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Saturday, July 9th, 2011 12:14 am
Title: To Each A Tempo -- Chapter 15
Fandom: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney/Elite Beat Agents crossover
Revision date: March 7th, 2011
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: 4508
Characters: Phoenix, Maya, Edgeworth, the Judge, Agent J, Agent Foxx, Cherry, Barley.

     Of all people to scuttle up to him 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, technically. But then again, 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?"
     "Huh? Where?"
     "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 detail he knows is what the standard-issue suits look 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.
     "Starr? Foxx?"
     "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."