgeworth looked back to the judge, breaking contact; Phoenix hadn't noticed the tension until it was gone.
"As the case stood yesterday," Edgeworth said, "There were many unanswered questions, such as the events leading up to the victim's murder, and the whereabouts of the weapon used. The prosecution will ensure that these questions are answered."
"I would once again like to call Detective Gumshoe to the stand."
It was the same scene as before: Gumshoe taking the stand, standing proud, bearing information.
"Detective," Edgeworth said, "If you would share the updated test results with us."
The bailiffs milled, passing around more sheets -- forensic test results, it looked like.
"We did some more detailed analysis on the victim's head injuries," Gumshoe said. "She was struck with a blunt object, something about three inches in diameter. The angle of the wound shows that she was hit with an forceful stabbing motion. And, well, we already said she was attacked from behind."
There was no mistaking it -- Ms. Beasley's assailant snuck up on her, and meant to hurt her.
Phoenix leafed through the report. "Did the blow break skin, Detective?"
"No, it didn't." Gumshoe deflated. "All the bleeding was inside her head, poor lady ... That's how we know the murder weapon was something with rounded edges."
"No wonder Mr. Edgeworth had the microphone tested," Maya murmured, hands twined against her chin.
The weapon wasn't Stewart's microphone, but something much like it. Phoenix underlined relevant points in the autopsy, and then looked to Gumshoe, rubbing his chin.
"So, you didn't find the murder weapon?"
"Phoenix--" Foxx's voice, sharp with warning.
It was risky, he knew that. Anticipation surged through him.
A pause hung uncomfortable. Gumshoe glanced to the prosecution; Edgeworth stood with his arms folded, calmly tapping one finger.
"We didn't find anything likely, no, pal," Gumshoe finally said.
"Based on the premeditated nature of the attack," Edgeworth added, "I would guess that the attacker carried the murder weapon away from the scene of the crime, for disposal elsewhere."
"That's reasonable," the Judge agreed. He stared thoughtfully into space, turning his gavel back and forth. "It pays to think a plan all the way through, I've always said!"
Why did the Judge sound like he knew this from experience? Did Phoenix want to know?
"Err, anyway ..." Phoenix tried. He looked to the reports like they'd help. "The victim had other injuries, didn't she, Detective?"
"Minor fractures in her wrists, and a bruise on her arm," Gumshoe recited. He scratched his head. "Because of her age, we can't be sure how she hurt her wrists. Maybe it was from falling down."
Or from battering Tucker.
"But the bruise on her arm's definitely from somebody grabbing her, pal. Her sweater cushioned it so there was no clear hand mark, and wool doesn't hold prints, so all we know is that it was a hard grip. Whoever grabbed her meant it!"
"They meant it, or they were worked up at the time," Phoenix muttered at his stand.
"But if the attacker were upset or angry enough to kill someone," Foxx mused, "J would have noticed them before or during the murder. Phoenix, this doesn't line up."
He pulled the sketch of J's flight path from his notes and passed it to Maya, silently asking for her thoughts. She nodded. Phoenix had to keep pressing, because that was all he ever could do.
"So," Phoenix tried, turning back to the court, "Were there any other tests run on the victim?"
Edgeworth lifted a sheet. "Analysis shows leaf litter on the front of the victim's sweater, which is to be expected when she fell down in the forest. There was also a trace of ink on her sweater sleeve."
Now they were getting somewhere. They just needed to know what kind of ink.
"Naturally," Edgeworth said with a smirk, "I had a thorough analysis conducted. The ink was soy-based variety typically used in commercial printing -- dark green, although there was barely enough to be visible to the naked eye."
"Printing ink?" Phoenix set his palms down hard. This was it, the link to Cherry and the Orchard. "And where would that have come from?"
"I'll oblige the defense with evidence, of course."
And with a flourish, Edgeworth produced an evidence bag: clear plastic suspending something that didn't look like a pen at all. It was a green-patterned deck of cards.
"The ink on the victim's sleeves matches these playing cards, used by her bridge group several times a week. And since the cards are of a very cheap, common variety, it's not unreasonable to suppose that the ink smudged onto the victim's clothing."
"W-What?!" Phoenix choked.
Edgeworth swept a hand to his midriff, that mocking bow that always made Phoenix's teeth itch. "I apologize if you were expecting something more entertaining, Mr. Wright."
The Judge cast a suspicious eye over Phoenix. "Does the defense object to that theory?"
"But if the ink didn't come from Cherry," Maya hissed, fishing in Phoenix's briefcase for who knew what, "How's she connected to the crime scene?"
And what had Cherry actually seen? And what did she know? There were flocks of questions and all Phoenix had to go on was a table-cleaning rag. He looked to its green ink smudge, which was barely visible under plastic's reflective glare. He needed to hold on to his ace.
Phoenix straightened. "No objections."
"The court accepts the playing cards into evidence," the Judge said, and returned to watching Edgeworth. "Where were these cards found, Mr. Edgeworth?"
"These cards are the most recent deck used by a ladies' bridge club, one very closely tied to the defendant. Ms. Beasley had no known immediate family, and had identified her card-playing companions as next of kin in her will."
Blinking, the Judge wondered, "Why, that's nice! They'd never give her up, or let her down!"
"It would seem so, Your Honour. However." Edgeworth laid a palm on his stand. "I considered all possibilities in this investigation. Despite her well-kept appearance, Ms. Beasley was on fixed income, and her assets spread amongst the seven other bridge club members would amount to very little. There was no significant monetary motive to kill Ms. Beasley."
Whoever killed her must have had a grudge, a hate-fiery motive. Well, they already knew that.
"Mr. Edgeworth." Phoenix said, "If the bridge ladies were so important in the victim's life, they must have more to do with the case than a smear of ink on the her clothes!"
"This matter was thoroughly investigated," Edgeworth said, with a slightest undercurrent of irritation. "Two of the associated women are currently vacationing in Cancun, three are involved in a regional craft fair and can prove their whereabouts for the past several days, one is wheelchair-bound and one has severe arthritis that is allegedly acting up. The bridge club has many and varied alibis, and more importantly, none of the women match the park footprints or witness accounts in any way."
"It sounds like he spent a lot of time researching a dead end," Foxx wondered.
Not that Phoenix didn't sympathize, but he had bigger fish to fry and Edgeworth had just given him a pan.
Louder, he spoke for the court, "Witness accounts? The only witness brought forth so far was Mr. Vanderspiegle, and his account proved nothing!"
Edgeworth's smirk lacked its usual nastiness. "Actually, Mr. Wright, another witness has come forward, and is quite insistent--" He said the word like holding a writhing centipede at arm's length.
"--That her testimony be heard. She was present in the Orchard bistro at the time of the murder, across the street from Foster Park's south edge. Her take on the events of yesterday morning is most intriguing."
And that was an intriguing way to phrase it.
The Judge nodded. "Call your witness, Mr. Edgeworth."
"Come on, Nick," Maya murmured hard, "Make her spill!"
Maya passed back the map sketch -- sickeningly yellow highlighter now marked it, a triangle beginning at the scene of the crime and broadening toward the Orchard's alley. But what could that mean?
"LaFlamme has to know something helpful, whatever she did or didn't do," Foxx said. She didn't need to add that she was poised over her keyboard, ready.
This was it -- the rematch, and this time on Phoenix's turf.
"The prosecution calls Ms. Cherry LaFlamme to the stand."
Cherry stalked in like a particularly disgruntled force of nature, still wearing her red-trimmed chef uniform, giving everything and everyone a ferocious glare. She gripped the witness stand and Phoenix could nearly hear her teeth grind.
"If she wants to testify," Maya muttered, "She could at least look a little happier about it."
"Witness," Edgeworth began, "Your name and occ--"
"You paper shufflers have a helluva lot of nerve, d'you have any idea how pickle-packin' hard it is working a lunch rush?!"
Edgeworth's eye twitched. "I assure you, this will be over as quickly as possible," he ground out. "Now, your name and occupation?"
"Crème fraiche on a buckwheat blini," Cherry spat, "Calling me in here at this hour, when I've got lunch prep to do! I've got half an hour, tops, before the frickin' hordes trample the place and my apprentice with it, the poor cheese-for-brains!"
Edgeworth tightened a fist against his stand. "Ms. LaFlamme--"
"How many times do I have to tell you, it's Chef!" Straightening, tucking a scruffy braid back under her cap, she announced, "Chef Cherry LaFlamme. Owner and head chef of the Orchard bistro." She eyed the courtroom as though anyone would disagree.
"Chef LaFlamme's business," Edgeworth informed the court, his centipede-holding tone returning, "Is situated across the street from Foster Park, with a clear view of the forest's edge and anyone fleeing from it. She was present in the restaurant on the day of the murder."
"Lunch sounds good," the Judge mused. He nodded. "Very well, Ms. LaFlamme--"
"Chef! Apicius help me, get it right!"
Blinking wide-eyed, the Judge said, "Err, yes, of course. Chef LaFlamme. This court won't keep you longer than necessary, so please give your testimony on the events of Tuesday morning."
"Right." Cherry settled from boiling to simmering.
This was it -- any one of Cherry's sharp words could be something to turn against her, and any hesitation a sign of weakness. Phoenix settled his palms on the stand, braced. Then he noticed the white hum of static, mild in his ear where com link silence ought to be.
"I spent the morning doing prep for service," Cherry said in a business-like snap.
"Hold it," Phoenix called. He leaned forward, poking the communicator node as casually as his panic-clumsy hand could manage. "Could you be more specific?"
If he had forgotten what it was like to be skewered by Cherry's glare, he certainly remembered now.
"What's-your-face, Wright? Potato-forkin' nosy little--"
"Chef LaFlamme," the Judge said, a rare note of authority in his voice, "The defense has a point. What do you mean by prep?"
"Basic prep for service," she grated. "Of all the egg-coddling-- I was cutting vegetables! Filling the sauces, searing more filet! I was in the kitchen working with food, d'you need it simpler than that?!"
"Err, no," Phoenix muttered. "Thank you."
"Interference," Foxx said -- and her voice was the sound of relief, "Sorry, Phoenix."
Maybe they needed more metatreble resistors.
Glaring equally between both sides of the court now, Cherry went on. "I cooked for the lunch rush, and you'd better believe it was busy. Stuck in the kitchen all fritter-flippin' morning and half the afternoon, my assistant did the serving. And I went to the downstairs fridges for supplies once -- that was when I saw 'im."
"That's not what she told us," Maya murmured, smiling.
True, Cherry's testimony was full of contradictions already. But where was she going with it? Phoenix waited.
"Just a peek of the guy out the window but he was muttering about offing someone." Cherry hunched, hissing, "Good thing the cops showed up, I don't put up with any frickin' capers on my property!"
Phoenix tapped his chin. "You say you saw ... who out the window?"
"The guy!" Cherry flailed an arm in Stewart's general direction. "Him!"
"Perhaps a floor map--" and Edgeworth gestured to the bailiffs, prompting another round of handouts, "--Of Ms. LaFlamme's restaurant might help."
"Chef! For jus-sauced roast crying out loud!"
Phoenix received a map. The simple lines of walls and doorways matched his memory of the Orchard layout, and brought pots and yellowed plaster to mind -- as well as an old, greasy little window.
"This is the window you're talking about, Chef LaFlamme?" Phoenix asked, "On the west wall, by the stairwell?"
"Yeah. You saw it when you were in there making a nuisance of yourself, didn't you, Wright?" Cherry's smirk was no improvement over her grimace.
"Did you try that window? To see if it opens?" Phoenix muttered -- to Maya, to Foxx, it didn't matter. The hinges had looked done like dinner but looks could be deceiving.
"I didn't," Maya wondered. "I don't think I did ..."
Foxx paused. "I can have an Agent there ASAP to check?"
"Don't worry, Foxx." Phoenix settled his palms on the stand. "I think I can do this another way."
"Yeah," Maya said, lifting eager fists, "There's more than one way to skin it!"
"Anybody who worked for me and yapped this much," Cherry grumbled, "Would get a size ten steel-toe right in the frickin' cornhole."
"Cornhole?" The Judge perked up. "I always used to play at the county fair, it's delightful!"
"I believe," Edgeworth drawled, examining his files like the very picture of grace, "She's referring to a different sort of cornhole, Your Honour."
"Uhh," Phoenix tried -- because this was an all new plane of not needing to know, "If we can get back to the point ..." He slammed his palms on the stand. "Chef LaFlamme. You say you were in the kitchen for the entire lunch service, except for one trip downstairs."
"Yeah, you got a beef with that?"
"I do!" And Phoenix pointed, "Because it contradicts what your assistant told me!"
"What," Cherry growled, her hands hard claws on the stand's wood, "You think he has a thing to do with this?!"
"Your assistant said that you serve the customers. More specifically, he said that you served customers during that lunch service, and here's the proof!"
Phoenix slapped the customer-serving side rag on top of the defense stand.
"This is one of your side rags, Chef LaFlamme."
"Side towel," Cherry snapped. "Clove-peelin' hell, you'd give Emeril a headache."
"Whatever they're called, they're important to a chef. You're even carrying them now!"
Cherry's hand flew to her apron strings full of towels and tongs. Her eyes narrowed.
"According to your assistant," Phoenix went on, "You change your towels regularly, without fail. This towel is from Tuesday morning, and it has multiple coffee stains on it -- why would that be if you weren't serving customers?"
Murmuring fluttered through the gallery; the Judge quickly silenced it with a strike of his gavel.
"Chef LaFlamme," he said, low and grim, "Perjury is a serious offense."
She waved a hand. "So I messed up the details a bit! Here, I'll go over it again if it's such honey-glazin' big deal!"
"Fine," Cherry began at a snap, "I made the food and served the customers, I do it all the time. It's not like servers around here know their glasses from their elbows. Haven't seen a lunch service that busy in months but with Dempster backing me up, I manage."
The Judge blinked. "Dempster?"
"Her assistant, Your Honour," Edgeworth supplied. He turned cool gaze to Cherry. "If you could get to the point, Ms. LaFlamme? What you saw?"
Most of Cherry's reply was ground to powder between her teeth -- it had something to do with Edgeworth's I.Q. and with an unpleasant use for salami.
"They really don't get along, do they," Maya wondered.
Edgeworth and Cherry certainly didn't like each other. But, Phoenix wondered, hadn't Edgeworth dealt with worse? And remembered pickier details than a chef's title?
"What I frickin' saw," Cherry hissed, "Was Blondie over there running like heck."
Lazily lifting a sheet, Edgeworth glanced sideways to Cherry. "I don't see how that relates to what you heard in the alleyway."
"Heard? I didn't hear anything--" Cherry shook her head suddenly. "Everybody shut your pieholes for a sec, do you wanna hear this or not?!"
Cherry contradicting herself, the faint smirk stirring on Edgeworth …
"He wants to know what she's hiding, too," Phoenix murmured. That had to be it: the more Cherry stumbled -- the more she was needled and hounded -- the more truth she would spill.
"If he's setting you up for a shot," Foxx said, "Then take it."
Phoenix couldn't agree more.
Clenching fists, Cherry took a steadying breath and spat, "Look, I saw the guy running out of the forest. He came through the trees and crossed the road into my alleyway, it had to be him!"
"Hold it," Phoenix called. "If you were so busy, why would you notice that?"
Phoenix rubbed his chin. "You were cooking and waiting tables during a lunch rush, mostly by yourself. That sounds like a lot to look after. Why would you stop and watch out the window?"
"I-I--" Cherry huffed, a cat with hackles rising. "I was wiping down the far window table, and I just happened to look up and see him. Look on his face like the world was ending. I don't know why I looked, I just did! And if you've got a cheese-gratin' problem with that, Wright--"
"I believe the issue here," Edgeworth broke in, "Isn't why Ms. LaFlamme happened to see the defendant, but what she did see."
The Judge hummed. "I agree. Why don't you begin your testimony again, Chef LaFlamme, and maybe there won't be so many interruptions this time."
"I think he's talking to you, Nick," Maya said, poking his arm.
For once, the witness stand hysterics weren't Phoenix's fault -- mostly. But Cherry was only tightening, only glaring harder. The right moment drew closer.
"I-- The table--" With a shake of her head, Cherry tried again. "The guy running, he was running out of the trees. And I looked up again and he was half across the street. Wearing dark clothes. I didn't notice anything else."
"Hold it! You only noticed dark clothing? How do you know it was the defendant, then?"
"I just do, Wright," she spat. "Perch-poaching--"
Phoenix started, and met Edgeworth's gaze across the court -- he remembered the court and their sparring matches and everything but Cherry's cracking armor.
"Mr. Wright," Edgeworth said, and stared level, "If you'll recall, the defendant was wearing a black suit at the time of his arrest, and was running from Foster Park. Ms. LaFlamme's testimony matches him exactly."
"Objection!" Phoenix replied, bracing to match him. "She didn't say a dark suit, she said dark clothing! That could be anyone!"
"Objection! Mr. Lowe was the only dark-clothed individual sighted running at that time!"
"Objection! With a testimony that vague, she could have just guessed!"
"Confection," Cherry snarled, "I'm not here to be called a frickin' liar!"
The gavel cracked.
"Enough," the Judge decided. "The individual Chef LaFlamme saw sounds somewhat like the defendant. But I wouldn't call that account decisive. Do you see anything else relevant about her testimony, Mr. Wright?"
If Cherry saw someone running, specifically leaving the forest--
"She hasn't been told about the murder scene," Maya wondered, "Has she? Mr. Edgeworth wouldn't tell her about it if he didn't have to."
"Oh, good point," Foxx added. "The murderer's exact flight path hasn't been mentioned yet."
And if Cherry knew that the killer left Foster Park through the forest …
"There is something relevant, Your Honour," Phoenix said, and turned back to the witness stand, "Chef LaFlamme."
This was what they needed -- Cherry cornered and flustered and shaking too hard to hold a lie together. Phoenix could nearly hear the magatama's tune, nearly see Cherry's red-hot frustration and hear her chains.
"You say you saw Morna Beasley's killer leaving the scene of the crime, through the park's trees."
"Yeah." The answer was immediate, and Cherry's ugly smirk returned. "You like those apples, Wright?"
"Did this person follow any kind of path or walkway?"
"No, straight through the bushes and muddy junk."
"That does match the footprints found at the scene of the crime," Edgeworth added, "As well as the dirt traces found in the defendant's shoes."
So Cherry's story was equal parts lies and telling truth -- there was only one possible reason for it.
"So, you know how the killer left the scene of the crime," Phoenix mused. "Tell me this, Chef LaFlamme: did you know the victim, Ms. Beasley?"
"I--" Cherry stopped suddenly, sudden realization flashing across her face like ice water. "Old lady, wasn't she?"
"Yes, and she was part of a bridge club." Phoenix put hands to his hips. "Maybe you're familiar with a ladies' bridge club?"
"So what, that bunch of crotchety old biddies!"
An instant of silence fell stony over the court. Cherry shook her head hard and the red-spiking aura grew around her.
"I mean," she spat, "I've served them a couple of times before. So bacon-barding help me if I don't need the money that bad, they're-- You try pandering to every picky tea-swilling old bore that comes in! Offer 'em pheasant, they'd rather have grouse!"
"J's tapping," Foxx murmured, "He says, Rhythm's off, not like normal. LaFlamme is terrified, Phoenix."
And he believed it -- Cherry feared for her restaurant, loved it and fought for it, suffered every day and wanted someone else to take the fall.
"It sounds to me like you know the bridge club," Phoenix said -- so close now, all he needed to do was nudge, "And you don't like them."
"How could I?! You don't get it, t-there have to be lines, if I didn't take a frickin' stand then crows like them'd just--"
"Take a stand? Why would you do that?"
"I had to!" Panic speared high through her voice, "Damnit, Wright, caramel-coated croque-en-bouche, they talk about the place like it's just any greasy dive, you should hear the rumours those crones spread around but they keep stock-stewin' coming back, what's a respectable chef supposed to do?!"
"You turned away one of the bridge club ladies on the morning of the murder, you told me so yourself. Ms. Beasley was one of those ladies, and you recognized her by name. With a grudge like that," and Phoenix pointed at her, called it out fierce, "You're Morna Beasley's killer!"
Cherry screeched, and the sound of a snapping rubber band rang through the court -- one braid came unravelled and her hands flew to her stung eye. "Chickenplucker!"
And the gallery's roar swallowed everything, the Judge hammering distant. Phoenix looked across to Edgeworth -- whose gaze was thoughtful, unreadable.
"Order! Order in the court!"
Quiet trickled back, and the Judge set his gavel down.
"This is a grave accusation," he mused. "But it definitely has merit."
"Beer-batter your stinkin' wiener schnitzel," Cherry hissed, quickly replaiting her braid.
The Judge blinked. "Chef LaFlamme, please watch your language. And Mr. Edgeworth, your thoughts on this?"
Too slightly to see -- Phoenix only knew that it happened -- Edgeworth straightened. "There is a motive at work here. The prosecution acknowledges this."
"Hey!" Yanking an elastic from around her wrist, Cherry secured her braid and returned to her stand-gripping bristle. "The hell's this?!"
"Mr. Wright. Do elaborate on your theory -- I suppose Ms. LaFlamme knew the murderer's exact path through the woods because she was the one taking that path."
"She wears big shoes, too," Maya murmured.
"Large for a woman," Foxx agreed.
Perfect -- he had nearly forgotten.
Phoenix nodded, and replied, "She did leave through the trees. And didn't Chef LaFlamme mention her size ten shoes earlier?" Along with the charming things she'd do with them.
Edgeworth looked to Cherry, "The witness's footwear could be analyzed for soil traces, and for exact size match."
"What?!" Cherry huffed, and looked between them, wide-eyed. "T-that-- No!"
"And if the murder weapon," Edgeworth went on, "Was a item the murderer carried ...?"
Phoenix looked to Cherry's hip -- to her chef's full apron strings -- and knew that answer.
"If I may direct the court's attention to Chef LaFlamme's metal tongs, hanging from her apron," he said. "She carries those the same way she carries side towels. Look at the base of those tongs -- they're not hinge-styled, they're curved like a hairpin! That bend is the size and shape of the missing murder weapon!"
"I-I--" Cherry spluttered, one hand brushing her twin pairs of tongs; they flashed menacing. "Cheesecake!"
"What's more," and Phoenix patted the bagged towel once, before producing the lab report on it. "Chef LaFlamme's side towel from Tuesday morning has green soy-based ink. More than a trace, in fact. There was enough to smear. That's more than enough to leave a trace on Ms. Beasley's sweater."
"How can you--" Cherry clutched her head, shook it and growled. "All this-- Edgeworth! Who the hell's side are you on?!"
"Chef LaFlamme." Edgeworth's quiet steel filled the room. "I seek only the truth."
"If you think you have any idea what the truth is," and Cherry's voice shot high again, wobbled and hardened back to a snarl as she clenched her fists, "Baloney! All of it! You don't even know--
That voice was familiar but stronger, echoing off the ceilings. Volumes flashed through Cherry's eyes as she looked to the gallery. "Dempster?!" she shouted, "Just who's watching the Orchard?!"
There was Barley, leaning over the balcony, hat crushed into his hand and determination trembling on his face.
"I-I locked up! I ha--"
"The hell do you think you're doing?! If we miss a rush--"
"It doesn't matter," Barley cried, all blurted courage. "You can't do this anymore! Can't you see yourself, c-can't you hear it, I do every day and you're not the p-person I f-- I w-won't let you-- Tell the truth, Cherry!"
It was quiet, while Cherry's throat worked and her knuckles went white and her face twisted, hurt to rage and back again.
"No," she grated, "No, no, no, goddamnit, I-I can't--"
Her voice cracked. And then Cherry LaFlamme bolted from the courtroom.
It had been a long time since the Agency's last recon job. It had been a long time since the last blunt reminder that they weren't civilians; they worked from the sidelines; they kept to the shadows.
Derek laid his newspaper aside, and he was on his feet before Foxx had said one concerned word. The chef was terrified like J had never felt her before, wilder than ever. Derek knew what that meant. The lobby crowds parted and let him pass, giving him poorly hidden glances -- it didn't matter what they thought of his hair. A turn of corridor, a steel-heavy door and Derek was out of the courthouse, into the warm midday.
"You got 'er, bro?" Morris's voice in his ear.
He did -- and he paused to tap out as much. LaFlamme beat familiar, a waft of sharp panic Derek could grip and follow between the sycamores and the granite walls, over the dry grass.
"If anybody can wrangle her," Morris replied, all smile, "It's you."
Mayhem boiled inside the courthouse, people worried and determined and on the move. They were easy to tune out. They didn't have a clue where they were going. Cherry knew the way and so did Derek, whether they had ever been there before or not.
Smoke was his next clue, a whiff of sweet-reeking tobacco. He moved on cool Agent strides but somewhere inside, he was ten years younger -- grease-streaked, soapy to his elbows, never too tired. Derek pushed his shades down long enough to examine the soaring courthouse pillars -- there was no sense taking the roof. Ground-level was more likely, and navigation would be a trick on his minimal gear, anyway. Then a steel-blue wisp appeared on the breeze, emerging from behind a stone buttress. LaFlamme gave herself away. Her rhythm raced, struck every note but the right ones, thundered with all its strength. Derek had borrow-felt that more times than he could count.
He approached slow, eyes to the shadows. Cooks were cockroaches: tough as nails, and at home in the crevices no one else thought to check.
The smoke trail puffed wider as he came around the buttress. There was proud, chef-clad LaFlamme, crouching on the dirt and glaring death at nothing. A near-spent cigarette hung between her fingers; one heel bounced against the ground so hard that she shook.
Derek passed her, through the hot beam of her gaze and out of the smoke. He leaned onto the wall. He was near enough to ask for a light and, for an otherworld instant, he considered it.
LaFlamme said nothing -- she saw nothing, she knew only steam pressure and wildfire now. But she could endure. She had proved that. She didn't need the kind of help an Agent gave.
Breeze stirred in the treetops. Derek folded his arms, slowly. In the distance, a songbird chittered.
"The hell would you know about it? Butter-basted mignon." She dragged hard, cigarette's ember flaring; she shoved a ragged braid out of her face. "First time I'm away from the Orchard in three years and it's for this applesauce, season and sautée it, anybody else'd be running off and-- and-- I don't know, taking a day off, whatever you do on one of those, damned if I know. S'just about sticking to what you've gotta do even if you take some tack for it, and that's how I do things, always has been! Keep at it, and work hard and put out a good product and that means fifteen hours over a hot stove sometimes, bone anybody who-- who-- thinks it's just-- well, if you don't do it, you don't know!"
Derek's clearest memory of the Noisette's kitchen was a sudden awareness that something was wrong -- it was a feeling as plain and unspecific as that. He had looked up from the rack of gleamingly clean forks and watched the new prep cook -- his back bent studious, quick-darting white sleeves and head whipping as he searched. Obviously, the kid needed help. Derek had called the head grill cook and nodded toward the something-wrong, the sensation that needed to be corrected. A ponytail ghosted on his neck each time he thought about it. The Agent suit didn't change a thing.
LaFlamme dug another cigarette from her apron and pressed it to the first one's burning end -- carefully, trembling.
"And see what I get for all of it," she spat, "Blamed for this! You try to do a good thing, y'know, you work hard and try to keep people happy, look what it gets me!"
She threw the butt into the grass -- where it quietly smouldered -- and she barely finished another drag before exploding again.
"Years!" She waved a claw-tensed hand through the smoke. "Years! Working my rump roast off and it's not for any lack of trying to keep people happy, you think I don't want to clobber every meathead that comes through the door and looks at a perfect med-rare venison sirloin on morel-shiitake pilaf and asks for ketchup?! I worked corn-poppin' hard on that dish! Spent a whole week imagining what the forest would taste like, thinking about earthy green things and fiddling with the sage and chervil, yeah, please do dump a damn bottle of ketchup on it. I could just snap some days, I swear! Just tell it all to get stuffed!"
People more driven than her had done it. Making art from food was one thing, but it took a special breed to ride out the stress that came with it, to thrive on the punch-drunk highs and blackest lows and to alert Agents who didn't even know they were Agents. Derek hadn't been much for the cooking part of professional cooking. He had stuck to the black-caked roasting pans and wet-chugging old dishwasher -- his work involved humidity, not heat. He had seen dozens of short careers and sensed far more than that. He had made distinctions and notes for that star-emblazoned guidebook. And with Morris's friendly red pen, and Chieftain and Kahn's considering nods, the unneeded assists began dwindling away.
LaFlamme propped her forehead on a fist. The blaze and the ringing feedback left her, scarlet colour diluting in water.
"And it salad-tossin' figures, it's the one customer that doesn't give me a coronary! Every frickin' day he's been in! So what if he makes a pea-steamin' mess of the table, he's here, and those plates come back clean, even the squeezes and sauce sopped up with his bread. Y'know how many people just send my apricot relish back to be scraped into the damn trash? It's a bean-bakin' crime! And how about that bad February last year? I made it by pennies and most of them were from his meals, he's practically kept the place alive by himself all these years and I'm actually glad to see him every day, and if I go and squeal on my ... "
She sighed. She flicked ash from her cigarette.
"I guess the real thing is ... having the prairie oysters to stick by what you believe in. Loyalty or whatever. 'Cause if ... if I give one inch on my Orchard and it gets in the weeds -- and the emergency fund's gone, I'm toast if the oven goes again -- don't think for a second anybody'd be there to take care of it for me!"
A considering drag while she squinted away into the trees.
"'Cept Dempster." She sniffed like quiet defiance. "There's always Dempster. Christ, if he followed me any closer I'd be stepping on him, all this time-- So that's exactly the point, nothing can happen to the Orchard! Not those gossiping biddies, not Wright and Edgeworth and their corn-crackin' theories, n-not even ... if--"
LaFlamme bit herself off, and was quiet for a long moment. The forest murmured to itself.
"So ..." she tried. The heel-bouncing stopped, and she rubbed again at her messy braids -- she was suddenly grey and tired, older than she ought to seem, her tempo lacking. "It's down to my bistro or my customer? I'm not taking the fall for this, I can't! But he ..."
Life was full of wrenching choices. Whether it was closing a suffering business's doors, turning away from a supposed friend … Or doing something as simple as sending a monthly letter, telling family members little more than still alive. Agents never looked back: they only lived and helped others do the same. LaFlamme had never been one to look back, either.
"God, what do I do," she murmured into her lap.
It wasn't a question for anyone but her. Derek shifted, refolding his arms.
"How d'you choose? But he made the choice too, he-- I saw him, he decided what he was going to do, he knew damn well and then whats-her-face, Beasley? Turns up dead, practically on my doorstep! Where the biscuit-bakin' hell does that leave me?!"
LaFlamme looked up suddenly, sniffing hard, rubbing her nose with a knuckle. Fire crept back through her.
"I'll do the same stinkin' thing I've always done, that's what! Keep doing what I have to, and nothing's taking my Orchard down, not even-- That miserable sonnovaheifer dragged my Orchard into this! Flambée his broccoli-boilin' peaches with Grand frickin' Marnier!" She stood, brushing convulsively at her apron so the tongs swayed wild. "I like the bastard, don't get it flipped, but I know turning points and this is a fork stuck in the road." She took a last, hurried drag and dropped her cigarette to stamp on. "Barley's right. He's right and he finally speaks up when it counts, always knew the kid had it in him. Guess I better go tell the grill-greasin' truth, huh. "
She moved a step, and paused, drifting in a magnet's pull. Her rhythm settled into the even darting of a blue-yellow gas flame.
"Hey," LaFlamme muttered, sharp eyes darting between Derek and the grass at his feet, "You're all right."
And with a deciding hum to herself, LaFlamme stormed off -- the world would never get in her way.
Once her distinctive red and white had vanished around the courthouse corner, Derek lifted a hand to his communicator.
"I'm here, Derek," came Foxx's voice, softly anxious. "How's LaFlamme?"
"On her way back. She decided to testify."
"Good. Did you get any information from her?"
Nothing clear enough for a mission report, not by a long shot. Derek leaned his head back on the stone and considered the clouds. "She's not the perp. It's gonna be someone else we know." Just a feeling told him that, just a particular beat.
Foxx murmured agreement. "She's still hiding something? Wright has more work ahead of him, I suppose ..." Her keys clicked at an unsure pace. "It's someone we know ... Would I be wrong to guess that it's someone you know?"
"Could be." That was all Derek had to say about it. He knew a lot of people.
"I still don't like how this lines up. Have you noticed anything unusual in the courthouse?"
"Com link with Morris went down for thirty-three seconds, just before ten AM." And Foxx's lovingly tuned networks never went down -- limped with poor sound quality once in a while, maybe got an occasional whisper of static, but they never went down.
"Less than an hour before my link with Wright went down ..."
"Twice is coincidence," he offered.
"There are too many coincidences in this case. The perpetrator happens to match an Agent too closely for comfort, and now we have signal interference ... Stay with the courthouse, and let me know if there's any further disruption in the com lines. We have eyes on the police department as long as Edgeworth is pressing them for clues."
Foxx was getting better at speaking in the crisp tone of a leader. Times had changed. With a nod, Derek stood, and he was on the move toward anxious rhythms once more.
"We haven't seen the surveillance footage," Foxx mused. "Someone damaged that camera for a reason. And there's only speculation on the murder weapon … Same with the alleyway target. LaFlamme is still our best lead on those issues. I'll brief Wright. Over and out."
Questions and more questions. Derek took the side entrance back into marble and high ceilings, slowing his pace to courthouse unremarkable, his shoes' click echoing. Asking for answers meant getting them.
Of all people to scuttle up to him out during a confused recess, Phoenix wouldn't have expected Barley. Maya and Stewart stepped easily aside to make room for him, and Barley's lanky frame didn't take up as much room as they seemed to expect.
"I-I'm sorry," he whimpered, eyes on the floor, palms wiping on his smeared apron. "I-I didn't m-mean to interrupt your-- your case, Mr. Wright, I just h-had to."
"It's no problem!" Maya beamed up at him. "Nick's used to people barging in."
Sad, but true. "It's fine, Barley."
"Gotta do whatcha gotta do," Stewart agreed, scratching his head.
Barley's eyes widened, and he scrambled to adjust his cap. "Oh, goodness, I-I didn't mean to be rude!" He offered a hand to Stewart. "I'm Barley Dempster, Chef LaFlamme's apprentice."
"Stewart Lowe. Nice to meet ya."
The two of them had met already, in a way. But music sense didn't seem as straightforward as a name and a handshake. It was possible to know someone inside and out without knowing the simplest details about them.
With a grateful nod, Barley returned his gaze to the floor. "W-what I mean is, I-I had to come for-- for Cherry, but you-- S-Stewart? You're being accused, right? Of the m-murder?"
"Yeah. That's me ..."
"Oh, it's a g-good thing I came. Because you look just like him, and if Ch-- if LaFlamme was trying to protect him ..."
"Trying to protect who?" Phoenix asked.
"A ... A customer. Please don't think badly of Cherry, s-she's just looking out for her business. She works hard, she really does! B-But I ... I get a bad feeling from him. I s-shouldn't, he's the best regular we've got, he's nice enough, Cherry's just been so tense l-lately--" Barley looked at Phoenix, full of the same shivering bravery as when his hands were full of food-streaked towels. "She wouldn't-- s-she wouldn't do anything wrong, Mr. Wright. She j-just has something hurting her right now, something on her mind since that m-morning. I wish I knew what happened but she w-won't talk about it, a-and she hates asking for anything. She needs someone to make her talk." He wilted again. "I-I've never been very good at that ..."
So Cherry had a thorn in her paw -- but she also had evidence piled against her. Where could the contradiction be? What did Cherry have in her defense other than Barley's word?
"We'll help, Barley," Maya said, sympathy shining in her eyes. "We'll find the truth, for great justice!"
"T-Thank you." He managed a watery smile. "But I-- heavens, the Orchard! I had to, but ... I'm not watching the Orchard, oh dear, I-I need to go. Just take care of Cherry," Barley cried, dashing away, "Please, Mr. Wright!"
A moment passed, the three of them watching grease-streaked Barley vanish into the suit-and-tie courthouse crowds.
"I believe 'im," Stewart finally said. He shifted on his feet. "It's hard t'explain, but the vibes I get from him an' Cherry ... They're about movin' forward, y'know what I mean?"
"Phoenix, J," Foxx suddenly reported, "LaFlamme is on her way back. I'd imagine court will resume as soon as she's in custody. According to Agent recon, she's protecting a customer of the bistro--"
Barley's story checked out, at least.
"--And it was someone present on the morning of the murder, someone LaFlamme thinks had a plan. I have a bad feeling about this, Phoenix -- I need that patron's name as soon as you can get it."
So one customer could be that important, worth a whole business and its owner; the evidence and the possibilities raced in Phoenix's mind. There was always another side to the story.
The law's servants filed back to order, but it took long moments of the Judge banging his gavel to silence the buzzing gallery.
"Order in the court," the Judge ordered. "Are you prepared to resume the trial, Chef LaFlamme?"
Cherry once again gripped the stand with hard claws; her glare had dulled, and her red aura had cooled.
"Let's get one thing muffin-mixin' straight," she spat, "I'm gonna tell you what happened before the murder -- what actually happened. Just don't jump to any nutty conclusions, you got that, Wright?"
"How is this my fault?" Phoenix muttered.
Maya put a thoughtful finger to her temple. "You can get a bit nutty sometimes, Nick. Like a fruitcake. Totally bananas!"
Couldn't she keep her mind off her stomach for a few minutes?
The Judge nodded. "I hope the prosecution won't agitate the witness, either."
Edgeworth smirked. "I wouldn't dream of it, Your Honour."
There was a big difference between dreaming and doing, after all.
"Then please give us your revised testimony, Chef LaFlamme."
With a deep breath, Cherry began.
"So that whole morning, I was either in the kitchen cooking for all I was worth, or in the front serving customers. I didn't see anything out the side window. How the lasagna-layered hell could I have done that? All I know is I saw whoever killed the old bird running across the street and it looked like they went into the Orchard's alley."
"Hold it!" Phoenix rubbed his chin. "That was the dark-clothed man you mentioned earlier?"
Funny, Phoenix had expected a much … wordier answer.
Cherry tugged idly at the rubber bands around her wrist. "I was pretty pear-pickin' busy, you know. I didn't really get a good look at 'im. Like I said earlier, dark clothes and a freaked-out look on his face, coming out of the forest. What, didn't the camera tell you anything, Edgeworth?"
"It didn't at first," Edgeworth replied. "Because of the data you attempted to destroy, Chef LaFlamme."
Cherry shifted, grimacing like holding her comments back left a bad taste in her mouth.
"However, during the recess, the police department completed retrieval of the file."
"Retrieval?" the Judge wondered.
"Yes, Your Honour. There is a security camera in the Orchard's alleyway--"
"Cost a corn-breadin' arm and a frickin' leg," Cherry grumbled.
"--That had its feed interrupted by an electrical surge. The main lines to the camera are behind a locked gate that Chef LaFlamme has the keys to, and since she turned the device's storage module in to police, it's only reasonable that LaFlamme was the one to tamper with the device."
"Tampering by force, though," Foxx mused. "Did LaFlamme do that, or did someone else?"
Foxx sounded much more suspicious about the latter. Why would Cherry need to rip the wires out of a device she had complete access to?
But if Cherry had a problem with the camera's condition or the accusation of evidence fixing, she was biting her tongue about it. She glared at Edgeworth instead.
"Electronic files can be salvaged from seemingly destroyed hardware," Edgeworth went on, producing a photo. "And the camera's last image, taken within moments of the murder, is a telling one indeed."
"The court accepts it into evidence," the Judge agreed.
Phoenix received a copy from the bailiff: the photo was a harshly slanted aerial view of the Orchard's alley, trash bags and brick in monotone. Daylight streamed in from the right side and the fence boards' edges divided the scene into uneven halves. A timestamp along the edge placed the photo at eleven twenty-five AM -- within minutes of the murder.
Maya stretched closer to peer at it. "That's the alley, all right. Hey, what's that?"
"Right there!" She poked the lower-left corner of the photo, pointing at an odd-shaped black spot in the fence's shadows. "Looks like a gob of chocolate pudding to me."
Phoenix raised an eyebrow at her. "I don't think the police department eats dessert while photocopying evidence."
"Why not ...?"
"Okay, so there's the picture," Cherry said. "I wasn't done with my stinkin' testimony!"
"Very well, Chef LaFlamme." Edgeworth waved a hand. "Do go on."
"'Bout time you got it right," she muttered, and then continued, "The camera was set to take a photo of the alley once a minute. Beats the meringue outta me why something that expensive doesn't take footage, balsamic-dressed Bibb. But it keeps the punks away and I guess it got that shot of the running guy."
"If I may direct the court's attention to this portion of the photo," Edgeworth added, "The lower-left side."
"This dark spot?" the Judge asked. "Why, it looks almost like a licorice twist."
"Or pudding," Maya insisted.
"Maya," Phoenix sighed, "Please try to concentrate."
"I am trying, but it's almost lunchtime!"
"That spot," Edgeworth said, lifting palms in explanation, "Is not any sort of dessert, but in fact the leg of the dark-clothed suspect."
The Judge hummed, smoothing his beard. "Yes, the defendant was wearing a black suit and dress shoes when he was arrested, wasn't he?"
"And that would match Chef LaFlamme's account." Edgeworth phrased it like a question, with a quiet lilt of you won't stand for that, will you, Wright?
No, Phoenix wouldn't. "Objection! There's no way to confirm that this leg in the photo is my client's leg! Anyone at all can wear a suit and black shoes!"
"But only the defendant was seen running from the park and into the alley," the Judge said, fixing his darkening gaze on Phoenix, "And he was arrested in that alley moments later. Mr Wright, do you have evidence that the person in the photo is not the defendant?"
No proof that it was Stewart -- and no proof that it wasn't. Phoenix's thoughts left the box's confines, flew and found the fence door's groaning hinges, the flash of a brass lock--
"I have proof, Your Honour," Phoenix said. He tapped the photo. "Right here."
"In the photo? And where is this proof?"
"Well ..." Phoenix looked across the court to Edgeworth. "This fence has a door in it. It was shut at the time of my client's arrest, wasn't it?"
"According to police report, the fence door was locked at the time of Mr. Lowe's arrest," Edgeworth replied, "With a reinforced brass padlock that showed no signs of tampering. The opposite end of the alley is blocked by a fifteen-foot brick wall. No keys were found in the area or on the defendant's person."
Straightening, Phoenix put hands to his hips. "Then the person in the photo can't be my client -- he's on the wrong side of the door!"
"Mr. Wright. Chef LaFlamme was nearby, and regularly carries keys to the lock!"
"Like forkin' hell I went and let him in while I was that busy," Cherry snapped.
"Even so," Edgeworth said, "The defendant could have climbed the fence."
"But why would he get onto the other side of the fence, only to climb back and be caught by police?" Phoenix pointed, a sharp underscore. "That makes no sense!"
The gavel cracked, and in the pause afterward, the Judge grumbled thoughtfully.
"I must agree, it seems unlikely that the defendant would get past the fence, then return to be arrested. Then how do you explain this individual in the photo, Mr. Wright?"
There were plenty of possible answers -- a faked photo, or faked timestamp, or a deceiving shadow from alley trash -- but they still didn't know who Stewart followed into that alley. There was still a person missing from the puzzle. Cherry was protecting that person.
"The person in the photo," Phoenix announced, "Is not my client. But I believe Chef LaFlamme can tell us who it is."
The court held its breath while Phoenix looked to her. Another moment of tense stare passed between them, and then Cherry glared at the floor, propping hands on her hips. Phoenix thought suddenly of coals, red and grey and quietly searing.
"S'come to this, huh." Cherry sniffed, defiant. "Haven't you poked around enough to guess, Wright?"
She needs someone to make her talk, Barley memory-murmured. This time, Phoenix knew where to pry.
"Chef LaFlamme." He pressed palms to the stand; he leaned forward and felt taller. "I know you're hiding something. I know you're protecting someone, and if you withhold information, this court could find you guilty instead. For the sake of everything you've worked for, tell us."
Pressing her face into a palm, Cherry hissed a sigh. She took a slow breath. And then she spoke:
"Every day the Orchard's been open ... Every single maceratin' day, he's been there. Pathos. His name is Sior Pathos."
"No," Foxx breathed.
Another sniff, and Cherry shot her glare back at Phoenix -- not defeated, never.
"That's the guy in the photo. His apartment's on the other side of that fence, y'know -- he carped at the landlord 'til she put some home protection rigmarole. Wanted his front door safe. I never had to put the parsnip-peelin' camera there for him! Figures that it comes to this!"
"And why do you think this person in the photo is Mr. Pathos?"
"Because I saw him that morning, damnit," Cherry spat. "I see him every day, pâté on toast, I know what the bastard looks like! Always dresses nice -- suit and tie, his hair done, the whole hog."
"Like Stewart," Maya murmured.
"Like an Agent," Foxx hissed, keys clattering. "No!"
"The defense requests that the witness testify again about the individual she saw," Phoenix said.
Edgeworth folded his arms and said nothing.
The Judge nodded. "Please state once more for the court what you saw the morning of the murder, Chef LaFlamme. And be sure not to leave out any details."
"Linzerfrickin'torte," she grumbled, and began:
"Like I said before, I was basil-pickin' busy that morning. But Pathos was there for the beginning of the rush."
"Hold it," Phoenix called. "And when did the lunch rush begin?"
"Maybe ten-thirty." Cherry slowly shook her head. "Give or take. Pathos had the scallopine, that one just needs a minute in the pan and a few tournéed carrots, I got that made quick. Even got to chat with him for few minutes before the rest of the rush hit. He's writing some new article about the FBI or something."
"And how long," Edgeworth asked, "Did Mr. Pathos stay?"
"Pickled if I know! It was the lunch rush after that! I didn't have time to breathe, never mind look at the clock. Next thing I knew it was one-thirty."
"If he had time to eat a meal and begin writing," Phoenix wondered, "That must have taken at least twenty minutes."
"Twenty minutes?! Twenty minutes for fine dining?!" Cherry gripped the stand. "Monterey Jack, people like you-- Forty-five minutes, at least! Pathos has something resembling a palate!"
"Err, all right," Phoenix muttered -- cuisine was indeed serious business. "But you don't know exactly when Mr. Pathos left. Do you know the time you saw the dark-clothed figure running across the street?"
"During the rush! For the love of da Como, stick to washing dishes if you can't keep that much straight!"
"If we may continue," Edgeworth said, taking notes in crisp-jerking handwriting and looking mildly to Cherry. "You're familiar with Mr. Pathos, Chef LaFlamme, and you know how he was dressed on the morning of the murder. Are you sure you cannot identify the dark-clothed runner?"
She paused, and glared thoughtfully at the floor.
"The running guy was just some weird running guy to me. Didn't have a reason to look at his face. All I remember is the list in my head. You know, stuff to do -- that customer's getting hissy, need to brew more dark roast, brochettes are gonna burn if I don't get back to the kitchen. Couple hours of that. Pathos ... I know I moved his plate to wipe down his table, a few minutes after he was gone."
"Hold it!" Phoenix slammed palms against his stand -- someone LaFlamme thinks had a plan rang in his head. "You noticed when Pathos left. Chef LaFlamme, why were you paying that kind of attention if you were so busy?"
"I--" She scowled. "H-He ... said something weird, I caught it while I was going by."
"Something weird?" the Judge asked. "What sort of weird?"
"Something about getting one this time. Damned if I know what he meant, he just grabbed his stuff and bolted."
"So," Edgeworth said, "Mr. Pathos was behaving strangely before he left. Did you notice anything else remarkable?"
"Left crumbs all over the salt-curin' place that day. He doesn't usually make that much of a mess. He's got half an ounce of table manners, unlike most people." She paused again, smoothing her whites like forcibly lowering her own hackles. "I had Pathos's scallopine plate in my hand when I saw the guy running, had a bad grip on it and was having a flounder-poachin' aneurysm at the thought of dropping it, china's frickin' expensive, you know. And then it was all pouring drinks and racing around like a headless chicken again. You'd think iced tea was going out of style."
Edgeworth frowned. "The relevant details, please, Chef LaFlamme."
"That's relevant," she snapped, "To my panini-pressin' livelihood! Fine, the running guy, that's the part you want to hear about."
Thick silence fell.
"I ... can't remember." She shook her head, braids swaying. "I can't frickin' remember, except he was in dark clothes -- a dark suit, musta been. I saw a tie. Maybe the running guy was blondish, Pathos is blond, too. And maybe he had a freaked-out look on his face. I just know I had a weird feeling something was wrong. Pathos has been good to the Orchard, he's always there, he tips! If it was him, the least I could do was ... Maple-glazed ham."
"That's understandable," the Judge said, nodding. "A baked ham would be a wonderful thank-you gift!"
"Uhh, I don't think that's what she meant, Your Honour," Phoenix muttered. "But what Chef LaFlamme clearly does mean is that Mr. Sior Pathos was behaving strangely before the murder. He was unaccounted for after that, and he may have fled Foster Park shortly after the murder took place."
"The same way Mr. Lowe was seen fleeing," Edgeworth added. "But neither the surveillance photo nor Chef LaFlamme's account are decisive proof that Mr. Pathos was present at the scene of the murder."
"I agree, Mr. Edgeworth." The Judge reached for his gavel and decided, "This individual sounds suspicious, but there is no decisive proof against him. I believe that further investigation is necessary, and I trust that the prosecution will look further into the issue. Until tomorrow, this court is adjourned."
Court flooded out into the lobbies -- and Foxx hardly waited that long.
"I knew it, I suspected it," she hissed. "This matches up too neatly to be a coincidence! I-I should have been ..."
"We still got time," Stewart said, too unsure to sound very comforting.
"Phoenix ..." Foxx sighed. "Sior Pathos is flagged in our records as a security breach. He's been trying to expose the Elite Beat Agency for years."
"So, could this murder be an attack on the Agency?" Some kind of deliberate sabotage -- just like Foxx had wondered while they looked at a sketchy map together. Phoenix caught Maya's eye for a worried instant. "But ... how could this happen?"
"We hadn't been keeping close tabs on him personally. He publishes articles arguing that the Agency is a cruel, large-scale hoax, but he can't argue very effectively. The only concrete truth he knows is what the male Agents' uniform looks like. We should have known there would be trouble, he's been too calm!"
Raking a hand through his hair, Stewart muttered, "We hoped he'd be okay. That's all we can do."
"Hoped he'd be okay ...?" Maya asked, wide-eyed. "Did you try to help him?"
"Yeah. Somethin' like that. But ... " Stewart looked up suddenly -- the bailiffs still hovered across the room, too close for comfort.
"Phoenix, J," Foxx said, "Patching an Agent report through."
Before Phoenix could reply, a warmer voice added, "Hello, team. Do you copy?"
"Starr." Stewart brightened, "We never talk anymore!"
"Tell her I say hi," Maya chirped.
"It's been too long," Starr said; Phoenix could practically see her sunny-sly smile. "But I have good news -- I've met again with Mr. Vanderspiegle, and he's taken well to the idea of the Agency."
He probably also took well to Starr's false name and rhymed off half of its family tree.
"So," Phoenix asked, "We can trust Vanderspiegle?"
"Well, he has no way of contacting us, and all he knows is the nutshell version of what the Agency does. But ... he's a friend, yes. J is still listed in the employee rosters, and Vanderspiegle has expressed that he'll do more favours for the Agency's greater good. Keep it in mind, Phoenix. If you ever need--"
Static -- a harsh grating in Phoenix's ear -- and then silence. He was alone again, blind again, and panic forced a hand to his communicator.
"Try a barrel roll," Maya murmured.
"S'just interference," Stewart decided, lowering a hand from his own communicator. He folded his arms reluctantly around his chest. "Foxxie'll have it back up in no time."
And Stewart would know -- but that didn't make the seconds writhe by any quicker. The lobby's crowds roared dull around them.
"Testing," came Foxx's voice, a soft struggling through white noise. "Come in, BA-2."
"At your service," Stewart replied.
No amount of static could hide the taut-drawn panic in Foxx's words. "Alternate com procedures, alert mode. Over and out."
And with another crackle, the line went silent.
"Alternate com procedures …?" Phoenix wondered.
"Sounds important," Maya said.
Stewart chewed his lip. "Alert mode means somebody's catchin' on, so be careful, be invisible. She's cut our feeds. If this is what I think it is ... Somebody's messin' with our com lines."
He glanced again to the baliffs -- they stirred to action and began their approach across the lobby.
"Tch, I better pitch a fit if I don't get the shoes back. At least we can have some infra." He offered a weak fragment of a smile to Phoenix and Maya, and turned toward the baliffs. "Come to the detention center, Mr. Wright, Ms. Fey. This Pathos guy ... Looks like it's up to me to fill ya in."
It was the longest cab ride to the detention center Phoenix had ever taken. Maya must have felt the same, because she squirmed beside him and saved her chattering.
After a forever of waiting, bailiffs ushered Stewart into the visitation room.
"Hey," he said, and nodded to the bagged shoes he set in his lap. "I think they're startin' to think I'm weird, for bein' so picky about these."
"I'm sure the detention center guards have seen worse," Phoenix said.
"Yeah," Maya chirped, "They don't look twice at me anymore!"
Anyone but Maya would consider that a bad thing.
Stewart smiled sympathetic, as he settled in his chair. "Awright, so I got an infra transmission from Foxx. Short an' sweet, but she's workin' on alternate com lines. In the meantime ... Guess you got some questions, huh?"
Phoenix nodded. "Yes, about Sior Pathos. Just who is he?"
"He writes articles for paranormalist magazines an' tabloids an' stuff. He talks about the Agency a lot -- our suits, our mikes, the music sense an' the dancing, he's described all of that. He's got a pretty big grudge against us."
"A grudge?" Maya brought a hand to her mouth. "But why would anyone hate Agents?"
For a moment, Stewart was quiet, slouched and hitching his thumbs into his pockets. A stirring in the air pulled Phoenix's attention: cool and silver, grim and clattering. By the time awareness spiked in him -- the hurt sensation secrets always brought, the urge to grip the magatama and pry for truth-- the clattering drained to calm silence, and Stewart was looking at his feet.
"Well ... He used to be a business exec with Nexus Broadcast, real successful guy. Had the corner office an' a secretary an' everything. Seemed like he had a great career ahead of 'im." Stewart paused, and raked hair momentarily out of his face. "An' then he had a report due, some proposal to the higher-ups. Had to have it finished by the time his boss walked in the next morning. So Pathos was hunched over this report in the middle of the night, focused and workin' as hard as he could, an' he didn't have the viewership stats he needed. How was he supposed to make a decent report outta nothin', right? He was scared an' runnin' outta time. That's when the Agency picked up his signal."
Stewart's gaze flicked off to one side. Chains stirred.
"He got an assist from a team of three Agents. Those were the early days -- we didn't even have transducers in the suits or anything, we were still figurin' out the protocol for just goin' around helping' people who needed it. Pathos needed help, but ... not from us."
"It didn't go well. The rhythm was there, I mean, he wrote the report but we just didn't think about what happens when you try to compose a serious business proposal on that kinda energy rush. The report bombed, an' Pathos got written up ... Long story short, he got fired."
"And that made him hate Agents," Maya wondered. "So that means he knew Agents were there?"
"You look at a big crowd of people," Stewart began, "Like a grocery store on a busy day, or somethin'. Maybe four or five of those people have the potential for music sense. They can tell when somebody's feelin' scared or sad, or they know things they shouldn't. Maybe they get a tune stuck in their head that gets 'em through a tough spot. Most of the time, they got no idea what they're sensin' until somebody tells 'em." His voice dropped. "Pathos knew. He felt it an' he looked out the window for us. He knew."
Quiet smothered again. Phoenix swallowed, gathering the nerve to say it:
"Stewart ... It sounds like you were there."
There was metal in the air, but Stewart didn't hesistate. "Yeah. That was my second mission." He chuckled, limply. "I hadn't even broken the suit in. Still needed line-of-sight to know for sure who my target was. Still had Derek an' Morris flankin' me in case I tripped on my own feet. It's ... I can still remember that moment Pathos finished the report, an' his rhythm settled an' it all clicked, but there was somethin' still not right. He looked at that report -- this really long look like he couldn't remember writin' it -- an' then he turned an' looked out the window, across all the rooftops, right at me. He knew, I could sense it."
"That's terrible ..." Maya murmured. "You were only trying to help."
"Things you learn," Stewart said -- like he had thought those exact words until they wore threadbare. "We pretty much don't touch business situations anymore, they're too finicky for us to charge in there with music energy. But that first time with Mr. Pathos, we just did what we could. We just felt somebody feelin' desperate and we did what Agents do."
A thought forced out of Phoenix's mouth: "You ... can't tell what's going on at a first glance. So you just put everything you have into helping, and ... all you can hope for is that everything falls into place."
Maya turned to beam at him. And, slowly, Stewart smiled, too.
"Yeah, you got it," he said.
Finally, this Agent business made sense.
Phoenix leaned forward, forearm over his knee, running a hand through his spikes. There were still more puzzle pieces to shift into place.
"All right. So Pathos is holding a grudge against the Agency, and he has some idea of how Agents work. If what Chef LaFlamme says is true, he had a plan on the morning of the murder."
"Could be," Stewart said, resigned, his voice weighted. "We keep track of all the articles he writes. He doesn't know about the Agency, exactly, he thinks we're a civilian secret project. Figures we have a com network just to find an' target people when they're upset, like a-- Like we're pullin' some kinda mean joke. He thinks we should all be locked up."
"Wait." Maya flailed her hands. "Didn't you say you thought he was doing okay? If he's mad enough to write things like that ..."
"That was--" Sighing -- frustrated and sharp -- Stewart raked at his hair again. "I thought he was doin' okay, I honestly did! An' the Commander figures as long as Pathos doesn't know our actual ops, we're better off just keepin' quiet and letting 'im be. An' I saw 'im at restaurants an' coffee shops when I was patrollin' sometimes, I kept an eye out for his rhythm. He seemed calm, like everythin' wasn't perfect but it was at least goin' the way he wanted! Didn't seem like he was still sore about losin' his job ..." Stewart's gaze slunk down and away. "Guess I was wrong 'bout that, too."
The quiet was worse than ever, a heavy pain in Phoenix's chest. He tried to fish up the right words.
"Hey, we got a chance to figure this out," Stewart offered. "It's another shot at the mission, I guess."
If Pathos was the killer, an investigation wouldn't help him -- and neither would Phoenix.
"There's still time, Nick." Maya tugged at his sleeve, her own smile creeping back. "You could learn a few dance moves."
That wouldn't help anyone.
"Hey, Ms. Fey, you didn't get a com link, didja?" Stewart peeled wiring from around his ear. "There's no sense keepin' me wired when you're the one out in the field."
"Wow," she squeaked, "Really? Thanks!" She scooped up the little electronic spider from the slot in the plexiglass, and sat there transfixed by it -- either contemplating how to put it on, or just hypnotized by the shiny metal.
"Center node tucks into your ear," Stewart said, "An' the longest wire goes forward. S'like those ear bud headphones, almost. But the receiver mike's ... Uhh, sorry, I can't give ya that. Nothin' personal."
He lifted a fine chain from around his neck, a quick glimpse of gold before he dropped it back into the safety of his T-shirt collar. Maybe it was Agency policy to only bug objects of sentimental value -- it would keep the equipment from getting lost.
"Just stick close to Mr. Wright an' use his mike. Foxxie'll know what's up when she sees my transmit on the move." Stewart rubbed where his com wires used to be, and looked between Phoenix and Maya like it was the first time he ever had. "We got a startin' place to find Pathos now. Just remember we're in alert mode. Be careful, awright? Foxx'll be back in touch as soon as she can. We're all right behind ya."
They left the detention center, thinking over these newest twists of the labyrinth. If he hadn't been reminded, Phoenix might have forgotten that he didn't have Foxx listening in. He glanced up and down the bus -- and decided the senior citizens were no threat -- before touching the round node of his communicator. Silence answered him.
"It's not very secret if you keep poking at it," Maya informed him, as though she wasn't fiddling with her own wires at that very moment.
"Sorry," Phoenix muttered, "I don't watch a lot of spy movies."
"You stayed awake through most of Shuriken's Mark!"
Phoenix blinked. "Wasn't that about ninjas?"
"Well," Maya chirped, smoothing her hair into place over the re-fiddled com link, "They're practically the same thing, Agents and ninjas!" She bunched fists. "They both fight for what is right, hunting evil from the depths of the shadows! And they look really cool doing it!"
Uncovering the truth behind an Agent mission, Phoenix could handle, but it was the sneak attacks from ceilings he wasn't so sure about. He sighed.
"You're getting that look again, Nick."
He looked up at her. "Huh?"
"The look you get right before Sis shows up to help. Do you want me to call her?"
He wanted to say yes; he could taste the word. Phoenix looked at Maya and remembered the com link hidden under her hair, and her bouncing effervescence in the Agents' base. Mia had the sharpest mind of anyone he had ever known, he felt less lost with the Chief by his side, but...
"No," he decided. "This case is about Agents. They taught you about music sense, didn't they?"
She lit with understanding. "Oh, yeah! It's a lot like my E.S.P., that's part of what they showed me!'
Ignorance being bliss, Phoenix wasn't about to ask what else Maya picked up from Missy.
"If this Mr. Pathos has music sense, we'll need to think like an Agent to figure this case out."
"No problem," Maya beamed, "I can tell you everything you need to know, Nick! And teach you to do cartwheels!"
Would it be easier to give in and learn a few dance moves? Phoenix nudged his briefcase closer to his heels, and shuffled through his thoughts -- their stop wasn't far off, and the Orchard had more to uncover.
The breeze from Foster Park blew cooler than the past few days, and police officers' dark forms still milled on the forested path -- all using fine-toothed combs, if Edgeworth had any say in it. Phoenix and Maya crossed the street, heading straight for the alley's shadow, and the thought struck Phoenix that they weren't the first ones to take the route. Foxx's diagram swam vague in his thoughts.
This time, a familiar broad, trenchcoated figure bustled among the boxes and rubbish.
"Hi, Detective Gumshoe," Maya called, with a friendly flail.
He started, and whirled to face them. "Hey, pal," he snapped, "You shouldn't sneak up on people! What if I was doing some delicate police stuff?"
For one thing, Maya was about as stealthy as a herd of buffalos, and for another, police stuff?
"Sorry," Maya said, and peered at Gumshoe, eyes bright. "Are you doing super-advanced tests for traces of things? Can I watch?"
"Uhh ... It's nothing that important, actually." Gumshoe scratched his head. "Mr. Edgeworth just wanted Chef LaFlamme to sign some paperwork. We made a deal with her: we'll drop the perjury charges if she cooperates with the investigation."
"You're investigating the alley some more?" Phoenix asked.
"Yep!" Gumshoe's chin lifted, his chest puffing proud. "I'm checking one more time for evidence! But I don't think there's anything here, except the fingerprints on the fence door lock ..." He deflated. "I hope I didn't mess those up. Just between you and me, pal, taking prints is really tricky, especially with the lock still on the door. It's hard to check both sides."
Apparently, Gumshoe hadn't thought to ask for the keys -- Phoenix knew an opportunity when he saw one.
"So ... you talked to Chef LaFlamme," he tried.
Gumshoe stared. "You want to know if she's in a scary mood, right, Mr. Wright? It's all over your face, pal."
A heads-up would be nice. Phoenix rubbed his neck. "She does, uhh ... get a little testy." And if she resented Phoenix before he tore her down in open court ...
"Watch out," Maya said, grinning, "She might bite."
"You should stay up to date on your shots, pal! I am!" Gumshoe chuckled, then added, "After the weasel incident, anyway. Besides, Chef LaFlamme wasn't too scary at all when she was signing. It's like she's gotten something off her chest."
With that, Gumshoe checked inside the pockets of his faithful coat, and poked the contents for good measure.
"I'd better get back, Mr. Edgeworth needs these papers. Oh, Maya!" He stopped short. "Did you find a gold-coloured wire when you were making a zoo out of my whosits?"
"Detective Gumshoe," she chided, "They're called whatsits."
His shoulders fell to meek slopes, one hand creeping to the back of his head. "I think the technical name is doowhackeys. But you didn't see a gold one, did you?"
Phoenix and Maya looked to each other -- were they supposed to be paying that kind of attention to a jumble of electronic scraps? They shook their heads.
"That's okay," Gumshoe said, a wide smile spreading on him, "I always keep a spare one in the glove compartment. Anyway, let me know if you find anything good, pal!"
He was gone with a wave and a flap of green-drab coattails. Phoenix looked back to Maya, who was examining the fence door, tugging it to hear the lock's moorings rattle.
"Yeah, it's locked, Nick." She looked questioningly to him. "So we're starting with Chef LaFlamme?"
"Well, I wasn't planning on jumping the fence."
Vaulting over things wasn't Phoenix's idea of fun, that was all. "Let's just ask around some more, first."
The Orchard's jingling bells greeted them. So did Barley, popping up from behind the counter, compulsively straightening his cap.
"Oh, M-Mr. Wright, Ms. Fey! Goodness, h-hello, I wasn't, err, I-I was just cleaning the c-coffee machine, I'm sorry. Are you staying?"
"Are we ...?" Phoenix repeated. "Oh, no. We're not here to eat, Barley."
"We're not ...?"
He knew better than to look at Maya's puppy eyes.
"We just need more information from your boss. Would it be all right if we talked to her?"
Thought tightened Barley's face, and he fidgeted again at his cap -- it was a wonder he hadn't rubbed every hair off his head yet. And then Barley waved them closer, glancing back to the kitchen.
"I-I think so," he murmured, "I can't thank you enough, Mr. Wright, really. She only cuts this much mirepoix when she's upset but s-she's more like the Cherry I know now, she's talking again, I-I was so worried." He twisted his side towel, smiling sheepishly. "Uhh, I-I think she'll help you, th-this time."
"We need to know more about Pathos," Phoenix said. "We have to find him and we're running out of time."
Barley opened his mouth to reply, and instead gulped like a goldfish -- Cherry, appearing from the kitchen, snatched his attention.
"We're on the last bunch of celery, I'm-- Flank freakin' steak roulade, you again?" But there was no fire in it -- Cherry's jaw set, and she paid sudden attention to straightening her apron.
"Chef LaFlamme," Phoenix tried, and ran out of words. If he couldn't expect bristling opposition from her, what exactly could he expect?
"You got your truth, and I signed the cream-whippin' forms," she snapped, "What the hell else do you want?"
"We just wanted to talk," Maya said. She crept closer, like she could peek around Cherry and see a sparkling wonderland of fine cuisine. "What are you making?"
A laugh-like huff shook Cherry. "S'just mirepoix, kid, it's not anything yet. Have a look if you want."
She stalked back into the kitchen, with Maya close at her heels. Feeling more sorely out of place than ever in the face of tile and cast iron, Phoenix followed.
Mirepoix, it turned out, was just an enormous bucket of roughly cut vegetables. Yellow shards of onion skin littered Cherry's cutting board; her disturbingly large knife flashed effortless through carrots.
"Carrots, celery and onion are the basis of everything in the kitchen," Cherry explained to no one in particular, scooping the cut pieces into the bucket. "Stocks, sauces, roasts -- everything. All starts with the foundations of flavour."
"You must have to cut lots," Maya wondered, standing on tiptoe to peer into the bucket.
"I dunno, it's kinda relaxing."
Relaxing by hacking things to bits? Was that ... healthy?
"So?" Cherry shot a glance to Maya, and a more pointed one to Phoenix -- maybe he wasn't huddled out of the way enough. "You'd better not be here just to watch prep, this isn't a bean-bakin' free show."
"We need to know more about Sior Pathos," he said.
"Hasenpfeffer, weren't you paying attention?" Cherry spat. She gave the carrots a particularly vicious chop.
"Err, no," and Phoenix lifted his hands, "I don't mean on the morning of the murder. He's your best customer, isn't he?"
"Are you two friends?" Maya added. She had busied herself gathering a fluffy handful of onion skin bits.
The knife's rhythm stopped. Cherry scowled at the vegetables. "...Do you believe me?"
"Uhh," Phoenix's mouth managed without him.
"About Pathos. I know what I frickin' saw, I didn't want to think he was planning any ..." She shook her head, braids stirring across her bowed shoulders "I ... I wouldn't hurt anybody, how the hell would that help me, braise it in Cabernet! It's bad enough this place is my everything, but you never know who's the undercover newspaper critic, or who's gonna tell their friends the service was lousy, or who might just start eating your food every damn day and actually compliment you on the seasoning like he knows the first pepper-grindin' thing about it! You're only as good as your last order."
Maybe Cherry didn't expect an answer. She hunkered back over the board and aligned her knife to the carrots, a samurai drawing blade.
"I believe you," Phoenix said. He was fairly sure he meant it.
She flicked a glance to him and considered, the narrowness leaving her gaze. And she glanced to Maya -- who nodded, and glowed reassuring.
"Huh." Putting one hand on her hip, Cherry laid down her knife and rubbed knuckles hard on her forehead. "If Pathos made a teaspoon full of sense -- I guess we're friends, or something. Pathos's obsessed with these Agents, some conspiracy thing, hell if I know. I asked him once and he didn't say anything, just gave this little smile and whipped out some articles. Guess I should read those sometime. Never have the energy by the time I scrub the place down at night, and see if I can get any sleep with him tromping up and down the stairs! Who goes for a walk at three in the lemon-zestin' morning?"
Phoenix blinked. "He's ... in the restaurant at night?"
"Yeah, I've never seen such a stupid layout in my life," she hissed, "Contractors with tapioca for brains--"
"U-Uhh, Chef ...?"
It was anyone's guess how long Barley had been standing there.
"Dempster." Cherry looked up -- there was something patient in her snap, something routine. "What?"
"Coffee Guy is here." Barley shuffled closer, wiping his palms on his apron. "I-I started a pot of Panama roast."
Whipping a side towel off her apron, cleaning the carrot-bright tint from her hands, Cherry muttered, "Probably drink seventeen frickin' cups as usual. Fine, I'll get him."
"Um," Barley murmured, "I-is there anything else you want m-me to do?"
"Stove could use a good scrub, caramel doesn't clean itself up. Use the purple degreaser stuff."
Barley nodded, shifting out of Cherry's way, watching her sling the towel over her shoulder in a white arc. And once Cherry was fully gone, he scuttled to her workstation, picking up the few remaining onion skin shards, eyes flicking between Phoenix and Maya.
"Really, t-thank you," he said, a grateful whisper. "S-She's ... I don't know if anyone can see it but me."
"It's easy to see that she feels better," Maya offered, wandering to the garbage can and dropping her onion skins in like fluttering confetti.
Phoenix edged out from the oven nook. Barley whisked out of his way, unconscious and automatic.
"That's good," Phoenix tried, "But she didn't tell us very much. Except that Pathos can get into the restaurant at night ...?"
"Oh!" Barley straightened with a jerk -- he twitched toward his hat, but both hands were full of vegetable scraps. "Oh, she d-didn't tell you about that? Uhh--" He started in five directions before remembering where the garbage can was. He quick-brushed his hands clean and dug into his apron's pocket. "I can-- I can show you! Um, t-there, now let me see, heavens, w-where are-- Ah!" He produced his little, precious keyring. "Ch-Chef LaFlamme made me copies of the back access keys, i-in case anything comes up, " he said, like it was a high honour. "T-This way, please."
And Phoenix and Maya followed him, past the pots and down the dingy-plastered stairwell, back into the heavy, tantalizing scent of bread. Barley stopped at a scuffed door -- Phoenix had seen it before and guessed it was a broom closet.
"That f-fence was put up in the alley for Mr. Pathos," Barley began, sorting the three keys with shaking hands, "Because the alley d-door, that's his front door, but there's n-no deadbolt or anything. H-he wanted a fence with a second lock. To feel safer, I-I suppose ..."
Finally selecting the right key, Barley coaxed the locked doorknob into clunking open.
"B-But the fence locks on the outside, with a padlock, so i-it can't be opened from the inside. H-He'll lock it, and then he has to go around, th-through the other side of the building, o-or through the Orchard sometimes ... I-It doesn't seem l-like a very good design, t-to me."
Stepping through the door found them in a wide, steel-coloured stairwell, in the shadow of the box-circling stairs above.
"So," Phoenix said, "Mr. Pathos lives here?"
Barley nodded. "On the second floor, th-that's his apartment."
And he could walk right through Cherry's kitchen whenever he felt like it -- more like a roommate than a customer.
Fidgeting at his hat, shrinking, Barley murmured, "Cherry-- Ah, Chef LaFlamme says she d-doesn't mind. I d-don't know if she means it, s-she's so grateful to Mr. Pathos, i-if it weren't for h-him, th-the bills--" He looked to Phoenix and Maya with mouse eyes. "H-He's very nice, he just, uhh, m-makes me nervous. There's something about him-- And I think he's out right now, m-maybe-- Oh, Mr. Wright, Ms. Fey, heavens, m-maybe you shouldn't be here, I-I don't w-want--"
"We won't tell anyone," Maya chirped, "And won't touch anything and no one will ever know! Promise!"
Maya promising not to touch anything was like a city pigeon promising not to make a mess of car windshields.
"Uhh, we just need to see where the alley door leads," Phoenix added, "For the case."
Nodding, Barley wiped at his apron. "O-Okay. This door l-locks automatically, you w-won't be able to get back out through the Orchard b-but you can get back out t-to the street." He smiled weakly. "I ... uhh ... good luck!"
Barley left, closing the door behind him. The latching click rattled up and away. Phoenix hadn't thought his shoes clicked but everything seemed loud in here, especially Maya clomping up the stairs in her wooden sandals.
"Nowhere to go but up, I guess ..." he wondered, and glanced to each empty corner before taking the wide, grey-painted stairs himself.
They emerged in a hallway, a dingy-plastered one -- exactly like the Orchard's storeroom, just without the cooking paraphernalia. One dome-shaped light clung to the ceiling and gave flickering yellow light.
"Down the stairs, and back up the stairs," Phoenix muttered, shifting his briefcase to his other hand, "Why isn't there a door straight through this wall?" His sense of direction wasn't the best, but they couldn't have moved far horizontally.
"The contractors were too busy eating tapioca, I guess," Maya wondered, looking up and down the corridor so her hair whipped. "The alley is this way, right? So there should be a door ..."
She scampered a few steps and peered around a corner, farther than the light reached. Rubbing his neck, Phoenix looked the opposite way, to the door he imagined led out to the street. A stern column of deadbolts stood out from the metal and the plaster -- one deadbolt was necessary, two were understandable, but wasn't five locks a tad excessive?
"Yep, here's his front door," Maya called, waving Phoenix over with far too much enthusiasm. "And more stairs! Let's go look!"
Phoenix didn't know why he even bothered consulting his better judgement anymore; Maya vanished around the corner, and he sighed, and followed.
Pathos's front door entrance was the battered metal one they had seen from the alley -- it was just as battered on the inside as the outside, and there wasn't a deadbolt to be seen. If Phoenix's front door had a sliver of daylight showing around the doorknob like that, he'd probably want an extra fence, too.
The flight of stairs was dressed with the same grey paint and poor light, but only a half-flight of stairs passed before floor spread out ahead. A high, white, angular ceiling appeared, with the kind of skylight a museum might have and a dust-speckled column of afternoon sun.
"If that's his front door down there," Maya wondered, pacing a circle while she looked around, "Why does he have another one here?"
This one certainly looked more like a person's front door: it was painted turquoise and fitted with a brass peephole, like every other apartment door since the dawn of time.
"They wouldn't both be front doors, Maya," Phoenix said.
"Why not?" Maya put a thoughtful finger to her cheek. "They're both at the front of his house, aren't they?"
"The first one is the front door and the next one would ... just be a door."
"How about a backup door? Or a runner-up door?"
Why did everything have to be complicated? Phoenix passed a small table -- at least, there was probably a small table under the papers and clutter. He reached the door and, sparing a glance for the dust clumps trapped in the paint, tried the knob. It didn't budge. At least that made sense -- it was an ordinary apartment door, quite ordinarily locked.
"I think it's just a door," he muttered.
"Oh, come on, Nick, have some imagination!"
He turned to find Maya bent over the cluttered table, inspecting the briefcase tucked beside it.
"Like this briefcase! It's got swanky alligator texture in the leather and everything." She grinned up at him, clicking gold lock tumbles under her thumb. "What do you think is in here? I'll bet it has a million dollars."
He raised an eyebrow. "You think so ...?"
Maya nodded. "Or a monkey. Haven't you always wanted a monkey?"
He'd had his fill of monkeys, thanks. Phoenix went to Maya's side and peered down over her shoulder -- it was an awfully nice briefcase, maybe the leather was even real. Between the briefcase and the table's piled notes, receipts and bent-edged business cards, this had to be one of those tables designated for dumping the odds and ends an ordinary day gathered. Funny that there weren't more candy wrappers, then, or maybe that was just Phoenix. Or, rather, just Maya.
And then the oddly neat paper stack caught Phoenix's eye. He nudged aside a grocery receipt and seventeen cents to lift a sheet from the top: it was a photocopied magazine article, a neatly typeset column haloed with fuzzy grey.
"What's this ...?" he said, and skimmed the first paragraph:
--the inspiration for these acts could be from any number of sources. And while these Agents wear suits, the uniform of the people, just what end are they working toward?
Phoenix lifted a page's corner off the top of the stack, and another, and another. They were all smudgy replicas of articles. The word Agent leaped off of every page.
"What is it, Nick?" Maya asked.
"I think these are the articles Mr. Pathos wrote."
Yes, they had to be, with S.P. the only author credit. Phoenix sifted through the pile and pulled a selection of articles, different shapes and patterns of ink but the same weight in his gut, every skim-read word sinking into anxious tar.
"Why would he keep so many--"
Phoenix heard echoes, footsteps ringing up the stairs but they were too close and it was too late.
"May I ask," came a level voice, "What you're doing here?"
The voice shot terror through Phoenix. He turned, and there stood a man suited, coiffed and very faintly smiling; Maya squeaked and the sound skittered off the high walls.
"U-Uhh," Phoenix tried, clawing for something to say, "We're, err..."
"Just on your way out, I'm sure." The man's smile grew, pulling creases around his eyes. There was nothing reassuring about it. If this was who Phoenix was sure it was ...
"We're lawyers," he managed -- that was a good start. "Uhh, we're ... investigating a murder case."
"You're Phoenix Wright, correct?" The man's brows lifted. "I see. And I trust that you have all the appropriate warrant documentation--"
The what now?
"--For a search like this. Very well." He smiled tighter, and offered a long-boned hand -- hesitantly, like he had just remembered his right hand existed. "My name is Sior Pathos, and I reside here."
That moment stood surreal -- Pathos's razor-blue eyes, his smile and pained twitch in his brow as Phoenix took his hand. Where could he go from here? Phoenix knew too much about a stranger's old troubles and a wealth of top-secret information. His tongue knotted tighter. What was he even free to say?
"So, uhh--" Fake scratching his ear, jab at the communicator, wish for Foxx's voice. He heard static, just a whisper of it, but maybe that was good? Any transmission was better than no transmission?
"Hmm." Pathos's look narrowed, barely long enough to stand out from the manicured smile. It was surreal, how much he looked like Stewart -- same height, same broad shoulders and forward-swept blond hair -- and yet moved absolutely nothing like him. "I see you've found my articles, Mr. Wright. Have you had the opportunity to read any?"
"Oh, the articles?" That was safe enough, wasn't it? Phoenix glanced to his handful of papers. "I-- well, I had a look at them."
"You're published in magazines?" Maya crept to Phoenix's side. "Are you a reporter?"
"A reporter ...?" Pathos shook his head once, slow. "I haven't got the credentials for that, I'm afraid. All I write is what I know to be true. Please take those copies, I've made them to share. You might find them enlightening."
Enlightening, indeed. Phoenix set his briefcase by his feet, folded the sheets into almost-even quarters and stuffed them into his pocket.
And Pathos carried on watching them, smiling, his gaze unwavering like a splinter driving under a fingernail. Static still hummed in Phoenix's ear, and he still had nothing to say.
"If that's all you needed to know ...?" Pathos said, passing Phoenix and Maya. He moved sure, like important boardrooms waited for him. Each step clicked the way only dress shoes could.
This was nowhere near all he needed to know. Phoenix choked a confused sound, and managed, "I need to know where you were at eleven AM, on Tuesday morning."
"Tuesday? The same place I always am." Pathos's head bent, contemplative, his neck starkly pale against indigo suit collar as he dug in his pocket for keys. "In the Orchard, having lunch, working on my next article. Chef LaFlamme will tell you the same, I trust you've met her?"
Phoenix couldn't let this opportunity get away. He stepped forward, Maya's small presence shifting behind him.
"You were writing in the Orchard bistro," Phoenix said, and slid his hand into his pocket, feeling steel chains' presence already, "But what did you do after that?"
Pathos froze; chill stole through the air. And Phoenix's fist closed around the magatama as chains snaked in tighter, as the tune swelled. Pathos turned, his five Locks glinting.
"I took a walk through the park, Mr. Wright. It's good to clear one's head."
Something thrummed different, the colours stirred slower and it wasn't just from Pathos's knife of a smile. Phoenix tightened grip on the magatama.
"It may be good for you, but I don't think it was good for anyone else."
Pathos blinked. "And why is that?"
He was acting like he didn't know -- then why didn't the chains strain to hold it all in, why did the colours murmur around Pathos instead of singing clear? Phoenix needed to strike at the right angle, but how was he supposed to know--
... Not enough ...
Here was the problem, he knew with a shiver as Pearl's whisper echoed to nothing. The eretheral song faltered and the foyer walls crept closer. The magatama's charge was fading, and when there was nothing left--
Phoenix squeezed the gem tighter, and listened harder to every note; he didn't have a second to waste.
Pathos lifted a brow. "If something is the matter, Mr. Wright--"
"There was a murder in the park Tuesday morning," Phoenix blurted, reedy notes filling his head, "Committed by someone well-dressed. A witness reported a suited man, and the footprints found near the scene are from a men's dress shoe. That sounds remarkably like you, Mr. Pathos!"
A crack skittered loud off the walls, but no Lock fragments peppered the air -- there was only the flash in Pathos's eyes.
"A suited man?" A smile twitched at the edges of his mouth. "That's a rather vague testimony to be accusing people of murder on, Mr. Wright."
The same double edge as always -- seeing a suited man didn't prove a thing, because suited men were thick on the ground. Phoenix gritted his teeth.
And Pathos turned away; the magatama had no strength to hold him with. They weren't done and the warm glow faded from Phoenix's palm, but why could he still hear the truthsong, struggling and distant?
"If you wish to accuse a suited man of wrongdoing," Pathos said, airily, hand returning to his pocket for house keys, "You'll need a basis for your accusation. You'll need a motive. And if you have nothing of that nature to discuss, I'll bid you goodbye."
"I have more than that." Phoenix stepped forward, left the gem in his pocket and clenched fists by his sides. "Y-You--"
But where to start? All the proof of Pathos's presence was circumstantial, and all of Phoenix's information was Agent-laced. If only there were some common knowledge-
"Special ops, come in."
Foxx's voice, blessedly familiar. Phoenix's hand flew to his ear. "Yes! I'm here!"
And then he realized his mistake. He felt colder than ever as Pathos turned back to eye him.
Phoenix still had a hand at his earpiece, another mistake -- he dragged it backward to rub his neck. "I-I'm here ... to, uhh, f-find out possible motive. For the murder."
"And what did you have in mind," Pathos asked like glacier water. He faced Phoenix, and smiled.
"Y-You," and Phoenix scrabbled. He needed common knowledge, like a person's job, like how Phoenix himself was known to be a lawyer. "You worked for Nexus, didn't you?"
"Phoenix," Foxx breathed, "Are you ...?"
"Now, that's interesting, Mr. Wright." Pathos folded his arms and carried on smiling. "I don't recall mentioning Nexus Broadcast. Why do you bring it up?"
Wrong question, wrong question -- panic spread shuddering through Phoenix. "Y-Your--" his mouth tried, "When you were let go--"
"And the circumstances of my resignation were not made public."
"Phoenix," Foxx cried in his ear, "Abort! Get out of there!"
"No one but my supervisors at the time ought to know that I was ... let go. You seem to know me, Mr. Wright, more than reason can explain." His gaze darted away to Maya's quiet shuffling, and back to Phoenix, narrowing venomous. "Don't think I didn't notice that little pang you gave me. I know what your kind can do."
His kind? But that was all wrong, Phoenix ... had the magatama. He had broken a Psyche Lock and he was wearing an earpiece and a suit. He lifted useless hands. "W-What? No, I didn't--"
"Oh, I'm sure you did. And I've got exactly what I need to tell the world about you." Pathos's gaze snapped suddenly to Maya, widening. "Don't touch that!"
She must have found key evidence, a weapon, and the danger that came with it and what if something happened -- Phoenix looked to Maya, her deer-startled face and her hand clasping to her chest.
"It's just ...?" she murmured. Her hand opened. "A coupon."
"Just a …?" Phoenix looked around him, finding Pathos's neck-prickling presence gone.
"It's for thirty cents off Toss N' Bake," Maya wondered small. "Is it really that big a deal?"
It couldn't be, could it? Pathos's footsteps in the stairwell faded away, and the logo-emblazoned coupon Maya clutched wasn't clicking into place.
"A coupon? But why would--"
Realization struck cold. Phoenix looked to the floor, to the empty space where his briefcase should have been.
Thinly-reined panic filled Foxx's voice. Phoenix clutched at his hair and searched every corner, eyed every inch of white space around him even though he knew horribly better.
"Foxx, w-we've--" He threw his hands back to his sides, and hissed, "We've been had, Pathos got my briefcase."
"What?! He got the Agency notes?"
"Stewart's microphone, too." The thought wrenched his guts. "Everything, he got everything!"
Foxx stammered, hardly louder than a breath. "P-Phoenix, he can't, he-- What did he say?" Sudden steel in her voice, a snapping trap. "He has exactly what he needs to ...?"
"Tell the world about you," Maya added. She crept closer, and pressed the coupon into Phoenix's hand. "But he already writes about the Agency, doesn't he?"
"Something bigger," Foxx muttered, keys clicking, "H-he ... Nexus executive pass reported missing two days post-dismissal. He might have access, no!"
"Access?" Phoenix asked.
"Nexus Broadcast is the national center for their programming, television, radio, everything! And he is likely in possession of a high-security keycard. I-I'll get Agents on him, w-we'll-- Protocol, what's the protocol--"
"But he knows Agents," Phoenix tried. He stuffed the coupon in his pocket -- fat lot of good it would do them -- and began to pace. "It was Pathos who hacked the com lines, wasn't it?"
"The breach was broadband," Foxx said, gratefully retreating to cool facts. "Intermittent disturbance on all frequencies, probably from a homebrewed variable-output device."
Three times as much answer as Phoenix needed, but ... output? That meant it gave off electronic signals, and that meant ... He nodded. "If Pathos recognizes Agents and their music sense, and he can hack your com lines, and he's on his way to a broadcast station … Then sending Agents after him will just give him more ammunition." Phoenix dug in his pocket, past the papers and scraps, to his cell phone. "You should keep your distance, Foxx. It's bad enough that he thinks I'm an Agent."
She hesitated. "Ten-four. He's still suspected of murder, Agency or no Agency. We'll need your connections, Phoenix."
"Exactly what I was thinking," he said, and headed for the stairs, raking his mind for the right phone numbers.
"Nick, wait!" Maya still stood by the table -- and she held up Pathos's briefcase, each scale-shaped indent catching sun. "What about this?"
Phoenix was, now more than ever, a firm believer in turnabout. He nodded, and motioned for Maya to follow him.
Phoenix had no clue where Nexus Broadcasting Corporation's headquarters were. But the cab driver seemed to know -- he knew it well enough to take what seemed like a meter-feeding long route, ignoring Phoenix and Maya as hard as possible. And so, it was quiet. Phoenix stared at his cell phone's scratched screen long seconds after Edgeworth's voice was gone.
"I still can't believe this," he muttered.
"We'll manage." Foxx's voice was metal-calm again. "Ms. Fey, can you get the briefcase open?"
"I think I can," Maya said, attention riveted to the clicking combination numbers under her thumbs. "Eventually!"
There was a lot to be said for optimism -- Phoenix just couldn't think of any of it.
Maya looked up from Pathos's briefcase, smiling sunny in the general direction of Phoenix's badge. "And you can call me Maya!"
A murmur of agreement from Foxx. "All right. Now, Phoenix, Maya, I've got some specs on the Nexus building--" and a click hammered, like the final strike of an Enter key, "--And Agents positioned at a safe distance. We'll provide as much intelligence as we can, but the com lines will be in minimal use and Pathos has never been an easy target for us to track."
He was so calm, like everythin' was goin' the way he wanted, Stewart memory-said.
"So," Phoenix tried, "You can't track him unless he's upset?" That was how music sense worked, wasn't it?
"Distress is a powerful emotion," Foxx replied. "It gives people the strength to do incredible things. Other emotions can be sensed, but they don't tend to be as all-consuming in the target's mind."
"Channelling is kind of like that," Maya added. "Sis feels like warm things and being strong and fresh-baked cake, so I've always been able to find her and know it's her. But sometimes I just couldn't reach her unless I was scared."
"Couldn't reach ... That's a good way to put it. It's difficult to reach the target unless there's emotion involved." A few contemplative key clicks. "And Pathos ... doesn't rattle easily, according to reports."
"He didn't seem that upset when you were doing the magatama thing on him." Maya sank in her seat, still turning lock tumbles. "I got this feeling like he was angry, but kind of cold, too."
That certainly sounded like the man Phoenix faced: someone perfectly composed. How else would he have avoided Agent notice this long?
"Phoenix," Foxx said, "About your request to the detective ... Be careful. If anything happens, I'll need ten seconds to get all the lines down, and even then we have no idea which frequencies he's working with."
But the Agency's lines were taken down in brief bursts, with another amateur device. Maybe Pathos was using equipment like Gumshoe's -- maybe Pathos had no idea which frequencies he was working with, either.
Phoenix nodded. "I'll let you know, Foxx."
The inside of the cab fell to quiet, just the rumble of wheels and the world passing by, and Phoenix's heel tapping on the floor mat, and Maya's determined fiddling with the lock tumbles. Skyscrapers loomed closer. Fishing his handful of remaining evidence from his pockets -- all the loose papers and business cards -- Phoenix stared them down and thought. If Sior Pathos didn't rattle easily, every clue counted.
Even among the glass-shining offices, the Nexus building towered. The taxi grumbled away, stirring up exhaust and fine street dust. If the company was so huge and successful, Phoenix would have thought they'd keep the place swept.
"What's that logo even supposed to be?" Maya asked.
Phoenix looked up from stuffing evidence back into his pockets. Maya clasped the briefcase handle with both hands, staring thoughtfully up at the green, fluorescent-flickering Nexus insignia. It looked like a capital letter N flanked by swirling ... things.
"I don't know," he said. "I've never thought about it. Maya, we don't have time to--"
"All the side entrances require a keycard," Foxx said, "So do the major thoroughfares inside. You'll need the front desk to grant you access. And the Nexus logo is supposed to be stylized vines, to represent a commitment to growth."
"Wow," Maya chirped, heading for the steel-edged revolving doors, "Is there anything the Agency doesn't have records of?"
Foxx paused. "I found that on Wikthology, actually. Phoenix, Maya, we need to focus. An Agent sighted Pathos entering the building seconds ago, and his plan is still a mystery to us."
Pathos wanted the Elite Beat Agency taken down: the specifics didn't matter much after that. Maya's dark hair and purple robes vanished inside, and Phoenix followed.
The Nexus lobby positively dripped class, all gleaming marble and gold edging and the clean lines of very uncomfortable-looking armchairs. Maya's sandals echoed ferociously; by the time the two of them reached the curved marble slab forming the front desk, the secretary's cordial smile looked strained.
"Can I help you?"
"We're here on very important business," Maya informed her.
"We're, uhh ... we need to meet someone," Phoenix added lamely.
The secretary folded her red-clawed hands, raising a brow."You'll need to be more specific," she said, "Is someone expecting you?"
"Give a low-key excuse, Phoenix," Foxx suggested. "You're not here to cause a fuss. I'm searching for applicable Agency allies now."
No causing a fuss, which meant someone who could pass unnoticed. A lawyer investigating a murder wouldn't work. Neither would a lawyer chasing someone dangerous. Phoenix stammered; the secretary calmly shot him full of holes with her stare.
"W-we're, that is ..." Phoenix rubbed his neck. "You weren't informed that we were coming?"
"Unless you're with the network luncheon--"
And you definitely aren't, and your strangely-dressed friend isn't either, she didn't need to say.
"--I don't see you scheduled for today."
"A luncheon?" Foxx pointed out. "There must be extra staff present for that."
That definitely gave Phoenix an idea -- a flash of an idea like gold buttons. "Oh, yes, we're here for the luncheon."
The secretary carried on staring. They seemed to be losing altitude at an alarming pace.
"Uhh," Phoenix tried, "Not really for the luncheon, I guess it's more like, err, I-I guess my boss didn't tell you ... One moment, please."
Ttugging Maya by her sleeve, he headed for a safer wing of the lobby.
The decor started seeming faintly ridiculous once they reached a dead end -- this was an entire glitz-dripping hallway leading to two payphones. Someone must have been paid very well to design such an understatement.
"Do you have an idea, Nick?" Maya asked, lit up like she had been offered fries with that.
"If it's an idea for getting in on a business luncheon," Foxx mused, "I think he does. Would you like me to prep him, Phoenix?"
Digging out his cell phone and the business card, Phoenix said, "It's all right, I can ask."
Foxx murmured agreement; Maya grinned.
After dialling, Phoenix hardly got the phone to his ear before a familiar voice trumpeted:
"Salutations, and thank you for choosing Extravagant Wedding Services! How may I assist you?"
A smile tugged Phoenix's face -- who'd have thought this day would come so soon? "It's Phoenix Wright. I need to ask a favour."
There was something very satisfying about watching the secretary pick up that call.
"Yes, Mr. Vanderspiegle. ... ...Yes, they--"
The secretary looked between Phoenix and Maya, blinking.
"... I, yes, they match that descrip-- ... ...I see. Yes, sir."
More looking between Phoenix and Maya -- they weren't that odd-looking a duo, were they?
"... No, no, the guest card allows access to the sun room, I made sure after last time." She clamped the phone between ear and shoulder long enough to scrabble underneath some documents, and thrust a forest-coloured keycard into Phoenix's hand. "Be sure to return it before you leave, elevators are to your left. No, Mr. Vanderspiegle, not you! ...Yes, sir."
She paused, and blinked harder.
"... James Reeve? I believe so. ... ... Yes, at the last reunion on my father's side! My, it's a small world!"
"Let's go," Phoenix muttered, pocketing the card and passing Maya, "Before she changes her mind."
It wasn't until reaching the elevators -- enormous doors too shiny to be real gold -- that Phoenix realized he had no clue where to go.
"Where to, Foxx?"
"I'm getting an infra transmission now," she said quickly, and then paused. "He's on the ground floor, somewhere ... narrow. Hallways, maybe. He's passing storage rooms."
Ground floor -- that was a good starting point. Nodding, Phoenix looked around, over the soft-lit walls.
"Here, Nick!" Maya peered at the scanning device beside a door, one plain enough to be practically hidden. "If it's locked, there's got to be something good inside!"
He couldn't argue with that logic. With a swipe of the keycard -- the scanner blipped cheerfully -- Maya heaved the door open to reveal just the kind of hallways they were looking for.
But after a few twists of corridors, endless-streaming painted concrete and a crumb-littered staff room, the sinking feeling grew. Phoenix had no idea where they were going. Time drained away -- how long had it been, two minutes? Ten?
"He must have calmed down." Her voice was like a frustrated head shake. "We've lost him. Last we know, he was somewhere west of your location."
West, oh, Phoenix could just look for moss on a tree, then. He raked a hand into his hair, and looked around at the halls branching away.
"This one?" Maya clicked another tumble on the briefcase, and looked back up at him, nodding backward.
That hall was as good as any. "Might as well," Phoenix sighed, and turned toward Maya--
It took a strange-crisp instant to sink in: a dark-clothed figure burned into Phoenix's memory, vanishing around a corner as Phoenix had been turning. He looked back, saw nothing but plain hallway and was sure anyway.
"There he is, this way!" He followed the phantom, Maya at his heels.
"That hall," and Foxx's keys clicked, "... Leads to the central broadcast station! He's not headed for a studio, he's going to input data directly to the nation-wide feeds! But how could he, all he has is ... your notes, Phoenix?"
"Is that bad for him?" Phoenix asked, skidding around a corner. Fluorescents whipped by overhead; adrenaline ran hot in him now. "He'd have to manually process it, type it in, maybe scan it, but why would he do that? Getting in front of a camera would be faster."
"Maybe he's just winging it?" Maya called.
Of course -- Pathos hadn't gotten any more time to plan than they had. Phoenix slowed, eying more passages forking away, Maya scuffling to a stop behind him.
"Straight ahead, Phoenix," Foxx said.
The chase resumed, blackened windows whipping by. Phoenix began to wonder how he would know a broadcast station when he saw one--
A door burst open beside them, crashing against the wall -- a huge figure lunged out and Maya yelped, terror closed Phoenix's throat--
Then Gumshoe lowered his yellow frequency detector -- had he seriously mistaken it for his badge? -- and scratched his head "Oh, it's just you, pal."
"Detective," Phoenix gasped, "You nearly gave us a heart attack!"
Bristling determination filled Gumshoe again. "We're after the suspect, and we're right on his tail! He's not getting away this time, pal!"
Sharp-ringing footsteps approached, and Edgeworth came from around Gumshoe -- regal even when he was flushed with exertion, a cold flash in his eyes.
"Wright, Maya." His look darkened. "We found Pathos attempting to make a broadcast, and he fled. He's obviously more familiar with this building than we are. A chase will get us nowhere."
What to do next -- Phoenix's thoughts raced, he looked up and down the bare halls.
"We were following him, too," Maya offered, her free hand bunching determined, "He's headed for the central broadcast station!"
"He must be close, it's strong here, sir," Gumshoe said, and fiddled with a clicking dial on the detector.
It hit Phoenix like frost -- a detector, and the Agency communicator suddenly burned its presence against his ear.
"Oh," he blurted, "You're following electronic signals? With a frequency detector?"
"Central station's ahead, to your right. Good luck, team -- over and out."
"Really strong here, actually! Maybe the signal's …" Gumshoe clicked the dial farther, and his brows twisted. "Oh, I ... uhh ... Mr. Edgeworth? I think I lost it, sir."
Instead of grumbling about a pay cut, though, Edgeworth regarded Phoenix; it was that first day in the lobby and all the wary trust in the world. "You said Pathos was carrying a transmission device, Wright?"
Just who had Edgeworth and Gumshoe been chasing -- Pathos's transmissions, or the Agency's? Or both? Or something else? It didn't matter now. Phoenix shook his head.
"We think so, he's definitely been trying to disrupt communication lines to cover his tracks. But this building, uhh, there'd be a lot of signals, wouldn't there? We know he's headed for the central broadcast station, we have to stop him!"
"It's this way, isn't it?" Maya pointed, looking between the three of them. "Come on, let's go!"
Foxx's last advice would have to count -- ahead, to your right. Four people's running feet made a stampede in the long hall, an echoing thunder.
"Got it! I found it again, sir!" Gumshoe crowed, and stuffed the detector into his pocket as he pulled ahead, green coattails flapping, "It's the same signal as in that camera room, up ahead! We've got him now!"
"Camera room ..." Phoenix huffed -- Pathos had tried to make a quicker broadcast. He seized any opportunity he was given and if he had a moment alone, if he had all the information he needed-- "The door on the right!"
Gumshoe wound back for a charge against it, and rushed the door as Edgeworth reached it, pulling a keycard from his pocket. The electronic blip and heavy crash overlapped each other, Gumshoe bellowing even as he fell into the room: "Freeze!"
"Ah," came the cool voice inside, "I must be going."
Not again, he couldn't escape again.Phoenix skidded to the doorway, nearly tripped on the recovering Gumshoe. There was Pathos across the room -- lit cold by television screens, smiling, pulling a heavy door closed behind him.
"No," Phoenix cried but it was too late. He and Edgeworth rushed in and the door slammed final behind Pathos.
"He's locked it." Edgeworth looked up from the door's handle, glaring back over his shoulder. "There's no card access from this side. Detective?"
"Sir ...?" Gumshoe regained his feet, lit with realization and patted his pockets. "Oh, right!" He fished the detector out and began to fiddle. The open door drifted half-closed behind him -- slowly, like its battered hinges ached.
So the four of them stood alone, in the broadcast station's hum, while Pathos made his getaway through the labyrinth. Phoenix raked at his hair and looked to the screens: scenery and characters' silent-moving mouths, scrolling code, coloured bars. And at the far end, a smaller screen was full of green-glowing text. He went to it; Maya already had the same idea, scampering ahead of him to peer at the screen.
"Pathos was writing this, Nick," she said, looking wide-eyed up at him. "It's the same as your notes about the ... you know, that thing."
Well, if that text wasn't plastered all over the TV display screens -- and it didn't seem to be -- then they hadn't completely failed. And there lay Phoenix's briefcase on the control console, open, its contents scattered like a burst trash bag. He watched his own hands gather the contents. He shuffled the papers back to some kind of order, and laid the microphone and side towels and the thousand little things back inside where they ought to be.
"Is that all of it?" Maya asked, passing him a handful of papers.
All the evidence was in order. And Maya's three papers plus the six Phoenix gathered made nine, so he was missing one -- hopefully just one. He liked to think he could count. Phoenix spotted it on the floor, and moved for it but Edgeworth was already straightening, picking up the poor, battered sheet and offering it. He was staring Phoenix down hard enough to break skin.
"Uh ..." Phoenix accepted the sheet, and tried to smile.
"You should keep a closer eye on your evidence, Wright."
Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth: master of the obvious. Phoenix nodded.
"Thanks, Edgeworth. I mean, for all of this."
Glancing to the sheet -- a tidy little glance before he resumed his defense-skewering -- Edgeworth wondered, "You must have some valuable information, for Mr. Pathos to go to such lengths trying to share it."
He had no idea -- even though the Agency's secrets had been literally in his hands a few seconds ago. Nodding, Phoenix tucked the sheet into his briefcase with its fellows.
"It's about ... my client's past." And present, and future, and the future of the entire Agency.
"I'm sure you'll share this information if it becomes pertinent."
The room hummed quiet; a prickle brushed down Phoenix's back. He looked back to Edgeworth and that stare hadn't changed; Edgeworth had shared confidential files with him before, and searched by his side.
"I will share it with you," Phoenix murmured, "If that's what we need to crack this case."
The communicator's wires itched; he managed to wait until Edgeworth looked away to scratch around it.
"Okay, I think I killed all of his notes," Maya chirped, tapping at the control panel's keyboard.
"You mean deleted," Phoenix muttered.
"Sure, that too."
"Detective," Edgeworth prompted.
"Uhh," and Gumshoe looked up from the detector, only missing a tail between his legs, "I can't find anything but TV broadcast signals, sir. Nothing like the signal we were following ..."
The trail was going cold while they stood there. Edgeworth and Gumshoe discussed alternatives, and how quickly more police could arrive. It wouldn't be quickly enough.
And with the com link silent in his ear all the way home -- louder than the bus engine, louder than clicking combination tumbles -- Phoenix stared at his evidence and wished for a plan.
Phoenix didn't remember the dream until he was staring at his bedroom ceiling, his own pulse filling his ears. He had been walking into Fey and Co., copper scent and familiar dread; something glinted in the moonlight and he didn't recognize it until he touched plastic; he gripped the handle and lifted the mike to begin the show. But his feet moved heavy. Trees loomed black, his hands clenched on nothing -- where had the mike gone? His briefcase? -- and Maya sobbed just like before--
Phoenix dropped his feet over the bedside, burying his face in his scrubbing hands. He'd just have to prove the nightmare wrong.
The defendant's lobby thrummed with anticipation, and Stewart hardly waited for the baliffs to retreat.
"Foxx said you found Pathos?" He looked quick between Phoenix and Maya, raking at his hair -- which fell immediately back into his face. "How's-- Uh, how'd that go?"
Finding Pathos was putting it mildly. Phoenix glanced to Maya; her slender fingers still worked at Pathos's briefcase, clever on the tumbles but apparently not clever enough.
"We found him, all right, and we nearly lost all our evidence. He's good, Stewart. I don't know yet how we're going to pin him, but we'll find a way."
Determination settled across Stewart's face, and he nodded.
"Good morning, team," came Foxx's voice.
Only effort stopped Phoenix from touching the communicator -- best not to have a repeat performance of someone noticing the earpiece. Throngs of people moved and regrouped around the lobby's edges, crisp-dressed and preoccupied -- they looked unseeing enough.
"No update on Pathos's location." Foxx's sounded unsure; her typing clicked slow. "Say hello to J for me."
"Here," Maya offered, cupping a hand over her ear, "Tell him yourself!"
With a scooping, prying motion -- if she broke Agency equipment, Phoenix wasn't paying for it -- she removed her com link and held it out to Stewart in a fist.
"Came outta nowhere." Stewart grinned. "Like magic."
Well, it sure beat finding a quarter in her ear.
Pressing the communicator to his ear with a flat palm, Stewart said, "Hey, Foxxie, talk to me."
"We're still sweeping. Pathos has gone off the map even with police assistance. Derek and Morris are patrolling the business district, since Pathos tried to broadcast through Nexus equipment and he might well try it again."
Stewart chewed his lip. "Com lines?"
"I've added another Sigma level of enciphering. It'll won't stop signal interruption but at least we can be sure that he's not listening in. We can't afford another breach."
"How're you doin'?"
A pause. "I'll be fine, J," she murmured. "We're running out of time."
"I've almost got the briefcase open," Maya said brightly, "There aren't many combinations left to--"
And with a click and a flurry of paper, the briefcase fell open.
"Ninety-one forty-five!" Maya cried, as the three of them knelt for the scattered pages and clippings. "I wonder why he picked ninety-one forty-five?"
"Maybe it's his favourite number?" Phoenix eyed papers -- every clipped article blazed with the word Agent, every picture showed a glimpse of a dark suit. "Who knows?"
"Lotsa articles an' pics here, but they're not all Pathos's work." Leaning on his knee, frowning at a sheet full of neat-blocky handwriting, Stewart said, "He's documentin' Agent sightings, all the tabloids an' everything. Like he's lookin' for patterns."
"He's going to all that trouble?" Maya asked, and her voice quavered as she asked, "H-he really hates Agents that much?"
"Might not be hate," Stewart muttered. "That's just strategy. Knowin' what you're walkin' into. But I think we can use this, too, guys."
For a crawlingly familiar moment, Phoenix looked in newsprint margins -- there wasn't a pencilled White to be found, though. This was a different plan altogether. Then, as Maya gathered a final trio of papers, a silver flash underneath snatched Phoenix's attention.
"What's that?" he asked, and he dropped papers to wave his hands, "No, wait, Maya, don't touch it!"
She obediently yanked her hand back, and peered at the pen over her knees. "What a fancy pen! Maybe it's ... Oh! I get it!"
Phoenix fished an evidence bag from his own disaster zone of a briefcase, gathered the pen inside and held it up to gleam silver in the light. The vine-coiled Nexus logo blazed on the side. Without a word, Stewart turned a written sheet between his fingers: Pathos's handwriting stood in dark green rows.
"An official Nexus pen, and an expensive-looking one, too," Phoenix mused. He looked at the delicate nib, "And it uses green ink!"
"Any info on this thing, Foxx?" Stewart asked.
"One moment." Her keys clicked, quick like rain battering a rooftop. "Nexus gives a sterling silver fountain pen to valued employees at their ten-year employment mark?"
"Looks like silver to me," Stewart replied.
"The ink for those pens is green to represent the company and its growth commitment-- Soy-based ink! The cartridges are custom-ordered. Phoenix, this is ...!"
"Just the kind of evidence we need against Pathos," Phoenix said. Now all they had left was to find Pathos.
Final court days always felt ominous. The gallery hummed with gossip; the Judge rapped his gavel sharply, with purpose.
"The court is now in session for the trial of Mr. Stewart Lowe," the Judge said, and blinked startled. "Mr. Edgeworth ...?"
"The prosecution," Edgeworth grated, "Is ready, Your Honour."
"I'm sure you are ..."
If a death glare at everything and everyone meant readiness, Edgeworth certainly looked prepared.
The Judge turned to Phoenix. "And the defense?"
"Ready, Your Honour."
Nodding, the Judge said, "Then let us resume. Has the prosecution found Mr. Sior Pathos?"
Edgeworth laid a hand on his stand -- like forcing himself into calm motions. "Mr. Pathos," he said, "Is the neighbour and long-time customer of Chef Cherry LaFlamme. This connects him to the murder victim. Since Mr. Pathos has valuable information on this case, police are currently searching for him."
"We're searching, too," Foxx said. "Just buy us time, Phoenix."
"He can't run forever," Maya said, shoulders hunched in close.
Phoenix braced, and he saw nothing but Edgeworth's determination: if both of them wanted the truth, then Edgeworth would cooperate.
So Phoenix pointed, and called, "Objection!"
The Judge blinked. "My, that was fast."
"Mr. Wright," and Edgeworth shook his head, smirking, "Impatience is such an ugly trait. What problem could you possibly have with the opening statement?"
Here was their stalling: Phoenix would start a duel with Edgeworth, one of their knock-down, drag-out debates over tiny details, and this time he wouldn't mind if they ended up back where they started.
"Well," Phoenix said, rubbing his chin, "I'd like to know how being neighbour and customer to Chef LaFlamme connects Mr. Pathos to the murder. Could you elaborate on your theory, Mr. Edgeworth?"
"With pleasure." Producing a sheaf of papers, Edgeworth went on, "After the proceedings yesterday, Chef LaFlamme agreed to cooperate fully with police investigation. She also gave a written account of her testimony regarding Mr. Pathos."
Murmuring agreement, the Judge said, "The court accepts this into evidence."
"Here, Chef LaFlamme states that the impractical layout of the building often forces Mr. Pathos to use her business as a thoroughfare. She also states that Mr. Pathos is her most loyal customer, perhaps single-handedly responsible for the survival of the business during difficult times."
Phoenix knew the answer and asked anyway, "Can we be sure this is the truth?"
"It was made clear to Chef LaFlamme that lying about Mr. Pathos's involvement would only implicate herself. Or have you forgotten yesterday's proceedings, Mr. Wright?"
"Uhh ... A little?" Phoenix grinned. "Could I get a recap?"
"I don't think that's necessary, Mr. Wright," the Judge said, his look darkening to suspicion.
"It was worth a try," Maya offered.
All right, no recap. Phoenix nodded to the bailiff and accepted a smudged photocopy of Cherry's testimony -- which contained remarkably few colourful food terms.
"It's, uhh, coming back to me now," he said, and looked up at Edgeworth. "However … Just because Chef LaFlamme was lying doesn't mean that she's protecting Mr. Pathos. If Pathos is ruled out, Chef LaFlamme becomes more suspicious. Implicating Pathos makes Chef LaFlamme look less suspicious … And that's exactly why we can't be sure she's telling the truth!"
"Phoenix," Foxx murmured, "Chef LaFlamme is a fine decoy, but make sure you can get out of anything you get into."
What choice did he have? Lead the court on a wild goose chase, or let the trial stall out with no Pathos and no damning reaction to the key evidence? Cherry could buy them time that--
Phoenix suddenly remembered Adrian, and the sickening sureness that she was doomed -- could he do that again? Would Edgeworth recognize that desperation? No -- and Phoenix tightened fists against the stand -- this wasn't the same. He knew the real story this time; he had a team like shadows around him. This was a gambit.
"Oh?" Edgeworth folded his arms.
Phoenix swallowed. "Yesterday's court proceedings implicated Chef LaFlamme, so she has every reason to lie. She has nothing to lose! She accused the defendant even though she's not sure she's ever seen him before! Why wouldn't she try to pin the crime on Pathos, too?"
"Very well. For the sake of argument, let us assume," and Edgeworth laid down the sheet, staring, "That Chef LaFlamme's word is worth nothing."
Thanking every deity he had ever heard of that Cherry wasn't present to hear this, Phoenix nodded.
Edgeworth went on, "Let us use only evidence. In which case, Chef LaFlamme's testimony about the running suspect is not valid, and neither is her testimony about how busy the Tuesday morning lunch rush was. Her assistant claims the same Tuesday morning scenario as Chef LaFlamme does, but as Chef LaFlamme's subordinate, his testimony cannot be trusted, either."
Throwing mud at Cherry was bad enough, but shiveringly honest Barley? After all the times he had offered to help and struggled his way through confessions? A knot tightened in Phoenix's chest.
"We are left with only the damaged security camera and its photo -- and the leg seen in the photo doesn't match the Orchard staff's chef's whites."
"But," Phoenix sputtered, "If there's no proof Chef LaFlamme was busy, she could have changed clothes!"
"Her assistant could have changed clothes, as well." Edgeworth shrugged, giving a lazy smile. "But we're discussing tangible evidence, Mr. Wright. Do you have any?"
"I have a report that the detective is on his way here as quickly as he can," Foxx said, hurried. "He's found something at the Orchard -- something important. Don't dig this any deeper, Phoenix."
Hope shot through him, with dread burning after it. Gumshoe rushing to bring them a crucial piece of the puzzle? This sounded familiar. Phoenix glanced to Maya -- who was pouting tenaciously and scouring the evidence reports, safe at his side. All he had to worry about was climbing out of his own freshly dug hole.
"No," Phoenix decided, "There's no proof that Chef LaFlamme or her assistant were the ones in that photo. We've been assuming that the person in the photo is Mr. Pathos because this fence serves as his front door."
"Which is a reasonable assumption," Edgeworth added, "When that door was found locked, and Chef LaFlamme and Mr. Pathos were the only ones known to have keys."
But if Pathos was often forced through the Orchard's basement-- Realization stung Phoenix, and he slammed palms on the stand.
"That lock is a padlock, and it hangs on the outside of the door. It's impossible for someone to close the door and lock it behind them, and the inside of the Orchard isn't designed for quick access anywhere! The police arrived less than five minutes after this photo was taken, so if the door was found locked and Mr. Pathos wasn't found on the scene ... then Mr. Pathos couldn't have locked it himself!"
For a moment, Edgeworth stood pensive, arms folded. "The prosecution proposes that Chef LaFlamme be summoned again to the stand," he finally said, "Further testimony might clarify what happened in that alley, moments before the defendant's arrest."
The Judge hummed. "If her previous testimony is so questionable, I agree that we should hear from Chef LaFlamme again. Does the defense have any objections?"
Facing Cherry again, and prying at every snarled word -- Phoenix's insides turned to water at the thought. But it looked like he had to cross-examine her again, even now that Cherry was telling the truth.
Maya glanced up from the Agency notes. "Don't worry, Nick. We'll see a sign!"
Hopefully it would open up their eyes -- anything but this blind, desperate stalling. The com link was silent in Phoenix's ear.
"No objections," he said.
"Then," the Judge said, lifting his gavel, "This court will take a thirty-minute recess while Chef LaFlamme is--"
And then Foxx's voice: "Pathos is in the courtroom!"
"What?!" Phoenix hissed.
"Missy has a visual, he's in the gallery! Stop the trial!"
Pausing mid-hammer -- and looking put out about it -- the Judge blinked. "Mr. Wright? I thought you didn't have any objections."
"I've changed my mind, Your Honour!" Phoenix pointed to the ceiling, into the murmuring crowd of spectators, "Because Mr. Sior Pathos is in this very courtroom!"
One shadowed figure bolted to its feet and struggled through the crowd; the murmuring rose to a roar, and the Judge's gavel cracked.
"Bailiffs! Check the gallery, both sides! No one leaves this courtroom!"
"Agents are on the way," Foxx breathed, quiet like relief.
"Missy's up there?" Phoenix watched the stirring gallery crowd, imagined stern guards and noticed his own nails biting his palms.
"She's in plainclothes, she'll be fine. But ... be careful, Phoenix, Maya. Pathos has been caught but he might still be full of tricks."
Holding the court's attention, needled for the truth, with the Agent who ruined him in plain sight? Pathos could be more dangerous to the Agency than ever. Phoenix watched bailiffs lead a suited man out of the gallery. Pathos was cornered now -- he had no choice but to put up a fight.
"We could end up giving the Agency away while we're proving that Pathos is guilty..." Maya murmured, dropping one sheet of notes in front of Phoenix and snapping up another. "We'll just have to be careful, Nick."
Phoenix glanced to Stewart -- who was staring at the defendant's box floor, face unreadable past his fall of hair -- and he hoped there was enough care in the world.
The baliffs retreated, and the preparation room door clicked behind Edgeworth. Even without Wright's earnest claims, Sior Pathos was not to be taken lightly -- not when he dripped boardroom pleasantness, not with that careful openness in his posture, and not in the face of his perfectly calm arguments.
"I do apologize, Mr. Edgeworth, but I didn't know the police were looking for me."
Edgeworth folded his arms. "Not even when your name and was mentioned in the trial? Multiple times, and as a suspect?"
An raise of brows, and a wider smile. "I had a moment of inspiration for my next article, just as court was coming to order. I'm afraid I was too busy writing it down to pay attention to the trial. I have the article's thesis outlined here, if you'd like to see it?"
This was too polished and intentional; this was an act. Edgeworth stared a challenge across the polished field of table and Pathos smiled benignly back, drawing a notepad from his inner suit pocket. The polish and charm tingled familiar. Edgeworth didn't pretend to be numb to people like that, not anymore.
"It's not your notes that concern me, Mr. Pathos. It's the fact that when we last met, you were attempting to broadcast sensitive information, and you fled when confronted."
"Sensitive information?" A fractional lean backward -- showing confidence. "And what might this information be? Do you have evidence that I was doing something malicious?"
Edgeworth didn't. No one but Wright had evidence, blast their trust.
"I used a legitimate Nexus keycard to gain access. I did no property damage. Unless visiting a former place of employment is illegal, I fail to see the problem, Mr. Edgeworth."
His weapons were limited: the implied guilt of evading police, and whatever Wright was about to pull from the aether. There was nothing for Edgeworth to produce and slap onto his stand; irritation raked down his nerves.
Pathos had the notepad spread on the table, and he leafed leisurely through -- starting to raise his right hand, and abruptly switching to his left. Edgeworth tucked that into his memory -- ambidextrous? A nervous tic? A symptom of injury? -- and he forced his face smooth, cool.
"Very well. Then I'll need your statement, Mr. Pathos. What were you doing on the morning of the murder?"
Another smile from Pathos. "I'll be glad to tell you."
Court reconvened, and the gallery buzzed for long cracks of the Judge's gavel. Finally, quiet fell. Edgeworth bit out his statement:
"It is unclear how Mr. Pathos is involved in the case. But he was in the vicinity of Foster Park and the Orchard bistro on the morning of the murder, and he may have vital information. The prosecution now calls Mr. Pathos to the stand."
As he looked to Maya and Stewart, Phoenix thrummed with a stronger force than nerves. Something was going to happen here; readiness charged the air.
On an even gait and a pleasant smile, Pathos took the witness stand.
"Witness," Edgeworth said, "Your name and occupation."
He eased his hands to rest in his suit pockets. "I am Sior Pathos, amateur journalist."
"And for the sake of the record," Edgeworth asked, his tone chillier than usual, "Why were you in the courtroom this morning, Mr. Pathos?"
Pathos inclined his head. "I simply decided to watch a trial. I've heard they can be quite exciting. But I was struck with inspiration for my writing just moments ago, and I wasn't paying attention to the proceedings." With a smile, he added, "Your Honour, I apologize for inconveniencing this court."
"Oh!" The Judge straightened. "Why, it's no trouble at all, Mr. Pathos!"
"I'm pretty sure it was some trouble," Maya muttered.
And it would be more trouble if Pathos could play the Judge like a fiddle.
"Now, then." Holding a pen ready, Edgeworth flicked a look at Pathos. "If you would give your statement once more for the court: what were you doing on Tuesday morning?"
Pathos looked at Phoenix then, direct, and still smiling small and cool. Did he really think he was going to get away with it? Phoenix's hands turned to fists against the stand.
"On Tuesday morning," Pathos began, "I had an early lunch in the Orchard bistro."
"Hold it," Phoenix called. He had to stay calm, follow threads and yank the loose ones. "What time was that?"
"I left my apartment at approximately ten-thirty. And the path through the Orchard kitchen is an elaborate one, as I'm sure you know, Mr. Wright." A flash in Pathos's icy eyes, and he glanced between Phoenix and Maya, resettling his hands in his pockets. "So, I would have been in the Orchard at approximately twenty minutes to eleven. You can ask the good Chef LaFlamme about it. She served my meal."
That did match Cherry's testimony -- which wasn't the point.
"The good Chef ...?" Phoenix tried. He rubbed his chin. "Are you on friendly terms with Chef LaFlamme?"
"Of course," Pathos smiled. "For all her shortcomings, she is a remarkable individual. I don't mind sharing property with her at all."
"How graceful," Foxx said, dry enough to crack.
"Should we push that?" Phoenix asked.
"Whether they're friends?" Maya scratched her temple. "Maybe where he was at the time of the murder is more important than why he was there?"
"See where it goes, Phoenix," Foxx decided, "Let's see where he'll lead us."
Hopefully somewhere Phoenix had a map for.
"And when you were done your meal?" Edgeworth prompted.
A pause. Pathos blinked contemplatively. "As I finished my meal, I began the preliminary notes for my next article. Not long afterward, I left the Orchard."
"Hold it," Phoenix called. "Why did you leave?"
That same level smile, and that same knowing gaze. "Because the lunch hour was upon the Orchard. That sort of bustling noise is a distraction to me, you see."
Now came the important part -- Phoenix leaned forward.
"So, Mr. Pathos, where did you go?"
"I'll say it again for you, Mr. Wright. I went for a walk in Foster Park, to clear my head. Mostly on the main path, past the wedding festivities, since the other paths can be so terribly muddy."
"The mud was a concern for you?" Edgeworth didn't look up from taking notes, his brows knitted. "Why is that?"
"I didn't want my shoes dirtied." Pathos looked pointedly down, to his luminously polished dress shoes. "Although, I still ended up needing to wash some debris from them when I arrived home. One never knows when a first impression will be made, of course."
"If he really cleaned his shoes, we can't pin him with soil traces," Foxx hissed.
One more lost opportunity. So what did they have? The Nexus pen and the ink on the victim's sweater, and the security camera--
"And while on my walk," Pathos continued, "I saw the defendant fleeing the scene of the crime."
"What?!" Phoenix choked.
The gallery rumbled, and the Judge hammered his gavel.
"Order! Order! Mr. Pathos," and the Judge frowned confused, like a dog just realizing it had peanut butter stuck to the roof of its mouth. "Why didn't you mention this before?"
"Should I have?" Pathos had the nerve to keep smiling. "My apologies. I don't mean to hide anything from this court, I'm simply telling the events as they happened."
"Then you should have been more specific in your prior statement to me," Edgeworth grated -- it was a wonder his pen didn't snap in his hand.
"May I go into detail now, then?" Pathos asked, "I'll be very thorough in what I saw."
"He's bluffing," Phoenix hissed, "No one saw Stewart … Right?"
"No one else was on that path, but--" Foxx paused, and a pained sound slipped from her. "But he's seen J! He knows the uniform, he knows how Agents move in the field! And if he committed the murder--"
"Then he has everything he needs to make up a testimony! Maya, pass me the alley notes?"
She shuffled through papers. "Look at the map, too, Nick! I marked Pathos's trail on it!"
Lemon-bright highlighter caught Phoenix's eye again, forming a triangle along Pathos's flight path, widening to fill the Orchard alley. Pathos's trail? Of what?
"I was walking down the main path of the park," Pathos was beginning, "Enjoying the weather and the music."
"Hold it!" Phoenix glanced to the notes and back. "There was music ...?"
"I believe a wedding celebration was taking place in the park? I recall seeing workers erecting the karaoke stage, the previous evening."
"He knew about the wedding, and he knew there was music," Foxx murmured.
"And he felt Stewart's music, too, didn't he?" Maya asked. "With his music sense."
That was the only way Pathos could have known an Agent was nearby -- picking up on the vibes most people didn't notice. But if there was music in the area before Stewart arrived on the scene ...
"I see," the Judge said. "It seems that Foster Park was quite popular that morning. And then what happened?"
"Then," Pathos went on, his smile dropping off, "Movement in the bushes caught my eye, and I turned back. I saw the defendant emerge from the trees, running."
"Objection!" Phoenix slammed the stand. "This is a serious accusation, Mr. Pathos. What makes you think it was my client you saw?"
"You'd like a description, Mr. Wright?" A smirk spread on Pathos, slowly. "He was wearing a black suit and good shoes, and he had blond hair, neatly styled. He was well-built and if I had to estimate, perhaps five-foot-eight. He ran as if for his life, on a diagonal across the street and into the Orchard bistro's alleyway."
"You sound quite sure of yourself," Edgeworth commented, raising a brow.
"Because I'm quite sure of what I saw." And Pathos turned his gaze to the defendant's box -- staring, frost slipping into his voice. "The defendant can change his appearance however he likes, but I recognize him. I know what he did."
Stewart -- holding his head high, looking pale and alone -- said nothing.
"May I ask," Edgeworth broke in, "If you actually saw what the defendant did in Foster Park?"
If Edgeworth was asking a question like that, in such a bristling tone, he couldn't have told Pathos anything. The days of groomed witnesses and edited testimony were long gone.
"Did I see the crime scene?" In a flash, Pathos was smiling apologetically for the court. "The sight of that strange man made me uneasy, and I left the park to find assistance, I'm afraid. I didn't think to look for the lady."
Finally, a slip.
"If you didn't see the crime scene, and haven't paid attention to these court proceedings--" and Phoenix put hands to his hips, "--Then how did you know the victim was a lady, Mr. Pathos?"
His face didn't crumble, his cool aura didn't even flinch: Pathos merely blinked. "I did just hear the 'Grandma Murderer' story on the radio the other day. Forgive me, I shouldn't make assumptions. Is this case's victim a lady ...?"
He was even oil-smooth while playing dumb. Phoenix felt his teeth grate.
"He must know the victim was a lady, Nick," Maya hissed, and she grabbed the bagged Nexus pen like she wanted to whip it up onto the stand herself. "We have proof that he was there!"
"Use what you've got," Foxx agreed.
This was it, then: no turning back.
"This case's victim is indeed Morna Beasley, the 'grandma' from the news story," Phoenix said. "But I think you know that already, Mr. Pathos. In fact, I think you were at the scene of the murder, and you were the one running!"
The gallery muttered, scandalized. Phoenix barely heard the hammering gavel -- only saw the black flicker across Pathos's face.
"Order in the court!"
"If I may," Edgeworth said, lifting a demonstrative hand, "The defendant and Mr. Pathos have a remarkably similar build and appearance. Since Mr. Lowe was well-dressed at the time of his arrest, the two of them could be interchangeable in witness testimony."
Humming, looking from witness stand to defendant's box, the Judge decided, "Yes, I suppose they could. It would be easy enough to confuse them at a distance."
"Therefore," Edgeworth went on, "Witnesses could simply be confused as to which running man they saw. Mr. Pathos could have been the one running from the crime scene, if Mr. Wright has the evidence to support his theory ...?"
Phoenix did. He lifted the evidence bag, Nexus pen glinting inside.
"Do you recognize this, Mr. Pathos?" The opportunity was too perfect; Phoenix couldn't help smirking.
A twitch pulled Pathos's mouth. He straightened, squaring his shoulders, resettling his hands in his pockets.
"Yes, I do. That's my favourite pen. And I must say, Mr. Wright, if you didn't have a search warrant, I would be most irritated at your taking my things."
Maya looked to Phoenix. "What's this search warrant thing he keeps talking about?"
"Search me," Phoenix muttered.
And then, louder, he said, "So, Mr. Pathos, this is your pen. It uses green soy-based ink cartridges, and green soy-based ink is exactly what was found on the victim's sweater!" Phoenix pointed. "If you weren't at the scene of the crime, then how do you explain that?"
"Are you sure, Mr. Wright?"
No sweat on Pathos's brow, no furious grimace, nothing -- his smile didn't change one bit. But if he didn't react to that …. The strength drained from Phoenix's pointing arm.
"I ... uhh. Am I sure of what?"
"Of the ink's composition," Pathos said. "My previous job was an executive position, not part of any large-scale manufacturing. And to my knowledge, soy-based inks are used industrially, not in common pens."
"I-- But this pen is a commemorative gift from Nexus Broadcast, the ink cartridges are custom ordered!"
"And how do you know this, Mr. Wright? Testing of the ink in question?"
Now this just wasn't fair. Phoenix put the evidence bag down, fists tightening. "It's public knowledge what type of ink this pen uses! I-- I found it on Wikthology!"
"But," and Pathos's tone went cold, "You don't have documented proof of this ink's composition? You're working on coincidence, Mr. Wright? I suppose because the pen's ink colour and the traces on the victim happen to be the same colour. "
"Green is not a common colour for pen ink," Edgeworth broke in. "Particularly pens used in executive-level business dealings. This is a very suspicious coincidence."
"But a coincidence nonetheless." Sliding a cool gaze over to Edgeworth, Pathos went on, "Soy-based ink could be from anything. Flyers, newsprint, perhaps that deck of cards on the evidence table ...? Unless there are test results matching my pen to the traces on the victim … I do hope this respectable court of law won't rely on a database any child could edit."
The Judge blinked, and smoothed his beard. "Publicly edited? My, that explains a lot of what I find on Wikthology. I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Pathos: decisive evidence is needed here, not conjecture."
"But that's ..." Frustration knotted in Phoenix's throat; he growled. "That was our ace! What now?"
And suddenly, static crackled in his ear. Phoenix's hand flew to the com link.
"Foxx? Wha-- Maya, do you hear that?"
One last murmur and Foxx was gone, the com link just white noise.
"Sounds like a broken radio," Maya murmured, wide-eyed. "But how could he jam the lines with everyone watching him ...?"
Pathos stood all the way across open court but he watched Phoenix close, his eyes too sharp and smile too pleasant. And his hands stayed firmly in his pockets -- he could have anything in there. Pathos was always a step ahead, wasn't he? If there was nothing else to throw at him--
"Frankly," and Pathos shook his head, every motion clawing down Phoenix's nerves, "I don't know why I would be accused of such a vicious crime. I have no reason to wish ill against this Ms. Beasley. I've never even met her."
"You're not familiar with her name?" Edgeworth tried, "Perhaps you've heard talk of an older lady around the Orchard bistro?"
"Chef LaFlamme is the one concerned with politics." And, removing his left hand from pocket, laying it on the stand, Pathos said, "I try to avoid gossip, it's so petty."
"That's understandable," the Judge said.
"Avoid gossip?" Edgeworth pointed a speculating finger. "Are you claiming that you routinely spend time in the Orchard bistro, yet you don't speak with the people in it?"
"Because I am engrossed in my writing when I go there. I believe I've mentioned that several times already. " Pathos canted his head. "If there's nothing else of note ...? I'd hate to waste the court's time."
"Well," the Judge mused, "I don't see anything unusual about the witness's testimony, and if there is no decisive evidence linking him to the crime ... Do you have any further points, Mr. Edgeworth?"
With a long pause -- and a desperate stare at Phoenix -- Edgeworth answered, "No, Your Honour. Nothing further."
"Mr. Wright, do you have anything to add?"
"We have to have something!" Maya crouched, pawing through both briefcases. "Anything! We know Pathos did it!"
But their information was double-edged: Stewart worked with music sense, and Morna Beasley had invoked it, and Pathos hunted it like vermin. Every clue in Phoenix's arsenal dripped with secret sources and extrasensory knowledge and if it weren't for Agents's secret powers, no, there wouldn't be a thing suspicious about Sior Pathos, would there? No credible witnesses, no hard evidence, not even a murder weapon. Maybe Phoenix could stall -- no, he had to -- and his mind raced, scratched at the walls and found nothing--
At the heart of Agency base Alto, the com room was deathly quiet around Foxx-- the alt satellite only carried broadband signals and the backup frequencies crackled dead. The interfering signal was just too powerful for her reroutes to handle. She could strip everything to its code and hack around any signal ever emitted but only if she had that kind of time--
SP says no link to MB, Missy's infrasound chattered, long-short-long in thrumming awareness, team is critical. U got them back?
Another ping to the Special Ops com links -- not that it would help, Foxx knew as she watched the loading bar crawl. But what else was there? Think in Morse, think around the throb in her head and jitter her heel with purpose--
No link yet, she told Missy. What more could she say? Even if she could speak to Phoenix and Maya, she was intelligence backup with databases full of nothing.
J's faltering beats -- from shoes clutched in his hands -- said, Assist them?
Foxx straightened. This was the talented Phoenix Wright they were talking about. But this was the fate of more than a target; this was the Agency and their way of life and everyone they had ever looked out for, everyone they wouldn't be able to look out for if they were exposed today.
Target is in public, and SP senses, she tapped.
Section Three-Eighteen of the Agency code wouldn't like it, but Missy was right -- Pathos already knew they existed. They had to think bigger. Queasy courage moved Foxx's fingers on the keys, hitting sequences she knew like names. If she couldn't be intelligence, she could still do her job. She swallowed.
"All Agents, come in," she said, "Priority red."
"On my way!"
"Hello, is it me you're lookin' for?"
Morris, Derek, Starr, and Spin answered her: friends and family and life itself. Link the band frequencies, adjust the buffers, don't think about the distance logistics or her hands would shake harder--
"We need backup, team," Foxx murmured. This was a mission, any mission and every mission, rallying a team and ignoring the odds. "The courthouse, middle-east side. Target is Mr. Wright at the defense bench. Missy and J have visuals."
The voice of reason -- something near a smile warmed Foxx's face. "Chieftain," she answered. "Any suggestions?"
"Don't think. Just feel."
For once, Foxx was going to truly listen to him. "Ten-four." She pushed her chair back, stood and circled her desk; she shivered and burned inside and she tapped: Tri assist. Lead us in.
4/4 time, PW desp, u know him, Missy said, tangled and garbled with J's hurry!
Starr swept in then, blonde and red and sure; she took Foxx's flank, familiar but backward because she always led.
"Okay, ready." She smiled in Foxx's peripheral vision. "Go for it."
Because Foxx could feel Phoenix already, the bristling brace against his stand and the fire he flew with, and the sheepish way he smiled. The resounding open court, and lies too sturdy to break but Phoenix stared blue-hard and piano built higher, resounded in Foxx's veins--
"A-All right," she said. "Alpha set. Four-four time."
She squared and stood taller, shifting in time with Starr and with all of them.
"Are you ready? Three, two, one."
It began with a spark, one bright instant -- Phoenix understood that he couldn't give up.
"--And since Mr. Pathos's testimony against Mr. Lowe is conclusive," the Judge decided, "Moreso than anything else presented in this case, I see no reason to prolong this trial. This court finds the defendant--"
"Mr. Wright ...?"
I feel alive~
And the world, it's turning inside out, yeah~
His fists shook against the stand. Strength rose in him because it wouldn't end like this, it couldn't.
"Your Honour," Phoenix said -- the spark caught inside him and rose higher, he heard feet moving in time -- "You can't! There are too many questions unanswered here, and Mr. Pathos isn't telling the whole story!"
A startled blink, and then the Judge's face quickly darkened. "I won't allow stalling, Mr. Wright, or wild accusations. Do you have evidence that Mr. Pathos is being untruthful?"
It was Phoenix's last shot--
So don't stop me now~
Don't stop me 'cause I'm having a good time, having a good time~
--And he'd chance the double edge. He slapped Pathos's articles onto the stand, the whole stack of them.
"These are the articles Mr. Pathos writes. They're from a wide variety of publications but they have one thing in common: they argue the existence of Elite Beat Agents!"
"Elite Beat Agents?" the Judge wondered."That sounds like a video game!"
"They're suit-clad men with musical superpowers," Edgeworth cut in, scorn creeping into his voice. "Pure rumour and urban legend."
Press on, the beat urged Phoenix. Push this advantage and push it hard.
I'm a shooting star leaping through the sky like a tiger~
Defying the laws of gravity~
"If Mr. Pathos makes his living theorizing about Elite Beat Agents, and he saw a chance to create subject matter for himself, why wouldn't he?" Phoenix looked then to the witness stand -- Pathos glared like knives and that meant it was working, here was one more lead to chase.
I'm gonna go, go, go~
There's no stoppin' me~
Phoenix had a team strong behind him. He pointed a challenge at Pathos, staring down the length of his arm. "Music was playing in the park, and my client was wearing a suit! Those are known characteristics of Elite Beat Agents, and that's all Mr. Pathos would need to create a media scandal!"
More gallery rumble, more cracks of the gavel but Phoenix heard only a steady beat and orange-hot drive and Pathos's mouthed growl:
"Not this time."
I'm burning through the sky, yeah~
Two hundred degrees, that's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit~
"Do you deny it, Mr. Pathos?" Phoenix slammed palms on the stand, and he cried over the noise, "Do you deny that this was the opportunity of your journalistic career?"
"You were fired from your previous job, weren't you, Mr. Pathos? Was this your chance to get back on top?!"
"You couldn't be more wrong," Pathos snapped -- and straightened slow, straining his voice to composure to add, "I-I ... couldn't possibly have planned this."
"Order! Order in this court!" With a glare at Phoenix, the Judge barked, "Just one moment, Mr. Wright!"
I'm travelling at the speed of light~
I'm gonna make a supersonic man out of you~
"What are you proposing, here?"
Phoenix thought -- no, knew -- to a soaring beat. He held the pieces and he sensed where they fit.
"Consider this," Phoenix said. "Mr. Pathos saw Mr. Lowe before the murder, and happened to be dressed the same way. He has ready access to the Orchard alleyway. And he had something to gain from killing Morna Beasley and framing Stewart Lowe for the crime! The murderer can only be you, Mr. Pathos!"
"Let us not forget the ink traces and dress shoe footprints found on the scene," Edgeworth added, "Which coincidently match Mr. Pathos's favoured pen colour and his formal shoes."
Don't stop me now~
'Cause I'm havin' such a good time, I'm havin' a ball~
"Hmm ... This is an alarming amount of coincidence, indeed," the Judge grumbled, "Your response, Mr. Pathos?"
But he was smiling again, impervious to the rhythm and the chains around him.
"Is this really the strongest argument against me? I expected better of the renowned Phoenix Wright."
If you wanna have a good time, just give me a call~
Don't stop me now~
Don't stop me now~
Pathos's cold eyes narrowed as he said, "You're still using happenstance to accuse a man of murder. I propose that if there is no concrete evidence, there has been no wrongdoing on my part."
"We can prove it, Nick," Maya murmured hard by his side. "You can hear it, can't you?"
The tune, the beat? The power shaking through his body and honing his tongue? Phoenix could be deaf and he'd still hear it -- he'd feel it. But he and Maya and the Agents had lacked concrete evidence all along; the distinctive pen hadn't even worked, it beaded right off Pathos; what more did they have to throw?
"Well, Mr. Wright?" the Judge asked, "Do you have evidence directly implicating Mr. Pathos?"
I'm a rocket ship on my way to Mars
On a collision course~
I am a satellite, I'm out of control~
Arms swayed in time around Phoenix and he ground his teeth -- the answer lay outside the box but where?
Follow his path, Phoenix.
That voice. One more ally by his side. Phoenix looked to Maya -- she stood there in her own body, shock and joy spreading on her face.
"All this music channelling ...! Oh, Sis!"
You'll need something unusual, Mia said, warm confidence and knowing smile, something that normal circumstances can't explain. Something he can't hide.
"The court is waiting, Mr. Wright."
"I-I ... have evidence!"
Like an atom bomb~
About to oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, explode~
His thoughts raced and settled on the biggest tangle of contradictions. He reached under the bench, into his briefcase, and said, "The Orchard's alley camera!"
"The ... alley camera?" The Judge's resettled his grip on the gavel -- what was it, a motorcycle's throttle? "But the identity of the person in that photo is impossible to determine."
"No, I mean the actual camera." Lifting the broken piece of the camera, Phoenix said, "It was tampered with! Someone yanked off a piece of the casing, and broke wires."
I'm burning through the sky, yeah~
Two hundred degrees, that's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit~
"An electrical surge damaged the camera's recorded data," Edgeworth added, with a pensive fold of his arms. "That surge appears to have been caused by deliberate damage. Does that camera piece have some trace of the tamperer on it?"
Did it? Melted edges, snapped wires, some kind of chippy thingie … They didn't have time for fingerprinting, so how could Pathos have left anything distinctive enough to--
Try it the other way around, Phoenix.
Other way around ... Which would mean the camera piece leaving a trace on the tamperer. Phoenix looked to Pathos and didn't just see frost anymore; he felt another racing heart, knew the slow boil of loathing and knew chains tight enough to choke. And Phoenix remembered one lurid moment of a hand squeezed in his own, and the uneasy twitch of wrinkles around Pathos's eyes.
Don't stop me~
Don't stop me~
"Actually ..." Phoenix said, and laid hands on his hips, "Damaging electrical equipment would be dangerous. Wouldn't it, Mr. Edgeworth?"
"Broken electrical wires would be dangerous, yes." Understanding knitted his brow. "Even a standard household plug carries enough electrical current to burn. It's entirely possible that the camera tamperer was injured."
Now the colour came: a tightening of Pathos's jaw, shivering chains and the blue-cold sting of fear. Phoenix smirked.
"Mr. Pathos ... Please lift your right hand for the court."
I'm burning through the sky, yeah~
Two hundred degrees, that's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit~
But Pathos stood silent, staring. He looked contemplatively to the stand -- a hard flash of grudge, a memory of office space before the rhythm and the quivering locks drowned it out -- and then he evenly spoke:
"May I ask a question, Mr. Wright?"
He's stalling, Mia muttered. Don't get distracted.
"He just asked a question." Maya bunched fists. "Give him an answer, Nick!"
"If your theory works so well," Pathos said, "If you know this much, then what did I supposedly use to dispatch Ms. Beasley?"
Definitely stalling, but the point stood. Phoenix's mouth worked, and he tightened fists on the stand.
Don't stop me now~
I'm havin' such a good time, I'm havin' a ball~
"You-- You've been evading police for days! That's plenty of time to dispose of the murder weapon!" But he'd have to guess, slap a bandage on this hole and Phoenix followed the cymbals' beats, remembering someone fiery. "But here's another interesting coincidence, Mr. Pathos. The murder weapon was something rounded. I proposed earlier that it was a pair of the metal tongs Chef LaFlamme carries, but if you pass through her kitchen on a regular basis ... The wielder could just as easily have been you!"
A queasy flare: outrage, confidence. Pathos's eyes narrowed. "Do you accuse witnesses with whatever pops into your head? For shame, Mr. Wri--"
And then the great courtroom doors banged open, and a shout rang out:
Time shattered. The court turned to watch Detective Gumshoe charge in, holding an evidence bag high.
"Wait, Your Honour, sir!"
Don't stop me now~
Don't stop me now~
"Detective," the Judge cried, "What is the meaning of this?"
Gumshoe didn't slow -- he strode to the defense stand, tall and ferociously proud, Pathos flinching in his wake.
"I have decisive evidence here, the missing piece!" And, lower, grinning at Phoenix, he added, "Got here as fast as I could, pal!"
"New evidence?" the Judge asked. "Will a recess be necessary?"
And as the evidence was thrust into his hands -- a microphone, solid and black-gleaming within the plastic -- Phoenix shook his head. "No, Your Honour."
I don't wanna stop at all~
"Detective," Phoenix said, "This looks like an ordinary cordless microphone."
"Not quite, pal," Gumshoe announced, turning to face the court. "It's got Nexus Broadcasting's logo printed on the bottom, where the fiddly dial is! This is a really high-class piece of equipment!"
"And where was it found?"
Gumshoe puffed out his chest. "That's the good part! We found this because Chef LaFlamme said Mr. Pathos might have been messing around in the basement. This microphone was found behind the fuse box of the Orchard bistro!"
The gallery murmured scandal. Defeat bled through the air around Pathos. The song faded, colour and pitch echoing away.
Good luck, Mia whispered, more smile than words.
Teammates stilled in crisp unison. The music was gone.
"Mr. Pathos is former employee of Nexus," Edgeworth said, tapping a finger against his arm. "And since it's unlikely that the Orchard staff would have the same access to Nexus equipment ... Why did you put the microphone there, Mr. Pathos?"
Silence clung now. The world was three plain dimensions and Pathos stood with his head bowed.
"This microphone feels like sturdy metal," Phoenix wondered, "And its size and shape match the wound on the victim's head. This is what you used, isn't it? And then you had to get rid of the murder weapon, rather than be caught with it!"
A heavy sigh, and Pathos brought his free hand to his temple, absently smoothing hair. "That was early today, after the bistro closed for the night. Chef LaFlamme ... didn't see me that time, I made sure of it. Her apprentice whelp must have passed by." He coughed a laugh. "I truly thought Cherry wouldn't say one word against me."
"Mr. Pathos." The Judge stared solemn now. "What are you saying?"
"He's saying," Phoenix announced, "That he used this microphone to strike Ms. Beasley. His fingerprints are probably all over it!"
"My, no," Pathos murmured to the stand, "I wouldn't be so sloppy. You may find skin traces in the mesh of the microphone's head, though. That part is difficult to clean properly."
Gumshoe shuffled away to one side. The silence itched. The Judge cleared his throat and didn't have anything to say.
Phoenix leaned closer over his bench. "Why, Mr. Pathos? Why did you kill her?"
He was all dark glare again, all venom in his voice. "Why do any of us do anything? What makes a person want to ruin another? Can you tell me that, Agent?"
Phoenix should have known this was coming. He stared back, and said nothing.
"I-I can hear your kind." Quiet now, his murmur filling the room to the ceiling, Pathos said, "I hear them passing through the city, and I hear sudden music. The thought of that sort of chaos ..."
"Chaos?" Phoenix asked.
"You know what I'm referring to."
"I don't," the Judge said, with a puzzled blink. "Could you clarify for the court?"
Pathos turned his glare to Stewart; the court around them barely mattered. "I'm sure there's some motive to their madness. But all I truly I know about Agents is that they descend without warning, and they ... have a power over the human mind. When I worked for Nexus Broadcasting, I had everything, I had a career and a future -- until one moment of weakness, one report I lacked the sources for. They knew somehow. They must have planned which vital term report to sabotage, because before I knew it, I held my desk's contents in a cardboard box!" A shudder of laughter. "The ten-year pen and a handshake one day, a pink slip the next! How many others have you ruined, Agent? You must forgive me for asking, your patterns are quite difficult to track."
"You've been studying these Agents?" Nothing but stone in Edgeworth's voice. "How?"
Pathos closed his eyes then. "If I were more knowledgable about electronics ... My specialty is advertising. Sharing information, putting a spin on it. I only know what I saw that day, three years ago, and what others have seen. And ... what I can hear."
"I'm afraid I still don't understand," the Judge tried. "What does this have to do with the murder of Ms. Morna Beasley?"
"Murder ... That's a word I've been coming to terms with lately." Pathos stared at nothing, and said sure, "This is what happened. I visited the Orchard for lunch, as I said. And then I knew chaos. I felt it, the ... rhythm Agents stir, nearby just like when it was turned on me! I left the bistro and followed it, listening to the rhythm but I ... I was ignoring its pull, I suppose, refusing to be sucked in."
He felt Stewart's assist and he went to it, Phoenix thought.
"Maybe you heard the music from the wedding?" he said instead.
"Oh, it was more than that. The woman was frightened, then high on courage, and then relieved. The same relief I knew for an instant before my career ended! The poor fool, she had no idea what had just been done to her." Pausing then, Pathos gazed at the stand. He watched a bitter time no one else could see. "I had prepared myself, with a microphone like the ones Agents use. I didn't know what I would do with it until I was in the bushes, digging in my briefcase for a solid object. Here was a woman near the end of her life, and freshly cursed. I could keep her from ruin like mine. It ... made perfect sense at the time."
The court was silent. Pathos smiled, weakly.
"It sounds terrible aloud, doesn't it?"
"Mr. Pathos," Phoenix said, "What did you do then?"
"I realized what I had done, then. I put the microphone back in my briefcase, and began to run ..." His voice dropped. "My memory is somewhat scattered, I do apologize."
"You evaded police too well to be working off of panic, Mr. Pathos." Edgeworth braced a hand on his stand. "Try to remember."
For a long moment, Pathos thought.
"But if he really realized what he did," Maya murmured against her clasped hands, "He must have panicked. Or felt something, at least ..."
That snapped into place in Phoenix's mind; he picked up the sketched map that showed Pathos's flight path and Maya's widening yellow markings. "If he only panicked after he realized what he did … That must have been what Stewart sensed, and chased into the alley!"
"I couldn't think much of anything at the time," Pathos finally said. "The alley door was locked, as I left it. I couldn't recall where my keys were, even though they turned out to be in my pocket. I suppose I jumped the fence, then ... The next thing I recall is looking up at the camera. I couldn't risk being caught on film."
Phoenix leaned in. "And your hand?"
Another weak smile. "I did say that I'm not skilled with electronics. Very well, Mr. Wright."
He removed his right hand from jacket pocket, he lifted it and spread his fingers -- there, between his ring and little fingers, hid the red-glistening electrical burn.
"It's been a rather painful reminder these past days," Pathos added. He laid his hand on the stand. "While I stood inside my front door, with the burn freshly throbbing and my senses returning, I could hear the Agent. I could hear him startled and scared as the police caught him. Finally, after all this time!"
His smile twitched its throes: Pathos's eyes gleamed cold again and he stood proud as he said:
"Here is my confession: I killed Morna Beasley in cold blood. And I regret it. She didn't deserve to be caught up in this, I truly wish I hadn't but ... I've achieved my goal today."
Chill ran down Phoenix's spine; he blurted, "What?"
"You've made a grave mistake this time, Agents." Pathos fished in his pocket, producing a device like the silver evolution of Gumshoe's frequency detector, the green Nexus logo bold on its back. "Did I finally jam your radio lines? Did you have no choice but to use your powers? Just try to hide it this time -- this entire courtroom heard you. The world knows Elite Beat Agents now!"
All this effort, all the care and white lies, only for the Agents to throw it all away assisting Phoenix. He was suddenly queasy, tightening his fists, empty inside -- they revealed themselves for him, they came to his aid and now--
"Heard ... what, Mr. Pathos?" the Judge asked.
"T-The ... The music! The powers!" The colour drained from his face. "Mr. Wright's display a few minutes ago, how could you miss it?!"
"It was nothing supernatural, I assure you," Edgeworth replied, shrugging. "Mr. Wright makes spectacular comebacks on a regular basis."
"Yes," the Judge agreed, nodding, "He can be quite amazing to watch. Very theatrical. He's downright obtrusive!"
Just this once, Phoenix wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Sputtering, Pathos managed, "B-But--"
"You might want to follow your own advice, Mr. Pathos," Edgeworth said, smirking, lifting his palms. "You're accusing a man based on happenstance. Do you have concrete evidence that Mr. Wright is one of your Agents?"
A stifling silence. The court stared. Pathos struggled and couldn't manage to smile again.
"Well played," he murmured, "All of you." He bowed his head. "I can't prove my case. I've been working from my own experience, from what I know to be true. One man's experience is no evidence, is it?" And with a slow shake of his head, "You win, Agents. I have nothing left."
Grumbling thoughtfully, the Judge decided, "Whether Agents exist or not is a moot point, Mr. Pathos. You committed murder, and then attempted to get an innocent man convicted for it. Another trial will determine your fate. Bailiffs, please remove Mr. Pathos."
Pathos stood there unmoving. The gallery's buzz sluiced off him; the clicking handcuffs and the stern hands at his elbows couldn't touch him. This was no victory, Phoenix knew with a slow wrench in his gut.
The bailiffs paused. Pathos looked up, stunned and fighting again for an expression -- and Stewart was on his feet, leaning on the defendant's box like he strained at a leash.
"He's not going to--" Phoenix hissed, "He can't!"
"He has to, Nick." Maya looked to Stewart and back, eyes shining. "He helps people."
"I-If ..." Stewart's fists tightened, bloodless. His mouth twitched before he managed to speak. "If somebody tried to help ya, an' they made a mess of it ... They'd be sorry. They really would, every time they think about it, every day of these three years! It never shoulda turned out this way. I-I can't prove it for ya but ... Please, believe me."
One instant of unreadable stare, of thoughts churning in Pathos's eyes before the bailiffs moved onward and dragged him away. The courtroom doors creaked and slammed and Pathos was gone.
The Judge sat tall now.
"Well, I believe we've answered all of the questions raised. And if there are no further objections--"
Phoenix looked across the court, to Edgeworth's fraction of a smirk.
"--I will now announce my verdict. This court finds the defendant, Mr. Stewart Lowe, not guilty."
A last crack of the gavel, a swell of gallery voices, and Gumshoe tossing fluttering handfuls of confetti. Phoenix let out a sigh. For better or worse, it was over.
"Come on, Nick," Maya said, all sunshine as usual, "It's been forever since we talked to the Agents! Maybe longer than that! What are we doing standing around?"
He'd really have to teach Maya to tell time someday. Swiping confetti bits from his hair, Phoenix smiled to match her.
Song used in this chapter is Don't Stop Me Now by Queen.
Chapter 23: Epilogue
The lobby crowds muttered. Maybe it was Phoenix's imagination, but everyone sounded relieved.
"We can't thank you enough, Mr. Wright," Stewart said. "All of us."
Phoenix took Stewart's handshake, and they both tried to smile -- Pathos's point still chewed his conscience.
"As long as you still have your cover … Uhh, but when all the other Agents assisted us ... What if someone else in the courtroom noticed?"
"Oh, yeah," Maya chirped, glancing up from rifling through Phoenix's briefcase. "What if somebody else in there had music sense?"
"Better to take a risk than to sit there doin' nothin'." Shrugging, easy again, Stewart said, "An' if somethin' bad happens, we'll roll with it an' keep doin' our best. That's what I did for Mr. Pathos back then -- the best I could. S'all anybody can do."
Another clear peal of truth. Phoenix nodded.
"Oh, what about Mr. Pathos?" Maya held out the bags containing Stewart's microphone and shades, her head tipping thoughtfully. "He still hates Agents ..."
"Thanks. And I'm gonna talk to the Commander." No hesitation in Stewart, just a clench of the bags and a rake at his hair. "'Cause, I mean … We can help 'im, I'm sure we can, we got the connections. Maybe we can change his mind, even."
Maya asked, "You really think so?"
"He's not a bad guy."
Except for the whole murdering-an-old-lady thing.
Stewart rubbed sheepish at the back of his head. "I know what you're thinkin'. But nobody's really bad when you get right down to it. An' just look at Mr. Pathos! He's smart, he's ice cool under pressure, he's got music sense like that an' nobody's even taught 'im what music sense is. I bet he coulda been an Agent."
If the Agency could inspire a one-eighty like that, well, what could stand in their way? Other than the end of the world.
Maya brightened and came dangerously close to dropping the open briefcase. "Don't worry, everyone'll love Agents someday! Just keep working at it, Stewart! And we're always up for dancing lessons!"
"Speak for yourself," Phoenix muttered.
Stewart grinned wide. "Hey, don't kid yerself, Mr. Wright. You're part of the team now, an' besides, you got potential. If the lawyer thing doesn't work out, our door's always open."
Spy gadgets and slick moves? Phoenix rubbed his neck -- he had a hard enough time keeping his pant leg out of his bicycle chain. "A-All right. Just make sure it's not a door surrounded by lasers."
A familiar shade of magenta caught Phoenix's eye in the crowd; Edgeworth emerged and, on cautious steps, joined them.
Maya didn't miss a beat. "Hi, Mr. Edgeworth!"
"Hello. I hope I'm not interrupting," Edgeworth said. He cast an uneasy eye over the conference circle. "Arrangements have been made for your release, Mr. Lowe, once the final paperwork is done. It should take only a few more hours."
"Oh!" Stewart blinked, and straightened to attention. "Uhh, thanks."
"And Wright." Edgeworth flicked a look at him, smiling with his eyes. "Next time we collaborate on a case, I expect you to share the necessary information before the trial begins."
It took Phoenix a moment to find his tongue. He still missed Foxx. "I-If I can, sure, Edgeworth. Thanks. For everything."
Looking between Phoenix and Stewart -- gaze lighting on the Agency shades and microphone for a petrifying instant -- Edgeworth replied, "If you're worried about Mr. Pathos's accusations, don't be."
"A-Accusations?" Phoenix managed.
"Did he make any new ones?" Maya added, worried-shrill.
"He hasn't said a word since the trial ended." Edgeworth canted his head, considering Phoenix's soul. "And he has no definitive evidence to back up his Elite Beat Agent theories. We proved that already." Turning his stare to Stewart, Edgeworth went on: "I saw no suspicious events in your records, Mr. Lowe, and you've been found innocent by a court of law. That's all that's relevant here. Mr. Pathos's personal grudge against you is no concern of mine."
Stewart nodded, one quick jerk. He must have known better than to ask questions.
"If that's all," Edgeworth said, tension suddenly loosening from the air, "Then I'll be on my way."
"Sure. Thanks again, Edgeworth," Phoenix murmured.
Edgeworth left, across the lobby. Quiet held for a moment.
"You got some great backup, Mr. Wright," Stewart murmured.
And Maya looked to him, eyes full of mischief. "What about Mr. Edgeworth? I'll bet he has some smooth moves, do you think you could teach him to dance?"
Phoenix sighed. "Good luck, Maya."
As Edgeworth left that lobby, the passers-by were minor static in his awareness. However foreign it seemed -- with all that trust, all that forging on blind -- working with Wright was inevitable, and the right thing to do. At least he could accept that now.
"Mr. Edgeworth!" Gumshoe blundered his way around a throng of chattering women, and charged to Edgeworth's side. "Sir! I just called the precinct. All the fingerprints do check out! And I'll have the files filled out for the microphone, uhh, as soon as I copy new forms."
Edgeworth had no plans to ask why--
"I kinda got coffee on these ones."
--Because he knew better than to ask. He turned a neat corner toward the car park, Gumshoe's huge presence hovering behind.
"Very well, Detective." He glanced to the olive trenchcoat in his peripheral vision. "I trust you didn't get into a traffic accident this time?" "A traffic ...? Oh!" Gumshoe boomed a merry laugh. "You mean when I was getting here with evidence? No, not this time, sir! I just lost a mirror, but that one was held on with tape anyway!"
Lucky indeed -- for everyone around him. "If you continue performing this well on cases, Detective, I'll have to see about having your salary raised. Possibly."
"You-- You mean it, Mr. Edgeworth?! You're the best, sir!"
If he began whooping, he could just forget about it. A smirk tugged at Edgeworth. "We'll see."
Adrenaline, Foxx thought, standing tiny before the Commander, made everything seem like a good idea.
Kahn pored over every line of her report, his hands folded. Chieftain silently filled one side of the office, his tall bulk relaxed on the couch. Video screens hummed louder than silence could ever be.
"A network of eight Agents, spread over miles," Kahn read under his breath, and he looked up -- with jade-flashing shades and unreadable cool. "That's quite an undertaking."
"T-The distance wasn't as much of an issue as anticipated," Foxx said. "The jamming signal was localized, and it didn't affect infrasound."
"And the triangulation?"
Calling that setup triangulation would make a geometry professor weep. Foxx resettled her laced hands in front of her, gooseflesh prickling over her like that first time she wore Agent reds.
"We had two lines-of-sight within one hundred feet, sir, both personally familiar with the target."
"We're all familiar with the target and his typical location," Chieftain added.
Kahn muttered acknowledgement; he turned a page. "You led this effort, Foxx?"
She had linked the entire team together, every sure-footed operative. Most of them held default leadership positions in their squads, but they had fallen into willing step behind Foxx. A shiver settled in her stomach. "Yes, sir."
"She led very well for the circumstances." Chieftain shifted, laying ankle on knee. "She assessed and had her team in place within seventy seconds. She then chose basic alpha set, and had a firm enough grasp of the target's situation to relay effectively."
"I see. And there were possible secondary spirit-channelling effects, in the wake of the largest gathering of musical aptitude this Agency has ever seen ..." Kahn brought folded hands to his chin, and went on, "You did this despite a known security risk working actively against the area Agents."
That was what gripped her and sank claws in; that was what forced her gaze to the ground. Foxx knew the risks. And she had gone ahead anyway, she had potentially given Pathos new ammunition.
"Agent. You have nothing to be ashamed of."
She looked up sharp -- Kahn sat contemplating her.
"Our strongest eight supported Phoenix Wright -- and it worked. This was a risk but a well-calculated one, and you ought to be proud."
His tone was fatherly, the way that stirred memories and hot gratitude. Foxx glanced to Chieftain -- the brim of his Stetson nearly hid his I told you so smirk -- and she looked back to her feet, smiling wide and helpless.
"Thank you, sir."
First day off since her Orchard opened, and it just Swiss-slicing figured she spent it visiting that miserable son of a demi-sauced swine. Wasn't like he could visit her.
"It's good of you to come, Cherry."
She huffed, settling her folded arms, staring at the grimy concrete floor. "I might as well. S'not like the Orchard's even pita-packin' open today."
Silence. Guards' voices echoed down the hall.
Cherry shook her head, and she looked up at him.
"Just ... What the hell, Pathos?!"
Through scuffed old plexiglass, in a crumpled suit and limp hair, he smiled the same as any other day.
"I don't even know, myself," he said, almost too small to hear. "I thought I was working toward ... Justice, I suppose. Any shot I could take at the Agents, any sort of revenge I could manage. But I became far too reckless. I assure you, Cherry, I never meant for any of this to reflect on you."
"All that plotting about the CIA or whatever," she muttered, "And you couldn't even think about the frickin' consequences?"
"I didn't," he agreed. "Not until it was too late."
Pathos was doing that thoughtful soul-prying look again: Cherry's frown twisted, and she watched her quick-bouncing knee. Boy, did cargo pants look weird on her. Didn't move like chefs' houndstooth at all.
"I've been thinking," Pathos wondered, "Since the end of the trial. I can't be sure how much of my theory is true and how much I've leaped to conclusions on. I ... think I may have taken too much personally these past years."
"You think too damn much."
"You might try it, Chef."
She glared at him; Pathos's smile softened.
"What I mean is ..." He looked to the hand in his lap that somebody had put a real botch job of a gauze dressing on. "Getting too absorbed in a cause can ... make one blind. I'd hate to see it happen to someone as devoted as you."
Anybody who had the flour-dredging nerve to tell her what to do with her Orchard could just go suck on a lemon and ... So what if Cherry cared too much. She stood, chair legs screeching.
"I don't have all day, gotta go do inventory," she muttered. Day off or no day off, braise it au bourguignon, the food didn't order itself.
Pathos nodded. "If you visit again, please bring an order of the venison and pilaf. Prison food is a sad offering, indeed."
She stopped. The thought percolated through her and well, fine, maybe she smirked a bit.
"If you think I'm gonna stick a quiche-cuttin' hacksaw in a perfectly good order of pilaf, Pathos, you can go soak your stinkin' head."
Cherry left the detention center, sun stabbing her eyes. Barley's rustbucket heap of a beater car hunkered at the end of the lot, waiting for her. The brick weight of her life was settling again -- she had inventory to do, plus a batch of bechamel to get on, and lamb to clean; the electric bill grew by pea-shelling leaps every month and somebody needed a chewing out for that one; that half case of argula was at death's door and if she didn't make cost--
"Did what's-his-face call back," she asked, dropping into the front seat, hauling the door closed.
Barley startled, nearly dropping her cell phone about six times. "Uhh, y-yes! Just now, a-actually."
Familiar shape of a lighter in her hand, familiar muted rattle of the box, click-click-click. Cherry dragged long enough to think, and sighed, draping her cigarette hand out the window. "Vander ... something?"
She muttered, and rubbed between her eyes. "How much?"
"Thirty thousand." Pulling a notepad from under the seat, Barley added, "I-I wrote it down to make sure. It l-looks like mostly a silent partner thing -- he wants use of the facilities for events, a-and he said he can help with staffing. Control stays with you, it's still y-your name on-- on all th-the papers. I-I, uhh, I asked."
"He--" Barley paused to grin, broad and boyish. "He said h-he approved of your choice of fonts, o-on the flyer. A-and he knows your uncle Smokey ...? He seems really nice. I-I think so, anyway."
Oh, sure, perfect opportunity. For someone to come along with just the step up Cherry needed, and offer, with a smile and a frickin' flourish, to buy out her Orchard. Cherry watched smoke twine and vanish. Barley squirmed against the upholstery.
"D'you think ..." She frowned. She didn't ask stuff like this. She never had. "Am I ... too caught up in the place?"
He choked the first syllables of an answer.
What a nice day outside -- all too-blue sky, fluffy white marshmallow clouds, sun draping Cherry's skin warm. "C'mon," she muttered, flicking ash away. "Spit it out."
Barley gulped. She glanced sidelong, to see him smoothing his pants.
"Y-You just work so h-hard ... I-I ... worry sometimes."
"Enough to crash court?" There, she said it.
"Y-Yeah," he murmured. No hesitation -- not that Barley had ever told her a word of a lie.
If Pathos thought she was blind, and Barley worried himself to bits, and her temper flared red nowadays if she even thought about customers ... Cherry raked hair from her face. She'd have to rebraid the front-- No, only one braid in the back today. Casual really did feel weird. That wasn't normal, was it?
"Y'know what," she spat, "Inventory can kiss my grits. I'm off today, same with you, kid." An uneasy stir in her gut. She shook her head. "Fry it. I shouldn't call you that."
"I don't mind," he said.
"Doesn't matter if you mind."
He paused, and nodded, a twitch at the edge of Cherry's vision. They sat in the hot, gold afternoon.
"Y-You know what I miss," Barley ventured, "Is you y-yelling at the food channel."
"Buncha frilly powderpuff measure-happy housewives prob'ly need a recipe to boil water," Cherry muttered around a drag.
"L-Like that." Here came the bashful grin again. "I s-still have cable?"
"Fine." She flicked her cigarette butt to the ground. "Hey, let's order a pizza, while we're at it. Eggs frickin' Florentine, we might as well."
"Okay ..." He turned to the steering wheel, wearing a fool's smile, hair in his eyes, "A-And I think I have something to tell you, Cherry ..."
Something else? Sure. She had the energy for this stuff after all. The car rumbled awake; breeze flowed around her and through the novelty of her loose bangs. Cherry leaned back, and smirked.
"Fine. Let's hear it."
Keep the details straight, Starr thought to the beat of her stilettos. Cases that made the news got overhyped; Sior Pathos was still a human being. She'd need to work the slipped-through-society's-cracks angle. Easy on the doe-eyed pleading, treat the Chief Prosecutor like a debate opponent; mission briefs didn't say all business if they didn't mean it. She tugged her suit jacket straight and watched the lime-bright elevator display crawl through its numbers. If she weren't used to nudging fate, she'd be shaking more than she was.
"Hey, 'scuse me!"
It took a moment to click -- the voice called to her, and next thing she knew, someone bright orange held out a paper at her.
"Drop by the Orchard," he enthused, "Where the finest seasons of the flavour grow!"
"Oh." Starr blinked, and had a better look at him: scruffy and sandy-blond and offering a megawatt grin along with the flyer. "Thank you." She accepted it, and smiled as best she could. "But ... I think you meant flavours of the season."
Jogging the rest of the flyers on one elbow, he scratched the back of his head. "I dunno. I'm dumb around pretty girls."
Starr clasped a hand to her chest. She couldn't remember the last time anyone said it to her face. "W-Well, I--"
"No, I mean it!" He poked a thumbs-up from under the load of flyers. "You're even prettier than my last three girlfriends! I'll bet you're a model!"
He was awfully cute, argued the sudden flutter inside her.
"That's very sweet of you," she said, "Mr. ...?"
He took her offered hand and didn't seem to plan on doing anything with it -- unless that beaming, goofy grin counted. "Larry! Larry Butz! And I bet your name is as gorgeous as the rest of you."
Pure earnest and warm hands -- she had to be blushing. What was her name right now? Clear lenses in her glasses, and she was wearing flax-blond hair, so today she was:
"Astra Blake. Actually, I could use--"
--A moment to compose herself before this crucial phase of the mission.
"--Some fresh air. Would you like to come for a walk?"
It seemed a little on the sudden side to Starr, but Larry welled up with dewy-eyed joy like it was his childhood dream come true.
"Really? I mean, yeah, sure! Whatever you want, babe!"
Just a few minutes relaxing with this guy and everything would surely turn out better. Smiling warmer, Starr took her hand back. She beckoned and Larry obediently followed.
Wright and Co. always felt like a warmer place after a win. Maybe it was the satisfaction of defending the innocent. Or maybe it was the accomplishment of gathering old takeout cartons, scrubbing the toilet until it shone and giving Charley a good watering. Either way, today was a good day.
"It ran out?" Pearl looked up at Phoenix, hurt and scolding filling her huge eyes. "Mr. Nick, you should have told me!"
"Err, sorry," he muttered. "We were kind of busy …"
But Pearl had already plucked the magatama from his hand and scampered to the office couch with a flap of pink robes. Rubbing the back of his neck -- and watching the little girl in meditation pose, statue-still -- Phoenix turned back to Maya.
"I guess we could ... have ... What are you doing?"
"Organizing all these books," Maya chirped. She grinned at him from her stepladder perch, arms full of law tomes. "So it's easier to find the one you want to read!"
"It doesn't get much easier than alphabetical order."
"Oh." For a long moment, Maya gazed contemplatively at the cover of Historic Precedent: Eleventh Edition. "Well," and she started stuffing books back into the shelf, "It's not like anybody reads them, anyway!"
To be fair, Phoenix was working on it. Sort of. He kept the books dusted, at least.
And then a knock at the door grabbed their attention -- Maya ran for it with a cry of, "I've got it!" like there was a burger delivery on the other side. She couldn't still think the burger place would deliver, even if she was their best--
He knew those voices. Phoenix was out into the main office before another thought. Here were red-costumed friends dropping by -- Missy squealing delight with her arms around Maya's neck, Foxx shifting around the cute but possibly contagious scene.
"You made it," Maya bubbled, "I just knew you-- Oh wow, Stewart, looking sharp!"
He wore a pressed suit, yellow-flashing shades, and hair that spectacularly defied gravity -- but Stewart still grinned and gave an easy shrug, closing the office door behind him.
"I'm not Stewart," he said, "Not anymore. Agent J, here, an' it's thanks to you guys!"
"J it is! Pearly, come meet our friends!"
Missy bounced toward Phoenix, skidding to a stop, producing a stack of papers from ... wherever female Agents produced things from. "Here, Nick, the Commander sent these! They're completely boring, I already checked for you."
Hopefully, Missy found paychecks boring.
Foxx sidled closer, smile slowly widening. "There's a paycheck in there, in case you're wondering."
Did Agency microphones read minds?
"Okay," Missy announced, bouncing around Phoenix, "I see a radio! I'd better get this party started!"
"Go ahead an' throw her out if she gets rowdy, Mr. Wright," J called, from his place on the couch between grinning Maya and staring, entranced Pearl.
"He probably will throw you out," Maya added. "You kids and your newfangled noise!"
As Phoenix was opening his mouth to protest that he wasn't that bad, Maya, a cool hand laid on his arm -- Foxx, her smile still wry.
"We've only got an hour, actually ... If it's all right, Phoenix, I was hoping for a group photo."
Radio static cut into a heavy dance beat, something he heard snippets of on all the popular stations. Phoenix lifted a brow at the chattering scene in his office, and he smiled, and nodded.
That photo got a place of honour on his desk. Every time Phoenix looked at it, he felt a beat.