His name is J DeMarcus, and he's teenage detective. He may be young, but he's the best at what he does. He asked me to be his assistant, and since then we've seen all kinds of mysteries together. This story is one of many…
It all started when J and I returned to the apartment where he lives one afternoon after seeing a movie. To our surprise, directly in front of his front door sat a small box, packaged up for shipping.
"You got mail?" I asked curiously.
J raised a hand to his chin and puzzled. "Nobody I can think of has my address."
He knelt down and picked the package up, seeming surprised by its weight.
"It could be fan mail," he said. "From some obsessed stalker. Or a criminal out looking for revenge. Either way it's pretty likely to explode."
"Wanna open it?" I asked. He shrugged, then lead the way inside.
We sat on the floor of his living room and opened the package. Beneath the wrapping and box was a big, black suitcase. Opening it, we found all types of crimefighting equipment. I picked up one of two flashlights, and clicked the button to see ultraviolet light shooting out. J grabbed a fingerprint kit.
"Woah," I said, impressed. "Since when do we have tech support?"
"I'm pretty sure I know who sent this now," J sighed, seeming oddly annoyed. "If I'm right we should have a new email or something. Check the inbox."
I pulled out my phone and obliged. He was right.
"A new case needs your attention," I read aloud. "Report to McKenzie Hospital Room 125A Saturday morning."
"Is that all it says?" J asked. "Not very descriptive."
My eyes went down to the virtual signature. N. Mathias.
"That name again," I said. "Who is he?"
J sighed. "Right now, a client."
His attention returned to the briefcase full, holding up a tiny device between two fingers. "Are these trackers?"
I took it from him and looked at it closer. "Yeah, they seem like bugs with radio functions too. I can probably hook these up to my laptop, then maybe even sync the stream to my phone."
"Really?" he said with an impressed grin. "Sweet."
"I guess," I replied. "But what sort of case calls for all this new tech?"
The detective nonchalantly shrugged. "I guess we'll figure that out."
Two mornings later we arrived at the hospital, following staff directions to the room number listed in the email. Upon entering, we saw a single hospital bed with an unconscious man laying there, covered in bandages and hooked up to all types of tubes and machines. There was a brace around his neck and a mask over his mouth to help him breathe. Beside him was another unconscious man, a visitor who had fallen asleep in the seat by the bed. This man was a lot thinner and seemed slightly younger, and he was wearing office clothes. Our footsteps seem to wake him, though, as he sprung up and looked at us.
"Who are you kids?" he asked.
"We're who you're here to see." J answered. The guy looked at us confusedly.
"If you're here," J explained. "I assume you were contacted by a man named Mathias and told to come here for questioning by a private detective?"
He raised a brow. "But how did you-"
"I'm that detective. My name is J and this is my partner, Terra."
"You're the detective?" he said with a disbelief that had become routinely expected at this point.
"This guy doesn't have any friends or family, huh," J said, motioning to the man in the bed. "You aren't either of those, right? You work with him at an office job, I bet, even though you don't get along too well."
The man's face went from disbelief to shock and confusion.
"How do you know all of that?"
"Easy," J replied with a roll of his eyes. "This guy's been here in the hospital for at least a week yet there's no gifts, fruit baskets, balloons or anything here, meaning no one's come to visit him. So he has no one in his life. You didn't bring any gifts either, which tells me you aren't close to him. Yet you're still here, which means the two of you have some kind of relationship. That means it's likely you work together, and judging by the way you dress it's probably some office setting. Is that right?"
"Woah," the man said, all but gasping. J rolled his eyes.
"Do you believe I'm a detective now? If so, let's get down to business."
After a moment to process the situation, the man introduced himself, "I'm John."
J motioned to the man on the bed. "Can you tell us who he is."
"His name is Rob Holton, I work with him in sales. A couple days ago he was in a pretty bad car accident. Or at least that's what they said…"
"Why the ambiguity?"
"Well the thing is, nobody's really sure if it was an accident; he drove over a bridge and fell out into the water. They pulled him out but he's been like this ever since so they haven't gotten any real explanation."
"Right," J said, taking that all in. "Terra, do your thing."
I got my laptop out of my bag and set it on the table before me, then began searching for anything I could find on 'Rob Holton'.
"Now, John," J continued. "If you're just somebody he works with, why are you the one here answering questions?"
"Easy," John answered. "I was just the last one to see him before the incident."
"Where and when was this?"
"A coffee place. We were meeting up to talk about a project for work there, then after we finished up he had the crash on the way home."
"While you were at the coffee place, did he say or do anything unusual? Did he seem tense or upset."
John paused and thought for a while.
"Not that I could tell," he answered. "I mean, between you and me he's always kind of on the edge. He's a downer type of guy, and he seems to have really bad luck, so him being upset about something doesn't really stand out."
J shrugged and turned to me. "A nything yet."
"Tons," I replied, eyes locked on my screen. "Rob Holton, age forty-two, born in Michigan, degrees in business, accounting and finance, unmarried and no known family. According to his medical history he has diabetes, severe anemia, and a problem with blood pressure that runs in the family."
"Anything important happen recently?"
"Not that I can find… Oh wait, apparently he's scheduled to testify in court next week."
"John, did you know anything about this?"
The guy shook his head.
"What's the deal?" J asked me. "Is he accused of something?"
"No," I reported. "He's a witness. Against a guy named Craig Lawton who is being represented by a lawyer named Angela Lannister."
J gasped. Surprised, I looked up from the screen to see his shocked face.
"What?" I asked, equally curious and concerned. He didn't say anything. He just turned to John.
"I think we're done here."
"Yeah. Thanks for your help."
He turned and walked past me, over to the door. "C'mon, Terra."
"Wait up." I urged, closing my laptop and throwing it back into my backpack. He didn't slow down or even hold the door behind him. I rushed out and followed as quickly as I could, the two of us entering the hallway again.
"What's going on?" I asked as soon as we were out of earshot to the room.
"That lawyer," he answered. "Lannister. I know her."
He wasn't slowing his pace at all, or turning to look at me as he spoke.
"How?" I asked, somewhat annoyed by his non-communication.
"We have history." he sighed.
I stopped walking and stomped my foot on the tiles of the hospital floor. "J!"
He stopped walking too, and turned to face me with a sigh.
"All lawyers in a community know each other." he said.
I raised a brow. "Meaning?"
"She and my mother were enemies."
I felt my eyes widen. "Oh…"
"She's crooked," he explained. "She cuts deals with criminals and manipulates trials. My mother always tried to build a case against her but never had enough evidence."
"Ok," I said, taking a moment to process all this. "So, car accident, guy in coma, crooked lawyer. These are probably connected, right?"
"Of course," he answered. "He probably has some information that'll win the trial, and she wanted to keep him silent."
"But wait. According to the guy we just talked to, they were alone at the coffee shop, then when he drove home and had the accident he was the only one in the car. How could this lawyer get him to crash."
J shrugged. "That's what this case really is."
He turned forward again and continued walking.
"Where are we going?" I asked, frustratedly following behind.
He didn't look back or slow down as he answered. "The only place we need to."
J was silent as he stared forward, at this building that was apparently familiar to him. His face was near expressionless, if not for the aggressive focus in his eyes. For a moment he just stood there.
"Hey," I said. "Are you sure you're okay with this?"
His prolonged gaze at the building in front of us finally broken, he looked at me with a raised brow and impatient scowl.
"Of course I'm okay with it," he shot back. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well, I know how you get when something involves your mom."
He was quiet, then his eyes returned to the office.
"This a case," he answered sternly. "Just like any other."
"If you say so," I sighed disconcertingly. "So what should we expect inside?"
"A normal law office," he answered. "Not that either of us have ever seen one, but it's probably what you imagined based on TV. The lawyer in question doesn't get along with people well, though, so there's not bound to be much of a staff. The only guaranteed member is her personal assistant/bodyguard, a big, scary dude she keeps around her wherever she goes. As you imagine, she's a very shady, secretive person, so getting any information out of her won't be easy."
"What part of this job ever is?" I replied with a shrug. And with that we set forward.
The door opened and on the other side stood a noticeably tall, broad shouldered man with sunken eyes and slicked back brown hair. He was a scary looking guy who I had to assume was the bodyguard J described. He looked down at us curiously.
"What are you kids doing here?" he asked, the second time we had heard that sentence since the start of this case.
"We need to talk to Lannister," J answered. "We took a look at her schedule and it looks like the next meeting of the day isn't for another hour."
The man's brow furrowed, caught off guard by J's nonchalance.
"What?" the detective scoffed. "Are you gonna stare us down all day or are you gonna take us to see our lawyer?"
The burly adult shrugged and lead the way into the building. Following one short corridor, we entered the main room where the woman in question sat behind a desk. She appeared to be somewhere in her forties, had a long, pale face covered in gaudy makeup failing to hide crow's feet. She had long, dirty blond hair tucked into a ponytail, and bright green eyes behind thick-framed glasses. At first sight, she wasn't anything like I had imagined. I mean I didn't really have a specific idea of what an evil, crooked lawyer lady should look like, but the worst thing this woman seemed capable of was causing a scene at a restaurant demanding to see the manager.
"Alright, children," she sighed. "Cut the chase; You've got twenty-seven seconds of my time to explain why you're here."
J sighed right back at her. "Nice seeing you again too, Angela."
Her annoyed expression changed to one of confusion as her eyes trained in on my friend. He rolled his eyes and looked away, clearly made uncomfortable by her hard gaze.
"Am I supposed to know you?" she said impatiently.
J shot her a look full of malice and memories. "Well, it's been six or seven years now."
The room fell silent for a moment as the lawyer curiously mulled through her memory. Suddenly, her eyes lit up and the rest of her face came alive.
"Oh my God," the Lannister woman gasped. "It's you isn't it! After all these years, you're the DeMarcus kid… You're a lot taller now and you have a girly haircut, but you've got those same wide eyes too big for your head."
A smile came to her face. "What was your name again?"
"It's J now."
"Well, J, if I may ask for the second time, what in the absolute hell are you doing here?"
"Easy. If you remember my mother, you should know this part. I'm here to finish what she started."
"What's that supposed to mean."
J looked at her with a sharp stare and a fearless grin, leaning back casually in his chair.
"Rob Holton." he announced sternly. The room fell silent. The woman's face changed completely, her eyes widened in shock and her mouth opened to gasp. She looked over to her equally surprised bodyguard, and the two met eyes as if that moment they realized what was truly happening, or at least that J wasn't an ordinary kid.
"What do you know about that name?" she ordered.
"I know he's set to be a witness, testifying against your latest client and now all of a sudden he's clinging to life in a hospital bed."
The woman shot a twisted and mischievous grin, and just as quickly as her surprise came, her calm expression returned.
"Well then," she said. "Mr. Holton was testifying against my client, but this is the first I'm hearing of his hospitalization."
"I bet." J replied dryly.
"What is this?" Lannister scoffed. "The child of a ghost from my past comes into my office out of nowhere and accuses me of attempted murder."
"Attempted murder, as of now." J corrected.
"And what? Because mommy had a vendetta against me, all these years later you think you're some kind of crimefighter?"
"I see you haven't been keeping up." J answered, unshaken. "Maybe you heard of a teenage detective in the local news that's been solving crime cases with a perfect track record."
In seconds, her bodyguard hurried over to and held his cell phone in front of her face. She looked at the screen and here eyes widened, then her brow furrowed.
"Are you kidding me?" she groaned. "You're some kind of boy detective? Of course, how could Liza DeMarcus' kid ever come out normal?"
"You're missing the point here," J replied. "This means I'm on your case now."
"Am I supposed to be scared?"
"They never are. None of the criminals I've sent to jail. But you won't be different from any of them."
The woman was silent for a moment, staring at J in disbelief until she shook her head.
"I see you've inherited your crazy mom's attitude," she said. "The last time I saw you, you were clinging to her side in a courthouse, looking lost and scared, just waiting to go home. Now you're different, there's no fear in those eyes. There's something else, and honestly it kinda freaks me out."
Then, unexpectedly, the woman turned to me. I nearly jumped back in my seat.
"What's your deal, little girl?" she chuckled creepily. "You've been awful quiet this whole time. You don't have a voice? Or have you been trained to just sit back and let the boy do all the talking?"
My throat tightened. I was caught off guard, and wished I had some kind of reply ready.
"If you can talk," she went on. "Answer me this. How did Mr. Holton end up in a hospital?"
Her tone of voice as she asked it was so cold and direct. I was trying to stay cool and seem fearless like J, but her whole presence intimidated me.
"A car crash," I mustered. "His car went off a bridge."
"And you think I had something to do with that."
How are you supposed to say 'yes' when someone asks a question like that?
Her creepy smile came back.
"From what I know Mr. Holton had no wife, no kids, no friends, no life. Don't you think a man like that gets lonely? Don't think it's possible maybe he drove himself off that bridge?"
Truthfully enough, I hadn't even considered that.
J spoke for me. "You're hoping the judge says something like that, right?"
"Ugh," Lannister groaned. "I thought I wouldn't have to deal with that woman again but even when she drops dead the headache continues."
"Don't talk about my mother like that." J demanded, coldly and sternly.
"You're a lot like her now that I think about it. You're just as self-righteous."
"My mother wasn't self-righteous, she just knew what the right thing to do was, and was never afraid to do it."
"Yeah, and look how that worked out for her."
With that, J jolted up from his seat, so fast the chair nearly fell over. His fists were balled tightly, shaking tensely. I looked up to see his face filled with rage, his eyes fierce and venomous like I had never seen them before.
"I told you not to talk about my mother like that!" he yelled.
His sudden shouting made the woman flinch in her seat, backing up and quickly tensing as well.
"That's enough of this," she barked. "It's time for you to get out of my office."
"Oh yeah," J said, stepping forward to her desk. "Why don't you make me?"
He swiped a hand across the table, knocking off everything it held. A blizzard of papers flew into the air, and a snowglobe came crashing down, shattering on the carpet. In what seemed like a second, the bodyguard rushed over and grabbed J by the arms.
"Get off me!" J shouted, trying to break free but to no avail.
"Hey!" I called out as the large man stretched his arms over my friend and strengthened his grip. He hoisted J into the air and began walking toward the door. J squirmed and struggled, but the man only tightened his grip as he walked. I jumped out of my seat and followed suit. Before I knew it, the man opened the door with one hand and hurled J out of the building with the other.
"J!" I cried, running out after him.
I heard Lannister's voice once more. "Don't ever come back here."
That was the last thing said before the door slammed shut behind us. J groaned in pain, turning over on the grass. I sighed, closing my eyes and rubbing my temples in frustration.
"You didn't have to do that." I said.
"Yes," he replied as he pushed himself up off the ground. "I did."
"Why?" I snapped. "To prove some point?"
"No," he scoffed, brushing himself off. "So I could put a tracker on that bodyguard."
I froze, feeling my eyes widen with surprise. "What?"
"Check it on your phone." he instructed.
I pulled out my phone, which was I had synced to the program on my computer that monitored the trackers. Sure enough, the digital map had a glowing red dot right beside our location.
"Our job here's done," J sighed, turning back to the street. "Let's go."
The next order of business was heading over to the coffee place. It took two bus rides and a lot of walking to get to the place where Rob Holton and John had that fateful meeting. It was a nice, spacious place where paintings from the sixties and seventies hung on the walls, where smells of espresso and exotic flowers filled the air and where songs that my parents listen to played in the background.
"How can we help you today?" asked the smiley middle aged woman behind the counter.
"Random question," I began. "But is there anyone here that was also working last Tuesday?"
The woman's smile faded and she looked at me with a furrowed brow.
"Hold on one sec," she replied. "I'll see."
A moment later, a younger man with long, black hair and glasses.
"I was working last Tuesday," the guy said, flipping his locks away from his eyes. "What did you need?"
"Do you recognize this man?" J asked as I held out my phone with an image of Rob Holton.
The employee didn't even need a second to think. "Yeah, he comes here on business meetings like every other week."
"Can you tell us what you remember about that last time?"
The guy pushed up his glasses in thought.
"He was very upset about something," he answered. "I mean, he always is. This time I think someone stole his jacket while he was in the bathroom, or… No wait, I think this time he got a parking ticket. Or it was something about his job. I dunno, it's always something, I don't remember what it was this time."
"What about this guy?" I asked, holding up my phone with a picture of Holton's work partner John.
"Oh yeah," the man behind the counter said. "He was there too. I could never forget that evil jerk."
J and I immediately met eyes, jumping with excitement.
"Why do you call him that?" J demanded. "What did he do?"
"He was the first person of the day to order ice cream," the man answered with a shrug. "You have no idea how much of a pain it is to start that machine."
J's excitement died down immediately, his stature deflating.
"Oh," he sighed. "What a monster."
We ordered drinks and took seats at a table, all the while me listening with earbuds to the tracker on Angela Lannister's bodyguard and J racking his brain, running through the information over and over again. I took a look at the radar on my phone to see the red dot basically hadn't moved, meaning they were still at the office. They had just been talking about business and lawyerly activities for the past hour or so.
"Anything yet?" J asked, resting his head on his hand and drumming his fingers on the table.
"Nope." I sighed, taking one of the earbuds out. He sighed too, leaning back in his seat.
"I thought that guy at the hospital fit in somehow," he groaned. "But the only thing he's guilty of is being a grown man in a suit who orders ice cream in public."
"J," I said, staring down at my drink in thought. "Do you think that evil lawyer lady had a point?"
"About what?" he demanded with a raised brow.
"About this car accident," I clarified. "When she said the guy might've driven off the bridge on his own. I mean, that's the only thing that makes sense."
He sighed again. "I've been thinking about that. Yeah, it seems like the simplest answer. But that's what a criminal like her does; making it seem like that is how she gets off and avoid charges. There's no way the universe would hand her a car accident this convenient."
He stared off into space and his eyes regained the anger I saw at the law firm.
I frowned, realizing he was off in his own head again. "J, are you sure you're-"
Just then, the sound of voices came through my headphones again.
"They're talking!" I cried, jumping in my seat. I turned up the volume as high as it could go and handed J the other earbud. We huddled in and listened close, the first voice we could make out being Lannister's.
"-Right now. You have to take this."
We heard the sound of ruffling fabric accompanied by the bodyguard's laughter.
"You can't be serious," he replied. "Did that kid really shake you up?"
"Of course not," the woman scoffed. "But does it ever hurt to be cautious?"
"I can't believe this."
"What? Like you weren't spooked by how much he knew. Like you couldn't tell by the way he talked that he wasn't normal. Ugh, of all the kids in the world it had to be Liza DeMarcus' son? God damn it, I'm not taking any chances!"
"What do you want me to do with this?"
"Get rid of it, genius! Hell if I care how."
The burly man sighed, "You're the boss."
"See you tomorrow morning."
There as a loud thud that sounded like a car door being closed. The engine started again.
"Tee!" J cried, the sudden increase in volume nearly deafening my free ear. "Was that recording?"
"Of course it was," I replied, pulling my earbud out and rubbing my temple. "I'm not an idiot. But what do you think they were talking about getting rid of?"
He shrugged. "Obviously some type of evidence, possibly the thing they used to cause the car to lose control."
I pinpointed the tracker's location before the bodyguarded started driving again. I didn't need J to explain it was probably where she lived. I realized J had gotten up and was now pushing his seat in.
"Wait," I said, closing my laptop. "We're going?"
"Of course," J answered impatiently. "That guy's about to get rid of the evidence. We gotta follow him and get it before it's too late."
"Follow him? How are we gonna do that?"
"Doesn't one of your school friends have a car?"
Every other car on the road seemed to weave out of our path as we sped through Dakota. The incessant beats of EDM music seemed to match my heartbeat as I clutched the handle on the ceiling.
"Thanks again, Chad," I called to the driver's seat in front of me. "Sorry this was so last minute but you're a lifesaver."
"No problem," he said, increasing speed. "It's my mom's day off so I woulda done anything to get out the house."
Glancing away from the road for a second, he looked over to the passenger seat at J, who had his eyes closed and his head resting on his hands.
"Is he good?" Chad asked me, sounding concerned.
"Yeah," I answered. "He's just thinking, this is a hard one."
I could see his shoulders shrugging over the seat. He then looked down at my phone, which he was holding to see the radar.
"We're almost caught up with the red dot," he reported.
"See, I told you I could catch it."
"To hell with speed limits I guess."
A few minutes later we drove past an old, black sports car parked outside the entrance to some junk yard. According to my the map on my phone, the red dot was somewhere inside it, and this car was probably his. Following J's instruction, Chad parked a safe distance away from the car, and the two of us climbed out.
"We'll try to be right back." I told Chad.
"You might wanna prepare yourself," J said. "You've seen movies where they rob a bank and one of the guys drives the getaway car, right?"
I don't think I had ever been in a junkyard before. They're big and scary, like walking through and endless wasteland of old, broken things. We followed the red dot for what felt like a mile, until it finally stopped moving. With all the trepidation in the world I walked alongside J, equally concerned with watching my step as I was with trying not to get caught by Lannister's homicidal bodyguard. I glanced down at my phone to see the red dot on the screen had started moving again, and this time it was headed our way.
"J!" I whisper screamed. Immediately, the two of us ducked behind a nearby car. It was the corpse of a red Camaro, covered in moss and with no windows or wheels to speak of. It was the worst smell I could remember ever encountering, but the sound of heavy footsteps on the other side was even more unpleasant. I tried my hardest not to make any type of movement or sound. Apparently, I was shaking a little. I didn't notice, but J had; he placed a hand on my wrist and for whatever reason all my nervousness and tension seemed to go away.
The footsteps seemed to put on distance, getting quieter and quieter until we couldn't hear them anymore. A few minutes later, J slowly stood from his crouch and looked around.
"The coast is clear," he reported, offering his hand to help me up. "Come on."
Staring at my phone for guidance, we walked over to where the red dot had previously been, which was a small hill where a big van from the 1970's sat. The paint was so faded it was barely recognizable, but I could vaguely make out what used to be bold, psychedelic colors. Like everything else here, it had been destroyed by passing decades, covered in all types of dust and moss and small creatures. The air around it was so musty that just breathing felt like I was letting alien spores into my lungs.
"Some hiding spot," I said, my voice muffled by fabric as I covered my mouth and nose with my scarf. "J peered at the big, sliding door of the van curiously, trying to figure out how to open it without touching it. He eventually conceded to standing on one leg, waving his arms for balance as he maneuvered his other leg, tipping the handle of it with his sneaker and sliding it open.
The inside of the van was nearly as grime and insect covered as its exterior, but on the torn, red, leather driver's seat sat something that looked newer and cleaner than anything in this whole junkyard. It was also made of leather, but black and stylish. It was a man's jacket.
"Solved!" J called out, so loud that his voice slightly echoed through the junkyard. Immediately afterward, his voice was joined by another.
"You!" It boomed furiously, sending a chill down both of our spines. It was the voice of the burly man we had followed here. J and I both jumped, my heart pounding in my chest. He's here? But how? I looked down at the radar on my phone and the red dot was nowhere to be seen. I looked over and the man was most definitely there a few yard in front of us, his face red and his eyes full of fury as he steadily paced in our direction.
"You put a bug on me," he snarled. "I thought it was the feds but it was just you kds again. Where do two kids even get a thing like that? Whatever, all that matters now is you turn around and go home."
At this point he was only ten or fifteen feet from us. My chest was tightening and my knees were shaking uncontrollably. I took a step back, not knowing exactly where I would go. I looked over to J, immediately surprised by how calm he was. His face showed the same dull, uninterested expression I'd gotten used to. Then I noticed his arm creeping over to grab the jacket. As stealthy as he was attempting to be, our assailant noticed as well. He stood still in his place.
"Stop," he called out. "What's gonna happen now is you're gonna hand me that jacket then you're gonna turn around and run home."
I got a lump in my throat so big I could hardly breathe.
"And why would we do that?" J called back with unshaking confidence. The man didn't bother answering, he just started toward us again, this time nearly charging.
"Terra," J yelled. "Run!"
And with no further warning he bolted off, back the same way he came, to the burly man's right side. My mind took a second to process what was going on, then I ran as fast as I could to the man's left. He looked back and forth between us and resolved to chasing J, who was still carrying the jacket. Fortunately, my friend seemed to be a lot lighter on his feet than this man and managed to stay out of his grasp. Unfortunately, I was so focused on their chase I forgot to look where I was running. My foot hit some stray piece of junk, a pipe or something sticking out of the ground. After the sharp pain shooting through my toes, I felt myself losing balance and being hurled forward to the ground. I landed on my arm, so hard it felt like my shoulder was knocked out of its proper place.
"Terra!" J cried, seeing me hurt and freezing in his tracks. That quick pause was all it took for the assailant to catch up with him. He reached his giant arm and grabbed the jacket, pulling with such force that J was nearly carried off the ground. Struggling to keep his balance, he pulled back with both arms as hard as he could. It didn't seem to do much, as the big man didn't budge. He pulled back, so hard that J's sneakers dug into the dirt and started scraping tracks. The bodyguard's free hand grabbed one of J's wrists, squeezing and twisting until my friend screamed out in pain. But J's grip didn't loosen.
"J!" I cried, forgetting about the pain in my arm as quickly as it came. And then, completely out of nowhere came another man's voice.
"What's going on here?" he called out, sternly. It was a voice we recognized, one that seemed angry and authoritative, yet somehow youthful and slightly dorky.
"Deputy Allen?" I called out, equally surprised as I was overjoyed as I stood from the ground and brushed the dirt off my sleeve. "What are you doing here?"
He walked up, police badge in one hand, a gun aimed directly at Lannister's bodyguard in the other. His expression was a mix of calm frustration.
"I was on patrol and saw you speeding," he explained. "I was gonna pull the car over before I realized it was you and J. Then I figured you were on one of your little cases and judging by how the last one turned out I thought you might need help. Boy, was I right?"
The bodyguard let go of the jacket and raised his arms in surrender.
Deputy Allen chuckled. "The Chief was right, J. You really can't stay out of trouble, huh?"
J rubbed his hurt wrist and scoffed. "Could you not be so late next time?"
This time, standing in Angela Lannister's office didn't seem as scary. The ominous sense of dread didn't flow through the air as strongly as it had the day before. Granted, it might have been because the big, scary behemoth of a guy wasn't there, and in his place was my father, the Chief of Police. He had his arms crossed as he ran through the details of our story
"I see," he went on. "That must be when Allen heard the screaming."
"Thank Terra." J replied.
My father raised a brow. "Allen said it sounded like a boy."
"Her voice gets deeper when she gets scared."
Dad rolled his eyes.
"And then, as you know," J carried on. "We found an abnormally large cretin who happens to work for this woman trying to get rid of the jacket. I'm sure we can all see what's going on now."
My father sighed, "Let's pretend we can't."
J rolled his eyes and explained. "According to Rob Holton's medical records, which Terra found, he had severe anemia. The day he had his accident, it was warm outside. Warm enough for people at the cafe to be eating ice cream. Yet Mr. Holton still wore his leather jacket, his condition was that bad. Lannister knew that, which is why she had her goon sneak in and steal that jacket. They knew his condition would kick in somewhere on the drive home and make him turn on his car's heat, which had been tampered with."
"Tampered?" my father asked with a raised brow.
"The investigators checked the car and confirmed its brakes, battery, alignment and everything else worked fine. What they didn't check was the little container of air freshener attached to the vent. It was full of some kind of poison or dangerous chemical meant to knock someone out. When the car's heat turned on, it spread the fumes from it and Holton breathed them in, causing him to get drowsy and lose control of the car."
"Right," my father said, relaying that all through his mind. "So you think they took advantage of his condition to make him poison himself, which made him crash his car and hoped it would kill him? Or at the very least, keep him out of commission for trial?"
"I don't think anything," J replied smugly. "If forensics looks at that jacket they'll no doubt confirm it was Holton's, which will confirm this woman and her crony planned that crash just as I said."
My dad nodded, then turned to the accused woman with a shrug. "What do you say to that, Ms. Lannister?"
She shot back a terrifyingly unwavering smile.
"I say," she began. "If any of that turns out to be true, well then I just can't believe my own employee would do something that horrible. If were a better judge of character, if only I'd known what he was planning to do, maybe I could've talked him out of it. But I guess we'll never know."
J scoffed and through his hands up, but my father remained calm and simply shrugged.
"Repeat that to the court," he replied. "It looks like I'll have to take you in now."
"Oh, of course," she said happily, getting up from her seat. She walked around her desk, straight up to my father with her wrists held forward.
"And J," she said, turning to us as my dad put the handcuffs on her. "I don't know what you think you've accomplished here, but the court is my home. I rule over it. This minor inconvenience you caused me is nothing to be proud of. See, your mom made a career sticking her nose where she had no business, always lecturing about what's right and what's wrong. She couldn't understand that the real world doesn't pick sides, or that playing the hero never works out for anybody. A mind like yours would go to waste following in her footsteps."
"My mother never played any role," he said. "She didn't believe in any bigger plan either. She knew the risks, but she did her job anyway because that's just who she was. Maybe I'm too young to know anything about the world, but I know as long as there are people like you in it, there'll be people like her."
With that, my father lead the woman out of the room. The door hung open behind them. I turned to J, to see him lean back against the desk and hang his head with a heavy sigh. I couldn't tell what was on his mind, not that I ever could, but for a moment he seemed lost in thought.
"Come on, Terra," he finally said, stepping forward and leading the way to the door. "Let's get outta here."