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Saturday, March 26th, 2011 11:35 am
Title: To Each A Tempo -- Chapter 13
Fandom: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney/Elite Beat Agents crossover
Revision date: March 5th, 2011
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: 2889
Characters: Phoenix, Maya, Edgeworth, Agent J, Agent Foxx, the Judge, Cherry, Barley.



     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!"
     "Please do."

     "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?"
     "Why... What?"
     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--"
     "Objection!"
     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."
     "What now?!"
     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--

     "Cherry!"

     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.


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