What am I doing here? Apollo thought, for what must have been the tenth time. Max Sec’s gray stone walls loomed ahead of him. Security booths at the gate. He wondered if the guards were armed. They must have been, and considering the sorts of men this complex housed, it was probably a good thing.
He rolled down the window, pulled out his I.D. “Apollo Justice, here to see Kristoph Gavin.”
For almost fifteen minutes, Kristoph didn’t acknowledge his presence. Kept turning the pages of his book. Serene, not a hair out of place, as Apollo’s fingernails dug crescents into his palms. He must have finished his chapter, right as Apollo made up his mind to say ‘fuck it’ and leave. So the man won if he got to him? So what?
At last, he spoke. “Ah, the prodigal Judas returns. Though by the looks of your shoes, Justice, I’d say you’ve not seen your promised thirty silver.”
“How are you doing-” Don’t call him ‘Kristoph.’ He doesn’t deserve the implied friendship of a first name. For fuck’s sake, don’t call him ‘Sir.’ “Mr. Gavin?”
A thin smile, like a slash on his face. “I’m doing brilliantly, no thanks to you. All the comforts of home. I’m sure you must be disappointed not to see me in orange, playing Bubba’s prison girlfriend.” Apollo flinched. “You might say your petty discontent keeps me warm at night.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Are you an idiot, Justice? Open offers like that? Really? Time to make an appointment with a neurologist. Check for brain damage.
Kristoph crooked an eyebrow. “You could get me the hell out of here. Or take my place, perhaps. I wonder how long you’d last behind bars. I’d not lay bets on over a year.”
“Is there something I could bring you? Books? Some kind of food you can’t get in here?” He didn’t owe this man a damn thing, except maybe a collection of broken teeth.
“What a good little dog you are. So eager to play fetch. It’s a shame you’ve never been properly trained not yap at the mailman, or bite the hand that feeds you.”
Apollo turned, grabbing his jacket. Kristoph’s voice caught him as surely as a hand clamped around his wrist. “My law books, if you please. You know where in the office I keep my collection.” The office was trashed, from the police going through it in the wake of Kristoph’s final conviction, but things unrelated to his crimes were probably still there, amid the clutter. His former mentor went on, listing several bestsellers and a string of magazines. Apollo would have loved to say that he’d tuned him out, but truth was, every title and issue filed itself into his brain.
Mr. Wright didn’t fire him when he punched the office wall, later that day. Just took him aside, told him to never do that in front of Trucy (all death threats implied,) and put antiseptic on his knuckles, where the skin had split.
He spent the rest of the afternoon reviewing for a case and waiting for Trucy to get home. He’d promised her he wouldn’t go to interview their witnesses without her, but there were only so many days a semester she could skip school for the sake of trailing after a defense attorney, no matter how many times she said she already had a career in magic waiting for her, graduation or no. Her dad had put his foot down, and Apollo agreed with him a hundred percent.
He’d expected her to come home by herself, without a familiar figure trailing behind her, face half-hidden behind a sketchpad. Vera didn’t say anything in greeting, but her head dipped a little when he waved.
“I thought she could help us with crime scene sketches,” Trucy said. “That place is a mess. I feel like I’m missing clues just by looking at the wrong inch of floor.” Coming from the girl whose magic equipment would make decent battlements if the office ever came under siege, that was saying something.
Apollo stretched, feeling his vertebrae pop. “Seriously? Thanks!”
Vera shook her head. “I wanted to come,” she said. “I-” She trailed off.
“Like I said, it’s good to have you onboard.” Vera’s head was behind her sketchbook again, but her shoulders relaxed a little.
“Hey, Polly,” came Trucy’s voice from the other room, “why is there a crack in the plaster here? Did Daddy trigger my ballista again, by accident?” She had a ballista? He didn’t want to know. Really, really didn’t want to know! Here was hoping it was a fake one, the kind that never fired anything which could kill him from across the room, and oh, god, his gravestone was going to say ‘here lies Apollo Justice, killed by a magic trick gone wrong,’ and all the other dead people were going to laugh at him.
...Trucy’s face was inches away from his, as she leaned in, chin propped on her hands. “Polly? You know I don’t have weapons in here, right? So what happened?” No way out of this one, huh? Apollo looked down.
“That was me, sorry.”
“You punched the wall?”
“I punched the wall.”
Trucy put her hands on her hips, bouncing a little. “Well, you know what you have to do in that case.”
“Kiss it and apologize, of course! How would you feel, if the wall had punched you?”
It was official. Trucy was Mr. Wright’s biological kid, no matter what the records said. They were both the exact same kind of nuts.
“If the wall had punched me, I’d probably press charges,” he grumbled.
“Well then, in that case, I suppose I’ll have to press charges against you, young man!” came a retort from the wall’s general direction. ...Clearly, he’d been working with the Wrights too long, because Apollo only jumped half a foot in the air, wondering how Trucy had gotten her voice to go that low.
Which was how he, Apollo Justice, wound up kissing a piece of dented plaster, at three in the afternoon, stone cold sober. This was now officially his life.
Vera stayed in the background as they interviewed their client at the detention center, though she had a detailed sketch of the man’s ever-growing wrinkles, by the time they left. Just as Trucy had predicted, their friend’s skills became invaluable, once they hit the crime scene. His and Trucy’s Perception was good on people, but the bracelet gave him no hints about inanimate objects. Vera, on the other hand, had an artist’s eye for detail. She was the one who noticed a cigarette butt behind the floor lamp. With luck, that would help him place a suspect who wasn’t his client on the scene at the time of the murder.
They walked home in high spirits, taking the long way around, through People Park. The air around them smelled like oranges and clear twilight. A few steps behind him, Apollo could hear Trucy trying to teach Vera the lyrics to one of the Gavinners’ singles, but even that couldn’t kill his lifted mood.
The screech of tires only inches away from them? Yeah, that managed to do it. “Sup, J-dawg! You wanna ride?” He found himself face-to-face with Wocky Kitaki’s orange pompadour-mohawk-thing, sticking out the window of an equally garish truck. Apollo was just about to refuse politely, when the girls caught up, Trucy waving enthusiastically and Vera looking unsure.
Wocky grinned when he saw Trucy. “Hold on, lemme just park and I’ll be right wit’ you.” He zoomed the truck into a space Apollo was pretty sure would get him ticketed if not towed, and hopped out. “Hey, shorty. Still whuppin’ magician ass?” Trucy nodded proudly.
“You’ve got it! I’m the champion whupper of Los Angeles.”
“That’s my girl. And who’s your friend? Dang, girl, she fiiiine!” He swaggered up to Vera. “Hey, I see you draw’n stuff. Are you an interior decorator? Cuz when I saw you, the whole room got beautiful.”
Vera retreated behind her sketchpad, and Wocky’s face fell. “Aw, crap. I just ate my Nikes again, din’t I? Ma’s gonna beat the shit outta me if I make a nice girl like you uncomfortable. Or any girl, any kind of uncomfortable, cuz a real G don’ do dat shit!”
Vera’s eyes blinked at him. “...I didn’t understand any of what you’ve just said.”
“Da’s cool. Name’s Wocky Kitaki. What’s yours?”
“Vera.” She didn’t seem petrified anymore, or Apollo would have stepped in. “Vera Misham.”
“Da’s cool,” Wocky said again. “You Russian?”
Vera shook her head, then nodded. “Third generation.” She scribbled something on her pad, then turned it toward them. Three figures - the first a round little old lady in a kerchief, the second a long-haired woman in a suit, the third looking much like Vera herself.”
“Whoa, you really can draw!” Wocky’s face lit up. “You should draw me’n my Gs, sometimes.”
“What’s a ‘G’?”
“My bros. My men out on the front lines!” Apollo gestured anxiously with his hands, hoping Vera would get the hint and stop asking.
“I think I see,” Vera said, and Apollo could have sworn there was a tiny smile on her face.
Wocky walked with them to the end of the park, then parted ways with a wave and a “-crap, forgot my truck, didn’t I?”
“Do you want a ride home?” Apollo asked Vera, as they reached the office. She nodded.
“What- happened earlier today?” she asked him, when they were both in his car. It had started to rain, the windshield wipers fanning water across his vision.
He could lie. Apollo knew he could lie, but lying to this girl felt needlessly cruel. So few people had cared enough to tell her the truth in the past. So few had spoken to her at all. “I went to see him,” Apollo said. A shuffle of graphite, and Vera’s sketch showed the outline of a hand, immaculate and scarred. All he had to do was nod.
She didn’t ask him why. “Next time, I’ll go with you,” she said, and he didn’t ask her why either.